Nine months in, Nine months out… a reflexion

35wekeI have carried our beautiful little boy for about 18 months now. The first 9 months he was underneath my heart, safely tucked away in my uterus, and the last 9 months he was in my arms, snuggled against my chest. It has been my favourite adventure in life thus far, but definitely also the most challenging. I used to thrive on stressful situations like exams and emergency situations in my job, coping through sleepless nights without needing any supplements (other than jelly-beans and pasta).    I felt almost invincible… but then I became responsible for another tiny human being 24/7 and I became fragile and unsure about myself. I realised that I am just as dependant on God as this baby is on me, because I cannot do it in my own strength. When I look back on the last 9 months, I am thankful to see how much I have grown as a child of God, as a wife, and as a mother. I would like to document and share some of the things I have learned in this process: to remind myself in difficult times to come, and maybe to motivate or help you too.

 

  • It is just a phase

When baby is having a difficult day, crying and clingy, has cramps or he wakes up every hour of the night, or he refuses to eat his food remember… it is just a phase! This too shall pass. Every baby goes through many developmental and physical growth spurts that upset them, but that is just the thing, they go THROUGH them. So next time you are in the middle of a tantrum / sleepless night just remind yourself that it will get better!

  • Treasure each moment

That first gurgling sounds, the first smile, the cuddles, the smell of his newborn skin, the sparkle in his eyes when he looks at you, the first time he rolls over / sits / crawls… there are too many to name! So take a moment and cherish that moment. Be present, put down your phone and just take a mental snapshot of his face, his laugh, the feel of his hand on your face.  Record as much as you can, because when you look back it all becomes a blur. I am thankful that I took weekly photos for the first 12 weeks, and thereafter monthly photos . Babies change and learn so much in the beginning, I am glad I had a plan to record it all.

  • It takes a village

Surround yourself with other moms! I always felt better after a visit with the moms who have babies of around the same age as mine. We talked about dirty nappies, feeding-times and naps without boring or irritating each other. We learned from each other and the “me-too” conversations answered many of my questions.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” Eccl 4:9-10

  • Teamwork

My husband has carried me through the last 18 months! He is my hero! He cooked for us, did night shifts for baby and for work, encouraged and spoiled me, read up on important issues and remained the voice of reason when my emotions were out of hand. He loves our son soooo much, and that makes me love him so much more! It is such a privilege to share the good and the bad of this journey with him. I understand why God said it is not good for man to be alone!

  • It is a marathon

Unlike cramming for an exam, motherhood is not something that is “over” once your baby is born / is 6 weeks old / a year old… so pace yourself! Make sure there is someone to look after you while you look after your little one. Decide what is really important for you and your family and focus on that. It is so easy to get carried away by all the ideas on Pinterest or to try and look Instagram-worthy all the time!

“So get your breath back. Parenting is about decades, not days.” Kevin Leman, First-time Mom.

  • Information overload!

The world wide web is a dangerous place at 2am! Choose a few good sources (parenting guides, blogs, websites or family members), and stick with them. You will find a lot of contradicting facts and support for almost any approach to parenting, and this will only confuse your already tired mind! I love the Pregnancy Sense, Baby Sense and Weaning Sense books as they are written by professionals with a lot of experience, always explains their facts in a scientific way and have easy-to-follow plans. Even if I do not follow their schedules 100%, it helped me to have a practical guideline to fall back on.

  • I am not in control

I can try my best to keep to all the rules and awake times / meal times / make the right food / buy the best baby-gear but in the end our little baby will grow and develop at his own rate. Teeth will come on- or off-schedule and poo will surprise you time and again! When I realised I could let go and let God, a huge burden dropped from my shoulders. Yes, I will do my utmost to be the best mom I can be, but I have to surrender our son and his future into God’s hands where the things that I have no control over will be safe.

 

9months outI am so grateful for every lesson I have learned as a mother! (These are only the tip of the iceberg; it was a steep learning curve even for me who was supposed to know everything about children. Unfortunately we are taught very little about healthy babies when training to become a pediatrician). Reading up, experiencing things first hand and talking to other mothers have enabled me to improve as a mother and as a pediatrician!  I have so much more empathy and answers for the mothers I see in my practise.

My prayer is that I will continue to grow closer to God as I continue to learn and grow as a mother, and that I will be able to raise this little boy to become a man who loves and chooses to walk with Him. I look forward to the next 18 years of learning and loving and laughing!

