On this page I would like to share real life stories from mothers. Please email me on NW8mums@gmail.com if you have a story to share.
One of the lovely NW8-mums is a GP and she recently had her first child. I asked her what it is like being a doctor and going through pregnancy, labour, as well as being a new mum.
What is it like going through pregnancy as a doctor?
I’m not too sure if it’s any different from people who are not doctors. I think it just depends on your personality and past experiences. During my training, I saw all sorts of things. Recurrent miscarriages, ectopics and even very sadly two maternal deaths. I’m also not too sure how these cases impacted my pregnancy. I guess I just thought it was unlikely to happen to me, and if it does- well then I know where I need to go to get help.
I’m sure like most women, the further along the pregnacy went, the happier I felt that it would be OK. I’m a bit of a worrier. It’s just my nature, but at the same time I think I’m quite good at being rational. And, when that fails, my husband who is a complete optimist will step in!
All in all, I just went with the flow of things. We had a a few complications as you’ll read below. Yes, I worried about how things would turn out, but I have to say my husband did help me overcome the worry.
Did you experience feelings you didn’t expect to feel?
Yes, definitely. Three days after I found out I was pregnant, I started to bleed. I was convinced I would miscarry. I felt so upset and disappointed in myself. I felt that I had somehow let myself down. I didn’t think I would feel like this. In clinic, I tell my patients all the time that it was nothing they had done and that they shouldn’t blame themselves.
Somehow, it was hard not to blame myself. I also didn’t expect to feel so attached to the pregnancy at that early a stage. I always thought early miscarriages were maybe perhaps slightly easier to handle compared to later ones. I’ve certainly changed my mind about that.
Another thing that was unexpected was how hard I found breastfeeding. I had very poor milk supply. Health visitors and midwives were telling me to keep going. I ended up needing to top up with formula. I had midwives at my home rolling their eyes at me and telling me I was a GP; I should breastfeed.
Eventually, it all got too much. I couldn’t continue with the breastfeeding, had bleeding and cracked nipples. I was expressing, topping up and sterilising. I felt like a complete failure. It got me so down that I wasn’t doing what was best for my baby. I felt ashamed in a way; I didn’t want to tell my medic friends that I wasn’t able to breastfeed. We had always learnt that ‘breast was best’. As a junior doctor, I even helped in a campaign to promote breastfeeding. I just always thought that I would breastfeed, and not being able to challenged me in so many different ways.
I did eventually get over it. My mother, who was a great support, reminded me that I was formula fed! She told me to think clearly, and what would I say to a patient of mine in a similar scenario. Her words helped me realise that I was doing the best I could for my little one.
Did your perception of treating pregnant patients change during your pregnancy?
As a GP, you obviously can’t experience everything you see. You just have to try and empathise as best as you can. I think having been pregnant and experienced complications such as early bleeding, nausea and fatigue, will inevitably allow me to empathise and understand patients to a greater depth, and that will hopefully make me a better GP.
What was it like going into labour, and what were your experiences afterwards?
I was overdue and booked for an induction. However, on the morning of my induction I went into labour. I remember thinking ‘so this is what a contraction feels like’! We made our way up to the labour ward. I was on the monitor for 5 minutes, and suddenly all the alarm bells went off. A team of doctors rushed in. They were all ‘excited’ and kept talking about a possibility of the cord round the neck. It felt so bizarre to be the patient. I had been involved in this scenario many a time when doing obstetrics. My husband had no idea what was happening, but just kept telling me not to worry. I couldn’t really process anything; it was all happening too quickly. I knew I would have c-section. I could hear the paediatric doctors telling my husband that the baby might not cry or breathe. I don’t know why, but I just stayed calm. I just thought that it would all be ok in the end. Ten minutes later, we had a beautiful baby boy who was absolutely perfect and healthy.
I wasn’t upset at having a c-section. I was just happy I had a healthy boy. Small things made a huge different to our care; the supportive midwives and amazing anaesthetist who told us he would take good care of us. They made the birth a real celebration by taking a million photos and making us feel special!
Do you imagine you have changed both as a doctor and person since becoming a mother?
Yes! I’m more prepared for the unexpected! Better at prioritising and multitasking. Even more organised than I was before. And miles more empathic when it comes to pregnancy and babies. That tired mother with a 4-month-old baby whom you see on a Monday morning saying: ‘Do something! He cried all night!’… Even though that baby now looks happy and is completely well, I think listening, understanding and not rushing through the appointment will help a little.
When you think about going back to work, how do you feel?
I have mixed feelings about returning. I love my job. I love seeing different people all day long and helping work out a plan for their problem.
When I left work, I felt guilty. I wouldn’t see my regular patients for nine months. Some patients were openly disappointed that I was pregnant! So when I go back, I think I’ll enjoy working again; seeing my regular patients and using that part of my brain again.
On the flip side, I’m going to miss my son. I love being on maternity leave. I’m not bored; it’s been nearly five months. I can’t imagine leaving him for the whole day yet. I feel very lucky to have this time with my son and I’m trying to treasure every moment with him!
One NW8-mums writes movingly about what it is like living with a child who has Down’s Syndrome
When our little boy, Darragh, was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome a week after his birth it felt like our world was falling apart. Darragh was in the NICU at the time and, although we were surrounded by medical experts we had never felt more alone. Discovering that your child has a medical condition is like a bereavement – you grieve for the child you have ‘lost’ and the dreams of playdates, school, university and you worry about the challenges facing you and your child. I think I probably cried for three days and found it impossible to talk to anyone about what had happened.
However, if we had known then what we know now we probably wouldn’t have wasted so much time crying and worrying about things that are so far in the future. Fortunately Darragh does not have any of the heart, lung or digestive conditions that are often associated with Down’s Syndrome so we only have to deal with a developmental delay and minor issues with sight, hearing and the immune system. He is prone to developing chest infections and is at risk of complications with common childhood illnesses so we have to keep a close eye on his general health. It’s true that it takes him a lot longer to master some basic skills but he manages it in his own time so I have learnt to stop worrying about milestones. His speech is delayed but he is picking up new words and signs every day. He still can’t feed himself without assistance but like any little boy, he loves dinosaurs, the swings, books and sausages. He has a tremendous sense of humour and will happily entertain fellow travellers on buses and trains by insisting that they join in with his songs (with appropriate actions).
He has brought us a lot of love and joy and we wouldn’t change him for the world.
After much discussion we decided to try for a second baby. It wasn’t a happy pregnancy as I was constantly worried, despite many tests and much reassurance, that this child could also have some problems. After all, Darragh’s Down’s Syndrome hadn’t been picked up prenatally or at birth. Added to these worries, I was also attending up to six medical appointments a week in various locations as well as carrying out four hours of therapy daily (at least until I was unable to get down on to the floor!). Although our risk of having another child with Down’s Syndrome was no greater than that for anyone else of my age, we decided to have a CVS as early as possible. Finding out the baby was developing normally didn’t really make things any easier. Relief lead to guilt that I was devaluing Darragh’s life by wanting a child without Down’s Syndrome.
Aoife was born in November 2013 and Darragh took to her straightaway. In many ways they are now at the same developmental stage despite having 18 months between them. They both started crawling at the same time. If one learns a new word the other will pick it up within days. We hadn’t experienced a typically developing baby before so it was something of a shock to see how quickly Aoife learnt to sit and crawl – skills which had involved months of manipulation and physiotherapy for Darragh. He still requires a lot of additional support so this impacts on the amount of time we get to spend with Aoife. She has missed out on a lot of the Mummy and Baby classes but she greatly enjoys disrupting Darragh’s therapy sessions and goes to all of his specialist playgroups. Darragh will be starting at a mainstream nursery in September which will present us with a whole new range of challenges but we are confident that he will continue to thrive.
Dealing with pregnancy after many miscarriages and suffering perinatal & postnatal depression by Karin, the founder of NW8-mums as written in a newsletter to the NW8-mums group
I would like to share something that is quite personal. It is not to get pity. It is in the hope that my story can help some of you who are struggling right now.
