Weirdly and wonderfully ‘with child’

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Weirdly and wonderfully ‘with child’

Pregnancy is such a odd time. Millions of women have written or spoken about ‘the things no-one tells you’, so this is just general rambling about some of the very weird (and often wonderful) things I’ve experienced since being pregnant.

1 Random touching

This one’s well documented, but I have had the most bizarre selection of people just stroke my stomach without so much as a ‘how are you?’.

If I encountered someone who told me their eye surgery had gone well, I wouldn’t stroke my hand over their eyes in a ‘go to sleep’ style movement; nor would any other sane person. And yet, apparently, baby bumps are exempt from this general rule of touching etiquette.

I’m certain all mums feel the same, but I’m incredibly protective of the bump. It’s precious, and ours, and (and this is, you’d imagine, the most obvious point) part of my body. Please ask before you reach out to touch it (particularly if I barely know you in the first place). And if I say no, regardless of how well you know me, please accept that it’s based on how I’m feeling, not you.

2 Friendly faces

Since being noticeably pregnant, people have been so kind. I dropped my parking ticket the other day, but before I could begin the slow descent (and inevitably difficult ascension back to full height), a random stranger had picked it up for me with an understanding smile.

Various retail staff have asked when the baby’s due and finished our transaction with a ‘congratulations’ or ‘good luck’.

People smile at me more – pregnant women in particular have been very un-British and actually made eye contact and started conversations in waiting rooms. It was a little disconcerting at first, if I’m honest.

3 Everyone knows better

As first time parents, we’re under no illusions – we have lots to learn, and no matter how organised, we’ll never be ready for the huge change that’s coming. Nonetheless, we didn’t emerge from an alien pod only days ago with no knowledge of the human family.

We’re certainly not too proud to ask for help or advice, but when we describe the midwife’s most recent observations/guidance, we don’t expect a random relative or friend to launch into an unasked-for and opinionated diatribe about how the midwife is wrong. They are, of course, human and susceptible to mistakes, but they’re also the experts.

Every pregnancy is different, everyone’s medical history is different, and guidance and advice changes annually – my midwife knows both me, our baby, and the up to date clinical guidance best.

4 Sticks and stones

Your throwaway observation that ‘Ooooh I was much bigger than you by this point, haven’t you got a small bump?’ brought me to tears later that day. It weighed on my mind, had me googling like a good’un, and worrying that my much-wanted baby wasn’t growing right. All this, despite knowing from regular midwife appointments that things are right on track.

I know that nothing is meant maliciously, but just think about the impact on an anxious, tired, hormone-ridden first time mum before casually declaring that their pregnancy is noticeably abnormal (in your humble opinion). Instead, tell them they’re looking good, ask how long they’ve got left, share your funny pregnancy stories.

5 Love and understanding

I recently went on a hen weekend in Liverpool. When we originally booked the weekend, I wasn’t yet pregnant. So despite loving the bride and wanting to be involved, a part of me was dreading being away from my husband for the weekend, and worrying about being boring and sober and tired, and a big fat burden on the other girls.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Women I’m close to but also women I’d never met before picked my suitcase up to carry it upstairs, gave up their seats, and checked on me. One of my fellow bridesmaids made sure soft drinks and mocktails were part of the activities she’d planned so I wasn’t left out, and I laughed and chatted and thoroughly enjoyed myself all weekend.

My point is, my worrying was unfounded. Throughout my pregnancy people have understood that I’m tired, not judged when we leave a meal/gathering/party earlier than we would have done a few months ago, but also continued to treat me like me.

So I guess, in summary:

  • Don’t touch me without asking (this is, you’d think, an obvious request)
  • The world is kinder than you think
  • Trust your instincts (and your midwife)
  • Be sensitive in your observations (and pregnant superheroes, try not to get too upset about clumsy comments)
  • Your people/tribe will always understand

 

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A muddle of emotions

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A muddle of emotions

I feel like this should be an official collective term, like a gaggle of geese or a murder of crows. Official or not, a muddle of emotions is how we’ve been feeling lately.

Our muddle is partly fuelled by hormones, tiredness and huge life changes coming our way. But it’s also fuelled by other people. People who unwisely don’t heed the previously mentioned hormones. Here are some silly/ignorant/just plain mean things that people say/do which have made us even more muddley.

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Ignorant things people say

Perhaps it’s because of our previous experience. Maybe for those beautiful, happy pregnancy announcements which don’t follow a loss of some kind, people aren’t so stupid. For us, most people were kind, thoughtful, and understanding that we weren’t dancing on the ceiling. But one or two were just gobsmackingly heartless (whether intentional or not).

One person genuinely asked ‘Is it real this time?’…I know. There are no words (well, there are but I won’t repeat them on this public forum).

