The first four weeks

Nothing really prepares you for motherhood. No amount of books or blog posts, no-one’s advice or help can ever really prepare you for what lies ahead. There’s something to be said for the unknown – it’ll either bring out the best or the worst in you (usually in equal measures) and we have seen some of the best and worst of each other over the past four weeks.

Our first few days as parents were entirely surreal. Fletcher was in the NICU hooked up to all kinds of machines, so we weren’t able to hold him, I wasn’t able to breastfeed him and we weren’t able to establish any sort of routine or rhythm with him. By the time he was discharged, it had been two days since I had been discharged – so we’d spent the last 48 hours back and forth between home and the hospital (and over Christmas, no less).

Our first night home was an interesting one. Fletcher was bombarded with hundreds of new sounds and smells, totally overwhelming him. He fussed and cried for hours on that first night, eventually settling around midnight. But after that, he slept well (albeit in 3 hour stints).

The next day he had the first of his peeing episodes, during which he peed all over himself and me. During his first bath, he peed on the towel. A few days after that he peed all over himself, his onesie and the wall behind him (all while I was trying to change his nappy and dispose of one of the biggest, nastiest poos I’ve ever seen). Subsequently, he’s peed on the wall, himself and us a few more times, but on the whole he’s not a serial pee’er. Thank the gods.

During some of his finer nighttime antics he’s had both Becs and me in tears, thinking we’ll never get him to settle. On one particularly bad night, Becs had been trying to settle him for a good while and came back into the room sobbing, asking me to “please just take him,” which I duly did. Eventually I managed to settle him, but nearly had a panic attack when I realised we’d have to go through the whole process again in a matter of a few short hours. But, then the sun came up, and everything seemed less daunting than it had the night before.

As dusk began to fall that evening, fear settled over me like a thick fog and I turned to Becs, voice shaking, and said, “It’s nearly nighttime.” She immediately knew the source of my fear and the two of us huddled together on the couch – absolutely dreading the dark hours that lay ahead. But, then the sun came up again, and everything was fine. And so we settled into something of a pattern – night would fall and so would our spirits, but as the sun began to rise, so our fears lifted. It was like being stuck in some kind of bad horror movie loop.

Until it wasn’t anymore. After three weeks, Becs turned to me and said that she suddenly felt like he was an old hand at this parenting thing, like she’d been doing it for years. It seemed that in 21 short days, we’d formed a habit – the habit of motherhood. We still have crappy nights with Fletcher – last night was another night when he only settled after midnight, but then slept until 04:00 and again from 04:30 until 08:00 – but on the whole, we’re much better at parenting than we were four weeks ago. OK, maybe we’re not better, but we certainly feel less panicked about it and that’s the main thing.

Oh, and as I type this I have a trail of milk vomit down my back. Yup, motherhood is awesome.

A “birth plan” you say?

All the books and blogs tell you to draft your birth plan well ahead of time – to make sure your wishes are clear for all concerned on the big day, to get everyone on the same page, so to speak. And that’s all good and well, but let’s be realistic for a second here – you don’t honestly think you have any control over what happens on said big day, do you?

Let’s take my experience for example – I had a pretty thorough birth plan, one that included a couple of “in the event of” clauses, outlining what we’d like if we had to have a Caesar, or if he had to go to NICU. And you know how many things on my “birth plan” we got? Zero. Not a single one. OK, he wasn’t circumcised, but that’s it about it.

amateur-mommies-birth-plan

I did not have a natural birth. I did not manage to avoid a spinal. I had to have a Caesar. We did not get delayed chord clamping or skin-to-skin time after birth and he ended up on formula almost immediately because my milk only really came in on day 3.

That said, I’m all for recording your thoughts on how you’d like things to go, just remember, it really is out of your hands on the day. With that in mind, my advice would be to put together a birth wish list. Although my birth plan had built in contingencies for Caesar and, on the day, we were pretty flexible about things (and we had to be), not getting what we’d hoped for out of the experience could easily have spiraled and contributed to post-natal depression. So it’s really important to remember that, ultimately, it’s not you who is in control, it’s your little bundle and consciously ceding that control is the only way you can hope to avoid feeling a bit like you’ve failed when things don’t go the way you’d hoped.

The grand arrival…

Before I get into this post, I feel the need to warn sensitive readers of the slightly more graphic nature of this post. Just so we’re all entirely clear, what follows details my labour experience. If that’s not up your alley, turn back now. Read this post about Becs’s experience at Antenatal Class, or this one about things not to say to pregnant women. If you’re ok with the slightly gorier details… as you were.

What was that?

At about 04:00 on Thursday, 22 December 2016 I woke up needing to pee – as most 39-week pregnant women do. When I wiped, it felt a bit… well, slimy. I know, not the most attractive thing, is it? But not much about pregnancy is. About 20 minutes later, Becs’s running alarm went off and she quietly (and in the semi-dark) began changing for her run. Not having been able to get back to sleep, I opted to read my book for a while and turned on the lights.

Shortly after Becs left, I needed to pee again – nothing new really – but once again, when I wiped it was slimy. This time, however, there was enough light for me to see what I’d wiped away. A mostly clear, slightly pinkish streaked snot, with the consistency of egg whites. Uhm… Ja, that’s definitely not part of my normal peeing routine.

I cleaned myself up, dashed back to the bedroom, grabbed my phone and almost – almost – dialed Becs’s number. But, it was just before 05:00 so she’d likely be on the road already, or at least out of the car and away from her phone and seeing a missed call from me when she got back to the car would only send her into a tailspin of worry. I put my phone down, rationalising with myself that it was only an hour and not much was likely to happen in an hour.

I picked my phone up again and – far more calmly – opened Safari and typed in “what does a bloody show look like?” (Yes, I’m one of those people who actually ask Google questions instead of typing in keywords.) Having read the article on Baby Centre that described the bloody show as a “blob of blood-streaked pale, creamy-pink snot”, I was pretty convinced I’d had my show.

Armed with knowledge, and the assumption that it wasn’t likely for anything earth-shattering to happen in the next couple of hours, I continued reading my book and intermittently visiting the loo. When Becs got home some time after 06:00, I asked her (as calmly as I could) how her run had been. She responded, but quickly realized there was something else on my mind and, in a voice dripping with concern, asked what was wrong. I told her – once again, as calmly as I could – that I thought my water had broken and explained the symptoms and my reason for not calling her at 05:00 (which she thanked me for) and we agreed we’d message the midwife at a more decent hour and let her know what was going on.

Carry on regardless…

At about 07:30 I sent our midwife a WhatsApp to explain that I thought I’d had my show and that my waters had broken. She asked a few questions about the colour of both the show and the subsequent fluid and told us to keep her posted on any changes. Knowing the movies absolutely lie about how quickly these things progress, we decided to carry on our day as normally as we could. We headed down to Pick ‘n Pay to get some things we needed for Christmas lunch, went for breakfast with a friend and for coffee with another. All the while I continued to lose amniotic fluid but without a contraction in sight.

At around midday, the midwife sent a message to say we should come in an see how things were progressing, which we duly did. Sadly, things were not progressing – I had only dilated to 2cm and without contractions wasn’t all that likely to dilate further. She gave me some homeopathic pills and a solution of some or other medication to be taken every 30 minutes, to help bring on contractions.

Once one’s water breaks, the baby – and I suppose the mother too – are more susceptible to infection, because the door is essentially being left open. This meant that, if my progress was still slow by 16:00, I’d need to go onto antibiotics. We agreed to be back at 16:00 for another check-up and headed home.

At home, we tried everything: I walked up and down the passage and garden, I bounced on the pilates ball, I did lunges on the stairs, I even did squats! Nothing. Well not nothing, per se; I had contractions – about a 4 out of 10, pain-wise and roughly 10 minutes apart, progressing to about 6 minutes apart by 16:00 – but still not quite enough.

