New territory: a former globetrotter on settling down with a baby
Globe-trotting Hazel Squair’s fast-paced lifestyle changed dramatically when she discovered she was pregnant. Here she shares an honest account of her journey into motherhood.
It’s just after 5am when Andie starts stirring. A grunting little snuffle rises from the crib at the foot of our bed, punctuated with slurps and smacks as she sucks on her hand. Just as she’s about to start crying, Giacomo gets up and scoops her into his arms, taking her into the lounge to let me get an extra hour of sleep.
This is his special time with her; an hour or so in the early morning before he has to go to work. He’ll give her a bottle of expressed milk, they’ll have some cuddles, and then he’ll bring her back to me in the bedroom so he can shower, dress and get out the door.
If you had told us a year ago that this would be our daily routine, we’d have thought you were crazy. It couldn’t be further from what we had planned or ever imagined. I’d won the green card lottery to the USA, met an amazing guy and we’d relocated to New York City. I’d just landed a great job for a creative studio in Manhattan, and we finally had enough money to enjoy everything we’d moved there for: exploring colourful neighbourhoods, trying new restaurants every night, going to basketball games, gigs and wine bars, and taking trips upstate for weekends away whenever we had the chance. It was fun – we had nobody but ourselves to think about and no greater responsibility than making sure we could pay rent each month. Then we found out that I was pregnant.
After the initial shock wore off, our thoughts turned to the practicalities of the situation. It was immediately clear that having a baby in big, dirty NYC, away from our family and friends, wasn’t an option, so we decided to settle in Giac’s hometown of Melbourne, where I’d previously lived for a bit, for the final trimester and delivery.
Although I love kids, I had never planned on ever having my own. I hadn’t felt the maternal yearnings so many of my friends had and now, in my mid-30s and in a relatively new relationship, having a baby was the furthermost thing from my mind. Surprisingly, though, both Giac and I adjusted to the idea pretty quickly. And, even more surprisingly, I loved being pregnant!
As the weeks went by, and my feelings of love and attachment to our baby grew, it began to dawn on me just how awful it would be if something were to happen to our unborn child. I’d never felt this kind of fear before. Little did I know that this heady mix of blissed-out love and absolute terror would become a pretty normal state of existence in the coming months — welcome to motherhood! When our 20-week anatomy scan showed a perfectly healthy baby girl, I cried with relief. We picked her name, Andie, on the same day.
THE HOME STRETCH
People kept telling me I’d get sick of being pregnant and become desperate to ‘get that baby out!’, but honestly, that never happened for me. Right up until the final week, I still loved being pregnant and felt immense pride over my bigger-every-day tummy. Being able to feel Andie moving around was so magical, and I felt more connected with her with every bump. What did catch me off guard in those final weeks, though, was the growing inner turmoil I felt. Once we arrived back in Melbourne and I had a moment to catch my breath, the bigness of everything really hit me. I was heartbroken that we’d left New York, and I felt disconnected from my former life in Melbourne. It was as if everything here was the same, but I didn’t fit anymore. And because I was feeling so displaced, it was hard watching Giacomo pick up where he’d left off with mates, sports and social activities. I had waves of insecurity about our relationship and felt an intense vulnerability like I’ve never experienced before. I felt like I had gone from being a fun, exciting girlfriend to a boring lump on the couch. Part of me resented how free and easy things seemed for him, while I felt trapped and couldn’t see a way out. I knew things would never be the same for us and I grieved the loss of our pre-pregnancy relationship.
I also began to wrestle with my own sense of self. The concept of motherhood felt so foreign to me, and I struggled to identify with the other new mothers I saw at our neighborhood cafes with their babies. I didn’t want to be like them, but I couldn’t be the same as I’d always been, either. Who was I going to be as a mum? How would this new version of me look, think and act? And will I like her?
I’d never felt these feelings before and found this period pretty scary. I also felt guilty for having negative thoughts, because, wasn’t I supposed to be happy and excited about having a baby? Thankfully, I have some very intelligent, empathetic woman in my life who let me spill out all my fears and inner ramblings, without telling me I was being silly. I now know these feelings are very common during pregnancy. In fact, I read somewhere that the psychological impact of pregnancy is greater than puberty – no wonder it feels so scary at times!
NOT WHAT WE'D PLANNED
I really wanted a natural birth. Giac and I had taken Calm Birth workshops and I’d been listening to mindful birth meditation tracks fairly regularly. We both felt prepared – almost excited even – and we intended on having a calm, loving labour and birth experience with minimal (if any) intervention. But Andie had a different plan in mind. She’d been in the breech position from early on in the pregnancy and despite the strong movements that rocked my stomach day and night, her little acorn head had remained permanently under my ribs. At 37 weeks the doctor suggested we try to manually turn her (an external cephalic version or ECV). I had strong reservations about this procedure but Giac and I agreed to go to the appointment and have the preliminary tests done. As it turned out, the decision was made for us: the ultrasound showed that Andie was all tangled up in her umbilical cord, and turning her was not an option.
This meant I needed to have a Caesarean section, which was disappointing, but Giac and I were grateful to have the information that would help ensure a delivery that was the safest for Andie.
THE BIG C (SECTION) DAY
First, let me say this: there was very little pain in the whole C-section process. The spinal anesthesia was the only thing that hurt, and even that was pretty minimal. The surgery itself didn’t hurt one bit, and I was also really lucky to have a very smooth and speedy recovery. If you’re facing a C-section and are scared about the pain, please be assured that it’s totally not anything to worry about. For me, the hardest part was my own fear. To protect myself, I’d avoided researching on Google, but in hindsight, knowing more about what to expect might have helped me feel less afraid.