Mistaking cautious excitement for full-steam ahead spotlight time

Here’s the thing. I’m a talker. I love being social within my own little groups. But generally, I’m an introvert. Time at home in our bubble is vital to my energy levels, ability to function, and avoidance of grouchy, snappy comebacks at people. This is something I’ve learnt to embrace as I’ve got older. We are much better at turning down invitations when we know we need to. Our time at home is as protected (if not more so) as remembering key family birthdays. And that’s what makes our situation difficult.

At 24 weeks, we’re now cautiously excited. We’ve bought stuff for the nursery, I’ve bought maternity clothes. I have a rapidly expanding football shaped bump that won’t be ignored, and a teeny tiny kung-fu artist to remind me they’re growing inside me. We’re happy to talk about the baby. But that doesn’t mean we’re comfortable with discussing every last aspect of it just yet, or rolling out the parade and party poppers. We need to take the lead. Some days we’re over the moon. Others we want to quietly get through without a panic attack.

It’s ours to celebrate

Now that we’ve reached this cautiously optimistic stage of pregnancy, we’re proud of it. It feels like a huge achievement that we’ve made it this far, after our experience last year. That means I proudly wear the ‘baby on board’ badge on my coat, even though I don’t do the daily London commute. It means that when we’re asked how far along we are, what our due date is, whether we’ve found out the sex; it would be nice to answer for ourselves before overenthusiastic family and friends jump in for us. I completely get that family and friends are excited too. But please, after everything, let us have this for us. This baby is ours, ours to celebrate when we’re ready, ours to protect and ours to get used to.

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A thank you

I want to finish this by saying that I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I completely understand that a lot of what I’ve ranted about above comes only from a place of love and excitement by those we love. We love you all too, and we’re so grateful we have you all.

We just need you to understand that (like all first time parents) we’re a little overwhelmed. And when you top that off with our anxiety, our utter disbelief that this is actually happening, and our introvert personalities; well, you’ve got a pretty muddled couple of people.

To those who have somehow seen through the muddle, the ones who’ve discovered the perfect balance of excitement for us, and space for us to breathe. The ones who’ve remembered the painful milestones related to last year, referenced them with a simple ‘I love you’, and let us move on. The ones who’ve given us plain facts and honest truths when I’ve asked daft pregnancy questions; and who have quietly drip-fed baby clothes, nursery paraphernalia, and recommendations at a pace we can manage. Thank you for accepting us as we are, muddle and all.golden-letters-thank-you-design_1095-240

 

Dear baby…

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Dear baby…

Dear baby,

We’ve been so scared, your Mummy and Daddy. Last year was sad for us and you have been so very precious from the moment we found out about you.

Every milestone has felt like a huge achievement – you’re already the thing we’re most proud of and the most valuable thing in our lives. Mummy is a big worrier anyway, and she’s lost sleep, cried, refused to get excited (don’t be offended please, Mummy was just trying to be brave). She’s been the opposite of her normal self – so pessimistic and cautious. But now, halfway through your stay in Mummy’s tummy, we’re slowly letting ourselves smile and mean it. We’re talking about names, thinking about what we need to buy for you, how to decorate your room. You’ve become a part of us – you’ll make our family of two (plus Archer, your fur sibling), a family of three.

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But there are a couple of things you need to remember to help Mummy and Daddy be brave:

  1. Keep growing – get big and strong and ready for this big bad world you’re joining. Stay healthy and safe in there.
  2. Take care of Mummy – your kicks and roly-polys are already starting to provide reassurance to Mummy. It’s your way of saying ‘Hi there guys!’ and it’s  brilliant.
  3. You are not a rainbow baby – some people might talk about you as if you are. You are not. We will always be a little bit sad about what happened before you took root and decided to make Mummy your home. But it has nothing to do with you. From the moment we first saw that little nugget on the screen all those months ago, you started a whole new chapter for Mummy and Daddy, and we love you for it. Your job is not to fix us, your job is to simply be wonderful, beautiful you.

We can’t wait to meet you, to get to know you. We know we’ll be tired and grumpy and that it’s going to be hard work getting used to you, but you’re going to be worth every second.

All our love, already and always,

Mummy and Daddy xxx

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The invisible patient

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The invisible patient

To the woman who grabbed her children closer to her and stared at him as he spoke too loudly in the coffee shop…I’m sad for you.

To the people who have shoved past us in the supermarket or shopping centre despite his obvious mobility limitations…I hope you’re always agile and active.

To the GP who talks about him, in front of him. Describing him like a test tube subject or experimental case study…he can hear you.

To the visitors who dwindled when he didn’t ‘get better’…we understand. It’s hard, he’s hard work but I promise that you’re missing out on laughter, joy and entertainment. You’ll always be welcome if you change your minds.