All that build-up, and then… nothing

At 16:00, we went back to the midwife and she said I was still only 2cm dilated. Not a great start. 12 hours into “labour” and no more dilated than I was 4 hours ago. Then, as if to cap it all off, my contractions suddenly, and for no reason at all, stopped. We sat around the midwife’s consulting rooms for another hour or so, waiting to see if the contractions would resume, while I continued to feel like an enormous fraud – like I’d made the whole thing up. And, to be honest, if it wasn’t for the amniotic fluid leaking out of me, I’d have been convinced it was all in my head.

But it wasn’t in my head. My water had broken, of that there was no doubt, which meant that I’d have to go onto antibiotics. Once admitted, I was hooked up to an IV and, along with the antibiotics, I was given a stronger solution of the contraction-inducing medicine.

About half an hour later, the contractions started up again, and they’d grown. Now about a 6 out of 10, pain-wise and coming every ± two minutes, for about 30 seconds. We agreed that the midwife would check my dilation again at around 20:00, until then I should continue to time the contractions and walk. And so, we walked. With my IV bag on its little trolley, Becs and I did laps of the hospital ward, announcing every time we walked past the room how many contractions I’d had on my last lap.

Time for some meds, and not the pain-relieving kind

At 20:00, I was still only 2cm dilated and, much to my dismay, the possibility that I wouldn’t dilate further was becoming more of a reality. I was starting to get a bit despondent but I was trying to keep positive, hoping that next time she checks, I’ll be more dilated and then it’ll go quickly. But, it was not meant to be. At 22:00, we checked again – still only 2cm, but with contractions now coming every ±90 seconds and lasting about a minute each time. They’d also climbed the pain-scale and were tipping 8 by now. Each time my body was wracked with another contraction, I clutched Becs’s hand and – breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth – counted my out breaths until it passed.

Time for a new cocktail

Although the induction meds had worked as far as bringing on contractions, they had failed to dilate my cervix any further. We thought little man’s head would do it, because he was well-and-truly engaged! But unfortunately, that hadn’t done the trick either, so it was time to add something new to the cocktail of meds – a muscle relaxant jab to the bum (the site of which, by the way, is still sore, almost two weeks later). We’d give the muscle relaxant time to do its work and check the dilation again at midnight, if it still wasn’t progressing, we’d have no choice but to call the gynae and go for an emergency Caesar.

With the gaps between contractions now sometimes as a short as a few seconds, I was completely exhausted. Throw a potent muscle relaxant into the mix and I was about as useful as an Orthodox Jew at an all-you-can-eat pork buffet. I continued to have contractions, which, according to the machine I was periodically hooked up to, weren’t increasing in strength (although it felt like they were), but they were coming more frequently, but my cervix still wouldn’t dilate.

Time to call the cavalry

By midnight I was still only 2cm dilated and, after 20 hours of labour, we pulled the plug and called the gynae in for an emergency Caesar. My drip was shut off, meaning my contractions immediately began coming less frequently, but after 20 hours, I was completely shattered and feeling them with increasing veracity.

At around 01:00 on 23 December 2016, I was wheeled into the operating room, closely followed by Becs in all her finery (read: scrubs). I’ve never been more thankful for Becs than I was at that moment because I was as high as a kite and barely able to string words together, much less a coherent sentence. The anesthetist was explaining the procedure, what he would do and how the spinal would work. I was trying really hard to follow but finding it difficult to keep my eyes open, much less follow what he was saying. I was presented with consent forms to sign, which I think I signed (whether it was legible or not, who can say), I was moved over to the operating table, where two needles were inserted into my spine: first a local anesthetic and then the spinal block. The anesthetist explained that I’d feel a cold, tingling sensation in my legs and although I’d feel pressure, I wouldn’t feel what was actually being done.

At about 01:20 the Caesar got underway and the first cut, which wasn’t the deepest, certainly was the smelliest. Caesars are done with an implement that cauterizes as it cuts, which means there is a gut-wrenching stench of burning flesh while the cut is being made. It was like a car accident. I couldn’t take my eyes off the surgical lights, because, if you looked closely, you could see a reflection of what was going on “behind the curtain”. I watched them slice through layers of skin, fat, tissue and muscle before all three doctors joined forces to “eject” our son from his home. With the anesthetist pushing down from behind the curtain, the assisting doctor pulling from one side and the gynae pulling from the other, they were eventually able to pull our son from my womb at 01:36 on the morning of Friday, 23 December 2016.

