When I was in primary school, a friend gave me an autograph book. I thought it was great fun to get all my friends and family to sign it and write a little message. Most of them were silly rhymes or jokes, but there was one message I still remember. It was from my Dad. He wrote, “To my second red-headed daughter and nicest Christmas present I’ve ever had. Love Dad.” He was referring to the fact that I came home from hospital on Christmas Day.
Something about those words from my father spoke very powerfully into my young heart.
I still find it hard to understand exactly why that message was so precious to me.
Maybe it was simply because they were words of affirmation that were written down for me to keep.
Written words endure. They carry the weight of intention. We know that the person wrote them deliberately, so they somehow mean more. We have evidence of being loved, special, cherished.
Perhaps it was the idea of being somebody’s gift that resonated with me. And not just any gift, but a Christmas gift! To a child, Christmas presents are really exciting. And not just any old Christmas gift, but the nicest one ever? Really? Could that be true?
My Dad is very much a present person. He would always buy extravagant gifts for all of us, but especially for my Mum. Each birthday and Christmas she was showered with expensive lingerie and nice perfume or dresses that cost a week’s wages, even when we couldn’t afford it. Then she would model the new clothes and we would all join in with admiring comments, while Dad said something appreciative like, “Whackydoo!” From his actions, it was clear Dad thought that presents were important. Gift giving is definitely one of his ‘love languages’. So being called a present by my Dad was a poignant expression of love.
The idea that children are a gift is not a new one.
It dates back to ancient times. The Hebrew Scriptures say, “Children are a gift from the Lord. They are a reward from him.” Harsh words for anyone going through recurrent miscarriage or infertility, but the part about children being a gift, that bit I can relate to.
Last year on my birthday I unexpectedly discovered I was pregnant.
My one-year-old had just weaned herself and we had plans to go out with friends for karaoke, so for the first time in almost two years I was looking forward to having a few drinks and letting my hair down. I also knew it was technically possible, but extremely unlikely, that I could have fallen pregnant recently. Just to rule it out, I did a pregnancy test. I almost passed out when I saw a feint line appear in the positive window.
For so many women, seeing that line would have been a source of joy – a gift, even. But for me, pregnancy is scary. I’ve been pregnant nine times and have two children. I’ve had far more sad endings than happy ones and some of my experiences have been unusually traumatic. So when I found out I was pregnant, the overwhelming emotion was one of fear and anxiety, of feeling incredibly vulnerable, while still wanting to be hopeful.
At the time, I didn’t tell my family – I didn’t want them to be anxious for the next twelve weeks. So I kept my feelings to myself and went about my day as if nothing had happened. I had lunch with my parents, I went out as planned but drank mineral water – (not what you need for karaoke!) – and I made a passable show of trying to be relaxed, while on the inside I was stressing about how I would get my hands on the specialist medications I needed before the looming Christmas break.
In spite of my worries, the pregnancy went smoothly. At thirteen weeks, we had a very thorough scan in which we were told that the pregnancy could now be considered low risk. I started to believe we were having another baby. I started to change my plans for the New Year and make new ones around the baby. I started picturing my family with three kids and wondering how on earth I would get dinner cooked every evening with my husband on night shift and a toddler and a newborn hanging off me. I started telling my friends we were expecting again. Then at a routine check-up, just before sixteen weeks, there was no heartbeat. Later that night, I was giving birth. And for a few minutes, there was a tiny, purple, perfect little boy, wrapped up in a blanket on my bed. And then he was gone.
“I lost a baby.”
So here’s the thing. I don’t want Alexander’s life just to be an accident. A mistake. A regret.
When I think or speak of Alexander, I think or speak of loss. But when I think or speak of my other, living, children, I think of them as a gift. When really the only difference is the amount of time I got to keep them for. If Caillie or Molly died tomorrow, I hope that I would still consider their lives to have been a gift to me. So I hope that one day I can see Alexander like that too; as a precious gift, not just as a loss, because every baby deserves to loved, special, cherished.