 

*** This is not a sponsored post. See the links below to the books I spoke about above:

Pregnancy Sense

Baby Sense

Weaning Sense

** Pictures taken by my husband!

Why NVD is best for baby… (Part 1)

“There is a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong.” ~ Laura Stavoe Harm

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At about 28weeks gestation our gynecologist completed a slip of paper for us to register at the hospital. What seems like an inconsequential tick on paper can actually be a nightmare-type-decision to make. We had to specify whether I would like to deliver my baby via Normal Vaginal Delivery (NVD) or Caesarian Section (C-section).

I have lived through many very traumatic births during my student and intern-years. I treated multiple babies that barely survived (or did not) the complications of NVD during my pediatric residency years, so this decision was not as easy as I had initially thought.  I knew that a NVD is the best for baby.  I had to make a mind-shift about what the birth of a baby could be like, should be like, and keep my fears trampled underneath the grace and love of God.

“Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” – Marie Curie

In South Africa we have one of the highest C-section rates in the world! Nearly 70% of babies are born via C-section. In comparison about 30% of women in the UK and the US have C-sections. I find it so sad! Have we started to make decisions only based on our own comfort?

Before and during my pregnancy journey I had the privilege of talking to multiple strong, passionate women about childbirth. My decision was made: I was so excited to birth this baby the “natural” way. When faced with any mountain in my life I have always stayed positive and motivated by thinking “if others could do this, so can I”. And with childbirth, literally millions of women have done it before me! During my pregnancy I attended ante-natal classes, read books and prayed, and I was SO excited to see how strong my body could be. To live through the pain and be the WOMAN God made me. I had confidence in my body and was ready to embrace this experience.

While studying the physiology of the baby changing from a totally dependent fetus into a self-sufficient baby I realised once again that NVD is the best for baby. I would like to share a few facts with you, get ready to be amazed at how perfect every detail was created to be!

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  • As your pregnancy approaches term, there are many changes in the baby to prepare for survival outside the uterus. This is why it is so traumatic for a baby to be born prematurely. Their brain, heart, lungs, gut and skin are just not ready. It does not mean they cannot survive (I have seen many very tiny preemies who are warriors and who live against all the odds), it is just a much more bumpy road for them and their parents. It is thus vital that you are very certain about your gestation (you do not want to get an induction or c/section too early).
  • A few days before you go into labour a beautiful dance of hormones start that is vital for you and your baby both during labour and in the first few days of baby’s life.  One specific hormone (prostaglandin) prepares the cervix for opening, but will also ensure that the main “shortcut” that the blood was taking between the heart and lungs in-utero will close once baby is born. (Your baby does not use his lungs in-utero as he gets all his oxygen from you, and the blood thus bypasses the lungs through the “Ductus Arteriosus”. It is important that it closes after birth so that more blood will flow through the lungs to collect oxygen).
  • A few hours before labour starts, the Cortisol (stress hormone) levels of the baby increases. In-utero your baby’s lungs are full of fluid (this is important for the stretching and development of the lungs) that is produced and secreted by the lining of the alveoli (the small balloons in the lungs). When Cortisol increases, this production decreases, and the lining actually starts to re-absorb some of the fluid. The baby will also start to exhale some of the fluid. As the baby moves through the birth canal, even more fluid is expelled out of the airways due to the pressure on the chest. The lungs are thus already much drier, which makes it easier for baby to take his first breath! 1
  • Cortisol also helps the liver to produce Glycogen which helps to mobilize glucose during the first days when baby does not feed well yet. The thyroid hormones are activated by Cortisol, which in turn helps to keep your baby warm outside of the womb.2
  • One of the latest buzz words is the “microbiome”, the organisms that live on your skin and in your gut that has recently been found to play a big part in allergies, immunological diseases, obesity, diabetes and cardiac diseases. Your microbiome is formed from birth and how you are born plays a big role. The first organisms to inhabit you can either be the good flora from mom’s birth canal, or the hospital bugs from the theatre surroundings.  The infant’s microbiome is also influenced by antibiotics and formula feeding, all of which your baby has a higher risk for after a C-Section. 3 (I will tell you more about the microbiome in a future post.)
  • Once baby is born via NVD he can be put directly on your chest where he feels safe, stays warm and can look you directly in the eyes. The bonding / breastfeeding can start without any interruptions, and this makes the rest of the journey so much easier.

 

How amazingly did God design us? We really are fearfully and wonderfully made! However, with all of that said, we live in an imperfect world where things go wrong and many moms and babies have died over the centuries during childbirth. So yes, there is definitely a place for Caesarean Sections. It could be planned due to mommy- or baby-issues, or it could be an emergency surgery if things go wrong during labour. If you have to have a C-Section you can still give many of the benefits to your baby by waiting until you go into labour spontaneously.

