Musings by Me,  My Expat Life in Malta

A Story

Silhouette of a boy reading a book sat beneath a tree.

There are a number of people who have told me they loved being pregnant, I wish I was one of them, I really do but I hated it. Luckily I got two awesome kids out of it so it was definitely worth it.

I was actually pregnant three times. I lost the first at around the three month mark, it’s been five years but I still remember the due date. Watching what should have been my first child get dropped into a preservation jar from a pair of forceps at the hospital is an image that has never left me, I gets tears every time I think about it.

When I got pregnant again, my husband and I were a lot more subdued. We were happy, don’t get me wrong, but the ‘once bitten twice shy feeling’ came into it. We waited as long as we could before we told anyone, we didn’t buy anything just in case and every sentence ended in “if everything turns out all right”. I bled for the first three months so every day we expected bad news again. As the pregnancy got further and further along we relaxed more and more and allowed ourselves to get tentatively excited.

With each pregnancy I got hit with insomnia within days of conception, the first time I didn’t know why I couldn’t get to sleep. The second and third pregnancies I knew I was pregnant before we even took the test because of it. It’s a strange kind of ‘can’t get to sleep’, usually you can pinpoint a reason, your brain is too active, you aren’t tired yet, there’s something to explain the sleeplessness. Pregnancy insomnia lacks any brain activity behind it, you just can’t get to sleep for no reason at all. I wish I could say I found a way to fix it but I never did. I also had intensely vivid dreams when I was pregnant too.

With my first two pregnancies, I got morning sickness. The first time it was at random times morning, evening, night time, it didn’t seem to matter – maybe because there was something wrong, I don’t really know. The second time it was definitely in the morning, there was no way I was leaving the bathroom before midday, after that it got better. It lasted until 11 weeks before it improved, by week 13 I was fine. The first time I don’t know the sex of the one I lost, the second was a girl. The last pregnancy was a boy, I had no sickness with him at all and not even a hint of nausea.

I was in my fourties for both pregnancies and we took the harmony test each time for peace of mind; the test also lets you know the sex of your child which we opted to know. I would have liked to have waited to find out but I just couldn’t stand the suspense! It’s a good thing really because we took months to agree on their names. For my daughter we decided only about a month before and for my son we were still trying to decide when he was born. We thought he would pop out and look like one of the names we were mulling over but he didn’t and ended up being nameless for a whole day before his grandma came to the rescue with a good suggestion.

Another strange thing I had when pregnant was flashing wiggly worms in my vision, sometimes they would last an hour or two sometimes days. They were annoying more than anything else, although one big one interfered with my vision for about two days.

With my daughter I also had a sinus infection just into the second trimester but this was not just a sinus infection, it was the virus of torture sent from hell! It I felt like my nose was disintegrating! Various colours I didn’t know could be made inside a human body kept flying out of my nose which I seemed to need to blow every five minutes! Yeah, it was really, really disgusting! My husband was so tired from me waking him up throughout the night blowing my nose he was scared to drive in case he fell asleep at the wheel. Straight afterwards I fell to an horrific episode of bronchitis. I had no help for any of it in case it harmed the baby, it made me feel a bit like an incubator rather than a real person.

I ended up with stress incontinence for a while as well from the pressure the nose blowing and the coughing put on my pelvic floor; it did improve very slowly once I got better and after the baby ‘lifted’ too but I was horrendously embarrassed by it while it lasted. The second trimester of that pregnancy was a really ‘low’ point for me.

With my son I managed to avoid any bad bugs but I felt so tired with him and very, very depressed. I just felt ‘not right’ but couldn’t really explain to people exactly why. I had zero energy, just getting up was too much effort, brushing my hair made my arm ache, I avoided showering because I wouldn’t be able to sit down for the time it took. I did the minimum I had to do to go to work, I worked for the 8 hours I had to do through sheer force of will before trudging home again. Some people were a bit mean because I couldn’t do my job properly even though I had worked there for many years and up to that point I had been a really good employee (I felt I had more than earned a few months of leeway). It added to my misery. My general manager, however, really stood behind me, going above and beyond to be considerate and accommodating.

My daughter was around two years at the time I was pregnant with my son but I struggled to pick her up. I sort of heaved her into her cot at night (my husband works shifts, often at night). We developed this system at night where if she needed comfort she would stand in her cot with her head resting on my belly, her little arms around my waist and we would sway from side to side till she was ready to lay down again.

This ‘not right’ feeling got worse and worse, I even got referred to a depression nurse, although she, and I agreed, it wasn’t the ‘classic’ depression caused by hormones; I felt down because of how I felt physically. There are 12 steps up to the flat I live in, at one point I got to step 8 and collapsed on my knees, I couldn’t make the last 4; after that I avoided leaving my flat. It might have been overly-dramatic but I secretly doubted I was going to survive the pregnancy.

