The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum


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BURNOUT

burnout

So this morning, I’m in bed. reading Country Life, with the cat. Because we have moved to the country. But more on that later.

But this isn’t a smug post, it’s an honest one. I’m in bed, because I hit a wall in a massive way recently. Burn out. It wasn’t nice. But more on that later too.

For now, let me catch you up with where I am as it’s been a while. My last post was in 2017 and in November 2018, after 2 more miscarriages, I had my third child, who we’ll call The Baby. It was another dreadful birth. You may remember my first child got stuck (shoulder dystocia), my second child arrived prematurely after a massive haemorrage and after 4 painful miscarriages, but my third child was a planned c-section. Oh this will be so much more relaxed! We laughed.

On 13 November 2018, after The Baby was lifted out of my tummy, I lost 4 litres of blood in a massive obstetric haemorrage. Given you only have 5-6 litres of blood in your body, it was pretty terrifying and I thought that I would die. Of course I didn’t die, and there were amazing doctors there to pump 4 units of blood straight back into me, but at one point both me and my poor husband who had been dragged with The Baby to another room as I screamed I couldn’t breathe, thought I was going to die. I make this point because it’s important to remember that this is trauma, for your body and your brain. We were told shortly after this (when I’d been handed a premature baby to hold and to feed, as I tried to piece my broken body back into life again) that we should never have children again. No chance, we thought. So the trauma – all those losses, all that pain, all those awful births – is over.

The Baby is almost 1 and life is pretty great. We left London to buy a large house in East Devon near the beach, and we plan to build a cookery school and glamping centre here. We have three healthy children, a cat, and we just bought a puppy. As we walk along the beach, looking at the kids running in the waves it all feels great.

But then there’s this thing. It’s inside me and it feels heavy. When I’m alone or when I’m exhausted, I think about what happened to me and my body, and a feeling rises up in my chest and its so heavy and overwhelming, and it makes me cry until I push it back down again. I push it down again because I have to get on with life and life is busy and I have three kids. But it’s there and it feels like I’m holding back a dam sometimes and if I let it go it would burst with such force it would wash us all away.

And recently with the stress of looking after the kids and the puppy and moving to a new house and doing up the house and starting work again after maternity leave and trying to lose a bit of weight, I hit burn out. So how does that feel? A body completely devoid of energy and a mind empty of motivation. An inability to do anything – I mean literally unable to stack a dishwashwer or get up off the sofa. A desire just to curl up and sleep, all day long. A feeling of being empty, of crying with helplessness and exhaustion. A feeling of hitting rock bottom.

Trauma 

It is, I now believe, partly down to this unresolved trauma. I  believe most of us carry some form of trauma and most of our parents carry it too – trauma from childhood, trauma from infertility or terrible births or miscarriages, trauma from health problems or parental loss.

It is possible to carry this trauma around – I have. And you can cover it for a while – denial, getting on with things, or in other less healthy ways – alcohol or striving for validation through over-achieving, over-work and people pleasing. But it has to come out at some point or it will eat you alive. Literally – insomnia and auto-immune conditions and stress-related disease.

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So how do you resolve this trauma? Well, there is CBT counselling, where you re-live the experience in the present tense (I’m lying on the bed and I can’t breathe and I think I’m going to die) but you add in the things you know now – that you didn’t die, that you were safe. And I can definitely see the benefits in that, but it involves time and investment and you would have to go to a very vulnerable place for a while.

So I guess the other way you resolve it is through talking about it, writing about it, releasing that dam little by little so it doesn’t feel so heavy. Realising what your triggers are and being conscious of when you feel waves of emotion that you didn’t really understand before. And that’s what I’m trying to do.

A stressful life 

Which leads me to other stress factors as a parent generally. I seem to be having more conversations, almost daily, with mums who are at their peak stress levels and wondering why its so hard and feeling like they are failing. And sometimes we question why it’s so hard for us because didn’t our parents do all this and not complain? But I think it IS harder for us, and here’s why.

First, we put massive pressure on ourselves as parents. I’m pretty sure my folks never read a single parenting book, but that’s probably because the parenting style at the time was a lot easier – to parent based on a certain level of detachment, fear and control. Children should be seen and not heard. Eat properly at the table. Kids should entertain themselves and be bored (ever spend days on end throwing a tennis ball up and down for entertainment?). We could run fairly wild then – I remember spending hours running round parks and back gardens with my neighbours’ kids from a fairly young age. Smack them if they are naughty (I wasn’t actually ever smacked. Well, once, for drawing on a newly-decorated nursery wall).

But now we’re all about perfect parenting. We have to cook healthy organic food, read about conscious parenting styles, be constantly empathetic and patient, spend time doing educational but fun games, and make sure they are doing extra curricular activities like swimming and scuba diving and frickin nuclear fusion club, and that’s after you’ve spent time reading every night and doing extensive homework. Sometimes it’s just too much pressure.

Secondly, we’ve lost our communities. If it once took a village to raise a child, it is now us, alone, in a crappy soft play centre in Brentford wondering what went wrong. We live far from our families, and our sisters, neighbours and friends don’t involve themselves with raising our kids anymore. It’s not their fault, we’re all just too busy. But we weren’t meant to do this alone.

Next, society adds others pressures on ourselves that we never used to, partly driven by social media. The pressure to be professionally successful and earn well, to “have it all” (ask me who the most stressed in our society is, and I will show you the part-time working mother). To entertain and have a full social life and great holidays. To have beautifully styled houses and gorgeous interiors. To look hot and slim and wrinkle-free with fabulous clothes and hair. If you are a perfectionist like me, it is impossible to keep up with it all and something has to give.

So what can you do about this? Well, this is what I’m working on and this is why I’ve written this starting blog post (which I’m writing in bed).

Ultimately, I need to lower my standards and work out what is actually important to me – so for example, I don’t need to look hot but I would like to be healthy and strong and fit for my kids. I don’t need to entertain my kids all the time, but I’d like to have special 1 on 1 time for at least 5 minutes with each of them every day.

