The bond between mother and baby is one of the strongest known to man. But when does it begin? Conception? Birth? Or a while later?
The week before last I watched My Baby, Psychosis and Me – part of the BBC’s season of mental health programmes. I found it extremely emotional to watch, as many people will have done, and to be honest felt like this could have so easily been me. It made me squeeze Alexandra just that little bit tighter and cuddle her for that little bit longer.
Because of my own mental health history (including a hospital admission in 2014) I attended a few extra appointments during my pregnancy where they would check how I was doing. I had come off antidepressants in November 2014 in order to get pregnant so due to the fact I wasn’t taking medication during the pregnancy and I had remained relatively well mentally, they decided I could have a ‘low risk’ birth when they saw me at 33 weeks pregnant. This meant I could have (had the physical health problems not occurred) given birth at the midwifery led unit rather than consultant led.
One of my biggest fears during pregnancy was how I would cope emotionally after the birth – I knew my mental health history meant I was more prone to post natal depression and some health care professionals spoke to me as if I was guaranteed to suffer from it. It also felt like, although I had been extremely well since being discharged from hospital, it hadn’t really been that long. I started dating Dylan just weeks after leaving, although we’d known each other for years previously, and we conceived six months into our relationship. So although I was incredibly happy there’s no way to tell how things will be long term.
When things happened the way they did, I was spoken to a lot about the emotional after effects of being unwell and in intensive care. Especially at the QE they were very keen to let me know it was entirely normal to feel a bit all over the place. And I did for a week or so while still in hospital. I was crying pretty much constantly! When I came home life was definitely very different and I didn’t quite know how to feel but I felt surprisingly well – I think most people were shocked at how well I was?
But now? Now we’re six months into our parenthood journey and life has settled into a routine. I feel an intense bond between myself and Alexandra (and Dylan of course) and feel hugely lucky not to have struggled with PND. I feel ridiculously emotional some days and I know I have changed a lot but let’s be honest, tiredness and being unwell can have a lot to do with that without adding a baby into the mix!
I feel like I’m babbling on a bit here and I don’t really know what the point of what I’m trying to say is. I feel very much like I’m trying to process my emotions at the moment and get to grips with everything that’s happened. Life (and my thoughts, my head and my worries) has changed so much beyond recognition. A lot of things about the future terrify me. But above all that, I am just immensely grateful I have my family and my friends and, by and large, my mental health has fared much better than I thought it would in all my 4am ‘worst case scenario’ pregnancy fears.
Harriet and Alexandra X
I think I may have mentioned in a previous post that my little sister is having a baby! I am very excited about having a teeny tiny nephew in May (or June if he stays in there after his due date!). I asked her a few questions about her pregnancy for today’s blog post and shall keep you updated as things progress:
I guessed I was pregnant while I was on holiday at the start of October, really early on. It wasn’t confirmed until we got back.
My reaction at first was shock, even though we suspected it. Now I’m excited!
Essentially life is one big competition (it shouldn’t be, but it is!). From the day you step foot over the threshold of a school you’re being pitted against your peers to see who comes out on top. You spend your life aiming to be ‘the one’ – the one who gets 100 per cent on the test, the one who gets a first at university, the one who breaks all targets and records at work, the one who runs the fastest, the one who jumps the highest. But I feel nowhere in life are women pitted more ferociously against each other than when they become mothers.
I’d like to make it clear I am not at all talking about my mommy friends who are all lovely and supportive before anyone starts feeling paranoid! But I feel having taken up the role of ‘mother’ a year ago (because it does start the second you announce you’re pregnant), every tiny thing has suddenly become a competition. It seems like we have to compete to have the ‘best’ baby. Oh my baby slept a trillion hours last night, my baby actually crawled out of the womb it’s so advanced, my baby was doing trigonometry and reciting Shakespeare plays in their entirety from a week old.
Well guess what, no matter how fancy you think your baby is I guarantee you’re still spending most your days wiping its sick and poo. Fact. No matter how amazing you’re trying to convince everyone else your baby is, I guarantee you’ve sat crying at least once with a mixture of dribble/vomit/other bodily fluids in your hair wondering why the hell you thought parenthood would be such a blast.
