Monday, 30 October 2017

Milk Guilt: Fed is Best

I've thought long and hard about writing this, as it's something very personal and something I really struggled with in my early weeks of motherhood. But what got me through it was opening up to a few close mummy friends of mine, who in turn opened up about their own similar struggles - struggles I never knew or imagined they had gone through. I realised I was not alone, and I realised I was not a bad mother. So if sharing my experience can help someone else who is going through the same situation that I did, then it will most certainly be worth it.

Throughout my pregnancy, I took two major things pretty much for granted: one was that I would be able to give birth naturally - which, thankfully, I did - and the other was that I would be able to exclusively breastfeed my baby. My intention - or assumption, even - had always been to breastfeed for at least a year; exclusively for the first 6 months, before introducing solids to his diet. I hadn't really given it a second thought that things may not go as I had planned.

After giving birth, I immediately had skin-to-skin with my baby, and gave him the colostrum I was producing. The midwives visited our room every few hours overnight to check on us, and confirmed each time that our latch was good. The doctor conducted a full physical assessment of the baby the next morning, certifying that there was no tongue tie, and we were then discharged.

Upon arriving home, my baby - having been quite placid up until that point - literally cried ALL night. He was feeding from my colostrum, but as anyone who has breastfed knows, it comes out in very tiny (yet nutrient-rich) droplets, so as a new mother you feel that you are not feeding your baby at all and he must be starving. I called the midwifery team from my hospital in the middle of the night, in despair. Immediately upon hearing his cries over the phone, the midwife identified it as a hunger cry. I kept feeding non-stop, in hope that he would get enough colostrum droplets to comfort him and fill his empty stomach. That was pretty much the story of the next few days; lots of crying (from both baby and me), and a never-ending 24hr latch.

My milk came in three days later, during which time he had already lost 350g of his birth weight. I thought things would get better at this point; my supply was plentiful, and his appetite was insatiable. He started gaining weight. But no one had prepared me for the pain. I had the Lansinoh cream, the soothing gel pads and everything, but they didn't touch it. The pain I felt was deeper; it wasn't a surface pain from latching, it was something from much further within. It felt like a muscle or ligament was being stretched to snapping point with every suck of milk my baby took. On top of that, I did also get blisters, bleeding, and of course whenever you breastfeed your baby in the first few weeks your uterus also starts contracting... so overall, it was physically draining.

Since birth - and even in the womb - my baby has always been very physically strong (mashallah mashallah). He was lifting and holding his head up from the moment he was born, and his leg kicks and arm pushes had quite considerable force behind them despite his small size. This physical strength also translated into his feeding. He was quite an aggressive latcher and drinker, which no doubt made the whole experience more uncomfortable for me. He may not have teeth yet, but just imagine a gummy terrier dog attacking your chest, and you will get a somewhat accurate representation of how our breastfeeding experience was...!

I saw midwives and lactation consultants, who all told me it will get better. I sought solace from my July 2017 birth group online, and they all told me the same thing. It gets easier. The pain will go after a few weeks. The pain should only last for a few minutes at the beginning of a feed. You are doing the best thing possible for your baby. You are providing unmatched levels of nourishing gold. Breast is best.

I've always had a high pain threshold, and even though it was reducing me to tears at every single (frequent, one-hour long) feed, and I even started developing mastitis, it wasn't the physical pain that troubled me the most.

Perhaps it was an unrealistic, romanticised view, but I had always imagined breastfeeding would be this beautiful, natural, maternal bonding experience. In all the breastfeeding propaganda the health service peddles, you only see images of radiant, glowing, smiling mothers beaming down gracefully at their contented, latched little baby. For me it was the complete opposite. I felt trapped. I dreaded the next time my baby would make rooting signs and need another feed. I spent the entirety of each feed sobbing. I didn't enjoy the first four weeks of motherhood at all.

It was my husband - who was away with his work and feeling helpless, bless him - who suggested I start bottle feeding instead. I was 100% opposed to the idea. I had been conditioned for as long as I could remember to believe that formula was the milk of the devil. Breast is best. Breast is best. Breast is best.

