Being the Default Parent

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I got into an argument. We were lying in the bed one morning, discussing our weekend plans, and he made a joke about being “buzzed” by noon. I quipped that it must be nice to just do whatever he wants on the weekends. He responded by telling me I could, too. I gave him a look that could kill. “Oh yeah, then who would watch the baby? I can’t get drunk, I’m the default parent.”

He really took offense to that statement and it made me realize that he really truly does think that the amount of parenting we do is equal. He doesn’t understand that he never has to ask me to watch our son while he runs out to the store, hangs out with his friends, or even just disappears to the garage for a few hours. He doesn’t understand that not being the default parent means that he has never once made a doctor’s appointment, and he’s never prepared bottles for the day. He’s only bought diapers twice, on my instruction; he’s never bought baby food; he couldn’t even tell you how many packs of wipes are left (it’s one, by the way, the shipment arrives on the 14th); and he doesn’t even know what to pack in the diaper bag.

Being the default parent means that even when the other parent is around, you are the one in charge. They are free to come and go as they please and not have to worry about somebody being responsible for the child, because they just know you’ve got it. With the exception of a couple of quick trips to the store and going to work each day, I have been out alone, without my son, one time to get my hair cut.

It’s not all my husband’s fault though, about leaving without him. I prefer to spend time with my son, most of the time. Occasionally though, occasionally, I would love to just sit in silence in my own bed without being touched. I would like to have the time to actually go through all my clothes that are piled in laundry baskets next to the bed and put them away, or throw them away, whichever they need. I would like to have the time to organize my bathroom or clean out my car or the myriad of other things that I can’t do while holding/entertaining/feeding O.

I don’t want to diminish my husband’s role, though. He’s great with O. He probably cares for him more often than many dads because of his work schedule. He’s home alone with him, as the primary caregiver, for 10-12 days a month. He does most of the bath duty and he changes his fair share of diapers, but at the end of the day, O is ultimately my responsibility. I’m the default parent.

I would suspect that this role mostly falls on the mother in most hetero-relationships.

How about you? Are YOU the default parent? How do you get your significant other to step up and offer help? Are we forever doomed to have to ask them for what we need (like taking out the trash)?

Thankful for the Bad

The month of September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Awareness Month. As it affects between 6 to 10% of all women across the world, we will be having voices from across the community share their experiences of the syndrome from the diagnosis through to having a child.

I was diagnosed with PCOS on September 14, 2012 after I went to my OB/GYN worried about my missing cycle. I had gone off of birth control a few months prior and hadn’t had a cycle since. After numerous negative pregnancy tests, I finally mustered up the courage to talk to someone. As soon as I rattled off my mysterious symptoms (missing periods, rapid weight gain during college, abnormal hair growth under my chin), my OB diagnosed me with PCOS. It was unofficial until my blood results came back, but a few days later, I hung up the phone with a diagnosis.

Three years later, I am the proud mother of a 13-month-old boy. It took losing 40 pounds, more Metformin pills than I care to count, getting poked and prodded by what felt like every medical professional in the state, moving from my OB to my RE, and three rounds of Clomid.

Looking back at the last three years, I get emotional. When I was first diagnosed, I knew nothing about PCOS. As soon as I got home, I turned to the internet to find answers. Almost instantly, I found blog after blog about PCOS and infertility. I immersed myself in reading them and, throughout the years, I learned more about my diagnosis and treatment than any doctor could have told me. I eventually started a blog of my own and connected with other women around the world who would become my biggest supporters.

Even though PCOS took away my privacy, it brought me a group of close girlfriends.

Even though PCOS took away my hope at times, my hope was restored when I saw others succeed.

Even though PCOS took my money, it taught me to be resourceful and to take help from others.

It’s strange to think that I’m thankful for my PCOS. While I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, I am thankful for the path it lead me down, and the friendships I have made along the way.

