My baby's 'bad timing' ended up a blessing in disguise
Six months pregnant with number two, and a husband diagnosed with a brain tumor, Carly Thomson discovers that the ‘worst’ timing can be a blessing in disguise.
You know those rare and wonderful seasons when it feels like life is all going to plan? That was me in November 2018. My husband and I and our two-year-old son were about to move into our dream home located in the ‘golden triangle’ of good schools. It had great indoor-outdoor flow and just the right amount of character for us to work with to make it our own. I was six months pregnant with our second son, and about to finish work so I could spend the final trimester settling in before our latest bundle of joy arrived. There would be an ideal 2.5-year age gap between our boys and my biggest worry at the time was choosing the right colour curtains for our new home. We were winning at life. And then in an instant everything changed. Life threw us a giant curveball, blindsiding us completely and bringing our perfect plan to a screaming halt.
STARTED WITH A SEIZURE
9:20pm on Saturday 24 November 2018 is a point in time indelibly etched in my mind. It was moving weekend. We collapsed into bed early that night after an exhausting day packing and moving boxes. I had just dropped off to sleep when I awoke suddenly to find my husband violently convulsing next to me. A panicked call to the paramedics determined he was having a seizure. My planned weekend of setting up house ended up being a weekend in the emergency department. The initial tests revealed swelling in my husband’s brain and when the doctor told me to call his parents at 3am, I knew it was serious. The doctors suspected a life-threatening infection but further tests showed a benign brain tumour. I never thought I would be relieved to hear the words ‘brain tumour’, but as the doctors visibly relaxed with the news, I did too.
ROLLERCOASTER OF LIFE
I didn’t get to relax for very long though. Little did I know the roller coaster had only just begun. We were soon sucked into the public health system with all its confusion and chaos. We knew we were dealing with a brain tumour but our questions were endless. Can they operate? When will they operate? What is the recovery time? What if he has another seizure? Christmas holidays and doctor strikes meant it took months to get the answers we so desperately needed. The anxious mind-chatter began. I am due to have a baby in a few months. My husband is no longer working and is unable to drive. I am due to have a baby in a few months. How will we cope? The perfectly planned arrival of our second son suddenly felt like the worst timing, and what was meant to be a time of excited anticipation turned into a time of fearful dread. I felt robbed.
ANXIETY, CORTISOL & OXYTOCIN
Anxiety and I go way back. We have a complicated history due to my rumination-prone mind, but I had never experienced anxiety quite like this before. The aftermath of the trauma of that fateful weekend, followed by several months of uncertainty, left me reeling. I couldn’t shake the fear and my heart raced as I lay in bed each night, willing myself to sleep. My midwife was a calm and grounding presence during those tumultuous months; her attitude was a welcome mix of telling it like it is and relentless positivity. When I asked her if my anxiety could impact my unborn baby she reassured me that healthy babies are born in the middle of wars all the time. “He’ll be fine,” she said, but I wasn’t so sure, and after exploring the issue found that some studies show chronic, long-term stress in pregnancy can possibly affect the development of an unborn baby and lead to issues later in life.1 But I also discovered that short-term stress during pregnancy can actually be a good thing. The stress hormone, cortisol, is a vital ingredient in healthy brain development.2 Even more encouraging is the evidence that a strong bond between the mother and baby outside the womb can neutralise the potential harm of anxiety in the womb.3 The love hormone, oxytocin, effectively compensates for any elevated levels of cortisol in the system.4 So with every kiss and cuddle, the potential damage can be reversed.
That last fact was comforting because, only a few weeks before our baby was due, we discovered my husband’s diagnosis was more serious than we had originally been told. Doctors said removing the tumour would be risky and they recommended he go overseas for surgery. We were also told that he’d most likely need radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Meanwhile, I was also facing pregnancy complications and an elective Caesarean section was recommended. I was petrified of another traumatic birth. My eldest son had been born via emergency C-section following an intense three-day labour. Somehow though, this baby seemed to know what I needed. Due to the maternity ward being overloaded my delivery dates were shuffled around several times. When I finally arrived in hospital for my C-section, I was an emotional mess. I will never forget when the hospital midwife asked me how I was feeling. Something inside me broke and I cried and cried, experiencing an emotional catharsis that my body (and soul) obviously needed. And as the tears flowed, something else began flowing too. My waters had broken and Theo arrived naturally a few hours later, after a straightforward and trauma-free labour. I was in awe, not only at the strength of my body, but at the knowledge we were being looked after. The miracle of Theo’s birth was exactly what I needed.
The early months after Theo’s arrival were a swirling mass of emotions, but Theo was one of the few things that remained constant. He needed me day and night, and that sole focus kept me going. He grounded me. I cherished every moment: his newborn smell, the soft touch of his skin, the kisses and cuddles, gurgles and coos, even the midnight feeds. I was now beginning to believe that instead of making things harder, having him here would actually help me get through this difficult season. I felt an incredibly strong bond between us and it was reassuring to know that this loving connection will help reverse any damaging effects of anxiety in the womb.
My husband’s surgery took place in Sydney when Theo was two months old. He was away for two weeks, followed by several months of recovery and treatment back in New Zealand. During this time our village carried us through: meals arrived daily on our doorstep, the house remained clean and somehow even the endless pile of laundry was managed. Family, friends and even some people I didn’t know all stepped in to help pick up the load.
A GIFT FROM GOD
I often look back to photos before that night in November and can’t believe how carefree and relaxed we look. We didn’t have the slightest idea of what was ahead. Although I still feel robbed of the joy of those final months of pregnancy, Theo’s arrival ended up being a beautiful gift during a time of immense stress. The meaning of Theo’s name – ‘gift from God’ – now has an unexpected significance. Life doesn’t stop throwing you curve balls just because a baby is on the way, but I’ve learned that a baby arriving at a so-called ‘bad time’ doesn’t need to be disastrous. You can be facing a seemingly impossible hurdle, yet still experience incredible joy at the same time. I’ve learned that fear can actually make the joyful moments even more poignant, and even more precious.
Do you have a baby on the way at a ‘bad’ time?
Here are some Tips to help:
✔ Embrace your village. People will offer to help and (most of the time) they genuinely mean it. Find things for them to do that will ease the load, such as cooking a meal, helping with the kids or cleaning the house.
✔ Be kind to yourself. Have that cup of tea and chocolate biscuit! During stressful times it can be the little things that help get you through. For me it was my morning coffee and evening ice cream watching Netflix!
✔ Practise gratitude. In the middle of a crisis it’s easy to be overwhelmed by what’s going wrong, but try and remember what’s going well in your life. I had a gratitude list in my phone that I regularly read and added to.
✔ Engage professional support. Sometimes you need professional help to navigate difficult times. I saw a counsellor regularly and we also embraced free services that organisations such as the Cancer Society provided.
|Carly Thomson is an events marketing manager who has rediscovered her love of writing, is practicing gratitude during life’s storms and is especially thankful for her two handsome boys.|
- sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170529090530.htm; livescience.com/43579-poverty-stress-infant-development.html; theconversation.com/health-check-can-stress-during-pregnancy-harm-my-baby-81825
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 48 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW