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

You won’t fall pregnant without treatment: My PCOS journey

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Around the age of 22, I decided I wanted to take a break from taking the contraceptive pill. I had been on Dianette for moderate acne for some years, and I just knew it wasn’t doing me any good (that drug is evil in its purest form…for me, anyway!) and I found that my ‘periods’ (obviously the ones you have whilst on the pill aren’t genuine) did not return. The official term for this is ‘secondary amenorrhea’, which basically means you did have a menstrual cycle, and now you don’t.

I went to the doctors after around 6 months, and was told to give it more time. I waited and waited, and over a year had passed before they decided to do some blood tests to figure out what might be going on. The results showed that I had low levels of what’s called the Leuteinizing hormone. This is the hormone that triggers ovulation, so basically every month when my body tried (or didn’t try) to ovulate, it wasn’t quite happening. The doctor referred me to the hospital for an ultrasound, which confirmed I had multiple cysts on my ovaries, and ‘scars’ from cysts that had come up and gone down again when they had tried to pop out an egg multiple times, and not managed to do so.

During the appointment when they explained this to me, a non-native English speaking doctor explained to me very matter-of-factly (it very may well have been the language barrier causing the perceived bluntness) that I would not get pregnant naturally, without medical intervention. I was only 23 and having a baby was so far from anything I had even in the periphery of my plans at the time, but nevertheless, to hear this was still pretty upsetting. It wasn’t an option? Ever?! What is wrong with me? They said I would need to gain weight before they would consider taking my case any further (I had a BMI of around 14 at the time; the weight fell off me very quickly after coming off the pill), and that really, I would need to be actively trying for a baby for at least 18 months before I would qualify for any kind of fertility treatment.

I was definitely not in ‘the zone’ to be trying for a baby, or putting pressure on myself to gain weight at what was meant to be the most fun and carefree time of my life…finally graduated from University, renting a decent flat and in a stable job, with the freedom to pretty much do whatever I damn well pleased for the first time ever (it was glorious…!) The relationship I was in at the time certainly wasn’t heading in the direction of anything so serious, or long term…so I just accepted it and carried on with my life, although it still played on my mind from time to time.

Fast forward to a couple of years later, and despite my reservations about the pill, I decided it was best that I go back on, and persuaded my doctor to put me on Yasmin instead (I had heard good things; that it was more gentle and good for people with mild acne/PCOS, both of which I had). It did take a lot of persuading, I guess it’s expensive to prescribe…but anyway, I still experienced some adverse symptoms from taking it (bloating, loss of sex drive, migraines, mood swings etc.), but stayed on for another two or so years.

During those two years, my circumstances changed when I met Jack, and so did my state of mind. For the first time, I actually saw myself settling down, getting married, having babies. After we had been together just over a year, the symptoms were getting too much and I decided it was time for another break from the pill, and to hopefully ‘reset’ my body so that in a couple years’ time, it might be ready for us to start thinking about babies.

I found after coming off that yet again, the weight fell off me and my skin flared up in painful and unsightly cystic acne round my jaw, and comedones (skin coloured bumps) over my face almost straight away. I had maybe two (irregular) periods, before they stopped completely, yet again. It was mega depressing being back where I was a few years ago, if not worse, and I started researching holistic ways to balance my hormones and clear my skin. All of the information I seemed to find about PCOS suggested that losing weight would be helpful, but this assumed that I might be struggling with being overweight, which didn’t apply to me.

I tried so many potions/powders & supplements; maca powder, bee pollen, Agnus Castus (chasteberry), chromium, fish oil, vitamin D, vitamin A…and so many more I can’t remember! Nothing *really* worked, not significantly. I was getting seriously depressed with it, because not only did I feel grotesque, my bad skin was a physical reminder that something wasn’t ‘right’ inside me, and that my hormones were still imbalanced after all these years.