But as the days went on and the misery got deeper, I started to research about the possibility of mixed feeding. If you search about any of the formula companies online in the UK, you first have to read a landing page, which once again screams 'BREAST IS BEST' and forces you to click a button stating that you are aware of this fact and that you enter the formula website at your own risk. It's as if you're logging on to some explicit illegal site hidden in the depths of the deep, dark web. Way to make an already emotional, guilt-ridden new mother feel about herself... Might as well have Googled 'how to poison my baby'!!

After another visit from a midwife and a lactation consultant, who were - thankfully - very supportive and not at all pushy with the whole 'breast is best' mantra, I finally took the plunge and replaced one feed with formula. My baby lapped it up. He finished 90ml of warm Aptamil within minutes, whereas he had been latched to me for each feed for around an hour and a half. He was happy. I was happy. I replaced more breastfeeds with Aptamil. I started expressing and bottle feeding him with breastmilk, too. Mixed feeding was working for us. He gained more weight. I gained more confidence and independence.

Pumping and expressing is not easy, either. It's time-consuming, and it can seriously make you feel like a cow at a dairy farm. Again, I stuck with it for as long as I could, but as my baby's appetite continued to increase, he would become less and less satisfied with a bottle of expressed breast milk and would need a top-up of formula afterwards to complete his feed.

Fast-forward to now, and my son is 3.5 months old. He has more than trebled his birth weight and has jumped from the 3rd to the 89th centile for head circumference, and from the 33rd to the 88th centile for length. He happily guzzles away on his Aptamil from a Tommee Tippee bottle (or any bottle, actually - he's not fussy as long as he gets his fill!). I enjoy feeding him. I enjoy other people - my husband, my mother, my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law - being able to feed him, too. In fact, he's just started holding his own bottle recently and is now also feeding himself when the mood strikes.

Am I sad that breastfeeding didn't work out for us? Yes. Am I disappointed that it wasn't the beautiful bonding experience I anticipated it would be? Yes. Do I regret switching to mixed - and now completely - formula feeding? No, not at all.

My mental health was suffering. My golden newborn days with my son were tainted with pain, misery and guilt. I understand the emphasis on promoting breastfeeding positively, but I do think the stigma against formula feeding is a bit too much; the fact that formula companies cannot advertise, that their websites require disclaimer landing pages before you can access the information you want, and that the formula packaging is plastered with the 'BREAST IS BEST' slogan... it all just adds to a new mother's struggles and sense of guilt.

We are very fortunate in the developed world to have such a wonderful alternative as formula for when breastfeeding doesn't work out, with access to clean water and sterilised bottles to ensure we feed our babies in the safest way. Once they reach the playground at nursery school, nobody will know which child was breastfed and which was formula fed. The most important is just that: 'Fed'. We all want what's best for our little ones, and ultimately what I believe is best is a happy mother and a happy baby.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Be a Mother, not a Martyr

"Enjoy going to the bathroom alone while you can!"
"You should cut your hair short; you'll never have time to maintain it once the baby arrives."
"Make the most of your freedom to go to the cinema because soon you won't be able to go again!"

As soon as you start sharing the news that you're pregnant, you quickly become inundated with horror stories of how your world will suddenly spin the opposite way on its axis, life as you know it will be altered irreversibly forever, your relationship with your partner will become non-existent for the foreseeable future, and you'll 'never sleep again'. Ever.

It is undeniable that parenthood changes your life a lot. A LOT. In fact, in the first four weeks of motherhood, I even believed all of the above. I felt like I had lost myself and would never get myself back. But it doesn't have to be that way forever, and your day-to-day really doesn't have to change so drastically that you don't even recognise yourself anymore.

There seems to be a trend these days - particularly online, and particularly in the UK, if my perception is correct - to show off about quite how much you have sacrificed since becoming a mother. You will find plenty of women online, bragging about how many days they have not showered for because they're simply too busy with their baby to even care about their own personal hygiene. They wear these claims as if they are badges of honor, and what's worse, they criticise anyone who so much as dares to indulge in a little bit of 'me' time.

You will find these attitudes rife in the comments section of any celebrity mothers' posts on Instagram. I particularly recall the makeup-famous YouTuber Jayde Pierce being vilified for posting about having a manicure a few weeks after giving birth to her (absolutely adorable) daughter Ayla. I mean, how dare she take an hour away from her baby - who was almost certainly in the safe care of her father and/or grandmother - to get her nails done?! How dare she CARE about what her nails look like now that she has a baby?!

