I was asked by Future Foundations to write a letter to my pregnant self as part of their campaign to raise awareness and funds to build a maternal waiting home in Tigray, Ethiopia. This maternity wing acts as a safe place for high risk expectant mothers to stay nearby to the hospital, speak to other expectant mothers and medical advisors, and most importantly be within easy access to 24 hour emergency care.
Access to emergency care is a luxury that millions of people in Ethiopia don’t have. Maternal deaths account for 3 in 10 women of childbearing age and the risk of a baby dying within their first month of life is high. In fact, this accounts for almost half of deaths under five, with 70% of those in the first week of a baby’s life. Sadly, most of these deaths are avoidable.
No one can argue, especially as a mother having been through three pregnancies, the importance and value in this project by VSO international.
A letter to my pregnant self, 2012
Here is where it begins, your journey into the unknown and a new phase of your life that you have no concept of yet. You think you have prepared in every way possible – you’ve read the books, you’ve done the classes, you’ve bombarded everyone with question after question and you have purchased every baby item you think you will need. In truth Sarah, like the old cliche says, you aren’t prepared at all for how your life is about to change. You haven’t really thought beyond the birth technicalities and the surplus baby paraphernalia; you are about to be hit by a tidal wave of emotions you never expected at all.
Firstly, and most importantly, you will feel overwhelming love for the daughter you will hold in your arms, after a messy delivery that you got through like a trooper (with the help of all the drugs and some salad servers). You didn’t think you wanted your Mum there, but in a twist of fate she will be, and it will be a moment you’ll always treasure.
You will be bewildered, exhausted beyond belief, worried and shell shocked as you muddle through those first months, but equally you will find yourself in a way you never thought possible. You will meet those friends you said you ‘never needed’ and they will be such a big part of your coping mechanism through the days you won’t find easy. You will manage just fine with the physical elements of motherhood, but you’ll be tested by your emotions again and again – worry, fear, concern about every decision and milestone. Yet you will make it through and come out the other side looking back on those first baby days as though you conquered everest.
A letter to my pregnant self, 2013
Sarah, if only I really could reach back and get this message to you in the autumn of 2013. You are pregnant again, approaching your twenty week scan and due to the ‘surprise’ element of this pregnancy, perhaps sooner than anticipated, you have been so preoccupied with logistics you barely stopped to embrace this pregnancy at all; and boy are you going to wish you had.
Every person you told your news, you swiftly followed with a bunch of negative connotations about being scared, nervous, worried about two so close together, you clouded over your happy news with groans and moans about the inconvenience of it all.
And yet, when you are dealt the worst blow imaginable, that this little girl isn’t to survive, you will give anything to take back every one of those negative words and tell everyone how loved and wanted this precious daughter is to you. You will regret in a way you can’t imagine; any doubts in your ability to cope, and the way you took this miracle for granted. Having breezed through pregnancy once before, loving every moment, discovering how fragile pregnancy is will change you forever. It will alter your outlook on work, motherhood, love, life and shape your future beyond belief. This little girl won’t take her first step or run beside you, but her tiny toes will leave lasting imprints on your walk of life for the rest of your days.
You will deliver your daughter and hold her in your arms, and she will always be in your heart, but the memories of your time together as she kicked strongly inside you will be fleeting and you’ll treasure them always.
A letter to my pregnant self, 2014
My dear Sarah, you are pregnant again, your body has been through so much in the last three years and continues to do amazing things. Despite the advice to wait, you longed so much to be pregnant again and your wish was granted. Even so, those two pink lines didn’t fill you with happiness, nor that twelve week scan. You put off telling anyone you were pregnant until it was obvious, and you thought you were losing this baby too. But another fierce girl from the very beginning, she clung on and your pregnancy will progress without any problems.
Even when the specialist scans will tell you all is well, you still won’t really believe it, and right up to the due date, you will be convinced that the stars won’t align for you, because what could go wrong, suddenly feels now like it will happen to you.
Sarah, as your lost daughters first anniversary passes you will be at home nursing a five day old girl who will be the sparkle in your life, the rainbow to your stormy skies.
The care you will receive will astound you, and your labour will be calm and peaceful (and again, pain free, thanks to the magic of the NHS); the end of your pregnancy journey will pass with a quiet, dimly lit room and your daughter being passed into your arms. She will be tiny but healthy, and finally, you will believe that she is really here.
These letter have really reminded me what an amazing thing my body is, where it has taken us as a family and what it has done. Pregnancy and childbirth are too often so complex, and the care I received in the U.K. from our NHS I will forever be grateful for. This only highlights exactly why we should support charity projects to offer other pregnant women around the world better maternal care so that they too stand a better chance of their own happy endings, or should that be beginnings.
This post is in association with the VSO international Future Foundations campaign which you can find out more about, or make a donation to support here: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/future-foundations