Kate and Arlo

Name: Kate 

Child: Arlo, 4 months

Location: Burnage, Manchester

Expectations of Motherhood: I have always known that I wanted to have children. When I was younger, I had a plan… I’d graduate university, get a job, work hard at my career, buy a house, get married and then have kids in my 30s. And I did it! I stuck to my plan. Only when it came to the ‘having kids’ bit, it turned out that it wasn’t as easy as I thought.

I have always been very responsible when it came to contraception – believing that if I ever didn’t use it, I was bound to get pregnant. I wanted children but I wanted to have them when the time was right – when I was happy, settled and financially secure.

In 2010, I bought a house with John, my partner of 12 years, and the year after that, we got married. We settled nicely into married life and about a year later decided to start a family. What I didn’t know at the time was what was to come…

After the first few months of trying and nothing happening, we figured maybe I hadn’t worked out the timing of ovulation quite right and promptly bought some testing kits. A year down the line, we thought maybe it was because of stress – a combination of the monthly pressure of not conceiving, day to day stress and family members with health issues. We vowed to try to relax and hope for the best. A further six months on, with still nothing happening, I went to my GP and was referred for some fertility tests. A couple of months later, I had the tests and there was nothing wrong with me, no obvious reason why I wasn’t getting pregnant. Again, we put it down to stress and continued to try. 

By this time, I was almost beside myself. I was desperate for us to have a child and I couldn’t understand why it was so hard to conceive. In the time that we were trying, over 40 babies were born to our friends and family. Each time someone told me they were pregnant, whilst I was incredibly happy for them, I also began to feel a little jealous. How come they could get pregnant and I couldn’t? I felt like my body was letting me down and began to lose hope. 

At the start of 2015, three years after we started trying, we accepted that it probably wasn’t going to happen naturally and went back to our GP to discuss the possibility of IVF. We were referred to the Fertility Clinic in May, both went through a battery of tests (mine on my birthday – happy birthday to me) only to find that there was no medical reason for me not to conceive; no problem with John or I – it was ‘just one of those things’, which in some ways was even more frustrating as we couldn’t rationalise why it wasn’t happening. So we signed up for IVF, were added to the waiting list and were told it would be 12-18 months before we could begin treatment. 

Some things to note about IVF: 
– The NHS is blummin’ wonderful. We should never take for granted how lucky we are.
– The chances of IVF working aren’t great (mine were approximately 1 in 3 due to my age).
– Because of the postcode lottery, we had one chance (had we lived elsewhere, this could have been up to three).
– They take out as many eggs as they can and fertilise them.
– They prefer to only implant one embryo at a time – the rest are frozen.
– Even if IVF did work, I could still miscarry. 

Just before Christmas 2015, I took a phone call in work – someone had dropped out of the IVF process and a spot had opened up, could I come in tomorrow for more tests? I, of course, said yes and the next day my husband and I headed off to the clinic to have the tests to determine the medication I would be on. On Christmas Eve, I took delivery of all the drugs and hormones I’d be taking in the New Year, and promptly had to pack them off to my sister-in-law’s as there was no room in my fridge due to the turkey!On 2 January 2016, I began my treatment. At the same time every day I had to inject myself in my stomach. After a couple of weeks, it increased to two daily injections plus blood tests at hospital every other day so they could monitor my hormone levels and egg supply. Approximately a month after I started treatment, I had to give myself a third injection and then we headed off to the hospital to have my eggs removed and for John to provide his sample. Once the eggs were out, they were assessed for their quality and then fertilised. The day after my eggs were removed, I received a phone call from the clinic… they had managed to take out four eggs – one didn’t fertilise, one did fertilise but died, one fertilised but the quality of the embryo was compromised and one had fertilised and was ideal for treatment. As this left me with one dodgy embryo, rather than freeze it and compromise it further, the doctors decided to implant the two viable embryos the next day and hope for the best. Two and a half weeks later, I would be able to do a pregnancy test. Three days later I started bleeding.

By this point, I was convinced that the IVF hadn’t worked, and spent the next two weeks dreading a pregnancy test that I was positive would be negative. John kept telling me to have faith that everything would work out but I was really struggling. Two weeks later, we both spent the night tossing and turning before getting up at 5am to do a pregnancy test. When it was positive, we were both over the moon! 

