Sunday, 14 May 2017

Helen and Maeby


Child: Maeby, 20 months

Location: Levenshulme

Expectations of Motherhood: Honestly, I thought I'd be pretty crap - or, if not crap, exactly, then I thought I'd find the transition a lot harder than I did. Which is not to say I've found it easy, far from it, but let's just say I had (fairly justifiably, based on 30-odd years of prior experience!) low expectations of my ability to act unselfishly when I needed to.

I've also got a pretty chequered mental health history and I was fairly certain that would come to the fore in the form of post-natal depression and was somewhat bracing myself for the worst. Thankfully education around mental health issues in motherhood is very much better than it used to be and I was supported throughout my pregnancy and made to feel like support would be there if I needed it when the baby came. 

All of that was coupled with a sense of fear about my ability to love my baby - I think a lot of people harbour secret doubts as to whether they will really be capable of loving a child - pregnancy feels so abstract and the testimonials of what comes after seem to veer so wildly between gushing and horrific it feels completely impossible to get a grip on what the reality will actually be *like*. All of that makes you wonder why on earth I wanted to have a baby...and honestly, I don't know, reading that back! 

I love my partner very much and we enjoy each others' company immensely, I think we wanted to let someone else in to enjoy the fun we have, but all of the above should signal that I went into the whole thing with some serious trepidation.

Reality of Motherhood: As a caveat to what I am about to say I want to be clear that I know I have been very lucky - and I want to emphasise that I am aware it is pure luck - the vast majority of women don't have the experience that I have had and that's not down to anything they or I have done differently, it's just the luck of the draw and for no discernible reason I came out of that well.

So with that's been the most enjoyable thing I have ever done. I was induced at term because of some minor, low-risk complications in the pregnancy and for me that translated into a short labour that was painful but well managed with medication and from that point onward I became a walking example of every cliche I had ever heard about birth and motherhood. 

No post natal depression ever materialised and I fell in love with Maeby almost immediately and that love, mixed with some kickass hormones doing their thing for the first few months, meant that any abandonment of selfishness happened without me really noticing - all of a sudden I became utterly focused on my child and her needs. Of course there were difficult nights and utter exhaustion but it just seemed so completely inconsequential when set against the joy of her - seeing her grow, feeling her weight, watching my partner blossom into a truly exceptional father. 

About three months into my pregnancy I posted on mumsnet (first mistake, right there) that I was irritated that someone had told me having a child would be, "the best thing you will ever do" (as opposed to my professional or personal achievements that didn't just require some unprotected sex to get off the ground) and got an unsurprising amount of ire back in return. Now I get it. I have done and will do many more things in my life that make me proud but none of them will make me feel like this. 

On the flip side of this parental bliss, within a few months of being on maternity leave I had also learned some truths about myself - namely that I am someone who needs mental stimulation in the form of work in order to be happy in the home - that's a nice way to say I was climbing the walls and grateful at the end of my mat leave. That's OK and it's not selfish - I am a far better mother for being happy in myself and work is a big part of that for me personally (but not for everyone and not everyone has the privilege of being able to work that I do either).

Taking your child home for the first time: Because of my complications me and Maeby stayed in overnight after she was born so we'd already had a night alone together on the ward - which began in fine style as she filled her first nappy precisely 30 seconds after my mum and partner left to get some sleep and at the exact moment I realised I'd never changed a nappy. I think that might be a good metaphor for new motherhood in itself. 

I muddled through, with the help of a kindly nurse who told me that, no, the tabs aren't meant to have actual glue on them but promised me they would work anyway. I was dubious then and I remain so today. 

Maeby was born at the end of May and overnight there was a big summer storm with thunder and lightening - she mostly slept and fed through the night but I was too wired to sleep so I watched it raging from the window and felt simply amazed at the world. 

We were told we were ready to be discharged by lunchtime but there was a staff shortage and being the good middle class NHS lovers we are we kept telling the staff to take their time...we were discharged at 3am. Taxi home and my lovely mum had stocked our fridge with food so we took a picnic to bed and just stared and stared and stared at our little friend.

The best/worst advice: The best advice came from the many wonderful mothers in my life: do what you want. There is so much weight put on the importance of ensuring you're doing the right thing at all times but every kid is different, every mum is different, every day is different, and everyone's definition of "right" is different - if it works and you're happy don't beat yourself up about it. Also buy lots of biscuits and store up the box sets of stuff you want to watch for the post birth month - makes getting up at 3am almost pleasurable.

The worst advice is something I've heard pedalled time and time again - "sleep when they sleep". The problem with that is that you don't know how long they're going to sleep for - I've always wished that babies would display some sort of digital countdown-to-wakeup clock once they're asleep so you could at least decide whether to bother starting something instead of convincing yourself they're just about to wake up and sitting on the sofa for three hours (not in itself a bad thing, but frustrating when you've lots to do). 

When you're truly sleep deprived the definition of hell is following the "sleep when they sleep" advice, closing your eyes for five minutes only to be woken up - yet again - by a screaming child. No. Just, no.

The hardest parts of being a mother:
The not knowing: not knowing if you will get a decent night's sleep; not knowing if you will have a battle on your hands or a pleasant evening; not knowing if it's worth spending thousands of pounds on a family holiday or whether you should stay at home because you'll be miserable and/or ill; but most of all the not knowing - ever - if you're doing the right thing by them. 

To go back to the work analogy - if I have a work project that I am passionate about I will throw everything I can at making sure that I understand the implications of every action on that project, with kids you can't do that and I am far more passionate than I ever have been about anything at work. It kills me.

The best parts of being a mother:
Seeing my little scrap emerging into this funny, interested, imaginative little person - nothing beats it. Something that's surprised me is the camaraderie amongst parents, online and in person - I'm a member of several groups in both spaces which have genuinely helped when I needed it most.

Has becoming a mother changed you?
Yes. I am a determined person but having Maeby has somehow galvenised that determination and I am much more action-orientated. I am far more patient, by necessity, and I am far more driven to make things happen and do good work. I'm not sure how much of that is *for* her and how much is resultant from the experience of bringing her into the world and recognising that, despite my misgivings, I am actually very good at loving her.

Hopes for your family: Cliche alert: when I was pregnant I remember describing to a friend how I hoped she would be funny, clever, brave etc and my friend interjected with a gentle nudge "..and happy?". I dismissed that because I didn't realise how much it would come to mean to me - it's all I want - for her to be happy - what we do as a familly is all motivated by that at it's heart. In a way it's given me a purpose I think I lacked before.

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums?:
Oh my god, just do what works for you! If you want to breastfeed, if you can't breastfeed, if you want to use disposable nappies, if you want to stay at home, if you want or even need to go back to work three weeks after they're born: it. Is. Fine. 

You being happy is going to have far more bearing on how happy they are than whether they eat organic food or not - just concentrate on that and the rest will fall into place. And remember that anyone who offers you advice only has their experience - their children (or not!) - to base that advice on - it's not the law, it's just what worked for them, if it doesn't work for you it doesn't mean you've failed, it means your kid is a glorious, frustrating little person all of their very own.

Helen is one of the founder directors of Levenshulme Market and for a day job work in communications for The University of Manchester.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Olly and Genevieve

Name: Olly 

Child: Genevieve, 18 months

Location: Cheadle

Expectations of Motherhood: I don't think I had thought beyond pregnancy to be honest. We spent four years and four rounds of IVF trying to conceive so I think for such a longtime my focus was ~getting~ pregnant. I kind of hadn't thought about what would happen once I was pregnant and once the baby arrived. I guess I had a very romanticised idea of summer walks with a pram and a cute smiley baby but no substance behind it. I knew I leaned towards *crunchy mom* but it was all a bit distant and unreal to delve into until it was really happening. 

Reality of Motherhood: I've never been more exhausted or happier in my life. I'd heard about how sometimes you don't bond straight away and that it was ok and you love them as you get to know them. But that was not the case for me. As soon as I laid her against me I just adored her. 

With regards to my parenting style, I've stuck to my principles but I've also learned to go with the flow and to grow a hard skin. Everyone will have an opinion on everything you do. If you have done your own research and you are confident in your choice then smile and nod and ignore them. 

Taking your child home for the first time: My daughter was born at home (planned home birth). I have a very distinct memory of her first night after we all went to bed. She was laid on my left and my husband on my right and they were both snoring. It was lovely, but the novelty of that wore thin quickly.

The best/worst advice: Best advice was to hold her as much as I wanted and she wanted. Seriously, cuddle that baby. Inhale them and don't dare apologise for enjoying it. Worst advice was regarding early weaning in order to get more sleep. In fact, any advice about getting more sleep. What works for one baby won't work for them all and will just make you feel worse. 

The hardest parts of being a mother: The loneliness is tough. It is something I did not foresee. Also the stress and worry; you will never be of peaceful mind again.

On a practical level I have struggled with weaning and food issues. My girl isn't big and she's not a great eater. It played on my mind for a long time that she wasn't getting enough. Then a fantastic book called 'My Child Won't Eat' was recommended to me and it really helped my mindset. 

The best part/s of being a mother: How can I choose just one thing? The cuddles and snotty kisses. The wonder in her eyes when she sees things that she hasn't before. Watching her learn new things. Knowing that when she's sad she wants me and that makes it better. 

When I take her out anywhere we ~always~ get people stopping to say how happy and lovely she is. That makes me want to burst with pride. 

Has becoming a mother changed you: Yes. It has changed my priorities, at least for the next few years. It has made me more passionate about making the world better for my daughter. It has made me more patient and relaxed. 

Hopes for your family: I would love another baby so that my girl can have someone on her team all of her life. But beyond that I want us to adventure together so that she is never afraid of doing new things alone when the time comes. I want my husband and I to demonstrate a healthy loving relationship so that she looks for the same thing and doesn't settle for less. 

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums? Trust your own instincts. Don't feel guilty about looking after yourself. Delegate to daddy or any other support you have. Ask for help if you need it. For anything and everything, from breastfeeding to PND.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Java and Gryffin

Name: Java

Gryffin, 11 months

Old Trafford

Expectations of Motherhood:
As soon as people found out I was pregnant they would exclaim, 'You will never sleep again!'. So this was my main expectation. 

I felt like I was preparing myself for a tornado, but somehow, nothing can ever quite prepare you for the sheer and utter madness of the first few months. I was also very scared that my child wouldn't like me and vice versa. In a very hormonal, overdue state I googled which star sign my baby was likely to be. He would most likely be an Aries. I then googled 'famous Aries' and one of the first results was Adolf Hitler. I think I must have been quite emotionally charged at the time, as this felt like an ominous sign so I poured myself a shower and sobbed for an hour. 

I have a very close relationship with my own mother but we have had quite dramatic ups and downs so this possibly contributed to my fear of parenthood. I also found it hard to believe that we would ever have a healthy child as we had a late stage termination with our first baby in 2014. She was a little girl and we named her Alma. She had an interrupted aortic arch in her heart and was diagnosed with DiGeorge syndrome. We chose to end her life at 24 weeks and gave birth to her tiny body at St Mary's hospital. The idea of having a healthy child seemed impossible at times. Overall, I felt fearful.

Reality of Motherhood:
I was correct. I have barely slept more than two hours at a time in 11 months. But what I wasn't prepared for was the overwhelming love and joy I feel hanging out with this hilarious human that has appeared in our life. I couldn't ever have imagined how deeply I would love him. It hurts my heart when I look at him inspecting his peas on his plate and babbling earnestly about something or other and pointing out the buttons on my shirt. I have chosen not to return to work (a combination of childcare costs and feeling ready to move on from my previous work), so being a full time stay at home mum means that I am at the 24 hour mercy of another person's whims and desires. The days often feel long and repetitive and occasionally I feel deeply bored, but there is also much delight in the small moments. Moments when Gryff tries a new food, or learns how to open a drawer or decides that being chased is the most hilarious thing to ever happen to him. These moments stop me in my tracks and remind me how lucky I am to witness them. And the laundry. No-one can prepare you for the laundry, especially if you use reusable nappies. 

Taking your child home for the first time:
We had Gryffin at home as we had hoped. He was born at the bottom of our bed in the midday sunlight. Unfortunately I had bad tearing so an ambulance took us to the hospital shortly after and we had to stay there for six hours while I was sewn up and the midwives helped me latch Gryffin onto my breast. 

When we returned home I was nervous to be left alone with him. I hadn't yet felt the surge of love that so many mothers describe, I was nervous of him and felt awkward around this person I didn't know. I was confused as to why he couldn't simply 'be'. He was either asleep or awake and crying or trying to feed but failing. We would sing to him, rock him and dance with him but the only thing that could calm him was 'All Night Long' by Lionel Richie and it still works eleven months later. 

Three days after he was born I was sat staring at him in bed and suddenly realised that one day he would leave home and I started crying uncontrollably. I think the love hormones had finally started to kick in.

The best advice: The best advice I have received and keep on coming back to in moments of doubt is to find your own way as a mother. I am highly skilled at comparing myself to others and endlessly worry that other mothers are far more attentive/fun/creative/careful etc etc etc. But it is so true that you just need to do what you need to do to get through the hard times and try and retain a smidge of your sanity and keep your baby safe. There are as many ways to mother as there are mothers and children. 

Also, to visit a cranial osteopath. Gryffin cried endlessly for the first six weeks until we took him to see a cranial osteopath and after six sessions he was a different baby. It's easy to forget that the birth process can also be a traumatic experience for the baby and they can experience injuries. I'm not entirely sure what the osteopath did, but it worked. Gryffin has been so much happier since. 

The worst advice: The old 'You're creating a rod for your own back' adage. I understand it but I don't necessarily agree with the principle. I co-sleep with Gryffin and feed on demand. We never decided that we would 'follow' attachment parenting, I only found out that it was a style of parenting once I was doing it. It's not right for everybody but it works for us. If your instinct is leading you somewhere with your baby, it's most likely that you know best.

The hardest parts of being a mother: The lack of sleep has been (and still is) very hard. It affects your mental health, your tolerance levels, your ability to be patient..all the things that are pretty necessary to be a warm and loving mother! I find it extraordinary how many times I have truly believed that I cannot give another ounce of my being and then somehow...carried on. 

And knowing that Gryffin will be hurt is deeply upsetting. I try not to think about the heartache he will go through once he starts to understand the world in a more sophisticated way. The current political situation is weighing heavily on my mind for his future.

The best parts of being a mother:
The warm, cosy, deep bond Gryff and I have. Today it took me an hour to get him down for a nap and I felt like I was losing my mind, but then he slept next to me for a while and when he woke up he was soft and rumpled and delighted to see me. He lay back on my legs and babbled about something very important in the dim light of the bedroom. My heart was brimming over and I felt so lucky.

Also, after giving birth my body simultaneously felt like it belonged to a seventy year old who had been in a car crash and the body of a warrior/super hero/feral beast. It was pretty incredible to know I had grown a human and pushed him out, I felt so invincible that I then ate some of my placenta raw in a smoothie. It felt fitting after having done something so powerful. Whenever I feel nervous or anxious I try and remind myself that I can be incredibly strong and the birth is a perfect reminder.

Has becoming a mother changed you? I feel that the world sees me in a different way. To some people I am invisible as a body behind a pram, and to others I am now a valid member of society because I have started my own family. I find this disconcerting.

I am still struggling with my shift in identity, figuring out which parts of me remain now that I no longer do the job I used to do, socialise in the way I once did or wear the clothes I have packed away for a distant day in the future. What of me remains, who am I now? I spend my days hanging out with a soon to be toddler playing with bricks and the sock drawer. In the evenings I go to bed at 7pm with Gryffin (because he won't sleep without me and I can't bare to let him cry) and watch tv on the iPad. Who does that make me? 

Hopes for your family:
I hope that we can offer Gryffin a firm enough foundation to allow him to grow with confidence and security. I would like him to feel safe within his family and to understand the importance of generosity, kindness and celebration. We would like to have another child so that he can have a sibling for him to moan to about us when we are old farts.

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums? Embrace it, embrace the pregnancy, embrace the early days and surrender to them. I felt pressured to get back to 'normal' and cook meals, hoover and run errands while Gryffin was tiny despite it feeling impossible. I wish I hadn't put that pressure on myself. It is a precious time and I'm only just starting to realise that it's one of the fundamentals of being alive. Not the only one, there are many, but it is certainly a very joyous and beautiful one.

Other info:
We had a termination when our first baby was 24 weeks in the womb. Making that decision broke my heart and affected me profoundly. Even though our baby wasn't alive I had become a mother, so when friends around us started having babies I felt a lot of bitterness and jealousy that they were recognised as mothers because they had a baby in their arms. We named her Alma. We buried her ashes on my favourite hill in Glossop. Her brief visit taught me about love in a way I hadn't experienced before. Our son Gryffin was born exactly a year after her due date in March. I wrote about the abortion on my blog as I struggled to find anything online about people's experiences regarding late stage termination. I think there's still a lot of taboo surrounding it. The incredible thing is that once friends and family started to find out what had happened, so many got in touch and shared their stories. Being honest about the painful stuff can be incredibly powerful.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Nabilah and Effie

Name: Nabilah

Effie, Months

Location: Glossop
Expectations of Motherhood:
 I thought I had been around enough friends and family who have had children to give me an idea of what to expect. My partner has 2 children who stay with us part-time so I was used to having children around the house, and I had just about started to cope with this, so I thought I had a good idea of what was coming…….. How wrong I was. 

Reality of Motherhood: Motherhood is by far the hardest, most tiring and challenging thing I have ever done. It is also the most satisfying, enjoyable and fulfilling thing I have ever done. I now know I wasn’t prepared for how much my life was about to change. 

When you lie there looking at your baby and your heart could explode with how much love you have for her, knowing she is now your world. What you get back is worth it all.

Taking your child home for the first time: I was terrified and anxious. My partner had asked if we could go home the same day, I prayed for the midwife to say no, and thankfully she did. I needed a night under the watchful eye of the experts - surely they would give me some sort of test before I took this precious thing home to look after myself. 

The best/worst advice: The Worst advice was start as you mean to go on with baby; get into a routine asap and try to get out and about as soon as possible. 

The hardest parts of being a mother: The unknown…. not knowing if you’re doing a good job, should you be doing something different, the lack of sleep, and the guilty feeling you get if you need timeout for yourself. 

The best parts of being a mother: All of it. Especially when she looks up at me and smiles or puts her hands out for a cuddle. I feel blessed that something so amazing as Effie has come into my world. 

Has becoming a mother changed you:
 More than I ever imagined. 
My worries are different, obviously, and my priorities have changed. I don’t remember life much before Effie. 

Hopes for your family: That we grow stronger together, having a great relationship and trusting each other. I hope to give Effie all that she needs and be the best I can be for her. 

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: Trust your instincts. You know your baby better than anyone else. Don’t compare yourselves to new mums and your baby to new babies, you are individuals learning from each other. 

Monday, 3 April 2017

Jo, Finn and Elliot

Name: Jo 

Children: Finn, age 3.5 and Elliot age 7 months

Location: Glossop

Expectations of Motherhood: My mum was a single parent, she worked hard but wasn’t around a lot - I missed her. Then she died when I was 14 and so I always thought that motherhood was not a joyful thing, but more like hardworking. Thankfully I was wrong.

Reality of Motherhood: Tiredness like I’ve never known, but motherhood has healed my heart. I remember waking up early one morning to just watch both my sons as newborns and my heart was just full up and I thought, 'So this is what it’s like to really be happy.' 

Taking my children home for the first time: I was terrified. There was no way I could keep this little human alive without the help of a team of medical professionals was there?! I think my husband and I stopped the car 3 times on the way home from hospital just to check Finn was still breathing. I was a little more relaxed with Elliot - but only a little…

The best / worst advice: Best advice - pick your battles and let the little things go, and worst advice - don’t spoil your baby by picking them up and cuddling them...

The hardest parts of being a mother: My own mum died when I was 14. I have so many questions about being a mum that I would love to ask her, and she’s not here. Being a mum without my mum is often incredibly lonely. Sometimes I feel like a real fraud - surely everyone who sees me knows I don’t know what I’m doing… 

The best parts of being a mother: My children have filled a hole in my heart and life. My father left when I was very young, and my mum, both my grandmothers and my aunt all died within a few years of each other. I was left bereft and with a seriously hardened heart. 
I never thought I wanted to have children - I didn’t think I would make a good parent as I didn’t have parents to show me an example of what to expect. 

But being a mother has literally filled me with love and given me a new, more positive outlook on life. It's also hard work, and challenging everyday, but it forces me to look at myself and work on my attitude and outlook.

Has becoming a mother changed you: YES!! I have never been tested as much, or worked harder on myself to try to be positive and mindful - its the biggest challenge of my life and the biggest joy.

Hopes for your family: 
To laugh a lot, love each other and have fun adventures as often as possible. I want to laugh with my sons everyday.

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: Don’t rush - whether it be out of the house or into your old life - take your time and enjoy the loved-up bubble you live in with a newborn. Stay in your pjs, ask for help and just cuddle and love that little thing. Before you know it real life kicks in and your newborn is nearly ready to go to school...

Friday, 24 March 2017

Kate and Arlo

Name: Kate 

Arlo, 4 months

Burnage, Manchester

Expectations of Motherhood: I have always known that I wanted to have children. When I was younger, I had a plan… I’d graduate university, get a job, work hard at my career, buy a house, get married and then have kids in my 30s. And I did it! I stuck to my plan. Only when it came to the ‘having kids’ bit, it turned out that it wasn’t as easy as I thought.

I have always been very responsible when it came to contraception – believing that if I ever didn’t use it, I was bound to get pregnant. I wanted children but I wanted to have them when the time was right – when I was happy, settled and financially secure.

In 2010, I bought a house with John, my partner of 12 years, and the year after that, we got married. We settled nicely into married life and about a year later decided to start a family. What I didn’t know at the time was what was to come…

After the first few months of trying and nothing happening, we figured maybe I hadn’t worked out the timing of ovulation quite right and promptly bought some testing kits. A year down the line, we thought maybe it was because of stress – a combination of the monthly pressure of not conceiving, day to day stress and family members with health issues. We vowed to try to relax and hope for the best. A further six months on, with still nothing happening, I went to my GP and was referred for some fertility tests. A couple of months later, I had the tests and there was nothing wrong with me, no obvious reason why I wasn’t getting pregnant. Again, we put it down to stress and continued to try. 

By this time, I was almost beside myself. I was desperate for us to have a child and I couldn’t understand why it was so hard to conceive. In the time that we were trying, over 40 babies were born to our friends and family. Each time someone told me they were pregnant, whilst I was incredibly happy for them, I also began to feel a little jealous. How come they could get pregnant and I couldn’t? I felt like my body was letting me down and began to lose hope. 

At the start of 2015, three years after we started trying, we accepted that it probably wasn’t going to happen naturally and went back to our GP to discuss the possibility of IVF. We were referred to the Fertility Clinic in May, both went through a battery of tests (mine on my birthday – happy birthday to me) only to find that there was no medical reason for me not to conceive; no problem with John or I – it was ‘just one of those things’, which in some ways was even more frustrating as we couldn’t rationalise why it wasn’t happening. So we signed up for IVF, were added to the waiting list and were told it would be 12-18 months before we could begin treatment. 

Some things to note about IVF: 
- The NHS is blummin’ wonderful. We should never take for granted how lucky we are.
- The chances of IVF working aren’t great (mine were approximately 1 in 3 due to my age).
- Because of the postcode lottery, we had one chance (had we lived elsewhere, this could have been up to three).
- They take out as many eggs as they can and fertilise them.
- They prefer to only implant one embryo at a time – the rest are frozen.
- Even if IVF did work, I could still miscarry. 

Just before Christmas 2015, I took a phone call in work - someone had dropped out of the IVF process and a spot had opened up, could I come in tomorrow for more tests? I, of course, said yes and the next day my husband and I headed off to the clinic to have the tests to determine the medication I would be on. On Christmas Eve, I took delivery of all the drugs and hormones I’d be taking in the New Year, and promptly had to pack them off to my sister-in-law’s as there was no room in my fridge due to the turkey!On 2 January 2016, I began my treatment. At the same time every day I had to inject myself in my stomach. After a couple of weeks, it increased to two daily injections plus blood tests at hospital every other day so they could monitor my hormone levels and egg supply. Approximately a month after I started treatment, I had to give myself a third injection and then we headed off to the hospital to have my eggs removed and for John to provide his sample. Once the eggs were out, they were assessed for their quality and then fertilised. The day after my eggs were removed, I received a phone call from the clinic… they had managed to take out four eggs – one didn’t fertilise, one did fertilise but died, one fertilised but the quality of the embryo was compromised and one had fertilised and was ideal for treatment. As this left me with one dodgy embryo, rather than freeze it and compromise it further, the doctors decided to implant the two viable embryos the next day and hope for the best. Two and a half weeks later, I would be able to do a pregnancy test. Three days later I started bleeding.

By this point, I was convinced that the IVF hadn’t worked, and spent the next two weeks dreading a pregnancy test that I was positive would be negative. John kept telling me to have faith that everything would work out but I was really struggling. Two weeks later, we both spent the night tossing and turning before getting up at 5am to do a pregnancy test. When it was positive, we were both over the moon! 

After checking in with the fertility clinic to let them know the good news, I was told then next step would be to attend a ‘viability scan’ – possibly the worst-named thing ever – in three weeks’ time. This scan would determine if our baby had a heartbeat and would take place on our wedding anniversary of all days. We were both dreading it and trying not to get our hopes up – when we saw what looked like a tiny bean on the ultrasound screen and were told that it had a strong heartbeat, we felt like the luckiest people alive. Unfortunately the other embryo hadn’t taken, hence the bleeding, but we had beaten the odds – we were pregnant! Again, we tried not to get too excited – we were still very aware of miscarriage statistics – the next step was to get to the 14 week scan. Then the 20 week scan. And then, because I had a placenta complication, the 28, 32, 36 and 40 week scans. Every day as we anxiously awaited the arrival of our baby, our love for him grew and grew. I loved being pregnant but I couldn’t wait to give birth and finally hold him in my arms. I think we both felt that until that moment came, there was still the potential for something to go wrong.

On 28 October 2016, nearly 11 months after I started IVF, after a mainly smooth but dramatic towards the end labour, I gave birth to Arlo. The moment they placed him on my chest and told me he was fine, I felt an overwhelming sensation of relief, immense gratitude and triumph that we had made it! He was here and he was ours and our hearts burst with joy.

Reality of Motherhood: I don’t know if it’s because we wanted him so much and that we loved him deeply even before he was born, or whether it’s because my husband and I have such a good, solid relationship (we’ve been together 18 years now), or just sheer luck, but Arlo is such a happy, chilled out baby.

We really are very lucky. Since he was about 8 weeks old he has slept through the night. He has his dinner around 7-8pm then goes down for a nap until around 11pm-12am, when we wake him for a final feed, then he typically sleeps until 8am. The fact that we get sleep makes dealing with anything that might come up in the day so much easier.

Arlo currently spends his days smiling, going for walks, playing (chiffon scarves and feathers run over his face are a favourite), working out on his baby play gym, squeaking (babies make really weird noises), going to various playgroups and classes and spending time with his grandparents. He has a lovely life and it shows. Now he’s four months old, his personality is really shining through and he makes me laugh on a daily basis. He’s only been here for nineteen weeks but it’s almost like we can’t remember a time without him. 

Taking your baby home for the first time: Just after he was born, when we were on the recovery ward cuddling, he latched himself on and started feeding. It came naturally to both of us, which was a relief because I wanted to breastfeed but had all the usual worries: it could be hard, I might not produce enough milk, he might not latch on etc. I have lots of friends with children so from their experiences I knew it could be difficult but we were doing okay and the next day were discharged from hospital. I had a few stitches and for the next few days had to do injections in the stomach to prevent DVT, but otherwise felt pretty good considering the previous 24 hours. 

The hospital in only ten minutes down the road so after a short drive we were home. We brought him in, put the kettle on and just sat staring at him. Both cats mooched over for a look, neither seemed sure, and then we just got on with it.

I was told the community midwife would be with us at some point 8am-6pm the next day. Lugging my battered post-laboured body out of bed at 7am to get everybody up and dressed just on the off chance we were first on her list was not really how either or us wanted to start the day. But we wanted to show her that everything was fine so we could move forward with us being discharged from care. 

She eventually came at 4pm after we’d changed many nappies, fed Arlo and he was asleep. She immediately stripped him down – we’d already discovered he screamed whenever we removed his clothes, this kid was not a fan of being naked – and told me to feed him. He’d literally just eaten so wasn’t bothered for it and was distressed without his Babygro on. She then told me that the more I practised, the better I’d be, instructed me to try a different position and then tried to make Arlo latch on. He still wasn’t having it as he was already full, which I explained, but then she said that his shaky hands could be a sign of hypoglycaemia and it was important for me to feed him on demand. Those ‘shaky hands’ were his startle reflex. All babies have them but it seemed like there was a lot of pressure on this breastfeeding lark. She said she’d be back in four days.

