So Baby #2 is scheduled to join us via c-section at 39 weeks exactly. We’re in single figures til delivery now. Baby has a name, a place to sleep, clothes, nappies, toys and bottles. We’re good to go. And yet, however much I talk about it or stare at my massive pregnant tummy, it just doesn’t feel real.
That’s not to say that I’m not excited, but in deference to my mental health, I feel like I should also say, I’m frightened. We count down the days with Squidge every day, but it scares me more and more. Not because I don’t want to hold my new baby, to see their beautiful face and welcome them to our family. Mainly because, as with every family expansion, I’ve never done this before.
I’m going to have two children. TWO. I grew up with an opinion of myself that doubted I’d ever be loved, happy, much less married, in my own home, putting my babies to bed. It became very real yesterday when women’s physio called me about my struggle to mobilise through the pain (a whole 6 months after I was referred, to a department that is in fact not operating face to face, thanks COVID-19!). She asked if she could talk me through the ways to help, and I said:
“You can, but the baby’s coming next week!”
I don’t know what’s happened to this year. I know the whole world feels like that amongst the restrictions of this pandemic, but my family had already been through so much besides. Sincerely, we haven’t had time to draw breath, because like everyone else, we’re simply coping. The restrictions placed on antenatal care has really limited the joy of the pregnancy experience this time round, as Kev has missed scans and midwife appointments in order to care for Squidge in my absence.
We just don’t know where the pregnancy itself has gone, partly because it had no chance of offering us the opportunities of the last one, which is frustrating in itself because fear made me miss most of those, i.e. self care. I am proud of myself for getting through it, and I love to feel baby nudging around in my belly, but I won’t miss any of the rest of it. It has hurt, I have been exhausted and nothing with regards to disability pregnancy appears to have changed.
This makes me so sad, because I think it shows that I haven’t been vocal enough in defence of mothers like me. Every professional that has seen me with my walker at appointments this pregnancy has assumed it all comes down to the SPD, not one has looked at my notes before meeting me and noted the cerebral palsy, or talked about it with any knowledge.
There was the midwife that saw me on a bad day and asked “What’s wrong with you? Do you need to go to A&E?” I was flippant with her, because I didn’t actually realise in the haze of pain as I tried to stand up that she wasn’t the midwife I had seen before. (As it is, I have never seen the same person twice, be that consultant or midwife, which just makes me relieved this one isn’t my first!)
My response was: “No, I’m chronically disabled, what with cerebral palsy and all!”
“Oh. What’s that mean then?”
There was the nurse from the midwife unit who cleared me and my walker out the way to wheel a new mum out in her hospital bed. No worries, she’s doing her job. Then I heard her refer to me as the “woman with a… with a…” because she couldn’t bring herself to say walker. Why not? It niggled that she was concerned she would offend me. But what is there to be offended about? It’s there to do its job, much like the nurse herself. Let’s please just call things what they are.
There was the nurse at the Assessment Unit this weekend when I went in for monitoring because we couldn’t make our big lazy babe move as normal and in a panic, I couldn’t remember when I felt movements.
I was put straight into a room and left while a shift change occurred. Once I sat on the bed away from the walker (there was only space for it 3 feet away from me) I was stranded and the nurse came and told me I’d be attended to after shift change who then promptly shut the door. I didn’t have the strength to get up when I was left there for an hour, in too much pain and panic, just wanting to know Baby #2 was OK.
By the time my lovely midwife came, I was hysterical, because I couldn’t get up to summon anyone, to ask what was taking so long and find out Baby was OK. She saw me in a great sobbing, snotty, painful heap, all of which could have been avoided if the door had been left open. I should have spoken up quicker, but I was preoccuped with panic and I always hope that the sight of the walker speaks to issues I have with mobilising, but alas not.
NB. Baby was fine, heartbeat thumping away!
But it’s not as though that when Baby comes, the battle is over. I won’t be pregnant anymore (and at that point, the experience will never be what I wanted it to be). It’s not as though I just get to return to my treasured practitioners and focus on taking care of myself where I couldn’t whilst pregnant. I would give anything for a full body massage and a physio session right now, but I am fully aware that neither will touch me whilst I am in C-section recovery.
And it is hard. I pushed myself far too hard with Squidge, wanting to be a good mum, getting out there, doing things and meeting people. And these are good things if you can manage them. I honestly couldn’t, but felt if I wasn’t doing it, I was a bad mum, not doing enough for my daughter.
As it is, Squidge couldn’t have given a stuff about baby classes and I suffered. So this time round, the restrictions of the pandemic still being felt for us all, I am determined not to give myself a hard time, give my recovery the time it needs and discover everything with Baby #2 when the world opens up again.