Mothering Without a Mother

I slept through the night at 6 weeks old and was also started on rice cereal and puréed pears at the same time.

I had breast milk for 2 months and then formula.

I had cereal, fruit, and fruit juices at 2 months old.

I had vegetables and meat at 3 months old, and ham seemed to upset my stomach.

I smiled and relaxed if someone stroked my head when I was 6 months old.

2015-09-14 15.22.13
My baby book. Copyright Beckdogenator 2015

I only know these things because my mother kept a baby book for me until I was about 9 months old. I’m sure as I—her third and last child—got more mobile, she stopped filling in the missing pieces.

She has been gone for almost 8 years now. Just writing that still makes me catch my breath; tears well up and I feel the tightening in my chest.

I miss her.

2015-09-14 15.22.46
Me and my mom, circa 1976. Copyright Beckdogenator 2015

September in the United States is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. Ovarian cancer is typically diagnosed later in the disease because many of the symptoms—nonspecific, like weight loss, loss of appetite, and gastrointestinal issues—are absent in the early stages and overlooked in more advanced stages. My mother was diagnosed at Stage 4 after emergency surgery that resulted in tumor debulking and a hysterectomy. She and I had not been close prior to that surgery. Unfortunately, it took preparing for her immediate death to change our relationship. As she recovered in her hospital room, I visited every day. Sometimes we would talk, but every time, I massaged her feet. She said that I was always welcome because she didn’t have to do anything other than be. I wrote her a letter in which I apologized that we hadn’t been closer, that I was letting go of my anger with her about things in the past—things neither of us could change now. She read the letter while I rubbed her feet and then she promised me, “Things will never be the same between us again.” They weren’t. Our relationship became something that I had always wanted—a close bond with frequent contact.

I secretly, selfishly sobbed throughout my sister’s wedding many years ago because I knew my mom wouldn’t be able to attend my wedding, see my children. After a while, I decided to celebrate with my mom the experiences she would get to have. My mom and I were both present when my sister’s first daughter was born. Tears of happiness erupted uncontrollably when my niece joined the world, unlike anything I had experienced before. I listened as my mother would update me on my nephew’s little league games. She was an amazing grandmother to my nieces and nephew. She loved being a grandmother.

2015-09-14 15.23.26
My mother, sister and brand new niece. Copyright Beckdogenator 2015

She would have fallen in love with my girls, too.

While I didn’t have my own children yet, I observed what it meant to be a mother during the six years that I helped take care of her—from the viewpoint as both her child and as an adult.

She was fierce. Despite a dire prognosis at the outset, she lived years longer than expected. She held hope in her heart and hands, with the mantra to “believe in the miracle.” Hope can be a loaded concept, but I relied on it and the hope others held for me on our journey to have our girls.

She was protective. Even as we cared for her in hospice, she didn’t want to burden us with her fears and pain, no matter how much I begged her to share her fears and told her that it was okay. Except the one time when she talked about how she wasn’t ready to go yet. She thought she would live longer. The fear, the anxiety, the sadness about leaving a life she wasn’t ready to relinquish is a conversation I still carry around with me. As clearly as I remember holding her hand during those last days.

She was loving. We never ended a phone call without saying, “I love you,” and we never parted without saying it while hugging.

She was the heart of our family. We came together for dinners, celebrating holidays and birthdays. They were almost always at her house, as close to the center of our individual families as we were going to get. She kept us tightly knit and we unraveled after she left us.

She was my cheerleader. She watched me suffer with depression since I was a teenager. She always wanted me to go on medication but I couldn’t—I got a healthy dose of her stubbornness, and I saw medication as defeat. She supported me when I decided to leave teaching for pharmacy. She yelled with delight when I got into the University of California, San Francisco, for my PharmD. She breathed a sigh of relief then, feeling like I would be okay when she was gone.

