Third Trimester

Here I am, well into my third trimester with a big bump, a waddle to be proud of and the wonderful feeling of strong kicks throughout the day. For weeks, months, even years, I have dreamt of being this pregnant. There is such a big sense of achievement, relief and hope that comes with being in my ninth month of pregnancy.

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It is a surreal feeling having got this far. I can’t quite believe that not only will I deliver a baby that is over six pounds, but that I can hope he will be born able to breathe for himself and I will get to hold, feed, kiss and dress him within a day of meeting him makes me feel like the luckiest girl around.

This pregnancy and this little baby boy have not only proved that my body was not to blame for having my twins prematurely but has also given me hope far beyond my dreams.

During my eighth month of pregnancy I attended an antenatal class, packed my hospital bag, enjoyed nesting and successfully passed the final date in this pregnancy that was a reminder of my first, the gestation at which Esme died.

Throughout this pregnancy I feel proud that I have tackled and overcome many emotions and memories that for me are linked with pregnancy after a premature birth and pregnancy after loss.

With the support from family, friends, my midwife and my consultant, I feel in a stronger place to where I started nine months ago. I am now full term and although I am still nervous about his arrival, I am also excited that I have had the opportunity to do things the way I have only dreamt of.

Antenatal class

It was only a matter of days before Charlotte’s waters went that I received all the letters for my antenatal classes. I can remember feeling so excited opening them and writing the dates in my calendar, I was soon to become a mum of twin girls. However, as we know those classes never happened and during my time on the antenatal ward I deleted all the dates from my phone with feelings of sadness, terror and longing.

This time round, I had no idea I had to book the classes myself. By then, all the antenatal classes were full in Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) but there were still some dates available at their sister hospital, St. James’s.

I looked forward to the class, only vaguely knowing what to expect. As it began, we were soon split into two groups, one to go to look around the delivery ward and the other to have a talk about the stages of labour. We were in the group to look around the delivery ward first.

I excitedly held Connor’s hand and could feel my heart beat faster that this soon would be us in real life (and at the LGI). What I didn’t expect was a trip down memory lane. The first stop was outside the neonatal unit where Charlotte had been.  Connor and I shared a “are you serious?” look as the midwife described why babies might go into the neonatal unit. We squeezed each other’s hands that bit tighter.

Although I have many fond memories of Charlotte being in the high dependency and special care unit at St. James’s, as this was a time when she just needed to get bigger and stronger, it was also the time when we had just lost a daughter and were living in hope that Charlotte would be coming home. Going up the stairs, the lifts, the smells, seeing the entrance to the neonatal unit and the posters and photographs of the premature babies I used to look at as I waited to be buzzed in, all brought back sensitive and raw memories.

We then entered the delivery ward and were shown a delivery suite. This is where I started to freak out as I looked at the bed, the stirrups, the gas and air machine and the incubator all prepped ready for a birth. “Oh, my goodness,” I thought nervously, “I am actually going to have to do this, at some point in the not so distant future, this baby is going to have to come out and that is going to be me on that bed” I shared a nervous glance and half smile with another mum. Connor remained very quiet indeed.

We were shown the ‘active labour’ rooms and then taken to the theatre. At this moment, both of us started to feel sick. Although it was a different hospital, I could feel the memories of being rushed back into theatre return, knowing that Charlotte’s heart rate was plummeting, and I was soon to meet my tiny babies three months early. I instantly felt sheer relief that the classes at the LGI were fully booked as I do not know how I would have coped being shown the theatre there.

The midwife continued her talk and asked if this was everyone’s first labour. It was at this point that I ended up telling the group about being in theatre and having an emergency caesarean. There were nervous questions from the group and the midwife asked if I minded sharing my experience. I was more than happy to as for me, considering the circumstances, I found being in theatre relatively calm. The radio was playing, the lights were dimmed and there was a very calm, relaxing and light atmosphere. It was a different story when the girls were born, but at this point, I decided not to share anymore.

While we were waiting for the other group to finish the presentation, the midwife and other parents asked me questions about my girls and my experience at Leeds. I proudly told them about Esme, and about Charlotte being a surviving twin. When I answered queries about at what gestation they were born and how heavy they were, I saw all their faces drop. I had to make a joke that we were all much further into our pregnancies.  As I spoke about my girls, I began to relax, terrifying flashbacks of being in theatre when Charlotte and Esme were born started to fade and I was able to focus again on this pregnancy.

Connor and I found the talk on the stages of labour really interesting. We learnt a lot and although the tour around the delivery ward brought back many frightening memories, we were glad we attended the class in preparation for this baby arriving.

It wasn’t long after the antenatal class that I began my online hypnobirthing course by The Positive Birth Company. I had heard only positive things about hypnobirthing and was keen to give it a go.

When I was pregnant with the twins I wanted to deliver them naturally. I had looked forward to that moment of meeting them for the first time and being able to hold them both in my arms as soon as I had given birth. It has been a moment that I have dreamt of ever since.

Having had an emergency caesarean, I still feel robbed of the chance of giving birth naturally. After completing my hypnobirthing course, I generally feel excited about the prospect that I will be able to give birth to my son naturally. Yes, I am nervous that things can still go wrong but the fact that I have a chance to give it a go means everything.

Packing my hospital bag

At 33 weeks pregnant, I went shopping for things for my hospital bag. I had looked forward to being at this point for a long time. A point when at long last I felt excited to pack the bag as opposed to living in fear that I was going to go into premature labour or that there was no point in getting it ready as it was too difficult to believe that this baby was ever going to come home. I hoped that I would spend the day revelling in the excitement that Charlotte and Esme’s baby brother is continuing to do amazingly and is growing bigger and stronger by the day.

The day was a scorcher and I had great fun buying a new nightshirt, a dressing gown, gigantic pants, paracetamol and food to keep my energy up. It was the shopping trip I had hoped for and I decided to finish it with an ice-cream in the sunshine. However, things got a little tricky when I accidentally ordered two ice-creams rather than two scoops. It wasn’t long before my idyllic moment of enjoying cuddles and ice-creams got extremely messy and Charlotte became far more interested in threatening me with a tantrum if she couldn’t empty all the contents of my purse and handbag across the street. Luckily a Kitkat came to my rescue and although she got melted chocolate everywhere, I had just about enough time to demolish both ice-creams before I had to waddle very, very quickly back to the car in hope of not getting a ticket.

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Despite the ice-cream fiasco, I love creating the memories of this pregnancy which I never got the chance to do the last time.

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This is no ordinary bag folks, this is only my HOSPITAL BAG!

Many of my friends will know I always have my outfit planned weeks before an event, so it might be a shock for them that I still have no idea what to pack to come home in! I imagine that whenever I do come home, I won’t actually care what I look like, let alone what I am wearing. However, for now, that day feels like a very big occasion.

I keep looking at the bag and thinking “Wow, that is actually my hospital bag, that bag belongs to me and this baby.” If I think back to my last pregnancy, here is a quote from my blog post ‘Welcome to Holland’.

“Not having an opportunity to pack my hospital bag troubled me the most. Maybe it was because that was what I should have had ready and waiting before I met my twin girls for the first time? Everything in my bag would have been put together with so much excitement and anticipation. I had even planned to have my bag packed from 32 weeks as we were informed that twins could arrive this early.”

At 35 weeks pregnant I finished packing my bag (albeit still minus my going home outfit). I am delighted to tell you it was packed with excitement, anticipation and a hell of a lot of hope.

Nesting

We are currently in the middle of having our loft converted. This had been on the go since I found out I was pregnant with twins (over two years ago) so I will be more than happy when it is finished. The “plan” is to keep this baby in our room until he is ready for his own cot, which at that point (everything crossed) the loft will have been miraculously turned into a bedroom.

In the meantime, we have turned a corner of our bedroom into a mini nursery. I thoroughly enjoyed planning it and then working alongside my husband, Connor to put the shelves up. The excitement of expecting a baby was restored and for that short spell I allowed myself to fully believe that this baby was coming home. It was my job to hoover up the dust caused by the drilling, cut small squares of cardboard to pad out the brackets so the shelf was flat (we live in an old house so the walls were all wonky) and to witter away in Connor’s ear. He mustn’t have minded too much because he turned round and said “It’s been fun working with you.” I must have succeeded in being an exceptionally good project manager.

 

In the hours that followed finishing the corner and putting all the baby’s freshly washed clothes in the drawers, it struck me that despite having two daughters, I suddenly felt like a first time mum:
– the excitement and luxury of planning for his arrival at home as opposed to being in hospital and living in fear of giving birth so early;
– having the time to plan it just how I wanted;
– the safety of knowing I am 35 weeks pregnant rather than being terrified at seeing my baby girls born so prematurely and so tiny and weak;
– the delight of packing a hospital bag rather than writing Connor a list to collect for me, while I was blue lighted from Harrogate Hospital to the Leeds General Infirmary;

– the feelings of hoping to keep everything and this baby using them outweighing the sadness of returning Esme’s cot;
– looking forward to hopefully having a natural delivery, something which I felt so robbed of with the girls after having an emergency caesarean;