Welcome to the world little man

His screams cut through everything else – our perfect little bundle was here, screaming his tiny lungs out! To say the sound is overwhelming is beyond an understatement. I’ve never felt emotion like I felt in those moments, fleetingly seeing the tiny human I’d grown for the past 39 weeks before he was whipped away to be weighed and measured. He was briefly placed on my chest before being taken to the NICU. The paed was worried about fluid on his lungs, so he needed to be placed on oxygen. Becs went with him and left me in the capable hands of the surgical team for closing up.

After I’d been closed and taped up, I was taken up to our room to wait for Becs to return. I don’t know how long I waited, but I fitfully slept while I did – unable to keep my eyes open anymore. When Becs came back at around 03:30, she explained where he’d gone and why and where she’d been. She told me he was OK. I cried some more and fell into a drug-induced, but brief sleep. Shortly after 08:00 that morning, we went up to the NICU to see our son.

So you’re ready now, are you?

are-you-ready-to-have-a-baby

The short answer for that is no. No, we are not ready. How can we possibly ready for sleepless nights and a December holiday waiting with baited breath for baby to arrive and turn our whole world upside down? Not to mention finding extra money each month just to get through. No. Not ready. Excited and terrified, yes!

We have now finished our 6-week long antenatal class, along with 7 other first-time parents-to-be, and apparently we now have all the information we will need to go out into the world and be great Moms. Well shucks, I can hardly remember what we learned in the first week of class and now I’m supposedly ‘ready’. We were given various pamphlets at each class, had a talk from a paediatrician, a psychologist, a nurse and safety official, a pilates instructor and an occupational therapist, all to arm us with all the info we need. We learned about breastfeeding and the various birthing methods, how to bath and care for a newborn and watched some scary videos. But none of this is any good to anyone until the baby is actually born. And how this little baby is going to enter the world is out of our control. We can plan all we like for a natural birth but if he doesn’t turn head down this ain’t gonna happen.  How we are going to feed him (bottle or breast) and whether we will get him to sleep in his own cot from the very beginning is also out of our control. We don’t know if he will need OT, if we will be at the paed every week or if we will both end up with postnatal depression. With the vast amount of information we received during antenatal classes, from the amazing baby apps on Barbs phone, baby books and advice from friends and family, we still have no clue how we will be as parents.

But there are some things I do know. I do know that we are each others’ world. I do know that we want this little baby so much and he is already so loved. I do know that we will try our very best to be exactly what he needs and exactly what each other needs, every day. We will do it our way. Maybe not the best way, but “our way” works for me. Sure, you may come and visit us and the dishes might not be done, and we might both look like the Wreck of the Hesperus and have had nothing to eat but lasagne for two days, but we will be happy. A happy little trio. That much I do know. Ok, so maybe we are ready 🙂

So do I sit with the Dads or the Moms? Some antenatal hilariousness, by The Other Mommy

So being the “Other Mommy” of Little Spot has had some fun moments already. I am clearly not growing a baby in my belly but I am mentally preparing for becoming a Mom. It’s surreal to say the least but I am amazed at this little being already, and so damn grateful to Barbs for everything she has done to get us so close to becoming a family of three. EEEEKKKK! Ok just breathe.

They tell you that in antenatal classes… just breathe. Everything will be fine. We had some interesting moments getting the baby in, and now it seems we will have even more fun getting the baby out.

At our first every antenatal class, having arrived all bright-eyed and ready to learn about our darling bundle of joy, we took turns introducing ourselves as couples and parents-to-be. The very excited dad in the front row introduced himself and his wife, the nervous couple in the back did the same, followed by the couple sitting next to us – who had definitely not figured us out yet. When Barbs introduced me as her wife and the dad from the next door couple’s eyes just got bigger and bigger. I’m pretty sure he was thinking, “so how did they actually get the baby in there??? And they are both girls – how on earth did they possibly make a boy???” Mind absolutely blown.

