Birth? Is It Really That Bad?

Birth? Is It Really That Bad?

I spent so much of my time wanting to be pregnant that I didn’t give much thought to the experience of giving birth to my child. It was something I had heard lots of women talk about but not something I had really considered. 

The one thing I did know was that child birth was terrifying and it hurt. Actually it didn’t hurt it was like someone ripping your insides out while you were still alive (a description kindly given to me by my sister). So when I fell pregnant last year it was pretty much one of the first things I thought about once I got past the initial shock.

The first thing I did was totally suppress any thoughts of birth. I spent the first 22 weeks blissfully ignoring the fact I would potentially push something the size of a melon out of my vagina, but as time went on I decided it was probably best to face the music and arm myself with knowledge and information on how this incredibly huge life changing experience could pan out. 

I was really open to all eventualities of how this could go. Whether that be vaginal or cesarean. I didn’t have an ideal situation in my head. I didn’t know a lot but one thing I was aware of was that no birth was the same and if I focused on having one type of birth I’d probably end up having the opposite. 

Let’s be honest it couldn’t be that bad, I mean women have been giving birth for years. Some women even do it over and over again and back in the stone ages they didn’t even have drugs and hospitals! Surely I’d be OK? 

I read a lot! I read book after book after book which didn’t really make anything clearer as I still didn’t know the type of birth I would have. It did give me a better understanding of the eventualities of labour and what my body would be going through, however didn’t resolve my main question; “What does it feel like to give birth?” 

I think by week 32 anxiety set in and I started to really think about the pain factor and how I would cope, bearing in mind I was someone that would cry at the mere thought of a paper cut. 

As my due date drew closer and closer I began to dream of all the things that could go wrong.

I tried to imagine the feeling and the emotions I would feel on the day. Would I love my baby? Would I recognise him? Would he be big or small or have a funny shaped head? I watched reruns of one born every minute like they were going out of fashion. A few times Matt arrived home to me sobbing, eating ice cream on the floor, having watched a sad episode. I’m sure he thought I was a mad woman. 

About 5 days before my due date I started to get frustrated. I was adamant I would be early. I never really understood it when women said they were getting frustrated when they were overdue, but once I was in the situation I totally understood. I was ready for my little tenant to vacate the building (or my tummy) that had been his home for 9 months. I think it was probably the anticipation of being so close to your due date that makes you go crazy. You wait 9 months to get to this point (9 long months) and suddenly it becomes a reality that any day they could be with you. 

I had my first sweep around my due date and it was pretty painless and uneventful. I was told my cervix was still far back and no where near ready to go, which was soul destroying. I was furious. Did they not know it was my due date in 24hours, surely something would be happening. It started to feel like I might be pregnant forever. I imagined meeting people at 58 months pregnant, explaining that my baby just never arrived. Rolling myself around the house as I could no longer walk! 

Everyone was scared of me and disrupting the ticking time bomb I’d become. A family member made a fly away joke about him not having arrived and how funny it was and I went in to melt down mode. I was furious that anyone would find it funny. Furious, extremely hormonal and hugely overreacting, something no one would have dared say to my face at that point. 

You’ll be pleased to know that I did go in to labour, thankfully for my husband and close friends and family who had probably had enough of my constant moaning. 

I went in to labour on the 21st November at 11.30pm. My waters broke just before midnight, I paced up and down for 20 mins before calling the hospital and they told us to pop down for a quick check up. Everything moved extremely fast from that point. We were told that he had pooed inside me and by no uncertain terms was I going home but being induced immediately. I was given an epidural and then induced but within about 4 hours his heart rate dropped so much and it was plain to see he wasn’t going to be coming any time soon so a cesarean was the safest birthing option.

So there you have it, I spent most of my adult life talking about birth, listening to other people’s birthing stories and imagining the pain I would go through, to not having a single bit of pain. 

Do you know the crazy thing I didn’t even feel one contraction. Not one. 

I have to say I’ve heard other women say they felt cheated, I don’t, in fact I feel pretty happy that I didn’t have to go through a single contraction in pain. The one thing I did learn was that when you’re in the midst of labour, your whole focus just goes on getting that little person here safely. I’ve never considered myself a selfless person, but everything went out the window in those final hours before he arrived. If they had to chop off my leg to get him here I’d have done it in a heartbeat.

