Last month, Health and Living was delighted to spend time with a very special group of mums, who met online as they were all due their babies in August 2013.
We were there as 26 of the 48 mums in the group met up in person for the first time at the Maldron Hotel in Portlaoise, having supported each other virtually through their pregnancies, labour and childbirth.
From this group, we will be following four of the mums more closely on their journey over the next six months.
Today we introduce our four mothers, Kelda, Niamh, Jane and Emma, and catch up with their stories to date, and over the coming months we will explore their babies' progress.
We will also discuss their opinions on various aspects of raising a child, including nutrition, education, discipline and childcare, as well as examining the challenges involved for the women in raising their gorgeous new babies.
'All I've ever wanted is to be a mammy'
Emma and AJ Leahy
Emma Leahy (31) is married to chef Dan Leahy and they live in Blessington, Co Wicklow. They have two children, Hannah (3), and AJ (six months), and Dan also has a son Shane (17). The Dubliner is a stay-at-home mum.
"I met Dan when I was working in an Irish pub in Essen, Germany, and I moved in with him after our first date. We lived in Edinburgh for two years and moved home when my mum, Bernie McKnight, was diagnosed with cancer. Dan and I got married in August 2008 and my mum passed away in April 2009. I found her passing very difficult and suffered with anxiety for a long time, and still have moments where it can creep back up.
"We started trying for a baby in November 2009, and found out we were pregnant a month later. We welcomed Hannah into our lives in August 2010. From the moment I held her, I knew that all I wanted to be was a 'mammy'. Sad it may be, to be defined as 'mum', but if that's all that this life has to offer me, I am more than happy.
"I am a stay-at-home mum for now, and am fully embracing my days of tea parties and playdough. Time is something that wasn't afforded to my own mum, so I'm trying my best to make the most of mine.
"After our daughter's first birthday, we decided to start trying to conceive again, but after six months of nothing happening, I started small things like changing my diet, taking supplements, and, of course, worrying that something was wrong.
"After almost 12 months, we finally got our good news, but I had this niggling feeling that there was something different this time.
"At 11 weeks, I miscarried, and while we were heartbroken, we both took a little time out to be sad and then decided to start trying again. And at the beginning of December we found out we were pregnant again.
"I suffered badly with 'all-day sickness' for the first 16 weeks, along with tiredness. I also had a few weeks of sciatic pain, but that passed by five months.
"When I was 12 days overdue, I was brought in to be induced, and ended up with a 20-minute labour. There was no time for an epidural, just gas and air, and then pop, baby AJ was out! He was born on August 23. I tore and had stitches, but was up and in the shower 90 minutes after labour.
"On your second baby you don't have the luxury of napping when your baby naps, as your other child needs your full care and attention.
"So I found I was more tired, but also far more able to cope than I had imagined, and luckily both Hannah and AJ seem to thrive on routine.
"I have loved watching the bond form between brother and sister. You can see already they are both mad about each other – long may it last! AJ is the happiest little boy. A super-smiley, very chilled out and relaxed little man. At the moment he is cursed with teething, but he still smiles through the pain.
"Unlike after Hannah's arrival, where I was still consumed with grief for the loss of my mum and the overwhelming sense of being submerged into the unknown, this time around has been far calmer. I am far more confident, not just as a mother but in myself too. And that in itself is a huge barrier to get through."
After years of failed IVF, Hector was born
Niamh and Hector Hughes
Niamh Hughes (37) is from Castlebar and lives in Carrick-on-Shannon with her secondary school teacher husband, Daithi Hughes, and six-month-old baby son, Hector. She is currently on unpaid maternity leave from her local authority position.
"Daithi and I have been together since we met 16 years ago at college. We got married after nine years in 2007, and took a year out to travel around the world in 2000 and again in 2005. Our plan was always to have babies, so once we got married in 2007, it was the first item on the agenda.
"However, as time passed we realised it wasn't as easy as we thought it would be. Following over five years of failed IVFs and heart-breaking losses, we decided to give NaPro Technology (Galway Clinic) a go, as a last-ditch attempt before we closed that chapter of our lives.
"Symptoms that had been overlooked by conventional fertility clinics were identified and treated, and within six months I was pregnant. Getting pregnant was only the start, however. Keeping the baby in there was the hard part.
"Nerve-wracking months followed. Medication to suppress my immune system, high dose hormones and blood-thinning injections became a daily part of my pregnancy, and although they took their toll on my organs, I was willing to do everything I could to keep this baby safe. Other than that, I never had morning sickness and only had two weeks of heartburn at the very end. I loved being pregnant, and as the bump got bigger, I got happier!
"We had planned a drug-free birth, but as the baby was breech presentation, we had no choice but to agree to a Caesarean section. The procedure went well and our beautiful baby was brought safely into the world. It was magical when Daithi told me we had a little boy, and we called him Hector. We loved the name for many reasons, but mainly because it means 'tenacious'. We never gave up in our quest to have a baby, and nor did he when the odds were against him.
"After having 16 years with just ourselves to think about, the impromptu meal out or sneaky pints after work on a Friday together are gone. Hector is to the fore of every thought, followed by the queen – our dog, Putog. We no longer have the pain in our hearts that used to strike at times – when seeing couples out with their children. Now there's a sense of contentedness and fulfilment.
"We have been living the dream over the past six months, and it's the happiest we have ever been in all of our lives. Sometimes even the most ordinary things seem extraordinary. We are naturally tired but that little smile or poke in the eye when you're half asleep makes you forget being woken up many times the night before.
"My paid maternity leave has ended now, so I am taking four months unpaid leave and then holidays until Hector is a year old. He is a very healthy, happy baby with a better social life than us, with visits to baby groups twice per week. This week he has started sitting up on his own unaided and has also discovered his hands. He spends lots of time checking them out and doing royal waves!"
