Jessica Wilson’s transition from high-powered television exec to new mum throws her its fair share of challenges. Here, she charts her trials, tribulations and, thankfully, the odd triumph. If only it were as easy as ‘and here’s one I made earlier’
‘So, what do you do?’ It’s a familiar question. For me, the answer for many years was easy: ‘I’m a TV producer’. And if asked on what, ‘Oh, all sorts of things, from Blue Peter to The Apprentice.’ More recently, the answer has been ‘I’m a TV producer and a nutritionist’, which usually leads to a slightly convoluted explanation about how I wanted to change career before having a family and so on (more details if they were really interested).
Now, if anyone’s asking, I have a new job. I’m a mum. And in between nappy changes, feeding and laundry, I’m writing about life with a baby.
I always knew I wanted children but at 37 I was still single and childless. I was studying (nutrition) and working full time, which left little or no time for a social life or relationships. I started to worry that I was running out of time. Where had all the years gone? It felt as though all of a sudden I was old, and I was, in fertility terms. I began to investigate having a baby on my own. For months I researched sperm donors, I went to seminars and read books.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t even sure if I could conceive. I had a great GP who, when I told her my plan, referred me to a local hospital for fertility testing. After several rounds of blood tests and procedures I was told that while I could get pregnant, my chances were slim and that in all likelihood I would probably need help. As the cost of the sperm donor, never mind the expense of IVF loomed, I felt pretty bleak about my situation. But equally, determined.
I turned 38 and still hadn’t moved beyond the research stage. I was filled with doubt. Was it really right to bring a baby into the world without a father? Would I be OK on my own? Family and friends had pledged their support but really it was just going to be me and the baby. Was that fair on the child?
I decided to delay my plans for a few months and focus on work. I was back at the BBC working on a new series that needed my full attention and for the meantime that became my focus. Just as we were about to start filming, I was reluctantly dragged to a friend’s 40th birthday party. I wasn’t in the mood for a party and even worse, it was a Seventies fancy dress party. It never crossed my mind that I might meet someone. But, I did. R was wearing a pink dress and a blonde wig. He told me that his five-year-old daughter had chosen his outfit and I liked him immediately. We’ve been together ever since.
I got pregnant three months later. It wasn’t planned and certainly came as a surprise to both of us. Fortunately, R was as happy as I was.
My pregnancy progressed as easily as it had begun – I hardly felt pregnant. Even the scan at 12 weeks felt unreal. There it was, my baby, on the monitor, but I still found it hard to believe. I know that there are women who bond with their babies from the moment that they know they have conceived. It didn’t happen to me, perhaps because the only symptom I had was feeling very, very tired.
I had just started a new contract at the BBC, working on Children In Need and hadn’t told anyone I was pregnant. I arrived in Belfast for a meeting one morning and felt so exhausted that I barely made it out of the airport. I sat on a chair leaning my head against the wall for half an hour, unable to string a sentence together and wondering if there was any way I could cancel my meeting. I couldn’t think of a good enough excuse so I drank half a cup of strong tea (I knew caffeine was my only chance at this point) and stumbled through the day.
Afternoons were even harder than the mornings. When I found myself falling asleep at my desk I would grab my dog Ruby, who came to the office with me, and take her for a walk. If it weren’t for her I would definitely have been found slumped on my keyboard on several occasions. I worked right up to my due date, juggling nutrition jobs with moving house, desperately trying to cram everything in before the baby arrived.
I was due on Tuesday 10 May. I felt ready for the birth. We were booked in to the birthing centre at UCLH. I had my birth plan, my doula and I’d read the hypnobirthing book about 100 times. I had had such an easy time that I really believed the birth was going to be uncomplicated.
Five days later we were in the labour ward at 11pm, totally unprepared. I hadn’t brought my bag and the car was parked on a yellow line. We had gone in just for a check-up because I was worried that things were not as they should be. In a room full of people a doctor told me that they’d found meconium and that, although the baby was not in distress, they wanted to induce me immediately. It was a huge shock. I only cared about two things in my birth plan – I didn’t want to be induced and I wanted a water birth, both of which had just gone out the window. We consulted the doula and decided, against hospital advice, to go home. The pressure to stay was immense and I was made to feel as though I was putting my baby in danger.
It was the right decision to go home, however. My contractions started at 4am and we headed back to the hospital a few hours later. As my labour progressed through the day different doctors appeared from time to time, still talking about inducing me and trying to get me to take antibiotics, all of which I refused. We had discovered that the hospital had made a mistake about the meconium which, technically, put me back in the low-risk category so I felt confident saying no. Being low risk again meant I could be admitted to the birthing centre. Several shift changes and much confusion later I made it into a pool. My baby girl was born at 2.08am in the water, just as I had wanted. When she was handed to me, I looked at her and thought, you’re beautiful, you’re my baby, I really have a baby.