About ten days before I was due to give birth I was sent for tests, actually for something else entirely which turned out to be a false alarm, but during the tests they discovered I was severely anaemic. There was a rush to get my haemoglobin levels up prior to my due date and I had to take the biggest iron tablets ever. Three days later I felt better than I had for the whole pregnancy! I felt fantastic! I walked from my bedroom to the living room without having to rest in the middle, I cleaned my house (it was a disgusting mess, I’m embarrassed to say), I had a nice long shower, I brushed my hair – properly. I smiled. I talked with my husband. I played with my daughter.

If anyone out there recognises this part of my story ask for a blood test – just in case!

One problem I had at the end of the trimester with both my kids was heat rashes across my torso, it was especially bad at night. I wanted to tear my skin off, I gave myself scratches, sometimes bleeding ones, anything touching my belly was agonising. I covered myself with calamine lotion and slept with a wet towel across my tummy. I took to wearing my husband’s football shirts because the material was softer than any of my pregnancy clothing, I think he was a bit appalled at the treatment of his favourite teams’ shirt but he wisely did his bit and kept quiet.

For both pregnancies I had caesarians.

Discussing things beforehand my husband asked if I wanted him with me. I told him wait till there is a baby and then FOLLOW THE BABY!!! You hear stories about baby mix ups, and I am a worrier (although other women have said they did the same thing, so I’m not alone). As it turned out he didn’t get much of a choice but both the kids look so like him I think we brought the right ones home.

The first caesarian was the more serious. I had developed a network of large veins around my uterus, possibly due to the sinus infection and bronchitis in the second trimester putting so much pressure on my pelvis. It resulted in a ‘cushion’ which kept my daughter from descending, in fact she was so far up I could hardly breathe in any position but upright.

The obstetrician had to cut through all the veins to cut through my uterus to get her out. I bled – a lot. A pain shot from my feet, all the way up my body and slammed into my head. I started to retch non-stop. I got a glimpse of a purple squealing alien being carried past and someone said “This is your daughter”. My husband got pushed out of the room. I don’t remember anything more till I woke up getting moved from the theatre bed to a trolley. When the obstetrician came around afterwards she said it was the only time in her career she had had to use her forceps to reach a baby during a caesarian.

The second time the problem hadn’t reoccurred, everything went as well as it could go, at least from my point of view anyway, and I got to hold my son as soon as he had been cleaned up.

After only one day with me my daughter was taken into NICU. She wasn’t keeping her milk down. At home there was a cot we had bought, baby things spread around ready for her. I had left the house pregnant three days before expecting everything to be altered when I came back again and it was the same. It felt… wrong.

She stayed in NICU for a week. They ran a battery of tests and fed her through a vein before concluding she just had terrible reflux. I could take her home. My son got to leave with me straight away.

I had the baby blues after about three days with both of mine, it lasted about two days both times, I wasn’t depressed, just a bit teary eyed for no particular reason.

The weirdest thing I did get, which absolutely terrified me, was psychotic thoughts, they were awful. I was so afraid of them and yet so afraid to tell anyone in case they thought I was dangerous and took my daughter away that I said nothing for a very long time. They lasted for about a year after my daughter was born, sometimes they were so violent and so intense I had to walk away. I thought I was going crazy; I was afraid of myself. It took a year before they stopped; they got less intense and less often until, eventually, I just didn’t have them any more. I had the same with my son but to a far far lesser degree, not so often and for a much shorter time.

The caesarian wounds healed up fine, I actually had no problems at all. Although the second time my daughter, who had been staying with her grandma and grandad, had missed her mummy and insisted on being very close to me, kept climbing onto me for hugs and kisses. There were a number of times she managed to press a little hand down on my stomach which was obviously highly painful.

After they both came home I think the biggest problem we had again was with my daughter. The reflux was a problem. She completely refused to be laid down. Held upright, cuddled in loving arms she was a good baby, try to put her down and it was non-stop screaming. We ended up putting her to sleep strapped into her pram which held up a bit more upright than the cot for about two months because she wouldn’t sleep flat and the bouncer we had brought wasn’t a good enough one for her to sleep in. (It was one thing I bought new in time for my son coming home – a really good bouncer.) My husband and I slept top to tail on the sofa. He would feed her then wheel her to stop by me. I would then wake the next time she cried, feed her and wheel her to stop by him and vise versa throughout the night. Her grandma and grandad took her for a bit during the day to let us nap. My son would sleep anywhere just fine right from the get-go; he was so easy in comparison.

Sleeping through the night was a similar situation, my son began to sleep though the night entirely on his own at around three and a half months. My daughter wasn’t so easy. We ended up having to do a cry-out. It was really really hard to let her cry and not go to her; sometimes I was almost in tears myself. I stayed in a corner of the room in case of a problem but didn’t go to her. It took three nights, she cried three hours the first night, an hour and a half the second night and then 45 minutes the third, on the fourth she whimpered a bit but didn’t wake up. Since then, unless there is a problem, she has slept the night through.

