Here are the things that happened while I was pregnant:
I was hospitalized for hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme sickness in pregnancy).
I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease in pregnancy (I had five times too much thyroid hormone in my blood).
I was hospitalized twice for atrial fibrillation (my heart behaves like a bowl of jelly).
I had surgery to take out my thyroid.
My baby was diagnosed with ventriculomegaly, which means he had too much fluid in some parts of his brain.
The baby lay breech and I had placenta praevia.
At 35 weeks I had heart problems and went to the hospital. I developed preeclampsia and the baby was born by emergency Caesarean section.
This is what I learned from my complicated pregnancy:
That being a hospital regular has upsides.
I went to the hospital or the doctor at least once a week, sometimes five times. I was treated in many different departments. I am comfortable at the hospital; I know my way about the place; I know what’s disgusting on the menu. When the doctors said the baby would be appearing five weeks early, I trusted them and knew they’d give me the best care my taxes can buy.
That I became more relaxed about birth.
From early on, I was high risk enough that I was either giving birth on a labor ward with a consultant close by or in an operating theatre. My birth plan was simple: get the baby out. Having been through surgery, many tests, a lot of discomfort and a degree of pain during the pregnancy, the point of the exercise didn’t seem as worrying as it had.
That normal pregnancy problems became…enjoyable.
I longed for fat ankles, a waddle, zero energy, the memory of a goldfish. After my thyroid surgery at 26 weeks, all I wanted was a third trimester like the next girl’s. I have seldom felt so grateful to feel rubbish, safe in the knowledge it was normal. One caveat: it can be difficult to be patient when you hear other pregnant women saying they’re struggling because, say, they don’t fit their jeans anymore. I was tempted to show off arms ravaged by cannulas, or to ask how they thought I came by that cut across my neck.
That I had to be picky about who I talked to.
Concern from family and friends can be touching; it can also be overwhelming, exhausting and even voyeuristic. Your parents calling after (another) scan is one thing; receiving endless messages from friends you haven’t seen for years saying “how are you?” or “how is the baby?” can indicate more ghoulish interest than sympathy. It was telling that my best friend asked about my health least and gave me her own news most often.
A round-robin email to close family and friends after the latest medical development limits phone calls, but don’t be afraid to tell your nearest and dearest that you can’t face talking through what the consultant said. Turn off your phone when necessary.
That extra post-natal help is essential.
Ask your partner to take leave; consider whether you may need counseling; talk to your health visitor, or healthcare provider. However your pregnancy was, new motherhood is hard work. It is extraordinary that women go through complex pregnancies and are then expected to revel in baby bliss when more than anything, they need time to recover and sort their heads out.
That I am braver than I knew.
When I told people how things were going, the response was usually “you must be scared.” I don’t know how, or where it came from, but I wasn’t. That I have no idea what a normal pregnancy looks like must play a part, and when I got to the end of my tether, there always seemed to somehow be a bit more there, albeit frayed. Then there was the realization that parenting is nothing if not a lifetime of trying to keep someone else from fear. If there is a good time for you to try out not being scared, it must be now.