Today is a very emotional day for me. Yesterday, my baby boy who is not really a baby anymore, turned 15 months. Today, I had my last session with the perinatal psychologist Claudia at UCLH, with whom I have spent almost two years after starting to see her when I was 11 weeks pregnant with him.
When I went for my booking-in appointment with him at 10 weeks, I completely broke down. It was the first time I had been back in that part of the hospital since my previous pregnancy. That last time on 10 August 2012 in the middle of the London Olympics, we learned that the baby girl I was expecting wouldn’t survive outside the womb. It is something you never ever think you will go through. It simply doesn’t exist in your mind. But, there we were. And, what we had to go through was simply too horrible to put into words. It will never completely go away and it is in me forever. I have learned to live with the pain and loss.
We never thought we would have the guts to try again, but we decided over a year later that we would give it one try. A last try. I was supported by my amazing acupuncturist all along.
This was to be pregnancy number seven and it was to be my little boy who is now snoring away in his cot in the next room as I write this.
Going back into that part of the hospital where we had learned that horrible piece of news brought it all back again and more vividly than I had ever imagined it could. My midwife was simply amazing. Her name is Carol Pitterson. I will never forget her or her name. Not only did she refer me to the perinatal psychology team, but she also referred me to the fetal medicine unit where I was taken care of by the wonderful Dr Fred Ushakov. All of this without me asking. They helped carry me during this extremely difficult pregnancy. It was emotionally sometimes too much to cope with, but knowing I had my weekly session with Claudia was my lifeline as well as my many scans with Dr Fred.
The fact that I was suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) didn’t help and I had already been hospitalised, on a drip etc at 8 weeks. I was bed bound and couldn’t care for my daughter. My husband was a single father for most of my pregnancy with our son.
Once it became clear that everything was going well, I was terrified something would happen during labour. I couldn’t connect with the boy I was carrying because I was too terrified that I would lose him just like I had lost the little girl and the other babies.
Labour – on the due date just like his big sister five years earlier – was so unbelievably fast compared to the 26,5 hours in 2009. And then something did happen. I just couldn’t get him out. He was stuck. What had been very calm (and quick), became an emergency. I had no idea that he had been born, I didn’t hear him scream and I couldn’t hold him for about 20 minutes. We also didn’t know if he would be fine for 24 hours. It was extremely traumatic.
My therapist Claudia came to see us in hospital the following day and I saw her regularly again from when my son was a month old.
I had had a very traumatic and horrendous pregnancy with my daughter suffering from HG, hospitalisation etc with her too. I had also had perinatal depression, and bad postnatal depression after having her.
With my son, I was lucky enough to realise that I was getting postnatal depression again, and because I already had the support from everyone, it didn’t get as bad as after having my daughter. But, the reason it didn’t get that bad was because I was able to recognise the early signs and ask for help.
For the past year, I have seen Claudia at first every two weeks and then once a month. It has been such an important part of my recovery, together with having a great GP and health visitor who have looked after me. I have also tried to take extreme care of myself to help myself recover.
The moral of the story is this: please speak with someone if you are worried. Even if you don’t think it is bad. If there is something nagging you (even if it might seem tiny and insignificant), speak up about it if you can. Don’t try to be superwoman, because it doesn’t work (at least not in the long run). Ask for help. We can’t do this alone.
There is NOTHING WRONG with asking for help! You are not a lesser person or less able to cope; rather the opposite. If you can, try to let people help you. Even if it is sending you off to have a nap while they look after your baby. I will always be grateful to my dear friend Becky for doing that for me.
There is support out there! Cocoon Family Support and Jessica Warne got in touch with me after I wrote a newsletter about this. Jessica offered to come around to see me. In the end, I didn’t need it, but perhaps because I knew she was there, it gave me a bit extra strength.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to tell your midwife, GP or anyone you are struggling. There is help available on the NHS (all of mine was on the NHS), but often you won’t get it unless you ask. Persevere if you have to! If you struggle to do it yourself, ask someone to champion for you.
I hope that for those of you who are struggling right now, you might feel less alone. I hope you feel there is hope after all, and that this might help give you the strength to ask for help. This is for you!
Karin x (founder of NW8-mums)