In the second part of our parenting series What They Don’t Tell You, Catherine Woulfe welcomes the daughter she fought for.
The extremely strange thing about a planned c-section is that you get a text from the hospital booking in the birth, like it’s a dentist appointment. Text YES to confirm.
Then you sit in a waiting room for three hours reading the Woman’s Weekly. A sweaty man comes striding out and phones his mum. “It’s a girl! Gonna need a chastity belt!” Jeeeesus.
Then it’s your turn and you walk into the theatre and sit on the bed which looks a horrible lot like the one you were on last time, and you get hot and forget to breathe.
They stick the first needle in your back. Next will be the one that numbs you and means you will not feel your baby kick again.
The second before that one goes in I say stop. Wait. I hug my tum and baby kicks, and I say a silent thank you to my body, for getting her here, and somehow I know already that this is the last moment I will ever be pregnant, and I honour that and I shut my eyes. Breathe.
Leo is five months old now. Ben is five. We had a very hard time when Ben was a baby. I loved him but I lost myself, and cried a lot. It took years to let go of the anxiety that surrounded his traumatic birth. It took years to see it was there, actually.
Everyone told us having two would be worse, like that first baby squared times a thousand, that we needed to brace. There would be lots more crying by me. Everything would go to shit. Ben would be sad, attention-starved, mean to the baby. Their dad would look forward to escaping to work.
Two has not been like that. Two has been the easiest thing in the world. Easier than one. We have our sweetheart, our missing piece. We have our family, finally, and we have perspective.
Perspective is losing two pregnancies between Ben and Leo, and knowing there will not be another. My uterus is too messed up from all the surgery. (A plea: if you have unexplained secondary infertility after a c-section, get the scar in your uterus checked).
Perspective is having friends, family, who have been through the fire with you. They come bearing four lasagnas for the freezer and soup for today and they stand in your kitchen holding baby for two hours. They ask you how the anxiety is and text you afterwards to say “You’re such a lovely mum. I admire you.” You meet them at a pub for dinner and turn away from the table for a moment to pick up baby and when you turn back they’ve silently cut all your food into forkable pieces. They look after baby, who is too young to be vaccinated for measles, while you duck into school to drop off your boy. They cry with you when you say it’s so wonderful and you wish it had been like this the first time.
Perspective is having weathered the effing four-month sleep regression before and knowing you will again. It’s knowing there’s no point being angry at baby, or at yourself, when she wakes every 45 minutes. It’s knowing that her brain is rebooting and that these are the last days you will spend with your snoozy newborn. It’s banning yourself from driving on day three and being glad you did because on day four you start hallucinating that there are hedgehogs everywhere and you crash the pram. It’s knowing that sun and proper chocolate and company help. And reading Emily Writes. It’s laughing, not crying, because this too shall pass.
Perspective is knowing your body. A hard wedge in your boob means a block is forming, and what you need to do right now is hop in a hot shower and find the bright white hard fleck on your nipple and flick it off with a needle. (A friend prefers to stand side-on to a wall and get her husband to mash her boob against it as hard as he can). It’s stabbing yourself in the nipple with a needle but also appreciating the long hot shower. It’s knowing that your hair is going to fall out after a few months and that it will grow back. That your scar will fade to silver. That your body is softer now and a slightly different shape, because inside it there lives a deep well of patience and kindness and reading Demolition 17 times a day.
It is watching your five-year-old read to his baby sister and seeing that he has that well inside him, too. That part of the reason his first years were so hard on you is that you threw yourself at his feet, lifted him up, held him tight, and that he has never been happier.
It is loving your husband more than ever. You know how to do this together, now, this baby thing. You relish it. Together you snuff her and rock her and coo quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle. You laugh when she sprays him with shit and he laughs too. You are out of infertility limbo and you looked after each other through it and now here comes the rest of our lives. Here comes the sun.
Perspective is taking your baby to meet her grandfather, her Pop, for the first time. He is 62 and he is in a secure dementia ward. Last time you visited, just before baby came, he knew you. Now he doesn’t even look up.
It is crying and crying and staying away for another month, until one day you feel absolutely compelled to go back, and you do and he looks up and smiles and holds baby on his knee. It is her having his eyes. It is missing him. It is hoping he gets to go soon.
Having two is easy. Having two is everything. This too shall pass.
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