As they wheeled me down to theatre I remember the feeling of fear set in. I’m still not sure to this day if it was fear of what was going to happen or fear that my life was about to change forever as I entered the room. I remember looking around for Matt. I’m a fairly independent person but I needed him next to me to be able to get through this. I’ve heard women say that they wouldn’t have been able to get through birth without their partner. Not just their partner being present but the mere smell or touch of their partner giving them the strength for those final pushes and I can honestly say without sounding too soppy I’ve never needed him so much in my life. 

As they topped up my epidural I started to panic that I would feel them cutting in to me. I was petrified that the anaesthetic wouldn’t work. I asked the nurse but apparently they had already started so I didn’t need to worry. 

 The fifteen minutes I was on that table while I waited for them to pull him out felt like a life time. I could feel nothing apart from tugs and pulls as if someone was building a Lego toy inside my stomach. I distinctly remember just holding my breath and waiting to hear him cry like I’d seen on all those programmes and as soon as I heard his little cry I let go and burst in to tears. It was the most wonderful, emotional and scary thing I’d ever been through. 

So there you have it my birth story. Totally different but equally as special to all the million, billion others out there. 

I have to say on reflection, one bit of advice I would give to any pregnant women is to try and not plan your birth too much. There is no wrong or right way to give birth. You don’t know what is going to happen when you’re in the situation. Just plan to look after yourself and get your child here safely. 

Women are amazing. To think we grow and give birth to a little human is mind blowing. Every time I look at his face I can’t believe it was him in my tummy for 9 months. Although, the last few weeks of pregnancy were long sometimes, I wish I could put him back in just to have him all to myself again for a day and feel those little kicks once more. 

When Two Become Three

When Two Become Three

So many times I have heard people say they ‘don’t want their child to be an only child’. Many assume they will have more than one child if they can, myself included. When deciding on having another child the worries are commonly based around money, logistics and space. So when discussing having two children with my partner, there was understandably a lot of emphasis on the practical side, whereas the emotional side was left on the side lines, only revisiting it when I was physically living the unexpected feelings I felt after giving birth for a second time.

I was 25 when I fell pregnant with my son. It was unplanned and I had only been with his dad a short time. From the start I was sure I was going to have a girl. I pictured myself braiding my daughters hair and getting mummy and me manicures together. I would naturally navigate towards the pink and girlie products in Mothercare – cute dresses and ballet pumps made my heart explode. It was gender stereotyping on steroids. By the time I went to my twenty-week scan I had convinced myself I was carrying a girl. I excitedly laid down on the hospital bed and said I wanted to know the sex of my baby (even though I already knew). The sonographer replied to let me know the baby was lying in an awkward position so she couldn’t yet decipher its sex. But I could. Staring me directly in the face on the screen was a clearer than day outline of ‘boy bits’. I pointed it out on the screen and she looked at me delighted and confirmed that I was correct; I was having a little boy.

I was going to be a single mum, and to a BOY. How? I had never understood boys, I didn’t even talk to my own brother anymore, yet I was expected to singlehandedly raise a boy?

Five months later I became a mum to a little boy. MY little boy, Theo.

He was huge and resembled a chubby ET, but I thought he was just beautiful, all 10lb 7oz of him (yes it was a vaginal birth-lucky me). Instantly, when I held him in my arms, any consideration that I was having a girl melted away.  This was my baby. This was always supposed to be my baby.

We navigated life together as a little family. He was settled and calm and had the loveliest nature. He was so big that he outgrew his Moses basket within 5 weeks.  I couldn’t sleep if he wasn’t in the room with me and I spent countless hours just staring at him as he slept peacefully. I couldn’t believe he was mine.

Life raising Theo was relatively chilled and really happy. He started football at 3 years old and I would sit in the cold and watch him. I never would have willingly watched football (I mean, there was a time where I would’ve assumed Robin Van Persie was a famous actor) but I could watch Theo all day. Every time he scored a goal he would run over and shout to me to check I had seen. When I watched him in his school plays (usually singing – which he hated) he would look to me and I would give him a thumbs up, he would smile and sing that little bit louder. Everyday, when he would come out of preschool and run into my arms. He would even get upset if I was to I go to the shops, making me promise I wouldn’t be too long.

