Yesterday a year ago was the day our little miracle was conceived in a dish in a laboratory in Amsterdam. Now he is sleeping in his pram in the other room. 3 month old and more beautiful and amazing than I ever imagined. The gratitude I feel is indescribable!
Since M was born on the 17th of August in London, life has been a roller coaster. I have been meaning to write a million times, but just never had the time or energy to do it. I kept postponing, but the longer I waited the more there was to write about. Thus making it even more difficult to get down to business and actually do it.
First there was the birth. I needed some distance from it before I could write about it. Now I’m not sure that I can adequately reflect my experience because time is a healer and as the days goes by it reconfigures how we make sense of experience. So I will try to describe it as objectively as I can.
I was induced with prostaglandin gel at 10pm the 16th of August. It was an in-patient induction, so I stayed in hospital while my husband had to go home. No one expected anything to happen anytime soon, because my cervix was still firmly closed. Nevertheless, within a couple of hours my contractions started and got quite frequent and strong. I dealt with them alone, without pain relief and behind only a curtain in a hospital ward full of other women.
Close to 6am in the morning my waters broke and my husband was allowed to join me again. However it wasn’t until around 10am they finally moved me to the labour ward where I got my own room with space to move around and my own toilet and shower. I remained fully closed despite having strong contractions every three minutes. Both midwife and consultant was ready to start the syntocinon drip since I wasn’t progressing, but we managed to talk them out of that intervention for the time being. I knew that my contractions were plenty strong enough and had they hooked me up on the drip at that stage I would have most likely ended up becoming extremely overstimulated with the risk of causing distress to the baby.
Instead I was thankfully allowed to continue naturally, dancing around to reggae music which proved to be a fantastic way for me to deal with labour and the pain. I managed with just the music, deep breathing and my husband massaging my back etc. After some hours I suddenly started progressing very quickly and went from fully closed to fully open in just under three hours. The staff had not seen anything like it 15 years apparently, so I started attracting lots of attention amongst midwives and consultants. By this time it was 5pm and everybody now expected that I would be dropping that baby on the floor in no time. I felt happy and empowered both by my ability to manage the pain successfully and the minimal intervention. Apart from the one dose of gel that had kickstarted it all, natural child birth seemed to be within my reach.
But it wasn’t meant to be. My contractions slowed and nearly disappeared and I never got the urge to push. The midwife and consultant held off and waited as long as they could to give me a chance once again, but after a couple of hours with nothing happening, they had to put me on the drip. The baby had to come out. This time we didn’t object. I knew I didn’t have strong enough contractions. My body had done so well up until this point, but couldn’t manage the rest. The syntocinon went in my veins and the contractions picked up a bit, but they never became very strong again. Not even when they kept increasing the dose. I had to push with all my strength and will instead and finally, with the help of ventouse (suction), my son was born at 8pm on the 17th of August. In the process they cut me, i.e. did an episiotomy. I had indicated in my birth plan that I did not want one, but in the heat of the moment I did not have much choice but to agree. I have been paying the price ever since in the form of infection, break-up of the stitches and permanent damage to muscle tissue.
In the moment I didn’t care of course. My son was born. He was alive, well and healthy. It was, and still is, all that matters! His birth involved more intervention than I would have wanted, but more importantly less then what I had feared. And I still feel empowered by having avoided pain relief and being able to give birth to my son – albeit with a little help. The only thing that makes me sad is that because of the ventouse delivery he didn’t get to stay on my chest for much skin-to-skin. He was only on my chest for barely a second before he was whisked off to be checked over. My husband had the first real skin-to-skin with him while I was being stitched up.
Then came the postnatal complications on day 9 after the birth in the form of three infections at the same time. Mastitis, wound infection in the stitches after the episiotomy and urinary tract infection. I fainted, ran a fever of 40 C (104 F) and ended up in the hospital on a drip with intravenous antibiotics etc. I was ill for quite some time and trying to cope with taking care of a newborn. At the same time I was also expressing my milk every three hours, 24 hours a day because our little boy was tongue-tied and could not breastfeed. Blogging was the last thing on my mind!
On top of it all, we were still living with my mother-in-law and dealing with the insecurity and worry associated with my husband struggling to find a job. Being in a creative industry where jobs, let along good jobs, are rare and the competition relentless.
Then another miracle came our way. When M was 4 weeks old, my husband got that phone call we had dreamt of, but hardly dared to hope for. An offer of a fantastic job in higher education which would provide all the things most other jobs in his industry never will, i.e. decent pay, job security and pension. The only catch was that it is not in London, but in a smaller university city approx. 2 hours from London and they wanted him to start two weeks later. Commuting would be unfeasible so we had to move there. So in a matter of about 10 days we managed to find a place to live in our new city and relocated in time for my husbands job start on the 1st of Oct. This would be stressful under any circumstance. With a baby of barely 6 weeks and with me still struggling to recover from the various postnatal complications it was a whole other ball game. By this time I had only just managed to recover from a second round of mastitis which had once again left me extremely ill with high fever.
I finally had to accept that I had to give up on trying to breastfeed. M had had his tongue-tie division done the very day my husband got the call, but after being so used to bottles he still didn’t manage to latch on and I was still having to carry on with my gruelling expressing schedule day and night in order to ensure that he got as much of my milk as possible. However, it was time to call it a day. As the doctor pointed out, I am apparently extremely prone to mastitis making it too risky to continue.
It was extremely difficult to let go of the idea of breastfeeding. I wanted to breastfeed with all my heart. I know it is best for baby and I had never even imagined not doing it or that there could be so many obstacles making it unfeasible. Once again I was faced with the experience of not being able to do what is natural, taken for granted and commonly believed to be simple and easy. Once again I had to let go and accept things as they are. And realise that it does not matter.
Having lived with infertility for so long has taught me to do precisely that. Now as I mix M’s formula and feed him with a bottle, I no longer think about it. I no longer feel sad that I never got to have the experience of breastfeeding my baby. Just as I no longer feel sad that we could not conceive him naturally in the first place. There is no more sadness, because he is here! When I look at him I know that it does not matter how he was conceived. It does not matter how he was born. It does not matter how he is feed. All that matters is that he is here and he is growing, thriving, smiling, laughing, chatting, trying to ‘sing’ along to the reggae music he loves and of course also crying a lot when he is hungry, tired, needs changing or for some other unknown reasons. I appreciate it all.
This is not to say that I don’t feel tired or overwhelmed sometimes. I do, and I have many times throughout the last three month, because it has been heavy to say the least. Taking care of a baby is in itself pretty heavy at times. But it’s also bearable. None of it has really seriously rocked my boat so to speak. Because it matters. Because it is labour of love. Because it is the stuff of life.