My pregnancy with Lucas was almost exactly the same as Seb, which given they had the same due date wasn’t surprising. The hardest thing was how much my relationships started changing now that I was a parent; both friends and family. This was something I didn’t read about or hear about in chats with some of the other mothers I knew – that motherhood came with competitiveness, comparison and a cascade of changes I was not prepared for. With some nuance that has come with maturity and time, I of course, was changing as well. Circumstances, small comments, inferences that I once brushed off, I was no longer willing to do. Those things became less about me, and more about my son and future son at that point, and what I was and wasn’t willing to let be ok.
The first warning sign of things to come, retrospectively, was the responses we got from people when we announced we were having another baby. I had always been the friend who didn’t aspire to be a wife and mother, and therefore was undeserving of not only one, but two babies before I was about to become a wife. I didn’t anticipate that jealousy from people. I had always managed to be happy for my friends, even when their decisions in life left me feeling afraid for or protective of them. So having to justify that, yes, I wanted this, and yes, I was happy, was extremely exhausting. Let me circle back a little bit here.
When we decided to have a family, and I fell pregnant with Seb, the response from my own mother was, “oh well, never mind” like it was a bad thing. I understand now, that the circumstances surrounding her own first pregnancy, where it wasn’t a choice, played into that narrative as well. A woman who had raised her daughter to be a strong, independent woman, raised to know that she had the capabilities to achieve anything and everything she wanted, a daughter that didn’t need to have any aspirations of having a husband and a family, how could that daughter possibly be happy about becoming a mother at 24? This signalled a very big change in the dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship. What I wasn’t thinking about, at that time, was the fact that I was the only female on the entirety of my mothers side of the family, who was starting a family by choice and not by chance. That I was choosing to have a family with someone I loved and someone I was committed to, and didn’t need my mothers help in making choices and raising a family. Wrapped up in those feelings, from my perspective, was a sense of loss on my mothers part, that somehow she had raised a daughter who didn’t need her.
The response from my mother-in-law was in stark contrast. She immediately stopped smoking, assessed her relationship priorities, making work arrangements and of course stocking up on all the baby things. She was a woman who’s worth lay in the people her own children had become and were becoming, and was validated by parenting. Sonny’s parents had split up when he was quite young, and throughout our relationship I had always had a good relationship with both my mother and sister-in-law. It almost felt like she was preparing as much as we were, for the new member of our family. The excitement and help that was offered to us was without any thought of hindrance and with a lot of sacrifice. When we announced we were having another baby and as Seb started to grow, that attitude and perhaps how we responded to it, really changed.
I found myself in a constant state of conflict. Our 2nd baby was already being talked about as an accident, or as a girl, and that anything that existed outside of these thoughts was of little consequence. I wasn’t prepared to have all the decisions we were making not only questioned, but actively ignored. What they don’t tell you about motherhood is how much your decisions will be seen as a reflection of the choices your own parents made about you, and that perhaps any deviation from that is interpreted, yet again, as the implication that your own mother didn’t do a good enough job. The reality is, that we live a time where 2 incomes are needed just to get through life. That women do have more options and choices than that of our mothers, that when we know better, we do better. That making different choices than that of our parents is such a multi-faceted concept that is nothing to do with the shortcomings of our own parents, but rather a reflection of the complexities that comprise raising children in this day and age.
With this in mind, we made the decision to take an opportunity presented to Sonny to start working fly-in/fly-out. I was 4 months pregnant, with a 6 month old, about to be alone for 4 weeks at a time, with ever straining familial relationships.
I was a hot fucking mess.
It seemed like, no matter what happened, every choice we made, or every outcome we both could and couldn’t control was seen as a bad one by our mothers in particular. I guess, with this in mind,I should have been prepared for the reaction to the news that we were having another boy. Resounding congratulations and excitement, there was not. Instead it was, “oh well, you’ll have to try for a 3rd” and “Oh I’ll return the clothes I bought”. It was a struggle, it felt unfair and like our not even earth-side little man was already a dissapointment.
We, of course, did not feel this way. Sonny was super excited for 2 boys and for Seb to have a brother. I was relieved, I’d been raising a boy and felt like, among the chaos, I kind of knew what to do. Which made the prospect of 2 kids under 1 a little easier to wrangle with. What I wasn’t (again) prepared for, was that at our next hospital visit at 32 weeks was to be told it was looking likely I would need to have a c-section, due to Lucas’s shoulders measuring potentially wider than his head, which could lead to dangerous birth complications. I want to say, at this point, I still felt like a first time mum. I was navigating being pregnant with a baby, my body hadn’t gone back to a ‘pre-baby’ weight or appearance before being pregnant again and I had not, at that point, fully processed my birthing experience enough to know that I was entitled to a choice, or even other opinions. I didn’t trust myself to know what was, and wasn’t right for me yet. So we prepared, we made sure that we would make Sonny’s new 4week on/4 week off roster tie into Lucas’s approximate birth date, and attempted to bury a lot of our feelings about what was happening in our families, because we were going to need help.
