This is something new. A list and a letter in one. Like it. Memory is so selective isn’t it? I look back on my pregnancies with misty-eyed affection. A time that my liver was rejuvenated, my hair didn’t fall out and for the only time in my life my stomach was rock hard.
This list from Annie (AKA the Editor of The Early Hour) is a great reminder of the reality:
You’re reading this because you’re pregnant again. For the third time. After your first pregnancy, you conveniently forgot everything about how you felt during and after the event. You forgot what labour and childbirth were like (perhaps necessarily so) and about the early days.
Every pregnancy is different, so take all this with a pinch of salt, but your first two pregnancies, births and fourth trimesters were fairly similar so the likelihood is that this one will be, too. This letter is designed to reassure you – but without lying/rose tinting…
You’ll probably experience morning sickness for most – if not all – of your pregnancy. There is no cure (you’ve already tried everything). It’s pretty damn tiring but it will pass… by 40 weeks, tops. You’ll survive. Keep cleaning your teeth 20 times a day and eating only carbs. Vegetables can wait.
In the early days of pregnancy, you may well feel a bit fat and bloated and not very pregnant. Try not to worry too much. Who cares if your neighbours think you’re letting yourself go? The pregnancy cat will soon be out of the bag and the gossiping will cease (well, until the postpartum period when you continue to look pregnant a month after giving birth).
Towards the end of pregnancy you’ll be DESPERATE to release the beast (as in: the baby. But you will also be extremely constipated by now). You’ll consider induction and elective c-section – avoid both unless medically advised. The baby will emerge at some stage.
That said, your last baby was induced just before your due date because he was tonks – this one probably will be too.
While waiting for labour/to be induced, you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time googling natural induction. To save you some time, this is what you’ll find: pineapple, sex, running (WTF?), walking (more likely), curry, acupuncture, reflexology, nipple stimulation. None of it will work.
You’ll also be searching high and low for ‘signs of early labour’. Don’t bother asking anyone/googling. You’ll know when you’re in labour. Your waters will break or contractions will come on strong – and you’ll definitely know the difference between Braxton hicks and contractions.
Everyone will advise you to sleep and rest up before labour. You won’t be able to because 1. You already have two children to look after and 2. Pregnancy and good sleep are not friends. It’s one or the other. But if you have an epidural during labour, this will be the best sleep you’ve had – and will have – for a long while.
Have an epidural if you’re induced. Have one even if you’re not. You needed it the last two times; you’ll almost certainly need it again this time. It’s nothing to be ashamed of – it’s the best drug in the world.
Don’t panic – your birth won’t come on so quickly that you give birth in the back of an Uber. The first was three days, the second was 10 hours. This one ain’t gonna be 30 minutes.
Hypnobirthing is great for positive thinking but it doesn’t stop the pain. And calling them surges rather than contractions won’t either. But it will make you feel better in the lead up and postnatal period, so listen to those recordings daily.
After the birth, you’ll be wheeled to a hot postnatal ward. But you’ll have the most beautiful baby in your arms so you won’t care. The food is disgusting but you’ll think it’s delicious. Walking will be hard, but you’ll manage it. So will weeing. But again, it will soon get better.
Breastfeeding will be fine at first but after a day or two, your nipples will really hurt. Use lanolin, Jelonet and soft breastpads (plus cold cabbage leaves for engorgement). This will cure you of cracked nipples and stave off mastitis.
Don’t try to do too much too quickly. Avoid visitors for as long as possible, hole up with your family eating cake and cooing over the new arrival (while trying to reassure older siblings that they haven’t been displaced and fretting about their suddenly massive bodies rolling into the tiny newborn).
You may not feel comfortable moving around for a week or two. Take the painkillers. Soon the pain and discomfort will ease and it will be the best feeling ever.
Take the laxatives and eat loads of fruit.
Remember that your vagina will return to normal amazingly quickly. Don’t even bother trying to look at it in a mirror this time, there’s no advantage (but let the midwife, in case it’s not healing properly or there’s an infection).
