I’m Late. Again.

So, here’s the thing. I am late for everything. Like, EVERYTHING. So it will be of no great surprise to those who know me well that this blog post is late. It was Birth Trauma Awareness week last week and this little ditty was in the diary to be written to coincide with it. So, basically, now this post has absolutely no common relevance whatsoever. But I’m going to write it anyway. Because, if nothing else, I think it might be quite therapeutic. For me, that is. Not you.

I’ve had the pleasure (and absolute privilege) of bringing two beautiful babies in to the world but neither births were easy. In fact, they were pretty traumatic. My memory of both is really quite limited. I wonder whether that was the drugs pumped into me or whether it is some sort of self defence move my brain has pulled.

What came out of both births is that I do not take for granted that I now have two healthy children. Yes, it would have been nice to have a romantic water birth surrounded by scented candles and whale music whilst being held lovingly by my husband but the reality is it all went a bit Pete Tong. It was crap. But, you know what? I’ve got two healthy and strong children. As much as it was traumatic and I felt the effects of it for a while afterwards, I am now able to move forward and look upon the births as a difficult journey that we had to embark on to get my babies here. A bit like a turbulent  long haul flight to get to some idyllic tropical island: the journey was hell but it did its job, I’m now relaxing on golden sands with a frozen Margarita and all was worth it.

I’m not going to attempt to re tell both births in this post. I think recalling them both may result in me becoming a fragile, wet mess. So, let’s talk about my little lass. Chosen purely because it was the least traumatic (and the most recent so my memory is a bit sharper!).

The whole pregnancy with Little Miss was difficult. Whilst I floated on air for several months after finding out I was finally pregnant, it wasn’t an easy ride by any means. I didn’t expect one mind so I was kind of prepared. I had severe morning-noon-and-night sickness until around 18 weeks and at around six months I became really itchy. I itched literally from the highest point of my scalp to the sole of my feet. It was worse at night and it literally drove me insane. I would never have even clicked that it was linked to the pregnancy had I not read an article in my local paper the week before about a lady who sadly lost her baby due Obstetric Cholestasis. If I hadn’t read that article, I am not convinced I would have ever even mentioned the itching to my midwife. Maybe I am completely lacking in intelligence and common sense but in my mind, I wouldn’t have even connected itchy skin to something more sinister surrounding the pregnancy. My heart breaks for the poor family featured in the paper and I only wish I knew who they were to thank them for sharing their story as it most definitely saved my baby. It just shows how critical it is to raise awareness of these things.

So I mentioned it to my midwife or sent me for a blood test. It came back straight away that there was an issue with my liver and I was sent up to the maternity department at the hospital. We were met by a consultant who explained I had Obstetric Cholestasis. He was really patient and thorough but it was a lot of information to take in. We were already considered a high risk pregnancy due to the sheer concoction of drugs I was on to manage the pain of my chronic disease so this was just another risk to worry about. He told us that our baby would need delivered early as the longer the pregnancy goes on, the higher the risk of still birth. He advised that 1 in 200 women with OC go on to have a still born baby. 1 in 200 may not sound scary but when you’re sitting there, nursing your bump as your baby kicks and moves inside of you, so full of life, the even remote mention of your baby being stillborn is about as scary as it gets. A C-section was booked in at 36 weeks and they organised a care plan, I was to visit the hospital every week to have blood tests, to monitor the baby’s heart rate and movements and I was given medication to try and reduce the levels of bile in the blood. I was also prescribed this amazing menthol cream (which I literally bathed in for the next two months!) which was great for reducing the itching. It still itched like hell but I got a couple of minutes of relief at least when the cream was applied.

We were already aware that our baby was going to be born dependent on morphine due to my medication and that was scary enough so when these risks were factored in too, it was a really anxious time. Every week we’d trek up to the hospital in the city and I would have bloods taken and whilst waiting for them to return from the lab, the midwives would hook me up on a monitor machine which measured the baby’s heart rate and recorded the movements I felt by a button I had to press. Most weeks I was kept on the monitor for longer than standard because either she wasn’t moving a lot, or she was sleepy, or her heart rate dropped. It felt like those appointments went on forever. In fact, we headed in to the city today and took the same road we always took for the hospital and I instantly felt that sick, anxious twisting-of-the-stomach feeling that I felt every single time I went up there. I always expected the worse. I’m not sure whether that was a self preservation tactic or what, I was just constantly paranoid that something was going to be wrong with my baby. My precious baby.

We got all the way up to 35 weeks and I was due to have my final monitoring appointment before the section that was literally scheduled for days later. That’s when things didn’t start going to plan. The midwife kept coming back to the monitor and looking at the scan on the paper it was printing out. I could see from her face that something wasn’t quite right. You know when you get sent in to a little side room closely followed by a suited up consultant that things aren’t going to plan. They told me they weren’t happy with baby’s heart rate. I kept dipping and wasn’t recovering as quickly as it should. They said that, ever so matter of factly, they needed to deliver the baby that day via an emergency section. Cue an onslaught of ‘my hospital bag, it isn’t here! What about the big lad? We haven’t organised childcare for him! I’ve not eaten yet! I’ve not shaved my legs yet’ ya-da ya-da ya-da. It turned out that my hubby could actually throw things together in a plastic bag, arrange childcare, prepare eldest child for the premature arrival of his sibling and get back to the hospital in time for the section (even if he did bring a hat aged 6-9 months for the baby to wear upon her birth…). My legs remained hairy but the surgeon didn’t seem too arsed. Either that or I was too blotto to notice. Whatever. I’m sure he didn’t go on his break in the staff room and say ‘You should’ve seen the baby I’ve just delivered, her mum had the hairiest legs I’ve ever seen!’ to his fellow surgeon mates whilst they dunked their digestives in their tea. Or maybe he did. Frankly, I no longer care.

So, my hubby was gowned up and they took me in to theatre. I remember it being so brightly lit and not at all like the theatres you see on the TV. There was a radio playing and the staff were joking about how bad the Healthcare Assistant’s singing was. The Anaesthetist struggled to get the spinal block due to my spinal condition. She had told me that it may have been necessary to have a general if she couldn’t get the spinal in. I pleaded with her to keep trying. I desperately didn’t want to miss the delivery of my little girl. She worked like an absolute trooped getting that spinal block and she made it happen. I will forever be grateful for that.

I had a great medical team surrounding me, with a Baby Doctor on call ready to give our baby girl help if she needed it. It turns out she was an absolute trooper too. She was delivered ever so perfectly, with Daddy catching the moment she was pulled from me on camera (we’re saving that one til she brings her first boyfriend home). Every last ounce of her 6lb 12 weight was absolute perfection. You wouldn’t even know that she was born early, or born dependant on morphine.

But as I was obliviously coo-ing over the beautiful baby girl that was tucked inside my hospital gown, being held tightly against my chest, the rest of the surgery was not going to plan. The nurses did their best to reassure me when the machines started making extra beeping noises and they called the Registrar to come down, I knew there was something wrong. It was written all over the atmosphere in the room. It had gone from a jubilant, celebratory ‘Yay! It’s a baby girl!’ atmosphere to a everyone-looking-scary-worried atmosphere.

The Registrar came down and spoke very quietly with the Surgeon then came and explained that I was suffering Uterine Atony, my uterus had failed to contract after the delivery and it was causing quite a lot of blood loss. She was very upbeat, attempted to distract me with small talk whilst keeping one eye firmly on the developing surgery at the bottom of the table. It took the surgeon, what felt like, an eternity to get things under control. I did nothing but look at the faces of the medical staff, the way you look to air crew staff when you’re on a bumpy flight to see if they look worried, because if they look worried, well then it’s time to worry that the plane may be in trouble.

I tried to focus on my baby girl, my husband – anything other than the beeping of those bloody machines. The more I nestled my beautiful baby in to my chest, the more I worried that I wasn’t going to get out of that theatre alive to enjoy her. I felt cold and my hands were trembling as I tried to hold my baby close to me.

What felt like an eternity later, the Registrar finally looked at me, relieved and told me that I had lost quite a bit of blood but that the situation was under control and that I was now being stitched up ready to go in to recovery. The machines stopped beeping, the jovial atmosphere resumed with the Healthcare Assistant continuing with his rubbish singing and the room literally breathed a sigh of relief.

It turned out that our little baby girl wasn’t out of the woods unfortunately. We had a wonderful first 12 -18 hours with her before the drug withdrawal symptoms started taking hold and sge got sicker and sicker. I have promised myself I will write about our experience as parents of a baby with a drug dependency one day but I don’t feel quite ready to do it yet so I will come back to that another day.

One thing I must say on the subject of both her dependency and the birth is that I am so grateful for the incredible medical team we had looking after us both. Not once did we feel that we weren’t in safe hands. They were nothing short of outstanding. I know sometimes the NHS gets a bashing, and if I’m being honest, I have had my own frustrations with them in the past, but we could not fault the care given to either of us during our stay in Maternity.

Phew! I got through it! Apologies for its total lack of relevance due to my poor time keeping but posting anyway in the hope that one day it may raise awareness in the same way that newspaper article did for me. I owe the family in that article the world and then some.

It isn’t greedy to want two children.

It’s not greedy to want two children. My experience of secondary infertility.

 

Secondary infertility isn’t a subject that is widely discussed. I’m not sure why, because according to many articles that spring to life following a random google search, thousands of couples suffer from it every year. It is very common, but not often talked about.

We fell pregnant very quickly with our first child, in fact, he took us by surprise. He was the best surprise. So we had no understanding of what it was like to actively ‘try’ for a baby whatsoever.

When our gorgeous boy was between two and three years old, I convinced my very unsure husband that it was time for another. Looking back, I can understand where his reservations were coming from. If our first baby was anything to go on, we could potentially be knitting bootees and cooing over cots in less than four weeks time. We questioned whether we were ready as a family. We questioned whether the box room was big enough for a nursery. We questioned whether we could afford to double our childcare costs. We questioned a lot of things when we talked about having another baby. But the one thing we didn’t question, was our ability to conceive again. Not once. So when it didn’t happen, it hit us hard.

We tried to conceive for months and months. The longer we tried, the more we wanted it, and the further away we felt from it. We were totally caught off guard by the whole thing. My body had done it once. Super quick too. Why couldn’t it do it again? We were frustrated by it and we could not understand why we were having so much difficulty.

Little did we know that we were only at the beginning of a very long and painful road spanning ten years.

In the early years we didn’t tell our family or friends what we were going through. That was difficult. Having a second child is a natural progression from having one in society; once our boy reached three, people started to get impatient. They would not-so-subtly tap their feet and check their watch every time the subject was even remotely addressed. Every time we told our family or friends that we had news to share with them, their eyes would automatically well up with joy, they would clap their hands together and screech the words ‘When’s it due?!’ only for us to have to deliver some pretty underwhelming news by comparison, like we’d saved enough nectar points for a free pizza express, or we were thinking about getting a pet gerbil.

I’m not sure why we chose not to talk about it. Maybe it was because it wasn’t commonly spoken about. I didn’t even know secondary infertility was a thing until it, well, became a thing. Amongst child less friends I felt like my desire for a second baby, and my emotional turmoil at not having one, had to be hidden. I felt I had no right to talk of my wanting another baby. I felt greedy. I had one child who was beautiful and healthy – he was pretty damn perfect, actually. I should’ve been counting my blessings, right? Some people can’t even have one child let alone two. I was one of the lucky ones.

And I do get that. I can imagine that couples facing infertility with no children would think that we were being greedy. They’d no doubt give anything to have just one child nevermind two. I know the pain I felt as I longed for a second baby; I can only imagine that their pain was mine ten fold. And more.

But it didn’t matter how much I reasoned with myself. I told myself I was lucky to have my boy (and, by the way, that is not questionable. I am the luckiest woman in the world to have been blessed with my son and I never once doubted that). I told myself that not having a second baby wasn’t the end of the world. But that longing didn’t go away. Yes, I had a child to hold. But that didn’t mean that my arms didn’t physically ache to hold another. In some ways, when you’ve had one child, you know more about what you are missing out on by not having a second child. You know the absolute joy that they bring, the unconditional love that you feel enveloped in on first holding your baby; you fully understand the impact of the walking miracle that they are and the life changing experiences that they bring – and when you know that, and you’ve felt that, it only leaves you wanting a second baby even more.

Our Fertility Professor agreed to put us on fertility treatment. It was mentally and physically gruelling in every way. It was a never ending cycle of hope meets disappointment meets hope meets disappointment once again. We did stints of it for months and then took breaks because at times, it had become all too much. The treatment was all consuming. Repeated visits to the clinic for blood tests and scans on a weekly basis was exhausting, the excuses I made to my colleagues for the repeated time out of work to attend the appointments, the hormones that made me feel and behave in ways I didn’t recognise, bursting into tears if Sainsburys had ran out of red grapes, or snapping at my husband (and when I say snapping, what I actually mean is, ‘exploding’) for offering to do the dishes. This went on for eight years. Eight years.

Then there’s the guilt. The guilt you feel because as parents, you can’t give your child a sibling. You can’t give them that friend for life they expect, someone else who will stick with them throughout their life and offer them unconditional love. This was heightened when my boy started school and realised that most children had siblings. That was a difficult time. He would write ‘a brother or a sister’ at the top of his birthday and Christmas lists year in and year out Every time we passed a water fountain he would ask for a penny so that he could throw the penny in and make a wish for a sibling. They were tough times. Because what explanation can you give to a four or five year old as to why they don’t have the brother or sister that most of his friends have? He was too young for the scientific answer. We aren’t a hugely religious family but we do have a belief system of sorts – a faith. I called upon that system in an attempt to explain to my boy that sometimes in life, things such as these are simply outside of our control. We told him that the big fella in the sky would give us a baby brother or sister if and when he felt we were ready for it. It was an impossible discussion to have because, as a parent to a young child, you would do anything to shelter them from the miserable reality that shit happens and we can’t always have whatever we want, regardless of how much we want it.

The more years that went by, the more we were beginning to resign ourselves to life with only one child. I turned the TV over when babies were born on Eastenders, I avoided channel 4 like the bloody plague to ensure there was absolutely no chance whatsoever of me even accidentally catching a miniscule of a second of ‘One born every minute’. I politely declined invitations to my friends’ Baby Showers (which, by the way, I deeply, deeply regret. I am sad that I couldn’t put my grief to one side to celebrate with them but it was simply more than I could take at the time) and I averted my eyes to the ground when we passed a pregnant lady in the street or a woman pushing a pram. I distinctly remember my sister announcing she was pregnant with her second child. It was Mothers Day and we were out for a special lunch as a family. Nobody expected the announcement. Looking back now, I’m not sure why, but she had never mentioned wanting another baby so it came as a surprise. I’d like to say a happy surprise but I felt it like a punch to my gut. A big, strong punch to the stomach. This metaphorical punch almost left me winded. My mum wept with joy. My dad shot up and shook my brother in law’s hand. I’m not sure how I managed it but I fought those tears with every inch of my being and I gave her a celebratory hug. I don’t think I managed any words. But I definitely tried for her. I felt like a shit sister and shit Aunt. I mean it when I say that I desperately wanted to be happy for her. I genuinely did. I felt envy so strong it made me physically sick. I was physically sick with envy.

Guilt was a prominent feature of our journey. I felt guilt I couldn’t provide my boy with a sibling, I felt guilt that I couldn’t be happy for my closest family and friends when it happened for them, I even felt guilt at my boy not being enough for me; I felt guilt for wanting another. I felt greedy.

We had those sorts of conversations over and over again with our Fertility Professor over the years; she was so supportive. In that consulting room, with her, I felt safe. It had three chairs, a small table with the obligatory box of tissues on it and three framed pictures of some sort of wacky artist’s representation of a woman’s uterus on the wall, that was it. But it felt safe. Why? Because there was an acknowledgement that it was perfectly natural to desperately want a second child, and that it was Ok to feel such pain at not being able to. I slowly came to the realisation that I was justified in feeling that pain. Yes, obviously I was better off than couples who couldn’t have any children. And by God, did I appreciate that. But it was still Ok for me to feel pain at not being able to complete my family. It wasn’t greedy to want two children. It was natural. It was Ok to feel the way we felt.