3 days before I was booked in to have a c-section, I went into spontaneous labour. It was a friday night, after dinner, and while we were watching footy Sonny noticed that my back pain complaints were getting more frequent and stopping our conversation. We had been told if I went into spontaneous labour before our pre-booked Tuesday appointment, regardless of how far apart my contractions were or whether my waters had broken to go in, to give us as much time as possible to perform the c-section safely. When we got to the hospital, my contractions had exponentially increased to the point I was having involuntary muscular convulsions, sweating profusely and felt extremely nauseous. It was all very different from my first labour.
Once we arrived, after almost 2 months of preparing for this major surgery, I got checked and was already 7cms dilated. The OB on at the time was there on call from King Edward Memorial. I knew and recognised the midwives, but hadn’t seen this man at any of my prenatal appointments. He proceeded to say, “you’ve had a big baby before, you should probably just try for a natural”. The midwifes’ name was Lauren, and I will never forget the way she explicitly told this man he didn’t know me, and clearly had not read my file, and told him to leave the room. She had seen the look on my face, of complete shock between ever increasing painful contractions, could see the disbelief and betrayal after coming to terms with and accepting how Lucas would be born, and did something about it. That all the work we had done to be comfortable and prepared and OK with what was about to happen, couldn’t possibly be for nothing.
She told us not to worry, that we had done the right thing and that everything we had planned for was going ahead and we would be going down to the operating theatre soon. There was some very well masked panic in her voice, because after 8cms of dilation, it became unadvised to perform a c-section. In yet another prime example of true compassion, the anaesthetist was frigging phenomenal. He had the soothing voice of an experienced Iranian doctor, and instantly made me feel a lot better about the giant needle that was about to enter my spinal cord. I was nervous: my contractions literally made my whole body shake and even though I was nowhere close to becoming a chiropractor, I still understood that damage to the spinal cord was less than ideal. I held onto that pillow, bent over, with razor sharp concentration telling my body not to move, and I swear to Yeezy that man worked faster than Cathy Freeman at the Sydney Olympics.
What no one tells you is that an epidural is different to a spinal block, and that in emergent situations the latter is preferred as it is less likely to fail. What they don’t tell you is it can travel. I lost movement up to my arms and got really itchy lips, and when Lauren handed us Lucas for the first time, Sonny had to hold him to my relieved, tear soaked face to meet him in person outside of me.
The whole procedure went absolutely fine. Coming out of the anaesthetic did not. Sonny took Lucas while they detached me from the screens, and oxygen and everything else, removing the catheter and got ready for me to get me over to the maternity ward. The aftercare nurses asked me to sit up, and I couldn’t. They asked me to squeeze their hands, and I couldn’t. As I began to say I felt weird, I threw up all over myself and peed the bed. The anaesthetic was not wearing off as they usually expected, and I was not in a good way. There wasn’t much they could do at that point but sit with me, help me sit up a little with each new wave of sickness, and pop what can only be described as a wee pad underneath me until I could start moving. That process lasted around 4 hours. By the time I got over to the maternity ward it had been 5 hours since Lucas was born, just shy of 4am. I was exhausted and about to hold and feed my son for the first time, feeling like I had nothing left in me.
Lucas, was and is a special human. Even in those first few hours, I knew he was sent to us for a reason. He had this overwhelming feeling of having lived many lives before this one, and looked at everyone with his dark brown eyes like he was seeing directly into their soul. He was an absolute joy as a baby. If it had been any other soul in those first few days, I’m not sure I would have been alright. He gave me the confidence to have healthy boundaries in those first few days, and somehow just let me know that I was OK, he was OK and we were OK. If I had known what we would go through as a family in the first 2 years of his life, his demeanor would have made a lot more sense to me, and now it still makes me feel so emotional that this tiny human was my saviour.
With my allergic reaction to the anaesthetic, post-major surgery, with a 1 year old and my previous experience, I made the decision to split feed from birth; formula at night and breastfeed during the day. It came with some condescending looks in the hospital but made me feel a lot better about the prospect of recovery, a new baby, and doing it solo at times. Our transition in those first few weeks from a family of 3 to 4, with all of us at home together was filled with a lot of ease. We didn’t push ourselves, we didn’t try to have it all together. We just were, and that was fine. It also allowed us the help we needed in those first few weeks post recovery and once Sonny went back to work because Lucas could be fed by anyone. Lucas, to this day remains our best eater.
When Sonny left for work, for 4 weeks, I was nervous. I had offers of help, but was anxious about the growing tensions between myself and my mother-in-law, and how they would impact me and my now 2 sons. My apprehensions were founded. Each offer of help, at least felt like, it was with condition, or a burden, or just not genuine. It felt like a way for me to be shown, passive-aggressively, that I was not capable of mothering 2 sons, that I couldn’t possibly handle doing anything on my own, I really wasn’t going to be able to through those 4 weeks, while recovering from major surgery, and that it was my fault Sonny now worked away. It’s a specific kind of pain, when you’re made to feel like a complete failure by the women in your life who are supposed to support you the most. That after 2 healthy pregnancies, 2 safe births, maintaining a strong relationship throughout, that people could see you as a failure.
