Just when I was about to surrender Jozilicious, I found myself with a whole bunch of free time, for the first time since I moved to London 🙂 If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’m now mum to a beautiful baby boy named Arin. Over the past few months there’s been so much I’ve wanted to share about pregnancy, travel and everything in between but I just couldn’t find time for this blog in between everything else.
I really missed writing just for the sake of it – writing to share, to process, to inspire. So I’m hoping to get back to this little passion of mine while I’m on my mat leave.
So – the biggest update in my life is… we have a baby! It’s true what everyone says – you don’t know love until you have a child. It feels like my heart has expanded and carved out a new space just for him – I can literally feel it swelling when I hold him.
There’s so much I want to share. My birth story, products I loved during pregnancy, my newborn shopping list.. but let’s start off with the pregnancy itself.
Having a baby is something my husband and I always had in the back of our minds, but there was always that one trip we still wanted to take, or a new job on the horizon, or *something*. Life was pretty good for us, and we didn’t really want to disrupt that. What made me turn the corner is when a friend asked me how I imagine life when I’m in my 40s and 50s. I’ve always imagined having a big family, with loads of people around me.. and we realised that wasn’t going to happen by itself. So we decided to slowly give it a go – and by that I mean stop actively trying NOT to have a baby.
I fell pregnant IMMEDIATELY – weeks before starting my new job at Facebook. I had expected to try for a couple of months, which would have given me time to settle into my role before sharing my pregnancy news, but little Arin was eager to make his appearance in the world. Of course, now that he’s here it’s literally the best feeling ever and I can’t imagine not wanting this more than anything else, but it took me a while to actually feel happy about being pregnant – I couldn’t connect with the baby, and saw the pregnancy more as an inconvenience – not being able to drink, feeling nauseas all the time and knowing my life was going to change dramatically in a couple of months. It seems unfathomable now, but when I first found out I was so shell shocked I was in tears – and not tears of happiness. I was about to give up the lifestyle I worked so hard for and was really loving, for some new, uncertain life. I also felt really bad that it was so easy for me and I wasn’t appreciative, when so many women struggle and this is literally all they want.
The first few months are also really lonely, because you can’t share the news with anyone. I had lots of work trips to the US, and I remember throwing up several times on a flight to San Fran, then asking the cab driver to pull over en route to my hotel to throw up on the side of the road, and eventually equipping myself with plastic bags so that I was prepared wherever I went. There was also a particularly low moment when I was jetlagged at 4am, craving a slice of toast and having to wait until room service at my hotel started at 6am.
After the first scan, it all changed. Seeing him inside me and knowing there was a heartbeat made it all real, and I started to embrace being pregnant a lot more. However, I was still super anxious about the birth process, especially in the UK where I had no sense of how things worked.
Coming from South Africa, birth is seen as a very serious medical thing, where you scout out a dedicated gynae from day one and likely get a planned c section. I went in with these preconceived perceptions, not knowing any better. I called the hospital to let them know I was pregnant, and was booked in for my first appointment a whole 3 months later. I was also told I’d only have 2 scans throughout the entire pregnancy. In the UK, the approach to pregnancy and birth is much more relaxed, particularly if the pregnancy is low risk – which was the case for me. Natural birth is encouraged and C sections are only recommended if there’s a medical necessity for one. Women here can’t fathom the fact that someone would want to voluntarily undergo major surgery unless they really had to. You also don’t see a doctor unless there’s something wrong – I didn’t see a GP or gynae the entire time, just midwives. I also paid zero for my medical care during my pregnancy and the birth, it was all covered by the NHS which is public healthcare. The other pro of having a baby in the UK is the entitlement to a full year’s maternity leave!
Once I got comfortable with the process in the UK, the next step was to make peace with the fact that I was going to need to push a baby out – the thought of which terrified me. I went about this by overeducating myself. I bought lots of books, my favourite being the Positive Birth Book, and enrolled in a couple of courses, including a hypnobirthing course. Alongside this, I also did pregnancy yoga a few times a week as well as pregnancy meditation. As a result, I started feeling way more confident about my body’s natural ability to birth a baby. Work was busy with lots of travel, so this epiphany couldn’t have come at a more welcome time – it was a time where I really needed to dig deep and connect to my inner strength. At this point, I also decided I wanted to do a water birth, and keep the process as natural as possible. I started having more and more faith that my body was designed to do this.
So I carried on as normal, travelling, exercising and living my usual lifestyle, minus wine (this part was a real struggle.)
For the most part I was fine, no swollen ankles, no major pregnancy complaints. I enjoyed the fact that my once flabby tummy was replaced with a rock hard one, and just let myself eat whatever I wanted – which was a real joy! I went on mat leave 4 weeks before my due date and enjoyed a couple of weeks of “holiday” / sorting out the house before the baby arrived. We had some family arriving, and I anxiously made a couple of restaurant reservations for early Jan, wondering if it would be ok to do this kind of stuff with a newborn.
As time neared closer to my due date (24 Dec), I became edgier and more impatient. Every day, we’d wonder if that would be the day – but nothing. Eventually, on the 22nd of December, I booked a pregnancy reflexology session with Bodyflow, after my pregnancy yoga teacher mentioned that it could encourage labour.
That evening (who knows if it was the reflexology or not), I started having mild contractions which continued all through the next day. I used a TENS machine and heat pack to manage them, and they were period pain like, but nothing unbearable.
On the evening of the 23rd, the contractions became much worse, but were still only happening once every 10 minutes. It would start out as a rumble in my lower belly, then intensify into a surging cramp. We called the hospital and they said I needed to have THREE contractions in 10 minutes before I came in. I was in a lot of pain, so we missioned with our car seat, hospital bag and all our stuff to the hospital anyway. Once I was checked, I was only 2cm dilated and told to go back home, until the contractions increased in frequency. “But I’m in excruciating pain”, I said, “how am I going to go back home?” The midwife said – “that’s why it’s called labour.” I felt so discouraged, and told my husband that I just can’t do this. I scanned my brain for all the ways I could get out of this. C section – they’d probably deny. Suicide – no, I don’t really want to die. The thought that I was powerless to the pain made me feel helpless and debilitated.
The next day, Christmas Eve, my contractions slowed down massively, coming once every hour or so. We tried to surrender to the process, but I just felt like this baby was never going to come out. Then suddenly, in the evening, they intensified, and before I knew it my waters broke. At this point I was delirious with pain, screaming hysterically. I felt like I was out of my body and could not think for myself, or barely walk. Whenever a contraction hit, I had to lean against the wall, try hard to breathe through it and just let out whatever scream or cry made me feel better. I had contractions all through the taxi ride there, and in the middle of the hospital en route to the labour ward. Birth really is a primal experience – I didn’t care who heard me or saw me, and my mind wasn’t even at play, I was purely reacting to what was going on in my body. Thankfully I had my sister with me for support, and my husband, who was just incredible – there right next to me as a source of strength and calm through every second of every contraction. Going through this with him affirmed how lucky I was to choose him to do life with.
Once I arrived at the hospital, round two, and was examined, I was told I was 4-5cm dilated, which means I qualified for an epidural! YES! I immediately gave up my plans for the water birth and asked for the epidural ASAP. It took a while to get it, but when I did I felt amazing! I was offered drugs to increase my contractions to speed up the labour, which I accepted. While we waited for that to take effect, we were able to nap, and when I was checked again, I was 10cm dilated – ready to push!
I have to say I completely underestimated the pushing part of things. I figured that I’d be numb, so it couldn’t be that bad. I didn’t realise I’d have to push until my eyeballs were about to burst. The pushing went on for around 30 minutes, with just me, my husband and the midwife in the room, and then suddenly a bunch of people entered, including a doctor, more midwives and a pediatrician. The doctor said that the baby’s head kept advancing then retreating, indicating distress, and I would need an assisted delivery. He calmly said “in one minute, I’m going to deliver this baby.” He used forceps and I couldn’t feel any pain, but felt an insane amount of pressure when the head was coming out. Then the rest of the body came – and I didn’t hear any crying. He said “Hasmita..” and I was preparing myself to hear “your baby isn’t breathing.” Until this point, I couldn’t quite accept that I was going to have a real, living baby – given the stillborn risk and so many other birth complications that could occur. But instead he said – “there’s someone who wants to meet you” – and within seconds my baby was on my chest and I was heaving with tears. I cannot explain the feeling of euphoria I felt at that point, and the immediate bond and connection I felt to this little human.
We both had some skin to skin time, and I barely even noticed the delivery of my placenta, or the doctor stitching up my tear. I was besotted with the baby, and could not stop staring at him. For 2 weeks after, I’d spontaneously tear up everytime I looked at him – just from the pure emotion of having created this being.
That first night, I had the craziest, most vivid dreams – there was one where I felt like I was falling off a cliff, drowning in the waves below. Overnight, I felt like I shed my old life and took on a new one – one where he is the centre of it. I was so worried about giving up my lifestyle, but now it feels like I was just chasing temporary happiness highs through the next trip or the next restaurant, never really feeling fulfilled. It took getting everything I ever wanted to realise that it would never quite be enough. I cancelled all those brunch reservations I made for days after my due date, the thought of them retrospectively feeling laughably foolish. Now, I feel a deep sense of contentment from spending time with him at home – and I treasure our rainy afternoons with him on my chest, listening to his soft breath, inhaling his scent and feeling the rise and fall of his chest melt into mine. That said, I definitely don’t want to cocoon him at home – the plan is to integrate him into our lifestyle and take him along to dinners at friends houses, and to restaurants where we can. I’m starting to get more familiar with his routine, and with carrying his stroller up and down our 3 flights of stairs, so I’m trying hard to do one activity out the house a day, and we’ll travel with him as soon as he gets his passport.
It’s definitely not all fun, there are times (particularly at 2 or 3am in the morning) where I’m frustrated and just want him to settle and go back to sleep, but taking care of him never feels onerous or like an obligation. I want to be here for it all – from every sip of milk to every nappy change.
Everyone says you don’t know love until you have a kid – and it really is true. I was always the centre of my world and I couldn’t imagine things any other way, but now there’s someone else who’s part me and part the person I love, who needs me and depends on me, and gives me so much in return… and there’s no better feeling than that.