The Waiting Game

Today I’m 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I’ve been on maternity leave for 3 weeks already and whilst it’s been great, I am now more than ready to meet this little person who has been kicking me relentlessly for the past few months, testing out his motor skills and preparing to make his debut on the world stage.

It wasn’t an easy journey to get here. But neither was it a desperately hard one. We suffered one miscarriage before this pregnancy, something I have since learned is painfully common, despite being so often brushed under the carpet. That was a very sad time, but it also made us stronger, and more grateful than ever when the second pregnancy came around and was viable.

As the end of this pregnancy draws near it feels, ironically, less real than ever. We have all the ‘stuff’ that one is told one needs in order to prepare for the arrival of a baby, and in theory are equipped with at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to keep a baby alive for the first few months of its life. But the enormity of how different things will be any day now is still somehow eluding us.

The waiting is so strange. I know I have to go through the pain of labour in order to get him out, but until you’ve done it there’s no point of reference as to how it will be or how you will feel. Similarly, we know our sleep – something we prize above most other things in this version of our lives – is about to be decimated, but can’t truly imagine how it will be to carry on regardless, in the new version of reality we will be crossing into.

Most of all, until he’s here it’s so hard to imagine having a little person around us all the time, entirely dependent on us to find his way in the world, at least in the early years. The weight of responsibility to be good parents is huge, and to say we aren’t nervous about that would be an untruth.

And so we wait, excitement in our bellies and hearts in our mouths, every night settling into our normal routine – chat, dinner, TV, read – knowing that soon, so very soon, things will never be the same again. Hoping we can hack it. Hoping we can thrive.

Come on little one. Let’s see how we do.

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Week 32: Amazon Warehouses and Hands-free Breast Pumps

Preparing for the birth of a baby feels a bit like preparing to jump off a really high ledge into choppy waters below. You’ve done your calculations and think you’ll be okay, but you know there’s a chance you’ll land on rocks or be sucked under by the current. Either way, you know you’re going to jump, so you may as well do it with the right attitude…

Our house is fast becoming an Amazon warehouse. My husband, bemused by the rapidly growing pile of (entirely alien) miscellaneous baby-related items by the front door, has become both adept at stepping around them and wise enough not to question their necessity. Quite frankly, I’ve no idea if we need it all or not, but at this stage that’s somewhat of a moot point. No matter how strong my willpower was in the early stages of pregnancy (“I shall only buy the absolute essentials”), it seems the third trimester urge to ‘nest’ is an impossibly persuasive force. Fortunately, thus far, I am still rational enough  of mind to avoid any really outlandish purchases (double ‘hands free’ breast pump bra anyone? Because nothing says ‘welcome home, honey’ like a lactating woman doubled over the sink furiously doing the washing up whilst a machine deposits her milk supply into plastic bottles attached to her breasts). But given how much I’ve been forgetting in the past few days (loath as I am to ever use the phrase ‘baby brain’, I have to admit something is afoot) it may only be a matter of time.

Having successfully completed a 15 hour pre-natal preparatory course, we now at least have a rudimentary understanding of the process of labour, which is nothing short of terrifying. As the day approaches I feel the panic rising up inside me. Whilst a natural, drug-free birth would obviously be the ideal scenario, my pain threshold is so low I’ll probably be screaming for an epidural before we’ve even reached the hospital. The stories in the pregnancy books of women who had ‘perfect’ natural births in the comfort of their own homes are all well and good, but forgive me if I prefer not to watch my husband giving himself a coronary trying to blow up the birthing pool as I writhe in agony on the floor, calling him every swear word under the sun. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll go as long as I can without pain relief. But the moment it becomes too much, get the gas and air on the go, hook up the TENS machine and fill that spinal syringe, because the role of stoic earth mother just isn’t me.

The thought of being solely responsible for a tiny, helpless human is even more frightening than childbirth. Even more so the idea this is for EVER. If we don’t immediately bond with the little rascal there’s no money back guarantee. We can’t return him. He’s ours. For life. It’s only now, as I stand on the precipice of parenthood, that I realise just what a big deal becoming a parent is, and have a genuine appreciation of all my parents went through to get me to where I am today.

But as big a responsibility as it undoubtedly is, it’s also an honour. When you’ve suffered miscarriage, as I have, you have a deep sense of the fragility of life, and perhaps an even greater sense of wonderment as a life successfully grows inside you. As hard as the next few months and years are bound to be (there are not words sufficient to articulate how much I will miss Sleep), I will try not to forget how much we wanted this baby, how lucky we are to have him and how much joy he had already brought us before he even entered the world. The countdown to meeting our baby boy is on, and we are ready for the challenge… ❤

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Third Trimester: Entering Warp Speed..