I need to have more me-time and reconnect to who I was before I had kids – so I’m adding time each day for doing something just for me. Listening to a podcast with headphones on while the kids play or buying something frivolous and just for me like a wet suit. I’m planning days out with close girlfriends. And finding time in each month to pursue a hobby I already love – like yoga – and starting hobbies I’ve always wanted to do but never found the time – like painting and (don’t laugh) wild swimming.

Most of all, I’m realising sometimes I can’t keep face and say I can do things when I know it would lead to burn out if I pushed myself too far. And the most important thing is allowing myself to be vulnerable without being ashamed, and saying I can’t do it, and I need help.

Today is Day 1. 


As I said earlier, we have moved to East Devon and are planning to set up a cookery school/feast venue, but also one with a wellness side, hosting wellbeing events, talks and yoga. I will post details of this soon. I’m also planning (once I get my head above water!) to re-train in psychotherapy or life coaching. I’ll be documenting my journey in a separate blog and instagram page, which I will set up and also send details soon. Watch this space! 

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The Decline of the Housewife

I felt I had to write to address the comments recently made by Esther Rantzen in the Telegraph and Sarah Vine in the Mail, which commented on the Childline Report which stated that there had been a 15% increase in children suffering suicidal thoughts. The children also referred to issues such as sexual abuse, eating disorders and homophobia.

The link they point to is a correlating increase in working mums. Now 73.7% of women work (that’s an increase from 62% in 1996).

The easy conclusion Rantzen and Vine appear to come to is that women are now too busy and too hectic to talk to their children. That their children are contemplating suicide while their mums happily traipse out the door to work.

The first thing I felt when I read the article was guilt, a not unknown feeling for a working mum.

But the second thing I felt was anger. Not one shred of evidence was given (apart from anecdotal) to link the rise in working mums to the rise in suicidal feelings in kids.

And not only was no evidence given, the articles ignored the other obvious changes in the last 20 years. Social media and the perils of cyber bullying, the increased pressure on children at school which can make many de-rail, and the economic austerity which forces families to work hard for a pittance, just to name a few.

But mainly, I am angry that they lump all working mums, all mums, together in one bracket. I refuse to buy those sweatshirts that say “Mother” because I don’t want to be defined by a single part of me. Just as men are, women are all unique and individual, as are our children. I am a mother, but I am also a friend and a wife, and a professional, and a bit of a tit for much of the time.

But I am also very very good at empathising and talking to my children, and this is what they need, is it not?

While in the 70s when I grew up, most of my friends mums didn’t work (mine eventually did after 9 years and was happier for it), I wouldn’t say these stay at home mums were there stroking their kids hair and asking them to talk through their worries. It was the era of the stiff upper lip was it not? I certainly can’t remember any time spent sitting discussing my feelings with my parents, that was the remit of friends and siblings.

I had a long maternity leave with my second child, and while I had wonderful days where I felt like the best mum in the world, bonding with my glorious children, there was a lot of boredom, a lot of repetition. The incessant unloading of the bloody dishwasher, the washing, and the constant tidying of toys and spilled porridge. What I really lacked was time just to sit, and to be, with the kids on the floor, without my phone for company. I have to admit at times I was a bit bored, a bit shouty and I’m pretty sure they picked up on it.

Because I think ALL women are different. Some are brilliant with kids, coming up with craft ideas and games (my nanny for example!), and others aren’t so good at that stuff but might be brilliant in other ways – in organising school bags and play dates for example, or leading the PTA. And I do believe kids need your undivided attention sometimes, but for me its about quality, not quantity. My childhood memories are snippets of time – sitting on my mums lap playing with her necklaces, riding a donkey in Blackpool, pulling my dad into the bath in his work suit. It is for us to create these moments of love and joy for our children that they will remember forever, but it doesn’t mean they have to be the centre of our world all the time.

Fast forward a few months and I’m back at work. Yes sometimes the balance goes a bit wrong and I feel I’m missing out on seeing the kids. Almost daily my heart breaks as they shriek when I come home that I’ve missed them for that day. But do you know what? When I see them, I sit down on the floor, I put my phone away, I listen and I play. I extract every ounce of love out of every evening and weekend. I’m fully theirs when I see them now and I think they know that. They can see I’m happy and they in turn seem happy.

Who I really feel sorry for are the mums who have no choice. The mums who want to go back to work but don’t have a career to go back to. The mums who want to stay at home but have no choice financially so have to work. Its them who I fear for because they are in a position which can’t make them happy. It’s them as a society we should support.

Attacking all working mums for endangering their kids mental health is naïve at best and offensive too. It’s too easy to label women into categories, but lets remember we’re all unique and its up to us to make it work.


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An ode to the midwife

So three weeks ago I gave birth to my rainbow baby, 6 weeks early. We shall call her Minnie, for she is tiny. It was dramatic (when with me is it not?) but effectively she was delivered by emergency caesarean due to my bleeding from placenta praevia. It was all pretty hairy for a while, and I shall write more about it later to help anyone who also is diagnosed with placenta praevia (in short – pack your hospital bag asap) but for now I wanted to write about the midwives and staff of the maternity ward I was at. I wanted to write this while filled with hormones because I’m not sure how much appreciation midwives receive when mums are discharged as then life takes over.

When I refer to midwives here, I also include everyone who works at Maternity wards. I mean the obstetricians and paediatricians, the nurses and cleaners and caterers and people who bring you cups of tea. I am mainly referring to the post-natal midwives here as Minnie’s birth and delivery took place in around 20 minutes!

I should also say for topicality reasons, that I’d estimate around 70% of the midwives and staff at the hospital were foreign, and were uniformly wonderful, and for that reason I’m hoping nothing changes as the care they gave was exemplary.

