All I ever wanted was to be a Mum

For as long as I could remember I had played with dolls lovingly; dressing them, bathing them, hugging them, rocking them to sleep in the cradle Grandma bought me for Christmas in 1973. First, there was Ben, a funny doll who for some reason I decided was a boy. He had one eye that was stuck and never closed when you lay him down and a strange collection of blue ‘boy’ clothes but I loved him and I took him everywhere. Admittedly he was often upside down, semi-naked and rather grubby but he was my baby nevertheless. Then came Tiny Tears. She was perfect (although the hairstyle looking back on it was decidedly seventies and not in a funky way) with blue eyes and a Clara bow mouth complete with hole for you to put her dummy in whenever your maternal instincts told you she needed extra soothing. When we used to go to Little Chef on the many long motorway journeys to and from various relatives or house hunting for the latest move, I would always give Ben and Tiny Tears the sticker rewards that they gave you for eating up all your food and I would have the lolly. We were a team, me and my ‘babies’ and we took care of each other.

Now, of course, I did all the normal big girl things as I grew up; bike rides, school discos, tentative snogs at the youth club leading to disastrous relationships at the student union bar. I even managed to get a degree and find a job and Tiny Tears and Ben were left languishing at my parents’ house wondering if anyone would cuddle them again! I never forgot them and most significantly whenever there as a clear out and my mother asked what she could throw or give away that I no longer wanted to be stored in their house and not mine, I never gave up on them. That is because whilst concerts and smart restaurants are fun and spending all your money on shoes is great for a while, ultimately it was not what I wanted. I always wanted to be a Mum. It is not a lofty ambition, it won’t be remembered for the works of Einstein or Gandhi but it was my strongest and most burning desire. I will not apologise for that.

So when the time came for a good man to come into my life and a lovely wedding, followed by a lovely home, it was not long before the talk of starting a family became more than just talk and so we began ‘trying’. I was already 29 at this point and my husband was over 30 so I hadn’t been completely obsessed with parenthood prior to that. Now though everything felt right. However, everything wasn’t right. Far from it and despite the initial thrill and a whole lot of smugness at getting pregnant the first month of trying, we were soon to begin a very hard journey to parenthood. 8 weeks into my first pregnancy and only 4 weeks since that joyful positive test, I started bleeding. A few spots quickly turned into a full on bleed and before we knew it we were in the early pregnancy unit of UCH being told there was no heartbeat and a blood test would confirm that I had indeed miscarried.

So home we went, sad and empty but still with an element of optimism thanks to the cheerful blasé attitude of the staff and all our friends telling us that we would be pregnant again in no time and there really was nothing to worry about. Months went by. We took temperatures, we peed on sticks, we analysed every twitch of my cycle and of course, we shagged like rabbits. Quite a shock to my husband to have me initiating sex every night I can tell you! In the beginning, I think he rather liked the ‘trying’. But excited optimistic sex can quickly become desperate, needy, necessary sex and months later with no sign of another pregnancy, the strain very definitely took its toll. How we survived that year and the many that were to follow in our quest to become parents is still a wonder to me. It is to our very great credit that we kept talking and sharing and shouting and sulking and finding ways to cheer each other up because we did it together. We quickly realised that no one else understood what we were going through as well as each other. So no matter what anyone else said we always had someone we could turn to and they always agreed and they always said the right thing. We finally admitted defeat and went to the GP who started with some very simple tests, a smear, a sperm test, some hormone level blood tests, etc. All came back normal and as is so often the case, within a month of talking to the GP, I found myself pregnant again. This time we only had a week of optimism and once again I was bleeding, waiting for hours at the early pregnancy unit of UCH and yes, ‘we are really sorry but there is no heartbeat’. In fact this time there was nothing at all so it was highly likely it had been a chemical pregnancy that had never formed a sack or proper embryo.

Now the depression really kicked in. I was a woman obsessed. I was made redundant and as my husband was earning good money I begged him to support me as I went freelance and cut down my hours. I took vitamins and minerals, I bought every book, read every article, I tried acupuncture (ouch!) and finally reflexology. Now for me reflexology probably saved me. It gave me a release. An hour a week my brain stopped whirring, took a break and totally switched off and knowing I was able to turn my brain off like that whenever I wanted to keep me sane. I couldn’t look at babies having been the first to cuddle or coo whenever one came near me. I used to be great with kids, everyone said so. ‘Give her to Charlotte, she knows what to do’ was always what the friends and relatives would say when one of the cousins was whining or crying. And I did, I soothed, I laughed, I made up great games and they loved me. Not now. Now I was grumpy Aunty Charlotte who doesn’t like kids and does not want to hold your baby and would rather go now thank you very much.

I couldn’t watch TV or films if there was any hint of happy families, childbirth or pregnancy. I remember Rachel in Friends was pregnant at the time and I used to weep every time my once favourite show came on. My husband had to physically hold me back one day when we walked past a heavily pregnant woman in a hospital gown standing outside the maternity unit having a smoke with her other child in a pushchair beside her. Me! Who never raises her voice to anyone and would rather die than confront a situation and yet here I was ready to scream in a total stranger’s face because she had what I wanted more than life itself and she didn’t seem to value or appreciate it.

