Am I jealous of your baby?

I wanted to write this blog post because it’s a question I have not only asked myself about other women’s pregnancies and babies since Samuel being born in the second trimester, but even prior to his arrival, I could never quite make sense of how those around me struggling with infertility, or having suffered miscarriage and baby loss, would feel about my own pregnancies or baby…and to be quite honest, mothers with babies who suffered extreme prematurity weren’t even on my radar.

Google defines to be jealous as ‘feeling or showing envious resentment of someone or their achievements, possessions, or perceived advantages’. I’d like to explore this a little bit and explain where I’m at.

Having a ‘Mummy Instagram’ page & feed means that almost every day, thanks to the good old algorithm, I will see at least a handful of pregnancy announcements, baby bump photos, birth announcements and newborn photos. I stop to look at these posts, I tap ‘like’ on these posts, I leave comments on these posts. When I say ‘congratulations’ on a pregnancy, or a new baby, or a gender reveal…I mean it, from the bottom of my heart. I do not resent a new or expectant parent’s happiness, and I would never be disingenuous about this or avoid wishing them well because of my own experience. There is no happier or more moving time than the promise of new life…I’ve been in those shoes and I 100% buy into sharing the excitement.

However, that doesn’t stop a niggle that I never used to feel. A sting of sadness; a reminder that what was supposed to be for us didn’t happen that way, and of everything else that happened instead.

Even now almost 10 months later, I am not yet comfortable to be around other babies. It’s impossible still for me to not look and compare what a ‘normal’ baby is doing, what the baby looks like and what has come naturally for Mum and baby, which wasn’t the same for me and Samuel. I have two close friends who were due months before me, whose babies were born after Samuel, in the same month. It may be almost a year since he was born, but that does not mean I have forgotten the experience or that his preemie journey is over, or even will be over for a number of years.

To see Samuel aside babies of the same age who are twice his size and in some cases almost walking, is something I will hold my hands up and say I am not yet stoic enough to deal with gracefully, and is a situation I will continue to avoid until I feel differently. There is actually a designated baby clinic in my area for babies who were on the special care unit at my local hospital, so that they can get weighed/chat to other Mums of premature or sick babies without experiencing these feelings. I haven’t yet attended it myself, and tend to take Samuel to the ‘normal’ baby clinic. For me, this is about taking little steps to push myself into situations where I can gradually learn to feel more at ease around Mums and babies who haven’t been in my shoes. I don’t engage in chit chat, but I’m there. It’s part of the healing process.

The other new and unexpected emotion I now find myself processing when it comes to pregnancies is that I am almost entirely unable to get my head around the possibility that the outcome of a pregnancy can be positive, and am struck by the fear and anxiety of this, completely unnecessarily, on another woman’s behalf. I know logically that what happened with Samuel is very rare; only 7% of births in the UK are premature, and of that 7%, just 5% were born before 28 weeks and would be classed as ‘extremely preterm’*. But knowing this doesn’t take away from the fact that it did happen to us, and that every second and third trimester bump photo now triggers a habitual thought pattern for me that includes willing the baby to stay in there ‘til they’re absolutely ready, calculating in my mind the potential size/weight and stage of the babies’ development (particularly their lungs), and comparing this to Samuel at birth. I would like to think this is because it’s still not been that long, and that eventually one day I will see gorgeous bumps and scrummy newborn babies with only the feelings of joy and excitement, without a tainting by my experience.

I don’t believe I’m special, or am worthy of any kind of exclusive treatment. I don’t like a fuss of any kind (good or bad – the thought of a big party thrown on my behalf, for example, calls for me to tuck my head away in my hands or rush to the toilet for a nervous poo). I certainly would never ask for, or expect anyone to tiptoe around me because of the indignities and failings of my own reproductive system. If there’s a situation or conversation I would rather avoid, I generally do just that, it’s no one else’s fault or responsibility. Unless backed into a corner or subject to a serious feather ruffling, I don’t tend to speak my mind about sensitive issues that pertain to me. This is why when someone pregnant has a moan to me about being pregnant (which having had a full-term pregnancy myself I COMPLETELY understand and empathise with) it is always of value to me if the disclaimer of ‘I know I probably shouldn’t whinge to you’, or similar, is thrown in there somewhere…at least in comparison to the times when it is not. Not because I think anyone owes me an explanation, or an apology, but it’s of comfort to me know that another mother might appreciate that it may potentially be difficult or uncomfortable for me to hear.

Bitter? No. Resentful? No. Jealous? Still unsure…maybe ‘envy’ is more on the mark?

