The four phases of realising you’ll have to give birth again 

Phase 1: horror

Approximately thirty seconds after the cross shows up on the pregnancy test stick, you realise in absolute, stop-still-and-freeze, horror that you’ll have to give birth again. Previously quite rosy coloured memories of your children’s births, polished by years of telling, become distinctly less rosy in the light of this new realisation. Yes, they were comparatively easy and straightforward, when you think of all those horror stories you hear, but, you know, it’s all relative. They still felt like every bone in your body was being broken at regular intervals, slowly and agonisingly. You remember that ever since, you have assessed all pain on two separate scales: normal pain and birth pain. No pain you’ve experienced since, including broken bones, has ever made it above a 3 in the birth pain category. 

Phase 2: denial

You enter a phase of blissful denial, and you welcome every second. The twenty four hours you spent in labour for the birth of child 1 is forced from your memory. Instead, when the prospect of birth looms, you focus on the two hours of established labour for child 2. You can do anything for two hours. Anything. And your over-riding memory of the birth of child 2 is that it didn’t hurt as much as you expected. The knowledge that this was just in relation to the birth of child 1, where your introductory ‘welcome to the world’ text also included the words ‘I am never, ever doing this again; people that do are insane.’ is summarily banished from your mind. It will be fine! You’ve done it before! Your body knows exactly what it’s doing! And no one would ever do it again if it were really so terrible, would they? (You will not think of the brutal truth that no one, when conceiving their children, planned or unplanned, is focusing or even thinking of the hell of birth at that time, and after that it’s too late) 

Phase 3: re-emerging horror

You stumble across an old episode of ‘One Born Every Minute.’ Sadly it’s not that one where the blonde girl with the weird husband gives birth in the pool with barely a squeak, but one in which a woman loses it around 3cm and only regains any semblance of control when the epidural enters her spine. You want to change channel but instead you are transfixed. You want to think of yourself as more of the blonde woman, spreading serenity and bliss with every wave of the pool, but you have an uncomfortable recollection of screaming at both the midwife and your husband round about the transition stage in the birth of child 1 that they shouldn’t fucking tell you to calm down. (The venom was such that they didn’t do it again) You comfort yourself with thoughts of the birth of child 2, where you were genuinely confused when it was time to push because it didn’t seem to hurt enough, and there was no swearing or screaming. Then you remember that the pushing stage hurt so much that you really hated child 2 for at least the first three minutes of her life. It was great that she was born and everything, and everyone else in the room was celebrating, but you were still on that bloody awful torture she had caused during the fifteen minutes of pushing. You try to focus on the fact you get a baby at the end of it, instead, but your brain is stubbornly refusing to forget the pain. 

Phase 4: acceptance 

You become resigned. You suppress the panic that, irretrievably, this baby has to come out of you somehow, and there are no ways that don’t hurt. You remember that four hours after child 2’s birth you were walking out of the hospital feeling just a bit tired. You live through the birth of your sister’s second child via whatsapp and this lovely sanitised way of experiencing it dulls the fear. The fact that it’s a nice quick birth in which she copes admirably is helpful in this. You cuddle your new baby nephew, the minuscule weight of him warm against your shoulder. and are overcome by the thought that soon you will have one of these tiny creatures of your own. 

You look at your first two children as they sleep. You watch their chests rise and fall, reach out to touch a hand curled against a flushed cheek, gaze at the shadows cast on flawless skin by long eyelashes, and you remember that you’d give birth every day for the rest of your life to get these two. And one day soon, the emergence of another little being, no matter who he is, no matter how the birth, will cast any amount of pain into insignificance.

 You cling desperately to this thought and wish beyond all wishes that vodka was allowed in pregnancy. 

In the dark of the night….

Since the beginning of this pregnancy, I’ve had some kind of pregnancy insomnia. Almost every night I wake around three and lie for long moments, staring into the darkness, wondering if tonight is a go back to sleep night, or a two hour wakefulness night. Most are the latter. 

