After the rough first few months of parenthood, Zosia and Ollie were glad to find that now Zosia and Penny were home from the unit, they were taking quite naturally to being parents. Penny wasn’t a difficult baby by any stretch of the imagination, they already settled her into a routine and whilst she kept her parents up at night, like any typical newborn, she tended to settle quite quickly, especially when it was Ollie’s turn to tend to her. Despite spending so much time alone with her mother in the unit, Penny was a real daddy’s girl, right down to the trademark Valentine blue eyes. She loved her daddy more than words could express, even at such a young age she showed clearly that she would always have a special bond with her father.
Uncle Dom had also been a big part of Penny’s first few months. Since they had been blessed with their daughter earlier than expected and Zosia had spent a while in the unit, there had been no time for them to move, so for the sake of the convenience of having another person around, Zosia was still living with her best friend for the time being. It was a temporary fix, and they intended to start looking for a proper family home soon. Penny loved her surrogate uncle, and seemed to always recognise him when he was around. He’d spoil her rotten, and was always happy to entertain her for hours on end, making her giggle with glee.
Apart from the eyes, Penny was almost the spitting image of her mother as a baby. Her hair grew fairly quickly, and at the age of three months already had enough hair for a small pineapple ponytail on the top of her head, much like Zosia as a child, adding to the list of ways in which she resembled her mother. When comparing their baby photos, it was almost impossible to tell the two apart.
Ollie had gone back to work almost immediately after Penny’s birth, deferring his paternity leave until Zosia’s return from the unit in order to help settle her and Penny back home and into a new routine. Thankfully, having always held a soft spot for Zosia, Jac and Hanssen had agreed to grant both parents an extended amount of leave, mostly down to the extenuating circumstances surrounding them. It had been a glorious month off, but unfortunately the time had come for him to go back to work, and Penny simply did not understand that one parent had to leave her for the day. She cried louder than normal, and even when Ollie picked her up to comfort her she wouldn’t settle as quickly as normal. Putting it down to a case of separation anxiety, Ollie handed over his daughter to Zosia, kissed them both goodbye and headed out the door to work.
He felt a sense of guilt wash over him as he got into his car and began the short drive to the hospital, he hated hearing Penny cry, especially like that. He worried that this was too much for Zosia to cope with, for the first day she was being left truly alone with their baby, she’d had all the help she needed in the unit, and after she returned, she’d always had Ollie, even when Dominic had been at work. But now she was left completely alone, with the two doctors both scheduled to work today. He shook the worry from his mind as he parked up, and upon entering the lift and heading up to the ward, he refocused his mind to focus on the patients and the job at hand. He would see his girls tonight, and Zosia was plenty capable of looking after Penny.
Everything would be fine.
Having cried herself out when Ollie left, Penny had finally settled again and allowed Zosia to go about their daily routine without fuss. They got washed and dressed, and Zosia put Penny down in her bouncer chair to sleep while she cleared up around her, attempting to make the small flat more presentable and tidying away the abundance of toys left out all over the floor. It was a miracle someone hadn’t tripped over one yet.
Once satisfied the place was clean enough, Zosia checked on Penny, and noting she was still asleep, pulled out her phone and snapped a quick picture to send to Ollie, knowing it would put his mind at rest.
Tired herself out from all the crying. Miss you already, have a good day x
Pressing send, she sat next to the baby’s chair and just watched her tiny chest rise and fall, entranced by her sleeping daughter. Zosia frowned as she realised Penny was somewhat shuddering every time she took a breath, but put it down to her simply starting to develop a small cold of some kind. Sometimes she couldn’t quite believe she was theirs, hers and Ollie’s, like she was living in a dream and someday she’d wake up and it would all be gone. She thought to herself that days spent with her boyfriend and her daughter were the happiest days of her life, and whilst it had been a struggle, she was getting better. Doctor Keaton had been impressed with her progress as she came to the end of her stay in the unit, and promised she would only ever be a phone call away should she find she needed the extra support. Zosia found comfort in knowing she had so many people willing to help her, and with the reintroduction of taking the lithium, she was stable, and strong, and a good mum to Penny. Broken from her trance by the buzzing of her phone, she smiled as she saw it was a reply from Ollie.
