I think I was always one of those girls who knew she wanted to be a mom, and I took it for granted that it was going to happen one day. I thought it would happen sooner rather than later. I look at it now as a bit of an unrealistic timeline. I used to think I would be married with kids by the time I was 26 or 27 years old.
As it turns out, I met my husband when I was 34 years old. Both of us wanted kids and since we were a bit older when we met, we were ready to have children quickly. We started trying within the first year of dating. It wasn’t something that we thought about in great length. It was just that we didn’t take precautions to not get pregnant. So, when after a year nothing happened, I started to be a little bit concerned. The biological clock that we get told about so frequently as women was ticking and I thought, ‘I have to check that things are okay’. A lot of my friends were having IVF at that time. So I knew there was an issue with my generation struggling to get pregnant.
I went along and got myself checked. Earlier in life, I had an operation where they removed one of my ovaries and I knew that could be playing a role. I was hoping for the best when I went to the doctor, but he said because of my age I should probably proceed with IVF. He didn’t say that I was infertile. He just said that it would be a good idea and that I qualified under the NHS. So, we went ahead and did IVF.
On the first attempt I actually got pregnant! We were completely thrilled and excited. Everything was going to plan. I got my first scan, which I remember being very nervous about. We saw the heartbeat and we were getting very, very excited.
And then I made a trip abroad to Norway – where my family is from. Instantly, there was something that told me something wasn’t quite right with my body. On my return back to the UK, I remember I started to spot a little bit, there was some very light bleeding. I panicked.
I went to the doctor for my check-up and they told me there was no heartbeat. I remember being so devastated and the doctor was very matter of fact about it. Thank god there was a very empathetic nurse in the room who said to me, “look, I know that you’re very upset, but this is nature’s way of natural selection. There was probably something wrong with the baby’s health and it’s better that it happened early.” I was 10 weeks at the time. After that, we went through various tries, various clinics, and various countries. We tried pretty much everything. We tried for the next nine years!
I was reading new research, new people were recommending clinics, etc. It was a very, very tough time mentally and emotionally. It’s one of those moments in your life that you tend to feel extremely overwhelmed. I remember thinking, ‘will this ever end?’ It feels like a never ending story and you just do not know if it’s going to be a happy ending. I think for me though, I actually always kept very positive and I always told myself ‘no, no, no, that’s not your story. You will definitely be a mom and you will definitely have a child and I will try everything. When you are young you don’t have a care in the world and you’re actually trying your best to avoid getting pregnant. So it’s very hard when suddenly the time comes to get pregnant and it doesn’t happen.
You know, after the first time that I got pregnant and had the miscarriage, I thought it was fine, that I’d easily get pregnant again. It took me a further eight years to actually get pregnant with my son now. I didn’t allow anyone else with any type of negativity saying “you’re getting older now, are you sure you want to do this?”. And people do actually say a lot of things that are not helpful. A lot of people want to know everything as well – like your whole journey. And some days you’re just not in the mood to talk about it. And some days you do want to talk about it because that helps sometimes.
It’s a very personal thing. What do you say to someone who’s going through infertility? Just say, “how are you?” And then you’ll soon find out if they’re in the mood to talk or not. You don’t have to ask them specifically “what happened with the last try?” or “how long are you going to try?”. It’s a little bit too deep sometimes to go through those feelings and emotions. That’s something that I would recommend, having gone through it myself, to say to people dealing with infertility.
Another piece of advice if you’re going through infertility: stay on that journey. Stay on that road, because there will be that day that comes when your dream will come true with having your child. For me, it was much later than I thought, but at least my son is here and I’m super happy about that. I’m super grateful for my son.
Once I got pregnant, I was quite a nightmare for the first three months. I think my husband really went through hell with me because I was such a nervous wreck. I was so concerned that I might have another miscarriage. After three months, I calmed down a lot. The further down the line I got with the pregnancy, the more confident I became. I was trying to stay very calm and relaxed as much as I could. I was doing a lot of breathing exercises. I was doing a lot of visualization and meditation to keep me calm because I’m an over-thinker.
The same applies for the actual birth. I had a fairly straightforward birth. I ended up having an emergency cesarean after 10 hours of labor. For me, that was really minor because my son came out perfect. I don’t like to complain about the pregnancy or the birth because I think it’s such a blessing after everything that I went through.
Then, yes: motherhood. I think actually the first four months for me was pretty okay. I had a son that slept through the night. When I say ‘slept through the night’, I mean he didn’t have colic or anything like that and it was basically eat, sleep, repeat. He was a very good baby. I think it was only after four months of motherhood and my son was starting to get his own personality and become more active that it became more intense.