What I didn’t expect to happen later that day was to be struck by a heavy moment of grief.  I finished giving Charlotte her tea and then told Connor I was going to finish hoovering upstairs. At the time I thought I was fine, yet it was strangely mixed with this sense of urgency to have a few minutes by myself. I was unaware that my grief was hiding just around the corner. After recovering from my heartfelt tears, I wrote this letter to Esme:

Dear Esme,
Tonight, I made some excuse to go and hoover upstairs but all I really needed was 5 minutes with you. Of course I didn’t realise this until I saw this picture. I stopped hoovering and got lost looking at you. Your little angelic, peaceful face, your tiny yet chubby cheeks, your relaxed smile and your love at being cuddled by your Mummy and Daddy.
Everything hurt that little bit more, as I realised that today, after preparing for your brother’s arrival, that I just really miss you.
I often wonder if we hadn’t have said goodbye to you, would I have felt such a need to become pregnant again so soon. I imagine the answer would be no and that you and your sister would be quite the handful. For this reason, I am very much looking forward to meeting your brother. I wonder what you and Charlotte will think of him? He’s going to come out looking like a 6 month baby hehe.
Life has a strange way of working itself out. You have taught me how to live it and I will be forever thankful to you for this.
Wish me luck baby girl,
Love you
Mummy xxxxxxxxxx

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I often wonder if this baby will look anything like Esme. He’s been a rascal at all his scans and never once given me a good look at his face, but this picture of Esme is what I always think of when I wonder what he might look like.

I also wonder what this summer has in store for the Campbell family. There are so many things I have pined for over these past two years, yet despite it only being a matter of weeks to go, they still feel like they are a million miles away:
– a sibling for Charlotte;

– a chance to hold two of my babies in my arms;
– the physical feeling of holding two, looking at two, kissing two;
– a chance to mother and raise two of my children on earth;
– a chance to carry a baby to full term.

I can only hope that these dreams will come true and that I will feel only happiness and not guilt that I am celebrating these joys without Esme. I’d like to think that wherever she is, she will feel and share the same happiness and will always know she holds a big place in my heart.

With grief, I never know when it is going to creep up on me. Since becoming a mother, but even more so since having to cope with the grief of losing my daughter, the most important thing I’ve learnt is to recognise when I need some time to myself. It is often when I’m struggling to concentrate and my head just simply feels lost.

Whether it’s two minutes for a short but much needed cry, five minutes to put pen to paper, going to see Esme, going for a walk, just me and the dogs, or hanging out with my pony, they all count. Sometimes I try and work out what is troubling me, other times I just need a moment to switch off and enjoy being in the moment.

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Final date in this pregnancy

I guess I should never underestimate the power of pregnancy hormones, however, when they are coupled with trauma or grief I often find it confusing to decipher what and how I am feeling.

If I think about this baby, my 34th week pregnant was amazing. I saw his cute little face at the scan, I heard his heartbeat twice and he weighed an enormous, for me, 5lb 13oz. I felt lots of wriggling around and began to discuss with my consultant how I want to deliver him. However, my mind was also distracted by the final date and painful memory of my first pregnancy, the gestation at which Esme died, 35 weeks and 1 day.

During the week leading up to that date, time seemed to stand still. I imagine this was due to a mixture of things: feeling bigger, heavier, still a while off my due date and finding it trickier carrying Charlotte and supporting her with her walking, but also the nervous anticipation of the date when we said goodbye to Esme and knowing that this baby will be older than one of his big sisters.

That week, I experienced painful memories of losing Esme mixed with hopes for this baby. I was pulled in many directions. I felt excited, hopeful and proud that this baby stands a stronger chance of surviving and having the chance to grow up alongside his other big sister, Charlotte. Yet I felt so sad. Sad, aching and longing that I had seven beautiful weeks of getting to know Esme and of dreaming of the day we would all return home. But those hopes and dreams came to an end and at 35+1 weeks gestation is where my memories with Esme end. It felt strange coming to terms that Esme’s life is complete and that a new life is about to begin.

I shared this with a close friend and she reminded me, “Seven weeks of memories of Esme… but a lifetime of memories to recall and to share with Charlotte and their little (big!) brother. And as you continue to do so… you will create so many new memories which Esme will be just as equally part of and thought of and she will never be away from your family whatever adventures you get up to.”

This gentle reminder helped me so much and enabled me to not feel so anxious about the date in my current pregnancy when Esme died.

As with any dates relating to having the girls prematurely or Esme’s anniversaries, the days and weeks leading up to them are often much harder than the day itself.