This mentality is dangerous in my opinion. It's almost as if they are competing to say: "I have given up the most in my life, and therefore I love my baby more than you do." To love your baby wholly and completely DOES NOT require you to entirely neglect yourself! Now, if you were not the type to go for a shape and polish BEFORE your baby came, logically you will not be likely to start doing so after giving birth. But if a mani/pedi was part of your regular routine before becoming a mother, then there's no reason why you should have to totally give it up to prove your undivided adoration for your baby. Having nice nails and having all the love and devotion in the world towards your baby are not mutually exclusive.

I'm using nail maintenance as an example, but really I'm referring to any treatment, activity or pastime you used to enjoy prior to becoming a mother. Perhaps you used to love reading one book per week. In the early days of having a baby, you may not get the chance to turn quite as many pages as you normally did, but you can certainly still set aside some quiet time to sit and read, if that was part of your schedule before. Maybe you are passionate about cooking, or you were addicted to going to the gym and it makes you feel good about yourself... Whatever it is, you can and should make time to do something you love. You don't have to lose your entire identity just because you've become a mother.

Something I struggled with in the early days was the pressure I put on myself to be the one doing everything for my baby. I felt like I should be the only one to take care of him, at all times. I mean, with all these mothers online who said they couldn't even pee in peace since their little one arrived... how could I possibly take a ten-minute shower without feeling guilty? If I left my mother with my baby downstairs for a few hours so I could take an uninterrupted nap, did that make me less committed as a mother?!

With the help of my husband and my family, I banished this mindset after a few weeks and realised it was no crime to take a little time for myself, and nor was it wrong to leave my baby in the care of trusted others to facilitate that 'me' time. To quote a recent Ayesha Curry clapback after her parenting was criticised on Instagram (how dare she employ a nanny when she works full time and has two children...), "It takes a village to raise a child."

As soon as I accepted and embraced this point, I started feeling more like my old self again. I had more time to take care of myself, I had more energy, more confidence, I spent more one-on-one quality time with my husband, I felt happier, and bonded even better with my baby.

So this takes me to the rather bold statement I used as the title for this post. There is no prize for being the mother who gave up the most of her personal pursuits in order to dedicate her life to her baby. Your baby will not remember how many hours you stayed awake with them for in their early years, or how many salon appointments you sacrificed so that you could be constantly by their side; nor should you remind them of it when they're older. Yes, for the most part, being a mother is a selfless role. Your priorities will naturally shift once you have another little life to consider in everything you do. But it doesn't make you selfish if you take some time out just for you. Be a mother, not a martyr.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

2 Years without a Thyroid, 2 Months as a Mother

My days have been so filled with milestones lately that I have once again been found slacking in the writing department. September 2017 has not only included my birthday, both my grandparents' birthdays, and their 61st wedding anniversary (now that's real 'goals'), but also marked 2 months of motherhood, and 2 years of being butterfly- (and thyroid cancer-) free.

September has always been a special month to me, of course with it being my birth month, as well as its significance for my grandparents. It's also traditionally the start of the new school year, and as education shapes most of our lives for at least 14 years, it leaves a mental imprint as being a time of starting afresh and planning ahead. Although the Gregorian calendar sets the New Year as 1st January, this year the Islamic (Hijri) New Year also fell in September - on my birthday, funnily enough - and Eid al Adha was celebrated at the start of the month too.

Truth be told, though, the 30 days of this September have somewhat merged into one; such is the effect of having a small baby. I'm someone who usually keeps a diary - yes, a handwritten one! - not for the purposes of journaling, but for keeping track of appointments, significant dates, and making plans. I think the last time my diary was opened must've been the day before I gave birth back in July, to scribble the note: 'Waters broke!' and since that day it has been sitting, neglected, at the bottom of my handbag, along with the ballpoint pen that accompanies it.

I can't help but be astonished at how far I've come over the past three Septembers. In September 2015, I was going under the knife to remove my thyroid and dealing with the shock of being diagnosed. September 2016 saw me resign from my job, move house, and prepare to get married at the very start of October. And now, on the last day of September 2017, I sit here to write this as a healthy, happy, married mother.