'I returned to work three weeks after Elin was born'
Kelda and Elin Ward
Kelda Ward (33) is from Glanmire, Co Cork, and is married to Robert Ward. She has three children, Nathan (14), Jessica (22 months) and Elin (six months). She is a self-employed Montessori teacher at Toddle Inn Montessori Pre-School, Glanmire.
"I had my first child, Nathan, when I was only 19, and with my parents' support, I went back to college to further my studies. I then opened the Montessori pre-school with the help of my mother.
"When I met my husband Rob, he wooed me with romantic trips on his yacht, but has put his sailing days on hold for a while to spend more time at home with the family. We were married in August 2011, and were hoping to get pregnant as soon as possible afterwards, but found out on honeymoon in Thailand that I was expecting Jessica. It was the smell of food that affected me most, causing us to suspect something was brewing! When Jessica was six months old, we decided to start trying again, and thankfully it only took a month to conceive Elin.
"My pregnancy was good for the most part, and each time I felt the baby move, kick or even have hiccups, I felt lucky and honoured to be carrying her. I suffered from pelvic girdle pain, but found that physio was a great relief for this, and I also suffered a bleed at around 20 weeks which was quite scary. I'm rhesus negative, so needed to have the anti-D injection, which was very painful.
"I was admitted to hospital on my birthday (and our wedding anniversary) as the baby was measuring big. She was lying OP (posterior position) and as the night progressed and the contractions got stronger, she didn't turn. This was my third labour and it was most definitely the hardest because of her position. At 11am, I went to the pre-labour ward to have my waters broken, and the midwife gave me some pethidine for pain relief. Our daughter was born at 5.35pm on the August 6, my mum's birthday.
"We named her Elin, a Scandinavian name meaning "beautiful little girl," and her second name is Karen after my lovely cousin who passed away last year. When I came home from hospital, Jessica only wanted her dad, but this soon passed and she accepted the new baby very quickly. Nathan is a teenager and at a different stage of his life, and he is very good with both girls.
"As I'm self-employed, I returned to work when Elin was only three weeks old. It was hard leaving my new baby, but luckily Rob was able to take September off, and in October, worked only half of his shifts. Jessica and Elin started in the All Aboard Childcare in Carrigtwohill in November, which is owned by my sister, and they both love it.
"I had the baby blues for while, like every other new mum, but this soon passed. I'm very lucky to have a fantastic husband and a huge support network around me, which means a lot.
"Baby Elin is a treasure – a placid, smiley baby who rarely cries. She loves to see Jessica , and gets so excited when she talks to her and her arms and legs stiffen with excitement. She loves to suck her thumb and is starting to blow bubbles with her lips. She loves to be held, cuddled and kissed, but most of all, she loves people singing to her."
'The online girls helped me realise I wasn't doing ok'
Jane and Priya Edgeworth
Jane Edgeworth (32), is from Raheny, Dublin, and is married to Francis Edgeworth. She has two children, Hayden (2), and Priya (six months). She works as a part-time beauty therapist and consultant for Elizabeth Arden.
"Fran and I are together 11 years, and we got married in the Dominican Republic. We were eager to have two children close in age, and were blessed to have conceived without problems. When I got pregnant with Priya, I had severe morning sickness lasting until 17 weeks, but after that I had a very straightforward and healthy pregnancy.
"The birth was extremely fast, as I went from 3cm dilated to 10cm in a matter of minutes. The baby suffered trauma during the birth due to the fast delivery and her shoulder getting caught. I'm still struggling with the experience of what happened, and how I was treated and am unable to talk about it.
"The baby was born on August 19, and we named her Priya Jean Edgeworth. She was diagnosed with silent reflux by our GP when she was four weeks old, and I would get myself into a complete sweat at the thought of meeting a friend for coffee or heading to the shops, for fear she would have a flare up. Throw an active and excitable toddler into the mix and I really started struggling to cope throughout those first four months. I felt like a fraud being so upset over my baby's reflux when there are babies who are suffering such serious illnesses, so I didn't open up about my feelings and eventually things completely spiraled out of control.
"While most mums experience some degree of the baby blues, I felt anxious over everything and began to have frightening panic attacks for no reason. Unexplained crying became a daily occurrence, and I couldn't understand why I felt so lonely and sad all the time. I had a wonderful loving husband, a beautiful little boy who was so excitable and affectionate, and my precious Priya – this was quite literally all I ever wanted.
"I looked into advice on how to deal with postnatal depression, began walking every evening, started up an exercise class and tried to meet up with close friends as much as possible. It was the girls from the online group who helped me to realise that I wasn't doing okay, and I confided in Fran, my husband who was so supportive and understanding. We dealt with it together and went to my GP who put a plan of treatment into place. After confiding in my parents Jean and Michael, who were so amazing and helpful, I finally began to start feeling myself again.
"I want to reach out to mums reading this who may be having a hard time or are struggling to cope. There are different forms of PND and so many ways of treating it, so don't think there is no help out there for you. The first step is talking to your partner or a friend or mother and baby group. For me, my case was quite severe and I know I'm not going to get better overnight, but I'm certainly starting to see brighter days ahead.
"Priya is doing absolutely great now, and is becoming a very sociable and smiley little lady. It gets very hectic at times having two children so small, but when I see the bond that they are already forming it makes it so worthwhile.
"I returned to work from maternity leave two weeks ago, and I was really anxious about leaving the baby. Fran works as a service engineer for coffee group Robert Roberts, and also has a part-time job, which enabled me to step down and only work three days a week. While I'm at work, it gives me such peace of mind knowing Priya is in the capable hands of her doting nana, Fran's mother, Mary."
Health & Living