The following antenatal class was a lesson on exercises for the moms-to-be to keep the muscles supple and strong. The midwife asked all the dads to go and wait outside while the moms did their exercises. So where should I go – outside with the dads (probably to talk about rugby and how glad they are that they don’t have to do exercises – sounds rad) or stay with the moms? The midwife said I should stay with the moms. OK cool, she knows way more than I do, so I better listen and stay with the moms. The pilates lady came in and did a little intro to all the moms-to-be and kinda looked at me suspiciously as if to say, “lady, I can see you’re not pregnant, what are you doing here?” And probably thinking, “shame maybe she’s a bit cuckoo and thinks she’s pregnant… let’s leave her alone and help her with her fake preggie exercises.” So there I was, in amongst all these preggie bellies learning to control my pelvic floor muscles, stretch my abdomen, hold the muscles around the baby and of course… breathe. And try not to look at Barbs too much because I’ll definitely laugh.

The lesson ended with the obligatory, awful natural birthing video, made in the 90’s, complete with a perm. The man next to us (who after two weeks still hadn’t quite figured out how we got this right) was turning more and more green as the video went on. When the placenta made its appearance he said loudly “WHAT is THAT?!?!” He and his wife didn’t arrive at last night’s class, I think the whole thing was just too much for him.

As we learn more about this little bundle we are going to look after ALL OUR LIVES (showee about that breathing thing) I can’t help feel that we are the luckiest people in the whole world! The wonders of the 21st century and modern medicine have helped us to become what all little girls dream of – a Mommy. Well not yet, 3 months to go and I’m sure more fun and games with antenatal class on the way soon!

The top 10 things I will never say to a pregnant woman again

Before falling pregnant I was one of those annoying people who laughed derisively and said things like, “that’ll be you soon” every time we saw a new parent struggling with a bawling child. But as I enter my third trimester, I have come to realise just how irritating those people – and those statements – are.

Based on my experiences over the past couple of months I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 things I will never say to a pregnant woman again. This will no doubt help you avoid future unpleasantness, deep eye-rolls and sarcastic responses from the pregnant women in your life.

Ah shame, you can’t have this can you?

Whether referencing a glass of wine on a Friday afternoon, a giant plate of sushi or a binge at the cheeseboard, it’s excessively annoying to be reminded of the things you cannot have. I know I can’t drink and I know I can’t have that salmon sashimi or delicious Camembert, but that doesn’t change the fact that I bloody-well want to! Having every Tom, Dick and Harry remind you of the things you can’t have (which, by the way are innumerable) is enough to inspire most hormone-soaked women to commit homicide.

Jeeze that kid can scream – hey, that’ll be you soon

Probably, yes. Do you really think it hasn’t crossed my mind just how completely inept I’m likely to be as a parent? That I’m unlikely to know what my new born or three-month old wants when he starts screaming his head off in the middle of a crowded restaurant? That I haven’t considered that I’m likely to annoy the living hell out of every living creature in a 50m radius by virtue of my total lack of experience? Because I have. I’ve spent countless sleepless nights worrying about the type of parent I’ll be, whether I’ll even know how to hold my child properly, never mind be able to soothe him when he’s upset. I’ve spent innumerable hours agonising over the sheer lack of experience in my parenting resume and I really don’t need to you to remind me of it.

I bet you’re dying for a drink?

No shit. I’m fat, I’m bloated, last time I sneezed I nearly peed myself, I have the world’s shortest fuse and I haven’t had a drink in months. Of course I’m bloody dying for a drink. Idiot.

So have you had to buy maternity clothes yet?

No, of course all my clothes still fit me. I’m 10kg heavier than I was six months ago, what do you think? Moron.

So, are you ready for this?

No I’m bloody not – would you be? Is anyone ever ready to become a parent? If we waited until we were ready for these things, we’d never do them. Do you think your parents were ready for you when you were just a bundle of poop and vomit? Of course not. Even if you were the 5th kid, they were not in any way, shape or form ready for you. No one is ever ready to give up sleeping for the next 18-to-25 years, to relinquish their freedom and to sacrifice their body. What a stupid question.