She was my best friend. I spent much of my summer vacations from teaching being with her after her diagnosis. She would have more surgeries. She would have several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. I saw this as my time to help take care of her and talk with her. Yet I didn’t talk to her about what it would be like if I had children, what I should know, how things were with me. I didn’t prepare myself to be a motherless mother—I was having too much difficulty just being a motherless daughter. Maybe she knew that I wouldn’t put my life in a forward motion while she was still alive. I tried to will time to move as slowly as possible, since she lived on borrowed time. Often times, we just sat quietly together—some of the best moments of my life.

She is my inspiration for the kind of mother I want to be. I remember and celebrate the very best of her, while being cognizant that she was very much human with human faults. She didn’t always know how to make everyone happy but, more importantly, knew that she couldn’t make everyone happy and accepted it.

She passed away thinking that I might never get married, never have children—but while she was alive, I wasn’t going to do those things because I spent so much of my time with her. I knew the time of our parting would be coming sooner than I wanted, and spending time with her became my priority. It would be years after she died before I would be ready for my husband and our journey.

2015-06-26 12.40.14
Me and my girls, circa 2015. Copyright Beckdogenator 2015

Sometimes I daydream about what things would be like if she were still here. I imagine her holding my girls and talking to them. I think about spending Christmas with her and the rest of my extended family. I imagine her hands holding my girls’ hands. As the days go by, I look down at my own hands and see hers more and more.

Based on her example, I keep fastidious notes for my girls in their own baby books. Maybe I am worried that I will leave them before I am ready, too.

2015-09-14 15.39.00
My girls’ baby books. Copyright Beckdogenator 2015

The Incompetent Mother

There’s nothing quite like a bit of infertility or loss to feel entirely incompetent as a human being. After all, reproduction should be pretty simple to master, right? You wee on a stick, say, ‘Here we go again,’ and things go wrong. They might not be realistically within your control—but your body, your failure, eh?

You then have a chance of a golden ticket. You not only become pregnant but you stay pregnant. Now, after all those previous incompetencies, surely this one must fail too? The further along you go, you start to smile a little, but still, at the back of your mind, you are waiting for that failure, the point where it all goes wrong. So panic attacks are regular but, as someone who has had anxiety all of their life, you can mostly deal with it by yourself. You are spotted by the mental health in pregnancy team and given additional support.

Your due date looms and passes. People tease you about how big the baby will be but all you have fixed in your mind is how frightened you are that the baby is going to die either before or during birth. Nobody really takes you seriously and when the midwife says that there is no chance of an elective C-section, you break down with such a certain fear that you will still not get to take a healthy, happy baby home.

Labour then starts a couple of days later. It is terrifying how little control you have over your body. The pain is dreadful but worse is still that fear that there will be no baby to take home. The midwives are straight forward and full of common sense but your sense of inevitable doom does not help you not to hate them. They see the ‘5+1 gravida’ written at the top of your notes and of course, the fact that you are in the delivery suite should mean that the ‘+1’ will go into the live births side. To you, it constantly slides into the other column and leaves the live births side still at a 0.

After almost 34 hours of labour, the baby is born healthy. You instantly hold her skin-to-skin and welcome her to the world. She doesn’t take to your breast as you’d hoped but you cuddle her close and tight, feeling like it’s just you and her in the world. You didn’t read any baby books during pregnancy because you didn’t think there would be a baby. You have no idea that babies should be fed every 2-3 hours when they are newborn, so due to her lack of latch, she slowly becomes more and more dehydrated. Screaming and crying, because you think she is in pain after her Ventouse delivery, but really it’s because she’s hungry. The doctor does a blood test and finds that her bilirubin levels are much higher than they should be. You keep trying with breastfeeding, hand expressing tiny amounts of colostrum, but due to tiredness, she struggles to stay awake and just cries herself to sleep again. A doctor the following morning then tells you off for not feeding your baby and you go in tears to the head midwife to ask for some formula. Another failure.