Today I’m 27 weeks’ pregnant, officially at the beginning of my third trimester. I can hardly believe how fast the last few weeks have gone, it feels like only yesterday I was staring at the digital test in disbelief, and now we’re 13 weeks (or less!) away from meeting our little man. Crazy. Despite the sleepless nights, leg cramps, mood swings and anxiety, I’m so excited about entering into this next phase of our lives. I know it’s not going to be easy – far from it – but I’ve needed a new challenge for a long time and this will certainly be that!

Talking of challenges, this week I’ve finally put to bed the first (long!) year of my Master’s course (or at least I hope I have – results of the assignment are still pending..) which is a huge relief. Now I can finally turn my attention to the list of ever-more-pressing baby-related tasks that need doing. We’ve managed to sort the basics (so he will at least have somewhere to sleep and something to be moved around in) and have this week managed to confirm a creche place starting in January (this has been really worrying me as in Belgium creche places are few and far between, with women urged to start the application process when they are only three months’ pregnant – what?!!!!!), but we have yet to fill out all the complicated paperwork (in French – which complicates things more, given that neither of us have much of a grasp of the language) which will confirm our maternity/paternity leave and baby-related benefits. And as for all the other stuff we’ll need, I’m not sure where to start!

Something else I have confirmed, after thinking about it for a while, is the presence of two doulas at the birth. In case you don’t know what a doula is (as I didn’t a few weeks ago), they are basically non-medically trained birth support partners. Apparently, evidence suggests that women who have additional support beyond their partner and medical team have shorter, easier labours. For us, there is also the additional concern of our limited language skills, so I see our team of doulas as being critical in ensuring that our wishes are actioned by the medical team. I also figure that the more support we have the better – living abroad is great, but at times like this you miss your friends and family more than ever.

So things are moving along, which is just as well, because if his recent Tyson-esque bouts of stomach boxing are anything to go by, this baby is keen to get out and make his mark on the world….

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Week 23 woes

I knew January would be hard, but this is something else. Navigating the rollercoaster of a stressful job all week, then spending every weekend trying to pull off my end of year master’s assignment would be brutal if I wasn’t pregnant. But it is what it is. The only way out is through. So on I go.

Last night I went to see the doctor. When I stepped on the scales she raised an eyebrow and told me I had put on 3kg in a month. Apparently rather more than the 1.5kg she would have expected. She put it down to ‘Christmas eating’ (fair) and told me to cut down my sugar intake (cue immediate guilt about the double sized portion of egg custard tart I had consumed not two hours before my appointment). She told me my blood pressure was low. I told her I was stressed, so she wrote me a prescription for a magnesium supplement, asked if I needed a doctor’s note for some time off work. I’d love that, frankly, but right now it’s not the solution.

I’m trying to manage my stress better. It’s strange knowing that now I’m not just responsible for myself but another tiny human. Whereas before I would have pushed through the pain barrier, stayed late every night in the office, deprived myself of sleep and food and whatever else stood in the way of hitting deadlines, now I just can’t do it. I’ve set myself boundaries – not working past 7pm being one of them. I’m also trying to adopt a ‘one day at a time’ mentality, focusing only on the things I can realistically achieve in each day, instead of the mountain of things I can’t. If it means deadlines sometimes can’t be achieved, then so be it. I’m human, not a machine.

Prenatal yoga three times a week is helping, but it’s not enough. So when it feels the walls are closing in – like last night – I’m just allowing myself to stop, talk to a friend, have a bath, do whatever I need to get my heart rate back down, my blood pressure back up. This baby is more important than work, than course, than anything. I have to prioritise him.

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Second Trimester Blues

Hamlet was wrong. Bump or no bump? THAT is the question.

Everyone tells you: “Wait until you get to the second trimester, the symptoms disappear, you’ll feel so good – make the most of it!” What they don’t realise is that when you’ve had a missed miscarriage you don’t want the symptoms to disappear. Far from it. In fact, if you had them every day you’d be relieved. Because it would be a sign that things were still okay.

Today I am officially sixteen weeks’ pregnant, and whilst I am finally having to agree my stomach is more rounded, it’s not the classic ‘baby bump’ I’d been led to believe I would have by now. It’s soft and wobbly, for one thing (much like my belly was before, if I’m honest), and it changes in shape and size from one day to the next (making me think, when it’s bigger, that it’s just water retention and/or bloating).

I’m desperately looking for signs that all is progressing as it should, despite the fact I know the odds are stacked in my favour. All was fine at the 12.5 week ultrasound scan. At 14 weeks I saw the baby move at a follow up appointment. And yet, because I’m haunted by what happened last time, I can’t bring myself to believe it’s all okay in there. I don’t know if I will believe it until the day I hold my baby in my arms.