Right now, it still hurts too much, but one day I hope I can write:
“To Alexander, my second son and the best birthday present I ever had…”
This week I had the chance to take part in a new parenting panel on Erica Davis‘ morning show on Hope 103.2. It was very kind of Erica to invite me and I had a ball. I couldn’t help feeling though, how much my life has changed in just four months! I felt ridiculously nervous appearing as a guest on the show that I used to host. I also felt incredibly out of place in a professional work environment, (not unwelcome, just out of place) where people are all busily carrying out their business. The pace of life at home and school is just so much more relaxed and casual. It was also the first time I’d ever been so physically far away from Molly and the 40 minutes of freeway between us felt like a void as wide as the Simpson Desert.
This week on the panel we talked about the publicity that surrounds celebrities getting their “body back” after a baby. Is there too much pressure on Mums to get their body back into shape? In once sense I find this question a little laughable, as if we were all perfectly sculptured gym junkies before we had kids. I don’t know about you but I had wobbly bits before kids, and I have wobbly bits after kids, at least now I have more of an excuse! Personally I don’t compare myself to celebrities. They’re paid to look good – it’s their job and they have a team of personal trainers, nutritionists and nanny’s to help them. (I certainly don’t envy her job. If I wanted to be gawked at while standing around in my underwear I’d visit my dermatologist.) So if Miranda Kerr looks hot after a baby, good on her. She was hot before and it has no relevance to my life. If women feel pressure to look like her, before or after bub, then surely it’s a pressure they’re putting on themselves.
If anything, the time immediately after giving birth is the time you could head out in your pyjamas and people would tell you you’re fabulous, they’re just so impressed that you’ve managed to leave the house. If you bother to run a tiny bit of lippy over your mouth before you head out they’ll say you’re amazing. I remember clearly when Molly was six weeks old walking to the local shops in the late afternoon. I passed a Mum of twins cutting through the park and she looked a little despondent so I stopped for a chat. I remember exactly what I was wearing. My hair was in plaits that had been done at the crack of dawn and were now falling out in a mess. I had a green cap on, an old stained white singlet that was thinner than a supermodel, an orange skirt that was falling off my hips, and red Birkenstocks. A medley of clashing colours, no make-up, no jewelry, probably hadn’t washed my hair or shaved my armpits for several days. This lady I’ve never met before asked me how old the baby was and when I replied that she was six weeks, she gushed, “Wow, you’re looking fabulous!” It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. I looked like an unwashed hippy who had escaped a commune for the day.
Having said all that I did struggle with my body when I was pregnant. By the final 8 weeks I really did feel like a whale. I shamefully confess that I turned down a number of invitations to events, lunches and catch-ups in those final weeks because I felt too conspicuously unattractive, un-coordinated, inelegant and unsociable. The last thing you want to do is knock over somebody’s expensive glass of wine with your mega-pregga belly as you try to squeeze past the white tablecloths without inadvertently collecting one on the way. I also didn’t want to meet new people at a time when I felt so awkward and exhausted and wasn’t capable of giving them my full attention and energy.
While it’s nice to get a bit of positive, albeit unrealistic, feedback about bouncing back after bub, it seems a little unfortunate that we’re more likely to be told we’re looking good and less likely to be told we’re doing a good job. The other day I arrived late to school pick-up after racing across to Chatswood to pick up my niece from pre-school. I had phoned my neighbour and asked her to wait with Birdy until I got there. A full ten minutes late, I garbled my frantic apology. “I’m so sorry I’m late, I just totally underestimated how long it would take, thanks so much for waiting, I’m so, so sorry.” My friend stopped me, “Katrina, it’s fine. Can I just say that I think you’re coping really well? It’s a lot to take on with a new baby.” Wow, what an encouragement it was to hear those words for the first time in three months. (It may not be the first time somebody’s said that, but it was the first time I’d heard it.) And it was just what I needed to hear. So while it’s lovely to have somebody say we’re looking great after a baby, let’s also encourage each other with how we’re doing. That’s the feedback new Mums really need to hear. Because while our bodies may change after a baby, what changes so much more is the heart. Our own selfish ambitions and desires gradually fade into the background while our better selves, the one that just wants the best for our baby, fights its way to the fore. That’s taken a little longer for me second time round, not because I’m more selfish, but because I had more to give up. So on those days when I’m feeling tired, haggard, grumpy and restless it means a lot to hear that I’m doing OK, even if I look like crap.