Once you finally get home after establishing a strict feeding schedule of pumping and formula, you feel ready to start over. Now is the time to enjoy your baby. The first thing everyone asks is, ‘Is she a good baby?’ You think this is a daft question but you have noticed how much she cries. And cries. And cries. Usually straight after a feed. You think it is just a bit of reflux—not much can be done to stop that, so you try to deal with it by yourself. You notice that when your partner comes home, you can only remember the negative, bad things that have happened. You can remember her clawing at your breast in frustration and the fact that she fed from you for four and a half hours using the plastic nipple to latch on. You know you haven’t brushed your teeth in several days, or showered in two. You know the house is dirty, but it was dirty before you had a baby, so why would it change now?

You go to breastfeeding cafés to try to get her to latch. The tongue tie specialist notices she has a tiny tongue tie that could possibly inhibit her chances of being able to latch. She refers you to the NHS team and tells you to go to your GP to get a referral from them to the tongue tie clinic. You think about it. You talk to family. They say it’s up to you, but in your head you wonder why on earth would you put your baby through an elective procedure that may not even help her? Why would you chose to put your baby through pain for something that might not work? You decide against it, but spend the next few months feeling more and more alone, pumping at all hours of the day and night. People might look oddly at breastfeeders, but my goodness do they dish out some dirty looks and comments about bottle-feeding your baby!

You sign up for a multitude of classes, trying to leave the house between pumpings to meet some more people. They’re great but they still make you feel oddly isolated. Like you don’t belong there. You’re an imposter. You’re not meant to be a mother. Then you and your daughter become poorly within a short space of time. You both end up in hospital (your partner too!) and pumping becomes harder, as you’ve noticed even before the medicine starts that your milk supply is not quite as plentiful. Slowly, it fades to pretty much nothing. You feel a failure again. Failing to feed your baby. Once the feeding stops, that’s the end of the pregnancy. The end of your body supporting hers to thrive.

After everyone recovers and your baby is now on formula, you start going out again. Not quite caring as much about the sideways glances at the bottle in your hand, you try speaking to people and ask them out for coffees, which is not so easy when you’re on maternity pay. Then the panic starts to manifest differently. People can’t see you because they’re busy, but to you it’s because they dislike you and think you’re a terrible mother. Especially when your baby falls out of a seated position in class and bumps their head on the floor or you bump their head on the door as you walk in—all those eyes on you and your poor parenting. You then start having weird moments on buses where you envisage worst case scenarios like buses crashing or cars careering into the bus you’re travelling on. How will you save your baby? If you try to throw yourself over the buggy, will you end up suffocating her? Travelling in lifts, you feel a jolt and start to wonder how you would save her if the lift began to plummet. You then wonder if there is any way you can carry her buggy down from the sixth floor to ensure neither of you die in the lift.

Everybody asks if you’re okay. Your answer is a rehearsed, “I’m fine.”

You’re definitely not. Things are not okay. It is normal to worry as a mum, but it is not normal to have such a racing heart that you think you’re going to pass out. You try to tell people but the moment passes. You feel useless and pathetic, and there is an overriding fear that if you tell someone how you’re feeling, they will take your baby away. You know that if it was your friend who was worrying about how they could protect their baby from possible catastrophes or waiting to fail on the next part, you’d tell them to go and get some help. That people won’t judge. That there is a lot of help out there if you’re ready to accept it. The only problem is you are your own worst judge.

Is It Really My Fault?

The month of September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Awareness Month. As it affects between 6 to 10% of all women across the world, we will be having voices from across the community share their experiences of the syndrome from the diagnosis through to having a child.

This post comes to us from the author of the blog, Today I Hope.

From the day I had my first period, it was clear that my body wasn’t functioning as it should. I had long, heavy periods and long, irregular cycles. This became worse when I started working and my periods disappeared completely.