Life itself. That became really difficult. I don’t just mean when there were babies to face or emotional triggers to deal with. I remember my mother telling me to just ‘pull myself together; it’s not the be all and end all’. In fact, I remember how much that hurt as acutely now as it did then. Actually, unless you have been through this, you have no idea how very much it is the be all and end all. A woman is totally driven by her hormones and what stage of her cycle she is at. It dictates whether you feel like dancing or not, which clothes you feel comfortable in, what you fancy eating, whether you are happy or sad, grumpy or reasonable. Do I like what I see in the mirror today? Am I spotty? Does my tummy hurt? And I had particularly rubbish periods so it really did dictate my every move and that was before I cared about when I was due on and whether I was going to be pregnant or not. Now it truly affected EVERYTHING. And one day I found myself in a total panic because what if I could never have a child? What if there was no hope? What would there be for me if I was ever going to be a Mum? I couldn’t bring myself to think the worst but I certainly knew in my heart that at that point I could not see how I was going to live.

This pain went on for another 2 and a half years until a friend of mine said, ‘Enough’s enough. You can’t deal with this on your own anymore. You need help’. She was right. It was the time I took back control. I went to my GP and poured my heart out and he said he would refer me to the specialists at UCH and I should be in their care within the month. He was right. On my 33rd birthday I was sat in front of a consultant in the reproductive medicine unit and for the first time, my husband and I had someone telling us they would help. No, we didn’t have to give up, no it was not crazy for this to be terribly important and yes there were resources available who would help us to be parents. There was even a therapist if we wanted. First, they wanted to do tests, more bloods and lots of scans. Then they would try Clomid then they would try  IVF. Nothing seemed to be wrong apart from one slightly raised hormone level indicating I was further down the path to menopause than someone of my age would normally be. Possibly all my eggs were a bit old and so they were either too damaged to be fertilised or if they did manage that part they were definitely not able to sustain a pregnancy. Miscarriage is actually a marvellous thing. No, I have not lost the plot, it really is. Your body is that clever that it can tell from a tiny bunch of cells that something minute is not right. It saves you the considerably more agonising heartache of possible stillbirth or a lifetime of caring for a very poorly child by realising this ‘flaw’ at once and rejecting the pregnancy quickly and efficiently at a very early stage. Well, that’s how it worked in my case and none of my failed pregnancies ever lasted more than 8 weeks. I can only talk from my experience and in the end, I realised that the rather brusque nature of most of the medical staff was not because they didn’t appreciate what you were going through but rather than they knew the stats and the NHS are all about the stats. The truth is at least 1 out of 4 pregnancies miscarry and they are invariably followed by perfectly healthy normal babies being born within months or years to the same couple. They saw this with their own eyes day after day. Convincing me, however, took a while! So I began my first course of Clomid, had the most horrific period (had to make an excuse to take an early lunch from my latest client who fortunately only was 20 minutes bus ride from my house) to go home with my coat tied around my waist covering the evidence that I had bled everywhere and needed to completely change my clothes but 4 weeks later there we were staring at a positive pregnancy test. It was now 4 years since we had started our journey to parenthood and we were now cynics. So we waited terrified until the 8-week scan to see if there was going to be a heartbeat and this time there was! We were advised to still be cautious which we promised we were whilst secretly looking at each other with nothing but joy in our eyes. A couple of weeks later they checked again and all was well. Our bean was growing nicely and it was time to be discharged from the RMU and be ‘normal’ antenatal patients. And so we were until the 20-week scan revealed by cruel coincidence that I was Grade 4 placenta praevia, high risk of haemorrhaging and would certainly have to have a caesarean. Indeed I bled at 28 weeks and again at 29 weeks and then had the riot act read to me about how I should live in the hospital and if I was going to insist on going home I had to have someone with me 24/7 in case I bled out and died! Marvellous!

I woke up on the morning of May 17th, 2005 with a warm wet sensation and indeed I was haemorrhaging. A lot of blood later (which my poor mother scrubbed and mopped whilst trying to take her mind off the fact that her only child was in surgery and she had no idea if she or her first grandchild were ever coming out), a tiny little boy was delivered. He weighed 1669g (3lbs 10oz), had an initial Apgar score of 3 but he was alive and he was alright. I first saw him as I awoke from my anaesthetic on a Polaroid picture. He had a sunken chest, brown shiny skin and I had absolutely no idea what he looked like for a week after he was born when they took the eye protectors off him and peeled off the CPAP device that was squishing his nose and cheeks but keeping him breathing! 10 years later from when we first started ‘trying’, my son is nearly 7 and my daughter (born after 3 further miscarriages) is nearly 3. They are perfect and we are parents in every sense of the word. We are tired, exasperated, happy, silly, bored of Cbeebies, fed up of Peppa Pig but everything is exactly as we dreamed it would be. I am a Mum and my son; well naturally I called him Ben.

Charlotte Young

Member of Stansted and District NCT Branch

United Kingdom Post

This post is from the UK

Charlotte Young (3 Posts)

Charlotte Young is mum to Ben aged 7 and Phoebe aged 3 (going on 16). Her son ignores her and her daughter drives her to distraction but generally calm is restored happily every night at about 8pm! When she is not editing her local NCT newsletter and trying her hand at amateur writing, she is fighting local developers to save her beautiful Essex countryside. Charlotte is trying to qualify as a piano teacher in a desperate attempt to achieve the impossible - having it all. Charlotte used to work in printing and may well do again if she can't pass these latest piano exams.