I wanted to make a list of all the amazing things the midwives did for me before and during Minnie’s delivery, and in the 4 days that we were in hospital afterwards, for I’d forgotten the amazing job they do:

  1. Bringing cups of tea, glasses of water and biscuits when you need it, when you’re too tired to get up, or when your legs are so anaesthetised you can’t move.
  2. Making it clear you can call the nurse-call button for literally anything, including holding your baby so you can pump milk or just have someone to talk to.
  3. Hand-expressing tiny molecules of colostrum into a syringe so your milk comes in and your baby can eat. The patience this must take – it took 10 minutes to express a single drop for me – is incredible.
  4. Not flinching nor exclaiming “oh my god that’s revolting” when checking C-section scars, episiotomy scars, emptying catheter bags, or dealing with various gross post-birth wounds and stitches.
  5. Making it clear that the men come second and making maternity wards the most maternal, feminine, oestrogen-filled place I have ever been.
  6. Not batting an eyelid when women have boobs flopped out, or spend 3 days wearing trackie bums and baggy t-shirts.
  7. Listening, and allowing you to cry, making you feel like you aren’t crazy or alone, when emotionally it all gets too much.
  8. Bringing paracetamol, iron tablets, fragmin, anti-inflammatories, peppermint water, laxalose, vitamins, and all manner of pills and supplements to make us better, checking blood pressure and pulses and temperatures and generally making mums feel cared for and looked after.
  9. Picking up your baby, cuddling them and making you feel like they genuinely ARE the cutest baby ever.
  10. Having endless time and patience and love for everyone – mums and dads alike.

Of course there are exceptions. Shifts are long and there were midwives who complained about how tired or stressed they were, and the most annoying thing for me was the different opinions on feeding (amounts / length of time / positions etc) that were offered which was quite confusing, but overall the work midwives do is just incredible.

So if Mr Hunt or Mr Gove or Mr Farage or any of those people try to impinge on the working lives of midwives – to restrict foreign staff working, to increase their hours or cut their pay – then we must all stand up – mothers, fathers, children alike. The job midwives do is above and beyond, is literally life-giving, and we must protect them and support them all we can.


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C-sections and the pressure to have a “perfect” birth

Last week at my 32 week scan (yes I can’t quite believe we’ve got this far), I found out my little girl is healthy and happy, but that my stubborn low-lying placenta has refused to budge and is completely covering my cervix. This is called major or complete placenta praevia.

It is now very unlikely to move between now and the birth (baby has done a full 180 since the 20 week scan in the meantime) so that means a scheduled C-section for around 38-39 weeks as natural birth is just not possible. Baby would have to push through the placenta and you’d haemorrhage. There’s just no choice about it.

And the main thing – of course – is that baby will get out safely this way. But I was truly gutted not to be able to have the natural pool birth I was hoping for. And because the chances of this happening are something like 1/200, I figured we’d had enough bad luck in this whole department, thank you very much.

In my head, I’ve been envisaging a calm, beautiful water birth with her popping out into my arms, cathartically healing the pain of what came before – the traumatic shoulder dystocia birth with my son and then all the losses.

But is that so realistic?

I have been so taken in by the natural birth movement and its ideals of a birth “experience” that brings out the earth mother in us all. But how common are these ideal births? And why do I feel such a failure not to have experienced this sort of birth?

A straw poll of a group of girlfriends and it seems I’m not alone. If we were in medieval times, we’d have all pretty much died in childbirth. Between us we had a ruptured placenta, shoulder dystocia, infections, sudden haemorrhaging and a myriad of conditions and problems leading to emergency C-sections, drips, inductions, forceps and ventouse.

In fact, amongst the more straightforward births my friends have had, the most common comments I’ve heard have been how great the epidurals were because you couldn’t feel a thing, or just that it was “bloody painful”.

That said, I do know at least two friends who did have amazing sounding births. One roared like a tiger and became some sort of primal powerful animal. The other had some sort of spiritual connection with her partner and gave birth in the pool.

But the only other time I’ve heard about great births have been in natural birth yoga classes, books and workshops. Where birth stories talk of women breathing out the baby, golden breaths through the surges, and how lavender oil totally helped. But is this a realistic image to give women, and does this not add extra stress and judgement to women who have other sorts of births – the frantic and the traumatic and the drug-filled?

I mean, my son wasn’t breathed out so much as forcibly yanked, and I cried all that night feeling I’d failed as a woman and let him down (and that was even after having refused an epidural and managing largely without pain relief – a mistaken belief at the time that I should endure the pain and move through it rather than wash it away). That was why I was hoping to somehow prove myself this time – I’ve been like a woman training for a marathon, all pelvic exercises and yoga classes – just so I had the chance to do it again “properly”.

So my disappointment on hearing I would likely have to have a C-section was very real. But then I got sent this  Hadley Freeman article in the Guardian about not judging women who have C-sections, saying “if you want an experience, go to Disneyland” but otherwise when it comes to birth, go with whatever works.

I do think we put far too much pressure on ourselves to have this magical (and possibly mythical) birth experience. There is a competitive streak to it – to refuse pain relief like I did with my son (why?! In all likelihood he was bouncing on my sciatic nerve – pethidine was a warm and fuzzy relief) and push through the pain to some sort of spiritual plane. Some women may be able to summon the spirit of Mother Earth and breathe out a baby, but in the majority of cases, mine included, it was a hard tough slog with complications and problems and urgent medical care needed.

The world exerts so much pressure on women to be the best wife, best mother, best employee, to keep ourselves young and beautiful and healthy and fit, do we really need to have the perfect birth too?

The fact is, when my son was handed to me, the first thing I thought was “oh fucking hell I’m knackered, what do I do with this then” rather than anything more profound, but soon we had the loveliest happiest bond between us that grew through time, in spite of, and not because of, the birthing experience we had (bloody awful – read about it here if you must).

And so I’m slowly accepting that this will be our little birth story, me and hers. One which isn’t really what I’d planned but which will be ours. I’m hoping she can be pulled out to a song by Deacon Blue maybe, or Stevie Wonder (“Isn’t She Lovely”?), and later, I can show her and my son the scar where she entered the world into our arms.