Also, at that point, people around me that I previously worked with, or that I had been working with for years, whose children had grown up were starting to get a little bit impatient about when I was getting back to work.
Bearing in mind, I’ve been running my own company for the last decade or so [Cindy founded and directs O Events and Consultancy, a business specializing in events and lifestyle management], which has never been a problem because I haven’t had a family and I’ve been able to travel and do well. What I found was, after four or five months, people wanted me to get back to work because the thing is, when you’ve got your own company, no one else is going to pull that cart stronger than the way that you can do it.
So I think I found it really hard and I wasn’t ready honestly, after four months, to get back to work. I wanted to spend time with my son after everything that I’ve been through with trying to achieve motherhood.
I felt like I was being sort of – not bullied – but forced into getting back to work. There was a guilt there of people questioning ‘why aren’t you getting back into working?’ or ‘are you getting a nanny?’ or ‘why aren’t you getting a nanny?’. The truth was that I didn’t want to get a nanny. I really wanted to spend that quality time with my son myself, to enjoy motherhood, because I’m never gonna get that time back again.
And so for me, I was kind of juggling with resisting having a nanny and utilizing my family’s kindness to help me with my son. And also, I didn’t really trust anyone else. I feel like he was so young. Why would I leave him with a stranger? And I know there’s plenty of amazing nannies out there, but it didn’t have anything to do with that. I didn’t want to quite let go and I wasn’t quite ready. There was an enormous pressure there to get back to work promptly.
I want to highlight that when I did eventually go back to work, there were so many comments and judgements about my work ethic. Comments included: I wasn’t my ‘normal self’ after becoming a mom, or that I wasn’t so available, or even I heard that someone said I was ‘incompetent’. That was the word. I can’t help but feel it was because of the fact I was a new mom that these things were being said and it was a form of bullying. It was really, really upsetting, because I was really wanting to be there for my son, and obviously my son comes first, no matter what.
All those comments really, you know, I felt were so unnecessary. For me, it’s so obvious that I’m not going to be at the same level as I was before becoming a mom, because I’m not as flexible with my time. My son will always come first. It was disappointing that the people around me couldn’t understand that.
I think we’ve got a long way to go before people understand how hard it is to get back to work for new moms. It is a very difficult time. Your hormones are all over the place. You’re more sensitive. You’re exhausted because you’re not getting enough sleep. And then people say unhelpful comments. It can be really damaging and I think people need to be more considerate and understanding.
YOU SHARED SO BRAVELY YOUR JOURNEY WITH IVF. WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF GOING THROUGH THAT JOURNEY?
I would tell myself, “you don’t have to be so pedantic about everything that you’re doing.” I think it’s very easy to get wrapped up in reading and consuming all the different advice. There are a lot of people out there that are telling you to do things and telling you not to do things. It becomes very overwhelming. There are conflicting messages saying you should be relaxing, or you should be eating this and not eating this, or you should be taking this vitamin and you shouldn’t be taking that vitamin, or you shouldn’t be traveling but you should be on holiday. There’s so much information out there. It isn’t helpful to be on information overload.
Maybe what I would tell my younger self is to just continue living your life and enjoying life as much as possible through that journey without getting too hung up on what is the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ thing to do.
I remember with me particularly, I enjoy a drink and I was going through big periods where I wouldn’t drink. My friends were going out and I wouldn’t drink. And I would get myself really, really focused on not drinking and not having fun. I felt guilty for having fun in a sense, because I felt like ‘why is getting pregnant taking so long? I’m obviously not healthy enough.’ I think it’s not so much to do with what you’re putting in your body and what you’re not putting in your body. I think it’s more to do with how relaxed you are in your body. I think it’s a mental and physical thing that you need to feel at ease and relaxed. I think that’s the key, after having done this for nine years! When I relaxed, and I sort of almost gave up on it, I just thought, “this is my last time of doing IVF. I’m not doing it after this and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.” My attitude changed. That’s when I got pregnant.
So I think I would say to my younger self, “just carry on living your life, enjoying life and enjoy those moments where you’re with friends and being happy. And it will come to you. The blessing that you are praying for, it will come in due course. It will happen when it’s supposed to happen, not when you necessarily have planned for it to happen.”
