Aggie, or Agnieszka, which is her Polish name, is one of my amazing midwifery colleagues who I met when we trained together in London. She is an incredible midwife, so anyone in London should look her up! Aggie has kindly agreed to share her experience with us below about when she first arrived to the UK and had Adam when she was twenty-three.
I came to the UK in 2005 because I was madly in love with Adam’s father. I followed my heart and moved to England after I finished university. We didn’t plan to get pregnant so soon, but I became pregnant ten months after arriving in the UK. I was in Bristol, living with my friends and he was living and working in London.
My pregnancy was very positive because I was with my friends who were very supportive. My Polish friends were very protective of me and took very good care of me. I shared a house with three friends and they all took it in turn to take care of me and ‘the bump’ so I never felt isolated or alone. I was able to work, I enjoyed my work, I had supportive colleagues and a supportive manager. I had a good relationship with my midwives and I felt safe and cared for.
I felt like pregnancy was normal and I loved every day. I always said I could be pregnant all my life. I felt amazing; my hair was shining, my skin was glowing. It was like a little bubble. I was the lucky one who never had any problems with morning sickness and I never had any complications. I had no idea how maternity care would be in England or in Poland. I just focused on the fact that pregnancy is a normal state of mind and body and I trusted my body. I knew I could grow this baby, I can birth this baby and I can feed this baby. It was as simple as that. I did not over think or have any doubts. I was just going with the flow and following the advice of my midwives.
I was the first one in my family to give birth out of the country and my family was very supportive. When I was pregnant I went to visit my grandparents a couple of times but my parents were in the US and because my visa was denied I couldn’t go there and they couldn’t come here. Technology really helped and we regularly Skyped with our families and that kept me going. I wished I had my family around but you have to make the best out of the situation, so I decided to do that and to make the best out of the situation I was in.
As my pregnancy progressed, I learnt about the maternity system. I knew that I had choices. I knew my analgesia options during labour, who could be with me at the birth of my baby. I really trusted the midwives; they were amazing. They had organised the most amazing parent education including physio classes, nappy changing classes and people came and talked to us about newborn care. I felt really prepared for the birth. I managed to build a great relationship with them and that was the spine of my pregnancy. I even remember going for my scan and the sonographer was very nice and explained everything to me. I was surprised that I would only have two scans but understood that was fine as my baby was well and I also felt well.
I was planning to move to London and have my baby in London. To ease the process, I did my research. I knew which hospitals were in the area and I chose the hospital I wanted to be cared by. It took a lot of planning to make the transition between Bristol and London as smooth as possible. I registered with my GP the same day I moved to London, I photocopied my notes and I completed my antenatal education. I made sure I took everything the midwives suggested to London. When I moved, I had one more appointment with the midwife and I went into labour and that was it.
The birth its self, didn’t go to plan because my water broke and he pooped inside. I knew from my midwives that if my waters were not clear, that I should I go to the hospital to get checked and that I would be offered an induction of labour. When that happened, the midwife asked me how I was going to get to the hospital and I said I was going to drive. I wasn’t contracting; it was just my water leaking everywhere. I remember I drove myself to the hospital and then I was admitted and my car ended up being in the hospital for four days and I had to drive myself back home when I had given birth!
I was induced, I was on oxytocin, I had an epidural and it was amazing. Everyone did all they could to look after me. They whisked me to theatre in no time because he got a bit distressed towards the end but I felt safe with the team around me. Adam was born at handover time, but my midwife stayed with me until he was born. I had a name for Adam throughout the pregnancy. He was meant to be called Maximilian but when he was born, I saw his little face and it was like his name came out of my chest, and it was ‘Adam’. I was like ‘oh where is this coming from?’, but I liked it so I decided to keep it!
The most challenging time for me was the postnatal period. I was quite isolated because my partner went back to work, I had left my friends behind in Bristol and I didn’t know anyone in London. Adam’s Dad’s friends were all men. One of them was very helpful. He had a wife and two children who were in Sri Lanka so he took on the role of guiding Adam’s dad and I and would stay with us every weekend for a few weeks to help us. He taught us how to bathe Adam, he cooked and explaining things to us. Having a bit of a routine also helped. I went to the park at the same time of the day, did the shopping at the same time of the week, I knew my partner was coming back from work at the same time and that he could relieve me. Those were my checkpoints that kept me going.
I think when I was pregnant I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to have this cute little baby and it’s going to be all so sweet’. Actually its hard work and it only hit me once he was born! That is when I realised that I should have stayed in Bristol, had the baby there with the support of my friends, and then moved to London when I was recovered. Had I had as much support around me as during the pregnancy, I would have had as much fun as I had when I was pregnant.
Using my experience when caring for women at work
When working as a midwife I always ask women who are giving birth in London who are not British, about the social, cultural and economic situations that they are in. I try to ask where they are from and where their families are and remind these women to seek advice from job centres, to find out their rights and I will direct them to the right people if I can. I also talk to them about the things that affected me when I had Adam.
As I’m Polish, a mum and a midwife and as I’ve been in the UK for 15 years, I have a lot of women asking me questions and asking for advice. They always ask how long I have been in this country. That’s the opportunity I take to tell a little bit of my story and to show them that they can do it.
If I could advise someone in a similar situation
o You need to learn the language so you can communicate and not be afraid. When you’re pregnant, you can still attend college. When I was pregnant, I was attending college and I took the exam at the end of my pregnancy. Pregnancy should not stop you from getting your education and your language skills.
o You should educate yourself about the system you are in. You need to ask questions about the maternity care and your choices and to read the right information from the right sources. Don’t go on facebook, twitter or some dodgy website. Go on a government website, charity website and ask your midwife what is the best source of information. Look at a good book, listen to a good podcast, speak to your midwife and attend your antenatal classes.
o You need to know your rights as a worker when you’re pregnant and that will empower you to make the right choices for yourself.
o Try to make friends. You just need one or two good friends who will be there when you’ve had your baby. You can go to classes or to the park with other mums and just interact and chat. Try be one step ahead because social isolation can happen. You can be a shining star in your social circle but once you have your baby who needs your attention, you may lose 80-90% of those people.
o Form some kind of loose routine and go out as much as possible. Interact with people and talk to people in the shops. I used to do it out of desperation. I would go to Tesco and people would stop me and say ‘Oh look at your little girl’, because Adam had long hair, and I would ignore the fact that they had said he was a girl and I would just chat with them! I laugh now but it helped.
Most of all, it does go very fast, so try to enjoy and make the most of it. Have lots of kisses and cuddles and skin to skin because one day, before you know it, they are thirteen and they won’t want it anymore!