Arrived at 12:45 pm on Thursday 21st April, via planned cesarian section, at 39 + 6, weighing 8lbs and 2oz. I am still alive and she is thriving, so as predicted, I do feel a little silly for publicly stating quite how terrified I was by the whole process. Although I am more than aware that I have a propensity towards melodrama, my fears were not entirely unfounded. I do have a history of hemorrhage, the final few visits to the midwife and consultant involved much talk of cross-matching of blood and being aware, that my previous section had involved a right-angled incision which had nicked a vessel.
Probably fairly routine stuff, but to a medical ignoramus who seems to glean most of her knowledge either from google (bad idea) or Holby City, the prospect was rather terrifying. I had been holding out for a natural birth and though I have absolutely no need to feel defensive about having a section, various press headlines that constantly mention the unacceptably high rates of cesarian sections performed in the UK, combined with the “are you like one of them celebrities who are too posh to push remarks” and disappointed looks I received from various acquaintances, together with my own sense of failure that my body seems to refuse to do what should come naturally in childbirth have made me hyper-sensitive. I will spare the gory gyneaological details, but my consultant concludes, “square peg, round hole, you’ve just got a funny shaped pelvis Mrs F”. Even my midwife, who had been very supportive of plans for a home-birth last time round and in common with most midwives is an advocate of natural birth, felt that in my situation, a natural birth, though not impossible, was highly unlikely. In the event, it was felt that at 39 weeks, with the head still free floating and my blood pressure rising, that a c-section would be the safest option. C-sections certainly have their place, without them, I suspect I would number among the childbirth mortality statistics, but anyone who thinks that they are somehow an easy option is sorely mistaken.
I was more than a little staggered when the anaesthetist conducting the pre-op procedure blithely informed me that if his partner were having a baby he would definitely want her to have a c-section before a natural birth, no question! For medical professionals it seems to be all about medically managing what is, for the majority of women, a perfectly straightforward process, but from my perspective, having experienced a natural birth (albeit a very stressful one, entailing 56 hours of labour and resulting in a high cavity forceps delivery with many related subsequent problems) and now two cesarians, my preference would be for a natural, even if assisted , birth without a shadow of a doubt. The procedure was traumatic, to go into gory detail would be inappropriate, suffice to say, that unlike the birth of our previous daughter, we have no nice photos to share from the operating theatre. The one brief snap that was taken involves me with an oxygen mask and several canulas. Then it all got a little hairy.
The good news is that Felicity is thriving. As of yesterday she had already regained her birthweight and weighed 8lbs 4oz. I don’t go in for obsessively weighing babies, being my third I could tell she was absolutely fine, without needing the official check, but it was reassuring nonetheless. I’m in that post-natal mess phase; due to subsequent complications, I am suffering with a low iron count, a problem that dogged me throughout pregnancy, an infection and am the usual mix of hormones and exhaustion,so am at times even more emotional than usual. Low spots include a violent reaction to ferrous sulphate and a sobbing fit in Mothercare when I was informed that my breasts are now an H cup, the only lingerie being available resembling barrage balloons and official confirmation that my cleavage dwarfs Ann Widdecombe’s. For someone who suffers from more than a spot of body dysmorphia and considers herself fat at a size 10, this temporary change in body shape is taking some coming to terms with. It serves as an excellent lesson in humility and when I see how much benefit Felicity, like all my babies, is deriving from being breast-fed. I know that it is a small price to pay, but the sight of Pippa Middleton in all her finery brought about a most unedifying attack of envy and determination to hit the WiiFit once I have been declared fit to resume normal activity.
Right now, life is once again extremely hectic with the demands of a week old baby, a 17 month old and a seven year old. There are moments when I’m overwhelmed by it all, moments when I’m riding on a crest of adrenalin and definitely pushing things physically and others when I just want to collapse in the corner in a sobbing, tired heap of emotions. I was released from the hospital on Holy Saturday and attended the Easter Vigil high on painkillers and adrenalin. It was perhaps one of the most moving services of my life, certainly it seemed more than a little appropriate that this was the first Mass that we took Felicity to, I apologise to anyone reading this who spotted me sobbing away on a tide of happiness and gratitude in the pews. I am also extremely grateful for Fr’s look of horror when I asked him prior to the birth whether or not an Easter vigil baptism might be possible. Both him and my mother-in-law were flabberghasted and a little concerned that I was even contemplating leaving the house a few hours after discharge, however my husband knows quite how tenacious I can be when I set my mind on something and was therefore resigned and thus supportive. Though an Easter vigil Baptism would have been wonderful, it would also have been highly inappropriate, the state of my health would have overshadowed proceedings and the day would have been remembered for all the wrong reasons.
In my more rational moments, I know that this current phase of permanent exhaustion and roller-coaster of post-natal hormones will pass. Looking at how big our 17th month old appears by contrast, I also know how quickly this little newborn phase will pass and thus I am determined to enjoy it. Felicity just seems so little and fragile and yet it feels like only yesterday that Imogen, the 17 month old was at exactly the same stage. Yesterday the umbilical cord fell off prompting yet more tears. It inexplicably felt sad, the end of an era, her physical connection with me being severed. But this is the job of parents, to help children to grow to be healthy independent people in their own right. Today, she seems to have woken up from her newborn slumber having been asleep for the majority of the past week and is fully opening her eyes. She has been quite jaundiced so we have been putting the moses basket in a sunny window which has worked wonders in terms of her colour and no doubt has contributed to her new wakefulness.
