New Mum Stories: What if it’s Not?

Welcome back to another installment of New Mum Stories. This week’s story is from a lovely lady called Helen. Helen contacted me asking if she could write a piece for my blog sharing her story with you all. Her new mum story is rather different from most due to her daughter having additional needs from complications as a newborn.

Over to you Helen

I have to lay my cards on the table from the outset:  I’m a pessimist.  I always have been.   A  glass half empty kind of girl.  However, when I was approaching motherhood I was torn  between my natural instinct to expect the negative and the regular daydreams of cradling  and singing to a fuzzy headed newborn, walking hand in hand with a cherub faced toddler  with ice cream running down their chubby fingers or hearing about the exploits of the school  day with a little one talking at 100mph.

What if it's not?

What if it’s not?

Following the social convention expected of any pregnant woman whenever I was asked  ‘Girl or boy?’, I duly replied ‘I don’t mind as long as it’s healthy’.  But I was always holding  back my follow up question of ‘What if it’s not? What if something goes wrong?’. This was  the question that was hiding away in my pessimistic brain and kept elbowing its way into my  daydreams.  It was therefore a pleasant surprise (yes, I was naturally expecting the worst  from the experience) when my husband (also a pessimist) and I found ourselves in a circle  of other expectant couples at a local antenatal class and the midwife posed the question  ‘What are you worried about?’  This was going to be the opportunity I had been waiting for, I  could ask my question and then continue my daydream of skipping through woodland with a  little girl with pigtails bobbing up and down.

The midwife cheerfully covered all of the posed worries about pain relief in labour, problems  with breast feeding, home births and the reaction of the existing household pets (what??).  However, my question seemed slightly glossed over.  To be fair to the midwife, who had  quite likely spent most of the previous 472 Saturday mornings answering the same  questions, she didn’t completely ignore me.  She reassured me serious problems were  unusual, that I would be in expert hands, that the paediatricians were always available and  would arrive complete with superhero masks and capes to save the day, there was a  mention of both elective and emergency caesareans in the birthing methods half hour and a  quick whip around the baby resuscitation equipment in the labour room.  For my fellow circle  members this was more than adequate because why would somebody raise the possibility of  something going wrong?  Nobody wants a doom and gloom session on the perils of  childbirth and the neonatal period on a Saturday morning.  So, my question was answered  with a reassuring smile with the take home message being: everything would be ok,  problems were rare, hospitals are amazing and even if there are problems they would get  better.

Fast forward to week 35 and 4 days and my fuzzy headed newborn arrived via the  emergency sun roof.  I had just short of two days with her in our little corner of the postnatal  ward when I tried to give her the few drops of milk I could muster and tell her she could  choose any glittery bobbles she wanted for her pigtails on our woodland adventures.  But  things weren’t right, she was really quiet, not feeding and breathing funny.  The ever present  paediatrician did come when they were summoned and ‘just in case’ took her to the ever  beeping world of SCBU.  The night doctor must have taken off her sparkly cape before  coming to wake me up in the middle of the night, or maybe I just don’t remember it because  she was talking about seizures and breathing tubes.  Actually, now I come to think about it  none of the hospital staff had superhero get ups on*.  Not the one who told us our daughter  had sepsis.  Not the one who told us she also had meningitis.  Not the one who told us her  kidneys were failing.  Not the group of 4 (who could have easily donned their Fantastic Four  outfits) to bundle her into a travel pod and take her to an even beepier Paediatric Intensive  Care Unit miles from home.  Definitely not the one who told us the meningitis had left her  profoundly deaf with global developmental delay.

What if it's not?

*I am pretty sure a few of the amazing people we’ve met along the way do a Clark  Kent/Superman routine and if you look closely enough you’d see some brightly coloured skin  tight number lurking beneath the pinstripe cotton.

And this is where my ongoing problem lies. The struggle between natural pessimism and the  ‘expected optimism of parenthood’. Obviously every parent has concerns that something will  go wrong at some point in their child’s life; this is why the baby safety industry is worth  millions of pounds.  However, the accepted social response to somebody voicing these  worries is a version of ‘don’t be so silly, that will never happen’, or ‘don’t think like that, you  MUST stay positive’ i.e. the expected optimism of parenthood.  We are too scared to face  the fact that sometimes bad things happen to babies and children and, worse still,  sometimes they can’t be fixed.

In the early days when people learned of the prematurity/stay in special care/ongoing  problems a common reaction was to say that ‘so and so’s daughter/son was early/much  earlier than you and now they are in Oxford studying rocket science/single handedly carrying  people up Everest, so no need to worry’.  Not once did somebody acknowledge that maybe  her problems could not be solved.  That no matter how much time and effort we devoted to  her care, various therapies and hospital appointments some things couldn’t be ‘fixed’.  I don’t  want to sound ungrateful at this point for the support and encouragement people were  offering and I’m sure they were trying to help, but from our side, as each milestone was  passing us by, despite hours of devoted time, the amount of energy needed to keep up this  optimism was overwhelming.  You maintain a constant mask like smile of determination,  because you can’t say that some things are not getting better.   But at some point I realised  that it was ok to admit that she would never do some things and I was not being pessimistic  for feeling this way, but actually realistic .  We continue to push her and remain optimistic  about some aspects of her development, but there are some things we can’t make ‘better’,  they are unfixable.  We are also entitled to worry about those uncertain things in the dreaded  ‘grey area’ that nobody knows if they will improve or not.