My husband and I live in a different country from where we were born. My parents come over twice a year and help us out a lot when they are here but essentially we are on our own. Luckily, the country we live in has free childcare if both parents are working; otherwise I doubt we could have afforded it. In all honesty, when we enrolled my daughter, my husband and I just thought “A-ha free childcare!”. By the time my son came along we were nursery fans. I know there are reports of some really bad ones out there but I think they are the exception not the norm. For us we saw her accomplish things we would never have thought to teach her because we wouldn’t have thought she could do it at such a young age. She spent her second and third birthdays surrounded by her little friends. She even had a best friend. She made a mess and ran around. She did so many things she would not have been able to do at home nor would I have ever thought of doing. She was so happy and learnt so much I am glad we sent her. My son still attends the same nursery. All countries should give free childcare.

The hardest part I find of parenting is actually when I am ill, my husband says it’s the same for him. Before kids when I had a virus or a bad headache I could lie down and take care of myself. Living away from family we have no-one to take the burden so if I or my husband have a stomach bug we still have to leave the house to collect the kids from nursery or kindergarten. If I have a migraine I have to try to manage with two kids running around making noise as best as I can. When the kids are ill its not nice, obviously, but you can take care of them, when you are ill there is no one to take care of you.

My biggest parent fails so far… There have been quite a few. Some of the funny ones…

My daughter got asked to a birthday party. My husband and I thought it was a fancy dress one. We sent her as wonder woman complete with a gold hairband, she looked really cute. She was the only one in fancy dress… oh, dear!

One by my husband, I actually have a photo. My daughter got sent some fancy outfits with buttons up the back. My husband who has never really taken much of an interest in female fashion tried to dress her in one. After recovering from the giggling fit it sent me into I told him to turn it around. He looked very confused and said “But buttons go at the front don’t they?” Men have so much to learn when they gain a daughter. Now, he is a dab hand at doing hair and can match the top and bottom of an outfit like a pro!

Another funny one was with my son. He went through a stage of being extremely difficult during nappy changes and one time I was really, like REALLY late. I ended up pushing him into one of his sister’s pastel pink princess pull-ups because I couldn’t get him to lie down long enough for his normal nappies to go on and ran him along the road to deposit him at nursery in them. It gave the nursery staff a laugh anyway.

My worst and most serious fail is with my son. He was about a year and a half at the time. From my house the nursery is about a 20 minute walk. The kindergarten school is an hour in the opposite direction. One day my husband was at work with our car, I had no money at the time for a taxi. My daughter was at school, my son was at nursery. The day was not a nice day, it was raining, windy and cold.

I got a call from the nursery saying that my son was ill, come and get him. About 20 metres from the nursery I got a call from the school saying my daughter had had a toilet accident come and change her. I picked up my son and took him home.

At home I wrapped him up as best I could, collected come fresh clothes for my daughter, put a rain cover on the pram and set off for the hour’s walk to the school. The wind kept blowing the rain cover up, my ill son was cold, his little nose was red, his hands were freezing, the wind kept blowing the blanket off, his nap time had been and gone and he hadn’t slept. At the school I cleaned and changed my daughter, it was still school time so I had to leave her there. I turned around and made the hour long walk back home. At home I took my son’s temperature, he had a fever, I gave him calpol and laid him down. He was so tired he went to sleep straight away. However, I could only give him 20 minutes as I had to go back to the school in time for the end to collect my daughter. 20 minutes later I bundled a poorly, cold and tired little man back in his pram, gave him a few biscuits which was the only thing I had which he could eat on the go, he hadn’t even eaten properly, and set off back out into the cold and wet to make the hour long walk back to the school. I was still late. I collected my daughter, who was very upset at being the last one there thinking mummy had forgotten her, and turned around to make the hour long walk back home.

My husband was delayed leaving work that day otherwise he would have been able to pick us up at least taking a little bit of time off the journey, as it was we had to walk the whole way back too.

By the time we got home it was dark. My son was cold and tired. We talked about him going to the doctors but he was so so tired we decided just to let him sleep the night and take him in the morning. After ten minutes in his cot, my husband checked on him and said he was breathing very fast. We both listened and it was a sort of deep, quick breath which didn’t seem normal. We checked the internet and it said if there were more than so many breaths per minute seek medical attention. It was. We woke him up, yet again, bundled him up and put him in the car. I stayed behind to look after our daughter. On the way to the doctors he began to shiver so my husband called me to say he was taking him to the polyclinic (a sort of open all hours, slightly more equipped clinic than a local doctor) instead. The polyclinic saw our son and sent my husband straight off to the hospital instead where our son was admitted. The paediatrician said he was close to needing an oxygen tent. My son had caught a really bad virus that was going around at the time and had put a lot of young children into the hospital with asthma-like symptoms. They kept him in for nearly a week with ventolin inhalations every three hours and he got a secondary ear infection as well. Luckily, he recovered perfectly fine.

I still feel horribly guilty thinking about that day, although I still don’t know what else I could have done.

Other parenting moments?

For the next Kids Room post I will tell you all about trying to make some dinosaur eggs…

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