To the nurse who spoke directly to him, who asked his name, explained her treatment and demonstrated patience, kindness and humour on a busy night at an out of hours walk-in centre…thank you.

To the doctor who came out of his consultation room to meet him halfway up the corridor. Who shook his hand, waited as he got muddled with his responses and made sure to get to the bottom of all of his issues (breaking the rules about ‘one issue per visit’)…thank you.

To the carer who challenges him, who doesn’t spoonfeed him and mollycoddle him, who gives him the time and patience required to force him into action…thank you.

To the man at the supermarket who refused my offer to go ahead of us as we shuffled painfully slowly in on a busy day, telling us ‘you go first mate, I’m in no rush don’t you worry’…thank you.

To our family and friends, for the funny texts on the hardest days, for the paperwork, the doctor visits, the lifts, the Christmas gifts, the moving crew, the furniture, the understanding, the patience and the overwhelming love…thank you.

To our dad, some days (like today) drive us mad. You don’t mean to, you just require a lot more energy and patience than you ever did before. You get tired and forgetful, we get tired and grumpy, we snap and you (somehow) end up being the one to say sorry. You have a beautiful heart, a cheeky sense of humour and so much love for your friends and family. You’re doing better than you’ll ever know, and even when you’re driving us round the bend…thank you.

Things my dad has taught me

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Things my dad has taught me

So I’ve talked in the past about what we’ve learned along the way since my dad’s accident. But recently I’ve realised how much my dad himself has taught (and continues to teach) me. I thought I’d share a few of them, because after a bad meeting, or a traffic jam, or a family argument; it can feel like the end of the world but my dad has changed the way I look at life.

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff

The amount of times I’ve visited my dad after a busy and stressful day, only to walk out an hour later calm and smiling and wondering what my problem was. The things that were driving me to distraction suddenly didn’t seem important when faced with his daily struggles to even remember when to eat, or to turn the lights on when it gets dark.

  1. Keep laughing

From the moment he got his speech back, my dad has continued to be silly. I’ve said before that he’s always been silly – and one of my biggest fears was that he’d lose this sense of fun. Thankfully it’s remained, and has been the source of a series of Facebook posts like the following:

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  1. Be compassionate

My dad has every reason to be a grumpy, selfish, inconsiderate old bugger. But he’s the opposite. He notices when I’m tired. Asks what’s up if I’m quiet. Tells me to send love/congratulations/best wishes (insert greeting here) to various family members when I tell him their news. He asks how my mum is, my sister, my brother, his friends and listens when I give him updates about them. He reminds me to look outside my bubble. No matter how hard things are, it’s not OK to forget about other people.

  1. Be honest

Due to his condition, my dad doesn’t have as many inhibitions anymore. That means that sometimes, what’s in his head comes out of his mouth. Often, he realises as soon as it’s been vocalised that it was inappropriate or rude, but not before. Now, I know that it’s socially polite to frame your criticism constructively, to smile and hold the door for someone even if they do shove past you without a backwards glance; or to sit out a boring conversation in order to avoid offence. I’m not suggesting we all start spewing out exactly what’s on our minds all the time – it would be chaos and we’d cause hurt.

However, wouldn’t it be great if we could just take a leaf out of my dad’s book – just to now and then stand up when someone is only talking about themselves and walk off without a word?! To tell someone they’re being loud and it’s bothering you.

  1. Forgive

OK, so maybe in his case it’s more often than not that he doesn’t remember, rather than that he forgives. But my dad doesn’t hold grudges. And when I do have to tell him off, or I snap because frankly, I’m human and sometimes my patience wears thin; he forgives me instantly. He’s the one who apologises – he gives me a hug – reaches over to touch my arm to get my attention and says he loves me. Nothing matters enough to overshadow our precious time together. I wish I could be more like him and remember what really matters in our brief time on this planet with the people we love.

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Hiding my light

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Hiding my light

So 15 October was the day when people all over the world lit candles to create a wave of light – it’s part of baby and pregnancy loss awareness week. Obviously this is a cause close to my heart, an incredibly worthy cause and one that needs more people to talk about it. However, I didn’t join the wave, no candles were deliberately lit for this cause in my house, and here’s why.

In the last 6 months (yes our first miscarriage was 6 months ago in November) the miscarriages have defined who I am. How I feel. What people say to and around me. My reaction to my friends, to TV, to songs, to films. My relationship with my husband. My friendships. My health. There have been some positive lessons learned – friendships have been cemented by the love, support and normality that’s surrounded us. Me and my husband know for certain we can weather anything – because we’ve been through more in our 2 year marriage that most couples cope with in a decade. I know for certain I’m ready to be a mother – because I’ve grieved the loss of my unborn children and everything they could have been. As I’ve talked about previously, we’ve also learned some hard lessons – we’ve been disappointed by people. But it’s made us tougher, more resilient, better at saying no to those people.

