The middle

The middle

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Credit: Mark Basarab

I have always loved before and after stories. Cinderella transforming into a princess. The ugly duckling becoming a swan. The hungry caterpillar emerging from it’s chrysalis.

And if asked I will talk to you honestly, happily and at length about my own before and after stories; afterwards. I’ll tell you about how I went from desperately trying to earn my place in the world to believing (most of the time) that I was enough. I will talk to you about what grief taught me about love. I will describe my struggle with infertility and how I lost three stone to access IVF and instead fell pregnant naturally.

The key word in that sentence above is afterwards. People tell me that admire my honesty in writing about the situations I have found hard. My reaction is always mixed: part proud but also part feeling like I have just pulled off a con. It’s takes courage to show somebody your scars, it another thing entirely to show somebody your wounds.

I am very good at talking about difficult experiences afterwards. When time has lent some distance and perspective and things are less raw. But sharing that brutiful (half beautiful/half brutal) bit in the middle of something I am struggling with? Ugh.

When I am in the middle of something hard, I cannot find the words to name what is happening to me.

When I am in the middle of something hard, I feel an expectation that I need to go away in private and figure my shit about before I can be in company again.

When I am in the middle of something hard I feel so bruised and skinless that an inadvertent glance could hurt me.

When I am in the middle of something hard I feel stuck. I cannot go back and unknow what I have learnt. But I have no idea how to move forward.

When I am in the middle of something hard I don’t know the story ends. I don’t know whether I will triumph or fail. I don’t know what the meaning of this experience will be until afterwards.

When I am in the middle of something hard, the last thing I want to do is talk about it.

But that’s what I ask my clients to do every day. There is so much I could say about what is happening within me right now. But I am in the middle – so I don’t. Until now that is.

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I read this quote from Glennon Doyle Melton, one of the writers who inspired me and it floored me. Yes, it is important to share our truth but what about sharing our unknowing. Why don’t we talk about the bits of our life that are still in construction. So inspired I am trying something new today. Even though thinking about hitting publish gives me a knot in my chest and that sinking sensation of being emotional naked.

Here are some things I am in the middle of:

Work

I’ve always been ambitious, it’s one of my defining characteristics. But when people ask me ‘when are you going back to work?’ I want to jam my fingers in my ears and sing loudly until they go away.

I don’t want to work again, ever. Despite the fact I love my job and staying home isn’t an option financially. I am desperately frightened that if I go back to work that ‘Push the river’ side of me, that relentless driving force will take over. And there won’t be any space for me or Nibs or anything other than pushing forward at all costs. Until I have figured out how I can work without letting it take over – I don’t want to go back. I expect my motherhood bubble will pop at some point and I may long for another identity other than mother and to exercise my intellectual muscles. But for the moment…

nope

Self-care

Having and mothering a baby has made me realise how abysmal I am at mothering myself. If I were an actual mother and child I would report me to social services for neglect. I have realised recently where this lack of self-care comes from. But I don’t know how to move forward and it makes me feel sad and stuck. Why can take care of other people, but not myself? I am starting to notice how much this is affecting my relationships with my husband, child, family and friends. And it the affect on them that is motivating me to change, not on me. That fact makes me feel even sadder. I am trying to go back to basics and ask myself daily what I need. But it is so hard and humiliating. Shouldn’t I have learnt how to take care of myself already? Is it too late to learn?

Body

I eat emotionally, always have done, and it’s becoming a problem. I eat as a reward, out of comfort, to console myself or just mindlessly. I worry that Nibs will see me and develop some of my habits. The worst thing about this, is that I successfully lost a lot of weight before getting pregnant through revolutionising my eating habits. When I was pregnant I was really careful about what I ate. But the combination of breastfeeding, tiredness, and boredom have meant I have been eating cake like it’s going out of fashion.

The feeling that keeps on popping up that I should be over this by now? I know how to eat healthily. I have done it before. I have all the tools in my toolbox but still I keep self sabotaging. Sadly I think the issue is I can moderate my approach to food when other people are at stake – but not when it’s just about me. Instead I circle around and around this issue never progressing

Marriage

He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) and I have been in better places. Don’t get me wrong, we’re OK but we could be better. Lack of sleep and lack of time, as individuals and as a couple, has taken its toll. I find this immensely frustrating because as a couples therapist I knew that having a baby was one of the biggest stressors on a relationship and I had a chance to memorise the classic fight up close:

Stay at home parent: I love the baby so much but sometimes looking after him alone is so hard. I resent so much that your life continues almost unchanged whereas I am tethered to a tiny human being. You get to leave, to speak to other adults, to pee in private. I am never alone but I am so lonely.

Working parent: But you get to see it all: all the tiny ways he changes every day. I miss it. I miss him and you get to see him all the time and you don’t appreciate it. He’s growing so fast and I am not here. Plus work isn’t the holiday you think it is.