Remember that although you still look six months pregnant after giving birth, each day your belly will reduce slightly. After two/three weeks, there will be flabby, flappy skin and fat rolling down over your thighs. Tuck it into your knickers and forget about it.
Accept all the help you’re offered (this reduces with each baby, but your mum will almost certainly be up for putting on laundry/ making tea – say “yes please!”).
Enjoy your new baby. S/he won’t be cute and sleepy for long so don’t wish away the early days. Breastfeeding may hurt, your other children may be more tantrummy, you may watch Glastonbury on TV and really wish you were there. But actually, you’ve created new life. Nothing is better than that.
Remember: everything passes. It will be replaced by a new challenge but one day, the baby will start sleeping for longer than three hour stretches. And won’t need to breastfeed every three minutes. You’ll be able to go out with friends and DRINK WINE really soon and all the tough bits will blur into distant memories.
I love a jaunt introduction, but it doesn’t feel appropriate here. I actually first read this list on Sarah’s blog and found it so moving and raw that I asked if I could share it on Mother of All Lists. So here it is.
Heartbreak is one of those things that’s banded around all the time, it sells songs, films, papers, and statistically speaking 71 percent of people have experienced it in some way or another. Up until 6 weeks ago, I was one of those lucky ones who had managed to avoid heartbreak. I’ve broken up with partners before, fallen out with friends, lost family members, I’ve read a fair few ‘Dear Deirdre’ letters back in the day, but had never felt it. Then I did. And Holy fuck did I.
My fiancé left. My bff, my baby daddy, my soulmate, my partner in crime. Unfortunately, we were to be no more. No more us. We pissed each other off sometimes and occasionally life was complicated. He danced like a god, and physically we were dynamite. We laughed lots and knew each other well. But just like that, we were over.
I’ve written this because I am feeling it, right now. I am in the process of picking up all the pieces of our shattered life. I’m also writing it because I know how comforting it is to know that you aren’t the first person to go through it. Heartbreak is very isolating, being a single Mum can be very isolating, but knowing you aren’t alone helping an awful lot. If my blog makes at least one person feel a bit of comfort then I feel I’ve done my job. To that person: I see you. And I know how much you hurt, and if I could, I’d hold you super tight.
So, here’s my list, the truth about heartbreak and becoming a single mum.
•Heartbreak hurts. It is a physical pain as well as mental and emotional, and not only do you hurt, you hurt all the time, inside.
•You think you can’t hurt anymore, then you look into the eyes of your heartbroken children asking for their dad. It breaks you all over again.
•Those words or the phrase that marks the beginning of separation and the end of your relationship will be etched into your mind forever, and you will replay those words daily, multiple times.
•You feel like you’re the only person in the whole world.
•You turn a bit insane. Like, weirdly obsessive, crazy detective insane.
•Goodbye Ocado, hello Tesco Value #singlemumlife
•Your children start waking up at 5am. Every damn day. Sod’s law. There’s no one to help you out on that anymore. Suck it up buttercup.
•Your head feels simultaneously numb and empty, whilst being completely full of things you have to do day to day….the school runs, applying for benefits, feeding your cats, bathing your children…you run on autopilot, and suddenly it’s the end of the day and you don’t have a fucking clue how you’ve made it.
•Heartbreak doesn’t hold back, you could be fine one minute feeling in complete control, then crying into your dinner the next with no warning. (Or in my case, crying down the phone to the HMRC advisor who really just wanted to know about how many hours a week I work, but bless him, he let me cry and he listened like a trooper).
•You know people mean well, but comments such as ‘you don’t need him, he didn’t deserve you anyway,’ don’t help. How can you possibly live without them? You’ve just spent years and years planning your life with this person (You make a mental note to attempt to bring yourself to delete the secret ‘wedding board’ on Pinterest).
•When you have kids you have to put your hurt on hold until the moment they go to bed. Those days are 374 hours long.
•The tears of heartbreak are different to normal tears. They are hot and heavy, they are continuous and they burn like acid.