I went to see lots of doctors who told me that my irregular or missing periods were due to my lifestyle, and that eventually I would have no problem getting pregnant. (Yeah right!) My lifestyle was certainly not helping, as I was studying or working too much and never had a moment to rest. But I never did drugs, never drank too much, always ate pretty well… So I really had a hard time understanding what the doctors meant. Was I supposed to give up trying to have good grades at school? Was I supposed to give up my hobbies, career, PhD?

It was not until the age of 30, when I went to see a fertility specialist, that I was told I had PCOS. I was upset and mad at all the doctors I had previously seen, but I was also relieved that I finally had an explanation for my irregular or absent cycles. Researching about PCOS made it finally more clear to me what changing my lifestyle meant. That’s why I started to follow a low glycemic index diet, do sports regularly, relax whenever I could (e.g. through meditation), work less, and have more free time.

Yet changing my lifestyle was not enough to get pregnant, nor to get my periods back. I had to go through several IVF cycles to become a mum. Did I not change enough? I will never know. But from reading blogs and books, I now know that PCOS is an illness and as such, for some people, it cannot simply be treated with a healthy lifestyle. I hope everyone who has PCOS knows that it is an illness and that they should not feel guilty about infertility or other symptoms. There’s a lot that we can do to improve the functioning of our bodies, but ultimately PCOS means our messed-up ovaries make our lives complicated, no matter how hard we try.

Author’s Note:
Mum to a baby girl after 4 years TTC, 4 IVF cycles, several FETs, and 2 chemical pregnancies. I have PCOS and mild endometriosis. My husband has severe teratospermia.

The Stork Theory: An Introduction

This is the first installment in a series by author Kendra on her experience as a surrogate.


“As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way.”

— Mary Anne Radmacher

Hi, my name is Kendra. I am 25, a wife, a mom, a teacher…and I am hoping to become a stork. No, not the migrating, long-legged, wading bird. My legs are neither long nor migratory. I am talking about becoming the metaphorical stork. The one that brings beautiful bundles of babyhood to deserving parents. We have all heard the theory. When we were too young to understand human reproduction (and all of the details that come along with it) we heard about the stork theory from our parents, or that one relative at a summer cookout, or from the kids sitting at the back of the bus who knew everything. The stork theory, like those of Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, involves a fantastical creature that brings gifts during the night. In this case, the gifts are newborn babies, and the recipients are intended parents. Magical and fictitious, right?

Well, maybe not.

You see, the stork theory, thanks to modern medicine and the incredible abilities of the female uterus, is taking on a new meaning. Surrogate mothers, or gestational carriers, are giving parents the gift of a child or children (twins can be common in surrogacy pregnancies). The job may not be as easy or as peaceful as the stork theory suggests. I am in no way comparing the difficulties of pregnancy or the challenges of carrying a baby for another couple to the theory of the stork. Surrogate mothers are not birds with sacks full of newborns in their beaks. But it is the best way I can easily describe the process. The metaphor is a simple way to wrap your head around the complexities of surrogacy. And more importantly, this new meaning to the stork theory, well, it is real and it is magical.

So it is my intention to become a stork. I am excited, nervous, and ready to take flight. (No? Too cheesy? Sorry!) Seriously though, I have thought a lot about becoming a surrogate. Two years ago my sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and her doctor said if she ever decided to have a baby she would need to come off of her medication. Because her symptoms were quite severe, this could be dangerous for her. Although she was not and is still not ready for children, I offered to be her surrogate if she ever decided to go that route. I wanted to put it on the table for her. Not to pressure her, but to give her that option if she ever needed or wanted it. Since then I have seriously thought about surrogacy, and helping a family to grow by carrying their child. At this point in my life, I have decided it is something I really want to do. Is there a greater gift you could give a complete stranger? I can’t think of one. The friends and family I have spoken with about surrogacy always ask me why I want to go through a pregnancy only to give the baby to someone else. I don’t have a good answer for that, yet. This is simply something I feel compelled to do, and I think I will benefit from the experience as well. Right now, I am looking forward to finding a family that I can help, and I can’t wait to get started!

the hopeful stork

Author’s Note:
I wrote this post a year ago when I was beginning my surrogacy journey. I have since carried and delivered a baby for a wonderful family. I am looking forward to writing more posts about surrogacy and my experiences of the past year. I hope these posts will help any past, current, or future gestational carriers or intended parents. And for every reader, I hope they allow you to view a new perspective on surrogacy!