SO YOU SPOKE ABOUT THE PRESSURE TO GO BACK TO WORK. IF YOU HAD THE POWER TO CHANGE ONE THING FOR WORKING MUMS WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
I think it’s hard for women that run their own businesses. If you’re employed, I think quite a lot has been done to support working moms. I mean, you can take up to a year maternity leave from what I hear from my friends [in the UK]. You get your salary and that’s a pretty decent amount of time. But I think it’s hard if you are a consultant or you run your own company because there’s no one there really to give you any benefits as such. So I think that maybe the government could implement a grant scheme for women that run their own limited companies or something like that, where they have a year of benefits. That would be the ideal, obviously that would be very hard to achieve. I think at least sort of paying 80% of what they would normally make in that year or something like that in order to support women so that their businesses can continue to thrive as well after that year of taking some time out.
Also, I think the main problem is that in the business world, there’s a lot of men that don’t have the same pressures. Even if they’re fathers themselves, they don’t really understand the pressures of being a mom. It’s slightly different than being a dad because at the beginning, the child really needs the mom a lot in the first year. We need to educate people on this subject more – much like this blog is doing, making people aware of how hard that journey can be.
I know that it is extremely hard for some women and that they go into depression and they suffer with all kinds of thoughts, of even harming their child and harming themselves. And it can be very, very severe. So it’s definitely something that should be taken very seriously.
I had this conversation with my sister-in-law the other day. She’s a psychiatrist and she has three children. She had them all in her thirties. It really has delayed her excelling in her line of work. I said to her that I actually feel like I’ve achieved quite a lot so far. I feel as far as my goals and aspirations are concerned, my son comes first in everything now. I’m not as ambitious in a way. I know that’s a very controversial thing to say. People want you to not have changed but I don’t see it as a negative that I now wish to spend more time with my family than I did before. I’ve always been very ambitious and now my ambition is making sure my son is happy and looked after. Anything that supports that is what I’m focusing on. If there’s a good opportunity work-wise, I now consider if it is a good project that will make sure I can set my family up better financially, or I can spend more time with my family. Those are the projects that I’d be looking to do more so now. Before it was just purely based on building my career and how profitable it was.
Now I bear in mind ‘how is this beneficial to my family?’.
AS A WOMAN BUSINESS OWNER MOTHER ETC YOU MUST GIVE A LOT OF YOURSELF EMOTIONALLY AND SPIRITUALLY. WHO GIVES TO YOU?
I’m trying to not give as much of myself so that I have something left over in my cup at the end of the day for my family. But I would say for me, emotionally and spiritually, it will always be my girlfriends, my family and other mothers that really understand the journey that you’re on and who give support to you in all kinds of different ways.
I mean, it’s just small things, like when you’re at a family function and everyone sort of takes care of your child, looks after him, engages with him, and plays with him. I think in our culture – I’m half Jamaican – it’s very normal when you’re at family function that the whole family just gets involved. It takes a village they say, and I think that’s true. I really appreciate when anyone shows an interest in my son’s well-being and engages with him. And I think that’s when you can relax a little bit and just have a cup of coffee or have a meal <laughs> without getting interrupted. You know, those small things mean a lot to me.
DO YOU THINK YOUR OWN CHILDHOOD HAS INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU PARENT? WHAT TRADITIONS DO YOU WISH TO CONTINUE WITH KARTER?
I did have a feeling of longing to be back “home” in Norway, where I’d spent my own childhood. I felt like there was the safety there, of raising a child. And I think that it’s also a great country. There is a lot of focus on family values and respect. Norwegian’s are very structured and I feel like it’s a good lesson for him to have quite a structured upbringing at the beginning to teach him certain values. For me, it is important to bring a lot my own traditions of my two different cultures, Norwegian and Jamaican, into how we bring up Karter. Jamaican and Norwegian cultures are all about being very open, kind and welcoming. And that is something that I’m focusing on for Karter.
DO YOU THINK YOUR APPROACH TO MOTHERING AND MOTHERHOOD IS DIFFERENT BECAUSE YOU HAD SUCH A LONG JOURNEY TO BECOMING A MOTHER?
I think I don’t like to complain a lot as I am truly grateful I am a mother finally. If I am asking for help it means I really really need help and its hard for me to ask for help. I prefer to do most things myself, although honestly that’s getting harder and harder the older he is getting. After 15 months of motherhood, I think I am finally ready, and Karter is definitely ready, to start nursery full time and therein lies another chapter.
They say that being a mother is one of the hardest jobs out there. I never knew what they meant until I was a mum myself. As hard as the IVF journey was, the pregnancy and birth put together… it is nothing compared to motherhood itself. Be prepared, don’t give up, and you will succeed.