After checking in with the fertility clinic to let them know the good news, I was told then next step would be to attend a ‘viability scan’ – possibly the worst-named thing ever – in three weeks’ time. This scan would determine if our baby had a heartbeat and would take place on our wedding anniversary of all days. We were both dreading it and trying not to get our hopes up – when we saw what looked like a tiny bean on the ultrasound screen and were told that it had a strong heartbeat, we felt like the luckiest people alive. Unfortunately the other embryo hadn’t taken, hence the bleeding, but we had beaten the odds – we were pregnant! Again, we tried not to get too excited – we were still very aware of miscarriage statistics – the next step was to get to the 14 week scan. Then the 20 week scan. And then, because I had a placenta complication, the 28, 32, 36 and 40 week scans. Every day as we anxiously awaited the arrival of our baby, our love for him grew and grew. I loved being pregnant but I couldn’t wait to give birth and finally hold him in my arms. I think we both felt that until that moment came, there was still the potential for something to go wrong.

On 28 October 2016, nearly 11 months after I started IVF, after a mainly smooth but dramatic towards the end labour, I gave birth to Arlo. The moment they placed him on my chest and told me he was fine, I felt an overwhelming sensation of relief, immense gratitude and triumph that we had made it! He was here and he was ours and our hearts burst with joy.

Reality of Motherhood: I don’t know if it’s because we wanted him so much and that we loved him deeply even before he was born, or whether it’s because my husband and I have such a good, solid relationship (we’ve been together 18 years now), or just sheer luck, but Arlo is such a happy, chilled out baby.

We really are very lucky. Since he was about 8 weeks old he has slept through the night. He has his dinner around 7-8pm then goes down for a nap until around 11pm-12am, when we wake him for a final feed, then he typically sleeps until 8am. The fact that we get sleep makes dealing with anything that might come up in the day so much easier.

Arlo currently spends his days smiling, going for walks, playing (chiffon scarves and feathers run over his face are a favourite), working out on his baby play gym, squeaking (babies make really weird noises), going to various playgroups and classes and spending time with his grandparents. He has a lovely life and it shows. Now he’s four months old, his personality is really shining through and he makes me laugh on a daily basis. He’s only been here for nineteen weeks but it’s almost like we can’t remember a time without him. 

Taking your baby home for the first time: Just after he was born, when we were on the recovery ward cuddling, he latched himself on and started feeding. It came naturally to both of us, which was a relief because I wanted to breastfeed but had all the usual worries: it could be hard, I might not produce enough milk, he might not latch on etc. I have lots of friends with children so from their experiences I knew it could be difficult but we were doing okay and the next day were discharged from hospital. I had a few stitches and for the next few days had to do injections in the stomach to prevent DVT, but otherwise felt pretty good considering the previous 24 hours. 

The hospital in only ten minutes down the road so after a short drive we were home. We brought him in, put the kettle on and just sat staring at him. Both cats mooched over for a look, neither seemed sure, and then we just got on with it.

I was told the community midwife would be with us at some point 8am-6pm the next day. Lugging my battered post-laboured body out of bed at 7am to get everybody up and dressed just on the off chance we were first on her list was not really how either or us wanted to start the day. But we wanted to show her that everything was fine so we could move forward with us being discharged from care. 

She eventually came at 4pm after we’d changed many nappies, fed Arlo and he was asleep. She immediately stripped him down – we’d already discovered he screamed whenever we removed his clothes, this kid was not a fan of being naked – and told me to feed him. He’d literally just eaten so wasn’t bothered for it and was distressed without his Babygro on. She then told me that the more I practised, the better I’d be, instructed me to try a different position and then tried to make Arlo latch on. He still wasn’t having it as he was already full, which I explained, but then she said that his shaky hands could be a sign of hypoglycaemia and it was important for me to feed him on demand. Those ‘shaky hands’ were his startle reflex. All babies have them but it seemed like there was a lot of pressure on this breastfeeding lark. She said she’d be back in four days.

After she left, we carried on taking care or Arlo. Changing him, feeding him, burping. You know the drill. Then, four days in, as I was going to bed, I noticed my legs were really swollen and that when I touched them they were solid and they almost felt like they weren’t mine. I phoned triage and was told to get myself to A&E asap. It was 1am and was the last thing we needed. We bundled up Arlo in his warmest clothes and headed off to the hospital. There was no way we could take Arlo in with us into the cold waiting room full of sick and injured people so John dropped me off then the two of them headed home. We both assumed I’d be home in a few hours and be able to feed Arlo and he’d hopefully sleep until then. Instead, I was admitted with suspected DVT and needed to have scans on my legs which wouldn’t be until late morning, and John was thrown in at the deep end with a baby that was wide awake and hungry at 3am. 