So I suppose I write this reflection as a story of hope for anyone who has stumbled across this page in the midst of being diagnosed. You will get better. Life will get better. Your struggles will make you stronger. The hardships you are about to overcome will make you appreciate the happiness that lies ahead for you even more. Don't forget, it's always darkest before the dawn.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Baby Butterfly: The Birth Story

So it seems I start every single post with an apology for being absent, but in this instance I had a very genuine reason for the delay in writing any new content:

On 13th July 2017, Baby Butterfly arrived!

The past 25 days have been an utter whirlwind; who knew someone so tiny could quite literally turn your entire world upside down and inside out in such a monumental way? There have been wonderful moments and challenging moments in equal measure thus far, and it is true when they say absolutely NOTHING can prepare you for motherhood until it actually happens. But as Baby Butterfly currently lies cocooned in his GroBag and SleepyHead, snuffling away as he sleeps, I am finally getting round to sharing my birth story with you...

12th July 2017

I awoke to a multitude of messages and voice notes from my husband, who was 3 hours ahead of me in Dubai. Hurrying to open and listen to them, I was overcome with a rush of relief and delight upon hearing the news: 1. He had officially been graded Level 5 for military service (office-based, daily job rather than in the military camp), and 2. His services as a Level 5 recruit were not to be required for the August call-up date. A call-up could be received any time within the next 3 years. This was the best possible outcome after a month-long saga of distress and despair over his sudden call-up. The best possible news I could receive in my 37th week of pregnancy.

The news meant that we could revert to our original plan - the main basis of why we chose for me to give birth in the UK rather than the UAE - in that my husband would now be able to continue in his normal job and would therefore be based nearby in Europe for 25 days from 20th July onwards. With my due date set for 29th July, our plan (agreed with his manager) was that he would leave his colleagues as soon as I went into labour and take a short trip to London for 2 days, hopefully in time for the birth, or at least for the immediate aftermath.

But, once again, things soon deviated wildly from the plan.

As if by magic, my waters broke at 17:45 that very evening. It was as though the emotional relief of the morning's fantastic news had triggered a physical release of tension in my body, causing my waters to break. I went to Chelsea & Westminster Hospital at 20:30 after the midwife told me to come in over the phone, and they confirmed that it was indeed amniotic fluid, and that all was well with the baby inside.

As my waters had broken without any contractions or other signs of labour, it was classified as PROM - premature rupture of membranes. It is expected that labour will begin spontaneously within the next 12 hours after this occurring, but if labour does not begin within 24 hours it can cause a major risk of infection, and therefore all healthcare professionals are advised to advocate for labour to be induced at that point so as to minimise the chance of mother and baby contracting an infection. I was sent home from hospital and told to come back once contractions started, or by 14:30 the next day if nothing had happened.

Of course I was updating my husband all the way along, from the very moment I felt my waters go as I was taking my daily walk down by the river. Communicating by snapchat videos back and forth, I could see the emotion in his face at the thought that our baby would most likely be arriving within the next 24 hours, and that, thanks to the morning's good news, he would be able to travel to London and be with us.

13th July 2017

My waters were still leaking. Still no contractions. Husband booked himself on an Emirates flight from DXB-LHR.

I returned to the hospital at 14:30 for monitoring, where a truly lovely midwife massaged my hands with clary sage oil and wafted it round the room using her aromatherapy kit to try and encourage labour. Still nothing happened. I went home again, this time to get my hospital bag and head back to the Kensington Wing for 17:30, when the 24-hour window would expire and a decision would need to be made regarding induction.

Hooked up to the monitor in my private delivery room, three very minimal contractions were recorded by 18:30 but still nothing of note appeared to be happening. After an examination from the midwife, whereby she gleaned that the baby's head was still only 3/5 engaged, it was decided that I should plump for an induction. At 19:30 she inserted a tiny pea-sized dollop of Prostoglandin gel, which I was told would slowly soften my cervix and perhaps encourage contractions to develop over the next 24 hours, and then left me in my delivery room with my mother, and another examination due in 6 hours' time.

It would be slow, she said. Examination in 6 hours, she said. Possible delivery tomorrow or the day after, she said.

Not quite so, as it turned out!