After she left, we carried on taking care or Arlo. Changing him, feeding him, burping. You know the drill. Then, four days in, as I was going to bed, I noticed my legs were really swollen and that when I touched them they were solid and they almost felt like they weren’t mine. I phoned triage and was told to get myself to A&E asap. It was 1am and was the last thing we needed. We bundled up Arlo in his warmest clothes and headed off to the hospital. There was no way we could take Arlo in with us into the cold waiting room full of sick and injured people so John dropped me off then the two of them headed home. We both assumed I’d be home in a few hours and be able to feed Arlo and he’d hopefully sleep until then. Instead, I was admitted with suspected DVT and needed to have scans on my legs which wouldn’t be until late morning, and John was thrown in at the deep end with a baby that was wide awake and hungry at 3am. 

Luckily we had a few small bottles of ready-made formula in the house which would tide him over until early morning. I’m not sure how he was straight minded enough to do this in the middle of the night with a screaming newborn, but John checked online which local shops sold them and where they were in stock so that his mum could be there first thing to grab a pack so that he could feed Arlo. When I rang home at 7am to check that everyone was up for the midwife – she comes anytime 8am-6pm remember (agghhhh) – I could hear him crying in the background because he was hungry and I went to pieces. I couldn’t be there for him and it was awful. A lovely nurse hugged me as I sat on the bed crying and told me that it was all fine and that John sounded like he was doing a cracking job, which of course he was. He rang my parents around 9am to let them know what was going on and they were with me about an hour later with supplies, hugs and conversation to keep me distracted while I waited for my scan. 

Thankfully it wasn’t DVT – it turned out that I had a liver deficiency due to the blood loss in labour. The wonky levels caused swelling and it would right itself within a month or so. Massively relieved, I headed home and promptly fed Arlo. He latched himself on, had a big feed and seemed happy. However, over the next few weeks, breastfeeding became more and more difficult. He was feeding for 40-60 minutes on one boob, then had to go on the other for the same amount of time and then was still hungry so we’d have to give him one of the little formula bottles. Again, we were very lucky in that regard. Boob or bottle, he didn’t care. But something wasn’t right, what used to be easy now seemed a marathon for both of us. Arlo was using all of his energy trying to eat, he was definitely getting my milk but no matter how long the feeds were, he never seemed satisfied. 

I went to a breastfeeding clinic and they confirmed I was definitely producing milk but my supply had likely decreased due to that one night I spent in hospital so soon after giving birth when I didn’t feed him for nearly 24 hours. They suggested that as well as continuing to feed Arlo exactly as I was, which was up to 10 hours a day at that point plus bottles, I should also express for 10 minutes each side, 10 times a day. Up to 15 hours a day with something attached to my boob. No thanks. The most important thing to me was that Arlo was satisfied and didn’t have to work so hard to feed. The decision to wean him off me and onto bottles was easy. 

He’s been on bottles since he was 5 weeks old and it suits us. He is finally satisfied and doesn’t have to use up all his energy trying to eat, plus we can both feed him which means it’s been relatively easy continuing as we were before. I go to my WI meetings, I’ve done a few Keep in Touch days in work, and from time to time the grandparents will look after him while John and I get something done or maybe go out for a meal.

The best/worst advice: You will be given so much conflicting information that you feel like your head will explode. One example being that after Arlo had fed on the recovery ward, I started winding him and a nurse came over and said “Oh no, you never burp a breastfed baby.” This confused me but I thought “Oh okay, she’s a medical professional” and stopped. Later on the maternity ward, I fed Arlo and then asked a nurse to help put him down as I couldn’t – I was still numb from the spinal I had to have in case I needed an emergency C-section. The nurse promptly gave me a lecture on the importance of burping and said she’d be back in ten minutes. Ten minutes later my freshly winded son was put down for a nap until he woke up again for another feed. 

If you’re a first time mum your head will also feel about ready to pop when you’re faced with things like the Pram Department at whichever shop you are in. The first time we went to look at prams, we walked in, assessed the vast array of travel systems in front of us and left without looking at any of them, totally overwhelmed. Being a data geek, I conducted a study amongst my Facebook chums who are parents and worked out the Top 5. We went back, looked at those and picked my favourite one.

If you’re planning on childcare or sending your baby to nursery, then look at them as soon as you can. I know. It sounds dramatic but it will save you a headache. Just before Arlo turned three months old we started to look at nurseries, catching up on Ofsted Reports and setting up visits. Three were already full and had massive waiting lists. One was nice but a little bit out of the way and couldn’t do the days I wanted. One was awful. And one felt just right, so that’s where he’s going for a few days each week from October when I return to work.

The best advice I’ve had is that if you are chilled out the baby will be. Over the years, we’ve built a lovely home that was just waiting for this little dude to come and make it his. I feel quite relaxed about being a mother. I think that because we waited so long I had such a lot of time to think about what it would be like to be one. It feels amazing when I hold him in my arms or play with him on his mat, and when he cries I tell him the story of how he came to be to settle him down. I’ve certainly got a lot sillier. I have to be silly to make him laugh! And when he laughs or smiles, it’s just the best thing. He lights up the room.

The hardest parts of being a mother: Breastfeeding – see above.