We regularly had movie days, just the two of us. We would make a bed in the living room out of quilts and eat snacks whilst we watched film after film. At just 3 years old he would sit snuggling me, watching each film intently and giggling with me at the silly parts. I distinctly remember taking Theo to a museum when he was about 3. We spent the whole day exploring together, laughing and joking about which animal we looked like most and enjoyed tea and cake in the café. No tantrums and no boredom, he was my little angel, literally, and I was so proud to be his mummy.

So when I then fell pregnant, I assumed it would be the same all over again but double the affection, love and jokes. Right? Plus, Theo was so excited.  He would kiss my belly every time I picked him up or dropped him off anywhere. In the evenings he’d show my bump his favourite toys and rest them on it; his idea of sharing. It was too adorable for words. I was so excited (and to be honest unaware) of what was to come.

I gave birth to Phoebe in August 2016. When I first held her in my arms, the happiness I thought I would feel was overridden by guilt. Lying here in this hospital room holding my new baby with my partner by my side felt wrong. It was as if my heart wasn’t in the room; it was happily playing at nursery instead. All I could think about was Theo. I kept asking when I could see him, counting down the minutes until Tom went to collect him. I was so excited to just give him a cuddle and introduce him to his sister.  I told myself I would be fine once he saw her and if was just natural waves of postnatal hormones.

When he turned up I was desperate to squeeze him. I held my arms out, and to my horror he refused to cuddle me. In fact, he wouldn’t even look at me.   I gave him a playful poke and he pushed my hand off.  He looked at her, expressionless, told us he didn’t want to hold her, then sat in the corner and said he wanted to go home.  Despite my efforts he refused to talk to me and eventually Tom took him home. I felt disheartened, but also considered just how overwhelming it may have been for him. I told myself once we were home it would be fine; maybe the hospital was the wrong setting for introductions.

Once home, I quickly learned that the setting was not the issue. The baby was. Theo was feeling weird and I could tell. He was desperately trying to get everybody’s attention, even if it meant being naughty and making a scene. I hated anyone commenting on his behaviour.  I wouldn’t let Tom tell him off. I would go mad if anybody didn’t respond to his questions in 0.4 seconds.  The guilt I felt was overwhelming, and it was coming out irrationally by attacking anybody who didn’t walk in and give him their undying attention. I just wanted him to be ok, to the point where I started to spoil him. I would buy him sweets if he wanted some. I would buy him little toys he saw, clothes he liked, I even bought him a pink sparkly top that was 4 sizes too big because he said he really wanted it. I was desperate to make him feel better.

He was acting out.  Our previously unbreakable bond felt more than broken, it felt like it was smashed to pieces.  I had no idea how to help him, it was like putting shattered glass back together.  I followed all the advice I could find, the most common one to pop up was to spend time alone with him. I arranged to take him to the cinema and I was optimistic that it would finally feel like old times again. But he wouldn’t even talk to me, afterwards I suggested a McDonalds. He declined and added that he thought the movie was rubbish. I felt completely defeated.

In the meantime, all this energy spent feeling guilty about Theo had started to turn into a constant feeling that everything was wrong and not as it should be. The guilt turned to unease and I started to feel like something bad was going to happen. I would wake up 3 times a night to check all the doors were locked. I had phoebe sleep in my room to check she was ok and constantly went from room to room checking they were both breathing. I started to walk everywhere rather than drive so as to prevent an accident. I was absolutely exhausted and my weight dropped lower than it had ever been.

Furthermore, all this had stopped me bonding with Phoebe. I felt like I was betraying my son by doing so and I had an eerie feeling when I looked at her, as if she wasn’t mine. The difference in my experience after having Theo to after having phoebe was a complete contrast. I started to feel like I was a bystander watching myself play house. I was in complete emotional turmoil and worried constantly that I had ruined our relationship. I felt constantly confused. My mind felt overcrowded and busy.

I’m aware now that I was experiencing severe postnatal depression. And I’m certain it was sparked by the complete lack of awareness of how much my life would change and how badly Theo would react. I was completely naive. What’s more, early on I confided in a health visitor who told me I just needed a good tramadol to calm me down. After her response, I was convinced my feelings and behaviour were all normal and I was simply overreacting.

I couldn’t go on feeling how I was so I eventually went to the doctors. She immediately prescribed me anti depressants and referred me to an online CBT programme as the wait for a therapist was lengthy. It took a lot of hard work and persistance to feel better, and as my mood improved so did Theo’s, largely because phoebe was getting older and they could sometimes play together.

Over time he settled into the role of big brother. They would play for hours, laughing (sometimes fighting). When Theo would go to his dads, Phoebe was like a lost puppy for the weekend. They really are the best of friends. Now, nearly four years down the line I can’t remember it being any other way. I tried so hard to make things ‘normal’ for Theo when she came along, completely unaware that eventually, having a sister would be his normal. Spending time alone with them is a great tip, but ultimately, it just needs time, and the understanding that it’s all temporary and no child ever grew up with PTSD from the birth of their sibling. Theo and I are also back to being as close as we were before. We have fun together, movie nights and days out still, except now with a little added bonus; his sister.

It took around a year to truly feel bonded with Phoebe. I absolutely adore her. She has the craziest character and is pretty much a miniature version of myself. I never thought it would be possible to love any child as much as I loved Theo but I am living proof that it most definitely is.

Having a second baby was nothing like I imagined and it took a lot of adjusting. Not everyone feels it’s a struggle of course, I am just sharing my experience.

Most days, after collecting Theo from preschool, he would ask me when Phoebe was ‘going back’. Every time I explained that we were her family and she needed to live with us at home. One day, when Theo asked this I replied jokingly and said we were dropping her off on the way home. He protested and said it just wouldn’t be the same without his sister.  I knew then that it was all going to be ok.

To The Girl I Used To Be

To The Girl I Used To Be

Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed with balancing life, relationships, work and being a good Mother to my two children. Imagine trying to carry six bags full of Tesco shopping, whilst walking a tightrope and reciting the 8 times tables backwards; that’s how I feel most days.  I often think back to my younger self and compare her to who I am now. I view myself then and myself now as two entirely different people, sometimes wishing I could be more like her again even though when I was, I wasn’t too fond of her.

I remember my Mum saying to me when I was a teenager that she had a dream that she was free.  She had no ties or responsibility and the feeling was amazing and one that she had forgotten.  It stuck with me because I had no idea what she meant at the time. Now, I understand just how possible it can sometimes be to miss that freedom from responsibility.

People used to say (before children) that I was selfish…and I was, because I could be.  Don’t get me wrong, if a friend or family member needed me, I would of course be there for them, but if I wanted to do something then I did it; regardless of consequences. If my parents asked me to babysit my younger brother on the same night of a huge party, then I would be politely declining. I used to put my own needs first, sometimes to a fault. I’m not bitter about the fact I can no longer do that anymore (I couldn’t think of anything worse than gracing a nightclub until the early hours) and being a mother is my biggest achievement to date, but how do I be a good mum and partner AND look after myself at the same time? That is the bit I find difficult. And where along the way did I lose my ability to be even remotely selfish? 

The love I have for my little family is too strong to not prioritise them, I want them all to be happy first and foremost. Consequently, self-care falls by the wayside. I truly find it to be one of the most challenging parts of parenting. When is it ok to put yourself first? Are you even supposed to ever again?

I used to tell myself that I needed to be less selfish, but I always ended up making the decision that suited me best. People would pull me up on it; ‘You must think about others Hayley’, ‘It isn’t all about you,’ ‘Here she goes, talking about herself again’, were things I heard often. At the time, I was always really miffed when someone mentioned just how self-absorbed I could be.  I would instantly jump to my own defence and justify myself into continuing to put myself first. In hindsight, I’m glad I did. And if I could go back, I would tell myself that from the age of 30 I won’t be able to be selfish, so it’s worth enjoying it. A quality I used to think was my weakness I now miss and wish I still had to a degree as it is now engrained in my mind that I MUST do it all, so my selfish side, or the ability to prioritise my wellbeing, always takes a back seat.

The issue is that my brain thinks I am failing as a mum if everyone else is not happy, fed, clean and clothed; it just seems that I don’t fit into that equation. I am sometimes so focussed on making my children and partner happy; making sure their lunch is made and clothes are washed, only to realise I have no clean clothes and I forgot to make my own lunch.  

