I’ve neglected this blog for a shockingly long time but for the best of reasons and due to some difficult times too.
When we saw those two magic lines I imagined that this was the goal we hoped for and that it would be plain sailing now. It never occurred to me that the legacy of infertility would have more of an impact on my emotions around pregnancy, birth and caring for newborns than I could ever have imagined. Much is spoken about the emotional difficulties experienced during infertility but once the desired outcome is achieved there is, perhaps, an assumption that emotional support is no longer necessary. I, for one, was somewhat blindsided by how I felt about it all.
First of all I found it hard to believe I was indeed pregnant and my sympathetic GP went so far as to courier a follow up blood test to confirm the result the same day. An unexpected bleed in the middle of the night during week 6 led to me sitting up anxiously all night and presenting with my husband at a maternity hospital at 8am the following morning. A few anxious scans later we discovered two sacs and upstairs in the fetal medicine unit, the casual confirmation of two heartbeats. I think we must have asked ‘are you sure?’ several times.
There were other challenges to face following our happy result of seeing two beautiful heartbeats. I hadn’t expected to be scared but I was. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I spotted (mostly brown) nearly every day until the 10th week. I had the 9w3d deadline in mind of my missed miscarriage. Passing that helped but the fear that this was real never went always throughout the whole pregnancy. I had the first scan with my clinic in the 7th week which confirmed the twin pregnancy- their scanner was very detailed and I was shown nubs that would eventually become limbs. I was advised to register with an obstetrician.The clinic’s direction was to continue my Clexane to 12 weeks and Cyclogest to 33 weeks. I opted to sign up with a consultant privately. More cost but I figured this was probably my only shot at pregnancy. I chose a twin specialist in one of the major maternity hospitals in my city. He booked me in for scans at the 9 week, 12 week (nuchal translucency) and 15 weeks and was sympathetic to my history, how anxious I was and how I could not last too long without the reassurance of a scan. I was so sick with nerves before every scan. I was terrified that there would be a catastrophic outcome from each one. I booked acupuncture appointments before many of them in order to try and relax. I drank hot chocolate in the waiting room to encourage kicks. By week 24 I was part of the hospital twin clinic and scanned every 2 weeks, feeling the same gut wrenching anxiety constantly. I refused to drink tea or any caffeine based drink, refused to colour my hair or even paint my nails. Everything became a source of fear or potential harm to my babies.
Even with all those scans I bought myself a basic fetal monitor to listen for heartbeats though I only allowed myself to use it once a week as they are both blessing and curse in equal measure.
It only provided minimal reassurance. I still needed to see the scan pictures, printed details and be reassured that all was well. I absolutely could not prepare for their arrival. I eventually purchased car seats and a buggy but no nursery was set up, no cots bought, next to nothing. I did not want to tempt fate. I wasn’t sure they would get here. I had been so used to failure for so long.
All was well and I worked full time until 32 weeks. By 34 weeks swelling of my limbs started and I was tested and found positive for pre-eclampsia. Scans and traces were conducted every 3 days. By 35+2 when attending for one such assessment the consultant decided at lunchtime that it would be necessary to deliver them that day. A slot was found and a c-section booked for later that afternoon. My husband, after attending with me in the morning, was travelling on the day on a related errand at my request and I rang him to turn back. I spent the afternoon on a ward, no hospital bag to hand, sending tweets and sharing magazines with my fellow patients. As I was being brought to theatre my husband arrived after probably the drive of his life. The procedure went fine and we found out for the first time what we were having, a girl and a boy as they made their entrance one minute apart. I was unable to hold them but my husband was and they were held close for me to see for a minute or two. However, as they were some weeks early and just over 4lb each, they were whisked away to the special care unit and I was left in recovery. My whole memory of the rest of that day is hazy. I needed a blood transfusion due to my lack of iron. I think it may well have been the next day before I was able to be wheeled down to see them. After the first night they were well enough to be moved to open cots but the hardest part was leaving the hospital after 5 days without them. It would be a further 6 days before they came home with me. It felt strange to walk into our empty home not being pregnant but without any babies. When they arrived home we were shell shocked. The rounds of constant feeding every couple of hours day and night, trying to pump milk, the exhaustion, the recovery from surgery, not having my family nearby as well as constantly checking to see if they were breathing. As they were premature I was advised not to bring them to public places until they were full term so I basically confined myself to the house for most of the first 6 weeks. When my husband had to return to work I watched him leave and tried to quell the rising panic in my chest. I often rang him in tears if a baby would not feed. He ended up taking a month’s parental leave when they were 3 months old and I was reaching rock bottom. Returning to the house if we had been out resulted in panic and fear rising inside me plus an incredible feeling of entrapment that actually made me breathless.
Eventually I sought help from my GP and a perinatal mental health doctor in Holles St. The hospital doctor completely connected my infertility experience with my prenatal and postnatal anxiety. I had lost my ability to believe in a positive outcome. I did not think I would be taking those babies home. I set standards for myself that were punishing and I experienced incredible guilt that not one natural process worked for me- not my own eggs, not a ‘natural’ birth, breastfeeding did not work out due to poor supply, pumping yielded small quantities, they were born early, difficult feeders etc- the list of my perceived failings was endless. I also fretted constantly that I wasn’t ‘bonding’ with the babies. Two things I was told resonated with me- I needed to treat myself with compassion after the tough road I had travelled and that I did my best and anything I did or gave benefited our babies more than I could know. Also that ‘bonding’ is one of those things often exaggerated in media, worrying about them like I did showed I cared. I grew them and did my best to nurture them. They were warm, safe and loved whether I believed it or not.
Today my twins are 3 and I am thankfully in a much better place but it has taken time. I feel sad that I was cheated of enjoying our much sought pregnancy and time with our newborns. I often wonder if there is an army of struggling pregnant ladies and new mothers (and indeed fathers) who have achieved ‘success’ after infertility and are thrown by their feelings in relation to it. I imagine I surely could not have been alone in this and into the future I hope that support for infertility survivors is more widely available. For this reason I am now volunteering part time with an infertility support charity with this goal as well as others in mind. I feel it is time to give back.