As an expectant mum, you’re told every pregnancy is different. But they really are. Looking back, a lot of it feels like a distant memory. At the time, however, it felt like I was riding a rollercoaster blind – for months at a time.
When I fell pregnant with our first child Max, I decided not to work for anyone but myself. I didn’t want someone telling me I couldn’t attend a sports game or a ballet recital – or to miss a bake sale or a school function because I wasn’t in charge of my own schedule. So, I quit working in an office and set up my own consultancy. It seems I excel at starting new businesses when I’m pregnant, so maternity leave has never been an option. When you work for yourself, you can’t put an ‘out of office’ on.
Between Max and our second son, Jake, I suffered three miscarriages. We conceived Max easily – he was born by emergency C-section but that was the only surprise. Sadly, it wasn’t so easy next time around. Losing a child, at whatever stage of development, is a deep emotional loss which also wreaks havoc on your body. Although I was broken-hearted, it taught me how common miscarriages are. And yet, no one talks about them – they’re still a silent secret, and something which is considered a failure. But I quickly learned that my own experiences weren’t unique, which made it more bearable.
After my miscarriages, I was introduced to a specialist. Professor Mark Johnson, from London’s Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, is an expert in high risk pregnancies. With his help, I held onto Jake with a daily cocktail of steroids and hormones. Due to complications during Jake’s scheduled C-section delivery (he swallowed fluids and stopped breathing), he spent a few days in the NICU. There were hours when we didn’t know if he was going to survive – but compared to his sister Sadie a couple of years later, Jake was only a warm-up for what was to come.
When I was nine weeks pregnant with Sadie, my doctors thought I had placenta accreta. It’s a condition where the placenta grows into the uterus and potentially out the other side, into the internal organs. It’s so dangerous, the pregnancy is usually aborted. I saw some experts and thankfully they (incorrectly) said I didn’t have it. It was only at 24-weeks they discovered I did. At that point, Professor Mark Johnson pulled a team together to manage Sadie’s delivery, as well as my own peri-pregnancy surgeries.
I filmed the third season of Ladies of London during Sadie's pregnancy. Bizarrely, having my producers there during every day distracted me from what was actually happening. I also believe in ‘Happily Ever After’, so somehow, I thought that if this was all being filmed, it would turn out okay. Even so, I’m sure I aged a decade during those six months.
Due to my condition, Sadie arrived early. Ideally, a baby grows to 40 weeks in utero, but I needed surgeries which tend to be more successful when they’re carried out earlier on in the pregnancy – so she was delivered at 32 weeks to give us both the best chance of survival and recovery. Any later, and it would have drastically impacted my own chances, while any earlier would have been detrimental to Sadie’s development. Dr David Knott – the famous vascular surgeon – flew over from Aleppo (in Syria, where he spends most of his working life) to be in the operating room with me. He’s known as the ‘Indiana Jones of Surgery’ – a nickname that gave me great comfort.
During the delivery, I knew a hysterectomy was likely. It was the only way to manage the blood loss, and while this can be very emotional for some women, I knew it would save my life. I chose to take the point of view that the hysterectomy meant I could continue to mother Sadie and my other children, rather than mourning the loss.
For me, the struggle didn’t end after Sadie's delivery. Having spent a day in the ICU, I started haemorrhaging – which happens in about half of all placenta accreta surgeries. I remember Professor Johnson making me laugh because he told me how cross he was now that he had to re-do a perfect stitch up job on my tummy. Regardless, I'm forever grateful for his expertise and care. After five days, I was moved closer to Sadie in the NICU – my hazy memories of meeting our daughter are what dreams are made of. She was (and is) a miracle baby.
Emotions run high after you give birth. While the trauma of Sadie’s delivery might have sent me over the edge, the silver lining was that through my own surgeries over the next couple days, I was knocked out – and somehow, I tapped into my inner machine rather than drowning under the emotional depth of what had taken place. Sometimes, these things happen for a reason – because of my own complications and Sadie’s time in NICU, we were both discharged on the same day. It felt momentous and like we were in tune – as we’ve been from day one.
During our babies’ early years, we hired a maternity nurse. We were living abroad from my parents, and I worked through all of my maternity leaves, so it was necessary. We had Patricia Malone, who was an absolute angel. She truly became a part of our family. Besides being a baby whisperer, she also makes the perfect cup of tea and Shepherd’s Pie. It was only when she left that the real exhaustion set in!
I’ve always been maternal, long before having children. I’m a nurturer and a lover – so motherhood hasn’t changed that, it just gave me three more creatures to love. In fact, my priorities didn’t really change until I had my experience with Sadie. Of course, life has changed completely since having kids – but I’ve remained the same person at my core.
Both my husband and I changed considerably as parents between our first and third child. Our eldest was coddled – wrapped in cashmere and his pacifier cleaned and disinfected round the clock. Fast forward to Sadie who, at eight months old, licked the credit card machine at the grocery store checkout. My only thought was, at least her immune system is going to be fortified now!
Every day, I still learn something new. I am more challenged now than at any other time in my life – and I’ve learnt more about myself. The more I dive into motherhood, the more our children thrive. I see that how I choose to parent has an immediate effect on them – and while this can be daunting, I find it equally inspiring.
The hardest part about being a mother is finding balance. I’m not just a mother (which by the way, is a full-time job) but a restaurateur, too. I adore spending time with these curious, funny, delightful little people but I also love working. So, while I’m not sure the word balance really exists in my vocabulary, I’m definitely a juggler.
I’m a laidback mum – except when it comes to safety. My rule is that if the kids are doing something that is going to land us in the hospital, then it isn’t allowed. The other thing is good manners, which starts from day one. Overall, though, I’d say I’m the opposite of a Tiger Mom. I believe kids – with the right support and direction – will always figure it out. Our kids are confident, funny, smart and sassy – and I trust that with daily ups and downs, they will build their own formative experiences.
My advice to first time mums would be “you’ve got this”. There is no rule book. And while this can be intimidating, it’s all about your point of view. The truth is, there is no right way to parent. You’re probably doing a brilliant job.