I miss you both too. Call you at lunch? X
Absolutely. I love you x
After occupying herself for a few hours and letting Penny sleep, Zosia decided to wake her for lunchtime, so she could give her some infant medicine to shrug off this illness before it got worse. She made her way into the kitchen to pick up a bottle for her daughter, ready for her lunch feed. She microwaved it for a few seconds before squirting a little over her wrist to gage the temperature and ensure it wouldn’t be too hot for her baby. Walking back into the front room, she placed the bottle on the table and picked up a sleepy Penny from her chair, resulting in a high pitched cry. Someone was clearly very cranky today, and Zosia thought maybe she missed Ollie more than she realised; how was she meant to cope with a sick newborn on her first day alone with her?
Cradling her in her arms, Zosia let out an exasperated sigh as Penny continued to cry. “C’mon, Penny, no more crying. Mama’s here. Here, shall we cuddle with Mr Lamb?” She rocked the baby back and forth before picking up her favourite stuffed toy, a small, soft, stuffed lamb given to her by Zosia’s own father, as a reminder of the lamb she loved as a child. When the crying continued, Zosia despaired, on the verge of tears herself. “Please, Penny, mama doesn’t know what to do.” She picked up the bottle anyway and attempted a feed, only for it to be refused by the infant, who continued screaming.
In the midst of all this, Zosia’s phone rang, and for a second she briefly considered ignoring it, before realising it was probably Ollie calling on his lunch break to check in. God did she need to hear his voice right now. He’d know what to do. He was a good dad, not like her. Not even a whole day without him and she was falling apart already.
“Hey, Zosh, what’s –“
“Ollie, please you’ve got to help me.” Her voice wobbled as she spoke.
“Zosia, calm down, what’s wrong?” He asked calmly, trying to mask his concern at her tone of voice.
“It’s Penny, she just, she won’t stop crying. She won’t feed, she’s been sleeping all morning; she’s not breathing properly. I don’t know what to do, Ol.” She rushed to get all the symptoms out, desperate for some kind of advice. How was she ever supposed to be a good mother to her baby if she couldn’t even cope one day on her own?
“Alright, alright. Stay calm. She’s probably tired from all the crying all night, I know I am.” He joked, trying to put her at ease. “She might have picked up a cold or be a bit colicky, it’s probably nothing. Give her some of that infant medicine in the cupboard, she’ll be alright in a few hours. Let her sleep, if you can get her to settle, some rest might do her some good.” Ollie tried not to panic as he advised Zosia, both for her and for his daughter. He knew Zosia was anxious, and was probably overreacting, but he didn’t want anything to be wrong with their baby.
“Okay, okay.” She took a deep breath and tried to refocus, as her psychiatrist taught her. “How’s work, anyway? Good first day back?”
“Meh, you know, the usual. Jac is being insufferable, I thought she’d changed in giving me a month off to look after you and Penny but nope. Same old Naylor.”
“Give her a break, she’s making you a better doctor and you know it.” Jac was harsh on both of them, sure, but she knew it was for the greater good.
“I know, I know. I just wish she wasn’t so infuriating.” He sighed, before his pager went off, alerting him of a need for his presence back up on the ward. “Speak of the devil. I’m sorry, Zosh, I’m gonna have to go. Jac just paged me.”
“Oh, okay. Go. I’ll see you at home tonight.” She tried to hide her disappointment and anxiety, even hearing Ollie’s voice calmed her, and she needed that.
“Good luck supermum, you can do it. I love you, and I’ll see you tonight okay? Give Penny a kiss for me. Bye, Zosh.” The page was clearly an emergency as he’d hung up before she even had the chance to reply.
“Bye.” She spoke dejectedly to the dial tone.
Alternating between rocking and bouncing Penny, Zosia continued to cradle her as she walked into the kitchen to find this medicine. She hoped against all hope this would help settle her; she was running out of options. Rooting through the cupboards she quickly found what she was looking for, before bringing the bottle and the baby back through to the living room and placing her down in her bouncer so she could open the bottle and pour a tiny spoonful of the liquid. Feeding it to her daughter, she sighed hoping it would help. Running her hands through her hair, she flopped backwards into the sofa cushions and closed her eyes, hoping to bat off the impending headache she had given herself stressing about Penny and being alone.