We fought that infertility with every ounce of energy within us. When it got tough, we took a little break from the treatment but we never gave up. Giving up without our second baby was just never an option then. Until the treatment worked, that is.

In a phone call to the clinic to find out the results of the pregnancy blood test that was completed after every round of treatment, a call I had made every month for years and years, I finally heard the words that I had dreamed of. They told us it was positive. It had worked. We felt like all our dreams had come true. That is, until we went for our early scan at the clinic and found that our baby had stopped developing very early on. It felt like the pregnancy was on, then as quick as a flick of a switch, it was off. Gone. Dreams completely shattered.

We went on to have a number of rounds of treatment but I think we both knew we had reached the end of our journey. We were grief stricken over a baby that had barely got out of the starting blocks and continually trying to get pregnant again afterwards only served as a cold and bitter reminder of the loss we had experienced.

Eight years after we started trying for our second baby, we decided, in conjunction with our Professor that it was time to accept this was highly unlikely to happen for us again. The Professor had said that she would support us with one further round of treatment but that she was pushing the boundaries and felt that it was highly unlikely there would be any success. We were a mess, in every aspect. Our marriage was stretched because of the ups and downs that infertility brings, we were missing a lot of work in order to commit to the treatment and as much as our employers were supportive, it had been going on years and there is only so much you can ask. We also felt that we had become so obsessed with what we didn’t have that at times we had lost sight of what we did have: our gorgeous boy. And he was growing up so fast. It was time to start the acceptance process and make the best out of what we had. We had so much to be grateful for and although it was an extremely difficult time, once we had come through that acceptance process, it was like someone lifted the roof to reveal blue sky and sunshine, bright colours and fresh air. There was a world out there to enjoy. A world, that didn’t include hormone injections, hospital gowns, invasive scans and blood tests. We had a life to lead with our boy. It was time to start living again.

Our boy was growing up fast which meant there was a whole new world to enjoy with him. As an almost teen, he could access a world of different things that wouldn’t have been appropriate before when he was younger. We took advantage of that and we made ourselves busy. We booked trips away, we introduced him to our love of live music and took him to gigs with us, we went to see films that were rated 12a at the cinema, we went in to book shops and sat with a hot chocolate and discussed books that we both liked the look of, we watched box sets on Netflix that we both liked. I absolutely adored it when my boy was little but him growing up did open up a whole new way of life. He now had the maturity to do more adult type stuff with us and it was lovely as we had so much more genuinely in common.

I remember booking tickets to our very first music festival some two years after deciding to give up trying for our second baby. The three of us were going to go and experience our very first music festival together. We talked about hiring a camper van and stopping off at a few different places before making the journey down to the south for the festival; we were so excited. I remember sitting in Starbucks with one of my closest friends and telling her about this festival. I remember going on and on about who was playing and how excited we were as a family. My friend looked at me intensely in the eye and said ‘You’re happy now.’ It wasn’t a question. It was an observation. She saw something different in me. I agreed. I finally felt different. She felt that it was as if that weight had been lifted off my shoulders; She felt that I was finally over what we had been through. I had finally accepted we were going to remain as a family of three. And she was right. I walked out of that Starbucks and I felt ten foot tall. I went home and held my boy so tight. I had finally accepted the cards we had been dealt and I was Ok with it. I finally felt a peace that is quite indescribable. I felt a sense of calm, a real sense of contentment. I was happy.

Less than two weeks later someone at work offered me chocolate and I turned it down. I didn’t even think about it; I just turned it down. I never turn down chocolate. Something in that moment spoke to me. To this day I don’t know what it was. But it told me to buy a pregnancy test. So I did.

Seven months later we were blessed with the second baby we had waited ten years for. She defied science. She defied logic. The only word for her is ‘miracle’. She was and will forever be an absolute miracle.

A fourteen year age gap between children may not seem ideal to most, but by God we are making this work. My big lad and my baby girl have the most beautiful relationship and despite waiting ten years, the timing of it all came together and felt so right. Nobody can explain why or how it happened. It just did. I am so grateful for it.

We never made it to the festival. On the day of the festival I was heaving myself around the place looking like a beached whale on steroids. There was no place I would have rather been.