My partner works very long hours, so without hesitation I will sit up with the children if they won’t sleep, same story if they get up early, I always insist on giving up my lay in even when he hasn’t had a long shift.  Whether this is habit I do not know, but it is the only way I feel I’m doing my job properly. Just for the record, my partner asks to take over all the time and is more than willing to do his share. This issue lies with me, and the fact that ever since I became a mum, I seem to accumulate an immense amount of guilt if I accept a hand and don’t complete everything myself, even if I don’t want to. My capacity to allow others to take the reins appears to have been left in my hospital room the day I brought my son home.

Maybe the way I feel is a common feeling amongst mothers, or maybe it is a consequence of my own experiences. Either way, I do sometimes wonder if the traditional ‘man/woman’ role is more engrained in us than we are aware.  Maybe, as women, we subconsciously think it is our job alone to satisfy everyone else’s needs. The trouble is, times have changed and commonly, women now contribute financially, me included.  Despite this, there still seems to be an immense societal pressure for women to take on the majority of the household and childcare duties.  I know of at least seven other mothers who feel the same way. I know of a few who also don’t of course, but it appears to be more common than not, when talking with others mums.   I am not saying it is the fault of husbands or partners at all, and this isn’t a feminist debate, I am simply stating that I think women feel as though need to do it all and end up feeling guilty if they don’t, even when help is offered. 

I’ve previously confided to my partner about how I feel which makes him frustrated. He asks why I do not just let him take over sometimes and why I decline his help. And he is right. How can I be so stressed and in need of a helping hand, whilst insisting I’m completely fine and don’t need said helping hand? It isn’t fair on him and it isn’t fair on me. I want to say ‘yes please do it this time’, but I just can’t seem to allow myself.

A natural progression in life is to mature, and with that comes responsibility. I don’t miss living recklessly and partying in Ibiza; in fact I don’t miss that at all. What I do miss is how much I cared for me.

There are plenty of qualities I have accumulated over the years as I have grown up which I am truly thankful for. For one, I am far wiser and a lot calmer in a crisis, but the thing I miss most is the raw ability to not care what anyone thinks. I used to speak my mind, shout my opinions and not let anyone walk over me. I rejected a lot of people’s opinions and justified that I was who I was and if someone thought I was odd or had said something unkind about me then that was their issue. I laughed at myself and I laughed at the negative opinions’ others may have had of me. Now, one negative opinion can ruin my week, and I don’t know why. I am so conscious of other people since becoming a parent, and I don’t like it. 

I feel remorseful for sometimes wanting to sit in a room on my own and read a book when my little boy wants me to watch him play a game or my daughter wants to show me a new dance, and I assume this is quite a natural feeling, but it is also one I should be listening  to. You only have to look at the conflicting messages society gives to mums to understand why it can be so confusing.  

Have a break/Don’t miss the special moments. Look after and have time for yourself/ You will have plenty of time to yourself later 

I just need a little moment to myself. It’s the little moments with your children that you will remember.

 It becomes exhausting.

If I sit down and start to relax I can guarantee I will suddenly remember an article I read which told me the years ‘fly by’ and how before I know it I will be a lonely old woman sat at home crying because my children won’t come around for tea. I am then unable and completely unwilling to have a bit of time to myself. 

Usually, I’d conclude my writing with some advice. But this time I have none. Prioritising myself is a work in progress. I need to retrain my mind so that I can reach a happy medium; a bit of my younger selves’ attitude would not be a bad thing and I hope to meet that girl again soon and come to a nice compromise.

I can only speak for myself and my situation and I am utterly blessed to have my two children; I wouldn’t change it for the world. But sometimes I do miss the old me. I sometimes grieve the girl I used to be.

This article is why I named this blog ‘Who’s Looking After Mum’.  Because sometimes I wonder, who is? 

Motherhood

Motherhood

When I was pregnant with my son my partner at the time’s mother said to me ‘you don’t matter anymore, all that matters is that baby, your child.  You are no longer important’.  This was a women who had also told me that I was unreasonable to expect financial help from my child’s father (a well educated man with a highly paid job may I add) and that I should move in with  her, go back to work after a month whilst she looked after my baby and earn my own keep.  As an advocate for independent women I was adamant that eventually I would do just that, but there was more chance of me letting Stalin look after my baby than there was of me allowing her to be his main influence throughout his first year.  I was treated terribly by them, I was scared and genuinely fed the lie that I would be a crap mother and I was about to screw up my child’s life.  On top of that; I apparently no longer even mattered.  Needless to say I was very depressed.

There is a point to my story, and that’s that after becoming a mother and excelling on my own after dumping the boyfriend and his odd family, I realised that mums’ absolutely matter.  The mere notion that we no longer exist after children is, in my opinion, the biggest parenting mistake because to me, it means you are living your life through your child and when eventually that child becomes an adult with their own life- to put it plainly -you’re f**ked. I spent the first few months still with this man, demonized when I chose not to breastfeed (he actually trashed my bedroom when he found formula), told I needed to lose weight and told I needed to start thinking about his private school education (when all his dad seemed to take away from it was that he was better than everyone else).  But once I had left it became easy, and that was the first step to the absolute liberation I now feel as a mum to raise my kids and live my life how I want to and not apologise for that.  I know a lot of mums feel the same; and some are still new, and I want to let them know it will be ok.  I have listed some pointers on not letting what people think get to you below. 

1.  Baby’s weight – My son was 10.7lb when born and people would literally recoil when they looked in my pram.    Despite the fact it was pure genetics (his dad was 6 foot 4 and born 3 weeks early at 10lbs), for some strange reason it made people uncomfortable to see how big he was. Some individuals still seemed to view his size with the same repulsiveness as they do with adults. Anyway, my son is now 6 years old and a (healthy) beanpole.  The kid could eat an entire turkey and not gain a pound.  He is athletic and healthy and the tallest in his class (something he is very proud of). A completely robust child; I doubt even the plague could take him down. He was the easiest baby in the world, slept like a grown man and has the most amazing temperament. So ignore the gasps at your naturally born bigger baby (or small for that matter), it has no indication of your child’s weight or health as they grow and shed the baby fat/gain it. 

2.   Going out and leaving your baby after Giving Birth – Here’s a good one; do it whenever the hell you want and let Bernadette stay in and slag you off after seeing your happy carefree pictures. Secretly, she wishes she could have a night off and glass or two of wine.  Poor Bernadette.  Bernadette needs to get laid. 

3.    Bottle or Breast – A tired debate with one clear answer; do whichever you want.  I bottle-fed,  I admire women who breastfeed and I literally could not care less which one anyone does, and neither should you. 

4.   The Division of Labour – Ahh the dreaded point scoring starts.  People with new babies know this is shakey ground and it becomes so easy for resentment towards your partner to grow.  As a woman, I felt obligated to do it all. DON’T. Get yours ladies. Take that nap, have that break and let dad do his thing. Single mums- it may not feel it but you’re winning, I found doing whatever I wanted with my first child almost liberating compared to the second one (with partner), which was far more frustrating and included a lot of compromise.  No man, no compromise and no division of labour. 

5.  Unwarranted Advice – Aunt Mildred may have found that a dummy dipped in whiskey helped her baby sleep in the 1920’s but unfortunately it’s 2020 and you’d rather stay away from using alcohol as a sedative for your precious bundle.  Don’t fight back at unwanted advice; nod, smile and forget it. Literally forget it. Then do what you were going to anyway.  I trained as a midwife for 2 years and witnessed different midwives give different answers to the same FAQ’s, which proves there are no answers for motherhood, we are all blaggers. 

6.  Have a peaceful few hours to yourself or sleep? Motherhood’s biggest predicament.  I would say do a bit of both but choosing sleep may reduce your coffee intake to nine from fifty the next day. 

Generally speaking, you’re going to get unwanted advice, you will be tired and your life will change; your relationship will face challenges, your body may be different and you will find it harder to find time for you.  You may even question your skills, or your decision to enter parenthood and that is ok. An hour later, your baby will smile or laugh or walk for the first time and you’ll forget it all.  Every last frustration will melt away.  You’ll wonder how you ever lived without them and Aunt Mildred’s advice will become a distant memory.