Hope you’ve caught up on your sleep

You do realise that – barring when you actually have your little bundle of joy screaming at all hours of the night – during your pregnancy is probably when you sleep the least, right? There are so many things that contribute to a person’s inability to sleep during pregnancy – you can’t get comfortable, you have another human lying on your lungs, you have literally a million new things to worry and stress about, and we all know stress and sleep are inversely proportionate. Just the idea of catching up on sleep, or storing sleep – like there is some kind of magical sleep bank – is completely absurd.

OMG, where’s the baby?

It’s in there, I promise. I can feel him. He’s been riding my bladder like a pony all day. He kicks my ribs and twists my insides into the most incredible positions – trust me, he’s in there. Just because I haven’t literally spent the last 7 months eating for two, does not mean this baby is anything less that flipping huge in there!

Ah, your tummy is so…

My tummy is so what? If you’re going to finish that sentence with “huge” or “round” or anything even remotely similar, don’t. In fact, when it comes to pregnant women, don’t say anything about the size of their tummies because I promise you, nothing you say is what they want to hear.

Can I touch your—

No, you f*cking can’t! Unless you were there when this baby was put into my tummy, you may not touch it. What is it about pregnancy that makes people lose all sense of propriety? I don’t walk around grabbing people’s crotches or fondling their breasts, so why do people automatically think they have some sort of right to your body when you’re pregnant. It’s hard enough sharing your body with another human being, but to have total strangers feel they have the right to touch you – no, just no.

Shame, at least we can drink through this, you have to be sober!

Yeah, thanks for the reminder. A-hole.

Having experienced all of these situations first-hand, let me assure you, pregnant women don’t want to be reminded of the things they can’t do, the things they’re worried they won’t be able to do, or the things they should be doing. If you value your life – and let’s face it, around hormonal pregnant women, you really should tread lightly – don’t make these mistakes. Even if she jokes about catching up on sleep, or how she’s dying for a drink, don’t jump on the bandwagon. Smile, laugh even if it’s appropriate, say something like, “shame, I can only imagine” and move on to a less contentious topic – like world politics or religion.

Walking the gauntlet

“Let me give you one bit of advice…” Since we announced we were expecting I’ve heard that phrase more than any other. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that everyone’s advice is completely well-intentioned, but from the perspective of a soon-to-be-mom, it’s very overwhelming.

One of the most overwhelming experiences for any soon-to-be-parent – and one jam-packed with advice – is the Genesis Clinic Open Day. As we were interested in taking as natural an approach as possible, we thought it would be a good place to gather some info about the whos, wheres and hows of it all.

We arrived at Genesis about halfway through the four-hour open day to find a veritable gauntlet of midwives, doulas, antenatal and postnatal clinic sisters, cloth nappy manufacturers and maternity-wear salespeople… every manner of pregnancy- and baby-related profession and paraphernalia was on display.

We tentatively made our way towards the reception desk, careful not to make eye-contact with anyone, to find out when the next facility tour would be. Fortunately, we didn’t have long to wait, but once that was done, we’d have to venture back out into the trenches.

Genesis, as a birthing clinic, is truly stunning. If you have your heart set on a natural delivery, do yourself a favour and take a tour of the clinic. It gives you an opportunity to ask your questions without feeling self-conscious about your lack of knowledge, because even the mom-of-three-heavily-pregnant-with-her-fourth across the room from me during the tour had questions, which the nurse giving the tour graciously answered.

After going through the tour, we were both comfortable that Genesis would be a good fit for us, now all that remained was to find a midwife to do the delivery. Easy right? Ja right.

Walking back out into the gauntlet, tightly gripping each other’s hands, we were immediately targeted by a jovial, friendly-looking woman who thrust her card into my hand. I glanced at it just long enough to take in that she was a doula. Her eagerness to sell, not only her services, but those of her midwife partner was palpable and not the least bit reassuring. Within seconds of her initial assault I was withdrawing into myself, seeking a safe place where this lady couldn’t reach me. Becs, sensing my apprehension, began wrapping up the conversation. We thanked “over-eager lady” for her card and the chat and quickly moved on.