Contractions started immediately. I mean literally within minutes. I somehow managed to stagger to the bathroom but spent most of my time in there doubled up in agony on the floor with the sudden intense contraction pains. I made it back to the bed and the midwife came rushing back in. Labour had well and truly begun. The contractions became so intense and so close together incredibly quickly, that I was soon cracking out the gas and air. But due to the incessant nature of the contractions I had absolutely no chance to give myself a break from the gas between each one; there was no respite from one contraction to the next.

I'm someone with an extremely high pain threshold, but this was like no pain I had ever experienced in my life. It was all-consuming. I couldn't stop gasping for the gas, and as a result I was becoming dazed and beginning to lose consciousness. I remember screaming and shouting; two things I've NEVER done in my life. I remember my mum trying to give me water to sip through a straw when I wasn't sucking the life out of the gas inhaler, but I could barely even control my mouth to have a drink. I could hear the voices of my mother and several midwives and was fully aware of what they were saying, but I wasn't capable of communicating back to them. I thought it would never end. I thought I was going to die!

Finally, after 2 hours, I gathered enough strength to wheezily beg for an epidural. I was slurring my words and (apparently) my eyes were rolling back in my head, but I knew exactly what I wanted (and I wanted it NOW). The midwives of course had to be sure that I really did know what I was asking for, and had to repeatedly request for me to confirm it. Each time I somehow mustered the strength to say 'epidural' and then slump back to sucking on the gas. When the anaesthetist came, all I remember was him telling me to curve my back 'like a prawn', and in my gas-guzzled spaced-out head I was thinking 'but I'm allergic to prawns'...! I must have made myself suitably prawn-like though, as the needle was inserted into my spine and suddenly I felt this velvety warmth enveloping the lower half of my body. It was heavenly; how I imagine it would feel to be dipped in smooth, warm chocolate.

My surroundings,, and people's faces, came back into focus. Apparently I had quite an audience in the delivery room by now. I started apologising profusely to everyone in earshot for being quite so vocal in my pain; I was enormously embarrassed for having allowed my dignity to slip as I shrieked with some of the most intense contractions. But I'm sure they'd heard it all before.

I looked at the clock and was horrified to see that less than 2 hours had passed. It had felt like an eternity. During those 2 hours, though, my husband had landed at Heathrow and had frantically been trying to contact me for updates. Clearly I had been in no fit state to be operating any kind of technology at that time, but thanks to the wonders of the epidural I was able to cheerfully ask my mum to pass me my phone so I could text him and tell him I was definitely in labour by now (!)

Unbeknownst to me, I hadn't been examined prior to having the epidural. I'm not quite sure how that happened, but I'm mightily glad it did, because had I been examined they would have told me it was too late to have one. As it was, the midwife decided to examine me AFTER the epidural, estimating that I would probably be about 3-4cm dilated following those 2 hours of contractions.

Imagine everyone's surprise when, at 21:30, I opened my legs and she could see the baby's head crowning.

I was ready to push, but I'd just had the epidural, so I couldn't. She advised me to collect my energy and wait for an hour to let the epidural wear off a bit so that I would be able to have some sensation to push.

At 22:00 the delivery room door opened and my beloved husband's head popped through the curtain at the foot of my bed. At 22:30, with him by my side (head end, of course...!) and squeezing my hands, I started pushing. And at 22:38, Baby Butterfly was delivered and placed on my chest. A little wiggly bundle of love, who would change our lives forever.

The timing and circumstances of Baby Buttefly's arrival - 16 days early - were quite extraordinary. In fact, I don't think I could have written the whole event more perfectly if I tried; not even for a movie script. That my husband made it in the nick of time, after all those days of separation and angst, to witness such a special moment as the birth of our first child... words can't explain how much of a blessing it was. And so, like a fairytale, with such serendipity, the Butterfly Free family became three. 

Friday, 7 July 2017

A Basic Breakdown of Why Butterfly Free is not a Brilliant Blog

 If you are ever to read an article about how to become a good blogger, you will likely find a list of exactly the opposite of what I've been doing lately. To gain a strong, loyal readership, one is advised to meticulously construct a monthly plan of posts - each one varied enough, but relevant to the common theme - and stick to a regimented posting schedule so that your readers can get into the habit of anticipating your updates at a certain time and frequency. One is supposed to be consistent. Content is key. Specially tailored photography to accompany each blog post is also expected.