Lucky? Definitely…I am under no illusion that I am one of the luckiest ones. Whatever the journey, my baby is here and never a day will pass where I am not acutely aware of how fortunate we are to have him.

Have you ever experienced any feelings like this? Perhaps you’re an IVF parent, have suffered miscarriage, baby loss, or are a fellow preemie parent? I would love to hear from you, it can be a lonely old place when we don’t talk!

Jo XX

*premature birth statistics from tommys.org

Sectioned Off

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What if I told you my baby’s birth wasn’t ‘real’? By definition, my baby cannot exist. If my baby did not exit my body from between my legs like science tells us it was supposed to, was I ever even really pregnant?!

I’ll grant you this little nugget for nothing…there is zero make-believe about 48 hours of slow, painful, unavailing labour. Ask my husband if you require verification, he’ll tell you how he caught my sick in umpteen cardboard kidney dishes precisely every 3 minutes for at least 20 of those hours.

I’m not here to divulge the details of my birth story (not today, anyway!). What I’m trying to say is that it WAS ‘real’. I most definitely WAS pregnant. A baby most definitely DID exit my body, and she most definitely DOES exist.

Yep, my baby was born by c-section. It was an emergency c-section, not that it should matter. I HAD originally planned to have an elective, for two reasons;

  • I was told early on in my pregnancy that I had an abnormality to the shape of my uterus, which could potentially make it difficult to carry a baby to full term and often results in a c-section.
  • I had (and still have!) a phobia of giving birth. I didn’t feel my body could handle it, nor that I could handle what it would do to my body if I survived.

I had my mind made up early on about the way I wanted my baby to come out; the safest possible for both of us. Confident about my decision to opt for an elective section, I was ready and prepared to get everything put into place.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I made the disheartening discovery that by dropping the ‘C-Bomb’, I was committing a cardinal sin of pregnancy. I found myself berated for my choice, subject to disparaging remarks about ‘people’ (in case you need a translation from passive-aggressive to plain English, that means ‘you’!) thinking they’re ‘too posh to push’, a litany of complaints about the procedure itself, and how the culture of my generation promotes chopping up our bodies in order to get what we want from them.

It caught me completely off guard to find that on confiding my very personal decision, I’d been so quickly rebuked, and ended up feeling like I’d somehow be a less deserving mother for making it. At home, I sobbed to my husband, who obviously told me to forget everything I’d been told (in fact, I believe what he actually said was “f*ck ‘em, Jo” – ever eloquent, my Jack…) but pregnant and hyper-sensitive, it wasn’t as simple for me to just let these words run off me like water off a duck’s back. The comments weren’t just from strangers, some of them had come from people I knew, liked and respected. I tried to keep up my pre-pregnancy ‘no f*cks given’ facade, but behind closed doors I was hurt and confused.

Long story short, I eventually allowed myself to be browbeaten into having a ‘natural’ aka vaginal birth. Despite knowing what I did about my weird-shaped womb and harbouring a lifelong fear of childbirth, I wanted to enjoy and be supported in my pregnancy, without any further exposure to the criticism I had already faced.

As my pregnancy progressed, I watched my growing bump in awe. With every scan, every listen to the heartbeat and with every kick, flutter and wriggle, I became more and more convinced that my body could do it the ‘proper’ way. After all, it was already doing things I previously never imagined it would. “It might actually be ok!” became my new mantra, and although I wasn’t expecting a picnic, I acquainted myself with the concept of traditional childbirth through daily reminders of just how many people I knew that had done it before me, how they all lived to tell the tale, and that it was only temporary (except the part where you’re presented with your very own actual human baby to take home; arguably the scariest part of all – SERIOUSLY permanent!).

Anyway, it turned out that I was unequivocally and monumentally wrong. It wasn’t ok, and I couldn’t do it. I was in labour for 2 days before doctors intervened and my daughter was born by emergency c-section. As they stitched me up, the surgeons told me that from the position she had been wedged in, there was physically no way that she would have come out by any other means, even if my labour had progressed to the point where I could have started to think about pushing (I didn’t get past 5cm dilated!).

I will be forever frustrated with my pregnant self for not sticking with my original plan to have a c-section delivery, as that was what I needed, and what I ended up having…albeit under far more traumatic and precarious circumstances for both me and my baby. I had been affected by the c-section stigma that tells us we only earn respect as a mother if we follow in the footsteps of our foremothers and give it the old ‘heave ho’, at whatever cost to our health.

I’d like to highlight that I am certainly not in opposition to vaginal births. After all, that is the way nature intended, and had my body been able to do it safely and successfully, this would have undoubtedly been everyone’s favourite. I wanted to believe so badly that I would be able to, that my fears were unfounded and that everyone (myself included) would be so proud when I actually did it, but it just wasn’t to be.