Life is not going to be easy over the next few months.I feel pulled in several different directions, under self-imposed pressure to be the perfect mother to all my children, but inevitably with 3 of them, they are not going to get the same amount of attention as my eldest daughter did when she was just the only child. This weekend we had a Royal Wedding diary to complete, with 6 blank pages for writing and decorations and drawings to complete. The teacher had sent a helpful email with extra pages attached and prizes such as Headmaster’s commendations on offer for super work. I am achingly conscious that my daughter’s effort will probably pale in comparison with those of the uber-mummies and competitive parents, being something of a rush job, but with a week old baby and a 17 month old, time and resources are limited. I still feel terrible that I have let her down. It’s been a glorious weekend, we should have been romping in the park, instead I have been sat on the sofa with a baby glued to my breast, unable to do much physical activity because it brings on blood loss. Moments like that make me feel like the worst mother in the world. My time and attention are finite and I feel more than a little inadequate.
But all of this shall pass and things will settle down. When I discovered that I was pregnant, I knew that we would shortly lose our home, our circle of friends, acquaintances and parishioners to whom we had grown close. Everything that was physically grounding us was about to go. We had no idea where we would be living or whether or not my husband would get some kind of a job or if we’d have enough money to survive. I was just embarking on a degree in English Literature, a long-cherished ambition and all of a sudden life was thrown into a massive haitus, everything seemed to be beyond our control and my degree, the one piece of permanence and stability, had to temporarily fall by the wayside.
Each subsequent pregnancy has been harder on me physically. I fell pregnant when our daughter was 8 months, I was still breast-feeding, I struggled on until her first birthday so I could feel that I’d done the right thing for her, but obviously I had only just begun to fully recover from the pregnancy and birth and there I was pregnant again. There are no words to adequately convey how very difficult the last nine months have been physically and emotionally. There have been times when I have been on the very brink, overwhelmed by sickness, tiredness, general despair and panic. I have felt an utter failure as a woman, that I didn’t once bloom, that my condition meant that I couldn’t be the wife and mother that I wanted to be, I looked at all these active blooming healthy women jogging around the park or attending film premieres with undisguised envy. What was wrong with me, why couldn’t I just pull myself together and find some energy? The answer was an iron problem that never managed to fully resolve itself, constant sickness, diagnosed ante-natal depression and in the latter stages, SPD and restricted mobility.
But, grim as that all sounds, I am still here and I am blessed with another beautiful healthy baby. I have not had an easy time at all, far from it, but when I look at my baby, who is here now, snuggling under one arm as I type one-handed, I know that it has been more than worth it and though absolutely not desperate to do the whole thing again, I would in a heartbeat.
I am passionately pro-life, I know first-hand how physically and emotionally draining an unplanned pregnancy can be, this is not the first time that I have coped with an unplanned pregnancy, coming at what might seem the most inopportune of times, but the reward has been more than worth the effort. When I discovered I was pregnant, I was offered a termination at 7 weeks, at 18 weeks and at 21 weeks respectively. With all that was going on both physically and emotionally, it seemed like there was a “clear case”. My iron levels were low, my energy was low, I had hyperemesis and I was depressed and frightened; our world and future was in turmoil. I blogged for a bit of therapy and received hate-mail and trolls. One of my commenters noted that ” you had unprotected sex, you behaved like an irresponsible 16 year old, you got pregnant, well done you”. There was a lot worse besides.
Point is this. I am not special or particularly strong. I was given all these ridiculous doomsday scenarios about my pregnancy, blood loss and so on and so forth and I’m still here, I’m alive and I have a healthy baby. My pregnancy is not a typical physical experience although I know emotionally many women, even with planned pregnancies go through the mill. I did it, I got through it, it was to date one of the most difficult times of my life, I know I should have been grateful, happy and excited but I was none of th0se things and I experienced guilt on a daily basis, particularly knowing that there are so many who struggle with infertility.
But I’m here, I did it, I’m alive and if I can do it and get through this, then anyone can. Yes prayer helped enormously, as did the support of my husband, but in terms of practical support we had very little. Both sets of parents live hundreds of miles away and have suffered major illness, my father having had a massive heart attack at the beginning of the year, shortly after his 70th birthday. It is only thanks to the support of Christians, both in real life and the on-line Catholic community that gave me the courage to go on. To those who helped, thank you, you know who you are.
When I told my mother I was pregnant her response was “oh NO, that IS bad news”. Other people on-line berated me for my use of NFP, told me how stupid I’d been and expressed sentiments that I’d probably carry on having children until my uterus prolapsed. Others thought it was no bad thing that my “options” had been discussed and probably I was being very foolhardy in not having an abortion. It didn’t help to be repeatedly offered the procedure by various doctors and it scares me that it was brandished about so freely as an option in the later stages. An abortion may have been a short-term health “solution” but at what cost, both in terms of my baby’s life and my mental health. I would never have recovered or forgiven myself, though at times I felt that I would have done anything to recover equilibrium and health. I can see only too clearly how abortion might feel like the only sensible solution to a vulnerable and desperate woman.
Here is the reason why I am so glad that I kept going. Here is the choice that I made, although effectively there never was any element of choice in my mind. This is the child that I didn’t want ending up in the sluice drain and this is the image that I kept in my mind throughout the whole period.
As well as being an early Christian martyr and a patron Saint of mothers who are separated from their children because of war or persecution, Felicity also means bliss or happiness. I don’t think we could have chosen better.