Tensions were at an all time high, particularly with my mother-in-law, who essentially was trying to mother Seb at this point. Our requests, our values, our decisions were not being acknowledged at all. It started to extend from just being towards me, and my decisions as a parent, to Sonny as well and to our individual characters and relationship as a couple. I can reflect now, and understand my role in that time. That at 25, I didn’t communicate as well as I do now. There were a lot more factors at play such as childhood trauma, our own experiences as daughters, our own mother issues, and our own family circumstances and expectations that made our relationship almost untenable at that point. Nothing in my life had prepared me for the fact that my in-laws might hate me one day. I had also always been close with my sister-in-law, and it made me really sad that our relationship was changing as a consequence of this. Sonny also hadn’t been prepared to feel isolated, questioned or even made to feel like a bad father. After living most of his life as the golden child in his family who couldn’t put a foot wrong. It was a lot to deal with 2 months out from our wedding.
I was very focussed on my body at that point. I am a curvy woman. I hadn’t planned to have 3 months after being pregnant for 18 of the last 20 to essentially get wedding-ready and in hindsight, thank goodness I had that as a focus. It was heartbreaking to see Lucas treated so differently, in our eyes, to how Seb was; ‘he’s just another boy’ is almost how it felt. ‘He doesn’t need x, y, z because Seb has it already’ was the general rhetoric I perceived. Don’t get me wrong, he was obviously loved, but just not with the same enthusiasm or intensity as Seb had been. Whether I felt this way because of everything else that was going on, or because it was actually happening, I don’t know. So, being able to have a focus on my goals before our wedding allowed me to compartmentalise the situation, to focus on what I could control at that point. Sonny was not so lucky. He had been stuck in the middle, practically his whole life between his parents, and now was in the middle of his mother and sister and me. A week before our wedding, things reached a breaking point and essentially my relationship with my mother and sister-in-law felt beyond repair. It’s really hard for me to look back on my wedding day, and feel happy. My new ‘official’ family didn’t speak to me on my wedding day. We didn’t get pictures together, and the one time I was alone with my mother-in-law (the only time I went to the bathroom) I was ignored. Don’t get me wrong, I am not innocent in this breakdown. I can look back now, and understand and own the mistakes I made, acknowledge the growth period that I was about to go through, and the complex feelings that must come when you watch your children do something you couldn’t. It was still a really shit thing to have to go through, for all of us.
I made the decision to just be done with my relationship with them at that point. With a FIFO husband, 2 young sons and the prospect of returning to work within a few months I was at my threshold. Something I also consciously decided was that I didn’t want my feelings to affect the relationships my sons would have with their Nan. What I wasn’t ready for, was for Sonny to decide enough was enough, and he and we needed some physical and mental space from what was happening; our requests were being ignored, we were being lied to, and it was starting to impact our mental health. Our conversations were complex deep dives into doing what was best for him and us at that time, which eventuated in Sonny making the decision to ask for space and take a break from interactions with his mum. He did this by writing a letter as confrontation was not his strongest point. In wanting to be fully transparent, he explained, also in writing, his decision to his sister in the hope they could maintain their newly developing relationship as adults.
The first few months of wanting a boundary were like an emotional war of attrition. This often became heated, nasty and just painful. Eventually Sonny got the space he wanted, at the price of his relationship with his sister also being affected. It was a really hard time in our lives, for many reasons. I had gone back to work full time and began navigating being a full time mother and full time employee on my own for half the year, and now with only my family as a support system. Had I brought this on? Was it my fault this relationship breakdown had happened? Should we have had kids in the first place? If we hadn’t, things might be different. I grieved the loss of the relationships I had once held so dearly. I grieved for my husband, who was putting everyone and everything before himself. I grieved for my sons, who were missing out on forming bonds with their Nan and Aunty. I felt a constant guilt: for working, for having 2 kids so close together, for having a FIFO life, for potentially all the bad shit that seemed to be happening being my fault.
One particularly bad day, I was just finishing my 3rd period since having Lucas. I had finished work late, was late to daycare pickup and then stuck in horrendous traffic all the way home. Sonny and I had a standing 615pm skype date while the boys ate dinner, and as I was running through the door, getting the boys into their highchairs, heating up pasta for them and getting my computer ready, while sending Sonny desperate texts of, “just give me 2 mins, so sorry!” there was a knock at my door. I stubbed my toe, quietly saying, “fuck” between saying, “ it’s ok boys, Dad’s going to be on the screen in just a sec” and opened the door to Sonny standing there, 2 weeks early, home for the week. I burst into tears as I fell into his arms, and the enormity of my feelings didn’t feel so heavy any more. My rock, my best friend, the love of my life was there in the exact moment that I needed him more than ever, and it honestly just made me feel that everything was going to be ok.
Lucas was 8 months old, Seb on his way from 18months to 2 years old and my husband must have just known that we really needed each other at that point. We were still at a standstill with communication with his family and I was about to fall pregnant for the 3rd time in 2 years.
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