•You really do grieve. You’re in denial, you feel angry, you try to bargain, you hit the lows of depression and then you accept it. You also continue this periodically and will do the cycle hundreds of times before you finally settle. (I’ll let you know when that eventually happens.)
•The women in your life rally around and keep your head above water. WhatsApp groups appear, they communicate secretly with your mother to check in, they hold you whilst you cry and cover their shoulders in snot, they turn up at work to make sure you’ve made it in, they support you with no judgement, they look after your children and mother them like they were their own.
•The sadness reaches new depths. The mum-guilt you feel for your children is excruciating. You feel it heavily in the pit of your stomach, like you’ve swallowed lead.
•You buy your kids a lot of crap to make up for them having one less parent…guilt buying. Short term fixes.
•Your kids stick to you like limpets, they feel the tension and your sadness, and understandably they want to be close. Alone time isn’t an option.
•You’re touched and overwhelmed when your parents take you in when your mental health hits rock bottom. They pick you up from home in the night, they hold your hand to emergency mental health appointments and they let you take on life at your own pace.
•’You’ll meet someone else in no time’, is the most ridiculous statement anyone can make.
•But you mentally write your dating profile, ‘I am a fun and outgoing person, newly single (although still married to the first dick) 2 kids by two different dads, some deep rooted mental health issues but I’m funny, I can make a semi decent coffee and I’m an awesome cook. I think.’
Alex Holder is Acting Content Director at ELLE UK. When she shared this list it sent shivers up my spine. Ben and I were the first of our mates to have kids and, I’ll cut to the chase, it was shit and lonely, I cried often about feeling out-of-sync and misunderstood. The good news (for me) is they’ve all now popped out nippers too. So everyone’s FINALLY in the same boat (by boat I mean ‘up shit creak without a paddle).
Alex’s account is spot on:
When you tell people you’re pregnant their reactions range from ‘On Purpose?!’ to the more blatant ‘Are you going to keep it?’
Cass is now a year old and people will still say ‘Were you actually trying?’
Everyone wants you to come to the pub pregnant but no one wants a sober pregnant person still there at 10pm.
You realize that previously you socialized in 12-hour chunks – lunch would turn to dinner which would lead to a 3am huddle in someone’s kitchen. You now have 2-hour slots to see people and wonder how that will ever feel like enough time to catch-up. To be honest, it never quite does.
None of your friends understand why when you’re pregnant you need the father-to-be to stay in with you on a Friday night.
‘But, Mark can still come out right?!’
‘Er, no he can stay in and research prams with me’.
You have to accept that when you can’t see your friends for those 12 hour benders, the only time you will see them is after they’ve had 2 hours sleep and need a cuddle and a nap on your couch.
You realize hungover people are incredibly flaky.
People ask your age and you then watch them have a think and work out that 32 is a perfectly reasonable age to give birth to a child.
And then you see that you’re only a couple of years off the NHS labeling you a ‘geriatric mother’.
And that most of your school friends have already spawned 2 or 3.
You become parents to all of your friends not just your kid. Mark and I answer to Mum and Dad a lot and Cass can’t talk yet.
Your friends are genuinely interested in your baby. They’re not just a new person; in their world babies are an entirely new concept.
Like losing your virginity first, you get a smug feeling that you’ve struck upon life’s gold a little before them.
Cass has a lot of very fun ‘Aunties’ and ‘Uncles’
Cass has received insanely wonderful, super stylish gifts. He spent the summer in a tiny tasteful poncho bought for him from Mexico and he was made a bespoke leather bondage mask for his first birthday.
Those post midnight friends of yours? Well, you’ll never see them again, and if you do, eighteen months later on a rare night out, it’ll be really awkward.
You feel very lucky that you have this new wonderful life as a parent, but also that your old life is still there fairly unchanged. It’s not like all of your friends have given birth and moved to Brighton.
An evening baby sitter is pointless; unless I’ve got someone for the morning duty I stay in.
That Friday evening group text ‘Spurstowe at 8’ can still sting.
But the morning cuddle followed by a messy breakfast for three with ‘Saturday Kitchen’ on the TV makes up for it.
The other first time Mum you meet who understands both your old life and your new one, who you can be both Mum-Alex with as well as pub-Alex, well, for a time she becomes all your friends at once. Find one other first time mum you like.
It’s actually quite wonderful that your friends have no idea you scooped a poo out of the bath before coming to the pub and talking nap times with them just isn’t an option. It stops you becoming just mum.
Also as none of them have kids it means they’re occasionally willing to look after yours and you can still join them in the pub on a Sunday afternoon without creating a buggy carpark.
In photos of you and your friends you can spot you’re the only one sporting Mum bags under the eyes.
Don’t expect all your friends to go on a crazy one just because you have a babysitter, they were probably out until 2 last night so lower your expectations.
Three and half years ago we had outgrown our first flat in Balham, South West London, and wanted to buy a house. Our hearts were set on the Bellenden Road area of Peckham (yup, what a cliché). Problem was the more we looked, the more obvious it became that we couldn’t afford what we wanted. Then one day The Right Move Gods shone down on us. And our future home popped up.
It was what we wanted. Where we wanted.
It was 100k below budget.
Problem was it smelt like death.
In fact, the smell was so strong that the rancid aroma of decomposing stuff clung to your clothes for days after a visit.
Oh, and apart from the stench, the only toilet was outside.
And the ‘kitchen’ was in the second bedroom.
But, at the time, Bertie was 8 months old and a terrible sleeper.
So, in a cloud of hormones and sleep deprivation we decided ‘A Project’ was just what we needed. Idiots.
We sold our flat.
Our gorgeous first home with Farrow & Ball Downpipe walls and a nice garden and exchanged it for a crumpling pile of bricks in ‘the right postcode’.
“When you said it was a wreck, you weren’t exaggerating” muttered our parents the first time they visited. Their tone suggested we had finally bitten off more that we can chew.
But by then it was too late. We were in our rented accommodation in Peckham. In a flat that closely resembled a Halls of Residence. Every Friday & Saturday Night the base from club nights at The Bussey Building made our headboard shudder.
And then suddenly we were doing it. Making it up as we went along. Learning from our mistakes. Here, in no particular order, is what we learnt:
Install more plug sockets than you think. You will always be grateful.
White for the win. There are soooo many decisions to make along the way that, although I love a muted paint swatch, we decided to go for bright white throughout.
It’s the cheapest option. We planned to add colour once we’d moved in.
We haven’t. I now love the white. It’s really calming.
Unfortunately The Boys find it an inviting canvas to draw on. Still, at least its easy to repaint.
Don’t under estimate the cost of boring stuff. A house-worth of skirting boards add up. Top tip: we went for MDF ones with a Victorian profile. You couldn’t tell they weren’t real wood.
Spank the cash on one thing in each room. It gives the impression of the whole space being more high-end than it actually is.
A Rangemaster oven, but a Magnet kitchen.
Burlington shower, shower unit from the Bathroom Store.
Fallen in love with poured concrete? Us too. But it’s expensive and difficult to lay. These ‘Concreate‘ tiles were a good alternative.
Similarly if you want column radiators , but can’t stretch to the super fancy (and very pretty) ones these do the job.
Ebay + Anyvan are your friend. Means you can get reclaimed stuff from further a field. Our Victorian school sink was my best find.
I love Fired Earth, it’s tile porn. Unfortunately we couldn’t afford them (there’s a theme here).
We also had a terrible incident where Bertie puked all over the Dulwich branch, so that also put us going in there.
BUT, according to an internet forum these metro tiles from Tons of Tiles are made in the same factory as the Fired Earth ones. Who knows if it’s true but we’ve been pleased with them.
Pinterest the shit out of it. It’s the best my way to figure out what you like. I pinned and pinned (and did my husband’s head in with options). Eventually it became obvious what I was after.
Don’t get too obsessed with designing for resale (unless you are property developer).
