The support curve

The support curve

Baby is nine months old, and I have no idea how much she weighs. It’s not a big deal – she’s very clearly happy, healthy, eating us out of house and home, and we have a Plunket appointment next month for her 9-12 month checkup. But it’s been nagging at me a little, and making me reflect on how it feels like the supports that have surrounded us since before she was born are on a real decline.

And that’s not really a big deal either because we’re still surrounded by friends and family and community. We’re in a really privileged position, being able to have one parent at home full-time (and to have me work from home a few days a week). My mum lives only a half-hour away, J’s family visit regularly.

But before she was born, there was our amazing midwife. Always there, literally at any time of the day or night if we needed her. One person who knew us intimately and had a huge amount of experience and knowledge to calm any anxieties we had (and there are so, so many anxieties). Our antenatal classes connected us to a bunch of people expecting babies at literally the same time as ours, and more experts on things like feeding and sleeping.

Once she was born, there were the hospital midwives and surgeons and Plunket, and once they found her heart condition, the entire NICU team swept in, with nurses and more doctors and social workers. We got enrolled in Heart Kids and put in touch with Parent to Parent. We were back at the hospital for a weight check every week for the first two months of her life.

At the same time, the antenatal group kept going, with group chats and coffee catch ups. It meant so much, sitting in the dark at 2am feeding a jaundiced little bub, to be able to type “god I’m so tired, anyone else up?” and have three other mums respond.

It’s a bit redundant to say things change over time. Of course, once baby had her surgery and recovered like a complete champ, we weren’t going to need all those checkups. Of course, Plunket doesn’t have to be dropping in quite so often once you’ve nailed those early milestones. And naturally, as paid parental leave starts to finish up, people go back to work and schedules become more complicated and those weekly coffee catch ups become harder to coordinate.

I’d never go back to those early weeks when everything was new and completely terrifying and we desperately needed to have all those people on the end of the phone to reassure us and get us additional support. But I do miss the security net, and the sense of a whole community focused on one thing: a happy healthy baby. It feels like you lose that support in little bits and pieces, and sometimes – like when you look at baby’s WellChild book and realise you don’t know how much she weighs – it hits you all at once.

Photo by Malvestida Magazine on Unsplash

A bump on the head

A bump on the head

Every day there’s a new way to do things wrong.

Last week, baby had a fall from the sofa, onto the carpet, onto her head. There had been a couple before – onto her butt, which is very well padded – and the sofa isn’t high, but this was terrifying. She paused for a moment, she cried loudly, she was comforted quickly. So far, so good (except for the fall). Just one of those moments you freak out about at the time but really, just something that happens to every baby, right?

Except you do have to take every blow to the head seriously. Even if every bit of literature says it’s probably nothing serious, they all conclude but get it checked anyway. That’s nice and straightforward. So I called Plunketline and waited, and waited, and was presented with my first dilemma: did I keep waiting, or hit the number 3, which was tantalisingly presented as offering a quicker response from a Healthline nurse who could do triage. I mean, the baby’s condition wasn’t “hang up immediately and dial 111” serious, obviously, but was she “take up a triage nurse’s valuable time” serious? Or only “wait your turn” serious?

I pressed the number 3 and felt terrible about it. The lovely nurse – I have only ever had positive experiences of Healthline and the Plunket line, even though almost every call has been more about my own anxiety than a genuine medical issue, and I think they understand and empathise with that – went through the checklist. No vomiting, no unconsciousness, no floppiness, acting like her normal self. Probably fine, just like I thought, just like the literature said, but then again, at the end: but get her checked face-to-face by a doctor.

I hung up, and did a huge melodramatic sigh, and thought, “Really???”

It’s a situation that feels like a dilemma because you know that in 95% of cases the doctor will find nothing wrong and you will have, in some sense, “wasted” their time. But the 5% of cases where things are more serious justify every single one of those 95. On the other hand, you have so many cultural narratives about parents – usually, specifically, mothers – being too sensitive, too concerned, too worried, not “letting kids be kids and take a few bumps”. You really, really don’t want to play into that, or worse, have other people think you’re playing into it.

I was determined to do the right thing, with “better safe than sorry” going around and around in my head. But boy, did the baby pick the very best day to test me on this, because there was a massive pile-up on the motorway, the local medical centre had literally no doctors available because the roads were closed, the local community hospital had an estimated 1.5 hour wait and because there was clearly nothing wrong with the baby we were bottom of the queue, and we ended up going all the way back into town to our GP who happened to have a free slot.