Are you concerned about regaining your body after a baby? Have you struggled to lose weight, exercise or to find time to take care of yourself? How have you changed since having a baby? What has encouraged you in your parenting role?
BY A BADENHOP
I have a confession: sometimes I watch Private Practice. A few weeks ago there was an episode with a woman in labour. Having heard that a drug free birth would be best for the child she refused intervention from the doctors. After three days of increasing angst, the baby was finally born ‘naturally’ and all the pain was worth it. While I could applaud her tenacity, there were a few things that annoyed me about the episode 1) the woman was apparently in enough pain for the doctors to implore her to take drugs, but she could still string a sentence together (bah! call that pain?), 2) she wasn’t red in the face at all, and 3) the one that really gets me – the implication that if you just tried hard enough in your labour, you would have a beautiful ‘natural’ delivery of your baby.
I am really blessed to have two beautiful children. Prior to the birth of no. 1, I thought that while labour would be difficult, it would all go pretty well because I was someone who was good at toughing things out and had even been described as a ‘pocket battleship’.
Round 1. Happily, I went into labour just three days after the due date, and everything seemed to be going really well. For the first 18 hours I went without pain relief, spending time in the shower and bath, with birth balls and heat packs and music, trying to reduce the pain signals to my brain with noise, splashing, stress toys (a dolphin whose flippers were lost in the battle) scratching noises and singing (which degenerated from actual lyrics to ‘la, la, LA’ to primal screams of pain which I’m told you could hear down the hallway). After a period of a couple of hours of one long excruciating contraction, I was sure I must be in transition. Imagine then, my devastation when I was told I had not progressed at all since my previous examination. Not even a centimetre. My midwife in the birth centre then suggested I use gas, then pethidine, then an epidural with syntocinin, and then after 26 hours, with my baby showing signs of distress, I had an emergency caesar (for which I needed a spinal block because the epidural wasn’t working properly).
Round 2. Having had only one caesarean that had healed up well, I was able to try labour again, with more intensive monitoring, and went back to the birth centre to give it another shot. I had joked with friends that all I needed for this labour to be better than the last was for the baby to come out! This time I went into labour a few days before the due date, and the labour progressed really well from having a few odd contractions at 2 am to regular consistent contractions by 9 am. My waters broke immediately after my first examination at the hospital and then it was really on! After a few hours of intense labour, I really was in transition and, having been asked not to push, I requested an epidural. It was after that that everything went downhill. My baby’s heart rate was dropping, but not recovering after contractions. This went on for a period of time that is now all a little blurry until the point when a doctor hit the emergency button. Sirens blaring, my room was suddenly filled with people, I was pulled down into stirrups, and told to ‘Push, Push, PUSH!’ while my little boy was wrenched out of me with forceps in a matter of minutes. Shellshocked, we waited. My husband was certain it had all gone terribly wrong. And then, joy of joys, we heard his little cry, and over a series of debriefs and checks were reassured that he was 100% healthy.we It seemed that my placenta had come away from the uterus during labour (a placental abruption) and there probably would not have been time to prep for a caesar if forceps weren’t able to be used.
