The big C, bump and me

So it’s taken me a while to put what I have felt and been through into words…all the emotions I have experienced over the last two years have been exhausting and it’s taken a lot of focus and work to get to where I am.

We started trying for a baby 10 months before I was diagnosed with Cancer. It was earth shattering. Those words are ones you never expect to hear about yourself. Everyone will know someone who knows someone else who’s been affected by cancer, or personally know someone who’s been affected, but you never expect it to be you.

I was diagnosed in the beginning of June, after a operation to remove a lump in my throat. I had spent the previous year having various tests done, but the results had been inconclusive and so the only way to get a definitive answer was to remove the lump, along with half of my Thyroid. I was confident the prognosis would be ‘benign’ and I would go on with my life as planned. It wasn’t.

I could feel my eyes filling as the doctor spoke and it was the first time I had seen my mom, who was with me for the appointment, unable to hide the concern as she digested what was said. I could hear her voice crack and see the pain in her eyes as she tried to ask the doctor some questions. If the news was upsetting my mom, my rock, the woman who could handle and had handled everything life had thrown at her so far, then this was bad. I felt like I was looking down on myself and it wasn’t really me. I asked the doctor a couple of questions and then left, in a daze, tears running down my face. I had to wait for a further appointment and another operation to remove the remainder of my Thyroid and any lingering Cancer cells. I also had to stop trying for a baby.

I wasn’t sure what was harder to handle. I did what I needed to to cope, and that was to adopt an ‘it is what it is’ attitude. I took the approach that I was lucky. I had the type of Cancer that had a 90% cure rate. If I had this operation I wasn’t going to die. It had turned my life upside down but there were people who had it worse. So I told myself to suck it up and get on with it. I was advised to hold off on the baby thing for at least a year. I decided ‘ok, this means we can do all the things we would find harder to do once we had a baby’. We decided we would plan a trip to New York and we would build the extension on the house. I didn’t realise how badly I had wanted that baby until much later.

Fast forward a month…We were on the way to my parents house when something made me realise that I hadn’t come on my period two days before as usual. I put it down to the stress of the last month, but we stopped and bought a test anyway. We got to my parents, said hello and took our stuff upstairs to get ready for a meal out. I went to pee on a stick for what felt like the hundredth time, and like all those times before I expected a negative result. I hadn’t even finished wee-ing when the little blue line appeared. I went through to the room and waved it at my partner and promptly started crying.

It was all wrong. This wasn’t meant to happen yet. I had spent the last month adjusting to the fact that I couldn’t have a baby yet and now I was pregnant. I was angry, confused and worried. What were we going to do? We held each other and I cried. Then we went downstairs to tell my parents. We couldn’t keep it a secret with everything that was going on – they needed to know.

It wasn’t how I had planned it. Nothing was going my way and I was devastated. This was their first grandchild and I had planned to get them Granny and Grandpa coffee mugs to announce to them when we eventually got pregnant. It wasn’t meant to be such a bitter sweet moment, more bitter than sweet. It was meant to be one of the happiest days of my life and it wasn’t. There wasn’t joyful hugging and laughter, there was concerned looks and tears. There were so many questions surrounding what would happen about my Cancer. Would I still have the operation? Would the baby be ok? Little did I know there was an even tougher question coming.

I rang my Consultant the next day. He was very practical and direct and advised me that he would have to look at the risk to me and the risk to the baby. So basically if the risk to me was higher then I would be unable to carry this child. I had never even contemplated that that would be an option. How could I make the decision between me and my unborn child. I had to distance myself from my pregnancy emotionally and think of it in terms of ‘a baby would be pointless without me here to care for it, and if I couldn’t have this child then it obviously wasn’t meant to be’. I put everything I felt into a box and locked it away. I told him that I understood and I waited for his call.

Brotherly Love

One of my biggest worries when we found out we were expecting was how to break it to my step-son. He was five, and had been the only child in the family for the first 4 years of his life (and didn’t particularly relish having a younger cousin) so we had our work cut out.

We wanted to wait until we were over the 12 week mark, as although we had told close friends and family already, we felt that should anything go wrong we didn’t want a child to have to try to comprehend it – so by the time we broke the news I was 14 weeks along.

We sat him down between us and said we had something very exciting to tell him. This laid the foundation for him to anticipate exciting news, so he was already in the mindset that something good was coming! We told him that he was going to be a big brother! He was quiet for a moment and then suddenly a small smile appeared and it slowly grew wider and wider.

I explained that I had a baby growing in my tummy and that this baby would be his little sibling. He seemed excited at the prospect of being a big brother, and seemed to grow with the anticipation of the responsibility that entailed. Once we found out we were having a boy he started telling us how he will be able to show him how to play with cars and dinosaurs and teach him footy. As far as he was concerned this baby was relying on him to teach him the ways of a little boy.

Because we had gone about telling him the way we had, I think he felt he was gaining something important in his life and so he was excited about it. I definitely feel that if we had said we were having a baby instead of the fact that he was becoming a big brother, it would have made him feel like his life as it was was being intruded upon by this un-asked-for baby, but instead he was becoming something special – a big brother.

We would look at baby books together and he would rub my belly and say good morning and goodnight to his baby brother. He got to feel him kick and he would talk to him and tell him about his day and his toys and what we were going to have for supper. The bond between them was growing right from the start.

You can see the love between them – the air of protection that the eldest has over his younger brother. It’s a very special bond and one that will be with them for life. It’s so very important to lay down good foundations, to avoid jealously and resentment towards the new baby. Because of this great start my step-son is so very proud to tell people that that’s his little brother.

Fake it ‘till you make it.

The following day I woke up with a different mindset. I knew that no matter what I had to ‘fake it ‘till I make it’ and I did just that. My baby didn’t know that I was winging it, or that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I trusted my instincts, and so far they haven’t led me wrong.

I grew more and more confident until I could change a nappy with my eyes closed. My boy had mastered the boob and I had mastered my mind. I made a conscious effort in the morning – my new routine was to have a shower whilst my baby lay in his bouncer on the bathroom floor (also getting him used to the idea that mommy needed time to do things for herself) and get myself dressed…although I kept my boy in sleep-suits even when we went out as he just looked so darn cute!

I had decided the best thing to do was to fill up my time. Sitting at home with a newborn was exhausting – and even though I was so tired, spending my days sleeping when baby sleeps was driving me crazy. In less than two weeks I had suddenly limited my life to sleeping, feeding and changing nappies. I could feel the isolation creeping in and I had to fight it. Almost every day, once I got myself ready (granted it was probably already 10 o’ clock), we went out.

Now sometimes we had a specific outing planned, like going to Rhyme Time at the library or meeting a fellow Mom-friend for coffee, but a lot of the time I would just go into town. Pushing the buggy all the way into town and back was a great workout, and combined with breastfeeding I was slowly losing my pouch! But more importantly, getting out in the fresh air and making myself leave the house was so good for my mind. Even when the weather was a bit rubbish and I decided to drive, just making myself go out was doing wonders for me.

Don’t get me wrong, there were days when just the thought of leaving the bed was horrifying….and so I didn’t. I would feed my boy, change his nappy and curl back into bed. Because I had managed to get myself to a place where going out was not scary or stressful or intimidating, I could indulge in the odd day where the most I did was wander through to the kitchen for a drink and a bite to eat.

One of the hardest things to do as a new Mom is to brave the outside world. Nothing is the same as it used to be. For one you have a gigantic nappy bag stuffed with every possible thing you may need attached to you at all times, but also because you can no longer just nip anywhere. Everything requires a certain level of planning. You also have that subconscious worry that your baby is going to start crying. And cry and cry and cry and everyone will look at you and be thinking you’re a bad mom and can’t console your own child.

In reality you have to put on a brave face and get yourself back out there. I’ve come to realise that if you can find the strength to do that, to go out and face the world, then you’re doing great!

‘Just a Mom’

That first week, the start of the rest of my life, was what I thought to be the hardest week I’d ever experienced. It had topped all other milestones in my life – the embarrassing awkwardness of your first boyfriend, starting a new school without any friends, getting your first job. Even immigrating to a new country didn’t hold a candle to the life changing moment when I realised that this is it for the next 18 years.