Cause I’ll let you into a secret, I REALLY like my child. Honestly, she’s pretty immense. I get all the feels when I think about how much I love her. 99 per cent of the time she sleeps through the night, only cries when she’s hungry or tired, will settle for anyone without fussing and smiles and giggles constantly. But it’s still hard work! I spend my whole day trying to remember to take 57 gazillion things with us when we go out, there’s the endless routine of ‘feed baby, change baby, entertain baby’. If anyone asks, I will tell them that Alexandra’s a fantastic baby and we’re very lucky she is golden. Other people praise her endlessly. But I don’t feel the need to wear a massive badge saying ‘world’s best mother’. Cause you know what, it’s pretty much diddly squat to do with me! (The kid doesn’t even look like me! I basically just carried her round for a few months and now feed her while her daddy’s at work – I know my place in life!) At this stage it’s largely down to luck! Luckily I’ve passed on my love of sleep to our tot, she had to be babysat by anyone and everyone (think the postman had a turn one day!) when I was in hospital and Dylan needed to be by my bedside, she has a lovely temperament. All pure chance and luck, not because I’m playing Mozart and reading Dickens to her every night (I can’t even remember any nursery rhymes so I generally sing 90s indie music to her, what a joy!).
I realise I’m very lucky but I really don’t feel the need to brag about it, I’m only sharing this all now because I’m on a right rant about rivelry! When I hear of someone struggling to settle their baby, I might try and give them tips if I’ve found something particularly useful, but some people seem to think it’s fine to brag about how their child can recite the entire encylopedia and founded Google.
So my plea is: mothers, why not be kind to each other! Pass the tissues to mothers you meet who are struggling and try and support them a little. No one cares that your baby knows pi to the 100th decimal place or can juggle knives while fire-eating. No one wants to hear you brag about your ‘perfect’ life because you’re not fooling yourself or anyone else!
Harriet and Alexandra x
I spoke to my sister who’s almost 20 weeks pregnant (hurrah for a baby niece or nephew!) and she suggested she’d like to read about what I considered my maternity essentials. So basically if you hate this post, it’s her fault!
Breast pads –
Yep straight in at the deep end here people. Before I got pregnant I didn’t really ever spend a second thinking about leaky milk, even when I was pregnant apart from a couple of times people warned me theirs came in really early I didn’t really think too much about it. The baby’s not here yet so I won’t be producing the milk to feed it yet right? Wrong!
My milk came in an hour into an 11-hour flight when I was 24 weeks pregnant. Cue ten hours of me sat there with tissue shoved down my top! Luckily on our first day in Thailand we found a Boots which had some breast pads, which was handy as I was worried about trying to explain it to a non-English speaking person!
But the lesson is clear, just like carrying something around in case your period makes a surprise appearance, pregnant ladies should swap that for some good old breast pads!
Maternity bras –
Continuing the boob theme, by the time I got home from Thailand at 26 weeks my normal wired bras (even two sizes bigger than pre-pregnancy ones) were so uncomfortable! It was at the point where I wanted to turn down invites to go out as that involved putting a bra on! A quick trip to h&m later and I was sorted for the rest of my pregnancy. They even came in handy after I stopped breastfeeding as when I came out of hospital I didn’t want to wear a normal bra due to all sorts of aches and pains and scars and lovely medical stuff like that.
Over the bump jeans –
When I was about seven weeks pregnant I bought some under the bump jeans and I hated them! They just didn’t seem to stay put at all and they constantly irritated me. A few weeks later I bought over the bump jeans (all from New Look so it wasn’t the make of the original ones which was the problem) and they were so so much better! They saw me all the way up to nearly 38 weeks when Alexandra was born and I probably would have worn them for quite a while after too except for ten weeks I pretty much exclusively wore hospital gowns or nighties. Not very attractive but great for comfort!
A helpful other half –
There will come a time when you want to shave your legs but can’t reach. When you want to tie your shoelaces but there’s no way you can get down there. When you want to put your socks on. Basically anything involving the lower half of your body will become impossible sometime during your third trimester. Either spend an hour twisting yourself into all sorts of contortions or enlist the help of an understanding other half.
Unfortunately despite how helpful he was, Dylan can’t stand the smell of nail varnish so I had to work out a method to paint my toenails by myself!
There are probably plenty of other things needed but those were the first four which sprang to mind!
Harriet and Alexandra X
A nearly-new Turd Maker 1.0 Deluxe, just four months old with one previous owner.
Now comes with a free Projectile Vomit Add-On and the Super Dribble Advanced Edition at no extra cost.
Highly economical, requiring just 180ml fuel five times a day.
Sensitive alarm system which responds to movement, sound, light, heat and someone whispering five streets away on occasion.
Anti-loss protection included, with highly-distinguishable smell meaning you won’t confuse your Turd Maker 1.0 Deluxe with any other on the market.
Switch between modes easily. Modes include Tired Screaming, Hungry Screaming and Being Charming Because Daddy’s Home.
Benefits of being a TM 1.0 D owner: you’ll learn all the latest repetitive tunes after hearing them over, and over, and over again every single day. You’ll become resistant to head butting, scratching and having another human being’s poo and sick on yourself.
T&Cs: no refunds or exchanges allowed. If you’re not happy with your model please suck it up for the next 18 or so years until they become self-sustainable.
I can hardly believe it but the tiny little newborn placed into my arms seconds after birth turned four months old on December 29. She’s been a delight from the start but she’s really starting to have much more of a personality now! Sometimes we wake up in the morning to the chirpy little sounds of her lay in her moses basket chatting away to herself. It’s honestly the cutest thing. Then when we go to pick her up she gives the widest toothless grin in the world.
Speaking of teeth, Alexandra is really starting to teethe now. A very red cheek and tonnes of dribble are constants now and anything which comes within grabbing distance is put in the mouth and gummed enthusiastically. Her hand-eye co-ordination is fab and she’s now learned to take her dummy in and out of her mouth, although she has a habit of taking it out, throwing it and then crying for someone to put it back in!
Her favourite things this month are being out and about in her sling, the jumparoo, daddy (she’s a real daddy’s girl) and grabbing people’s hair. Her balance is improving and we’ve had a couple of seconds of sitting by herself so hopefully next month I’ll be reporting that she can now sit on her own, she’s got a wide variety of sounds and is using a lot of Gs and she’s also sleeping for around 11-12 hours at night with five bottles in the day.
So here’s to month five with our little lady!
Harriet and Alexandra x
1. Notice baby being sick
2. Catch as much sick in your hand as possible while frantically searching for a muslin cloth – which will have all disappeared at that moment despite there being at least three billion in your house.
3. Wipe sick off baby/floor/walls etc.
4. Check whether your clothing/hair has been vommed on.
5. Assess whether you can just rub in the sick and hope no one notices.
6. Change everyone’s outfit.
7. Notice baby doing a poo.
8. Wait for them to finish while simultaneously laughing at the grunting/face pulling and wondering whether it makes you weird watching another human pooing.
9. Change baby while trying not to hurl and wondering how something so cute can produce a smell so awful.
10. Put baby in jumparoo
11. Listen to the same goddamn tune over and over and over and over.
12. Try and do all the housework in the 20 minutes it takes for baby to get bored.
13. Notice baby is rubbing their eyes and looking like they haven’t slept in months.
14. Lay baby down with dummy in mouth.
15. Retreat to the other side of the room.
16. Notice dummy has come out of baby’s mouth and they are now wailing despite having taken the dummy out themselves.
17. Put dummy back in baby’s mouth.
18. Repeat steps 15 to 17 approximately 200 times until baby finally falls asleep.
19. Think about doing something useful while baby naps.
20. Baby wakes up while you’re still thinking.
21. Attempt to get bottle into baby’s mouth in the 2.1 seconds it takes between stirring and baby deciding they are so starving they need to wail at the same volume as a jet taking off.
22. Repeat steps one to 21 until daddy gets home and baby gives him their sweetest smile and wants to cuddle him even though every time you want a cuddle baby attempts to scratch your eyes out.
(I really like my baby honestly!)
Harriet and Alexandra X
This post is a bit of a ‘rambling, typing the thoughts as they come into my head’ type post. I might get a bit emotional during it, prepare the Kleenex (other tissue brands also available).
We’ve made the decision to only have one baby together. When I say decision, I don’t really feel like there was a choice and that’s the part I’m struggling a little with. There, I’ve got that off my chest; now I’ll try to explain.
When I came round in hospital (if this makes no sense to you, the story starts here) and found out what my condition was and how it could have and did affect both myself and my child, myself and Dylan immediately said we would never try for another baby. It had never been completely decided we would have a second (for me, a fourth for Dylan) but we had discussed it and I’d always been upfront that I imagined life with multiple children. If it had been up to me, and ignoring all other factors such as finance etc, I would have wanted a second within a couple of years. I was convinced we’d have another girl, imagined them growing up being really close and we’d even had a theoretical talk about names.
But to wake up and be told you’ve just almost died and you have a condition which claims the life of 54 per cent of babies conceived to women with the illness, plus you’ve had the more severe form of it which occurs very rarely and kills half of the people it affects: that changes things. Every pregnancy has its risks and I could be given medication to counteract the effects should I become pregnant again, but suddenly there’s all these other life changing and frankly terrifying ideas to get your head around.
Even if we managed to conceive and carry a baby to term again, without facing the heartache of recurrent miscarriages which so many women with APS endure, how could we relax and enjoy preparing for a new baby and those precious first few days and weeks bearing in mind what happened this time?
I fear anyone reading this, or anyone I talk to about it, could take it the wrong way and assume I’m ungrateful for the child I have. I’m really not. I adore Alexandra and I look at her every day and think about how lucky I am to have her and to be here to watch her grow. I know many, many couples never have children and I feel hugely blessed to have been given the chance to be a mother. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel sad that we’ll never have the joy of deciding to have another baby, we’ll never go out and buy tiny little outfits (for ourselves, clearly we will for other people’s children and I will still adore doing that!), we’ll never watch a little baby kicking me and making strange shapes inside my belly, we’ll never have that perfect moment when your child takes its first few breaths while it’s placed upon your chest.
I have so much to look forward to as a mother. The delight Alex has brought to me in these first few months of her life is set to continue as she grows into her own little person and I laugh and smile with her every day. I’ll never get complacent about that or stop remembering how lucky I am. But some days, as I read posts on mommy forums about people getting pregnant again or when I just stop and think about it for a while, I just feel a little bit sad.
Harriet and Alexandra x
If you haven’t read my last post, this one probably won’t make much sense so why not pop over there and then come back?
Both myself and Alexandra were discharged from hospital and we came home and started to try and settle into some form of family life. However, I was massively struggling with my breathing and it was taking me about ten minutes just to get up the stairs, stopping about three times on the way. I was sleeping sitting up, propped up on loads of pillows, and I just couldn’t do anything without getting massively out of breath. I managed to get out a couple of times but it would completely wear me out and sometimes I was spending most the day in bed. I wasn’t really enjoying being a new mom in the way I should have been because it was so hard for me to do anything with Alex and, although we had some lovely times like the visits from family and friends, it was quite tough. Dylan was struggling too as he was trying to work from home but would end up doing most of the care for Alex day and night, as well as trying to look after me.
After two weeks at home, the day Dylan went back and worked in the office for the first time, my breathing deteriorated further and that evening he called NHS111 who sent two paramedics round who took me into A&E. I spent a few hours in there being assessed and had another x-ray before eventually being transferred to the respiratory ward. The same ward I’d battled not to end up on without my baby, and just two weeks later I was there. Much of my memory of my two weeks on the ward was completely gone, but I’m now getting back bits of it. I can now remember the layout of the ward, what my room looked like and a few of the staff, as well as some of the moments on there. From what I’m told I was really low for some of my time on there and was really struggling with having so many cannulas, blood tests and other procedures – to the point where I was constantly asking why if I was told I needed something else doing and I managed to persuade them to give me tablet forms of the antibiotics I was on for a couple of days until my condition worsened again.
Things just weren’t getting any better, quite the opposite in fact. I ended up being moved to the intensive care ward (ITU) and was sedated and on life support. Some of the doctors were convinced I had lupus but the tests came back negative. Around this time a condition called anti-phospholipid syndrome was mentioned but the feeling was still that I had lupus. Dylan did a lot of research and looked at the symptoms of both, becoming more and more convinced that it was APS. Meanwhile my kidneys had stopped functioning so I was on dialysis, I was having lots of blood transfusions, I had a chest drain in taking away all the fluid and they were seriously concerned about my heart.
A few days after I’d been moved to ITU the diagnosis of APS was confirmed. Essentially it’s an autoimmune condition where the blood becomes too sticky, it’s not hugely common but some people have it and don’t know about it. Women with the condition have a much higher chance of miscarriage or stillbirth but even then it can go undetected. There is also a much more serious variant of the condition known as catastrophic anti-phospholipid syndrome (CAPS) which can be triggered by a number of things including pregnancy and infection. This is what I’d developed and it meant my body was now producing blood clots in my organs. CAPS has a 50 per cent survival rate (although study samples are always very low because it’s so rare) and the hospital I was in had never seen a case of it before. One doctor said the odds were ‘stacked against’ me and others warned because of my multiple organ failure that things were not looking good at all. The only positive at this point was my age, my family were told had I been older I wouldn’t really have had a chance. Also they knew I had some brain function as I had reacted to a couple of things while under sedation, although it wasn’t known how lucid I would be or whether I would even recognise my family and friends.
Because of the rarity of my condition, there are very few experts in it but luckily there were at the Queen Elizabeth in Birmingham, just an hour away. There had been talk of transferring me there for a couple of days but numerous concerns were raised including the possibility that I was too ill to even make the journey. Eventually the QE agreed to accept me on their ITU (the largest in the world!) and I was prepped for the journey. The preparation took about five hours and I had to be paralysed for it.
My next post will be about my recovery in Birmingham, so pop back soon to read it!
Harriet and Alexandra x