And anyway, The Chef still gags at the smell of lavender oil following our first attempt at a perfect birth. A small reminder that you can’t always get what you want.

 

 


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Pregnancy after Recurrent Miscarriage

Yes, the clue is in the title. The Happy Baby Project is 26 weeks pregnant!

So are the (sparkling elderflower) corks popping and the trumpets blowing? Well, no, sadly. And that is what I wanted to write about today, for all those women pregnant after suffering from recurrent miscarriage, and their friends and family who may not understand.

Pregnancy after recurrent miscarriage is a very different kettle of fish to my first pregnancy with my son, before any of this miscarriage journey had begun.

Then I was full of joy and confidence. We announced early, we posted our scan photo on Facebook with cheeky comment, we marched into scan rooms smiling and shouting “don’t tell us the sex!” as if that was the only worry we could possibly have. I bought baby stuff early, talked about it incessantly. In short, the world revolved around me and my growing baby. I was in a bubble of joy and happiness.

How innocent this now seems. How foreign.

But also, how annoying must I have been to my friends who were struggling with IVF or miscarriages or not having found the right person to have kids with, at the time? They didn’t say anything to me (what lovely friends I have) but it is only now with hindsight I see how hideously smug and self-possessed I was then, how a lot of pregnant women can unknowingly be, and how upsetting that can be for other women. Especially with the current fetishisation of pregnancy and motherhood, all baby on board badges and tight lycra maternity clothes and twee social media posts, I know well what pressure and pain this sort of thing exerts on women who are unable to have children – for whatever reason.

Because one of the greatest things that recurrent miscarriage has taught me is empathy for other women going through hardship, and what a dire slog making a baby can be for some of us, in fact – at my age – I’d say most of us.

I’d never post a scan photo again, never consider a brash pregnancy announcement, I creep into scan rooms rather than striding, and I have had my ostrich neck in the sand about this pregnancy the entire time.

The fact is, the first 12 weeks were just hideous. We thought we’d lost the baby several times, and the rest of the time we didn’t acknowledge it, so much was the pain from our 4 previous miscarriages. All I could do was try to go to bed every night and wake up every morning, head down, another day that the baby could hang on in there, until my 12 week scan.

When we heard the heartbeat, a moment’s joy was replaced by thoughts of how much harder it would be to lose the baby now we had a glimmer of hope.

Even at 12 weeks and a successful scan, I worried about later losses, and genetic abnormalities.

We told friends then (I was fed up of nursing a warm glass of wine at Christmas parties) but I didn’t want to talk about it, and peppered any responses to questions with “if this baby makes it” and “touch wood”. I didn’t feel engaged with other pregnant women who wanted to chat about maternity leave and age gaps and double buggies, I just wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening, it felt easier that way. I felt – still feel – more aligned with women who struggle with infertility and miscarriage, as I feel I am forever one of them now.

At 16 weeks I bought a Doppler and checked the heartbeat several times a day.

It was around this time my husband politely requested I stop using the word “if” when talking about the baby’s arrival and instead say “when”.

At 20 weeks, we had a great scan, and she (for I am having a little girl!) is completely perfect in every way.

And it’s STILL hard. Because I love her more than I can possibly imagine. My heart breaks for her already, I ache to feel her in my arms and play with her hair and her podgy thighs and to tell my son – finally – that his little sister is here.

And that plus my lack of confidence in my body and its ability to make babies, makes me worry still about late losses, and still births, and I still google “chance of success for pre-term birth at X weeks” every week in case I go into labour early. I count the kicks every night. I found myself at the weekend saying “if I go on maternity leave” rather than “when”. I still struggle to answer questions about birth plans or childcare options just in case it all goes wrong.

We announced then on Facebook to let wider family and friends know, but a fairly somber announcement, and I wanted to add that I’d had a tough time getting there. I wanted other women to know things hadn’t been easy because if they didn’t know about our miscarriages, brand Facebook would have made it look like we’d been living on a bed of roses for the last couple of years.

Around 24 weeks, I bought some pretty pink baby clothes in a sale. My husband was unable to look at them. I put them in the drawer unopened.

At almost 27 weeks, I still, still now, don’t entirely feel that it’s real. I still feel anxious and think I always will until she is in my arms. There is a dark cloud of self-doubt and anxiety that creeps over my head every so often, blacking out the positivity and joy I’d been feeling, making me angry and scared.

I see that even if I felt a tenth of the love I feel for this baby now, even a hundredth or a thousandth, which I would have had at 5 or 6 weeks gestation (when I lost 3 of my 4 other babies), my heart would still have broken into a thousand pieces, which makes me realise anew how hard it is to lose a baby at whatever stage of your pregnancy.

But here I am, we’ve made it so far, me and my little girl, as we go into the third trimester. I now need to believe this beaten up body of mine can give birth again, can feed her; that I can find some confidence and self-esteem that was knocked out of me by this miscarriage journey to believe I can be a mother again.

And quite frankly I owe it to my little girl, to feel some joy now. To relax and bond and daydream and just allow myself to show her how much she is loved.

Because that’s the final thing about pregnancy after recurrent miscarriage, and it’s a good thing. The grief we’ve been through makes us appreciate what we have so much more and the happiness we feel is more than we can ever imagine feeling. I feel so lucky and so blessed, even after all. I feel she is the baby I was meant to have, the perfect age gap for my family, our destiny.

So now I must just countdown until she arrives this Summer. We’ve been waiting long enough!


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Dear Huck

Dear Huck

I’m terribly sorry that in our first correspondence I have marked myself out as an arse, for as everyone knows the open letter is the preserve of the idiotic and the bumptious. However. I can’t seem to express myself to a faceless audience or it seems one with a face, even your Mum. So I talk to you, a nothing, not even a cell. An idea, a whisp, a phantom. Dear Huck.

Your name is Huck here because it won’t be when you are born. Mum won’t allow it despite my protestations that it’s a great, strong name. She thinks it’s stupid, despite your brother being called Murdo. She thinks a stupid name for one sibling needs to be balanced out with a ‘normal’ name for the other so you will be James or Ben or something of similar tedium. So here you are in only my head- a little boy; scabby of knee and snotty of nose, and you are called Huck.

You will be our sixth. Imagine that… Mummy has shown me a pissy blue line 6 times now but you only have one brother. He’s pretty cool. At the moment he cuddles his dolly and says ‘this is my baby brother’ and breaks another little bit of Mummy’s heart. He can’t wait to meet you. He’s funny and recently got his head stuck in a toilet seat. Right now I can hear him doing a peepee on a potty for only the second time in his life. He thinks he’s a bit of a genius but he also shits on the floor.

The other four didn’t make it, Huck. They didn’t make if past six or eight or ten or twelve weeks and the fourth was only a couple of weeks ago and I’m so angry that I don’t know what to do. I worked out the other day that I’ve been to fifteen scans. The first three were magical. The heartbeat, the little head, the jokes on Facebook about the size of his cock. The next 12 have been soul crushing and I’ve driven home through the viciously ironic beauty of Richmond Park twelve times, in every changing season with tears flowing down my cheeks.

They know us in Isabella ward. Our names, how we take our tea. ‘You’re back’ they say as we arrive for my wife’s womb to be evacuated again. The drill is: We arrive at 6am and wait because it’s a shift change and the one who is leaving just wants to leave and the one who is starting is bleary and wants a fag and a coffee. Eventually we get shown to a ward of unfettered misery. No one gets good news in Isabella ward and the tears and whelps and the miasma of sorrow is over powering.

A nurse comes round and takes your Mum’s blood pressure and we sit for a bit, looking at our phones and the thought crosses my mind that people die under general anaesthetic and this might be the last time I see her alive and we’re both looking at Twitter. Then they wheel her out. Past, incidentally the waiting room where people are waiting for their scans. Your Mummy, wheeling past in tears is the manifestation of their dread and they stare in morbid fascination and terror. Why NHS? Build another fucking waiting room, yeah?

And then she’s gone and I go to the cafeteria, Huck and I have a Full English Breakfast and a coffee. Then I go and put some more money in the parking meter (why NHS? Give grieving fathers one less thing to fucking worry about, yeah?). I go back to the ward and sit in our curtained cubicle, listening to grief and wonder if your Mum is dead for a bit until a lady farts raucously and I stifle a guffaw. That happened the first three times, Huck (except the raucous fart – that was just number two), almost to the letter every time. The fourth time was different. It happened in a restaurant, with friends. Miscarriage rips away dignity and tramples it into the dust. Your mother is incredible.

I wanted to give up on you last week, Huck. I wanted to look into adoption or consider having one child. I felt like I couldn’t take seeing your Mummy, broken and in brittle pieces any more but she looked aghast and said she was nowhere near giving up. She is driven by a force stronger than I can understand and when I hold you in my arms it will be because of her. Sorry Huck, but I would have let you go.

We’re nowhere right now. The incredibly expensive doctor says we should keep trying, that we’ve been unlucky but maybe we try IVF next. We’re back to the start, eighteen months after the second blue pissy stick. My therapist said I was a fixer and I’m angry and frustrated because I can’t fix this. She’s probably right. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life, son. I want you more than anything and I can’t have you. I want your Mum to hold you and look at me and say ‘I told you so’ and I want this black cloud that stalks our every move to FUCK OFF. We’ll cope with this shitty pain until you turn up and I’ll try to make your Mum laugh and not drop your brother on his head too much, but COME ON. Get your shit together son. Hurry up.

Regards

Dad.


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Baby Loss Awareness Day #waveoflight2015

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Today is Baby Loss Awareness Day where all over the world, at 7pm, women will light a candle for the babies that have died during pregnancy, or at, during and after birth, and leave it burning for at least an hour. We will be uniting with others around the world in honour of the babies who lit up our lives, and we will not be alone.

Tonight, I will be lighting four candles and I wanted to talk about the wonderful women who are friends in real life and who I’ve met online who have also suffered miscarriages, who I’ve shared heartache and joy with.

You would be mistaken to imagine that miscarriage would belittle them. They are some of the strongest, toughest women I know. They are intelligent, determined and witty. They carry on battling through tests and disappointments, and they cling onto hope. They support each other, they cheer the bumps and the babies too. Whatever life throws at them, they take it on the chin and they keep moving forward. I’ve learned a lot about life from them.

You should not fear women who’ve lost babies. There’s a trend on pregnancy forums for other mums to show some sympathy but then ask miscarrying mums to go find the miscarriage forums to continue their discussions. It’s as if miscarriage is contagious. But hey, you can’t catch miscarriage guys! Let us speak out, we shouldn’t be ashamed.

Miscarriage has taught me many things. It has taught me that life can be cruel and this ridiculous pursuit for perfection – the perfect career, the perfect family, and popping out perfect children for your perfect facebook page, is all illusion. This is what life is – this joy and this misery – it’s all of it together. You need to revel in the happiness where you can find it, and don’t be scared to feel the sadness too. It has taught me to appreciate what I have, and choose to be positive. It has taught me compassion and sensitivity for others. And most of all it has taught me how precious and sacred life is, and what a miracle babies are.


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3 is the magic number*

* yes it is, when it comes to miscarriages

So, the HBB is sadly a recurrent miscarrier. That means I have had 3 miscarriages in a row. And for those in this unfortunate predicament (1% of all women apparently), and for those going through a heart-breaking 1st or even 2nd miscarriage, given there is SO little help out there for us, I thought I’d write down some things I know about it. I hope, as always, this helps.

  1. The sadness is all-consuming

I am heartbroken to lose a thing I loved so much. My heart feels heavy – particularly first thing in the morning and often last thing at night. I had so much love for this baby, I wanted it so badly, and each time I got pregnant I loved it just the same (even though I tried not to).

Is it better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all? Nope. I know trying and failing to get pregnant in a year would be hard, but getting pregnant and miscarrying regularly is harder. “You should feel pleased you get pregnant so easily” is a hollow compliment.

It is also hard because I want to be happy mummy to my toddler. But mummy IS sad right now. But maybe it’s OK for children to see their parents being sad sometimes – it helps them to know they can express their emotions too.

  1. Anxiety and Stress

This fills me with unhealthy and angry adrenalin and keeps me awake for nights on end. For one thing, my hormones have gone up and down like a mad rollercoaster – I have been pregnant and then not pregnant 3 times in the space of 9 months – which is stressful for my body.

And then as with any stressful life event there are tangible anxieties that stem from it – am I letting people down at work? Should I tell people? Why do I feel so ashamed? What if something’s wrong with me? Will they ever find out what is wrong? Is this affecting my friendships or my relationships or my other child?

Finally, there is stress about hypotheticals – will this happen again? How many times? Will I ever have another child?

I’ve learnt two things that help with this. Mindfulness, to try to live in the present and appreciate what I have, and not worry about the future. And secondly, to treat these worries like floating lanterns – acknowledging each as a valid worry, then letting it go and float up into the wind.

  1. I’m angry

At the world.

At mother nature.

At my body.

At the NHS.

At the government.

At Facebook for unannounced baby bombs (miscarrier lingo for pregnancy announcements and newborn photos).

4. Sometimes friends and family don’t know how to help

While the vast, vast majority of my friends and family have been brilliant, some have been a bit distant, and some unsympathetic. I have also noticed that after 3 miscarriages, the texts and calls faded a bit. I wonder whether people just don’t know what to say anymore; or if some think by the time you have 3 you’re used to it? Actually, 3 is the hardest, the lowest ebb. I’ve needed to reach out to friends to say I need help. For a tough cookie like me, that’s been hard, but I think you need to tell people you’re in pain and need a bit of love. It’s the love of friends and family that has kept me going.

The fact is – when you are grieving you want that grief acknowledged, and not belittled.

You can still grieve a lost child if it was only alive for a few weeks.

You can still grieve a lost child if you already have a child.

You can still grieve a lost child if the chances are you will have another child one day.

You can still grieve a lost child if you’ve already lost other children previously.

You are not only grieving a lost child, but the loss of hopes and dreams, the loss of plans and the family you wanted, and that you can never get back.

You are grieving and there is sadly nothing you can do to make people react in the way you want them to. All you can do is avoid people with unhelpful responses until you feel stronger.

5. Jealousy is a hard pill to swallow

I want to be a good friend, but it is hard sometimes to deal with friends who are pregnant, or who have the family I wanted (2 kids with a 2 year age gap please!). For some people it seems so easy.

It’s not that I don’t want them to be happy – I do. But sometimes it makes my stomach twist with longing to be reminded of something I want so badly, and something I can’t have. And it kills me every time my toddler cuddles a baby and says he loves it – all I want is to give him his own sibling to cuddle.

I have valiantly attended baby showers and cuddled newborns like a seasoned politician, coming home to blub on the sofa, but now I feel I need to give myself a break, and hope my friends will understand

6. Miscarrying regularly takes up a lot of time

If I recall the last year – most of 2014 for example – I have mainly spent it miscarrying.

I have missed a whole load of work, lots of events, holidays and parties. I have spent around 8 months not drinking alcohol, and the remaining 4 months drinking excessive alcohol. I have thought about starting a gym regime 3 times and then stopped because I got pregnant, and then thought about starting again. I have got fat and dieted 3 times. I have unpacked and re-packed my maternity clothes 3 times.

Several of my friends got pregnant months after I first did and have now had their babies. I’m reminded of an egg and spoon race where we all started together but I kept dropping that damn egg and keep having to go back to the start.

I am in a constant state of limbo.

I have been pregnant for 9 months and yet I have no baby.

7. Channelling a happy sheep (bear with me on this one)

There is evidence (if you read Dr Regan’s book on miscarriage) that by just being looking after – monitoring and hand-holding – the likelihood of having a successful pregnancy that ends in a live baby, increases from around 65% to around 80%. And that’s with no medical help or intervention – just extra scans and care.

That’s 15% of women who will have a baby JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE LOOKED AFTER AND GIVEN SOME TLC.

And that’s something the NHS should heed because (see below) if you have 1 or 2 miscarriages, they do precisely jack shit to help you out. Unless you are one of the lucky ones with a sympathetic GP or you pay for private help, you are left on your own, bleeding and alone, trying to work out what is going on yourself – mainly through Dr Google and Mumsnet.

That’s 15% of women who will take home a baby just because they are being cared for. That’s 15% less scans and GP visits, less EPU trips and ERPC operations, less anaesthetists and surgeons, less time off work, less boxes of tissues, less counselling and pain and grief. Just because they get some care.

My lovely midwife friend, the daughter of a sheep farmer, described this phenomena differently. “I would never expect a sheep to give birth if it was scared”, she said.

And so here I am, channelling a happy sheep.

8. Being the perfect plant pot (again bear with me)

Here is something practical we miscarriers can all do. This is from a friend who visited Zita West,who I’ve heard good things about. Sadly, her consultations aren’t cheap, however it is this sort of pro-active, helpful advice that miscarriers like to hear.

A friend who visited one of her acupuncturists, was told birth was like planting a seed – and your job – or your uterus’ job – is to be the best soil possible.

So how do you do that? Well, cut out booze, eat well and exercise. Get your partner to cut down his booze too, and take a supplement. Try to de-stress – acupuncture and reflexology helps. Which is easy to say but after a miscarriage you are bloody knackered and want to drown your sorrows in a vat of gin. But when you get strength back, it is something to think about.

Supplements may help too – evening primrose oil, Agnus Castus, Pregnacare, Q-10, to name but a few.

Will it help? Who knows, but it makes you feel like you’re doing something.

9. Recurrent miscarriers become walking medical dictionaries

Only those who’ve lost several babies will be familiar with terms like luteal phase defects, uterine NK cells and antiphospholipid antibodies. You need to know this shit because sadly the medical world often needs to be prodded to do any testing, and often don’t agree amongst themselves what the best course of action is.

The NHS (and BUPA) won’t do any testing until you’ve had 3 miscarriages. There is some statistical evidence for this – given only around 50% of tests actually come up with something.

singe_04

The NHS when you have 1 or 2 miscarriages

This kills me for two reasons.

First, it shows a complete lack of TLC and care for miscarrying women, and completely disregards the hideous grief that accompanies a miscarriage. Remember that 80% statistic?

Second, basic blood tests (they say in half of cases you never find a cause – which surely means in 50% of cases you do?) could highlight a problem which could be rectified. And that could mean 50% less miscarriages – less scans, less surgeries, less tissues, etc etc. In my case, that is particularly painful as one consultant believes my problem is a “simple hormonal issue” that turns out could have been solved with an £8 prescription drug.

Since my 3rd miscarriage, I’ve been offered NHS recurrent miscarriage testing but its slooow – taking months which if you’ve already been miscarrying for months is hard to bear, particularly if your body clock is tick-tocking or that age gap is steadily widening. So I’ve augmented this with private help – costly but at least it happens quickly and you know all your bases are covered.

The tests you can get are**:

** I’m no medical expert, just a recurrent miscarrier with a curious mind and a subscription to Mumsnet

  1. Hormone levels – this should be done by the NHS and is typically done at the start of your cycle and then around day 22. An example of this is a luteal phase deficiency which means you aren’t producing enough progesterone after implantation. This can be remedied with progesterone suppositories and in some cases, Chlomid.
  2. Blood clotting – things like thrombophilia, tested by the NHS. If your blood clots too much, it won’t allow blood to flow to the placenta. This is remedied with aspirin or heparin injections or both. Some people take aspirin “just in case” but others suggest this is dangerous. After 3 miscarriages, I defy anyone to not be a “just in case-r”.
  3. Immune problems – the NHS tests for some immune issues, but won’t test for NK cells and nor will BUPA. This is because it’s a controversial issue and some believe it’s not proven. But it’s not proven perhaps because there is a remarkable lack of knowledge and research in the world of miscarriage. NK cells are natural killer cells – helpful for killing cancer and other bad stuff, but in elevated levels in the uterus, they can attack a growing embryo. I wonder if I have this because I had terrible hives with my toddler and this is an immune issue. The only people that I’ve found to test for this are: Dr Thum at the Lister, Dr Shehata at Epsom hospital and Harley Street, and Prof Brosens and Quenby who are doing remarkable pioneering work in Coventry. Lots of people swear by these guys but you will have to pay (£360 in Coventry and up to £2000 for Shehata and Thum). Coventry and Shehata have a remarkable success rate but mean waiting for a couple of months at least post-miscarriage for testing before trying again, which for many of us is hard to do. The remedy for this is steroids.
  4. Genetic problems – You got a bad egg. Or bad sperm. Or bad sperm and egg combo. Especially prevalent in us ladies who spent most of our twenties hanging pissed off a chandelier in dodgy nightclubs in Ibiza. I can’t see what else you can do with this other than keep trying for a good ‘un, or get genetically screen IVF embryos, at a whopping price tag.

Monica from friends – is my uterus an inhospitable environment?

  1. Try, try again

Something like 75% of recurrent miscarriers will go on to have a successful pregnancy eventually. But when will this be? I’ve now met women who’ve had 5, 6, 7 miscarriages. I’ve heard of others who’ve had up to 10. Where does that leave your life – your marriage, your existing children, your work? Where does that leave your body and your mental health?

The NHS often suggests you keep going, that it’s a numbers’ game.

And we will. That is what my body tells me to do. But for a recurrent miscarrier like me, this is little comfort.

  1. I think sometimes I’ll only get over this when I have another baby

But it scares me how long that may take. And what I do if it doesn’t happen at all.

  1. I feel I need to do something to remember these babies

Because I never want to complain about being pregnant, or how annoying my kids are, or how awful the birth was. Because right now I would be just so happy to be there, no matter how bad it was.

This year of my life has been remarkably hard, one of the hardest years I’ve ever had to face. Some people plant trees, or get a tattoo.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I never want to forget what I’ve been through, and I never want to take the good times for granted. I also never want to be bitter, or regret this year as its just part of my life and part of my story and my family’s story.

For my father we put up a bench. I’d welcome your thoughts on what to do for my lost babies.

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Update May 2015: To my surprise (and probably thanks to the fact that I’ve been writing about miscarriage recently rather than what to pack in your hospital bag) I’ve been nominated for the Best Baby Blog category at the MAD blog awards. I suspect I’ve got as much chance of winning as I have regaining my pre-baby weight, but what the hey, if you did want to nominate me then please feel free. Click on the link below and thank you.

Tots100 MAD Blog Awards


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Losing a baby – things I’ve learned about miscarriage

1. You may not realise anything is wrong. You may not bleed, nor feel cramps. In fact, you may be blissfully unaware that there is a problem at all until a scan, when instead of a kicking happy baby, you see a lifeless thing floating asleep, or you see nothing at all.

2. A scan will forever be a hateful thing – rather than excitement at looking at the screen, you will always wish the screen to be turned away from you, expecting a “sorry, there’s no heartbeat”.

3. And while I’m at it, sonographers have the best poker faces in the world. Fact.

4. After the scan, there is a lot of waiting. Waiting for further scans, waiting for tests. Waiting to miscarry naturally or waiting for pills to make you miscarry. Then there is waiting for appointments, waiting for operations to remove tissue. Finally there is waiting for your period to start and waiting for a cycle to try again. There is only waiting, the endless tick tocking of the passing of time the only thing that reminds you that your life is carrying on.