Since week 13 I’ve been going to pre-natal yoga classes. And whilst I’m loving them, being surrounded by other pregnant women with big bumps can be a little anxiety-inducing. I feel jealous of the obviousness of their pregnancies, despite them sharing woes of back pain and sleepless nights. I long to be at the stage they are at, even though I know that wishing this time away is foolish. But this is what miscarriage does to you, sadly. It makes you scared to believe.

My next scan is in two weeks – the day we head home for the Christmas break. Maybe if all is still okay then I’ll be able to relax a little more and enjoy the holiday season. I really hope so!

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I Had a Miscarriage / Why it’s never okay to ask a woman when she’s having kids

I wasn’t sure when, or even if I would share this very personal story with the world. But last week I felt suddenly courageous and submitted it to the Instagram page @ihadamiscarriage. The response has been phenomenal, and since it was published I’ve felt more sure than ever that sharing it is the right thing to do. Because too many women suffer in silence. And I want to do my small bit to break the taboo around miscarriage.

My Story

We recently announced our happy news – we’re having a baby! This is my fourteenth week, and getting here has felt like the most interminably long journey. Every day I have worried (and do worry) that something is wrong, that this little miracle will be taken away from us. Not because I am an over anxious mother, but because it happened before.

Because in March this year we were also doing a happy dance, staring at the positive test and dreaming of all that lay ahead of us. But it wasn’t to be. At my nine week scan we heard the words no new parent wants to hear: “Your baby has no heartbeat.” As it turned out, s/he hadn’t grown for the previous two weeks, so I had technically been carrying a dead embryo inside me all that time.

I’d had flashes of knowing something was wrong. One night during a barbecue we were hosting, a feeling of cold dread swept over me. It was so bad and so unexpected that I took myself straight off to the bedroom without so much as a good night to our friends. I ran a bath, sat in it and cried, feeling the loss somewhere deep inside without really understanding what it was.

After we found out I cried and cried. That first day was hell, but with each day that passed I felt stronger. I took a week off work to get my head together, booked a D&C operation for the following Friday (because, despite my doctor’s less than reassuring comment that it would happen naturally “at some point”, I didn’t fancy travelling all the way from Brussels to Nashville the following week for my friend’s bachelorette party and wedding, and having it happen in the middle of a packed dance floor. That would have kind of killed the party vibe, you know?).

One day, before the op, I walked to the local park, picked a beautiful old tree straight out of a fairy tale and held a little ceremony in my mind to gift the baby’s spirit to the tree for safe keeping. That ceremony kept me sane, and to this day that tree brings me a deep sense of comfort.

The operation was less traumatic than I had feared. I went alone, because my husband had to work, and had my first general anaesthetic, which to be honest scared me more than the procedure itself. By that point I was just relieved to have it out of me, this tiny nearly-human that was never destined to join us. Afterwards I felt relief; I was myself again. Except you are never really quite the same again after something like that. Not completely.

And so I went to America, had a wonderful time, told almost no one what had happened. Returned to ‘normal’ life. And the days and weeks went by, and at some point we felt strong enough to try again. And for the second time we were blessed to not have to wait too long, something for which I am truly grateful, because I know too many people who have struggled, who are struggling, for myriad reasons.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

When I told my colleagues the news of our second miracle, one said: “That’s weird, we thought you were pregnant a few months ago.” I stood there, silently screaming I was I was I was. “Really? No, I wasn’t.” I hated to deny it, but where could I begin?

Another colleague has been asking the childless women in the office why they don’t have kids yet, challenging us on how we can put our careers before our families, why we would want to.

No matter how well meaning the question, it is never okay to ask a woman why she doesn’t have kids. Behind the smiles and politely brushed off comments, for those who are struggling it hurts like hell. You never know what a woman has gone through, or is going through in order to have children. And unless you are that woman, or her partner, it’s frankly none of your damn business.

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Image credit: Kimothy Joy / #ihadamiscarriage

Acceptance

Yesterday I had a little freak out. A tough day at work had me wishing I could reach for the wine, and when I say wishing I mean REALLY WISHING.

As I sipped lemonade over an otherwise boozy dinner with my colleagues I found myself pining for the uninhibited party girl in me, and finding it hard to reconcile with the me who is preparing to welcome a new human into the world, and working on a master’s degree at weekends.

But today a sense of calm has washed over me. I’m enjoying waking up without hangovers, I love learning (even if it stresses me out 80% of the time because I feel I’m not good enough – another demon to exorcise on another day), and being a mummy is what I’ve always wanted more than anything.

Everything is ok. I am exactly where I am meant to be.

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