(ARC received from the publisher, many thanks).
This is a story about the cutting-edge medicine that has saved a generation of babies.
It’s about the love and fear a parent feels for a child they haven’t yet met.
It’s about doctors, mothers, fathers and babies as together they fight for the first breath.
The First Breath is the first popular science book about the pioneering fetal and neonatal medicine bringing a new generation into the world – a generation of babies without precedent, who would not have lived if they had been born only a few decades ago.
Olivia Gordon explores the female experience of medicine through her own personal story and sensitive, intimate case histories of other mothers’ high-risk births. She details the relationship mothers develop with doctors who hold not only life and death in their hands, but also the very possibility of birth.
From the dawn of fetal medicine to neonatal surgery and the exploding field of perinatal genetics, The First Breath tells of fear, bravery and love. Olivia Gordon takes the reader behind the closed doors of the fetal and neonatal intensive care units, resuscitation rooms and operating theatres at some of the world’s leading children’s hospitals, unveiling the untold story of how doctors save the sickest babies.
What does TWG think?
2019 is the year I decided to lose myself in medical memoirs. I used to be quite afraid of reading books about such sensitive and often harrowing subjects that non-fiction books cover, however those topics are what people have personally endured. Those books tell readers about a journey that they would love other people to understand, or to be aware of. ‘The First Breath’ is one of those books. In fact, it’s one of those types of books which make a lump the size of a crater, form in your throat, hoping that no-one will talk to you until that lump disappears, in fear of personally turning into a puddle.
If you’re a parent of a child who ended up in NICU, required surgery through the womb, or anything like that, a lot of what Olivia Gordon discusses will obviously hit home. If you haven’t been directly affected by such uncertain times, you’ll no doubt find yourself moved by Olivia Gordon’s honest and harrowing account. I was. I was astounded by what the medical profession can do to try and assist a sick baby both inside the womb, and out. I had no idea about half of the things mentioned in this book, and at times I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer extent of the medical jargon and what not.
There are a lot of medical facts throughout this book, of course, and there is also a lot of medical jargon which, to be perfectly honest, went over my head at times. Thankfully I had Google to help me to understand such terminology, and the author did give the definitions some of the time which helped, however there was still a lot that didn’t make sense for someone who hadn’t been in the position that Olivia Gordon had.
Like I say, I was blown away by the work of the surgeons, genetics teams and, the strength of the female body. I have had one child, a 9lb baby girl in 2013 and, even though I was classed as a high risk pregnancy due to my own illnesses, I to this day cannot quite believe what the human body can do. Seriously, females have 2 hearts in their bodies when they’re pregnant, and then they have to try and expel the baby once the placenta says ‘right, get out’. I mean, us ladies need to dilate to the size of a bagel. A BAGEL. Shocking really, isn’t it. So yeah, I think the female body is an exceptional thing and, like ‘First Breath’ describes, there are many times where babies unfortunately do not make it into this world and my heart goes out to every single person who has had to go through that.
The science behind this book is utterly fascinating, medical jargon aside, and the way in which Olivia Gordon incorporates her own personal experience alongside it, was both mind-blowing and incredibly emotional. Not only did the author relieve her own heartache and give the other families (and their babies mentioned in the book) a voice, she also showed the reality of the aftermath so to speak. She didn’t gloss over how difficult it was to have a child in NICU, or to have a child who ended up poorly with various challenges, for the rest of their life. She didn’t pretend that everything was rosy, nor did she hide the devastation of the procedures the surgeons carried out through the womb, because that’s just not life. It’s not realistic and, as much as we would love no-one to endure the heartbreak of losing a child, multiple children, or even their spouse/family member due to pregnancy or giving birth, it happens. But then on the other hand, there could be an extremely sick baby yet due to advanced medical science and the knowledge of surgeons and other members of the medical team, that baby may pull through.
I’m not going to sit here and say that ‘The First Breath’ was an easy read, because it wasn’t. It was very difficult to read most of the time, due to the sheer amount of emotion throughout, yet it was also a read which opened my eyes to the incredible work of the medical profession. It also opened my eyes to the challenges that parents of sick babies face, as well as the emotional turmoil and stress throughout the whole process. It was very clear that the not knowing, or the uncertainty of the future was one of the hardest things to come to terms with, as was the putting the life of your child in someone else’s hands.
‘The First Breath’ is a poignant, powerful, and devastating read which covers a topic a lot of mothers, fathers, and families will be able to relate with. I can only thank the author for sharing her own personal story, and I would like to send love to anyone who has ever been in this position.