I was offered counselling afterwards, which although I think is fantastic, I gratefully declined. I found the car crash labour a far more traumatising experience than the eventual c-section. I was just glad it was over and that my baby was here and healthy (though the poor little thing did have a Klingon head where she’d been desperately bearing down for days in a position where there wasn’t an exit!)

The advances of medical science mean that fewer women now die in childbirth. What’s humbling to keep in mind is that in times gone by, I could have easily been one of them had my c-section not taken place, and I know at least several other Mothers who could say the same for themselves and their baby.

I do not wish to implement blame. It is no one’s responsibility but my own that I chose not to trust my instincts and go with the delivery I had planned. What I’m bothered by, is that somehow, because my c-section wasn’t planned, the prejudice attached to the elective c-section no longer applies (or at least no longer to my face). Why did I have to go through the physical and emotional trauma that I did, risking my health and that of my baby, in order for the birth of my child to be deemed acceptable? I know this is by no means a universal opinion, and ultimately it shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks…but it affected my pregnancy, and I’m perturbed by the idea of other mothers needlessly finding themselves in similar situation.

An advocate for c-section birth, I am not. Surgery of ANY kind should not be taken lightly, and if there’s a safer way for Mum and baby, then I’m all for it. Despite what some may say, it’s certainly not an ‘easy way out’ to endure major abdominal surgery, to then be responsible for a completely helpless little human whilst you attempt to recover. With any childbirth, I think we can all agree that there is no easy way out.

Whatever the way our babies come into this world, we are ALL amazing. Instead of focusing on our differences, let’s celebrate new life, let’s celebrate motherhood and let’s celebrate supporting one another in our unique journeys…it can be a rough old ride out there; us mummies need to stick together!

Did you have a c-section, what was your experience? Perhaps you had a c-section, but wished you had a vaginal birth, or vice versa? I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions!

Jo X

Chronicles of the After-Birth #3 – Unsolicited Advice

 

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As the saying goes, “opinions are like arseholes…” everyone does indeed, have one. Ergo, if someone hasn’t initiated an exchange that involves discussing your arsehole, you can **probably** assume that it’s because your arsehole, unique and essential though it is to you, is not of any consequence in this scenario.

I get it…we’re people. As people, we all just loovvve to talk about ourselves. It’s human nature. Relating our own experiences to those around us is completely normal, and is an important part of building a rapport and forging relationships with others. BUT…(and it’s a big ol’ but…) when it comes to parenting, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the hype of our own wisdom, and instead of relating to others, we cross a very fine line into the territory of becoming a bit of a pain in the aforementioned hole.

Something about pregnancy, babies and children is a trigger for anyone who has ever had a child, known a child or BEEN a child to morph into Jo Frost, compelled to weigh in on what it is they did with their kids, and/or what they think you should be doing with yours. Just when you thought you’d escaped the unrelenting barrage of pregnancy and childbirth stories, suddenly your baby is here, and what they eat, how they sleep, why they cry; it’s all up for public debate. It’s no surprise that some new Mums can end up feeling like they’re the ones sat on the ‘naughty step’.

Some of the truly remarkable tidbits offered to me include “Well, you know why she’s clingy, it’s ‘cause you breastfeed” and “Oh, just let her cry. She won’t remember it”. Thankfully, I’m not easily upset or swayed by these kinds of offerings. Just pretty f***ing irritated.

Of course, in the majority of cases, the intentions of others are probably good. The phenomenon of new life speaks to our compassionate side; people do really want to help. Why wouldn’t we want to share with others, especially those we empathise with, the secrets to our success? There is undeniably a fount of knowledge for all things ‘baby’ if we can only manage to keep our eyes and ears open.

HOWEVER (did you think the rant was over…?!) As new mothers/parents, we are more often than not pretty darn sensitive. We are desperate in our pursuit for confidence, muddling through the best we can in our attempt to master a role that we have limited to no practical experience in. All the while, in a vortex of hormones and functioning on minimal sleep, dealing with all manner of postpartum ailments and unwelcome bodily changes.

Even at the best of times, unsolicited advice is about as well-received as discovering you have poo on your wrist when you haven’t changed a nappy in a while. NEWSFLASH!!! People don’t like it. Even the kindest of counsel can come across as critical or annoying when we feel as though we’re under a microscope during the most vulnerable moments of our life.