The next thing I saw was a lady wearing a shirt proudly emblazoned with the word “placentavore”. What? Exactly what you’re thinking it is, that’s what it is. As in “let us help you eat your child’s placenta.” I say again, what? I caught Becs’s eye and discretely motioned towards the self-proclaimed placentavore with my head. Her eyes widened, she lookeds back at me – horrified – and as one, we changed direction.

It wasn’t long before we were descended on by the next person eager to be our midwife / doula / caregiver – a friendly older woman with – based on her clothing and the bushy state of her unbrushed hair – a clear passion for all things natural. We chatted to her for a while and, not really feeling her vibe, thanked her for her time and moved on.

For whatever reason, we were then given a bit of breathing room. Becs turned to me and said, “How the heck do you choose a midwife?” “Who knows…” I replied looking around at the little tables that still stood between us and the exit. At which point a kind-looking woman made eye-contact with us and we instinctively moved towards her as if being drawn in by some invisible force.

Becs repeated her question to the lady, “how does one chooses a midwife?” The kind-looking lady, who turned out to be Sr Lindsay van der Walt from Infinity Babies – our future midwife – smiled knowingly and replied, “it’s a bit like a first date, really. You chat to a couple of people and see who you connect with.” We smiled and glanced at each other knowingly – it had been a while since either of us had been on a “first date”. We chatted to her for a bit longer, gave her my number so she could contact me on the Monday to set up a free “first date” and made our way towards the exit.

On the way out, we discussed how much we’d liked her, how she’d made us feel reassured, rather than overwhelmed, which – we both thought – was a good sign. We agreed that we’d go on that “first date” and take it from there.

When it comes to advice, it’s important to remember that everyone has – and is entitled to – their opinions. Everyone believes what they did was best and will vehemently advocate one course of action over another. But, quite honestly, the best advice anyone will ever be able to give you is to listen to everyone, and then do whatever you feel is right for you and your child. The same can be said about choosing a midwife / gynae / doula / caregiver. Chat to a few people, listen to the advice of others that you trust and then find one that you fit with.

The first major milestone

The first milestone most women work towards in pregnancy is the 12-week mark – the end of the dreaded first trimester. It’s a key milestone for a number of reasons. Firstly, if you’ve had a kak first trimester and struggled with morning sickness, you generally start to feel better after 12 or 13 weeks. Secondly, it’s the point at which most people start sharing their good news more broadly, because the odds of losing the baby reduce quite significantly at this point. And finally, between 12 and 13 weeks is when the various down syndrome tests are performed.

The first test is a diagnostic ultrasound performed by a specialist – either a diagnostic radiologist or a specialist gynaecologist (the latter of which is substantially more expensive). During the scan, they measure about a million different things from skin folds to nose bones and the size of the little tummy.

The second test is a blood test that looks for certain markers, indicating the risk level of the pregnancy. The older you are, the higher your risk, regardless of any other factors. Throw IVF into the mix and – for whatever reason – you’re a higher risk.

The final test, which most doctors only opt for if you have markers on (either or both) the scan and the blood test, is the amniocentesis. An amnio is an invasive procedure that involves sticking a moerse needle through your tummy and into your uterus to draw up some of the fluid around the baby. Genetic testing is then performed on the fluid to ensure the correct chromosomal count. The procedure is relatively risky and has – in some cases – resulted in miscarriage.

Becs and I had discussed the tests at length and had decided to do the scan and then play it by ear. We’d heard so many horror stories about the blood tests returning a false positive, resulting in unnecessary amnios and unnecessary risk to mom and baby. So, we decided, if the scan came back “clear”, we wouldn’t do any of the other tests. And if the scan presented any concerning results? We would – as they say – cross that bridge if we came to it.

The whole point of all of this is to give parents the option of terminating the pregnancy if they discover the child is down syndrome. The idea of termination after we’d fought so hard to get here seemed completely ludicrous, but the idea of raising a down syndrome child was terrifying on so many levels. It’s these situations that really give meaning to phrases like “between a rock and a hard place” or “between the devil and deep blue sea”. We didn’t have a clue what we would do if the tests came back with markers – would we terminate? Would we push on? How would we afford the additional expenses that undoubtedly come with a down syndrome child? If we did terminate, how would we afford to do this again – we’d exhausted our savings and then some? Would we ever forgive ourselves either way?