Design it for how you want it. Homes are expensive, you ought to enjoy living in it.
And the chances are there will be another person, couple or family out there who will want exactly what you are after.
Fun touches don’t have to be expensive. Our ‘disco lights’ up the stairs are just strip of LEDs.
We had hopes of making the place great for a house party. In reality they are a brilliant way of illuminating the stairs for kids who wander to your bedroom in the middle of the night.
Ikea picture rails. We have them right across the two largest walls downstairs. That way you can move art/photos about without screwing up the walls.
Our ‘statement wall hung seating’ in the kitchen. Is actually just a changing room bench. Which is just as well because it’s permanently covered in bags, miscellaneous clothes and cardboard that can’t fit in the recycling bin.
The build will cost more than you think.
It will take longer than you think.
There will be more tears than you think.
You will spend in inordinate number of weekends in Screw Fix.
And lose sleep over the merits of charcoal vs light grey grout. We avoided making a decsion by going for one in each bathroom.
LED’s are frighteningly expensive. It’s an investment. Three years later they haven’t needed changing. And they’re good for the environment too.
Dust is a mother fucker.
Go with the flow. Our exposed brick wall and RSJ beam weren’t planned. During the build I fell a bit in love with them and decided to keep them. Plus it saved a job, which is a victory in itself.
(Quick interlude: one thing you DEFINITELY shouldn’t do when you are skint and stressed and living surrounded by tools and builders is decide to get pregnant again. Yup, we’re dickheads).
Still, doing a home renovation is very much like having kids:
There are times when you feel regretful, and question why you did it. But by that point there is no turning back.
You wonder why people didn’t warn you how hard it is. (They did, you just chose to ignore it).
There’s guilt. Because, like growing a human, being able to design your home from scratch is a priviledge. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t reduce you to a snotty weeping mess on more than one occasion.
Though it’s ageing and bankrupting memory is selective. I struggle to remember all the badtimes of our build.
Even after all these years, I can’t believe that this small patch of London is ours.
The fact that it has made us money is, of course a MASSIVE bonus.
But the thing that really gets me, is knowing every doorhandle, tile and shelf was choosen by us. The blood, sweat & blazing arguments were TOTALLY worth it.
The best things in life often come as a result of taking a risk, working hard and, unfortunately, a hefty credit card bill.
And then there’s all those priceless memories we’ve made within those four walls: Woody’s birth, countless family meals and bottles of wine with mates, lazy Sundays and cosy Friday nights. THAT. That is what it’s all about.
Doula’s are a bit like Mary Poppins; they carry around a bag full of weird and wonderful things in to enable their women to have the birth they want. Here lovely Jenna Rutherford AKA The Minimalist Doula reveals all what is in hers.
**Spoiler alert: it includes a velvet vagina. Yes, actually.**
So as a doula I’m often asked, ‘you’re a what?’ followed by, ‘oh so what do you actually do then??’ Well you know what, it’s not that easy to define, it’s not tangible like so many things are these days in our consumerist ‘things’ culture. How do I explain that I create a feeling? In my humble opinion, as a doula, I’ll offer you emotional and practical support, signpost you to information of interest, be a continuous confidante in your pregnancy but it’s so much more than that. It’s love ️ in it’s purest form. I completely fall in love with what you hope for, for your birth, and then I try everything I can to help you achieve this. I understand, first hand, the power of a positive, empowering birth experience and it lasts forever.
So how do I help on the birth day itself? My doula bag (which is getting smaller and smaller) holds the answers…
Straws, the humble essential for your easy, hands free hydration (or impromtu Britney skits if the moment arises)…I’ll come back to that.
A flannel – to cool.
Massage balls – to relieve, to bang, bang, bang (repetition is very helpful), to squeeeeeze.
Chocolate buttons – who needs a reason?!
A Tens machine – great for early labour, my Mama can deliver her own mini electric shocks to match her pain and the beauty of this is, the power is literally in her hands, battery operated and there’s a boost button, she’s the boss after all.