It’s in these hours of wakefulness that I feel most afraid. There have been distinct phases of emotion in this pregnancy: in the first phase I was fatalistic- whatever happened would happen. I was 38, with two previous miscarriages (although they had been a long time before); the concept that this one would make it was one with which I didn’t engage too closely, out of fear. Then came a distinct phase of joy and happiness: seeing that little being on the scan made me remember the miracle of it all – his little heart thumping, his tiny legs flailing, his hand reaching out, fluttering in the smallest wave. And now – now we’re back to fear. 

With a third pregnancy has come a raft of new fears and worries. In a society where two children is the norm, I have this ridiculous notion that maybe two children is it: that with my lovely, healthy two I’ve worn out my credit somehow. As he kicks and squirms I am filled with fear that he isn’t as healthy as he seems; that by bringing him into the world at 39, the third of three, I’ve somehow moulded him in a way that I shouldn’t have, that his little body won’t work the way it should. I’ve become preoccupied by the things I should and shouldn’t eat, by BPA in water bottles, by the environment in which I live. I think about the birth, about the horror stories I’ve heard, about the fact that in a single few moments, something so natural can go so wrong. And there your life turns, in those moments, from all that it was before, to all that the after holds. 

And there are other, much more minor worries. With my first two, I took two years of maternity leave, followed by two more years of part time work. With this final child, I plan to go back to work at Christmas, when he’ll be eight months old. Quite apart from concerns that should be more pressing, like who the hell will look after him, the thought of it all seems daunting. I don’t always feel like the best mother to the two children I already have. I spend a huge amount of time at work, or working at home. Who could blame them if they grow up thinking that a pile of exercise books is more important than they are? I’m often tired, snappy, impatient. I don’t always give them the attention they deserve. How will I manage to split myself three ways, to give enough time to my beautiful sweet girl, my wonderful boy, and a baby? 

And will I love him the way I love them? After all, my love for them has had six and seven years to find its rhythm, to grow and to swell, to imprint itself upon my heart. Will he be too new? Too newborn? Too tiny and washed clean for me to feel that love that clutches at my heart? Or – undoubtedly more probable – will I love him immediately the way I loved them, definitive, definite, all consuming – so that I can no longer go out into the world without feeling vulnerable and raw, surrounded on all sides by things that might damage his tiny perfection? 

As I near the end of my sleeplessness in the night, I know in my heart that all of these worries are entirely pointless. He is what he is, my small, almost-formed boy. My worries about how we will cope are first world problems, precipitated by the reading of too many blogs and too much media coverage of how women can’t have it all. He will be a privileged, well cared for middle class child, surrounded by food and books and toys and people that love him. He will have siblings who worship him and parents who give him everything, including the twin examples of work ethic and determination. 

And he will have love. All the love that any child could have or need, from his family, from his siblings, and from his parents. One day soon, I’ll gaze into his little face and all of these middle of the night fears will recede into nothing beside the perfection of the little creature he is. It is always this image that I hold close to me as I turn over and go back to sleep in the darkness of another night. 

At 25 weeks….

Today I went back to work after the Christmas holidays and realised that I am starting my last term before maternity leave. This should hardly come as a shock; I’m twenty five weeks pregnant, and I look and feel every day of it, so it’s not like I haven’t had time to prepare. But somehow it is a shock. 

With child 1, my pregnancy crawled past, time hampered as it was by my constant worry and neuroses. He took up every spare thought in my head: was he moving? Why hadn’t he moved? Would we make it to the end? What would he look like? What colour hair would he have? Why the hell did time go so slowly when I was so desperate to meet him? With child 2, I mostly forgot I was pregnant because my love for child 1, still only a tiny baby at the time, was so overwhelming and new and sparkling and different. I wanted to meet her, of course I did, but people filled me with horror stories about two children within twelve months and how I’d never be the same again. I wasn’t of course, but not for the sleepless, exhausted, harried and hurried reasons they suggested, but because being a mother of two changed me as irrevocably as being a mother of one had. Each of my children have changed me and impacted me beyond all reason, leaving their tiny, dense fingerprints upon my receptive heart. 

And this time has been entirely different again. The pregnancy has been the hardest of the three, paired as it is with a demanding full time job and two other children, but it has also been the one that has sped by, each week beckoning, racing, then receding into the distance. Each milestone has come and gone at speed: a nine week scan, the twelve week scan, telling the children, feeling those first tiny, fluttering movements, the twenty week scan, finding out the gender. Each one I have reached out and tried to grasp, to hold on to for longer than minutes as it slipped through my fingers, before we raced to the next, and each one has slipped away. 

And now, as we reach twenty five weeks, he and I, this little being who spins and jumps and squirms and kicks, I am, for almost the first time, impatient to meet him. I’ve tried not to think about him much, superstitious and neurotic and crowded with fear as I am, putting away thoughts of a little newborn head beneath my chin, a small arm lolling against my skin, tiny breaths puffing against my neck. But now I think of him often, wondering who he’ll be, this brand new little being. Will he have fair hair, like child 1, or brown eyes, like child 2? Will he be talkative, like child 2, or self contained, like child 1? Will he remind me of them, or will he be, like they are, so entirely different from each other? 

On nights when the prospect of a third child almost seven years after the second, a baby when the first two are becoming so independent, a tiny, needy creature when the others are beginning to be so self reliant, daunts me, I think of him, and who he will be. I watch child 2 sleep, in all her perfection, and gaze at child 1’s face, filled with wonder, as he watches the stars in his planetarium. And I think of the miracle of another child, like them and yet not like them, a whole other human being with all those complexities and talents and fears and longings and wonder. 

And I wait and hope all the things we all hope for our children, present and future, and as I do his tiny kicks imprint themselves gradually and indelibly upon my heart. 

Five years

A lot of things make me think of Mum. Dates don’t mean much to me; they didn’t to her, either. As each anniversary of my sister’s death passed by she used to say to me ‘it’s just another day. None of the days have her in it.’ And it was a powerful truth, and one I live with now: none of my days have either my twin sister, who died aged twelve, or my mother, who died five years ago today. The actual date is unimportant. Two years, three, five, six or twenty six; the years themselves mean nothing. None of my days have my mum. 

Before she died, never a day went by without my speaking to her, sometimes by text, often in person (especially as we worked together for so long), or by phone. We always spoke. After she died, whenever my phone beeped, I couldn’t help thinking it was her. Sometimes when I awoke in hazy morning light, I forgot and could briefly pretend that it had all been a terrible dream. The diagnosis, the pain, the trauma of it all – it would briefly disappear, and I would think she was still here, drinking tea in her garden, surrounded by the beauty she had created. 

But of course, she isn’t. When I saw this baby moving around on the twelve week scan, I realised this is the first of my children that she won’t know. She knew Noah for two and a half years and Ella for eighteen months. Noah remembers her, indistinctly, as the grandma who grew blueberries and strawberries in her garden, and who used to cut apples in half for him. Ella does not remember her at all, but she is there, my mum, in each of them. She can’t not be, because she made me who I am, and I see her every day in who they might become. She was fiery, Mum, impatient, quick, kind. She wasn’t always the easiest, but she always loved me beyond life itself. 

And I can still feel it now, that love. It made me who I am. It made me sure of who I am, determined, strong. It made me the parent I am – one who loves my own children beyond life itself. 

I only had my mum for thirty three years, and that seems so short, when I think of all she won’t know. But some people will never know or have the relationship like the one I had with her. I was lucky enough to have it for thirty three years. And what survives of her, always, is love. 

That pregnancy I thought I’d have….

My newsfeed is swimming in pregnant bloggers, joyously posting weekly updates on their pregnancies. This mostly features pictures of themselves in lovely maternity clothes with teeny tiny bumps, sharing how their cravings are for oranges and that they’re feeling so well….just a little tired and not quite as able to go to the gym as they’d like. Added to the bloggers are all the celebrities, with their glowingness and their skininess and their glamorous photo shoots – step forward Rochelle Humes – in which they look beautiful and barely pregnant at all, even though they’re weeks ahead of me. I’m in awe of these women, I really am. Either they’re having the pregnancy I was meant to have, or they’re lying very convincingly. 