When we did switch to bottles full time, Arlo developed colic and would spend nights fast asleep but grunting and straining and kicking his legs. Seeing him in distress was awful but with a lot of cuddles, winding, leg pumps, baby massage and Infacol, we managed it for the next six weeks or so and now he’s happily colic free.

I’m sure everyone says this but one of the hardest parts of being a mother is the sheer responsibility of raising another human being. You want to do your absolute best by them and for them to be happy and healthy. I’m only four months in and I’ve already made choices for him about how we spend our time and where his formal education will begin when I go back to work. It’s wonderful watching him grow and develop. Every day something new will make him laugh or make him curious, and it’s my job to make sure that each day is an adventure, leaves him smiling and knowing he is loved.

The best parts of being a mother: The smiles he gives first thing in the morning when I look in on him. He goes really wide-eyed, smiles a huge smile, kicks his legs and puts his arms up. It’s the best thing to wake up to.

Smiles in general. I am drunk on his smiles. If I’m really lucky, I also get squeaks.

Any time I make him laugh. I will literally do anything to make him laugh.

Box sets and films – I’ve caught up on loads whilst trapped under my feeding infant.

Seeing Arlo enjoy spending time with his grandparents is lovely – he’s got them all wrapped around his little finger. I’m sure that at some point they must have considered that they may not have grandchildren so to see them with their grandson is a wonderful thing. 

Watching John be a father fills me with absolute joy. He has been a brilliantly supportive partner, changing nappies, doing the late night and early morning feeds, doing bath time, walking Arlo around the house whilst trying to lull him to sleep, taking him to classes and entertaining him whilst I make dinner. I really love to cook and find it relaxing so it’s lovely that I can continue to do that whilst John spends time with his boy. The conversations they have often make me laugh out loud. He’s a great dad and I’m looking forward to us growing together as a family.

Has becoming a mother changed you? Yes and no. Yes because I have this little person who depends on me and will always be my first priority. And no, because I feel that my life hasn’t really changed that much and instead Arlo has fit into our lives like the missing piece of a puzzle. Before I was pregnant, my idea of a good night out was a nice meal, a film or a trip to the theatre (I work in one, it’s handy), and I’ve done all of those things since having Arlo. He’s even going to see his first play where I work – The Very Hungry Caterpillar – in a couple of weeks. Obviously I know he won’t have a clue what’s going on but the colours and shapes and songs will be fun for him. Another way that I’ve changed is that I notice things more because Arlo is so curious. I’m constantly explaining what something is or pointing something out for him to look at and naming what we can see. It’s just the little things but I now look at the world from a different perspective.

Hopes for your  family: Some of the consultants and doctors we have come across on our journey have said that now I have been pregnant, because there’s no underlying reason for me not to, I may be able to conceive naturally. If I can, that’s great! I would love to add to brood and for Arlo to have a little brother or sister. If not, though I’ll forever be grateful to IVF and the nurses, doctors and consultants we came across who made Arlo possible, due to the decreasing chances as I get older, I don’t think we’ll go down that road again. There’s always the possibility of adoption. Who knows what the future holds. The one thing I can say for sure is that we will always feel incredibly lucky to have Arlo. I hope that he grows up knowing how much he is loved, how much we wanted him and how incredible the world is. We feel privileged to be his parents. 

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: Have some ‘me time’. Whether that’s a long hot bath, a trip to the cinema with a friend or doing the food shopping (a favourite of mine), whatever makes you relax and unwind. I’m very lucky because in the first few months after Arlo was born John finished work at 4pm and was home by 4.30pm. He’d come through the front door, take Arlo off me for a cuddle and then took over parenting duties so that I could have a few hours to myself. I love spending time with Arlo but it’s nice to be able to continue to do usual day to day things that keep me sane. 

Develop a network of mums. Most of my friends have children and it’s great to be able to ask them questions and hear about their experiences. I didn’t know anyone who was going to have a child around the same time as me so I did an NCT course to meet other local mums to be. The women that I met through that are all lovely and we often meet for play dates, classes and coffee. We have a What’s App group, which has been brilliant. In the first few weeks there was a lot of ‘Hello… anyone else up?’ messages in the middle of the night (at least two of us were always up). Being able to ask each other questions about anything from baby massage and breastfeeding to box set recommendations and the ridiculous outfits we plan to inflict on our children (think reindeer and elves), has been great and more than once has reassured me that whatever is currently happening, it’s probably also happening to someone else. 

Enjoy every moment because it’s gone in a flash. He’s only four months old but I can’t believe how much he has changed already, and it’s only going to get worse. Be present. Have fun. Love with abandon. Be kind. Be patient. Teach your child all of the qualities that you admire. We often wonder what kind of little boy Arlo will grow up to be and I like to think that it will be the best part of the two of us, with some of his grandparents, aunt and uncle and our friends for good measure.

Any other info: I donated my placenta and cord blood to Anthony Nolan Trust who help people affected by blood cancer or blood disorders. It’s a great cause and something I’d encourage mums to be to consider. Visit their website for more information.

Find me on Twitter @FitzBowden