Art with the Littles, Vol. 1: Footprint Butterflies

After a long winter on the North American East Coast with two newborns, I started to go stir crazy. The second that it became Spring, I started to do more activities with the girls. When they were about five months old (four months adjusted), we did some footprint art. There are a lot of different ideas on Pinterest but I took a liking to the butterflies, especially in celebration of Spring. In order for the pieces to last, I used canvas boards to place the painted footprints. I placed two colors of paint next to each other on a paper plate, put the girls in their high chairs, placed their feet in the paint, and pressed their feet gently onto the canvas boards. I repeated this four more times so that when Christmas comes around, we have some cute art to give to their grandparents. I also wanted them to each have a piece of art for when they are older, and something to keep for myself and their dad. After the paint dried, it was very easy to use archival black ink to draw in a body with their name written out and a head with antennae. I am the first to admit that this project was more for me and for them in the future than as any sort of sensory experience for them in the present.

Copyright Beckdogenator 2015

There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it has already be done on Pinterest, especially when those wheels have been covered in colored felt and bedazzled. The nice things about these Pinterest ideas is that the babies are doing them, and there is no pressure for them to be anything but baby art.

Several months later, once they were more mobile and engaged with their surroundings, we did our next art project. I used the same washable paints and canvas boards as before, with the addition of a gallon-sized Ziploc bag per child. (It is very important that the bag used seals tightly and won’t come apart.) While the girls were playing on the floor, I placed the eight different colored containers of paint in front of them. As they went after each color, I made a mental note of which colors they were drawn to (which also could have been chosen purely on proximity) and poured out one dab of each of those colors on the canvas board.

Copyright Beckdogenator 2015

Once the paints were on the canvas board, I carefully placed each board inside a gallon ziploc bag and made sure it was sealed tightly.  I put the girls in their high chairs and handed them their bags.

2015-08-05 12.15.28
Copyright Beckdogenator 2015

I am confident in saying that for at least a few minutes—they absolutely loved banging their bag o’ art against their high chair tray, and they will have something cute to look at when they are older.

Once they were finished chewing on the plastic bag and shaking it around, they let me know they were finished with their art by holding them over the side of their high chair and dropping them on the floor.

And…voila! Art only a mother can love…

Copyright Beckdogenator 2015
Copyright Beckdogenator 2015
Copyright Beckdogenator 2015
Copyright Beckdogenator 2015

I considered using their hand print as a “signature” but then paint will actually be on their hands and not safely contained within the plastic bag, and I reconsidered. Might be a good suggestion for braver souls?

Define “Skinny”

The month of September is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Awareness Month. As it affects between 6 to 10% of all women across the world, we will be having voices from across the community share their experiences of the syndrome from the diagnosis through to having a child.

When I was first given my diagnosis of PCOS, it was while I was going through what we thought was a miscarriage but turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy. To say that I had other things on my mind is rather an understatement. I accepted the nurse practitioner’s word. I didn’t ask questions or request details. I knew that she looked at my blood tests and ultrasound results and was confident that I had PCOS.

I don’t know who was the first to say it but as I started telling people about my diagnosis, I got several responses along the lines of, “Really? You don’t look like you have PCOS.” The less tactful were more direct. “But you aren’t fat,” they would say. As though weight was the be-all, end-all of PCOS. I even had one doctor, who was problematic for many reasons, say, “You don’t look like you have PCOS. Did they confirm it with blood work and imaging?”