As parents, we all want to do our absolute best, and will spend any ‘spare’ moment we have, frantically Googling and researching in books, the answers to our worries, woes and curiosities. And yes, we DO ask for advice from those around us. Folks, THIS is the time to offer up your two pennies worth to the pregnant co-worker, the lady next door who’s just had a baby, the friend with a toddler etc. .No exceptions to the rule…this is the ONLY time you can say something, safe in the knowledge that the parent in question isn’t ceremoniously swinging a bat at an imaginary piñata with your face on it.

Unfortunately, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that we are subject to unwanted comments and advice, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. MY only piece of advice would be, when you’re on the receiving end; take a deep breath, smile and reply calmly “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind”.  Save your energy, you’ll need it. Put the bat down.

What are some of the most excruciating pieces of unwanted advice thrust upon you as a parent? How did you deal with them? I’m excited to hear your stories and strategies!

Jo X

Chronicles of the After-Birth #2 – ‘A Bolt from the Blues’

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I wouldn’t class myself as a particularly, overtly ’emotional’ person. That’s not to say I’m swingin’ down the street fancy-free like Georgie girl. Oh no no. I have a tendency to obsess over things…often completely ridiculous things. Maybe I’ll keep replaying and dissecting something stupid I might have once said four years ago to someone I barely knew at a party or at work, and will probably never speak to again in my life. I also get frustrated and impatient when things aren’t done yesterday, and done my very own personalised version of ‘right’. But in recent years, I am not much of a crier…so I thought.

Approximately 4 days after my daughter arrived into this world, it hit me. A tidal wave of salty tears. In an instant, I waved goodbye to a well-rehearsed stoic exterior, and crumpled into a whimpering, wet-faced, ugly-cry mess. I am struggling to think of an example of something hilariously pitiful that I cried about to tell you, because the truth is, I cried over EVERYTHING. E-VER-Y-THING.

A couple of moments I recall include angrily raking through bin-bags of clothes, tossing my favourite crop tops and skinny jeans to the ‘throw away’ pile, resigning to my new, muted, conservative ‘Mum’ self, who would never look or feel great ever again. I also remember sobbing to my husband, because we couldn’t even take a moment to relax, cuddle and watch TV together like we used to. Everything around us looked the same, but it wasn’t. I was just a nappy-changing milk machine now, and it was never going to get easier.

I had heard the expression ‘baby blues’ before, and without much thought, I had assumed this was another term for Post Natal or Post Partum Depression (PND/PPD). Or maybe even similar to post-wedding blues, in that it’s a lengthy anticipation up to a huge event/climax, and then suddenly it’s over. Done. Of course, I know that’s not quite how it works with babies (you’ll never, EVER be done!).

It’s really hard not to feel guilty for feeling so down, especially when you are acutely aware of the pain and longing of those who haven’t got their baby…and what you know you should be doing is beaming proudly and cooing over your new little addition, thanking your lucky stars for such a blessing and absorbing every last blissful drop of family life. Unfortunately, there are some things, try as we might, that we just cannot control.

What I didn’t account for, was that it’s a physical reaction. A reaction consisting of a colossal comedown of post-birth hormones and drugs, trying to file away and come to terms with the trauma of childbirth, all whilst caring for a new tiny person in an upside-down world, suffering from sleep deprivation and recovering from major surgery, all at once. In my case, I just could not contain it. Why was I crying?! I had the most beautiful baby girl who was healthy, who I was bonding with well, lots of our family and friends showed their support and came to see us…I was lucky enough even to have my Mum come and stay and help out for several days in the first weeks (my husband couldn’t be around much because we had just got the keys to our new house, but that’s another story!). And yet I boo-ed, boo-ed and boo-ed some more. My husband didn’t recognise me, let alone know what to do or say to me.

This lasted maybe 3 weeks, peaking around 1 week and tapering off slowly until it was maybe only once or twice a day that I was reduced to a blubbering mess. Transitioning over time from borderline completely irrational, to genuine frustration and exhaustion. Even now, almost 11 months later, I still find it more difficult than ever to control my emotions, though not to the same degree as immediately post-birth!

How to overcome this? Well…firstly, it takes time. If you get through this phase completely unscathed without shedding even a single, silent Hollywood tear; you are an absolute machine of a woman, and I applaud you. For the rest of us mere mortals, the best thing I found you can do to get through this stage is to do something for yourself. Really make it a priority.

If you’re up to it, take a walk…on your own. Ask your partner, your Mum, or a friend to watch the baby. It doesn’t have to be for long. Even 10-15 minutes to get a pint of milk from the shop works! If you like music, stick your headphones in while you walk and listen to your favourite tunes. Or if you want to stay home, ask someone to take the baby for a walk, or a drive. Take a bath or shower, watch an episode of your favourite series, read a book, paint your nails, do a face mask…whatever it is that is a little ‘me’ ritual that you enjoyed pre-baby, or would make you feel a little more human.

