I share my feelings of loss when things didn’t go anything like my plan in early motherhood and how a chance encounter in a supermarket changed me for the better.
Without being naïve, I had a rough idea of what pregnancy and the newborn phase might look like for me. I had witnessed my family grow babies, most of my friends were with sproglets and now it was my turn.
I knew that pregnancy can be really tough and tiring, but I’d also watched shiny, glowing mothers-to-be rub their bellies and waddle off to pregnancy yoga. I had heard tales of emergency c-sections but also pizza deliveries and music and fairy lights during labour. I was fully aware of sleepless night and sore boobs but also seen plentiful milk supplies and ‘milk drunk’ sleepy babes.
I knew that growing and birthing a baby was not always a fairy tale. But when things were getting increasingly difficult, it was easy to start feeling as a new mother I had been robbed.
Pregnancy in the pandemic
Yes, I am ‘one of those’ who clearly had too much time during the pandemic (I didn’t) and made a baby. I was even criticised for this decision, despite always wanting a baby and having to wait patiently for the little one to blossom into a reality. It was clear that the route around healthcare was going to be a tricky one, but did that mean that I should wait? Would the NHS suddenly get better one day and invite me personally to reproduce? I was already medically termed a ‘geriatric mother’ and had been repeatedly told by my gynaecologist that I was; ‘approaching forty, had troublesome cyst filled ovaries’ and ‘it might not be easy’.
Not to worry Mr Consultant, my ovaries sussed it out eventually and I was pregnant. How did I know? Because I felt hideous. From the moment I had conceived I was sick, experienced vicious headaches, dizziness, anaemia, very low blood pressure, back and sciatic pain that was off of my little pregnancy chart.
All the well meaning advice came in about improving during the second trimester, this is exponential baby growth, wait it out. I waited patiently into the second trimester, then the third…I was rough throughout. At 26 weeks I collapsed the floor with sciatic pain, tore my abs in half and cried in utter despair. When was I going to glow? Answer: Never. The best bit about my pregnancy feeling dreadful was the reassurance that my bundle was doing well.
Toward the end of my less than radiant pregnancy I felt the resentment build. It felt to me like everyone else has skipped around being spoiled when they were pregnant and thanks to the social distance rule (isolation) and isolating (isolation) I was completely alone and exhausted. No baby shower, baby massage, fro-yo dates. No classes to go to and excited waiting room moments before scans with my hubby – not allowed. Just masks, lonely chairs in deserted hospitals and lots of ‘hmmm your bump isn’t quite big enough so we’ll do another safety scan’.
A birth story for another time
During an online ‘how to have a baby’ class we were encouraged to make birth plans. In retrospect a complete waste of paper and time. My plans were pretty basic: have a baby, safely. Without delving too deeply into my birth story today, it involved a dirty side room, a very speedy labour, a useless-bordering-on-nasty midwife, no pain relief, an episiotomy (oh yes and still no pain relief), an emergency, a baby born not breathing and no contact for a total of 32 mins and a discharge some 10 hours later without a successful feed. How I had longed for a moment to practice the breathing, maybe get in some water, some help. Nope, I was turfed out with a hungry baby, no rest and no support.
This was the start of a tricky road for me. I began motherhood a month early, poorly and carrying what is termed a ‘birth trauma’. Still, I’m a big and resourceful girl and despite this I put my face on and was determined to take the best care of my tiny charge. And I did. Day in and day out whilst I faded to nothing but a shell of anxiety and failed feeds. I didn’t have enough milk, my little one wouldn’t bottle feed and her tongue tie was so severe we had to go through two surgeries at a specialist unit. I never had that blissful ‘milk drunk moment’. It was replaced with drip feeding every 45 minutes, agonising pumping and some of the most belittling lactation consultant appointments I have ever heard of.
So far, so not dreamy
All of a sudden, around 6 months in I realised what this hole inside me was. I felt robbed, I had been robbed of any joy in pregnancy, robbed of an empowering birth experience, robbed of the baby bubble. This was further amplified by the lack of groups and classes to go to because…you know Covid. For a while I thought that perhaps I could one day make another baby and try again, then realised this was the madness talking. I would never get these experiences back again and it broke my heart. If I dared to share how I felt the response was always the same ‘you have a healthy baby and that’s what matters’. What about my health? Where am I?
Where am I?
You’ve heard it…”Mother and baby are doing well”. What a pile of crap, most likely thought up by the patriarchy many hundreds of years ago to hide the nasty business of pushing out a baby and thankfully not dying. Next time I hear this I am going straight to the source (mother) and asking them how they are really.
It seemed to me that I was lost in the quagmire of feeds/changes/ appointments that meant I just needed to survive. The images I had of matching outfits and nap schedules just faded away. I felt robbed of my needs and my dreams. Someone wise said to me that no-one expects the early ones and this is very true. Without any maternity leave to prepare myself (finished work on Friday, baby arrived Sunday) my world seemed off axis. I had been deprived that little bit of me time before being painfully launched into the reality of parenting.
Finding my glow
Many months of feeling this way went by and post natal depression moved in and made itself very comfortable. Ongoing feeding issues, ongoing abdominal pain, and no more than one hours sleep at a time really took it’s toll. Then some magical words came to me quite by chance from a woman in a supermarket who could clearly see I was a shell of a person trying her best. I was stood staring at two tubs of formula whilst tears plopped down onto my cardigan. She squeezed my shoulder and said “becoming a mother is to be broken completely down into a million pieces, because you are being rebuilt into something stronger and magnificent..a mama..keep going” and she walked away whilst new, happier tears started rolling.
For some reason those words clicked in my brain and made sense. I was being tested and learning at the same time. I went to a clothes department and bought matching outfits for me and my baby, I added a bright pink lipstick to my loot, and then went home and put us both to bed after eating an enormous piece of cake. I realised I needed some care and whilst I no longer had anything resembling my previous life I had control over some small things and I was ready to start.
A shared story is a gift
I knew I couldn’t change my pregnancy story or birth story or newborn story, but I slowly started to realise that this experience wasn’t just my own. My baby girl shared that story with me and she is amazing and our connection unshakeable. We had been through this together and I hadn’t been robbed of my greatest gift, her. To continue to feel robbed would just dampen what we had now. And what we had was hard, but it was ours. Our little story and our little family. So I got the outfits, I put my face on and I started writing down the funny little joys in our day to share with her when she is grown.
Little by little the feeling of loss lessened and the grief faded because I didn’t need it anymore. Looking forward all I could imagine is that there will be so much more.