I had a pretty easy time of it after the surgery. Joseph was at nursery for three days, and my parents were staying with us, and Paul and Rachel were around too. Because I had more help than I needed, Mum and Dad painted our nursery. The next day, they went to Rachel’s house and painted hers. I didn’t really have any pain. I’d been sent home from hospital armed with painkillers but I only took paracetamol for a day. I did my exercises three times a day. I had naps. I read one of my favourite books, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, for the fourth time. I had some annoying symptoms, but it was impossible to know whether they were related to the pregnancy or the surgery. For two days, I felt like everything I ate was stuck in my throat. I had heartburn, constipation, tiredness.
My community midwife visited me at home the day after the surgery to check on the baby. Another midwife had visited me the day before, in the hospital. But I was happy that everything was all right. I’d been told the anaesthetic might make the baby lethargic, but she was barely ever still.
Two days after the surgery, I was ready for a walk. Dad and I collected Joseph from nursery and walked him home. It felt like summer. Joseph stopped to blow every dandelion clock and talk to every dog.
By the weekend, I felt pretty normal. We went to storytime at the library, had a rainy barbecue at Rachel’s and visited our local country park for an emergency services day. Joseph and Rachel’s son, Louie, were happy all weekend. Which meant that we were, too.
And then two difficult things happened. Firstly, a week after the surgery, I removed my dressing. It was hard to look at myself in the mirror. I had one scar under my arm and another right across my breast. They were ugly. I felt less feminine, less attractive, less me. I cried. And then I tried to remember that there are worse things than this. That not removing the cancer would, ultimately, have been much worse.
The second thing happened the next day, when I picked Joseph up from nursery. In his room, there were two groups of children playing. One group was running in and out of a homemade den, and the other was just charging around, shrieking and laughing. Joseph was sitting in a corner on his own, doing a jigsaw. One of the women who looks after him sat down with me and told me he’d been very emotional all day.
When we got home, I asked him whether he’d been sad that day. He said he had. I asked him why. He said ‘Because some of the puzzle pieces were missing.’ Later, in the bath, he said ‘Mummy’s sad’ over and over again. I felt awful. I’d been as careful as I could be about not letting him see me upset, but it obviously hadn’t been enough. And then he got out of the bath and jumped onto his bed, naked and wet, and started laughing, and I remembered that he’s two, and he rarely remembers anything for more than five minutes, and he’s the happiest person I know.
It’s like this, I’m finding. Highs and lows. Guilt and gratitude, sadness and joy. In one melodramatic moment a few weeks ago, I thought, out of nowhere, what if I die without meeting my daughter? It felt unbearable. But I don’t think that’s how this is going to go. And I’m hoping a baby sister will take Joseph’s mind off those missing puzzle pieces.