Unfortunately, Becs couldn’t get off work, so I went for the scan on my own. It was daunting, but I kept reminding myself of the silly things we’d pinned our hopes on – the dream I’d had of him when I was 10-weeks in, blind faith, the gods…

In the consultation after the scan, the doctor unpacked the reasons he advocates the blood test and how the odds of correct diagnosis increase with each subsequent test. I told him about the false positive stories we’d heard and how we had decided to trust the results of the scan. He insisted I take the form for the blood tests anyway – just in case we changed our minds. I thanked him for his time and the form, and left his office.

I called Becs from the car to give her the good news and tell her that – although I had the form – I didn’t think we’d need the blood test. She agreed wholeheartedly and reiterated her confidence that everything would be fine.

That evening we shared our announcement video on social media. And the blood test form? That’s still stuck on the side of the fridge, all-but discarded.

A beating heart and a world of possibilities

A month after the embryo implantation and two weeks after our first scan to confirm everything was on track, we were back at Dr Patel’s offices for an early morning scan. At about 7 or 8 weeks, there was bound to be more to see this time, and we were not disappointed.

We had a basic idea of what to expect, having followed the development of our little “Spot” on a multitude of apps and in a variety of books. We know that he / she had now evolved into something completely alien, but totally awe-inspiring and we were both completely in love with him / her. When Dr Patel said she was going to check the heart rate, my heart nearly stopped. This was it, we were going to hear the beating heart of our tiny human…

Hearing the thumpity-thump of that tiny little heartbeat for the first time is a feeling unlike any other – and not one you ever get used to. If you don’t have (or aren’t expecting) kids, it’s difficult to describe the overwhelming nature of the feelings that wash over you in that moment. You’re hearing the heartbeat of something – no, someone – you made!! A soon-to-be-human being that is only in existence because of actions you took. I know they say pregnancy hormones wreak havoc on your body and mind, but I’m pretty sure you can’t attribute all of it to the hormones. I mean, even Becs was crying!

We left the doctor’s rooms absolutely euphoric – as if hearing the beating of that tiny heart had validated every moment of sadness and heartache we’d experienced through our journey.

Over the months that followed I was very lucky – only minimally affected by the trauma of first trimester symptoms, like morning sickness – and by 12 weeks we were almost free and clear, just one last hurdle before we could share our happy news… The dreaded down syndrome tests.

The first photoshoot

It was almost three weeks after the embryo implantation and just one week after the false negative the preceded the confirmed positive. We’d arrived at the doctor’s office for a scan to confirm everything was progressing as it should. According to the charts, etc. we were ±6 weeks pregnant – bearing in mind that you don’t start counting from conception, but rather from the date of your last period (don’t worry, I didn’t know that either).

Before we went into the scan room, we sat with our doctor in her consultation room as she explained what, in an ideal world, we should see. She explained that we could see any one of the first three stages of pregnancy on this scan – an egg sack, with a yolk sack, or either of the first two stages of a new foetus. She sketched the three stages to give us an indication of what to look out for and the three of us excitedly headed into the scan room.

It was a pretty nerve-wracking time, waiting for something – anything – to appear on that screen, to confirm the blood tests hadn’t raised our hopes for nothing. I gripped Becs’s hand tightly as we both stared expectantly at the screen. “There is it,” Dr Patel announced, pointing to a blob on the screen, “a good-looking egg and yolk sack, so about 5 weeks.” My heart almost exploded! There it was – our little Spot – right there for all to see!

We were over the moon, and officially pregnant! Immediately after the appointment we posted the pics Becs had taken of the scans to our family Whatsapp groups and shared the joyous confirmation. Our little Spot was scheduled to arrive around Christmas time. The previous December, when we’d done our last official IUI attempt, Becs had joked that “maybe we’d get a baby for Christmas” because the results were due just before Christmas. As it turned out, she’d been right, we just hadn’t specified which Christmas.