I realise with hideous embarrassment that it’s been 17 months since I last updated this blog, and that whatever readership I may have amassed has probably dwindled away to approximately zero since I signed off. I was hoping to return to something akin to ‘work’ this time last year, but events took a surprising and not altogether welcome turn after the birth of my son.
Little O was born healthy and well (albeit 2 weeks late) in October, but I didn’t fare so well, needing several emergency operations after haemorrhaging 5 litres of blood (which is apparently all the blood in your body). Finally they did a procedure called Uterine Artery Embolisation, which cuts off the main arterial blood supply to the womb. If that hadn’t worked, the next stop was a hysterectomy, which would have plunged me into early menopause. The whole experience was- as one would expect- deeply traumatic, surreal and painful, and losing my agency in a process that is supposed to be personal, intimate and life-enhancing is something I’m not sure I shall ever come to terms with.
After a week’s stay in hospital I returned home and promptly developed a suspected uterine infection, so back I went for another five days, where they pumped my body so full of antibiotics even little O developed a nasty reaction (through my milk). While all this was happening, my partner got through to the first round of interviews for a job in Amsterdam. Shortly after I returned home for the second and final time, he flew out to meet the company.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, we flew out to Holland at the end of 2012, and began our year living the peculiar existence of ex-pats: never truly blending into Dutch life, but observing it from the outside, disconnected by language, custom and the easy refuge of shared cultural references. We lived in the beautiful city of Haarlem, which, like its larger cousin, is threaded with canals, and crowned by a stunning 16th century Grote Kerk which sits in a large cobbled square. In Spring and Summer the square is always alive with the sounds and smells of cheese and fish markets, and people eating ices and drinking beer.
It was an amazing city to live in and particularly so during the long 2013 summer, which was stunning and hot. I made some friends, who also had babies the same age, and those of us lucky enough not to have to work met up for coffee, went for walks and to the beach. I made friends from as far as Kenya, the US and Romania, but I never got to know any Dutch people. The Dutch can be friendly and helpful when they want to be, but they can also be extremely judgmental and critical. More than once a stranger took it upon themselves to criticise my parenting – an attitude I found hard to deal with as a reserved Brit. They’ll do something like help you onto a bus with your pushchair, but push you out of the way when they want to get past.
Outwardly we were living a privileged and secure life. We rented a large two-storey house, had money to spend on meals and clothes when we wanted. In private however, we were struggling. My partner quickly realised his job was a poisoned chalice: the stress of the workload, coupled with a dysfunctional management structure and demoralised staff made a toxic combination, and he began to lose sleep and his mood rapidly deteriorated. As a new mum cut adrift from family and all that was familiar, I developed acute anxiety- and this was dramatically amplified when O began to show symptoms of yeast overgrowth. He seemed permanently constipated and chronically prone to a nasty yeast rash. It didn’t help that I struggled physically at times- my joints and back were constantly inflamed and painful. I could hardly bend to lift O out of his cot. I sprained both wrists pushing the pram and they refused to heal. Worryingly my adrenals seemed very weak and I became frequently dizzy and fatigued. It was hard to confide in anyone, simply because I didn’t know how to describe what was wrong with me. I suspected my thyroid and adrenals were tanking in the downward phase of postpartum thyroiditis that affects around 5% of women after pregnancy (though I suspect this is a massive under-estimate). I went to see the GP who tested me for the usual TSH but not much else (TSH is a poor indicator of actual thyroid function; tests need to measure actual conversion of T4 into T3 within the cell: http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/tsh-why-its-useless/). He was also a mine of misinformation. He told me I should not take Ibuprofen to manage my pain, since it is contraindicated in breastfeeding (it isn’t). When I took my permanently constipated (but exclusively breastfed) son of five months to him he advised giving him mashed-up fruit ‘with a bit of biscuit’ to make it appealing (really? Biscuits at under six months?!). But then when my periods returned, so scant as to be abnormal, he told me that the procedure I’d undergone to stop the haemorrhage had nothing to do with it. No one told me that I wouldn’t really have periods anymore, or that my chances of ever getting pregnant again and carrying another child safely to term would be at best dicey, at worst dangerous. In a small study of women who became pregnant after the procedure, a third of them miscarried. And worldwide the number of women who’ve successfully gone on to deliver a baby after UFE is only about a hundred.
And now, the majority of my pain has receded, like the rest of that bad dream. It didn’t disappear by magic, although the technique that I discovered to treat it- an ancient technique that costs pennies and may just be one of the most powerful adjuncts to health I’ve ever discovered- worked like a charm. That technique is oil-pulling, and the story of this little gem has to wait until next time…..