I’m sounding bitter. That’s probably because I am bitter. I thought – third pregnancy- I’ve totally got this. I’ve done it all before. I’ve had the morning sickness, the SPD, the aching exhaustion that makes you feel like you could lie down on your classroom floor and sleep. I’ve thrown up pretty much everywhere – shopping centres, a street at midnight at new year (people were skirting round me; I had to stop myself yelling defensively and pointlessly, ‘it’s morning sickness! I haven’t even TOUCHED vodka!’) and on one memorable occasion, all over myself and my car. (I was so embarrassed that my mum had to ring the parents of the girl I was supposed to be tutoring. I was 32) So on this, my third pregnancy, I was confident I knew what I was doing. I’d take bags! Spare clothes! Food! I decided that this time I’d ignore the fact that all I wanted was chips and take a bag of nuts and some apples everywhere with me, and not put on a stone in the first trimester through eating my bodyweight in carbs. In my more optimistic moments I thought maybe my body would be so used to being pregnant that I wouldn’t have morning sickness, or tiredness, or SPD at all. 

This lasted until week 4 of my pregnancy, when I started throwing up and never stopped. I am now 18 weeks. For 14 weeks I have been sick every day, at least once a day. I have felt sick all day, almost every day. I have got up at 2am regularly to be sick. I have spent most mornings on the bathroom floor wondering how I would summon the energy to make it to work, and most evenings lying on the sofa attempting to mark books lying down and being obsessed with how sick I felt. (I apologised to my husband once for being so boring. ‘You’re not boring,’ he said kindly. ‘Just a bit repetitive.’ In week 5 I abandoned the apples and almonds and headed straight for the crisps. I’ve put on a stone. I take a toothbrush to work. And a lot of crisps. The peak of my achievements in the first half of this pregnancy is that I haven’t yet been sick in front of a class. 

Possibly because of the crisps, I look more pregnant at 18 weeks than I did with the other two at 25. I asked the midwife if I was more huge than I should be. She looked at me consideringly. ‘No,’ she said cheerfully. ‘The more babies you have, the bigger you get.’ The trouble is, I’m quite a vain person. I like to look as nice as I can. So the fact that this pregnancy is robbing me of my flat stomach, nice shiny hair and my usual trademark gel manicure (I’m mental about chemicals; the gels went as soon as I found out) – well, I find it hard. 

None of this, of course, takes away from the total joy of knowing that in April, all being well, we’ll have another tiny person and another little miracle. And I feel so, so fortunate to be in this position and have my beautiful girl kiss the bump every day and my gorgeous boy tell everyone he knows how he can’t wait to be a big brother (as long as it’s a boy. Or a girl that really likes Lego.) And I marvel at the wonder of how I can feel the baby moving and announcing its tiny presence. And I think of all the people in the world who won’t ever experience this joy and wonder, and I could cry for them. (I cry a lot at the moment) 

But I’d really like to stop being sick now. 

The temptation of doing too much 

My daughter has spent a fair bit of the weekend crying. This isn’t unusual – she’s a habitual crier, a child for whom no issue is too trivial to start her lip trembling. I’m a bit of a crier myself, so I have sympathy, but when her issues ranged as widely from being moved up a gymnastics group (she saw this in no way as the compliment it was; instead the leaving of her current coach and friends was a disaster of epic proportions) to when her brother didn’t want to share a bath with her because he was too busy playing with his Lego – well, that sympathy can wane a bit. I have no idea if all this over-emoting is common of six year olds, or six year old girls (child 1 is not a crier) or just our six year old girl – but it did make me think about resilience and whether we are doing a good enough job of creating it in her. 

If you’re a teacher, resilience can be a bit of a buzz word, and, like all buzz words, it can come to lose its meaning. But of all of the buzz words I’ve ever had to work with in education, resilience is the one that resounds the most with me since having my own children. Because sometimes I don’t think we’re creating a society of very resilient children. 

It’s hard to raise children to be resilient. I know this as well as anyone, because I’m the over-protective, neurotic type of parent, and, like most parents, my children’s happiness means more to me than anything else in the world. I want them to be happy. I want them to be confident. I want them not to suffer. 

And because I want all this for them so badly, I am doubtless guilty of wanting to protect and shelter them too much. In child 1’s worst patch at his previous school, when he cried hopelessly and despairingly and said he didn’t want to go because he wasn’t good enough at learning , i didn’t want him to go either. Because it wasn’t his fault and I hated him to be unhappy. When child 2 came home from school on Friday and told me in despair that she’d worked so hard for the handwriting award all week – and somehow, with no indication from anyone, had convinced herself she would get it – but someone else had, I looked at her big, tear filled eyes and wished she’d got it. Because she had worked hard and I hate her to be disappointed. When child 1 told me after gymnastics on Saturday that he’s the worst in his group and will always be the worst in his group (which is true, because of his dyspraxia) I wanted to tell him he could give up. Because no matter how much he practices, he’ll always struggle with it, and I don’t want him to have to always be the worst. 

But my first, and entirely natural, reaction would be unhelpful. Child 1, bar the odd meltdown when his ASD tendencies emerge, is a remarkably resilient child, and the reason for that is that he’s had to be. While child 2 has a perfectionist fit every time she gets a spelling wrong or her writing won’t go exactly the way she wants it or her sum hasn’t worked out, child 1 has never had that luxury. He’s had to work hard for everything to do with school – with the exception of reading, which came naturally and easily to him. And when he couldn’t do it, he had to go back and work hard again. And when school became far from fun, he went every day, usually without protest, and only in the occasional outburst, clearly built up over weeks, did he say he was unhappy and didn’t want to go. I’m proud of that hard-won resilience: it meant an easy, successful transfer to his new school in which he has never had an unhappy moment and in which he flourishes daily, proud of his new work ethic and the learning he does. It means he copes with change and disruption, neither of which come easily to him, in a way far beyond my expectations. 

And it makes me think a lot about child 2. She, like me, is tremendously hard on herself. She copes horribly with getting things wrong; she sees it, despite my firm belief in growth mindset and my endless banging on about how getting things wrong leads to getting better at them, as a failure. She has got better: gymnastics is helpful because the only way to improve is to practice, and this year for the first time she sees that changing and improving her work at school doesn’t mean it was terrible to start with. And all the time I try to make her more independent and not give into my desire to try to ‘fix’ things for her, because that will only lead to her never having the confidence to think she can fix things for herself. So when she doesn’t get gymnast of the week, or a merit, or her work doesn’t get noticed the way she wants it to, we talk about how it’s the work she’s done that’s important, not the recognition she got for it. And I try never to forget that she’s still so little- she has so much time. 

I think about my own mother, often. She would never have fixed anything for me, not because she didn’t care, but because she knew that wasn’t her job. If someone was horrible to me at school, then i had to find a way through it. If I didn’t do my homework, she would never have written me a note excusing me for it. If I forgot my PE kit, I took the consequence. If I didn’t make the progress she expected, she told me I had to work harder. If I was scared about a test or an exam or a presentation, she helped me prepare for it and told me I had to get on with it. And as a result, she created in me someone who solved her own problems, who took disappointments – cried, naturally – and moved on and fixed it. 

That’s what I want for my children. I want them to have confidence. And I know they won’t grow that confidence by my trying to fix every problem they have, and trying to find a solution every time my sweet, fragile daughter cries, no matter how heart breaking I find it.  So I am trying to step back, and to watch, and to find the problems that truly need my help. For the rest – I’m here always to listen and to give cuddles – but sometimes they need to seek those solutions alone, just to know that they can. 

First pregnancy vs third pregnancy – the differences: 

Telling people: 
First pregnancy: you are superstitious about telling people and only confide in a chosen few. You aren’t that good at keeping secrets so this expands gradually until practically everyone knows. Everyone is hugely excited for you, you can’t stop beaming as you deliver the news, and it’s all just the best thing that ever happened. 

Third pregnancy: you tell virtually no one until after the 12 week scan, not because you’re superstitious but because you can’t quite believe it yourself. You find yourself delivering the news in an apologetic fashion, and not just to your boss. Very few people jumpup and down and scream with their excitement for you; most people look at you in total shock and/ or assumes you’re joking. This is totally acceptable, because it’s probably the way you would react too. Almost everyone asks if it was planned. (They couch it in gentler terms, such as ‘oh! Was that a surprise for you too?’) Some of your friends who last accompanied you on the baby journey six years ago react with genuine horror, imagining their current existence of children who can get their own breakfast and get into cars by themselves reduced to rubble. They go home and tell their husbands that sex is never happening again pre-vasectomy. You become a cautionary tale. The more people you tell, the less real it seems. 