There’s so much more I could say about my labours. They certainly weren’t what I expected. I’ve found it cathartic to write down my birth stories and talk it over with people, but I confess to feeling a little envious when I hear about straightforward deliveries, and a little frustrated when people imply that with the right formula you will have a good labour. Prior to our first child, our birth class facilitator taught us that while it was good to have ideas about how you wanted your labour to go, the only really important outcome is a healthy baby. Now when I talk to expecting mums about labour I likewise encourage them not to get too hung up on the labour details – you never know quite how its going to go! At the end of the day, regardless of the process I am so thankful that the result was two healthy children.
What was your labour experience and do you feel like you have recovered from it? Did you feel any pressure from people to do/not do anything in your labour? What have you found helpful in dealing with the unexpected?
We had a disaster last week – a disaster entirely of our own making. A disaster that, with a little more resolve, could have easily been prevented.
We know it’s a bad idea to let Birdy take Teddy out in public places. Normally when we go to the shops or a cafe or to church, we insist that Teddy stays in the car so he doesn’t get lost. But last week Teddy went to daycare. And as anyone, even an Octopus, could have predicted Teddy was left behind at daycare. I know. Shocking case of parental neglect. But wait, it gets worse… It was a FRIDAY!
You know what that means, don’t you? Two long days and three long nights without Teddy.
But hang on, why am I calling him Teddy, like he’s just some home brand generic teddy? He has a name. It’s January. Birdy named him herself when she was two years old. My husband and I were quite impressed. Birdy was born in January, so it’s a pretty cool name for her teddy.
I bought January when I was pregnant. My husband, who has a more pessimistic mindset than me, wouldn’t let me buy any baby things for about the first six months, in case it didn’t work out. But I was so excited I just had to get something, so I allowed myself to buy just one teddy for my unborn baby. That teddy turned out to be January. That baby turned out to be Birdy. I’m pretty attached to them both. So naturally I was quite pleased that January became the teddy she bonded with and cuddles every night.
I was very attached to my teddy as a child. He was blue with hardly any hair and he was called Peter Bear. I remember a few distraught times (after I’d got in trouble for something) when I was genuinely convinced that Peter Bear was the only person in the world who really understood me. Fortunately that conviction never lasted too long. But he was there for me when I needed him. That’s why I always hoped that Birdy would also have a special teddy to be her unconditional friend.
Well, you’ll be glad to hear we survived the weekend without January. Birdy even managed to sleep OK, but not without a few tears before bed each night. Any time she got upset about something, she’d ask for teddy and then cry even more because he wasn’t there. And I actually found it harder to calm her down her without that simple, dependable comforter that I automatically turn to when she’s upset. I felt almost as pleased as Birdy when January finally came home again. I’ve made him promise to never run away again.
Do your kids have a special teddy or comforter? Have you ever left it behind in a hotel, playground or at a friend’s place? Did you have a special soft toy as a child that you still remember?
The thing about having just one child is that nearly every day somebody says something like, ‘Are you planning on having more children? You don’t want to leave it too late.’ People I barely know make these kinds of comments to me all the time. And yet, every time it still surprises me. Does the general population not understand that for many, many people, having babies is not an exercise that works to a schedule?
For me, falling pregnant has not been the issue, at least not recently. Last year, after Birdy turned one, we decided it was time to think about another baby. We fell pregnant straight away. The baby’s due date was December 4. Unfortunately, at eight weeks, we discovered that I had miscarried the baby some time earlier. We were heartbroken. I had been so excited about the idea of a new baby at Christmas. I found it hard to accept that this would no longer be the case. I just hoped I would be pregnant again before Christmas rolled around so I would not feel the loss so keenly.
Our doctor told us there was no medical reason to wait before trying again. And that there was no reason to believe things would go wrong again. I fell pregnant straight away. I told my family the happy news as soon as I got the positive pregnancy test. I wanted everyone to feel better. Two days later, I was no longer pregnant. The embryo had failed to implant properly. Feeling foolish, I called my family to say I wasn’t pregnant after all.