Repeat ad nausem

9 months ago I assured myself we wouldn’t be like that. Cue hollow laughter. We, OK being brutally honest, I have not been kind to HWSNBN recently.

It is so entwined with me not taking care of myself that I know that before I can reconnect with HWSNBN I need some time for me. To figure out who I am as a mother and individual after this immense lifechanging experience. If I am set boundaries and ask for my needs to be met; I will be a better partner to him. I am not in panic mode at the moment partly because I don’t feel like I have the headspace to panic. We are trying different things – some of which seem to be helping. We’ll see.

The future

I am very torn on if/when we should try for another baby. It took years, and years last time. And I am hyper aware I may not have years of trying left. I never want to go through that agonising desperation of trying and failing to conceive again.

But I am not ready. I am not even close to ready for signing on for the intensity of a newborn. Some days I look at Nibs and he’s so wondrous I can’t imagine not trying to give him his sibling. Some days he seems so big to me and miss him being a tiny baby in my arms with an ache in my womb. Then I have a dark day where I feel like the shittest mum alive and think I am never having any more children. 

So, this is where I am at right in the middle with all the mess and none of the glory. Watch this space.

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The agony and the ecstasy of the first trimester – pregnancy after infertility

The agony and the ecstasy of the first trimester – pregnancy after infertility

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(Editors note: I wrote bits of this between weeks 8-10. I’m now at week 25. By my reckoning this means I’ll publish a post about the second trimester just before I’m due to give birth. Let’s just say pregnancy hasn’t made me any more together…)

I didn’t allow myself to dream about what would happen after I finally became pregnant. It seemed needlessly cruel. Like dreaming about completing a marathon when I was hobbling around on a broken leg.

If you’d pressed me back then I would have been certain of one thing if I was able to become pregnant I’d be happy. Can anybody say destination fallacy?

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It’s hard to put into words what I felt when I saw those much longed for two lines back in May. Utter disbelief that maybe this was finally happening. A surge of excitement bubbling beneath my skin as I visualised my baby as tiny as sesame seed. And a fear so sharp I could taste it in my mouth that this baby would be taken away from me.

But happy? No, I didn’t feel even a little bit happy, not at all. That would come later. In those early stages I would swing between these feelings in an emotionally exhausting rollercoaster that I confided in very few people about because it seemed like spitting in the face of my good fortune. There were brief intervals in between where I felt with a weird certainty that everything would be OK. And even moments when I would forget I was pregnant altogether.

(Don’t get me wrong – getting pregnant has been and remains one of the best moments of my life to date. It’s just that like so many big moments such as getting married it wasn’t anything like I had expected it to be.)

I read a lot beforehand about the hellish physical symptoms of the first trimester but *whisper it* I loved my physical symptoms. I loved that feeling of exhaustion so deep that I needed a nap from just getting up and putting on my clothes. I loved the waves of nausea and over sensitivity to smells. I loved how excruciatingly sore my boobs were that wind could make me wince. Because each symptom was like a message from my body signifying it was doing something, that it was busily working to sustain the life growing within me.

Me trying not to vom/fall asleep on things. This is my happy face. Promise
Me trying not to vom/fall asleep on things. This is my happy face. Promise

But for a lifelong control freak this was terrifying too. My body was doing all of this without any conscious effort from me, so it could just as easily stop without any conscious effort from me.

I was very aware of the statistics and that my fear was rooted in facts. In the first trimester, the average woman has 20-30% chance of miscarrying and those statistics are higher for women with PCOS. Every time I went to the toilet I was on knicker watch for signs of blood. I took a pregnancy test every week and that three minute wait to see the results crawled by agonising slow. One dreadful evening midway through working with clients I started cramping so badly I was convinced the pain would show on my face. Later in bed the pain was so bad my breath felt halted and contained. I turned to HWSNBN and told him that this was it. The worst thing was the sense of relief I felt, I’d been waiting for something awful to happen and here it was. Now it was over I could deal. (It wasn’t. Thank god, it wasn’t)

The only thing that helped during those early weeks was to try and not look ahead and just focus one day at a time. Each day that passed with my symptoms intact felt like a victory. And although the spectre of the missed miscarriage hung over me, I tried as much as I could to not think about worse case scenarios.

I thought, naively, that getting pregnant would heal the wounds of those years of trying fruitlessly to have a baby. But it seemed like I carried a parcel of that old anxiety with me. I’d forgotten that it was the hope (that two week wait) that hurt the most. And the first trimester is that two week wait on steroids.

Compared to so many other couples struggling to conceive we had it easy. Our journey was not particularly long or medically invasive or full of loss like some of my friends. But when you’re in the midst of infertility you don’t know if you will conceive next month or never. Living in limbo never gets easier and it had left it’s mark.

