Sometimes you go through periods of reflection and in this case also rumination. What I’ve been ruminating on this week is the effect that pregnancy, birth, and becoming a mother had on me.
I’m sure I don’t need to preface any of this with the usual stuff about how I wouldn’t change it for the world and so on and so forth. Spaghetti Legs is four at the end of the year and I’m enjoying him more than ever.
But that’s just it: a few things have brought it all back to me about how I didn’t enjoy pregnancy, I didn’t enjoy giving birth, and I didn’t enjoy much at all even once his little fab face arrived safely.
I met up with a friend this week; friend of the family, that sort of thing. She’s expecting her first baby and I’m over the moon for her. I asked a billion and one questions and enjoyed letting her chat away.
She was happily full of herself, bordering on a smug Nelly Know All. I started to feel peeved that someone who hasn’t even given birth yet was somehow making herself out to be more competent than me. Of course she wasn’t, it was just my interpretation. Something was making me feel uncomfy.
What was very much NOT my interpretation though, was that she never once asked about me, about work, about whether I’m going back to my former career, about my family, about my health. Nothing. Meeting friends shouldn’t feel like that, should it?
It might come across as sounding like Pregnancy Jealousy, something that I’ve long meant to write about separately (subfertility, secondary subfertility, all sorts – I’ve got a lot to say about that topic!). I know what that feels like but this wasn’t that. This was something else. I think it was what they call a trigger. As in, an event or exposure to something that makes you feel a certain (negative) way. This was bringing at lot of stuff back for me that I’d have preferred to have forgotten all about.
Then, on a day of sorting out and (supposed) home improvement, I came across loads of medical papers including all the documentation relating to my IVF. At the time I sailed through it, encountered next to no problems, and as we all know had the wonderful and absolutely miraculous addition of Spaghetti Legs to our lives on our first and only cycle. How lucky is that? How ‘hashtag blessed’ am I?
But again, maybe after the coffee date with Nelly Know All, felt slightly uncomfortable. I think for years I’ve made the mistake of thinking it was only after giving birth that I felt like shit. But truth be told, on reflection, I was suffering from unbelievable levels of anxiety right from the very start and just didn’t have the right support around me to identify it let alone work on it effectively.
I had the feeling that if I let on to midwives or any health professionals about how I felt that I would have the baby taken off me, so I soldiered on, unaided, and making a complete hash of everything. Mix ups with neuchal fold results, low lying placenta, too much fluid, gestational diabetes tests – not to mention all of the things that I convinced myself were going to happen despite absolutely no evidence – a cleft palate, being strangled by the cord and deprived of oxygen at birth, stillbirth. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – I’d rather forget the time I tried to have my whole department shut down because I was convinced they were exposing my unborn child to radiation. I still maintain I was in the right, but y’know…whatever.
It’s normal I guess to look back on the early days and feel emotional; whether broodiness, or happiness, or sadness if you’re not planning or can’t have any more. “At least you have a healthy child” is both true and unhelpful – I already felt massively guilty for having successful IVF when so many women around me from the Endometriosis ‘community’ couldn’t. I don’t need to be made to feel guilty for feeling sad and uncomfortable about the thought of not being able to do it again, do it better, or differently. Of not having another one.
Anyway Nelly Know All is due soon, and I am so hoping for an easy time for her – even though the bitch in me automatically hopes that people get taken down a peg or two when they’ve been smug bastards. I wouldn’t wish a shitty birth on anyone, much less postnatal depression or worse.
At the other end of the country another friend has recently had a gorgeous baby boy. Everyone around me seems to be having boys and maybe that brings it all home to me a bit more. I expressed in a group chat that she should reach out if she was struggling in any way – which I’d rather do and it be unnecessary than to keep quiet on the chance that she was struggling and felt the need to hide it like I did.
But I got the impression that it I’d not quite overstepped the mark as such, but that I was making some kind of assumption that it was going to be difficult for her. I personally feel like as a society we should assume that giving birth and taking care of a newborn is very, very difficult and that anything other than that is a lovely bonus.
I don’t want her to struggle – I don’t want anyone to struggle. I don’t feel better from imagining that other women are miserable too. But if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone, right? The thing is, when I look around me nobody else is struggling. A relative with three under 4 years of age who’s recently had a baby (another boy) told me she’d never even been slightly tearful after any of her babies. So nearly four years on I’m still feeling inadequate.
And I’m really really pissed off with certain people for making me feel like that.
Some of them are such close relatives that I can’t even bear to go into it – I like this blog to be about me and there’s certain things I prefer not to discuss. But many of them were health professionals. If you ever read my post Breastfeeding and How I Found Amazing New Ways to Feel Shit About Myself then you’ll know what an impact the midwives had on those early days.
They fucked me over so much that I naively assumed that it was only after the birth that things really went downhill but while I was recently engaging with The Mumologist on Instagram and the #makebirthbetter discussions, I recalled how marked to contrast was between the lovely and personal care on the labour ward (and I was there from Weds to Friday so I got plenty of care) to the moment arrived in theatre for my C-section.
Nobody ever offered to talk to me about it. About how they started administering the anaesthetic and barking at me to lie down before my husband in another room had his scrubs on. How they didn’t pass on the message about how nervous I was and would like to be talked through the procedure and have the radio on, that I even had a playlist on an ipod. How nobody spoke to me throughout or explained what was going on, but how the surgeon bollocked his team for letting the placenta fall on the floor (“somebody clear this bloody mess up“) or bringing the wrong size dressing. How nobody comforted me when I started to shake and haemorrhage and vomit while I was being stitched up. How nobody bothered to tell me if the baby was healthy and didn’t even show me his face for a good five minutes after he was born. How they let me fall asleep on the first night with a half dressed baby on the bed between my legs because I was so weak I couldn’t get him back into the crib and nobody came when I rang the buzzer. How they left me naked, unwashed and covered in day-old blood by an open door for the Bounty woman to wander in uninvited and dozens of passing visitors to see me at my most vulnerable.
There it is again: “At least you have a healthy child“.
You’re encouraged to believe that as long as you have a healthy baby that nothing else matters. Of course, that’s what matters most to me. And he is healthy and he is happy and he’s loved and he’s everything I could ever hope for. But there’s absolutely no reason why that should be at the expense of my wellbeing.
So nearly four years on I’m angry. I’m angry at them, I’m angry at people close to me, I’m angry at myself for not speaking up, for not getting help, for letting people treat me second rate. And because anger isn’t healthy, this is why I try and forget it. This is why, when I’m sitting across a caramel latte from Nelly Know All I don’t want it all brought back to me.
It pains me that I can’t remember those early days with happiness and joy. It pains me that I can’t separate the moments of holding a beautiful new – and so very much wanted and loved – little person and how perfect he was (and is) from the memories of massive physical discomfort, emotional distress, and generally a really shitty time.
And yeah, it pains me that I didn’t get an easy ride through pregnancy and early motherhood like so many other people seem to. Cause what the fuck did I do to deserve that?
Before I hit ‘publish’ I’d like to say a very heartfelt Thank You to heaps of strangers on social media who taught me it’s ok to feel shit, to strangers on social media who became friends, and to all the good hearted people (male and female, whether parents or normal sane people) who told me I’m a boss mum – I wish I’d found you all sooner.