A couple of years on and we’ve nailed some milestones (woohoo!), but others still very much  allude us.  I’m not ok with it, I have days when I feel like I can’t take any more, can’t continue  putting so much hard work in for tiny gains; but you do, you carry on and your optimistic  dreams just change.  Instead of singing to my newborn we had tickles and raspberries.  With  splints, special shoes and an extra pair of hands we can just about slowly stroll through a  wood.  We can’t eat ice cream at the same time but we can sit down at the end of it and  share some as a reward.  The optimism/realism jury is still out on the having a conversation  dream.

I often want to ask the ‘What if it’s not?’ question, not to scare the expectant or new Mum,  but just to start challenging the reaction that everything with pregnancy, childbirth and  parenting is a skip through a woodland.  We all know it’s not; it’s hard and there are tough  times for all parents.   Let’s do ourselves a favour and shake off the expected optimism of  parenthood cloak, so that when someone has a worry about their child, big or small, they  feel able to talk about it and get realistic support in return, even if that means just listening  and not trying to ‘fix’ it.

 

Thank you Helen for sharing with us your New Mum Story. We wish you and your daughter lots of luck.

 

If you are interested in joining the New Mum Stories series or any have any questions about featuring your story you can contact me at: rachel@rachelbustin.com

 I would love to share your New Mum Stories.

rachelxx

 

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
A Mum Track Mind

34 Comments

  1. October 7, 2016 / 9:44 pm

    A mother’s instinct is incredibly strong and you have proved this. I’m sorry to hear that your little girl had meningitis – it’s such a traumatic thing to go through. My boy had it at about 18 months old so I know the horror of which you are writing about. Thanks for sharing on #fortheloveofBLOG

    • Helen Treharne
      October 9, 2016 / 1:29 pm

      Thank you, hope your little boy is doing ok now

  2. October 4, 2016 / 4:18 pm

    This is such a powerful story and an important message. I was so scared, more so my second pregnancy that something would be wrong. The first one went great, so of course to me the second one had a higher chance of going wrong. Of course we all want to be happy and optimistic but things go wrong and we all have those fears, yet we pretend we don’t and dont talk about it. Thank you for starting the conversation. #KCACOLS

    • Helen Treharne
      October 9, 2016 / 1:25 pm

      Thank you

  3. October 3, 2016 / 10:07 pm

    This is powerful and important. We can be so flippant about ours and other’s worries. I am an incurable optimist. In many ways that can be worse, because it is just such an emotional and mental shock that everything is not okay. Thank you for sharing. Pen x #KCACOLS

    • Helen Treharne
      October 4, 2016 / 9:09 pm

      This is why I tell myself it’s better to be a pessimist; no surprise when something bad happens! Pros and cons to both I think. Thanks for your comment

  4. October 3, 2016 / 4:04 pm

    a powerful, beautiful story, sincere thanks for sharing #kcacols

    • Helen Treharne
      October 3, 2016 / 7:33 pm

      Thank you

  5. October 3, 2016 / 1:23 pm

    Wow, it must have been so hard. Thank-you for sharing your story. I’m glad to hear your LO is hitting milestones, but I can believe it must be difficult. I don’t think you’re alone in finding it hard to be optimistic with your little one. I am more of a realist but I panic and worry a lot now I have my daughter. If you are a natural pessimist then it must be even more challenging. But people put on a facade and worry in private. They gloss over your troubles becaus they’re afraid. But you’re right to call it out. Sometimes we’re better to just say nothing and listen! #KCACOLS

    • Rachel
      October 3, 2016 / 1:33 pm

      Thanks for stopping by x

    • Helen Treharne
      October 3, 2016 / 7:28 pm

      Thank you for your comments, you’re exactly right!

  6. October 2, 2016 / 8:02 pm

    Wow what a story! I think it’s easy to want to gloss over things and try and remain optimistic when realism is needed. It’s also very natural to think these things won’t happen to you or your family. But yes, what if? What if it does? I certainly don’t have an answer for myself let alone anyone else. What a strong mother to admit and accept the limitations post all of this. It’s not the end it’s just a different beginning.
    #KCACOLS

    • Helen Treharne
      October 3, 2016 / 7:30 pm

      Thank you. I don’t see myself as a strong mother at all! Just doing what you’ve got to do day to day to survive – same as everyone else ????

  7. October 2, 2016 / 5:23 pm

    A very moving post, and a point very well made.

    • Helen Treharne
      October 2, 2016 / 7:11 pm

      Thank you ????