At 35 weeks and 1 day pregnant, when this baby was officially older than his big sister I surprisingly felt pretty good and grateful. It did feel slightly strange that I knew so much about Charlotte and Esme by this point and yet I don’t really know much about this one. But I guess with this baby, (luckily!) it’s not time yet.

I imagined on that day, I’d be torn in half, sadness for Esme paired with joy for this baby. However, if I hadn’t had my girls prematurely or held Esme as she died in my arms, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. What my friend said was so true. Not only had I collected so many memories of Esme but she has shown me strength, love and determination with no limits and continues to do so.

During the seven weeks of Esme’s life, I learnt more about myself, my marriage, my ability to be a mother, the knowledge that when I am at my weakest, I have the strength and love of a mother within me, and the understanding that no matter what the circumstances are, my family and friends are there for me.

I have learnt what true happiness feels like and what is meant by to love and be loved.
Are there any greater gifts?

Targets

Over these past fifteen weeks I’ve gone from being a frantic knitter when I’ve done anything to take my mind off history repeating itself and to avoid living in fear that this baby’s life might be nothing but ‘what ifs’, to accepting this baby might actually come home, to washing all his clothes, to packing a hospital bag and finally to preparing for his arrival into the world by completing a hypnobirthing course.

Ever since I became pregnant I’ve set myself targets, dates or milestones in order to get me through it, to feel that I’m coping and surviving. It has worked, but I have realised that as soon as I reached one target which I had longed to get to, it soon felt insignificant and I was desperate to reach the next.

My anxious mind has been constantly on the go. Before reaching 35 weeks (the target I set myself after reaching 30 weeks) I had already imagined my next target which would be to get to 37 weeks, full term.

I realised that if I continue in this anxious mindset, there will always be ‘a target’ that I will feel the need to overcome. Will these anxious targets ever stop even when the baby is here?

At 35 weeks pregnant I made a conscious decision to stop, to let go and to just go with it. Whether that was because I reached the gestation where the baby just needs fattening up, or because I trust that the baby will come when the time is right, or simply because I don’t want to live with these pressures and anxieties any more, I’m not sure. Probably all three.

I have had the time in this pregnancy to do the things I only dreamt of doing when pregnant with twins and then when they were born. It has felt incredible. I’m not going to lie, it will be even more incredible to reach full term, I just want to get there without the pressure of feeling that it’s a target I need to achieve.

My girl

And just like that, I have reached nine months pregnant. Each day has gone by and this baby has stayed safely put inside my tummy.

At the beginning of my ninth month, I felt unbelievably glad and happy to have reached this point. However, I also found that I had anxious thoughts that this new arrival would affect my relationship with Charlotte and we wouldn’t be the same team again.

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Everything began to feel so real and the more real it felt that this baby is coming home, I became more nervous and upset that my relationship with Charlotte will change.

Ever since Esme died, she has been my warrior. I look at her every day and my love for her grows that bit more. She has got me through thick and thin and has never let me give up on hope. I doubt I would feel this strong and happy about my life without her. However, I made the decision that I wanted this baby, my body wanted him and my heart needed him. I ask myself why am I feeling so scared about his arrival and about how different my life is soon to become?

I discussed these anxious thoughts at my 36 week midwife appointment and she explained that these feelings are only natural, it’s natural to have siblings and after my experience last time there is no wonder I am feeling nervous. I asked her what would happen if he was to be born now and she replied, “He might need some support with his feeding but there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be fine and able to come home”. Upon hearing this, I felt instant relief and thought, “We’ve done it little one!!! We’re there.”

As soon as I heard his heartbeat at the appointment, those anxieties about meeting him disappeared, excitement returned, a weight lifted and love was restored. Everything felt right. It surprised me at how quickly all those emotions flipped.

Even before meeting him I am beginning to understand what my Mum has always said. “Your love just grows.” Yes, a part of me does feel sad that it won’t be just me and Charlotte anymore but I also cannot wait to meet him and see how she interacts with her little brother. It fills me with great comfort that she will grow up with a sibling by her side.

We did it!

It’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself.”

Roald Dahl

The day when I turned full term was the day I had only been able to dream about. But we did it! I loved my body before for growing two beautiful girls and I love it even more for carrying this little guy to full term.

It might have taken 37 weeks for me to feel this happy and relaxed but the feeling of reaching full term is worth its weight in gold.

I am now nearly 38 weeks pregnant. I might be barely able to walk and have lost count of the amount of Gaviscon bottles I’ve gone through but after spending three months on a neonatal unit there’s something very gratifying about knowing I am keeping him safe inside the best incubator in the world.

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