My fave essential oils: lavender, to calm. Frankincense, to deal with the intensity of the surges (the word contractions just sounds painful doesn’t it?). Clary sage if things slow down (only use in labour, you’ve been warned). And peppermint oil, a few drops in the toilet bowl can help the placenta deliver more smoothly.
A variety of tea bags – obviously a complete essential at any time (I am a herbal tea addict!) and for the first cuppas as a new family because I get to see that, a family being born, privilege and wonder that never, ever gets old.
Iphone – obvs but great if music is forgotten, you can listen, dance, roar to my 80s classics, stick in a cup, and voila!
A book – for waiting, they’ll be no pressure from me to ‘move things along’ (I’m not actually reading but if it looks like I’m not bothered, chances are you’ll relax too), giving a Mama space is as important as knowing when to hold her tight.
My rebozo (a mexican shawl) – for Mama, for baby, for me, to wrap, to comfort, lo act as a makeshift pillow, to hang from the door to change positions or to shake those apples imagine me shimmying with a scarf wrapped around your middle, can really make the surges more manageable.
Fluffy socks – for my Mama’s cold feet, there’s a suggestion that the colder a woman’s legs the more dilated she is, the further up you go, the closer to baby you are…
Wool – in case an impromptu cord tie is needed.
Cash – hospital parking charges, ouch and I know lots of Dads worry about this. There is often a discounted ticket for the maternity ward, so definitely worth checking before you bankrupt your change pot.
Blu tack – it can be very handy as a stress reliever but also excellent at putting up positive affirmations, special photos, anything that helps make the space your own if you’re not at home and to support your visualisation techniques, go to your happy place.
A black marker pen – useful to write notes for the room door – ‘hypnobirthing in progress’, whether it is or not, often means less interruptions and softer voices…
My velvet vagina (c/o the amazing midwife/researcher extraordinaire Sara Wickham www.sarawickham.com) another great visualisation tool, it opens out to 10cm.
Talking of opening, as your surges build a homemade rice sock can bring warm relief (just stick it in the microwave and it stays warm for hours)
Massage oil – i’ll rub anything that hurts, within reason but even then, you’re giving birth ffs!
I bring my stamina which will never waiver, you’re doing all the work, I can at least stand by your side while you do it
And the last item I bring is my ability to be invisible, my doula crush once said to me, doulas should be like wallpaper…this is your show, I am just an honored supporter, I will be there when you need me, and step away when you don’t…this is your moment.
And from the doula who’s holding this bag;
You’ll have my eyes watching over you to protect your space…undisturbed birth is the key to the positive birth door
You’ll have my ears, and I will listen, you are about to give birth, you’re not ill, you are stronger and more in control than you’ve ever been, you’re the boss
And you’ll have a piece of my heart, forever, as I witness in awe, as you become a mother.And back to the straw, it’s the only thing I ever really get out of my bag because my Mamas are Goddesses and I serve them, and…they’ve got this.
Charlotte and I have a lot in common; both copywriters, both have a Woody, both have a name begin with the letter C. Ok, I’m stretching it now. One difference is that I am very fortunate to have two healthy kids. I am absolutely in awe of Mums like Charlotte who cope when, in her words: ‘their babies are broken’.
Here she tells us about her and Woody’s on-going journey:
We first found out there could be a problem at our 12 week appointment.
Our much-waited-for scan, which for once had been going well (we’d miscarried three babies before) suddenly took a turn for the worse. The consultant looked concerned and said: “Sorry, there’s a problem. The baby’s probably either got Down’s Syndrome or a heart condition.” And I hate to admit it, but after crying for what seemed like forever I remember praying desperately that it was his heart. You can fix a heart, I thought. Right? (I now know Down’s Syndrome would’ve also given us a precious, unique baby too. Hindsight is a funny old thing.)
The heart condition was confirmed a few weeks later and then a new feeling crept in. I didn’t want this baby. I wanted a ‘good one’. Why did we have to have the broken one after all the sh*t we’d been through? Seemed unfair. Could we please just start again?