5. It is hard to describe the pain of losing a baby to those who haven’t experienced it. Yes, it was only a ball of cells, it may not have had any distinguishable human features, and by medical definition it wasn’t a baby but a “product of conception”. But it was a baby to me. It had hair and eyes, and a big belly and a smile and it played with its brother and went to school. In fact, I dreamed its whole life played out in my imagination, and I loved it with all my heart. I miss it with a grief I experienced when I lost my father. And like then, I can’t imagine life will be the same again.

6. Because we are women, because we feel shame, because we feel like failures, we keep miscarriages to ourselves and we don’t talk about it. You’d be amazed at how many people you know – even some of your closest girlfriends – who will have suffered miscarriages in silence. I’ve decided I’d like to speak out about mine if it can help others in any way, although it’s completely nerve-wracking to do so.

7. If you take the NHS route, there is little privacy, no dignity. Scan images are left on the screen while you get changed, or face up on desks. Scan results are discussed loudly at the reception, you are told openly that if you bleed heavily you should go to A&E – leaving no doubt to those in the waiting room that you’ve lost your baby. There is no private room to grieve, only a busy waiting room with watching faces. Pregnant women with successful scans celebrate next to women being wheeled out for operations to remove pregnancy tissue, alongside women having voluntary abortions. I know the NHS has no money, and the staff in Early Pregnancy Units (EPUs) do a wonderful job for the most part – but it’s the small things at a devastating time that would make all the difference.

8. Working in an EPU must be one of the worst jobs in the world. All that pain, all that misery. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that miscarriage becomes matter-of-fact. Your baby is not your baby any more, it is that awful phrase, a “product of conception”. Your hopes and dreams boil down to three options – natural miscarriage, medical management or an ERPC operation. Words like “extreme pain” are bandied about as if discussing washing powder. It all ends with two little words: “bad luck”.

9. One miscarriage you can explain away as bad luck. Two is harder to bear. How on earth could you be unlucky twice? Surely the universe is being especially cruel and unfair for a reason? Why is it so easy for other women? What is wrong with me? The answer is they just don’t know – partly because making a baby is a magical mystical thing which just sometimes doesn’t work, and because they won’t do any tests for “only” two miscarriages. You are left wailing at an unfair world, without any knowledge of why. If this happened to men, would there be more outrage? Would there be more research and support? Possibly. Often, there aren’t any answers to be found. But it is ironic that the one comfort of suffering a third miscarriage would be that finally I would be tested to see if anything is wrong.

10. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that as soon as you miscarry, everyone you know will announce their pregnancy, there will be a spate of celebrity babies, and every stranger on the street will be sporting a bump. Also: Kate Middleton. Poker faces, ladies.

11. But at the same time, you are happy for your friends, and there is nothing better than cuddling a newborn. You don’t want friends to feel awkward trying to protect you from baby news. But best to announce by text or email so we have time to have a pity-party cry, and recover before offering our congratulations – which are heartfelt. Humans are remarkable things – we can still feel happy for friends while feeling sad for ourselves.

12. British people are dreadful for acknowledging loss, we’re so awkward with emotion. “I’m so sorry, how are you doing?” with an arm on your shoulder would be perfect. Instead, there is often a cryptic comment or a pitying nod. Or it isn’t mentioned at all. Acknowledge it if you can, and we can move on.

13. It wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t the right time, you will have your family one day. All true, perhaps, but all these consolations don’t heal the incredible pain you feel when you discover the loss. In time, these words do help. To be honest, they are all you have.

14. So what does help? Temporary measures include caffeine, wine, gin, and holidays. Sharing with friends. Allowing yourself to be loved.  Longer term it may help to let go, to calm down and not stress about age gaps or the endless passing of time, to try to concentrate on life for a bit, to get healthy, eat well and do exercise. Reflexology, counselling and acupuncture are all meant to help. I say “may” help because I’m not there yet. But 2015 is a new year, and a new start. The yoga class is booked, the exercise kit dusted off, and for now I have mulled wine and mince pies.

One day I hope women won’t feel ashamed to say they lost a baby, and that the world will care enough to pour money into EPUs to give us the privacy and care we deserve. That enough research will be done to understand why this happens, and what we can do to stop it happening.

Until then, life goes on, you pick yourself up, and you try again. You haven’t any choice really.

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Update May 2015: To my surprise (and probably thanks to the fact that I’ve been writing about miscarriage recently rather than what to pack in your hospital bag) I’ve been nominated for the Best Baby Blog category at the MAD blog awards. I suspect I’ve got as much chance of winning as I have regaining my pre-baby weight, but what the hey, if you did want to nominate me then please feel free. Click on the link below and thank you.

Tots100 MAD Blog Awards


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The Steps

My sister bought me the “Emma Press Anthology of Motherhood“, a collection of poems about family, children and mums. And there was one poem that stood out to me as being wonderfully evocative of the night I went into labour.

Obviously the realisation that it was a life-changing moment in our lives, a moment where we went from single and carefree – able to have impromptu beer garden sessions with in-depth conversations, and spend the whole next day on the sofa eating pizza, not knowing how precious a trip to the cinema or uninterrupted lunch were; to parents of a wildly demanding and amusing little boy, only comes with hindsight. At the time, I was screaming in pain and demanding someone come and get me pain-relief NOW. But now I can see that it was the moment my life changed beyond recognition and that makes me really emotional. We left the house as one thing and came back another, overwhelmed with love, wanting to shield him from the world, never to be the same again.

The poem is produced with kind permission of the author, Liz Berry.

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The Steps

And this is where it begins, love –

you and I, alone one last time in the slatey night,

the smell of you like Autumn, soil and bonfire,

that November the fourth feeling inside us.

There can be no truer wedding than this:

your bare hand in mine, my body winded

with pain, as you lead me to the car, to the

soon life. And we are frightened, so frightened –

 

Who will we be when we come back?

Will we remember ourselves?

Will we still touch each other’s faces

in the darkness, the white noise of night

spilling over us, and believe there is nothing

we could not know or love?