You were told there was a potential severe genetic condition
I’m going to take you back. Back to the day that your life changed completely. August 17th 2016; the day you thought you would never see. You’re lying in theatre, being stitched up from the inside out. You’re holding your precious baby girl for the first ever time; utterly convinced it will be the last.
It’s not your fault. It’s what you have been told since week 12 by numerous fetal specialists. You were told there was a potential severe genetic condition... it might be life limiting. Chances were, you wouldn’t make it to 20 weeks and if you were lucky enough to make it past that, you would likely lose your baby shortly after childbirth. ‘Not compatible with life’... it rings in your ears for the next 26 weeks; even when you make it past the 20 week mark. It rings in your ears when you’re holding your perfect baby for the first time.
What are you thinking at that point? You’re ashamed to admit it so I will say it for you. You’re looking straight past the perfection. You’re looking for signs of a genetic condition; all the signs you have read about for the past months. You know those signs inside out. You think she looks strange. You’re panicking. You realise you’re so unprepared for this and you’re waiting for someone to confirm it.
The next few hours are even worse. You’re in so much pain; you’ve haemorrhaged and you’ve been kept in hospital to have a blood transfusion. You’re confused because you were meant to be on your way home now; just the two of you without a baby. It’s what you’ve prepared for. Instead, you spend the first night alone on the maternity ward, with your baby who’s still by your side. You can’t sit up, you can’t feed. She is crying uncontrollably, she turns blue and she is taken straight to the special care unit. You tell yourself this is it. It’s what you’ve been waiting for. The feelings of failure that you’ve been feeling since week 12 are confirmed. You’ve failed your partner, failed your family and failed his. They were all expecting a healthy, happy baby. Just like he was, just like you were. Nobody wants to say it out loud but you are convinced that’s what you see.
Over the next couple of days, the genetic tests come back. Negative. You think they are wrong. You ask them to test again. Your baby is released from the SCU, you’re feeling better and you’re told you can go home. But what now? You’ve spent your pregnancy grieving. How can you possibly be ready for Motherhood?
Let me tell you, you brave, strong woman. You have made it this far and nothing is going to stop you. You chose to listen to your gut from the beginning. You didn’t terminate. Hell, you even rejected an amniocentesis. You absolute risk taker! Regardless of how or why you made the choice to carry on with the pregnancy; stick with it and enjoy this first year. It goes so quickly.
I want to tell you how so very proud of you I am but it’s pointless; you’re drowning in fear. You’re desperately trying to bond with your baby but you can’t because you’re constantly looking for something. You don’t want to leave the house, you don’t want her catching a cold and you don’t want to risk someone noticing that she doesn’t look quite right. I want to shake you. It’s all in your head. Although congrats for getting her through the first eight months without so much as a sniffle. That won’t last forever you know.
You spend your first year in isolation. You’re learning and like everything else in your life, you want to do it in your own way. I should cut you some slack but I can’t help but feel like you are wasting such a precious time.
Just remember that despite how much you may value someone’s opinion, never let them tell you what the right or wrong way to do this is. The choices and feelings have to be yours. Lean on your partner because although he is desperately trying to hide it; he is struggling just as much as you are.
It gets better. You will both feel less sleep deprived and you will fall in to a natural rhythm. The worry and uncertainty will stop engulfing you. I can’t lie and say it will disappear completely; but it just won’t matter as much.
Eventually, you will be ready to ignore the guilt associated with going back to work. It’s something you were unsure you would get the chance to do when you were pregnant. You are strong enough to realise that being a mother doesn’t define you. You stop worrying about being judged for the choices you make; you recognise that every mother has different perceptions of how motherhood should be. This is yours. You have a promising career ahead of you; go out and show your daughter how it’s done. The biggest step you will make at the end of this year? You will be brave enough to leave her in someone else’s care whilst you go back to work. You will notice how much this has a positive impact on her development (and your bank balance).
There will be a few bumps along the way. There will be minor health conditions that will need monitoring. Her development will be delayed and you will be sick with worry. Those feelings of failure will resurface occasionally but you will never feel ungrateful for what you have. You know how very different it could have been and you recognise that this is a reality for some families; you will even feel guilty about that sometimes.
Just let go of those feelings. Enjoy your darling girl because one thing will always be for sure; that fierce, powerful love? It’s not going anywhere.