and Baby Zee,
Stillborn at 40 + 4 in September 2013
Expectations of Motherhood: I had wanted to be a mum for as long as I could remember, having a pretty good one myself I was lured into a false sense of security that motherhood was a bit of a breeze. I envisaged long, rosy days of cuddles, coos and calm; I dreamed I would be brilliant at it.
Reality of Motherhood: It isn't easy, it isn't a bit of a breeze and my days are certainly not the utopia of cuddles/coos/calm that I imagined. It is, hands down, the hardest job I've ever done - and I deal with hundreds of challenging teenagers for a living. That said, it is without a doubt the most rewarding, amazing and fulfilling role I have ever played. In any given day I can be a hundred different people - cook, cleaner, butler, teacher, doctor, nurse, dentist, spy, superheroine, playdoh modeller extraordinaire - the list goes on - and I love that about motherhood, the variety of it, the unpredictability of it.
There is also, still, the unbelievability that I made them! I love that picture of Wonderwoman with the caption, ‘I grow humans, what’s your super power?’, sums it up just perfectly.
The growing humans element is amazing but in very rare cases things don't work out with this little person you have been growing inside you for 9 months and often dreaming of for even longer. The reality of being a bereaved parent is shockingly awful, something that you can never be prepared for and something you should never have to be. Losing our daughter at full-term has taught me a lot of things, most significantly to make the most of every single minute I have with my babies; I have come face to face with many women who would give anything to be a mother for the first time, and even for the second and third time, and I think of them often these days as I cuddle my three crazies and remember the one in the sky who didn't quite make it but left a huge imprint on all of our hearts.
Taking your children home for the first time: aaaargh! It felt like we'd drawn a lot of money out of the bank and everyone knew we had it on us; driving home from the hospital I was convinced that we were somehow more at risk than before, that someone would definitely crash into us, that the whole world knew we had this precious bundle in the car and were all out to get him. And there it began, the worry of being a parent, the innate mechanism you have to protect your child against any harm. Once home, we set him down on the living room floor and looked at each other - both terrified even at the prospect of getting him out of his car seat. Eventually we got him out and showed him around his new home; even to this day I can hear my husband's little speech for the different Mr Men and Little Miss characters in his bedroom, it was something he did from that moment on almost every night with Wilf before bath time/bedtime. I also remember that feeling that he might break, he seemed so small and fragile and I was convinced I was going to trip and drop him. It took a lovely midwife to show me that, actually, they were pretty hardy things these babies and it needn't take me half an hour to get him out of his vest!
With Iris I felt such a sense of relief to be walking out of the hosptial with a baby who was alive and well, the trauma of the pregnancy and the difficult process of her birth seemed to drop away from me with each step I took towards the hospital exit and I remember sitting in the car with her screaming at the top of her lungs in the back with her two brothers covering their ears and giggling and having a secret smile to myself thinking 'I've done it.'
Best advice: I heard somewhere to remember that your voice becomes their inner voice, to speak to them how you want them to talk to you, how you want them to talk to themselves. I remember telling my eldest off last summer for growling when he became frustrated with something, then only a day or so later I was disgruntled at some minor misdemeanour and I heard myself growl in temper. You are their teacher, their role model - be the best one you can be.
My second bit of good advice was to listen to your heart, as a mum you know (or can work out) what's best for your child. You don't need to follow the crowd – with Wilf everyone seemed to be doing baby-led weaning, but it all seemed like a bit of a faff to me and my boys were hungry babies, chewing on a bits of food was not going to fill them up so I decided to go 'old school' and wean them as my mum had done with me...baby rice, mush, chunky mush etc. It worked for us and I don't think my boys are at any disadvantage for not leading their own weaning programme!
Worst advice: The worst came from a midwife who told me to eat like it was the 1970s when I was breastfeeding. It turns out that wasn't true and all that cream, butter, full-fat milk and cake I took great delight in eating not only stuck to my thighs (and I am sure is still there now) but seemed to create a rather podge-some baby who tipped off the end of the centile charts, resembled a small Buddha and was an absolute nightmare to lift up to the sky in our baby yoga classes!