It took a while, but eventually it seemed the medicine was kicking in and Penny settled, sleeping through the day. It almost seemed too perfect, and Zosia simply worried more. When she held her daughter’s tiny hand, it was cold, and in feeling her forehead she found it to be the complete opposite, she was burning up. Panicking, she did the only thing she could think to do.
Get to Ollie. Get to Ollie and he’ll know what to do. He’s a good dad. Not like you. Ollie can help.
So she wrapped her up nice and warm, put her in her pram and started walking to the hospital, without so much as a thought for her own warmth. It was the middle of winter, but Zosia didn’t take any notice. Keeping herself warm was the least of her concerns, Penny was sick.
Penny was sick because of her. She didn’t notice soon enough. Just like she couldn’t keep her safe until her due date. She was a terrible mother, she couldn’t look after her own baby.
She walked faster than she imagined she could, but when your child needed urgent medical attention, you’re able to do more than you imagined. Arriving outside the hospital, she pulled out her phone, immediately pressing dial on Ollie’s contact, only to be met with his voicemail. Panicking, she decided she couldn’t wait anymore. Taking the pram inside, she rushed towards the lift and frantically pushed the up button to call it to this floor. Why was it taking so long? Didn’t anyone know she had a sick baby?
After an eternity of waiting, the lift doors finally opened and Zosia rushed inside, repeatedly pressing the button for the sixth floor. She hoped and prayed someone she knew, someone she trusted would be within first glance.
Prayers answered, she immediately saw Jac standing at the front desk, ordering a nurse about as per usual. Confused by the sight in front of her, Jac spoke first.
“Zosia, what are you doing here? And why don’t you have a coat on? It’s freezing outside.”
“Ol – Ollie, where – where’s Ollie? Please, Jac, where is he?” She started tearfully.
“Zosia, you need to calm down. Valentine is in theatre. Why are you here? Are you okay?” Jac was always worried about her junior, she had a way of hiding how she really felt a lot of the time and it always led to the inevitable breakdown. She’d tried to keep an eye out as best she could over the years, even if only for her own peace of mind.
“I need him! Please, you have to get him.” Her eyes continued to water, and Jac was really starting to worry.
“Zosia, look at me.” She put her hands on her shoulders, and shook her ever so slightly, even if only to get her to look straight at her. “What is going on? I can’t help unless you tell me.”
“Penny, she, she – she’s ill. It’s my fault, it’s all my fault. I didn’t keep her safe. Ollie, he just always knows what do. I walked here, I didn’t know what to do. It’s all my fault.” She cried, tightly gripping Penny’s pram to stay upright.
“Alright, okay. Let me look at Penny, I’ll have someone page Valentine. You know he can’t treat her.” She explained, keeping a soft hand on her arm. Zosia nodded and let Jac lead her onto the ward, barking orders at a nervous looking Damon as she came into his line of sight. “Find Valentine, now.” He scurried off quickly to find him, not waiting to be asked twice. Ms Naylor wasn’t somebody you waited to ask you twice.
Finding an empty side room, Jac closed the door behind them as she let Zosia walk the pram over to the side of the bed, before she bent down to take Penny out, much to the baby’s displeasure, as she started crying as soon as she was picked up and placed in the middle of the bed while Jac examined her.
“Is she normally fussy when you pick her up?” Jac asked, putting the small disc of her stethoscope onto the baby’s chest.
“No, she normally cries when she’s not being held. She always stops when Ollie picks her up, but she just kept crying this morning.” Zosia explained, wiping at the tears that just kept coming. “Please, Jac, you have to save her. Help her, please. Please don’t let my baby die.”
“She’s not going to die, I promise. You need to calm down, it’s not good for you or for Penny to see her mum upset, okay?” Jac looked up at her briefly before continuing her examination of the tiny baby. “Zosia, I need you to calm down and tell me exactly what her symptoms are, else I can’t help her.”
