It seemed that my second pregnancy brought with it a few more issues and concerns than the first time around…
25 December 2006: Merry Christmas!
So there they were: two blue lines on the pregnancy test. I had pretty much been expecting it as my period was five days late. I smiled evilly. I knew just how to play this one.
“Come,” I said to my husband, taking his hand, “I’ve got a little present for you before we go through to my parents for lunch. Right, close your eyes and hold out your hand… okay you can open now. Merry Christmas!”
Frank opened his eyes, smiled at me, stared into the small object in his hands, blinked, turned pale, muttered “What have we done!”, gave me back the test and stalked outside in a few fluid motions to stare thoughtfully into the distance for a while.
And so the news was broken. I laughed – he’s so easy to wind up! Later that day, when the shock had worn off, he took great delight in winking surreptitiously at me every time – to my father’s great astonishment – I politely refused more of the festive wine. Over the next few days he hit that endearing mode of becoming very protective and refusing to let me lift a finger around the house. I had no complaints!
November 2006: one baby or two?
Life has a funny way of working out sometimes. Just a month or so before, we had taken a much-needed week-long family holiday to theCapewith our then 18-month-old firstborn. Sitting in our hotel room every night overlooking the twinkling lights of Simonstown harbour, we had enjoyed our nightly treat ofCapewine, sea air and relaxed conversation while the little man slept peacefully in his cot inside. During this period of unwinding, I ventured one night to bring up the on-again-off-again topic of a second pregnancy – or not?
At this stage, the tally was three pregnancies, two early miscarriages, one baby. We had been trying for Baby #2 (who was always intended to be a little girl) since Liam was 4 months old and thought we had been successful, until I landed up having miscarriage number 2 just before Valentine’s Day 2006.
That one was even harder to recover from mentally than the first time round, but we moved on and were still trying, simply by dint of not stressing too much and not using any contraception. Now it was seven months later. We were on holiday and we had time to think.
We found ourselves in a space where we were thrilled with our little boy, busily trying to get our finances under control for the long term and wondering what was better for our small son overall: more money in the bank, or a sibling to share his life with and teach him all those lessons money can’t always buy?
The upshot of the conversation that holiday night was that we would give it one more month and then, if there was to be no baby by the end of the year, we would resume contraception. We would plan a life in which Liam would be an only child and – we trusted – we could afford to give him all the financial benefits we wanted to, from private school education to owning a pony to family trips overseas.
One month later it was Christmas Day and it looked like the universe had made the decision for us. You have to laugh – sometimes it seems like your real prayers get answered when you aren’t focusing on them with every fibre of your being.
January 2007: it’s real!
However, having been down the road of two early miscarriages, nobody was more aware than I that this pregnancy might not come to ultimate fruition. Having been denied a heartbeat at the first scans not just once, but twice, I would not – could not – believe it in my heart until I saw a flickering heartbeat on the screen at the 8-week scan.
Our kind gynaecologist smiled when he saw us in mid-January. I think he wanted this baby quite badly as well, being himself in the unfortunate position of having performed two D&Cs on me, but not being there when Liam was born due to an unexpected illness that had caused him to refer me to a locum gynaecologist when I was 36 weeks pregnant. So there were three quite tense people when the light was dimmed and the monitor became the focal point of the room. I told myself quietly that if there was no heartbeat then this was really it: I was not going to subject myself to this mental and emotional strain any more.
And there it was straight away: a good-sized little blob with a strong heartbeat. I think I breathed a collective sigh of relief for all three of us.
February, March… is it possible to be so tired?
It was quite surreal at first. As with my pregnancy with Liam, I took a while to show and was instead subjected to the indignity of looking chubbier than usual without actually looking pregnant. Oh well.
The early weeks and months were characterised by a little more nausea than the first time round (but thankfully, again, no actual throwing up), a lot more metallic taste in my mouth and a great deal more fatigue. As far as my exhaustion was concerned, I supposed that the joint pressures of working as well as having a busy toddler to look after in the early mornings and evenings didn’t help, but it really seemed as though I was far more tired this time round. Maybe it was also advancing age… All told, however, it felt quite different from before, so I assumed happily that there was a little girl inside.
I used to fall asleep some nights about six thirty when I was putting little man to bed. Liam still slept in our room in his cot, so it was easy to collapse on our bed and crawl under the covers while he was drifting off on his night-time bottle. I used to try so hard to resist but oh, the flesh was weak and the bed was so soft and tempting…
My kind-hearted Frank was reluctant to wake me and would generally leave me to sleep, but inevitably I awoke about eleven and then had to stumble around the house en route to the great expedition that was the brushing of teeth and the bleary-eyed pulling on of pjamas. (I simply can’t sleep through the night if my teeth haven’t been brushed, and I don’t like sleeping in my clothes either.) At least missing supper on a regular basis was temporarily good for my weight.
