Straight after having my 1st baby, hormones consumed my life. I found myself an emotional wreck. My mood swings were wild and unpredictable. One moment I’d be intensely angry, a split second later I’d be laughing at whatever had set me off to begin. Mainly, I cried. I was incapable of hiding any emotion or even trying to keep it to myself.
Luckily, as my body settled, my moods did too.
Surprisingly, I found out I was pregnant again only 15 weeks after the birth of my son, my main concern was dealing with those pesky hormones once more. I’d only just managed to regain control, I hated the thought that I was about to lose it all over again.
Then my daughter arrived 9 weeks early and I found myself more in control than I’d ever been in my life. Having always had emotional tendencies, people expected me to be unstable. Even my Mother thought I wouldn’t cope at the challenge ahead. The truth is though, Siena’s prematurity meant that I needed to be strong. I didn’t have time to wallow or feel depressed, she needed me to be focused and she definitely needed optimism.
Siena’s birth forced me to evaluate every character trait I possessed. Before her, I could be sulky and more annoyingly, touchy. I took everything personal, I could be insanely sensitive. Following her birth, I found myself thrust into positions where I could have been so easily offended. It became obvious that people didn’t know what to say to me or how to approach the subject of my sick child. In these moments, I found myself holding back the tears or boiling with anger. Yet, I never showed it. I bit my tongue, forced a smile and nodded in agreement. This wasn’t a time to isolate people or make them feel worse than they already did. I want to take a minute to apologise for being offended, I’m now able to reflect and realise that it was hard for people to show empathy having no idea what we were going through. It was hard for them to relate to our situation or understand that what they’d said was insensitive. So…
It no longer offends me that you told me I was lucky for not gaining weight. At the time, this was not a priority of mine. I would have happily gained 19 stone if it meant I needn’t watch my daughter fight for her life. There was no apparent reason to why Siena came early. This subject made me feel so guilty. Why hadn’t I gained more weight? Could this be the reason why Siena decided to exit so early? If I’d eaten a higher calorific diet would she have been more satisfied? I’m able to banish this guilt now more than ever. Siena was born at 31 weeks weighing 3lb 14oz, I may have only partly cooked her but she was big for her gestation. She had obviously been satisfied and I had obviously fed her enough.
It no longer offends me that you told me I was lucky because at least I could sleep. I didn’t sleep, I’d set my alarm for every three hours so that I could breast pump. It killed me knowing someone else was caring for my daughter, expressing was the only thing I could do to feel like her Mother. In between the expressing, I’d lie awake crying, feeling useless, missing my daughter. Siena had her nights and days mixed up which meant that I would spend all day at NICU watching her sleep. I’d get up and go straight to hospital to hear how she’d kept the nurses entertained with her gassy smiles and wide eyes. I wanted that, I’d do anything to see her awake. When Siena was at North Tees, I lived with her. I’d spend all night by her side singing lullabies and reading her stories. It wasn’t enough, I needed her where she belonged. When I wasn’t by her side, I’d sit watching videos of her brother, longing for a cottage pie kiss. Only now can I see that you were trying to comfort me. You were desperately clinging to anything positive to say, you weren’t aware of how painful my nights were.
It no longer offends me that you told me I had a ‘big’ baby. Yes, for her gestation Siena was big as I mentioned before. This comment made me feel as though my worry and doubt about Siena’s health wasn’t warranted. It made me feel petty for getting upset. Siena was more poorly than we ever let on. Her early days had been extremely scary. Her size was an indication that she had been progressing successfully but it didn’t have a direct impact on her health. I’m now able to see that you were offering me words of comfort and that it was my problem for not seeing that immediately.
It no longer offends me that you told me I’d have a baby for longer. Once more, this is not something I cared about. I didn’t care whether Siena was big or small, like a baby or a toddler from birth. I just wanted her to be healthy. Siena is now 8 months and she is still very much like a baby. You were right, I’ve cherished every moment with her – and knowing she’ll be my last, I’ve been able to savour each shoulder cuddle, every bottle. She’s growing so quickly now and I’m ready to watch my caterpillar transform and grow her wings.
It no longer offends me that you tell me you wish you’d go into labour early/had gone into labour early. Now this one used to really upset me, having a premature baby isn’t something any mother should want. Having a baby in NICU is not fun. It’s emotionally draining to see someone care for your baby; to not be able to cuddle them whenever you please; to watch them struggle, cluttered in wires and tubes; to not know when they’ll be well enough for home. It’s taken me a while to realise you don’t mean it, you’re just fed up at how shitty you’re feeling. Also, I’ve never reached full term. I can’t judge someone for how it must feel in those final days. Going over a due date can have just as serious consequences too, I now recognise your discomfort and fear…but please, don’t wish your pregnancy away.
It no longer offends me that you told me she’d be ‘normal’ one day (she’s my daughter, she’s got no hope of ‘normality’ ever). When Siena was 1st born, she still felt ‘normal’. As she grows, she still feels ‘normal’. She’s smaller than other babies her age, she’s not advanced as those babies either but she’s perfectly formed. Yet now I see that she isn’t ‘normal’ she’s blessed with hope and strength. She’s sprinkled with miracle dust. I no longer hear this statement as you judging her or thinking of her as ‘abnormal’ I now can accept that all you meant is that one day, her hard start to life wouldn’t be noticeable. One day, people won’t realise that there was ever anything different about her.
It no longer offends me that you told me Siena was ‘becoming beautiful’. To me, she has always radiated beauty. Even when covered with wires, when her veins shone through her skin, when she was covered in bruises from pin pricks and needles, she was magnificent. At the time, your comments made me feel as though once you thought she wasn’t. It made me feel as though her prematurity made her ugly. It’s only now that I can accept it might have been harder to spot her natural lushness to those who didn’t study her with love. As she grows each day, she does flourish and I know you can now see what I saw from the start.
It no longer offends me that you chose to avoid me but I’ll also never forget. When Siena was born, my eyes were opened to those who had the strength to help and those who couldn’t support me. There were friends and family members who never once asked me how Siena was doing, never once asked me how I was coping, never once visited her in the 5 weeks she spent at hospital. At the time, this hurt me so badly. I felt as though they’d rejected her. I now accept that just because my world had stopped didn’t mean that it had for others. I also know that some people just didn’t know what to say to me, I think of whether this had happened to someone else, would I have done the same? I’m sorry for being offended, we weren’t your problem to deal with.
When Siena was in hospital, I’d hear these things and couldn’t accept them for what they really were. They were meant to be comfort. They were meant to make me feel better. I can see now that the problem lay within me, not within those who said them. I can now think logically and know I’d probably offer some of the same words to others had I not experienced how they made me feel. To those Mammies still going through this early journey, try not to hold these comments in your heart. Look at them on face value and try to find the comfort others try to offer. It’s not easy for you but it’s also not easy for others, they’re trying and that’s what counts.