My point is, the last 6 months have either been spent pregnant or grieving. That’s not to say the grieving has stopped. I still have my moments, and I’ll never forget our pain. But on Saturday 15 October, the weekend before my birthday, I wanted a weekend about me. The Hilary I used to be – laughing til I cry. Acting like a wally. Enjoying all the cheesiness and tackiness life has to offer. So I planned a birthday day out to Dreamland in Margate – the birthplace of tack and cheesiness. I went on fairground rides with friends all day, drank prosecco, came home for a takeaway with friends. Played Cards Against Humanity. It felt really nice. It did me and my husband the world of good. We felt like, even if just for 24 hours, we were back in the game. Part of the gang again – there were no kid gloves or eggshells allowed.

After an extra couple of days off and some brilliant time with my husband where he spoiled me, I feel genuinely relaxed for the first time in a very long time. I’ve got some kind of peace. I’ve been reading the ‘7 days, 7 stories’ Tommy’s stories that appeared on my newsfeed and acknowledging that this experience is happening around the world and talking about it and addressing the pain is a positive move. One of my very favourite couples in the world announced their pregnancy and while it still hurt that the universe had been so unfair to us, that was quickly overshadowed with genuine joy. Other people deserve happiness and a family. Resenting the people we love will only add to the things we’ve lost. It’s a pointless exercise that will eat away at us and prevent our (and their) happiness.

We now occasionally let a ‘when’ creep into conversations about our future family, not just ‘ifs’. It doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten. It doesn’t mean it’ll change anything when the time comes again – we still need to be cynical and prepared for the worst and we’re still healing.

But for the first time in half a year, we feel like us again. Defined by the things and the people we love, not by our pain.

Celebrating soulmates

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Celebrating soulmates

It’s a popular notion that a soulmate has to be something romantic. And often it is, but I don’t think that’s always the case. Additionally, I don’t think we have just one soulmate, I think we have a few.

The Ancient Greeks got this, I reckon that’s why they had 6 words for love. It’s ‘philia’ or deep friendship that I’m talking about here.philiaWhat is a soulmate?

For me, a soulmate, for whom you feel ‘philia’, is someone who just gets you. With them there’s no judgement.

Wherever you are with them it’s a safe haven – what’s said to a soulmate stays with a soulmate.

You can rant and rave your heart out about your colleagues/family/in-laws and they know you just need to rant. They don’t judge you or call you names for it, they let you vent. You can act weird and while they might call you out on it, they accept your weirdness (some of them might even out-weird you).

Their advice is honest, frank and fair. It isn’t always what you want to hear but it doesn’t hurt to hear it. They deliver it with compassion, understanding and often a good dollop of humour.

Even on the days when you feel like nothing can make things better,

your time with them is like the tightest bear hug.

You leave feeling like a weight has lifted, life makes more sense and you can face another day.

My soulmates

For me, my husband is absolutely one of my soulmates but that’s not based on our romantic connection, it’s based on our friendship and mutual respect and understanding. He tells me when I’m headed down the wrong path. He backs me up when I’ve been wronged and helps me respond with dignity (instead of like a crazy banshee); and he supports my dreams and aspirations. With him,

I’ve never felt small, or insignificant, or worthless. I’ve just felt loved.

These are the reasons why he’s my soulmate. (Throw in the fact that I fancy the pants off him, that I love him beyond ‘philia’, and that he’s the only person I want to see when I wake up and when I fall asleep; et voila, one husband!)

Read through the things I’ve said about my husband above (before the husband-specific stuff)  –  I bet the people who spring to mind aren’t necessarily romantic partners or interests.

This year has really highlighted to me who my soulmates are. They’re people whom I feel completely comfortable around. People who have never been the root of any anxiety attack or worry. People who tell me it like it is, but with kindness; leaving me safe in the knowledge that they’re not going away to talk about me or hurt me. They’ve watched me cry, listened, understood when my pain has made me unreasonable but gently steered me away from saying anything to hurt my loved ones or myself. They’ve talked me through my options and helped me heal myself.

It’s like going to the GP but without the 10 minute appointment limit and cold stethoscope.

Instead they’ve just helped me uncover the answers I already had.

I guess my point is this – when you’re hurting, or confused, or need a sounding board; remember the incredible resource you have in your soulmates. Don’t take for granted how valuable they are and don’t think that just because you’re in a long term relationship, you can only rely on your partner. If you’re fortunate enough to have an awesome partner AND one or two incredible soulmates, you’ve got all you need.