  8. October 2, 2016 / 3:55 pm

    This really is such a powerful and important story. I feel like we are all pushing in to feeling that we should only look for the positives and to not worry – but as a natural worrier those worries are not going to go away. Things go wrong however small the chance and we need to be prepared for them. I had to push and push to have my daughter looked at properly at the hospital when she was a baby as there was something wrong I knew it and I kept being fobbed off by the GP and I was right and she needed care in the hopsital and drips etc, I dread to think what would have happened had I not pushed #KCACOLS

  9. October 2, 2016 / 3:42 pm

    Such a beautiful post! You nearly got me crying on a Sunday afternoon! I know what you mean about being the pessimist one and people to reassure you. I suppose there is nothing else to do really. It was probably better for you not to know. It would have stressed you out. My baby had a heart disease that doctors missed at the scan. It was discovered as soon as he was born. At first, I was really angry at the doctors for missing out on that. I would have liked to be prepared for it. Now, having thought about it, it would have ruined my pregnancy. And knowing it or not would have made no difference. There nothing I can say to make you feel better. I wish you good luck for the future. I am sure you are amazing, even if of course it must be hard sometimes. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday.

    • Helen Treharne
      October 3, 2016 / 7:32 pm

      Thank you, and sorry for nearly making you blub, Sundays are for cake and Antiques Roadshow, not crying!

  10. October 2, 2016 / 11:54 am

    I’m a natural worrier too and always fear the worst – a really interesting story, thanks for sharing x #KCACOLS

    • Helen Treharne
      October 2, 2016 / 4:13 pm

      Thank you, really appreciated

  11. October 2, 2016 / 10:10 am

    This is such a powerful story, and must have been so hard for your family – my heart goes out to you. I have to agree that any mum or expectant mum’s worries should absolutely be acknowledged – a lot of people try their best to be optimistic, but there is no escaping the reality that it actually might not be ok. Thank you for sharing your story, and lots of love to you and your beautiful little girl xx #fortheloveofblog

    • Rachel
      October 2, 2016 / 12:13 pm

      Thank you Bridie for your kind words x

    • Helen Treharne
      October 2, 2016 / 4:17 pm

      Thank you

  12. October 2, 2016 / 12:20 am

    Thank you for sharing your story, I think when we are pregnant we don’t want to think about the what ifs because they would be too difficult to deal with and we live in hope that everything will be plain sailing! She’s a beautiful little girl and you’ve obviously dealt with a lot in her life, well done #KCACOLS

    • Helen Treharne
      October 2, 2016 / 4:20 pm

      Thank you. I wrote this a while ago and it’s been sitting on my laptop. I didn’t know how I’d feel sharing it, but now I just hope it makes people consider the what ifs, especially for friends or family who didn’t have plain sailing.

  13. October 1, 2016 / 10:06 pm

    My new mum story was not plain sailing either. From the 20 week scan so many of our joys were taken. Sometimes I wish we hadn’t had that scan. Our boy is amazing but half of my pregnancy joy was affected. #fortheloveofBLOG

    • Helen Treharne
      October 2, 2016 / 8:50 am

      If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of reactions did you have when talking about problems in you pregnancy with other people? I read your post about Changing Places, so important for people’s independence and quality of life. Our daughter is still able to fit on the changing table but not for much longer. Good luck with getting a suitable place in your local town xx

  14. October 1, 2016 / 7:12 pm

    What a powerful story. I know I thought about the “What if it’s not?” scenarios a lot when I was pregnant. What happened to your daughter could easily have happened to my daughter or any of my friend’s children. And you’re right – we need to be realistic about the fact that parenthood isn’t always wonderful and easy, and be able to ask for support when we have a concern about our child.

    • Rachel
      October 1, 2016 / 9:23 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Squirmy Popple xx

    • Helen Treharne
      October 2, 2016 / 8:44 am

      Yep, sadly could happen to anyone and thankfully most babies who need special care at birth are fine, but we owe it to the families where things weren’t ‘fixable’ to give realistic support. Thanks for your comment Squirmy Popple.

    • Helen Treharne
      October 2, 2016 / 8:44 am

      Yep, sadly could happen to anyone and thankfully most babies who need special care at birth are fine, but we owe it to the families where things weren’t ‘fixable’ to give realistic support. Thanks for your comment Squirmy Popple.

  15. October 1, 2016 / 6:55 am

    Wow Helen, what a story, and how strong your mummy instincts were right from the start. I think it’s a failing in the human condition that we’re unable to really sit in the deepest pit of uncertainty and actually go through those feelings of “but it’s NOT ok, this is awful”. Our brains work so quickly to jump to the hope, the optimism, which I know is a good trait – but maybe having a bit more accessible realism would help us to process the negative feelings with more clarity? I don’t know…but your daughter is beautiful and thank you for sharing this story xx

    • Helen Treharne
      October 1, 2016 / 1:23 pm

      Thank you, we think she’s a little bit beautiful too! There were lots of times, and sometimes there still are, when we felt we were the only ones being realistic. And, as I said, constant optimism is exhausting. I think giving parents the space to be realistic actually gets a lot more of a positive outcome and practical suggestions/support, rather than everybody burying their heads in the sand and telling you things are alright when they clearly aren’t. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Rachel
      October 1, 2016 / 9:25 pm

      Thanks for your comment x

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