It’s a lovely Sunday morning. I’m sitting on the sofa in our little office drinking a caramel nespresso coffee and listening to the rain outside. I can hear the tv and the singing of nursery rhymes from the living room from where I left the two boys having a cuddle and some bonding time.
However, not all is right in this house. There’s a smell that I fear is going to take some very heavy duty chemicals to get rid of. Our little boy was a little off food yesterday and when we put him to bed at 7pm last night without eating, we thought that we would be up many times during the night. At 8am this morning I was watching his video monitor wondering was he ever going to wake up and should I go and check on him when the banging of a door stirred him and Rob went in to pick him up. The poor little thing had vomited during the night all over his cot and him and combined with a disgusting nappy (diaper for those of you that aren’t from Ireland), he was put straight in the shower while I tried to tackle the clean up and the smell. It got me thinking about the joys of parenthood and how different expectation is versus the reality.
Let me start this by saying that I wouldn’t change a second of it. Not the supermarket tantrums, the sleepless nights at the start or the fact that all I can smell in my house currently is stale vomit.
To be fair I never thought much about what to expect when there would eventually be a baby when pregnant. I was so sick in the beginning and with the constant threat of miscarriage, I just went from one day to the next in a daze which mainly included trying to get to the bathroom without throwing up or eating crackers on the couch to get the strength to get to said bathroom. I bet I was a real joy to live with!! I had some very sick days where I was desperate to feel well again and be able to go about life as normal. I just hadn’t realised that from the time that the word, “pregnant,” showed up on that clearable digital test that life was never going to be normal again. Our world was changing and I really feel that there’s nothing that can be said to you to prepare you for it.
I don’t believe that there is ever a right time to start a family. I certainly wouldn’t have put myself in the category that was ready! But it was meant to be. I didn’t know it at the time as I was so shocked to discover that I was pregnant.. but this little boy was born exactly when he was to give me strength. He helped me through the loss of my mother and he arrived just in time to meet her. I know she had worried about the possibility of me never having kids due to the medical conditions that I’ve been diagnosed with. I feel she was ready to let go when he was born safely into the world and had been baptised. That’s a gift I’ll treasure. No matter how stressful it was at the time, my mum held my son and knew that we were both ok. I know even though she couldn’t express it, that it meant a lot to her.
You’re supposed to be in good hands when giving birth in Ireland – it’s one of the safest places in the world. Yet, there is nothing to prepare you for how scary labour is. I have a pretty high pain threshold and to be fair after months of pain and sickness during pregnancy I had gotten used to a lot. Maybe its just me, or maybe it’s women in general but we tend to be very critical of our birth experience and compare it to others. I’ve heard lots of women talking about the trauma of their delivery ending in an emergency cesarian because they feel that that they failed at something that people do everyday. Shouldn’t we be grateful for the medical advancements that allow us to deliver these babies as safely as possible rather than being critical of ourselves for not delivery naturally?
I was induced. After three gels and 12 hours later I started contractions. I could cope with this pain. However, after 23 hours and no sign of progressing past five centimetres dilated I was hysterical. I’ll admit it. I was not coping well at all. I was shaking with shock and pain and no matter how many times the midwife told me to calm down that I would distress the baby I couldn’t control myself. I could see the worry on my husband’s face. I wanted to be able to take control of the situation and do something. In hindsight I don’t feel that I had enough guidance from the obstetrician or the midwife. I was so hysterical at this point that when the obstetrician came to check on me I asked her for a cesarian just to end the pain. She laughed and walked out and organised an epidural for me. One that failed and that I later learnt I should never have been given as I was actually 10 centimetres and hadn’t been examined. When they did discover this I was told that I would have to wait an hour to push – and I accepted this in my naivety at the time. I was a private patient and had chosen the doctor I wanted to deliver my baby. She was on call that night and I would later discover that I was left for an hour waiting to push as she was delivering another baby. One hour and 23 minutes later we were told that our baby was in distress from being stuck in the birth canal and would need an emergency delivery. They would try to turn him and if not successful I would go to the operating theatre. There was a paediatric team there waiting to take him as his heart rate had dropped. Thankfully, he turned with a vacuum and came out naturally. But those 5 seconds that it took him to cry were the longest of my life. I remember my husband hugging me and telling me how well I had done, but I never felt that. I just felt guilt – that I had coped so badly with the labour and that I had accepted an epidural too late and that he had gotten into distress. It took me a long time to realise that it was the medical professionals that were wrong in these instances and not me. We need to stop comparing birth stories and celebrating those that do it “naturally.” Surely the best way for a baby to be delivered is the way that is the safest for both mother and baby?
Adjusting to motherhood was something that thankfully came naturally to me. I had worried for my entire pregnancy that I wouldn’t bond with the baby. The sickness, the stress of my mother being sick and my lack of maternal feelings had gotten me so worked up that instead of being excited about the arrival at the end I was convinced that I wouldn’t want the baby. My consultant had taken my husband aside the day after the birth and told him that I was twice as likely to suffer from postnatal depression than most because of my gynaecological conditions and the impending death of my mother. She warned him of what to watch out for and advised him what to do in the case that it should happen. I thankfully managed to escape from this darkness. I had very sad and teary days after the funeral but I had a baby to get up for and had to get on with things. I was one of the lucky ones. Nothing to do with strength or me as a person – I just didn’t become one of the statistics. I believe post natal depression to be such an immense feeling that it can never be understood by someone that hasn’t been through it. I can’t imagine it and I’m in awe of those that suffer and come out the other side.
Those first few weeks are scary. You’re exhausted and to be honest when it’s your first who knows what they’re doing? Well we certainly didn’t. Do you want to know my advise? Ignore all advise and do what comes naturally. I was blessed with a placid baby who was a good sleeper. I was a bit of stickler when it came to holding him. He went into his bassinet when he was awake and went to sleep without rocking or aids. He wasn’t held when he was asleep ever. He went to his own room at 6 weeks as he was sleeping 8 hours and I was awake waiting for him to wake up. But trust me, I don’t believe that it was anything that I did that helped him to sleep. Some babies do, some babies don’t. We were one of the lucky ones. When we were doing night feeds I was lucky that Rob was so good. We really split them as I wasn’t breastfeeding. And this meant that I got some sleep which was badly needed after the pregnancy, birth and then the funeral. The one piece of advise I would have new mothers is to take some time away from visitors and having to leave the house where possible to bond with your child. I took a week where the only person I saw was the postman. I had a special relationship with him! He saw me in my pjs those early days more than he saw me dressed. He once put a note in the door telling me that he had a package and if I wanted to get dressed that I could and he would be back in ten minutes with it. I appreciated those little things when he would stop at the door and ask me how much sleep I had gotten the night before.
By Christmas Michael was four months old and was sleeping 12 hours. We were blessed. He had his own little personality but was so quiet and had never been sick. We know how lucky we were. Once he started moving though at about 10months old it was a completely different story. He’s still very good but he’s what I would call spirited now. That’s a nice term for he knows his own mind and knows how to get what he wants. We have no clue what we are doing! There’s no rule book for how to deal with this and to be fair even if there was how would this be applicable to every kid when each child is so different? We have the tantrums and the throwing of food and the obsession with the dishwasher, dryer, washing machine, fans, remotes, phones, laptops, the toilet…. anything dangerous or expensive and he’s there. But we also have the cuddles… when he’s playing he will often come over and put his head on my knee and say ahhhh. It’s adorable. He gets so excited when you pick him up in the morning or when you come into a room after being away. He will run to us and give a huge hug or high five and loves affection. Those smiles and cuddles combined with the fact that I get to sleep mean that I can cope with the tantrums in the supermarket where he’s trying to climb out of the trolley and is throwing everything out of it onto the floor while trying to reach for the magazines to pull the covers off all of them!!
Another thing I hadn’t anticipated was the feeling of jealousy. Yup. I said it. He’s a Daddy’s boy. Loves when his daddy comes home. When Rob is home he won’t look at me. It used to really upset me – I mean come on.. after the pregnancy and birth and everything I had been through to have him I’m only second best. This was something I really had to come to terms with and something that I couldn’t describe. I couldn’t understand it. I’m over it now. They have a special relationship that I love watching. It’s growing all the time as Michael gets older and they do more things together. I’m so grateful that he’s such a hands on Dad and he loves how much Michael wants him when he’s home.
I guess what I’m trying to say is there isn’t any book that you can read or any advice that can be given that will help you adjust to becoming a parent. Saying things like, “Oh you’ll never sleep again,” isn’t helpful. Everyone knows this already. It’s just focusing on the negatives of having a child. You should be saying, “Oh, newborn cuddles are the best.” There’s no right time to go ahead and do it. People are thinking way too much about it these days and how it will fit into their lives. Trust me, it doesn’t. Your whole life will change – but for the better. They will become the centre of your universe and you will adapt everything around them. But nothing is impossible. I sometimes miss the spontaneity that we had before we had a kid – but that’s just nights out and jumping in the car to do fun things at the last minute. It’s much more fun now and I can guarantee you that if we didn’t have a child that we would be in Ireland focused on work and not enjoying the crazy but wonderful adventure that we are currently on!