Letter to myself: What I've learned as a mother living with heart failure
In a letter to her younger self, Laura Donald reflects on the emotional and physical challenges she faced as a new mother diagnosed with heart failure.
It’s a few days since you had your baby, a little girl, and you still haven’t met her. She shouldn’t have arrived for nine weeks but, unbeknown to you, you had heart failure. It was too dangerous for you to continue to be pregnant or to be conscious during her delivery.
This is not how you had expected your new life as a mother to begin. You are shocked, scared and miserable, but I promise that things aren’t going to be as bad as you fear.
You feel there’s something the doctors aren’t telling you, probably that you’re about to die.
The diagnosis of heart failure certainly sounds like a death sentence. This is not true – your heart is not failing to keep you alive, it’s just failing to work as effectively as it should.
You’ll be repeatedly advised not to Google your condition and, in your understandably anxious state, you’ll presume that’s because people think you can’t handle the truth.
If you have questions, ask your medical team. The information you get from them will be more accurate and less scary
Weeks down the line, steeling yourself, you’ll turn to the internet for answers. Every thing you read will terrify you, and you’ll become more anxious and depressed.
Truthfully, the majority of what you read online doesn’t apply to you – that’s the real reason you were told not to read it! My advice? If you have questions, ask your medical team. The information you get from them will be more accurate and less scary.
Not all the gloomy predictions made by medical professionals will come true. The nurse who tried (and failed) to cheer you up by saying you would be able to take your daughter to the park, but would have to watch from a bench, was wrong. It won’t be easy, but you’ll push your daughter’s pram to the park and back hundreds of times and, when she’s bigger, you’ll play or dance or run together almost every day.
The nurse who sounded cheerful as she blurted out the news that you wouldn’t be able to have any more children was, unfortunately, right. This will be the hardest part to come to terms with. You will be broken-hearted for years.
Every pregnancy announcement will be unbearably painful and you’ll cry in the street at the sight of a stranger with a swollen belly. You’ll even avoid your best friend and your own sister for nine months at a time.
You’ll look into surrogacy, adoption, the risk of another pregnancy… It won’t be until you’ve fully explored every avenue that you can begin moving forwards.
You and your daughter will be incredibly close and you’ll love having the time and energy to be part of every single stage of her life
Over time you’ll realise that having an only child has benefits. You and your daughter will be incredibly close and you’ll love having the time and energy to be part of every single stage of her life. You’ll have fantastic times doing things that bigger families, for financial or practical reasons, often can’t manage.
Your daughter will have wonderfully close relationships with her friends and cousins. One day you’ll feel glad that things turned out as they did.
The years leading up to that point will not be easy. Your sadness and anxiety will turn into depression. You’ll take a long time to accept this, viewing your feelings as a natural response to a difficult situation, but the hopelessness you are experiencing is unhelpful, unnecessary and unfounded.
You’ll be offered antidepressants and the chance to talk regularly with a psychologist. You’ll delay pursuing these, sceptical. They won’t change the fact you have heart failure, but they will enable you to take a step back from your feelings, deal with your situation rationally and, eventually, feel happier than ever before.
The tough times make you reassess what you want from life. Work will become less central and you’ll reduce your hours until you find the perfect balance.
You will find active hobbies that you enjoy (you’ll become a pretty darn good hulahooper!) and do your best to be healthy.
You’ll be wiser and happier and you’ll enjoy using your experience to help others going through something similar.
You’ll be amazed at the support you receive. Colleagues will become friends, friends will become family, and family will become invaluable. Your parents will be beyond amazing and you’ll be delighted when they retire and move house to be closer to you and your daughter.
Your partner Graham will step up to such an extent that, three years from now, you’ll ask him to marry you! Will he say yes? Well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise...
Ultimately, you’ll see that heart failure is not the end of the world. Life will be good.
Give that tiny baby a kiss from me when you meet her, which will be very soon.