So add worrying about being stuck in traffic forever – I had no idea if the gorge was still closed or how long the gridlock would take to disperse – with, now, exposing the baby to multiple places sick people go to the pile of evidence that I am the world’s worst mother. I mean, I obviously let her fall off the sofa in the first place!

The brain can only handle so many things to stress out about simultaneously.

She’s fine. She checked out. But there was one more hurdle to clear: just on the offchance everyone had somehow missed signs of a concussion, we – I – had to wake the baby in the middle of her sleep cycle, in the middle of the night, just to check she would rouse normally.

No parent ever wants to hear the phrase “check she can rouse normally in the middle of her sleep cycle”, am I right?

It felt like a kind of penance, setting an alarm for 2am (and knowing always that I’m already lucky having a baby who sleeps pretty solidly) and shaking her awake, hearing her startled, indignant crying begin, realising she now needs a feed and a change and all my hopes of just gently easing her back to sleep were shattered.

But why the hell did I have to do penance?

Explaining these thought processes feels like trying to teach someone a recipe in a language neither of you speak. It makes no sense. Babies have falls, and helplines are there to take your call, and doctors are there to check them over, and waking them up is a good thing. Nobody did anything wrong in this situation. Yet the starting assumption of my brain was: yes you did, at every conceivable stage of this process. And not just this process; everything. You are at all times and in every way a Wrong Mama.

It’s an exhausting way to live. And it’s dangerous, because when all that anxiety gets on top of you, the instinct is to not ask for help. You feel like you’re being silly or paranoid or overthinking things. You’ll just look like a fool if you go to all that bother for nothing.

And maybe you are, and maybe you will. But you’re allowed to ask for help anyway.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

The needles

The needles

(Content note: infertility, IVF, injections)

I definitely didn’t plan it this way, but here we are carrying on with the anniversaries: because it was a year ago today that I found myself wandering down Victoria Street carrying five thousands dollars’ worth of the less fun kind of drugs.

The first big piece of the IVF puzzle is the eggs. You need to stimulate the ovaries to produce as many as possible, then collect them so they can be fertilised in the lab. And that means playing with hormones – which is exactly what you need on top of all the emotional and psychological pressure of nearly a decade of trying and failing to have a baby.

Put it this way: I needed to start taking the first set of jabs on day 1 of my menstrual cycle. And as everyone with a period tracking app knows, day 1 is counted from when you get full or “normal” flow – for your typical cycle – before noon.

So when my period started at 12:30 on a Saturday, I naturally had a minor breakdown about how to count days, and also time. Did that count? Was it day one??? How heavy was a normal period for me anyway????

J gave me a very firm look and said “It’s full flow before noon. That means day one is tomorrow.”

On the plus side, I impressed the Fertility Associates nurse with my quick command of popping a needle onto the drug pen and jabbing it into a weird beige eight-by-five centimetre piece of demonstration “belly” skin. It felt like a weird magical ritual, and also too easy, but also the most difficult thing in the world. At least I knew that my feelings were very normal, based on how many times the nurse reassured me that I definitely wasn’t going to screw it all up.

I didn’t. My hands didn’t even shake. But that didn’t stop at least some part of my brain from freaking out anyway; I spent the rest of the evening walking around with incredibly tensed posture, like my belly was made of porcelain and any movement might shatter it. Porcelain with a very very sharp little mosquito bite in it.

My medication plan involved taking the injection (Gonal-F) for a week, and on day 6 adding another one (which hurt like hell) to make my ovaries hold on tight to all those precious eggs they were (hopefully) prepping.

When it came to it, I once again forgot what counted as day 1 of my cycle, and/or how to count to 6, and ended up calling the clinic just to double-triple check the very clear instructions I had already been given verbally and in writing.

They are very, very accustomed to those kinds of phone calls and were very, very kind about it. It didn’t stop me feeling bloody silly. How on earth was I qualified to have a baby if I couldn’t manage something this simple?

You’d think that by day seven it becomes old hat, nothing to worry about, you’ve nailed this process. You’ve got your little prep ritual ready, with a comfortable place to sit and a cup of peppermint tea at the ready to stave off the nausea.

But with IVF there’s always the next step in the process to worry about. And the next step was an ultrasound scan to see if my ovaries were cooperating. Something I could not see or control or have any sense about until it happened.

No pressure.

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash