Jen's been a little overweight almost all of her life, enough to give the kids at junior school the excuse to tease and bully her, but never really badly enough for her to want to do something drastic about it. Sure, she'd tried diets, fads, exercise, everything, but always ended up back where she'd started. Her parents had, maybe a little tactlessly, nick-named her YoYo thanks to her eternally fluctuating weight. Eventually, at almost 18 years old, she'd learnt to accept who she was and what she looked like and live her life the best way she knew how. She went to a good school, had friends, many of whom had been her tormentors in earlier years, and now saw Jen for who she really was, rather than how she appeared. And she had a boyfriend, Ian, a childhood sweetheart who'd been her partner now for almost four years.
It was Ian who'd called the ambulance. An 18 year old female with abdo pain doesn't fill any ambulance crew with the joys of spring. It's another routine, mundane call, often leading to mutterings of "waste of time", "taxi run", and "bet they haven't taken any pain-killers". Nevertheless, the way the call comes in, we have to run on lights-and-sirens.
As we walk in, Jen looks a little embarrassed, apologises for calling us out, and says that the pain has passed. "He panicked a bit", she starts, "the pain was really bad, and it came back a couple of times, but it's gone now. Really, guys, I don't need an ambulance. I'm sorry".
She's pleasant enough, too nice to be mad at, and clearly concerned as to how ridiculous she seems.
"We'll just do a couple of quick checks, make sure you're really ok, then we'll leave you alone. But if the pain was as bad as Ian described it, maybe you should come with us anyway, just to be on the safe side".
Abdo pain is such a minefield . It can be everything and nothing. Anything from uncomfortable food poisoning from last night's drunken take-away, all the way to a deadly ruptured aorta, the body's trunk-route for blood distribution.
She sat comfortably on the couch, hand on her lower abdomen, the memory of the pain still there, the brain trying to do its usual trick of erasing it. We check her basic observations, her pulse is a little quick, her blood pressure normal. We take her temperature, placing the tympanic thermometer in her ear - a quick and painless way of doing what used to take 3 minutes of sitting still with a piece of glass stuck under your tongue.
Jen suddenly screams. A piercing, terrifying scream that made me jump back, wondering how I could have inflicted such pain by just taking a temperature. She arches her back, holds on to the couch as though she was clutching at life. The pain lasts for no more than 30 seconds, and is gone as if nothing had happened. She looks down at the floor, suddenly refusing to make eye-contact and mutters, barely audibly, "I think I've wet myself".
A minute later, the pain returns again, and it finally dawns on us.
"Jen, how many months pregnant are you?"
"I'M NOT PREGNANT! WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?"
"Jen, these pains are contractions. You're about to have a baby! How many months are you?"
Ian and Jen stare at each other.
"I can't be pregnant! I'd know if I was! I've only put on a bit of weight. I'm NOT PREGNANT"
Much as she tried, much as she wanted to, there was no denying it. Jen was in labour. Her waters had just broken, she was having contractions every minute. The baby was about to be born. We asked for a midwife, and another crew, and started preparing for the birth. We have no idea how developed the baby will be, so have to prepare for every eventuality, from a normal delivery to the horrendous thought of having to resuscitate a tiny newborn. There was hardly the time to think.
The baby's head appeared in the very next contraction, and by the one after that, a newborn baby's cry filled the room. The baby girl seemed a good size, a good colour, and there was clearly nothing wrong with her lungs as her voice made her surprise appearance clear to all. We cut the umbilical cord, cleaned her up, and I handed her to the new mum.
"Here she is! Your beautiful baby girl!"
Jen looked away, kept her arms folded, and through stifled tears whispered "I don't want it".
"It", she said. not "her". I was shocked and saddened, trying to understand the turmoil that Jen was going through. An hour ago she had some tummy ache, now she had a daughter. I couldn't get my head round it any more than she could. She couldn't, wouldn't, accept that this baby was hers. To her, the little girl was an "it".
The second crew turned up just after she was born. The midwife was still miles away. We decided to send mother and baby to hospital in separate ambulances, and not wait in the midst of the anger, the confusion and the rejection. Jen came with us, a few minutes after her baby had gone. A few minutes to gather her belongings, gather her lost dignity, and gather her muddled thoughts.
At the hospital, we're shown into a room, and as we walk in, Jen having refused to travel on the trolley bed. There's a small cot already there, and in it a sleeping baby, swaddled in a pink blanket. Jen gets onto the bed and says nothing. One of the midwives asks us for the story, we take her aside and explain all that has happened. Slowly and quietly, the cot is moved nearer and nearer to Jen's bed as she has her blood pressure checked and a midwife reels off a seemingly never-ending list of questions.
Absentmindedly, as she answers the queries about her health, about the pregnancy she never knew she had, and about her personal life, Jen's hand moves to the cot. She sits there, a tiny smile slowly creeping onto her face, as she strokes her daughter's soft, downy hair.
"I want her". As the words escape her lips, she grins, then bursts into tears. "I want to keep her. I want her to be mine".
She seems hardly to believe her own thoughts, as if someone else had spoken them. But she was exceptionally proud of them.
"She is yours, Jen", says one of the midwives. "And there's nothing you can do about it".
She just sits there, uncomfortable on the ancient hospital bed, the initial shock on her face and sadness in her eyes, turned now to relief and happiness like she has never experienced. Two hours earlier, it had all been so very different.