I have to be honest. Understanding the diagnosis itself was not my priority. I wanted to know what my treatment options were. I was focused on getting pregnant, not the overall state of my body. I knew that PCOS was linked to insulin resistance. My father is a diabetic and I have struggled with episodes of low blood sugar since my teens. I wasn’t sure how this all fit together, but it made sense to me.

I also learned some of the telltale physical features linked to PCOS: overweight body, excess body hair, masculine features. I had none of those. I didn’t look the part. Yet medical science was saying that I had PCOS. And it explained why I wasn’t getting pregnant: the hormonal imbalance caused by PCOS explained my wildly fluctuating cycles and suggested that I wasn’t ovulating every cycle. The way I looked didn’t matter.

I don’t remember when I first heard someone refer to people like me as having “skinny” PCOS. But I remember it angering me. I remember feeling like the term managed to diminish both women like myself and overweight women with PCOS. It also played games with my body dysmorphia. At the time I was diagnosed and throughout treatment, I was clinically overweight. Many people didn’t believe me when I told them that, but I was in the overweight category based on BMI. My brain knew this. My brain saw my body as overweight, regardless of what others saw. So being not only described as skinny, but dismissed because of it, caused quite the cognitive dissonance.

I don’t know what PCOS means for my future. I don’t yet know if we will try to have another child. I don’t know if I will struggle to convince other medical professionals that I have a serious diagnosis. What I know is that this condition brought me grief as cycle after cycle failed to produce a pregnancy. It brought false hope when a cycle would last beyond the expected length and I would hold my breath before looking at the stark white negative pregnancy tests. It brought struggles with scheduling doctor appointments that needed to happen during specific times in my cycle. But it also brought me treatment in the form of Femara (aka Letrazole) and the sexy-as-it-sounds timed intercourse. And that finally brought me my son.

Giving Up the Ghosts

I have a daughter called Elizabeth. She’s dark-haired and green-eyed like me. She rarely gets called Elizabeth, as I nicknamed her Bess from the scan I had at five weeks pregnant. The scan that I was having as a follow-up after my third miscarriage that had happened just under two months beforehand. As I’d never been able to see my previous losses on a screen, the lovely sonographer gave me a photo in one of those cute duck cards that hold scan photos. There was a real feeling that I would get to take this baby home. She felt more like a baby than I’d ever felt before with the previous losses.

Bess was placed on my chest at 06:52 on the nineteenth of January 2015, after a Ventouse delivery. She was a squalling, slippery baby weighing in at 7lbs 2oz, who struggled to latch and became jaundiced as a result of dehydration. She was allowed to go home five days after her birth with her granny—who took the longest route ever to go home as she was so aware of the precious cargo on board—her daddy, her Auntie Kit, and me. The next day, a male midwife—not my usual midwife—came to check up on us and to weigh Bess, who had only lost 40g due to her force-feeding schedule to ensure that she didn’t need phototherapy. Bess is an alert baby and always has been. Right from her birth, her blue eyes were open wide and drinking in the world around her.

She’s had no issue with weight, following the 25th percentile perfectly for development, as she was grinning and chattering earlier than most babies. Bess has always had a way of looking at you like she’s about to tell you a truly interesting story and I’m sure that as soon as she is speaking sentences, she will never stop. I think food will always play a big part in her life as she gobbles down all sorts of food sitting at the table, although she has just realised that dropping bits from her Tripp Trapp on high feeds a delighted dog waiting below!

The thing is, Bess died. Bess died back in March 2013. She was my fourth miscarriage. I would go on to miscarry again in September, bringing the total of failed pregnancies to five. I named Bess because there was a true hope that we might get a baby that time. The others weren’t named out of a fear of jinxes, but they are with me. When I gave birth to Beans on the date above, I held each of my babies whom I never got to cuddle. Each development check and weigh-in, I took all six of my babies. I’d like to tell you about what hard work it is to look after all my babies but, realistically, I have one little girl currently sitting next to me on the sofa.

Whether you have suffered losses or failed rounds of IVF, there are ghosts. The ghosts of what babies could have been. Perhaps Bess was in fact a boy. I could have found out at the follow-up to the ERPC when they gave me the reason for the miscarriage (my usual wonky chromosomes caused no chromosomes on number 9 and three chromosome 18s) but I didn’t, as it would end what few memories I shared with my baby. Those ghosts make themselves apparent at rises and falls of hormones and when Beans has reached milestones such as sitting and backwards crawling. They lift their heads and hold my hand when someone asks when I’m thinking about having a second baby—after all, I’m not becoming any younger and wouldn’t Beans love a brother or sister?

Those ghosts made my heart ache so much in the newborn phase. Why didn’t I get to cuddle and hold my babies the same way that I could with Beans? Why couldn’t I feed them their middle of the night bottles? Those bottles where you feel like you’re the only person awake and watching the first bus of the day start its journey. I do know why. I know my babies were not compatible with life. I know they never had a beating heart. Those ghosts represent a possible life I never got to know. They are the leftovers of a life I have never been able to lead.

Candles not blown out. Presents never bought, let alone unwrapped. First Christmas stockings never filled. I suppose life is full of these ghosts. As soon as you have a choice in something, there are untravelled paths. Some of my university friends never returned from our year abroad in France. I always wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t. I’m not a strong believer in anything, fate included, so the whole, you end up where you should never really felt like it applied. Unlike the choice in returning home, I had no choice in my miscarriages. Each of those babies would have been loved and spoilt by the whole family.

There is a whole heap of memories from the life I chose to live. Becoming a teacher, meeting the boy who became my husband and, now, we can start to build memories with Beans and allow the ghost of Bess and the ghosts of her siblings some rest.

Passion Is Not Disdain

I’ve become a lactavist.

I didn’t intend for it to happen. I never really thought I’d care this much, I just figured breastfeeding was what you did and so I did it. I breastfed through a painful tongue tie. I breastfed through painkillers and vasospasms (basically frostbite of the nipple). I’ve breastfed now through two teeth, and while I can’t say that I have loved every second of it,  I do love it.

I go to a breastfeeding support group meeting once a week at the hospital where I delivered. I go to La Leche League meetings monthly at a church down the road. I’m in about 14 breastfeeding-related support groups on Facebook and I’m kind of the go-to person for a lot of my friends who are pregnant or recently had babies.

All of this came out of nowhere! I didn’t expect any of it. I jumped in with both feet though and now, here I am. I’m the first person to jump on a tongue tie because trust me, those suck!! They always tell you that breastfeeding might be uncomfortable, but if it’s toe-curling pain, stop and get help!! I’ll be the first person to tell you that your daycare provider is probably overfeeding your baby by giving them 4-5 ounce bottles every 2 hours. I stood my ground for feeding only what I said and we’re doing just fine with 3 ounces every couple hours. I’m the one that will show you how to use the “two shirt method” so that you can nurse in public without a cumbersome cover and say fuck the haters if they see your nipple anyway!

My passion for it stems from the healing I get when nursing my son. I want that for everyone. I know how soothing it is for both me and O to melt into each other at the end of a long day. He centers me after a rough day at work, his little hands exploring my face while he feeds. I want that feeling for everyone.

I know that breastfeeding isn’t easy for everyone. I know it isn’t even possible for everyone. I don’t think you’re a bad mom for not doing it, I swear. Please don’t mistake my passion for breastfeeding as disdain for you not doing so (by choice or by circumstance). My questions are not meant to accuse, merely to attempt to help. My pride in what I do is not meant to demean you, my celebrations are not meant to mock. I want to support you, my intentions are pure. If I’m being overwhelming, please tell me to back off.

We are all branches of the same tree, parents just trying to keep their kids growing. We need to stick together.