First pregnancy: you have no other children, although work seems really hard work at the time (you haven’t yet worked full time with two small children so you have no real idea of what exhaustion really is) so every night you get into bed about six pm. You intend to get up at some point but you mostly end up sleeping for fourteen hours. You tell everyone how tired you are (which you are; it’s just that it’s all relative) and revel in all the lovely sympathy. 

Third pregnancy: you stagger through work, children’s tea, reading, homework and bedtime unless you can beg your husband for an hour’s sleep because otherwise you will lie down on the tiled kitchen floor, fall asleep and never get up again. Despite his general amazingness at giving you this rest and doing pretty much everything for the whole of the first trimester, you become increasingly more bad tempered. You remember a time in the distant past when you were a good mother with your older children and had some reserves of patience, but it’s too long ago to really grasp it and get it back. 

Morning sickness: 

First pregnancy: It’s pretty bad, but you sort of welcome it because it reassures you that everything’s fine. Every time you throw up you have a tiny glow that your body is just doing so well producing all these necessary hormones. Also, you have no children (I’m not sure whether I mentioned this before) so you can go home after work and go to bed. Everything feels better with sleep. It ends soon after the end of the first trimester. 

Third pregnancy: It’s so bad it takes over your whole life. You spend all your time not at work throwing up on the bathroom floor or lying on the sofa boring your husband (in person) and best friend (via text) with how terrible it is. You begin to bore even yourself. Your daughter doesn’t know why you’re sick but takes to running to the cupboard and bringing you a dry cracker every time she finds you on your knees in the bathroom. Your son tells everyone that you’ve brought a sickness bug into the house. You ask your midwife why it’s worse this time around. She suggests it’s because you’re older. You already feel like a geriatric thanks to all this ‘older mother’ stuff and do not welcome this diagnosis. It gets worse soon after the end of the first trimester. You anticipate that you will never experience not feeling sick again, ever. You will have a slight green tinge and look this horrendous for ever, too. This is just life, now. 

Nights out: 

First pregnancy: you have enough time to sleep beforehand and therefore continue to go on nights out. You don’t drink but everyone knows you’re trying for a baby so it’s a dead giveaway and they leave you alone. 

Third pregnancy: your friends greet the idea of you not drinking with hilarity and disbelief. They buy you vodka anyway, and then admire your restraint. You mutter blatant untruths about detoxes and then eat all the crisps In sight. ‘Funny detox,’they say, happily unsuspicious, because you are so far off their pregnancy radar you are off the scale. After week 5, you never go out at all, because that would mean leaving the sofa. And the bathroom. 

Thoughts of the future: 

First pregnancy: you are lost in rosy daydreams about this little being you’ll have. You can’t believe you could be this lucky. You can think of nothing else. Life glows. 

Third pregnancy: you are too tired and sick for rosy daydreams. When you think of the future you mostly think of sleepless nights and going back to work when you have a small baby and all that pursuing it around the house while it relentlessly attempts to damage itself. Sometimes you think of tiny newborn cuddles and how much you loved the baby stage with the others, but it all feels surreal and you can’t really imagine having a baby. The other babies seems so long ago. 

And then you reach the 12 week scan and see this little being waving its arms on the screen, all alive and vibrant and miraculous. You see its little face and realise that somehow your body has created this – this tiny being. You tell your other children, and you realise this is the best present you could ever give them. They don’t ask whether it’s planned. They aren’t shocked or surprised or horrified. They scream and jump up and down and throw themselves upon you and their little faces are lit up with the greatest excitement you’ve ever known. 

And you look at the scan picture with them, and you think of how this one will be a whole other human being. A little creature all of its own, bringing with it the greatest joy and love and wonder in the world. A little gift, with its tiny beating heart and its own beaming smile and big, wondrous eyes. 

You feel blessed.