April… weighty matters
Ah yes: weight gain. I was horrified at the next couple of weigh-ins after the 8 week scan. It looked like I was starting to pick up a lot of weight really fast. The doctor warned me that second time around was even harder to control the weight gain than first time round, but even so I was not happy. If I compared myself to where I was during my pregnancy with Liam (week by week), matters became even worse!
I had picked up a total of 13kg with Liam, which I knew was really not at all bad, but I was already feeling burdened with extra weight even as I started on this new journey. I’d managed to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight for some months, but I had never quite succeeded in getting back to my pre-wedding weight (a common story, I think!). And that was a big problem for me.
Even as this new pregnancy was progressing, I felt that I was already (again) burdened with a starting weight that was 5kg more than it should have been. So I took action and found a friendly dietician who gave me some really good tips and advice. Thanks to her input, I discovered how making just a few simple changes helped me to control my weight gain going forward and also helped me with my fatigue levels.
In the end, the pressures of being a working mother saw my pregnancy visits to the dietician falling away, but I planned to resume them once the baby was born so she could help me lose the pregnancy weight – and maybe even get back to my pre-wedding weight! – as soon as possible. (All told I was eventually to pick up 14kg, which I was happy with.)
Early May: girl or boy?
We found out definitively at 22 weeks that we were having another little boy. Having set my heart on a girl, I was bitterly disappointed. I didn’t show it in the doctor’s rooms, but back at work the urge to cry was something I felt all day like a hot spring waiting to explode through the earth.
It came out in the evening when Liam was safely asleep. That night and the next, I sobbed uncontrollably for hours. Frank had never seen me like this, ever. I was almost hysterical and simply couldn’t stop until something gentle that he said on the second night managed to break through the barrier of self pity. In between being supportive, Frank’s take on things was more stoic: “Oh well, I’m a bit disappointed myself but life moves on and there’s a little being in there who’ll be joining us soon, so isn’t it great! We’re having a little boy and all that I care about is that he’s healthy.”
Not able myself to adopt this generous attitude quite yet, I asked Frank a few days later to phone the gynae’s rooms to be absolutely sure there wasn’t some room left over for doubt. There was no room, said his receptionist… So I cried some more.
I told myself that I wasn’t a bad person, and I didn’t blame myself for how I felt, but I did feel guilty towards the small blameless person inside. It wasn’t him I was furious with; it was the universe. I reminded myself about all those people who so badly wanted children and couldn’t have them, and how lucky I was to be expecting my second baby, but deep down I remained angry and resentful.
I can’t say I felt as though somebody had died, but certainly a small, happy dream of a little girl to dress in pink and frills was no more. My image of my future self had been forcibly steered in a direction I had never seen myself taking. And I really hate feeling like I’m not in control.
Late May: the quiet baby – a taste of hospital
And where was the new baby in the tale thus far? A valid question. By now I obviously looked pregnant to the world, I felt pregnant, the baby was moving nicely inside… but where was my intense heart-connection to this new soul? I mean sure, it was there, but it wasn’t like it had been before… and it was painful to feel.
Often I came to the end of the day and, having flopped exhausted onto the couch once little man was asleep, would then feel a polite little kick inside, to which I immediately responded with a huge surge of guilt. I was now almost six months pregnant and it seemed like I wasn’t connecting enough with this new life.
Somehow, it just hadn’t been the same as it had been first time round. There didn’t seem to be the same amount of time to think, to dream, to bond… My feelings were only mildly assuaged by a conversation I remembered many times from early in my pregnancy. A friend who was already a mother of two warned me well in advance – at just 12 weeks – that the second pregnancy would fly past and that it would be different from before. Why?
Well, add up being a working mother plus looking after a busy toddler plus all the increasing demands of my job and the merry-go-round of life in general – plus of course all the resultant fatigue – and you start to come close to an answer of sorts. Perhaps the biggest factor in feeling that I wasn’t bonding enough with my unborn child was the presence of my first-born. Let’s face it, toddlers are demanding! You can be dropping with fatigue and if your toddler needs attention, somebody has to respond. At times I did wish that the gap between them (it will be 2 years and 4 months) could have been greater. However, due to biological clicks ticking furiously (hers AND his) we had needed to try for a small gap or not at all – we felt we didn’t really have much choice.
And then I contracted pneumonia quite suddenly at the end of May and went to the casualty department of our nearby hospital late one night, where I remained – much to my surprise – for five days, and where things changed a little bit.