Removing yourself from the screaming, crying baby and stressed out husband situation and giving yourself a little reminder that you’re still ‘you’ and ‘you’ still matter, and doing this as regularly as possible (I realise this might not be as regular as we’d like 😉 ), is a way to ease the pressure on yourself, at arguably the most challenging time of your entire life. Make sure you tell someone close how you’re feeling, and that you could use their support to reclaim a moment that’s yours, so you can be ready again to dust yourself off and carry on.

When you can do this, you give yourself enough space to stand back and re-appreciate the most beautiful and precious gift that you have, and that everything new and difficult that is going on is all a phase, and it really will all be ok.

How long did your ‘baby blues’ last? What did you do to overcome those feelings? I’d love to hear your comments and stories!

Jo X

Chronicles of the After-Birth #1 – ‘Rush of Love’

 

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Ok, so I won’t lie…I really wasn’t up for labour. I’d always felt an undeniable fear that I would die in childbirth; that my body just wouldn’t be up to the task. Dramatic, perhaps? Well…the dread of the unknown cannot be underestimated, and the idea of what can be likened to passing a pomegranate through your nostril isn’t exactly a comfort. What women go through in order to bring a new little person into this world doesn’t have the most gleaming of reputations.

A lot of new Mothers report back that it all becomes worth it in the moment their tiny pink bundle of sticky, slimy joy is safely delivered into the world and placed on their chest, skin to skin. That they felt this incredible rush of love and wonderment take over their entire body in a delightful cocktail of hormones, like coming up on some kind of super strength MDMA.

I did not feel ANYTHING like this. At ALL. Don’t get me wrong, I was totally overwhelmed and in awe to finally meet our darling baby girl, at her beauty, and to hold her for the first time… But mostly, I was relieved and shell-shocked after reaching the end of a 2 day labour, having not slept a wink for nearly 48 hours and completely up to my eyeballs in all kinds of hospital drugs. To be honest, I felt numb. Literally and figuratively.

Thankfully, I knew it was possible for it to be the case that I wouldn’t experience the much-coveted instant ‘warm and fuzzies’…so it wasn’t the worst surprise to discover that I didn’t fall madly in love straight away. It does make me wonder though, whether some Mothers encounter their first bitter taste of ‘Mum guilt’ very early post-delivery, and may end up punishing themselves for not feeling these emotions, experiencing anxiety, or even questioning whether or not they might have PND.

I think there are a lot of expectations put on new Mothers to act and feel a certain way once their baby arrives, and to report only the instagrammable, romanticised version of birthing a child, but the reality is often that we’re tired. So, so tired. Sore. Sometimes pretty traumatised. Overwhelmed by everything we’ve just been, and are still going through.

The instinct was there to protect and love my baby from the moment I found out I was pregnant, and this only intensified once she was born. But, the love I have for her now is different. It’s a love so irrationally strong that I can unreservedly tell you that it has brought tears to my eyes, in what I suppose you could call a ‘rush of love’. It’s a love that has grown along with her as we’ve spent more and more time together, and I’ve gotten to know her little ways.

Her adorable crooked-mouth yawn. Her cheeky grin where her whole body scrunches up, so beside herself with joy that her very face may split in half and she might explode. Her tiny grunts of frustration, complete with furrowed ‘barely-there’ brow, turning pink with rage. I could go on…and I’m sure you can list a million things about your own beautiful baby that you fell for in the hours, days, weeks, months and years after their birth, even in the absence of an instant ‘love at first sight’ in L&D. It seems that for lots of Mummies, this is the way they fall in love with their baby; gradually, over time.

Either way, in the end, we all love our gorgeous little babies, and however we get there; I think we can all agree that there’s nothing quite like it. It’s true what they say; it really is just the best thing. Like, ever.

 

Chronicles of the ‘After-Birth’

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Before you abandon your snack and prepare to make a moue at my stories about a lingering lotus birth, preserved umbilical cords displayed in a box frame, or what a passion fruit placenta smoothie actually tastes like, let me assure you that these are not the kind ‘after birth’ experiences on which I wish to touch. Ever. Even with a very long stick. (But hey, who am I to judge if that’s what floats your boat – more power to you!)

I digress…what I mean is literally, AFTER CHILDBIRTH. I will recount a series of situations, emotions and struggles that I experienced in the early hours and days following labour that I had been completely unprepared for, and that I found out afterwards when chatting to other Mums, are actually more common than you’d think…