The hospital theatre room was a lot larger than I’d expected, and there were about a dozen people in there. The room was very bright with white fluorescent lighting, and it kind of felt like I’d walked into a cold, clinical sci-fi scene, with everyone standing around in scrubs and masks ... a far cry from the warm, dim and intimate birthing suite I’d imagined we’d deliver in. I was also taken aback when Giac wasn’t allowed in the room during the spinal anesthesia. I suddenly felt alone and scared and overwhelmed by all the different doctors and nurses talking to me. For the spinal procedure, I had to slump my pregnant tummy forwards over a pillow and try to round out my back so the needle could go in to the right spot. I was held in place by a hulking male nurse and had to stay still for what felt like an eternity. Afterwards, I lay back onto the surgical table and tried moving my feet: the feeling of deadness was weird, as though the whole lower half of my body had been amputated. The medical staff put the surgical sheet up and removed my robe. I felt completely powerless and exposed, and began to panic. Our Calm Birth course had covered fear management and I knew how much my fear and panic could impact Andie. I tried to do what we had practised: to focus my attention inwards, to disconnect from what was happening around me, and to concentrate on my breathing and visualise Andie in my arms.
I was so relieved when Giac was allowed back into the room. He sat beside me holding my hand. We spoke quietly to each other about totally nonsense things and I tried my best to ignore the violent shoving and tugging sensations coming from my stomach. While it was absolutely painless, you can feel the force of movement pretty clearly. After a few final big jolts, Andie was lifted out of my abdomen. She was screaming and I felt an instant welling of pride for that strong, indignant voice of hers. They brought her over and placed her on my chest above the surgical sheet, just below my neck. It was an awkward position and I could barely crane my face down to see her — such torture! Then they took her and Giac away to another room and I lay there for what felt like the longest time (probably 20 minutes) while they stitched me up. Finally, I was wheeled into the recovery room and Andie was given to me. I held my daughter against my chest and she latched on to my breast almost instantly. I just stared and stared at this beautiful, perfect little cherub of a baby with a thick head of tawny blonde hair and peach-fuzz skin.
THE HOSPITAL STAY
After the delivery, all I wanted to do was get out of hospital and be alone with Andie and Giac. I just wanted to go home. The four days of hospital stay looming in front of me felt like eternity.
Giac was with us every day and we had a slew of visitors, which helped the time pass, but I felt anxious and lonely at night. Breastfeeding also proved to be a problem for me. I had barely any colostrum and no milk those first few days, so poor little Andie was getting hungrier and hungrier. I followed the midwives’ advice and just kept her on my boobs, sucking for hours at a time, till my nipples were raw and bleeding. We were released on the fourth day. As soon as we got home I began to feel more relaxed, and sure enough, my milk came in that night! My supply was low and unfortunately never really improved, so I used formula as a supplement after each feed. Not my first choice, but I was okay with that — I was just so happy to have some milk and know my baby was being well fed. Breastfeeding can be really challenging and I strongly encourage women who are finding it tough to seek help from their midwife or a lactation consultant as soon as possible. With help, I have pushed through and persevered with breastfeeding. I’ve started expressing milk too, which works really well for us and Giac loves that he is able to feed her, too.
Those first few weeks at home with Andie felt like being in the twilight zone, and time seemed to move incredibly fast and slow simultaneously. My mum had come over from New Zealand to help during my recovery, which was amazing. I should have taken more advantage of her being there to put my feet up and rest, but I just couldn’t sit still! There seemed to be so much to do all the time: endless laundry, pumping milk, sterilising bottles, sitting down to feed Andie every few hours and then getting up again to tidy the kitchen. Thankfully, Andie was a calm, contented baby and holding her seemed to slow everything down. She would wake to feed, then gurgle contentedly and nestle into my arms as she fell back asleep. I felt overwhelming waves of love for her, and I just couldn’t wait to get to know her better.
My mum not only helped me get a handle on all the baby stuff, she gave me the confidence to get up and out the door every day. We started off small, slowly walking just 500m to the nearest cafe, having lunch, and then back home again. But we went a little further every day, and my range of motion felt easier and easier. By the end of the second week, we were walking for an hour at a time, browsing antique stores with Andie tucked against my chest in the Moby wrap, fast asleep as usual.
LIFE WITH ANDIE
There have been a lot of unexpected twists on my journey to motherhood, and I continue to be surprised every day! For starters, my need for space has increased dramatically. Where I used to thrive on having a busy social calendar, now all I want to do is hide away with my two loves in our warm little nest. I used to cherish my sleep, but now love the special time spent feeding Andie in the wee hours. As for my relationship with Giacomo, I’ve been surprised by how much richer it has become. I was worried about losing the fun and freedom of our early days, but we’ve gained a much deeper sense of connection, trust and commitment. When I watch him holding her and talking to her, it makes my heart feel like it might burst.
We’re now six weeks along and I’m amazed with how much Andie changes one day to the next. The sleepy, dreamy baby we brought home from the hospital is now very much awake! I have learnt that trying to control things is impossible, and that no two days are the same — which is really great to remember when you’re having a rough day!
I’m loving my new role as a mum, so much more than I ever imagined. As I think back to that existential “Who will I be?” crisis I had just a few short months ago, those feelings seem so distant. Trying to define who I am as a mother seems illogical – I just am. And I know that what that means will continue to change, just as Andie changes. Instead, now I prefer to focus on a much more enjoyable question: who will she be?
Hazel Squair is a freelance copywriter and content strategist, and mum to a gorgeous newborn. She hails from the Waikato but is now located in Melbourne, Australia.
Photography: Jess Bicknell, jessbicknell.com
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 46 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW