Grace Victory: The girl who lived

A year ago, our incredible columnist Grace Victory began her maternity leave – but no one could ever have predicted the chain of events that would unfold. With raw honesty, Grace shares the traumatic journey she’s been through, after catching Covid-19 late in her pregnancy, and being put in an induced coma. Now, she’s back, with her baby boy, recovering and discovering ‘normal life’ again – and she intends to live every moment

It’s 22:32 on a Sunday night in November, and I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s that weird ‘night before the week begins anxiety’, or the day three ‘period insomnia’, or just the fact I’ve got so many thoughts whizzing around in my head. Probably a combination of them all.

So here we are, it’s me, it’s Grace. And it’s been a whole 12 months since you’ve heard from me.

Last year I was blessed enough to become pregnant, so of course I planned maternity leave (something I was so looking forward to because the excitement for my baby to arrive was real). I had it all planned. I wanted to nest, rest, and enjoy spending quality time with my partner before our bundle of joy arrived. Cheese and crackers over the festive period, a staycation for a few nights, pregnancy massages, and days, possibly weeks, away from my phone. Yes, yes…yes!

And then, shit hit the fan. And I mean really hit the fan. If there were a description in the dictionary of what “shit hitting the fan” looks like, this was it.

Grace and baby Cyprus. Photography | Alex Cameron

I caught Covid. My baby boy needed to be delivered at 33 weeks, and my breathing needed so much support, the safest option was to be placed in an induced coma and eventually a trache (a tube directly into my lungs).

I obviously don’t remember much during this time, but waking up in the ICU nearly three months later, not being able to speak, or move, or do anything at all, was single-handedly the most horrific time of my life. Although I wasn’t particularly frightened of the physical recovery, the pain of being away from my baby boy and partner will remain etched on my heart forever.

It was hell.

Mentally and physically, things were bad. I had constant nightmares and hallucinations, which caused crippling confusion. I had such a high temperature and fever, my insides felt like they were on fire. Then, of course, came the horrific realisation that I couldn’t and wouldn’t see my baby for a while. I couldn’t hold him, breastfeed or, in my mind, just be his mum.

For any mother, being away from your baby (especially your newborn) is just unimaginable, but for me and so many other Covid mummy survivors, it was our reality. Hell was on earth, and we were living it.

I’ve told parts of this story already, and you may have read interviews or followed my recovery on Instagram, but I wanted to write about it in my safe space, which is Happiful. Here, I don’t really have to pretend or beautify how I feel. I simply just write it, and the wonderful team behind the scenes at the mag supports me.

I think it’s important for me to have my say, so I guess this is it.
Christmas Eve I had my baby boy. On Boxing Day 2020, I was put into a coma, and what followed after, up until May 2021, was: multiple organ failure; a clot on my lung; pneumonia; cardiac arrest; a tracheostomy; seeing my baby for the first time; learning to walk again; experiencing life again and re-discovering who I am (which is ongoing).

Although I wasn’t particularly frightened of the physical recovery, the pain of being away from my baby boy and partner will remain etched on my heart forever

Going through something so traumatic is life-altering, and I will never be the same again. The physical scars are a constant reminder of what I went through, but the mental scars are the ones I struggle with the most.

The flashbacks. The shock. The grief. I know humans are capable of empathy, but if you’ve not gone through this type of medical and birth trauma, it’s really quite hard to understand the magnitude of such an experience, and the effect it can have on someone.

Then there’s the shame and guilt, and the ‘Why me?’ I’m not one to stand in my victimhood, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel sorry for myself at times. I wondered how this happened. Why couldn’t I just remain healthy? Why couldn’t I keep my baby safe and full-term? Why did I go outside? Am I a bad mum for not being able to breastfeed? These are a few examples of the questions and thoughts that would enter my mind.

There were often moments of sheer hysteria, disassociation, and rage, too. Many days (often nights) I’d be in distress, convincing myself I’d die or remain in hospital forever, or that Cyprus (my baby boy) would not know who I was. Although all of these feelings and emotions are normal for what I’d gone through, I really battled with my mind every single day I was away from my boys. I just wanted them. I wanted to sniff them, hug them, kiss them, love them. But I couldn’t. Instead I was watching my baby boy through FaceTime, and having to pee in a tube, and poop in an adult-sized nappy – it’s OK, you’re allowed to laugh at that part.

Grace and her family. Photography | Alex Cameron

I was discharged on 7 May 2021 – four months and 17 days after I was initially admitted to hospital. After a month in rehab, I was finally allowed home to integrate back into life and society. I literally had to learn everything again – from climbing the stairs to making a drink. The very simple things we often take for granted, suddenly felt like a mountain to me.

But I did it. I bloody did it.

And now, six months after leaving hospital, I am on my way to making a full recovery, and thankfully living a ‘normal’ life. I put Cyprus to sleep every night, and I see his smile, and he sees mine, every morning. I make vanilla iced oat lattes, listen to the birds chirp, and watch way too many episodes of Virgin River in one sitting. I now get to make my own bed, kiss my partner’s forehead, and eat Chinese food on a Friday night.

I’m alive.

I’m the girl who lived, and I hope when I’m 80 I get to look back on my life and also be the girl who really lived.

If you’re struggling following a traumatic event, speaking to a professional in a safe space could help. Find more support and information on counselling-directory.org.uk

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