Luckily we had a few small bottles of ready-made formula in the house which would tide him over until early morning. I’m not sure how he was straight minded enough to do this in the middle of the night with a screaming newborn, but John checked online which local shops sold them and where they were in stock so that his mum could be there first thing to grab a pack so that he could feed Arlo. When I rang home at 7am to check that everyone was up for the midwife – she comes anytime 8am-6pm remember (agghhhh) – I could hear him crying in the background because he was hungry and I went to pieces. I couldn’t be there for him and it was awful. A lovely nurse hugged me as I sat on the bed crying and told me that it was all fine and that John sounded like he was doing a cracking job, which of course he was. He rang my parents around 9am to let them know what was going on and they were with me about an hour later with supplies, hugs and conversation to keep me distracted while I waited for my scan. 

Thankfully it wasn’t DVT – it turned out that I had a liver deficiency due to the blood loss in labour. The wonky levels caused swelling and it would right itself within a month or so. Massively relieved, I headed home and promptly fed Arlo. He latched himself on, had a big feed and seemed happy. However, over the next few weeks, breastfeeding became more and more difficult. He was feeding for 40-60 minutes on one boob, then had to go on the other for the same amount of time and then was still hungry so we’d have to give him one of the little formula bottles. Again, we were very lucky in that regard. Boob or bottle, he didn’t care. But something wasn’t right, what used to be easy now seemed a marathon for both of us. Arlo was using all of his energy trying to eat, he was definitely getting my milk but no matter how long the feeds were, he never seemed satisfied. 

I went to a breastfeeding clinic and they confirmed I was definitely producing milk but my supply had likely decreased due to that one night I spent in hospital so soon after giving birth when I didn’t feed him for nearly 24 hours. They suggested that as well as continuing to feed Arlo exactly as I was, which was up to 10 hours a day at that point plus bottles, I should also express for 10 minutes each side, 10 times a day. Up to 15 hours a day with something attached to my boob. No thanks. The most important thing to me was that Arlo was satisfied and didn’t have to work so hard to feed. The decision to wean him off me and onto bottles was easy. 

He’s been on bottles since he was 5 weeks old and it suits us. He is finally satisfied and doesn’t have to use up all his energy trying to eat, plus we can both feed him which means it’s been relatively easy continuing as we were before. I go to my WI meetings, I’ve done a few Keep in Touch days in work, and from time to time the grandparents will look after him while John and I get something done or maybe go out for a meal.

The best/worst advice: You will be given so much conflicting information that you feel like your head will explode. One example being that after Arlo had fed on the recovery ward, I started winding him and a nurse came over and said “Oh no, you never burp a breastfed baby.” This confused me but I thought “Oh okay, she’s a medical professional” and stopped. Later on the maternity ward, I fed Arlo and then asked a nurse to help put him down as I couldn’t – I was still numb from the spinal I had to have in case I needed an emergency C-section. The nurse promptly gave me a lecture on the importance of burping and said she’d be back in ten minutes. Ten minutes later my freshly winded son was put down for a nap until he woke up again for another feed. 

If you’re a first time mum your head will also feel about ready to pop when you’re faced with things like the Pram Department at whichever shop you are in. The first time we went to look at prams, we walked in, assessed the vast array of travel systems in front of us and left without looking at any of them, totally overwhelmed. Being a data geek, I conducted a study amongst my Facebook chums who are parents and worked out the Top 5. We went back, looked at those and picked my favourite one.

If you’re planning on childcare or sending your baby to nursery, then look at them as soon as you can. I know. It sounds dramatic but it will save you a headache. Just before Arlo turned three months old we started to look at nurseries, catching up on Ofsted Reports and setting up visits. Three were already full and had massive waiting lists. One was nice but a little bit out of the way and couldn’t do the days I wanted. One was awful. And one felt just right, so that’s where he’s going for a few days each week from October when I return to work.

The best advice I’ve had is that if you are chilled out the baby will be. Over the years, we’ve built a lovely home that was just waiting for this little dude to come and make it his. I feel quite relaxed about being a mother. I think that because we waited so long I had such a lot of time to think about what it would be like to be one. It feels amazing when I hold him in my arms or play with him on his mat, and when he cries I tell him the story of how he came to be to settle him down. I’ve certainly got a lot sillier. I have to be silly to make him laugh! And when he laughs or smiles, it’s just the best thing. He lights up the room.

The hardest parts of being a mother: Breastfeeding – see above.

When we did switch to bottles full time, Arlo developed colic and would spend nights fast asleep but grunting and straining and kicking his legs. Seeing him in distress was awful but with a lot of cuddles, winding, leg pumps, baby massage and Infacol, we managed it for the next six weeks or so and now he’s happily colic free.

I’m sure everyone says this but one of the hardest parts of being a mother is the sheer responsibility of raising another human being. You want to do your absolute best by them and for them to be happy and healthy. I’m only four months in and I’ve already made choices for him about how we spend our time and where his formal education will begin when I go back to work. It’s wonderful watching him grow and develop. Every day something new will make him laugh or make him curious, and it’s my job to make sure that each day is an adventure, leaves him smiling and knowing he is loved.

The best parts of being a mother: The smiles he gives first thing in the morning when I look in on him. He goes really wide-eyed, smiles a huge smile, kicks his legs and puts his arms up. It’s the best thing to wake up to.

Smiles in general. I am drunk on his smiles. If I’m really lucky, I also get squeaks.

Any time I make him laugh. I will literally do anything to make him laugh.

Box sets and films – I’ve caught up on loads whilst trapped under my feeding infant.

Seeing Arlo enjoy spending time with his grandparents is lovely – he’s got them all wrapped around his little finger. I’m sure that at some point they must have considered that they may not have grandchildren so to see them with their grandson is a wonderful thing. 

Watching John be a father fills me with absolute joy. He has been a brilliantly supportive partner, changing nappies, doing the late night and early morning feeds, doing bath time, walking Arlo around the house whilst trying to lull him to sleep, taking him to classes and entertaining him whilst I make dinner. I really love to cook and find it relaxing so it’s lovely that I can continue to do that whilst John spends time with his boy. The conversations they have often make me laugh out loud. He’s a great dad and I’m looking forward to us growing together as a family.

Has becoming a mother changed you? Yes and no. Yes because I have this little person who depends on me and will always be my first priority. And no, because I feel that my life hasn’t really changed that much and instead Arlo has fit into our lives like the missing piece of a puzzle. Before I was pregnant, my idea of a good night out was a nice meal, a film or a trip to the theatre (I work in one, it’s handy), and I’ve done all of those things since having Arlo. He’s even going to see his first play where I work – The Very Hungry Caterpillar – in a couple of weeks. Obviously I know he won’t have a clue what’s going on but the colours and shapes and songs will be fun for him. Another way that I’ve changed is that I notice things more because Arlo is so curious. I’m constantly explaining what something is or pointing something out for him to look at and naming what we can see. It’s just the little things but I now look at the world from a different perspective.

Hopes for your  family: Some of the consultants and doctors we have come across on our journey have said that now I have been pregnant, because there’s no underlying reason for me not to, I may be able to conceive naturally. If I can, that’s great! I would love to add to brood and for Arlo to have a little brother or sister. If not, though I’ll forever be grateful to IVF and the nurses, doctors and consultants we came across who made Arlo possible, due to the decreasing chances as I get older, I don’t think we’ll go down that road again. There’s always the possibility of adoption. Who knows what the future holds. The one thing I can say for sure is that we will always feel incredibly lucky to have Arlo. I hope that he grows up knowing how much he is loved, how much we wanted him and how incredible the world is. We feel privileged to be his parents. 

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: Have some ‘me time’. Whether that’s a long hot bath, a trip to the cinema with a friend or doing the food shopping (a favourite of mine), whatever makes you relax and unwind. I’m very lucky because in the first few months after Arlo was born John finished work at 4pm and was home by 4.30pm. He’d come through the front door, take Arlo off me for a cuddle and then took over parenting duties so that I could have a few hours to myself. I love spending time with Arlo but it’s nice to be able to continue to do usual day to day things that keep me sane. 

Develop a network of mums. Most of my friends have children and it’s great to be able to ask them questions and hear about their experiences. I didn’t know anyone who was going to have a child around the same time as me so I did an NCT course to meet other local mums to be. The women that I met through that are all lovely and we often meet for play dates, classes and coffee. We have a What’s App group, which has been brilliant. In the first few weeks there was a lot of ‘Hello… anyone else up?’ messages in the middle of the night (at least two of us were always up). Being able to ask each other questions about anything from baby massage and breastfeeding to box set recommendations and the ridiculous outfits we plan to inflict on our children (think reindeer and elves), has been great and more than once has reassured me that whatever is currently happening, it’s probably also happening to someone else. 

Enjoy every moment because it’s gone in a flash. He’s only four months old but I can’t believe how much he has changed already, and it’s only going to get worse. Be present. Have fun. Love with abandon. Be kind. Be patient. Teach your child all of the qualities that you admire. We often wonder what kind of little boy Arlo will grow up to be and I like to think that it will be the best part of the two of us, with some of his grandparents, aunt and uncle and our friends for good measure.
Any other info: I donated my placenta and cord blood to Anthony Nolan Trust who help people affected by blood cancer or blood disorders. It’s a great cause and something I’d encourage mums to be to consider. Visit their website www.anthonynolan.org for more information.

Find me on Twitter @FitzBowden

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