I don’t know if women whose journey to conceive was easier felt like this – the barely controlled panic. Knowing myself as I do I expect even if my journey to conceive had been less rocky I still would have felt a certain measure of anxiety. It’s always been in my nature to distrust good fortune and look to the sky not for rainbows but approaching comets. But I felt so jealous of the women who on getting that first positive pregnancy test were able to skip out and buy babies shoes, who shared the news widely, who said with confidence that their baby was due in January. I realised midway through the first trimester with a kind of mourning that my experience of pregnancy will never have that optimistic certainty that everything will be OK. Until I hold my healthy baby in my arms I will always be waiting with baited breath to pass the next milestone, to have the next scan, to feel the baby move – to exhale just a teeny bit.

For me it felt like pregnancy was a skittish woodland animal that I would scare away if I make any sudden movements at it. The only thing I wanted to do in these early weeks is curl up under the bed in a pile of blankets and not move or do anything. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately for my reclusive instincts I was juggling three jobs at the time so I had no choice but to keep going. Although everything else stopped as I realising that powering through my exhaustion was no longer an option.

Post dating scan faces
Post dating scan faces

I felt in limbo – I didn’t belong in the world of the happy pregnant women but neither was I a member of the infertile club anymore.

The worst thing was not the physical symptoms or anxiety but the guilt. Complaining about pregnancy after infertility feels like a person who was dying of dehydration bitching that there is a fly in their champagne. I felt extraordinarily guilty that I wasn’t enjoyed this privileged experience I had longed for and fought for. I had so many friends who would long to be in this position and instead of enjoying it I was worrying.

The guilt was insidious. I was very aware of how hard it can be to hear pregnancy announcements especially if you are struggling with infertility. And that my joy might inadvertently hurt somebody because they so desperately want to be in my shoes and they aren’t. One of the reasons I wanted to be open and honest about the fear (as well as the excitement) of getting pregnant is because to help other future woman going through this feel less isolated. Just as reading how other women felt and realising I wasn’t alone helped me immeasurably.

The guilt is still there but it was lessened when around week 11 I realised I as much as any other women have the right to feel whatever I feel around this pregnancy. And that’s it’s OK to feel afraid, as well as blessed, to flip between the certainty that everything will go wrong, and the wish that everything goes right. Sometimes it’s OK to focus on surviving a new experience rather than thriving. And day by day, hour by hour somehow I made it to that first scan. When the sonographer said ‘There’s your baby. And that’s it’s heart beating’ and I saw strong but clear the rhythmic thud of Nib’s heart – there was the happiness I’d been seeking like the sun coming out after a storm.

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The first trimester – the statistics

How far along: 13 weeks

Baby is the size of: A peach

Names: Just a nickname: Nibs.

Bump: A teeny one. But I’m sure it’s pregnancy bloat rather than pregnancy belly. 

Week 8
Week 8 – bloated
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Week 11 – so, so tired

Symptoms: I realised early on that I have been so focused on getting pregnant, that I have almost no knowledge of what happens when you are pregnant. This means I have spent most of the first trimester consulting Dr Google with questions like:

What is going on with my boobs and why do I want to cut a bitch when she brushes past me? What is leukomania and why is it so gross? Why do I feel like I have two corks stuffed up my nose – permanently?

The biggest surprise has been the exhaustion. I expected to feel sick, I didn’t expect to feel like I had glandular fever. But every pregnancy symptom feels like a gift at this point. Bring it on body.

Boy or girl: Team unicorn all the way! That’s an option right? I have managed to horrify a good number of well-meaning people who have asked what I’m hoping for, by responding without thinking ‘a live one.’

Cravings: Milk. Milkshakes. Milk on cereal. Milk by the galloon. I’m guessing the baby needs calcium

Lemons in any form – squeezed on salad, or vegetables and fresh lemonade. But and this is important not at the same time as the milk. That would be gross.

Anything making you feel queasy: Sweet things. Quorn. Anything complicated. Pregnancy has reduced me to toddler tastes

Maternity clothes: One of the benefits of losing a shit-ton of weight before getting pregnant means that my larger clothes will last me a while before I have to buy maternity clothes. Even so waistbands are not my friend and I cannot bear anything tight so all my jeans have been packed away. My lovely SIL has gifted me with some of her maternity clothes and my favourite pick is sleep bras. AMAZEBALLS.

Sleep: All the time, at every moment of every day.

Best moment this week: having the scan and realising that little Nibs is a) in there and not a deluded figment of my imagination b) that his/her heart is beating c) and that they are measuring perfectly on schedule.

Miss anything: No, I am so beyond grateful to be pregnant even the extreme tiredness is welcome. Check back in the third trimester and we’ll see if I’m still singing from the same hymn sheet