My physician was concerned about the complication of my being 26 weeks pregnant on top of the pneumonia. It was decided that I should be cared for jointly by himself and one of his gynaecologist colleagues, and I was placed in the maternity ward. Over five days and nights, I shared a room with three other pregnant women and the treatment included regular monitoring of my baby’s heartbeat, daily visits from both doctors and two scans.
Liam was brought in to see me on my third day in hospital, but he became so upset that we decided not to bring him in again.
Suddenly I had not much else to do (when I wasn’t being given food, tea, medicine or physiotherapy) except lie in bed, read or sleep, and think and dream. Suddenly I had time to connect with my new baby – the “quiet baby” as I had been calling him for so long. It was then I realised how much being the mother of a little person who was barely more than a baby himself had impacted on my second pregnancy – just as my friend had warned.
And one day while I was still in hospital I didn’t mind any more about not having a little girl. Finally I felt like I had a connection with this new little soul in his own right – a real person; a boy person. It was a proper connection at last.
June, July… VBAC or Caesar?
With Liam’s birth, I had finally chosen an elective Caesar at the end of my pregnancy for the main reason that a friend’s baby had died during natural childbirth. I had vicariously relished every moment of her pregnancy with her, wishing at the time that it was me too, and was distraught at her baby’s death. When it did become my turn, I thought long and hard about my options and finally, when I was about 37 weeks pregnant and now seeing the locum gynaecologist, decided to opt for a Caesarian.
However, second time around and back with my own doctor, I felt calmer and thought that it would be good to experience a natural birth – or at least try.
I discussed it with him when I was about 30 weeks and he said “Let’s wait and see” – which I understood. He explained his position: he wanted us to try only if the baby looked like he was presenting as a “super-favourable, super-fast labour – and at the first sign of complications, off to theatre and no chances taken.” I had no problem with the latter; the baby’s safety was of course paramount.
I was later to read a well-balanced article in Your Pregnancy on VBACs and it was reassuring to discover that my doctor’s attitude and thoughts tallied quite closely with the information presented in the article. One of the issues to think about was the baby’s size when thinking about a natural birth after a Caesar: a birth-weight approaching 4kg was deemed to be potentially too much of a strain on the existing Caesar scar.
So as luck would have it, my baby started to grow.
Liam was born weighing 3.5kg and his little brother, reckoned my cautious doctor at about 35 weeks, was very likely to match or beat this weight. If so, he said, he would prefer no natural birth as he felt the strain on the existing scar would be too risky. He said, however, that he was happy to consider a natural birth if labour started spontaneously some time before term but after 37 weeks (when the baby’s lungs should be fully developed) and if everything looked favourable – including size. So we would be playing a waiting game – or was that “weighting” game!
I was simultaneously a little disappointed and a little relieved at the probable thought of another Caesar, but happy to accept this position in the best interests of the baby.
August – almost D-Day
I had my very last check-up on a Thursday, when I had reached 39 weeks and 2 days. It was then a given on all sides – mine too – that it would be a Caesar. By now I was tired and sore – much more on both counts than I had been with Liam – and quite frankly at that check-up I was ready to have the baby the next day! However, I’d only stopped working the previous day (my choice) and felt I still had a few things to do to prepare myself for the baby’s birth – including a spot of relaxing. So we scheduled the baby’s birth date for the day before my due date – a Monday.
Over the next few days I continued feeling tired and sore, in the main, but the excitement was building and it was so good to know that I was finally going to see my Little Man No 2 face to face. Frank and I both agreed that the road had seemed longer this time around. I suppose that’s what happens when you seem to have more to think about.
Matthew Ian Daniel Fouché was born on 27 August at 13:47 weighing 3.66kg and measuring 53cm in length. There is a part of me that still wishes I had experienced a natural birth, but my choice brought him to me safely and after what my friend went through, that, for me, is paramount.
Matthew was shown to me almost immediately after his birth, and then given to me just a few minutes into his life, where he stayed for the next few hours, breastfeeding almost from the word go. My Caesar was handled with dignity and respect for both me and my baby, and my main worries about the procedure (becoming woozy during the operation and feeling “not quite there”) were rendered null and void by the marvellous anaesthetist, who visited me before the operation and took note of my fears.
Matthew’s second names are for three beloved and great men in our lives: the late Ian Gillies (he owned Giles restaurant in Johannesburg), a wonderful humanitarian and friend to Frank who remains sorely missed; the late Ion Williams, wise conservationist and surrogate father figure to Frank, and my Great-Uncle Danny, an inspirational go-getter from Newcastle in the UK, who’s now in his 90s and still going strong. Wonderful role models, all three.
And Matthew itself? Well, it was a name we both liked which was in my head for a long time. It means “Gift of God”. When I found that out – after all my ragings against the universe once upon a time – I had to smile. It is, of course, absolutely true.