Also the whole 'sleep whilst your baby sleeps mantra' that was uttered, it seemed, from every angle never seemed to materialise. If I ever managed to get my babies to sleep during the day in the house, it was nothing short of a small miracle, so after the initial few minutes of congratulating myself on my major achievement I spent the rest of their slumber (anything from 5 minutes upwards) running round like a crazy horse doing laundry, tidying, making the tea. This time round I am trying to do more relaxing as I know only too well that return to work will be here before I know it.
The hardest parts of being a mother: definitely the guilt and the worry. The guilt comes from whether you are doing enough with and for your baby/children. When the return to work happens, if it has to, there's a sense that you are not doing any of your roles (mum, wife, friend, sister, employee etc) as well as you possibly could be. Coming to realise that you can't be perfect in every role is a tough thing to accept.
The worry of parenthood has shocked me, I was a worrier before but my hubby has (probably rightly) recently diagnosed me as a 'catastrophic thinker,' particularly in terms of the children’s health. It takes all my self-control to stop myself from self-diagnosing a rash as meningitis or worse. This has definitely been compounded by losing our first daughter at full-term without any warning at all; that's made me feel that the rug can be ripped out from under us in the click of a finger. I speak to many mums who identify with this worry of motherhood, who worry and panic over any symptom of illness their child presents with and they haven't experienced a stillbirth. I think for some of us, it goes with the territory these babies are your most precious things and I know my mum still worries about me now; finding strategies to help with the worry and help to calm concerns definitely helps - Doctor Google is most certainly not your friend.
The best parts of being a mother: the love! The unconditional love and foreverness that comes with them all. The fact that they love you madly and absolutely, even though you might make them eat just one more carrot or tidy away their box of stones that have been thoughtfully tipped all over the floor or clean their dirty knees or brush their hair, they still utterly think you are the bees’ knees. I love the sloppiness of their love too; the fact that they will just kiss you for no reason, bundle you over in a hug that has no limits, kiss you for so long you almost can't breathe. I love that they need me, I think we all like to be needed. Whether it's the primal need of the newborn who needs nappies changing or boobs for feeding or the toddler who needs you to help them master the art of walking or the 7 year old who wants to know what the word 'internationally' means or why you can't surf on the lava from a volcano. Being a mum is amazing.
Has becoming a mother changed you? it's made me a little less frenetic, a little more anxious and a little better at baking and playing at being a superhero. It has made me feel incredibly fortunate and more proud than I ever though possible of these people we have made.
Losing Baby Zee has made me more aware of the silent mothers who walk amongst us, mothers without babies here on earth but still mothers none-the-less; there are times when I catch one of these mums watching me in the street, looking at me and my three children. She doesn't say anything but she doesn't need to, her look is one I know all too well as it's a look that I used myself to look upon so many mums in the days and weeks that followed our loss. Mums with girls, mums with three children, mums with two boys and a girl, mums with newborns. I don't say anything back to her, I don't even catch her eye but in my heart I send her a hug because being that mum is so, so tough. Before our loss, I wouldn't even have seen her.
Hopes for your family: that we always love each other, laugh with each other, support each other and be the best team we can be. It sounds cliched but I truly hope that my children will be happy, that they will dream big and that they will utterly love their lives.
1. Follow your heart not the crowd.
2. Capture memories because they will be gone in the blink of an eye - whether it's a letter you write every year on their birthday, a yearly family photo album you make with all your amazing photographs of everything you have done in that year or a memory box filled with momentos.
3. Make as much time as you can for them now, for it won't be long before they don't want to bundle you over with a hug or give you kisses that have no end.
There’s a beautiful poem called The Last Time, the poet is anonymous but it has the lovely lines of:
"You will read a final bedtime story and wipe your last dirty face
The thing is, you won’t know it’s the last time.
Until there are no more times, and even then, it will take you a while to realise.
So while you are living in these times,
remember there are only so many of them and when they are gone,
you will yearn for just one more day of them.”
5. Try and get some baby friends before baby number 1 arrives, my NCT group and the mums I met at antenatal yoga were a huge source of support for me in those early days of not knowing what the heck was going on, and even now, 7 years on, some of them are my closest friends – bonded by our shared start in this thing we call motherhood.
Extra Info: Jane is a deputy headteacher in East Manchester.