I used to be the Social Media Executive for a major luxury brand, and the Media Editor of a key national organisation. I know how all this online malarkey is supposed to work. I know what I'm supposed to do. But I've not been doing it. Butterfly Free hasn't followed the rules of how to be a successful blog.

And I shall tell you why:

1. I didn't start writing Butterfly Free for the purpose of accumulating a huge following
In DJ Khaled speak, this is a 'major key'. There are some pretty simple steps and formulae to implement if your sole purpose is for that 'followers' figure to exponentially rise. But the important thing to remember is that number of followers DOES NOT equate to quality of engagement. I would rather have 2000 mamas-to-be and thyroid warriors reading my posts, than 20,000 Beliebers who were lured to my page under false pretenses by click bait or misleading SEO. Quality over quantity.

2. Monetising my blog is not my main aim
Another important factor. If I was purely motivated by making money from this page, you would see it littered with pop-up adverts and my Instagram would be strewn with sponsored posts (which quite possibly would bear no relevance at all to me or what I write about). My main reasons for starting to write these posts were: to share information, raise awareness, help people who are or have been in similar situations to me, and also from a purely personal point of view, because I find it cathartic to write about these topics. If I get a bit of revenue from it, great. If a company sends me some free stuff as a result of it, great. If I get invited to some interesting PR-type events, great. But that is not my specific game plan.

3. My writing takes energy
I'm pregnant. I have a thyroid condition. Energy isn't going spare round here! Because my writing generally includes an equal serving of emotion and of research, it can be quite exhausting to sit down and thrash out a post. I like to write them in one sitting as well; I'm not someone who can leave a post half-finished as a draft and come back to it later. It's all or nothing. I write on the spot, when I feel inspired at a certain moment. Sometimes a topic idea comes to me and I type the whole thing out on my iPhone. I generally click 'Publish' as soon as I'm done - even if perhaps I don't link it on my social media pages until a more appropriate time the next day. 

4. Half-hearted content won't do
There are some perfectly popular bloggers whose pages I follow or check, and they seem like lovely people, but when I click on their 'new post' links their actual written blog content is so wishy-washy and bland that it makes me wonder why they even bother. Just make it a photo blog if you're not even going to put any effort into stringing more than one paragraph together! I like my writing to be authentic. My posts are long, I know, but I have to explain everything fully because that's just my way; that's who I am. That's also how I like to read. In depth. In detail. I could very easily post little two- or three-paragraph updates every single day, but that would completely defeat the object of why I started this page (see points above).

5. My content is not aesthetically pleasing enough
In the era of filters, Photoshop and personal branding, the visual impact of my website and my Instagram is not particularly impressive. I'm not a talented photographer by any stretch of the imagination (my husband will testify to that - it takes me at least 50 attempts to take a picture of him that he's happy with, and he's VERY photogenic *mashallah* but at least my Camera Roll is filled with his face), and I'm not going to pretend to be. Nor am I a graphic designer. I post pictures I like to see with my untrained eye, and I may even dabble with adding a bit of text to an image using the incredibly advanced Phonto app on my iPhone (if you don't know, it's probably the most basic photo editing app going), but I am well aware that visually what I post doesn't have the 'wow' factor. And that's ok. Because I'm all about the words anyway. 

So, this is why I wouldn't even call myself a blogger. I don't class Butterfly Free as a blog. It's more of an online journal, or notebook of my experiences and thought processes. And I'm very grateful to those of you who take the time to read it. 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

36 Weeks, with Writer's Block

Once again I have been horribly lax with my writing, and some very lovely ladies have sent me messages of care and concern since my last post, so I just wanted to give a brief update as we enter July; our due month!

I am now 36 weeks pregnant, and with it I am suffering from Writer's Block. Since my last post I haven't had a single flash of inspiration; not one idea that made me think, "Yes! I want to write about that." I've just been plodding along, day by day, trying to distract myself from the fact that my beloved husband is such a long way away, and preparing the practical things for our little one's impending arrival.