Zosia took a deep breath and tried to steel herself, tried to keep calm, for Penny. “Um, she’s been crying a lot, Ollie said it could be colic –“
“Has she been sick?”
“Yeah, a few times, but babies are sick a lot aren’t they? Oh god, how could I not have noticed something was wrong.” Her calm façade was slowly crumbling and she was terrified she’d lose her baby.
“Zosia.” Jac said sternly. “Babies throw up, it’s natural. You must’ve known something was wrong other than her being sick else you wouldn’t have brought her here. What else?”
“She, uh, she’s been really fussy when anyone picks her up. She refused a feed earlier, she’s not breathing properly, she’s burning up too. But her hands are really cold.” Zosia explained tearfully, stroking her daughter’s tiny hand to attempt to comfort herself.
“I think I know what’s wrong. You need to not panic, though, Zosia. It won’t help.”
“Please just tell me, Jac, I need to know what’s wrong with my baby.”
Before Jac had even opened her mouth to speak, a still scrubbed up Oliver Valentine burst through the door to the side room in a blind panic, immediately rushing to Zosia’s side.
“Zosh, what’s wrong? What’s happening?” Noticing Penny on the bed that almost swallowed her up, he panicked even more. “What’s wrong with Penny?”
“I think it’s bacterial neonatal meningitis.” Jac sighed as she delivered the news.
On hearing the diagnosis, Zosia’s knees buckled and she sobbed loudly as Ollie caught her, and tried to comfort her.
Though this was a stark reminder of the last time she found Zosia like this, Jac had no idea what to do this time. She swallowed hard and continued on to explain her treatment plan, hoping at least Ollie would be able to hear her and take in what she was saying. “I’m going to get some antibiotics in her immediately, but it appears to be in the early stages. There’s no rash that I can see so she hasn’t been subject to blood poisoning, which is good. We need to focus on treating it now, okay?”
“Thank you, Jac.” Ollie said quietly, as she nodded and gave the couple their privacy.
He was at a loss. His daughter had meningitis, and his girlfriend was obviously vulnerable. What was he supposed to do? He comforted Zosia as best he could, kissing the top of her head and stroking her hair for comfort and relaxation, but it couldn’t help her heartache. He was desperately trying to hold it together for her sake, but one cursed tear fell down his cheek and landed on her head as he cuddled her.
Hours later, both Penny and Zosia had worn themselves out, with Zosia asleep awkwardly cuddled into Ollie over their two chairs next to Penny’s bed, which had been fitted with metal bars either side to stop her falling out. They’d placed her favourite toy, the stuffed lamb, into her bed with her in the hope it would be a home comfort. Jac had told them sometimes a baby’s favourite toy can help to keep them calm in such situations. They kept her on Darwin, familiarity and all that. Plus, Jac had paeds experience, and despite being a total ice queen majority of the time, she was a damn good doctor and deep down she cared for the couple and their small child.
They’d done a CT and a lumbar puncture, during which both Penny and Zosia cried, Penny from the pain and Zosia from hearing her baby in pain. The tests had confirmed neonatal bacterial meningitis. Not one to beat around the bush, Jac had given her IV antibiotics as soon as she suspected meningitis, and the early treatment potentially saved her life.
Penny was stable; Zosia not so much.
Zosia was clearly in a vulnerable state, and Ollie was glad for her to get some rest. He wasn’t sure if she’d taken her medication that day at all, he supposed it was a distinct possibility all the stress and anxiety had preoccupied her mind and taking her lithium had slipped from it. He’d called her psychiatrist, Dr Keaton, and explained the days events. She’d suggested an informal chat with the couple, just to gage how Zosia felt and how best to proceed. He wasn’t sure she’d agree with his decision, but it was for the best and she had to realise that. Or at least he hoped she would.
Almost on cue, Zosia began to stir just as Dr Keaton appeared in the doorway of the Darwin side room.
“What’s going on?” Zosia questioned as she sat up, rubbing at her eyes and smoothing down her hair. Noticing her psychiatrist in the doorway, she began to panic. “Why is she here? Who told her? Wh-why?”