It hit home on the first day it was just me and our baby. Our friends and family had gone back to their own lives and my partner had to get back to work and suddenly I was on my own with this precious little fragile baby. I knew it was coming, I thought I’d be fine as I had just spent the week before acing this new Mom thing! I kissed my man goodbye at the door and me and the boy went to the window and waved until Daddy was out of sight. Then suddenly this dark cloud descended and I could feel the panic rising. I tried to keep a level head – after all I had my milk now, I could change a nappy and I had somehow managed to keep this baby alive for the last week, so why would today be any different?

I’m a great believer in your baby sensing your stress and had spent my pregnancy with a ‘I don’t care’ mentality as I didn’t want anything to stress me, and subsequently my baby, out. So far he had been as cool as a cucumber, but today he must’ve sensed my panic and panicked himself. Shortly after Daddy had left he had developed hiccups. Nothing serious, but an hour later he was getting upset and therefore I was getting upset and then he was getting upset (you can see where this is going!)

I spent the day in almost tears (you know when you can feel them bubbling there under the surface and the smallest thing tips you over) until I rang the midwife (then the tears actually did spill out) and I explained that I didn’t know what to do and he had had hiccups for the last five hours and I was just a mess. They told me hiccups is actually a good thing and probably isn’t bothering him too much and to keep giving him Infacol with every feed to get the wind out. Eventually I pulled myself together and thought to myself ‘There’s no going back. If you have a hard day then you know what, tough, you have to get through it! You have to keep going. This is something that is non negotiable. YOU HAVE TO DO IT!’

Of course the minute my man walked through the door that evening I burst into tears. He found it hard to believe I was so upset over hiccups, but really it was more than that. It was the realisation that this was my life now. I was a Mom. And at that moment I wasn’t a high flying career woman, I was ‘just a mom’…and I wasn’t so sure how I felt about that…

Here comes the milk…

So being small breasted, I was surprised when on day 4 I woke up looking like Dolly Parton! My milk had come in! I was so excited and couldn’t wait to feed my baby! I felt immense relief that everything was ok and I could continue our breastfeeding journey.

Now that my milk had come in, I was very fortunate in that it had come in in abundance. I had what one of my friends later referred to as ready, aim, fire boobies. Every morning I could literally feed my baby with one boob and, whilst he was feeding, I could express almost another whole bottle from the other (this was great as it meant I could freeze the extra milk ready for when I was due to have surgery a couple of months later). The minute I got ready to feed my boy it was like a switch had been flicked and the milk literally shot out. On more than one occasion he got a spurt of milk to the eye!

On one hand it was amazing to have so much milk with which to feed my child, but it also meant I leaked all the time. I went through 3-4 sets of breast pads a day and constantly had wet patches on my tops – I soon learnt to layer my clothes and stick to dark stuff! I suffered as most woman do with the pain of breast feeding, and anyone who says it doesn’t hurt has been very, very lucky. I combatted the pain issue by watching Netflix while I fed (due to the sheer volume of milk he only fed for maybe 15 minutes at a time) and that took my mind off it. It was this weird, painful, drawing out feeling and after about a month it started to be less painful and more just an odd sensation. I was fortunate in that my little trooper latched beautifully, and so I didn’t suffer with blisters or bleeding. I personally think that’s the trick to successful breast feeding– if your baby can latch on right then it’s unlikely that you will get blisters, and no blisters = less pain. I also used tons of nipple cream. I tried different brands to find the one that worked best for me and found there were two – Lanolin, which was great for a good soak before bed, and Bennetts, which has the same consistency as Savlon and so was really soothing when I was feeling a bit raw.

I won’t lie to you, it was hard. Some days (or more specifically nights) I would sit there feeding my baby and feel the weight of the responsibility crushing me. Every time he cried for milk it was on me, but I knew this was the decision I had made and I had to stick to it. I had tremendous support from my other half and that made it possible for me to continue for as long as I did. He would do all the burping at night, allowing me to wake up, feed and then go back to sleep while he settled the boy.

I was only able to breast feed for the first 3 months due to needing surgery and possibly radiotherapy, but working as a team we were able to stick to plan A and give our son the start we had wanted and it was the most amazing experience for me.

That first night home.

