They say it goes by fast. I smile and look down at the giant baby—an almost-toddler—in my arms.
You don’t say!
One of the strangest things about being a parent after reproductive trauma is adjusting to a new space–time continuum. When you’re in the thick of pregnancy loss and infertility, time slows down to a dense fog occasionally pierced by glowing ultrasounds, gleaming needles, and eye-watering medical bills.
Once pregnant, I hardly dared say the word. The relentless blows from the preceding year—the whole of 2013, in which I miscarried, received an infertility diagnosis, and then discovered that genetic children would never be possible—still glared at me, and I was too mistrustful to plan ahead. So I counted off the weeks and the half-weeks. It was hard to trust there was a living baby growing inside me, but feeling her kicks helped. At 20 weeks, time resumed its pace. Every Sunday night, I’d still cross off the half-weeks, but I began the countdown to the 24-week milestone of viability; then the 28-week milestone of 95% chance of survival. When, at seven months pregnant, I was finally able to enjoy my pregnancy, time began to speed up.
And then she was here. Tightly swaddled and placed next to my face beneath the dazzling lights of the operating theatre. Everything was perfect—until she and my husband were whisked away because, without warning, I began to haemorrhage. My months-long hunch that I had an undiagnosed placenta accreta proved correct. Lying on the table, it was clear that things were very serious. It was the closest I’ve ever come to dying and the most quietly frightening hours of my life. You might wonder if I saw my life flash before my eyes, or if I passed the time thinking about my friends and family, or even reflected on what I’d accomplished with my life so far—but, no. I was surprisingly calm and very much focused on the present. Alert to the medical teams on either side of the blue curtain working quickly and quietly to keep me from bleeding past the point of no return. Mesmerised by my incision reflected in the overhead lamp. Grateful to the people who donated the blood that was snaking its way into both my arms. Those were the two longest hours of my life, so impatient was I to hold my daughter, and I was determined to leave that bright, sterile room alive—with or without my uterus.
And then she was really here. A living, breathing, crying baby with a mop of silky hair the colour of a shiny peach. Then she was a week old; then another week older, in a larger clothing size, in a bigger diaper size, growing longer and heavier, filling out with a marshmallow-like chubbiness.
This year, the nights have been long and the days short. This, her first year of life, has gone by in a flash and now there’s this little person. With opinions. Gone is the snuffling, rooting newborn; here is a robust toddler whose pudginess is turning to muscle, who wriggles out of my arms to investigate all sorts of things I’d rather she didn’t.
Wait. A toddler?
This year has been the brightest in several, but the loss- and infertility-stricken year still haunts me from time to time. Now that she’s one, I can cross off SIDS from my list of fears, but I—we—still get caught up in the fear of, Is she breathing? I catch myself in vivid ‘anti-fantasies’ of what ifs. The more immediate and banal risks of the stairs, the car, the dog; the distant fears of bullying and falls in the playground; the more far-fetched worries of kidnappers; and, worst of all, What if there is never a fall in the playground because… There I interrupt myself. I will not—cannot—imagine life without my daughter.
In these challenging moments, I practice focusing on my breath and consciously dropping my shoulders. I’m learning to trust my maternal instinct—the ability to distinguish the feeling of something being wrong versus being flooded with anxiety. I’m figuring out how to respond when a chirpy mom asks when we’re having another, where my daughter gets her red hair from, or why she looks nothing like me.
I guess I’m doing an okay job at balancing the demands of motherhood with all that comes of being a loss and infertility mama.
I remind myself of what a friend (also a loss and infertility warrior) said: The hardest part is over. It’s not that motherhood isn’t hard work but even when I am scraping through the day on splintered sleep, nothing seems as bad as losing the baby you already loved, or being told you’re reproductively broken, or wondering if you’re going to die as you lie, bleeding, on an operating table.
One day not so long ago at the place I buy my coffee beans, the young barista blurted out, ‘Can I just say, you are one of the most relaxed moms I think I’ve ever seen. When I have kids some day, I hope I can be like you!’
Her words took me by surprise and I felt my face light up. I’m a fairly intense person, but I want my daughter to have a mom who is calm and loving, and who remains even-keeled even when she is upset by something. My daughter is a sunny, sweet-tempered girl most of the time, and it’s my responsibility to keep her that way for as long as possible.
I may have had a lot of things taken away from me on the journey to motherhood, including the first precious hours of my daughter’s life outside my body, but I know this much now: I am a better parent than I otherwise would have been because of this journey. On the day of my daughter’s birth, I learned one of the most profound lessons of my life: that Life is beautiful, and I am no longer scared of the dark, because without it I wouldn’t see the light.
So I thanked the barista for her kind words which are etched on my heart. They’re a badge of quiet pride, a reminder of the calm and whole-hearted mom I want to be to my girl, the light of my life.
I am forever indebted to all those people who saved my life in October 2014. Thanks to them, I get to be all the things I was already—wife, daughter, sister, friend—and the thing I had been fighting to be for so long: a mom.
If you are able to, please donate blood and help save a life.