My maternity care since arriving in the UK and booking in at the Kensington Wing of Chelsea & Westminster Hospital has been fabulous so far; I adore my midwife, and my 'link' consultant - the famous Miss Gubby Ayida - is truly deserving of her prestigious reputation. I feel in excellent hands. Baby is growing well; he's been head-down since 32 weeks and ready to make his emergence into the world. I - thankfully - don't have any complications and have been signed off for a natural, midwife-led delivery, and my TSH level is nicely in check at 2.02 since last doubling my dosage.

I've only had one mild episode of Braxton Hicks contractions so far, before my husband had to suddenly fly off, and nothing since. I have, however, lost a bit of my plug in recent days, which suggests things are moving in the right direction and my body is gearing up for delivery in the coming weeks.

My mother has been a great source of support during a time when I have been emotionally tested and feeling vulnerable, and I am very fortunate to be staying with her. She can see the anguish it has caused me to have my husband unexpectedly whisked away at such a crucial time to answer the call of duty, and whilst she is always there to offer a sympathetic ear, most of the time I have preferred to process the situation alone.

Instead we have been busying ourselves with getting all the baby stuff ready - finally I've ticked 99% of the items on my Baby Shopping List off! Harrods was the supplier of the Sleepyhead Deluxe sleeping pod and the Mima Xari seat kit and starter pack, Peter Jones provided many a muslin cloth, baby bath, cellular blankets and the suchlike, whilst I online-ordered a fantastic Moses Basket with a rocking stand from a company called Shnuggle, which I felt a great sense of satisfaction in putting together by myself. Sleep suits, babygrows, romper suits and other newborn wardrobe essentials have come from a combination of Peter Jones, Petit Bateau, My 1st Years, and M&Co, and all those delightful baby-related toiletries (nappies, Metanium nappy rash cream, Lanisoh nipple cream etc.) have been sourced from Boots. I purchased nursing bras and comfy, dark nightwear and a dressing gown from Marks & Spencer to prepare for my hospital stay.

The midwife has now asked to see me every 7 days from the 36-week stage onwards, and I've been offered the delight of a sweep from as early as 38 weeks if I so wish, to try and bring on labour. Generally 3 sweeps should be conducted before an actual induction of labour is necessary, and my induction - if it gets to that stage - would be bang on my due date of 40 weeks. Some ladies aren't even offered a sweep until then, but in my case I understand that things are being planned a bit earlier because a) baby is already of a healthy size and weight to come on out, and more importantly b) because the chances of developing pre-eclampsia from 40 weeks onwards is considerably higher in someone with an underlying thyroid condition. Although mine is nicely under control, I suppose they would rather not take any risks by letting me go overdue.

I'm hoping and praying for an early delivery, not least because my husband would be in his military no-contact lockdown from 1st August, so our little man really needs to pop out by his due date of 29th July at the very latest. I'm not at the 'I just want to get this baby out of me!' stage yet, and I don't know if I ever will be, because I'm still carrying relatively small and luckily not suffering from any aches or pains. But what I certainly am is excited, and desperate to meet our tiny human. And I'm desperate for my husband to be with us to meet him too.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Best Laid Plans in Pregnancy...

Pregnancy is a great time of change - physical, emotional, practical - and a certain degree of planning  is generally required in order to help prepare for the life-altering arrival of a little one. Making lists and ticking tasks off as you complete them can help you feel more in control of what is largely an unknown situation, and putting practicalities in place certainly helps to settle the soul ahead of the anticipated major life event.

Some people are extremely detailed with their planning, leaving little or nothing to chance, whilst others prefer to plot out the main points but leave the finer elements flexible. I am in the latter camp; whilst I like to have the fundamental factors clear in my mind and on paper, I don't want to get bogged down in the minutiae as I think many of the smaller details are subject to change beyond our control anyway.

And, as is often the case in life, even the best laid plans can go completely to pot in a split second. Sometimes, if you have invested effort and consideration into putting a painstaking plan in place, you can end up more disappointed or traumatised when it goes tits-up all of a sudden than if you had allowed for some flexibility.

That said, even with a 'go-with-the-flow' attitude, we all imagine the way we expect events will unfold in our heads and any disruption to or deviation from that can be a source of distress.

This is the boat in which I currently find myself, on several counts.