I read a fair bit about a link between PCOS and insulin resistance/type 2 diabetes. There was one thing that seemed to make a difference when I tried it, and that was following a low GI/GL diet. No sugar, no refined carbs, no alcohol etc. Whenever I managed to stick to this for more than a couple of weeks, I managed to trigger my body into ovulating, and I would have a period. I would then relax a little… “hurrah, my body is working!” and then become complacent and go back to eating normally again, the periods would stop, and the pattern would continue.

In the end, I went back to the doctor (different surgery this time as I had moved) and was basically told I wasn’t heavy enough to be referred, and that my issues most likely stemmed from being underweight. I 100% knew this wasn’t the reason, and threw a big hissy fit…but I still went away and made an effort to eat as much (mostly healthy) food as possible to gain the weight needed to be referred. Months passed, and I managed to gain maybe half a stone, which still wasn’t quite enough. It was becoming extremely demoralising, so in the end I booked another doctor’s appointment. Just before the appointment I ate a large lunch and on my walk to the surgery, downed a 2 litre and a 1 litre bottle of water (my poor bladder; but you gotta do what you gotta do!)

Feeling suitably sick and stuffed, they weighed me and Hallelujah, I scraped the weight they had asked of me by about half a lb. They finally put me in for a referral, where I eventually had another ultrasound confirming I had PCOS, or more accurately this time, that I *HAD* PCOS, and there were scars there to show it, but my body hadn’t created any new cysts recently due to my cycle being completely dormant.

The plan was made that I would start a drug called Clomid, which is intended to trigger ovulation. It was around March at the time, and we decided between us (myself and Jack) that we would wait ‘til after the Summer for me to start treatment. I was just so relieved that something was in place to get me sorted, but we weren’t in any mad rush to get pregnant and thought it best after all the stress, to just enjoy our Summer. We were engaged and had a holiday planned to Sicily to look at wedding venues, and our weekends were just one party sesh after another (wistfully remembering these long-ago fun times!)

Fast forward to June, and a few people at my work were attempting a 5 day juice fast, for various reasons. In my infinite wisdom, I decided this might be good for my skin, so I joined in (never, ever, EVER again….). I made it to the end of day 3 and caved; I started eating vegetables and fruit again… I needed to chew and feel actual food in my belly! I was actually quite poorly for a week or so afterwards, it wasn’t a good move for me and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, but that’s just me. My skin didn’t improve, and I was more bloated than ever. HOWEVER, sometime in the two weeks following the fast, I must have ovulated, and after a night of carefree partying…we got pregnant.

The same thing happened after I gave birth to Thea; my periods stopped before they even really started. But this time, it was of no real consequence to me, as I was in no rush to get pregnant or expand our family…my skin was good satisfactory, and I wasn’t exactly complaining about not having periods, so I just ‘let it be’.

Following a trip to Spain where I had severe D+V for 2-3 days, we arrived home and yet again found out I was pregnant. It must have happened just after we got back.

*Before I point out the following, please be aware that I am in NO WAY qualified to give any kind of medical or dietary advice, and this blog is purely anecdotal; my own experience. Please refer to your GP for any medical issues.*

The thing that my two pregnancies have in common, is that I hasn’t been consuming refined sugar, carbs, alcohol in the weeks leading up to ovulating. First time because of the juice fast, second time because of the actual fast from being so unwell. AGAIN – I AM NOT SUGGESTING ANYONE DOES ANY KIND OF FAST, EVER! What I’m getting at is, the doctor who said I wouldn’t get pregnant without treatment was wrong. No information whatsoever relating to diet was offered to me, but it turns out (in my personal experience, and in line with much of the research known about PCOS) that diet plays a huge role in balancing hormones, and that in my circumstance at least, I was lucky enough to be able to manipulate my body into doing what it should, without drugs, and I now have two beautiful babies.

Everyone’s PCOS journey is different, the symptoms vary greatly. What PCOS looks like for me, might be completely different from what it looks like to someone else, and one size does not fit all in terms of treatment. I wanted to share my story and make the point that never doesn’t always necessarily mean never, and if you’re suffering with PCOS, you aren’t alone and there is hope!

Jo XX

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…