But as the baby grew I became quite protective. It may be broken, but it was mine. Perhaps after all the miscarriages it was the baby I was supposed to have all along.
Nearing Woody’s due date I grew very apprehensive. No one was quite sure how bad his heart was or what would happen once he came out. They knew he had a hole in there but not how big. I often hear pregnant mums say they want to keep their babies safely tucked inside them for a bit longer. I wanted my gestation to last until he was eighteen. I felt complete terror that he’d come out and drop dead the minute he was born.
But he was born, pulled out quickly because I wasn’t allowed to push for too long or risk stressing his heart, and he did really well. Perhaps his heart would be okay. Only time would tell.
So we were packed off home with our tiny newborn and told to ‘look out for signs of heart failure.’ Y’know, ‘blue lips, struggling for breath, death etc…’ Sure, we thought. No problem. We’ll take on that responsibility even though WE’VE HAD ZERO MEDICAL TRAINING AND CAN BARELY WORK OUT HOW TO CHANGE HIS NAPPY YET.
So obviously we ended up in A&E. A LOT. Every sniffle, we were told to take him in ‘just in case’. And each time the doctors would gather round and take it in turns to listen to his ‘crazy heart murmur’. We started to feel like he was pretty special. He drew crowds. But we’d trundle off home still feeling like we were living with a time bomb. Like an exploding nappy, we felt his heart would pack in at any time.
Then they told us after six weeks of watching and waiting that his hole was ‘pretty significant’. So big in fact they weren’t sure ‘why he’s not in complete heart failure’. The consultant’s exacts words.
When you tell people your baby’s got a hole in the heart the number one thing most people say is: ‘Oh that’s very common. So and so has one and they’re okay…’ This is the single worst thing you want to hear.
Herpes is common, I don’t want my baby to have that. This wasn’t a sock that needed darning. This was the very thing that kept him alive. Having a baby with a hole in his heart was pretty damn uncommon for me.
So they decided they would need to fix his heart (plus repair the damaged valve that so far had been keeping him alive.) But not yet. He’s too small for such a big operation. (WHAT DO YOU MEAN BIG OPERATION? CAN’T YOU JUST DO IT THOUGH A KEYHOLE OR SOMETHING? PICK IT LIKE A LOCK? LASER IT FROM THE OUTSIDE??) Nope. Open-heart bypass surgery it had to be.
We had to wait fourteen long months until he was deemed big enough to go through with the surgery. I had counselling in the months leading up to the operation. How could they be stopping my baby’s heart and then starting it again? The thought simply made me want to throw up.
Then the day came. Everything seems quite foggy looking back. I know I cried when I had to sign the consent form and see how likely it was he might die.
I know I whispered to the anaesthetist, “Please…when he’s in there, call him Woody. He won’t know his other name, Elwood.”
I remember my husband and I falling asleep on the grass outside as we waited for it to be over. I guess our bodies’ way of coping, escaping instantly in to sleep.
Seven hours and thirty-two minutes later we could go and see him in intensive care. He was covered in tubes and sliced down the middle. I called out to him, desperate to let him know I was there, but in his drugged-out state he got distressed and they asked us to leave. It was, quite simply, horrendous.
The next day we were allowed back in to the ICU. And there was our boy. Sitting up in bed drinking a bottle of milk looking like he’d been out on one hellova bender. Turns out he’d pulled out his own breathing tubes and stabilised once they’d stopped pumping him full of drugs.
‘You’ve got a fighter there’ I remember the lovely ICU nurse saying.
I look back on that time waiting for him to recover in hospital as strangely blissful. It was over. He was safe. We’d waited for that feeling even before he was born. We promised him we’d take him to get an ice cream the minute he was out. We were desperate to do something ‘normal.’
And normal life did return. Which was weird. After being such a strong unit throughout ‘the op’, my husband and I would bicker over who was doing the laundry. When times are tough, nothing else matters. Now we had to readjust to the usual grind of life.
