The big C, baby and me

After what seemed like years, but was actually only a couple of weeks, my consultant told me that because they had removed the tumour they felt I could postpone the second operation for a year and have my baby. I was now considered ‘low risk’. I felt relieved, but I had already distanced myself from this unborn child and found it hard to reconnect.

The pregnancy was hard. I suffered terribly with morning-noon-and-night sickness and the underlying Cancer concern meant that everything was that much more complicated. I had countless consultant appointments and scans. It was great that I got to see my baby so much, but it was also a constant reminder that once he was born there would be something else to focus on.

I had been told that once I had the operation to remove the remainder of my thyroid, I would need to have Radio Iodine Therapy, which would mean almost three weeks away from my newborn baby. I thought the best way to handle that was to accept that it was going to happen and prepare myself mentally. I knew it would be best for him not to be anywhere near his radioactive mother, but it didn’t make it any easier to accept.

So after a hectic labour (see my previous blog ‘So it begins…’) I finally had my child in my arms. I was in love. I knew this was the most important moment in my life, but part of me held back. I had to keep a part of me separate from my boy, ready to face the struggle ahead. This resulted in a certain detachment from him. I knew I would give my life for him because he was my son and that’s how I should feel but I felt like something was missing. Being the type of person I am I never let it show and I did everything I could for my baby those first few months…even if it felt like I was only playing a part.

He was almost 3 months old when I had my second operation. I recovered so much quicker that time around. I put it down to the fact that I had my little one to care for and so didn’t have the luxury of indulging in weeks of recovery. I had to be back to being super-mom within days. Of course I had the support of my significant other, and as I was no longer breastfeeding he could now be involved with every aspect of our boy’s care.

I had intended to continue breastfeeding after the 24-48 hours of pumping and dumping the milk, but as I anticipated I would be having radio therapy within a few weeks it seemed like the natural progression of things to let it fizzle out now. In hindsight (oh to do things over with what I know now!) I should’ve continued.

Months later – after more consultant visits, blood tests and checkups – I still had not had the radio iodine therapy and was given the option to take part in a Cancer Research Trial. This meant I would be randomly selected to either have the radio iodine therapy…or not…and in the process I’d be helping fight Cancer! I ended up in the ‘not’ group.

I received a phone call about 5 months after my operation to say which group I was in. I remember hanging up the phone and bursting into tears. My first thought being ‘thank God I don’t have to go through this’ and the second being so so angry at having spent the first 8 months of my baby’s life in this bubble of anxiety. A needless worry that had hung over me for the last year and a half.

After that I started to feel the bond with my boy deepen. I didn’t have to harden and protect myself from having to leave him. I didn’t have to worry that I would miss out on anything. I could finally stop playing a part…

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!

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.

So it begins…

Life is hard…Then you have a baby and it gets harder.

Now don’t get me wrong…I wouldn’t swap it for the world…but no one actually tells you how hard it’s going to be. All you hear about is what a wonderful miracle it is and the amazing bond you will share with your baby.

You think about the decisions you will need to make…like will you go for bottle or breast? Or maybe both? Will you co-sleep or will they sleep in a Moses basket? Are you hoping to get by on just gas and air, or maybe you want a water birth? What you don’t realise is none of it is your decision. None. Of. It.

I had it all planned – I wanted a water birth. I love swimming and feel at home in the water, so I wanted my baby to enter the world feeling at one with the water and I couldn’t think of a better way to give birth than that! But no – my little bundle of joy had other ideas.

We were back to back, which basically meant the back of his head and his back was against my spine. After 29 hours since my first contraction I was ready to cut him out with a spoon, given half a chance. Every contraction ripped through my back like a hundred knives and I was writhing in the birthing pool like a seal caught in a net. Tears streaming down my face I told my partner ‘I can’t do this.’

Unsurprisingly I had no choice – the baby had to come out! I opted for diamorphine to ease the pain and that meant no water birth. That was the first of many compromises to come.

Fast-forward 3 hours and it’s time to push. I grabbed my partner’s arm, dug my nails in and puuuushed. The best thing I did was listen to the midwife. Breathe when she said breathe and push like my life depended on it when she said push. I remember hearing the midwife say ‘Ohh we can see his eyebrows’ and I thought to myself ‘Well we’re at the worst bit just keep pushing!’ So I did and within minutes he was there, in my arms, a blue tinged bloody mess. He didn’t cry…he just opened his eyes, lifted his little head and looked at me.

That was the moment I fell head over heels in love – and my whole world shifted.