I hope I could help you with the big decision… it is so important to make a fully informed decision, and not to be pressured into an option because of the comfort of the doctor, or the opinions of your friends, or because of ungrounded fears. You are a woman, your body was built to do this! And if things go wrong, thank goodness for the evolution of medicine to help us!

In my next post I will tell you all about my own birth experience, because we do not always get exactly what we want!

“The birth of a child is the ultimate perfection of human love.” ~Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, 1953

 

* Photo by Desi McCarthy Photographic art

References

  1. Wyllie,J; Applied physiology of newborn resuscitation; Current Paediatrics Volume 16, Issue 6; Nov 2006; 379-385
  2. Liggins GC; The role of cortisol in preparing the fetus for birth. Reprod Fertil Dev.1994;6(2):141-50.
  3. Noel T et al; The infant microbiome development: mom matters; Trends in Molecular Medicine; Volume 21; Issue 2; Febr 2015; 109-117

Longing

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“The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd – The longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.” 
― Fernando Pessoa

Today, exactly a year ago, I was very very disappointed…

But let me start a few years earlier to paint a more detailed picture. Like I said in my previous post, I have always loved kids and I always knew that I want children of my own. However, the timing of said children was a bit of a problem. After getting married I had to do my two Internship years, a time filled with long work-days, many many after-hour calls and adapting to the emotional roller coaster of being a doctor. Then followed my Community Service year. I had more time, but I knew I wanted to specialize soon after, thus I kept busy with studying for my primaries and getting as much experience as possible. After that, my time as a Registrar in Pediatrics started with a bang! Four years that made Internship look like child’s play.

During this time most of my friends and even some of my colleagues started families of their own. I loved meeting the new bundles of joy and was really happy for the brand new moms. I relished sharing in their journey, but especially in the last few years it was always with a tinge of jealousy. I recall a number of times that I was in tears, ready to quit specializing and to just have a baby! It almost made it harder that I was standing in my own way… I was longing for a baby of my own, but I was also faithfully drinking my contraception daily! Isn’t it ironic…

I realized that longing for something you don’t have (yet) can make you very unhappy with your life. For all practical purposes I should have been very happy… I had a loving, amazing husband, good health, my dream-job. And yet I was only longing for a baby!

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My loving, amazing husband sat me down and told me that I needed to decide. He would not stand in my way if I wanted to quit, he did not want to see me so unhappy. Around the same time I went through a very difficult situation at work, and this forced me to sit down and think things through. Spending time with God made it clear that I still needed to learn a few things! He knows the plans He has for me, and I knew that becoming a pediatrician was one of them. I could not back out now.

 

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

I learned to be grateful for what I have. To be content with who I am as a child of God, a wife and a doctor. This was hard, but the more I practiced it, the easier it became. It also helped that I had to write a major exam in my last year of studies (distraction does wonders for longing and impatience). 🙂

And yet, after learning all of these life lessons the hard way, I was still disappointed!

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Fast forward to the 11th of December 2016. My husband and I was on holiday in the Eastern Cape. We have been trying for a few months to fall pregnant, and I was hoping to surprise him with the good news on the 12th for our wedding anniversary. But God had other plans, and I had to again remind myself that He knew best!  *

All the longing and waiting and learning was fully rewarded when the pregnancy test showed two stripes on the 13th of January 2017! My moment of disappointment turned into the date used to calculate our baby’s due date, and everything fell into place so perfectly, that I can only praise God for His perfect timing and plan.

So I want to encourage you… if you are longing for something, take heart. God knows what He is doing. He has plans to prosper you! Go through your time of waiting, learn the hard lessons and grow closer to Him in doing so, for the reward is sweet!

I pray that God will give you all the desires of your heart, in His time!

‘Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart!’ Psalm 37:4 

 

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* I have to take a moment to say that waiting for a baby was hard for me, but it was my choice and we were blessed to fall pregnant within a few months of stopping the contraception. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it must be for couples who struggle with infertility. There were also some of my colleagues who had babies during their specialization time, and I salute them for that. This was a choice my husband and I made after a lot of prayer. We were both specializing at the same time and knew that we would have neglected something if we tried to do it all. This is just to share our journey, and I hope it can encourage someone to keep going, to learn from the hard times and to enjoy the good times!

** Photo’s taken at Chintsa beach, Eastern Cape, South Africa