Firstly, my husband and I specifically decided to come to London for the final 2 months of my pregnancy to escape the oppressive desert heat of Dubai, so that I would be comfortable in more temperate weather and able to take nice long walks in the park and by the river every day, staying active right up until labour. As it happens, we find ourselves in the midst of the hottest June the UK has experienced on record for the past 25+ years, with London and the South East bearing the brunt of the heatwave. At 34 weeks and 4 days pregnant, this 30 Celsius (feels like 40) London heat is melting me. I can't go anywhere comfortably. I can't even sit in my own home comfortably. My hands and feet are throbbing, and I'm frequently found sitting with my feet in a bucket of ice cold water. Thank goodness my husband is a fussy sleeper and can't nod off without air conditioning - whatever the weather - so we had already purchased a portable unit for the bedroom on our first day. Otherwise there is no way I would've been getting any sleep during this hot spot either.

So that's the first well-intentioned plan which has gone well and truly out of the window.

Next up is the matter of our private health insurance, which conveniently expired at the end of May. We knew this would happen, of course, and had planned to renew it immediately - which shouldn't have been an issue at all - but it has become one. The insurance is issued as part of a 'corporate package' to all employees (and their families) of the company my husband is employed by. This is standard; in fact it is a legal requirement for private companies in the UAE to provide private healthcare to their employees. It's a wonderful benefit and I'm not complaining at all, but unfortunately the company has been slow to activate the renewal of the corporate package, thus leaving us all without valid health insurance cover until now. We're not entirely sure what the hold-up is from the company's side, and even though my husband has attempted to renew my insurance as an individual off his own back, apparently it is not possible.

Cue the private Maternity wing at which I am due to deliver next month, suddenly demanding payment in full for the care package THIS WEEK! Great. Luckily we are fortunate enough to be in a position whereby we CAN self-pay the full amount if necessary and then later claim it back from the insurance company once our policy is renewed, but many others wouldn't necessarily have that option to fall back on. Either way, it is an expense we hadn't planned to pay out of our own pockets at this precise moment. But needs must.

Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the complete capitulation of the best laid plans, as an entirely unexpected piece of news came through at the start of this week. A curveball hurled from so far left-field that it has knocked me out of the park.

On Sunday, my husband received an official call-up to the 1-year national military service, due to report for duty on 1st August. My due date is 29th July. He immediately had to fly back to Dubai on getting the call-up, in order to enlist and go through all the medical assessments and psychological evaluations prior to the start of service date. This is the first time they have initiated military service call-ups for August; usually new recruits are taken on in January.

It will mean an initial 45-day cold turkey period with absolutely NO communication whatsoever. No phones, no emails, not even pigeon post. Nothing. The prospect of facing 45 days without talking to my beloved husband - my best friend, my soulmate, my world - either when I have just delivered our first baby, or even when I am delivering our first baby, if he arrives late, fills me with absolute dread and horror. Following the 45-day radio silence, there will be a further 4 months of being locked up at the military camp and sometimes being allowed out at weekends. Then a further 8 months of daily commutes to the military base.

My emotions and hormones had been so wonderfully stable since we came to London; every day was a happy day and a tear couldn't have been further away from my eyes, but since getting this news on Sunday I've been an oversensitive bag of weeping. As I mentioned in a previous post, we knew my husband would be in a training camp somewhere in Central Europe from mid-July for just under a month, but that he would be allowed to leave and come straight to me in London once I went into labour. Now that is not the case. There are no exceptions made to the 45-day lockdown. There are no delays to the start of service date.

What should be the most exciting and love-filled time of our lives has now been turned upside down into one of the most unsettling. I can't really get my head around what is to come and how I will handle it at the moment; it's still such a fresh shake-up to our 'best laid plans' and my husband having to hop on a plane and fly away last night was not something I had ever anticipated, let alone the rest of it. I know he has to respond to the call of duty and I'm very proud of him and what he will be doing, but for our fledgeling little family, the timing literally could not be any worse.

So, as is the theme of this (long, rambling, sometimes ranty and overemotional - my apologies!) blog post; you can plan for what you THINK is every eventuality, you can prepare for multiple scenarios, but in the end there is always a possibility that something could flash like a bolt from the blue and your only option is to react on the spot and deal with it as it happens. I suppose it will at least serve as good training for the unpredictability of life with a new baby.