“Zosia…” the psychiatrist began to try to explain herself, but wasn’t given the chance, as Zosia got up from her chair and started defensively walking further from her psychiatrist.
“No, no you don’t have to explain. You knew I’d screw up. You’ve been waiting. Watching. You were waiting for me to screw up, so you could take Penny away from me. You don’t think I can be a good mother.”
The fear in her voice was what broke Ollie’s heart the most. She was scared they were taking Penny. The most precious thing in her life and she thought they would take her away? It was clear this was more than just forgetting to take one tablet. She’d said it the day Penny was born, too. He wondered if this was a deep rooted fear that had been festering under the surface for so long, and whether this was just the straw that broke the camels back, so to speak.
“No, Zosia. That’s not what I think at all. I think you’re a great mum, I just want to help you. So does Ollie. We all do.” Dr Keaton explained softly, taking a step into the room, careful not to go too far in case it spooked Zosia further. “I just want to have a little chat with you, is that okay?”
“About how you’re feeling. About today. About Penny, Oliver, whatever you’d like. I’m not here to judge you, Zosia, or to take Penny from you. I would never do that to you.”
Looking up at Ollie, with tears sparkling in her eyes, threatening to fall, she spoke again. “I’m sorry. This is my fault. This is all my fault. Penny’s ill because of me. I didn’t spot it. I’m a doctor, and I couldn’t tell my own baby was sick. She could’ve died, because of me.”
“Zosia…” he trailed off with a gulp. What was he supposed to say to that? She blamed herself. She truly thought this whole thing was her own fault. “It’s not your fault. How could you think that?”
“I nearly killed our baby. I couldn’t keep her safe. I couldn’t even keep her safe until she was full term. And now this. I can’t keep her safe. She’s not safe.” She cried, collapsing to the floor for a second time that day. Ollie was by her side in seconds, rocking her gently and trying to comfort her. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Repeating those two words over and over again, Ollie hushed her with soothing sounds and kisses to her head.
“It’s alright, it’s going to be okay. Zosia, please don’t blame yourself.” He pleaded, wiping his own tears.
“Zosia, this is not your fault.” Dr Keaton confirmed. “Babies get sick. You couldn’t have prevented this. Please believe me, we wouldn’t have let you leave the unit in the first place if we didn’t think you could cope. This is just a setback, that’s all. Penny’s going to be okay, because you got her here in time. You knew something wasn’t right and you acted on it. You saved her.”
“Please don’t take her away from me.” She cried meekly.
“You must stop thinking like this. I promise you, nobody is going to take Penny from you. She needs her mum.” Dr Keaton reassured, as she crouched down to Zosia’s level to give her eye contact and help her to feel more reassured. “I promise, okay? We just want to help.”
“I’m mad, aren’t I? I always will be.”
“You are not mad. You’re the strongest woman I’ve ever met, and you are a great mum to our daughter. Our daughter who is seriously ill. That’s enough to make any parent worry. It doesn’t mean you’re mad. You’re just worried about her. It means you care and it means you’re a good mum. Please, Zosh, believe me.” Ollie looked into her glassy eyes as he spoke, hoping the eye contact and direct speaking would make a difference.
“Zosia, do you think it might help if you had someone around to help you look after Penny? Just for a while.” Dr Keaton suggested.
“You mean take me back to the unit?”
“No, not necessarily. Perhaps we could organise something to allow Oliver or Dominic to be home with you during the day, opposite shift patterns if you think that would help. Maybe we could get Oliver some extended leave? Just until you feel comfortable.”
“I could talk to Jac, or Hanssen, maybe. I’ve got some leave saved up anyway.”
Taking a moment to compose herself, Zosia wiped her eyes, stood up, and looked from her daughter to her psychiatrist. “No, I can do this. I’m going to be a good mum to my baby, I’m going to be strong and be the mum she deserves. I’m not stupid, I know I need help. And I will get it. I’ll see a therapist every week if it helps, but I need to be able to look after my little girl. She needs me.” Giving them a small smile, she made her way to the bed her daughter was in and smiled even brighter when her tiny hand clasped around one of her fingers. “I can do this. I’ve got to do this. For Penny.”