So because he slept soundly his first night on the outside, in his Perspex box in the hospital and had to be woken up for a feed at 2:30am, I assumed I had a good sleeper! I was confident I’d get him home and he would snuggle down happily in his Moses basket and I’d not hear a peep until he wanted feeding.

Oh how wrong could I be!

Now for me co-sleeping was a big no-no! The fact that I then spent the next three nights sleeping on my back with my arms wrapped around my precious child, just so he would settle, was neither here nor there. I told myself he needed to feel safe and this was the way to do it.

I had tried putting my pyjama top in the Moses basket with him – that made no difference. I had tried a dummy – uh uh…not for him. I had tried rocking him to sleep and placing him gently in the basket – well yeah that worked for all of five minutes. He didn’t want to be swaddled but he didn’t want to be free either.

Coupled with the uncertainty of breastfeeding and I suddenly felt very much out of my depth. I still didn’t like the idea of co-sleeping, as I think it is important to have time with your significant other away from the kids, but needs must and for now it was the only way I could get him to sleep.

And there came compromise number two.

Over the course of the next week we went from him sleeping clasped tightly in my arms, to laid on the bed next to me, to eventually snuggled happily in his Moses basket. I had worked out the issue – and that was that he didn’t like being deep down inside the Moses basket. I stuffed a pillow inside to raise him up and he was as happy as a lamb.

Finally I could start to relax…

Is Breast Best?

Now there is a lot of discussion surrounding the concept that ‘Breast Is Best’ and maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

Something that stuck with me from long before I even fell pregnant was my friend telling me how she felt like she had failed because she had struggled with breastfeeding. No woman should feel like that. Being a mother is hard enough without all the pressure that society puts on us. One thing I knew from the start was I wasn’t going to beat myself up over it – as far as I was concerned as long as my baby was fed then whose business is it if I breast feed or bottle feed? Fed Is Best!

I was very lucky and within the first fifteen minutes after giving birth my little champ had latched on like a dream! I was so proud of the little guy and couldn’t help feeling slightly chuffed with myself too! Go us! After a while I gave my precious boy over to his dad and thought about having that awful first shower. I didn’t realise how much it would hurt to stand up. Everything felt like it had been turned inside out. I got washed as best I could, feeling slightly bemused by the sight of my still swollen belly. I honestly thought it would be like a balloon had been popped and I’d be rocking my jeans within a couple of days…clearly not!

So because I’d given birth in the evening, by the time we had got sorted and moved into the Maternity ward it was time for my man to head home. He was allowed to stay until we were settled, and then to be honest I was glad that I could finally close my eyes and go to sleep! Ha ha ha…had I forgotten I had a new born baby beside me, a life that was now my responsibility for the next 18 years!? The minute his dad left he decided it was time to stretch his lungs. He started crying and I started panicking! What the heck was I supposed to do? I went for the most obvious choice and stuck him on the boob.

I will say that if you are healthy and baby is healthy and you are able to try breastfeeding, then go for it! It is the most amazing feeling in the world (and a bit strange) but honestly, the fact that your body is feeding your child is just something magical. I had the doubt that everyone who has tried breastfeeding has – and that is ‘is my baby actually getting any milk?!’ So I did what any normal person would do and I asked the question.

In hindsight I wish I’d just trusted my body and kept my mouth shut! The woman on shift told me we should use a breast pump and see what we could get…so not knowing any better I agreed. And then came a mix of emotions. Naturally there was hardly anything there as all that is produced to start with is tiny amounts of colostrum. She seemed surprised that no milk was pumped out and suggested we cup feed him the colostrum mixed with formula. I had failed. The high from earlier disappeared in a flash. She took my baby away and fed him. I never got to see that. Exhausted I fell back asleep and woke to hear her putting my baby back in the cot. As I said, in hindsight maybe I should not have asked that question in the first place, or maybe I should’ve got a better response.

Looking back it’s obvious that all that’s going to come out is that liquid gold, Colostrum, as your milk doesn’t come in for 3-5 days. It was then noted the following morning that I had had trouble feeding and I had to agree to formula feed my baby (and actually give him a bottle) before they would let me leave. I was determined that once home we would get back on the bike so to speak, and continue trying to breastfeed. And we did.