Two months later, I was pregnant again. This time I was more cautious and told nobody. I didn’t even go to my GP. I just waited to see what would happen. At about five weeks, I started to feel dreadfully ill with abdominal pain. A few neighbours had mentioned they’d been really sick with a gastro, so I thought I’d caught it too. Later the bleeding started. Eventually I went to hospital and was told I’d experienced an ectopic pregnancy that had naturally aborted (An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that is not located in the uterus). Once again, there wasn’t going to be a baby. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. We took a break from babies for a few months to get our heads together. Suddenly everything seemed uncertain, everything was stressful. I started to feel anxious about the idea of another pregnancy, but I knew I wanted to give Birdy a brother or sister if I could.
In November, I discovered I was pregnant for the fourth time that year. My husband and I did not want to get our hopes up. We went cautiously to an ultrasound at five and a half weeks. The embryo was where it should be. An early heartbeat was visible. It all looked promising.
At seven and a half weeks my obstetrician could not find a heartbeat. He sent me over to the hospital for a more powerful scan. I’ve never felt so tense in my life. I felt sick. I couldn’t believe it was happening again. The internal ultrasound showed that the baby’s heart was still beating, but it was not as strong as it should be and the fetus had not grown as much as it should have. After I pressed him, my doctor admitted that he expected the baby to miscarry. I hoped and prayed he was wrong. Most of my friends and family told me things would be OK. The doctors were just being cautious. You can have too many ultrasounds these days, they said. Too much information will just make you worry unnecessarily. It will all work out, they said.
On December 3, a week later, we were told the worst – the baby’s heart had definitely stopped beating. So on December 4, the day I should have been giving birth to my second baby, I was admitted to hospital for another D & C. Meanwhile, a close friend of mine was having her baby at another hospital down the road. In the exact time that my friend had carried one healthy baby, I had lost four pregnancies. While she was welcoming her child into the world, I was having mine suctioned out of me. I know that sounds crass, but its not a pleasant procedure. The sadness was suffocating. As I lay in my bed, the grief overwhelming me, I had an image of myself being dashed against the rocks in a raging ocean, completely powerless. If I did not have Birdy to cherish, I don’t know how I would have got out of bed.
As I’m writing this, I know there will be people who are going through the same thing, who don’t yet have their precious child. It must be even more devastating for them. But I have found it helpful to read and hear about the experiences of other women and that’s why I wanted to share my story. In fact, a number of friends have asked me to write about miscarriage on my blog. I recently finished reading a book called My Seventh Monsoon, by Naomi Reed. In the book, Naomi shares about the five painful miscarriages she experienced. I found it helpful to read her story, although she was clearly writing with the benefit of hindsight, from a time when her three boys were safely in her arms. Naomi felt that God carried her through that difficult time. I’m afraid I haven’t felt that. And I haven’t even felt that something good will eventually come from all this pain. I have another close friend who has had several miscarriages; she now has two beautiful children. Their stories give me hope that one day I will also be on the other side of this journey. But I wanted to be brave enough to share this experience with others while I’m still on the journey, when I don’t know what the ending will be, when the raw emotion of loss has not been dulled by the safe arrival of another baby.
I don’t know what the future will hold. I feel sad for what I’ve lost. And I feel sad that pregnancy is no longer a state of joy for me, but a time of fear and anxiety. I dearly hope and pray that I will not have to go through the pain of another miscarriage, but only time will tell. I don’t think I will ever make sense of what has happened to me, but I hope that one day I will be at peace with it… If that’s possible.
Have you been through the pain of a miscarriage or infertility? How do you cope when everyone around you seems to be having a baby? Have friends and family been helpful or do you feel that nobody understands your situation? If you’ve come out the other side, how has your point of view changed over time? Please also feel free to share anything that helped you deal with your loss and grief (and those things that were definitely NOT helpful.)
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