But I am still so apprehensive. Last time, we had my in-laws on 24/7 call also. But they are vulnerable in the face of the pandemic and so I’ll be relying on Kev, who has already committed himself to 24/7 care of the whole family at least for the first 2 weeks. I remember the pain, I remember the immobility, the helplessness. None of these things are things I cope well with mentally and I don’t want to present even more of a burden to my lovely husband.
I do know it will all work out, the kids and I will find our feet in the world together. Squidge is returning to nursery in September, and though I will miss her terribly, I know it will be best for her to have routine and a different environment. We hope also, restrictions allowing that she’ll return to oher settings/activities at the same time so that her world does not become consumed by the new baby.
She is a marvel. She has coped so well with every change, is still her loving, clever, funny, empathetic self when the world has been so confusing and cut off. I can’t wait to get Baby home and tell her she can finally go back to play in the park.
But I am so nervous of caring for 2 babies as I recover. In reality, it took 2 months or more to feel OK after Squidge’s section. I am so scared Squidge will forget to be gentle with my tummy, or that she’ll resent how much less I am able to do with her. I already worry that I have wasted lockdown because I have been able to do so little, but I try not to dwell on it, because I know I cannot help the limitations of being pregnant. I know I have done my best and in honesty, I hope she doesn’t really remember this time, because it’s when her world disappeared.
I know Kev will do everything he can, everything right to get me well again, but I do wonder about the cost of how long that whole endeavour might take. It’s all very well going by my mantra of “however bad it is, it cannot last forever”, because after all, I’ve come through this before. But as I said, it’s different now, there’s going to be TWO babies and I just couldn’t bear to let either of them down.
So yes, I know I must try and be kinder to myself this time. We’ve bought a chair bed so I can sleep downstairs and avoid the pain of the stairs (we lived in a first floor flat last time and it was simpler having everything a few steps away). I just thank God that we have a downstairs loo in our house!
I just can’t forget the pain. It hurt to move, pee or laugh for about 2 weeks last time and I barely moved with all the help we had on hand. It’s not even so much the physical pain, because that is managed with some good painkillers and I won’t be scrimping on those. It’s the vulnerability. Of another kind yes, but coming straight off the back of 9 months of vulnerability already, it’s a lot to have to face without choice.
So I’m not sorry when I say I’m scared. It may be easier than I thought, it may not. This is my own experience and is no way intended to inform your own. Natural birth is not something I am willing to entertain for reasons related to my own experience of cerebral palsy, and so I own this choice. But do not let anyone tell you, EVER, that a c-section is the easy way out. I had a family member say “Well, at least birth won’t hurt you. I wish I could have had an easy time of it like that.” They should have known better, because they know very well how difficult CP has made my life.
I won’t feel the pain of labour, no. But there will be pain of debilitating levels for weeks afterwards. There will be concessions and needing to ask for help with the simplest things. Will I be able to get out of bed myself? I’ll need help dressing. Will I make it to the loo on time? All these things will have to be considered daily, someone will have to be available to help until I am recovered and confident to be on my own with the children. Someone will have to drive Squidge to nursery and back until I am able, and even then, I haven’t driven since March, so I don’t feel all that confident about that either. As an aside, Kev qualified as a driving instructor, so I know we have that in hand, but I didn’t have my licence when Squidge was born so the massive responsibility of ferrying around our most precious cargo was never going to be mine and it makes me nervous. And you can be assured that none of these tasks will be taken up by the family member that thinks I’m in for an easy birth. Funny that, isn’t it?
As our time as a family of 3 comes to an end, I wonder constantly if I have given enough of myself to my first born. As I write, she’s back on her tablet (a present from the baby, unintended, but our old one broke!) and I feel such guilt that there’s been so much screen time through this lockdown. But I reason that if I don’t use avenues like this and my meditations that my mental health would be absolutely down the tubes by now and the one thing I want to preserve for us all is the excitement about becoming a family of four.
I know what Squidge wants. She just wants me to be able to play with her on the floor again. I feel wretched having to explain again and again that Mummy’s tummy will still be sore for a long time, but she’s seen Nanny and Daddy come through abdominal surgeries this year so knows that it gets better.
“When Baby comes,” she says “you won’t hurt anymore and then you can play trains with me on the floor”.
“I will for a while. Mummy’s tummy will be sore, like Daddy’s and you will have to be gentle. But then I will feel better and I will be straight down on the floor!”
She never expects too much of me, when the world has expected so much of such a little girl. I couldn’t be prouder to have this one on my team. I wish I had more to give her, because she deserves the world.
Actually, she has requested a puppy, but I guess, for now, a new sibling will have to do. We cannot wait to meet you Baby #2, to fall in love with your little baby face, because somehow, we just haven’t been able to picture you. We don’t know you or your beautifulness yet. I can feel you nudging around in my belly and yet, it’s hard to recognise that that concept is in fact my own beautiful baby. I can’t wait to see you, to hold you and let you be real at long last. After all, I have wished for you for so long, without ever really knowing if you’d be real. Not long now.
See you next week, little one!