Three years on and Woody’s doing great. (Touch wood – clearly still paranoid and superstitious and will be forevermore…) We’re due to get his yearly heart-check tomorrow. (There’s a very small chance he might have to have the surgery one day again.) Going back to that place is always tough. Physically on him and mentally on us. But it’s time for us to learn to see him as a normal, robust little boy, and not the delicate little time bomb we had to once hover-over. Easier said than done.
When you have a baby they say the love you feel for them is like having your heart living on the outside of your body. You will worry about them forevermore.
I’m so glad I got a broken baby.
I think it’s my heart that may one day explode.
If you need support coping with a baby with a CHD, do get in touch with tinytickers.org They’re amazing.
Early detection is crucial in survival rates for many CHD babies. Tiny Tickers are training sonographers who will go on to save hundreds of babies’ lives. They desperately need donations to continue their work. You can donate here: tinytickers.org/donate
Blogging is a funny old game. I still cringe introducing myself as a blogger. But then again my brother, who is a musician, feels embarrassed about carrying a guitar about. Maybe it’s the same thing? Or just a classic case of imposter syndrome.
Anyway here’s a list about why I share my ramblings with the world:
I actually had a blog 5 years ago called Lists on the Northern Line. I was in the middle of a terrible phase of anxiety* which meant I had daily panic attacks on the ‘tube part’ of my commute. Writing lists became my distraction/coping mechanism.
Although I enjoyed writing it. I didn’t really have a reason for doing it. So it petered out.
3 years and 2 kids later, in March 2015, Mother of All Lists was born.
Parenting is hard.
It makes you feel as if everyone is having a better, easier time than you.
Parenting can be lonely and relentless. Days can go by without having an adult conversation.
Sustained sleep deprivation fucks you up.
It can strip away your identity.
It messes with your confidence.
Makes you question: how to dress, who your mates are and what you want out of life.
And back when I had Bertie I couldn’t find anyone to help me navigate the madness.
My Mum lives abroad.
My siblings were still firmly in the having fun stage.
And we were the first of our friends to have a kid. So I looked elsewhere for advice, guidance and a sanity check.
Parenting books were too heavy going. (I’m always been the sort of girl who preferred to watch the film/get the study guide rather than read the set text).
Mumsnet was too negative. I saw people sharing their baby name ideas and then being ripped to pieces for their choices.
( I’m of the opinion that if you grow the human, it’s your choice what to call them).
ANYWAY after having Woody, my second, I felt more confident. As if I had graduated from an amateur parent to a competent one.
At which point I thought I’d have a go at sharing some of my experiences:
Doing so cleared my head. It got my baby brain back in gear. And seeing those first 1o’s and 100’s of reads come in gave me a thrill to do it again.
It’s ok to occasionally wear red lipstick to the park just to cling on to a tiny bit of your own identity.
It’s ok to cover puke/wee/snot/vomit with a towel rather than endure more washing.
It’s ok to: use a dummy/co-sleep/cuddle them too much/mix feed/feed them to sleep/ follow a routine/have zero routine. It’s OK TO DO WHAT EVER YOU NEED TO DO TO SURVIVE.
It’s ok to want to be free from your kid but feel too bound to them to allow yourself that freedom.
It’s ok to want to hold on to your career. Doesn’t mean you don’t feel a pang of guilt every Monday.
Equally, it’s ok to want to choose to staying at home. Doesn’t mean you don’t feel a pang of envy on Monday morning.
And it’s ok to crack into the prosecco/gin & tonic on a Friday afternoon whilst doing kids tea. Pizza with an all important carrot sticks on the side to ease your conscience.
Blogging/Instagram has given me the confidence to say all of the above. It’s helped me know who I am.
It has given me an incredible support network. Every time a stranger reaches out to say ‘hope you are ok.’ It blows me away.
Every like, follow, share, comment is not only humbling it’s sanity saving. It’s given me so so many laughs at the disastrous, life-affirming, maddening, hilarious, emotional and often shitty experience of being Mum. So Thank You, Thank You very much for going on this journey with me.