“It’s kind of weird. I never really liked children all that much, but I knew I always wanted babies,” says the Today FM presenter Paula MacSweeney.
“I have five sisters and two brothers, so my parents have 23 grandchildren, and I’d say I babysat maybe twice. It’s funny, when it’s your own it is so different. But I always knew I wanted my own.”
MacSweeney and her husband discussed having a family from “quite an early stage” in their relationship. “It’s one of those conversations that, had it been five years earlier, it probably would have scared the other person half to death. We were on the same page, thankfully,” she says, laughing.
When we found it was ectopic, the baby was in the Fallopian tube; the little heart was beating away. And that killed me. My consultant, she was so kind, but so firm
“We decided to have Roddy, and almost straight away we were expecting him. We were so grateful for that, because it’s only once you start having babies you realise it’s not a given, and it’s not something that just happens when you decide, unfortunately.”
MacSweeney, sadly, discovered this for herself following a “very easy” pregnancy with her first child. When Roddy turned one, she and Aidan decided to try for another baby.
“I was desperate for a new baby. He was a toddler at that stage, I was thinking, Oh my God, I need to give him a sibling. And again, luckily, first try we were pregnant. I had quite bad morning sickness, but I had that with Roddy. This one I probably felt a bit worse, but, again, you take it as a great. You think, Oh, this is brilliant.
With a previous trouble-free pregnancy under her belt, MacSweeney looked forward to her early scan. “I skipped in with Aidan, I was so excited.” But the news wasn’t good. MacSweeney’s pregnancy was ectopic.
“What really killed me was, when we found it was ectopic, the baby was in the Fallopian tube; the little heart was beating away. And that killed me, and I remember saying, ‘Is there anything?’ And my consultant, she was so kind, but so firm – I was under no illusion that there was anything that could be done. And I went into the operation knowing that the tube was probably going to go, too, because at nine weeks, obviously, the foetus was big enough to do some damage. That really still plays on my mind.
“I was very lucky that it didn’t rupture,” she says. “It would have been very painful, first of all, but it could have done maybe more damage to my ovary. One ovary will halve your fertility. So I was very lucky in that respect, but I remember saying to Aidan, emotionally it might have been easier because it would have been out of my control.
“I had to sign a form, and I remember pausing and saying to the consultant, ‘There’s definitely nothing?’ It’s that heartbeat, knowing it’s there. Knowing it’s your much-wanted baby. God, that’s hard.”
After posting her story on social media MacSweeney received huge support from people she didn’t even know. “The kindness bowled me over; the openness as well. People sent me messages of support, of maybe their own experiences of that, and I have to say most of it really did uplift me.”
“It was mostly women who got in touch, and a lot of them knew exactly how I felt, what I was going through. And they made me feel better. A lot of them said, look, I have a four-year-old now, after it happening. And things like that are lovely, but ‘You’ll have another baby’ was something I never wanted to hear again, even though it came from the right place. Not one person set out to say the wrong thing.
I remember a listener, a lady, sent me something that I will keep forever
“For nine weeks your whole life starts being planned around this new person coming into your family. It’s a person to you. ‘Is it a boy? Is it a girl?’ All this kind of stuff, and you go, ‘That’ll be my due date.’ Everything in your life shifts around this new pregnancy, and this new baby that’s on the way, and then it’s all taken from you.
“I remember a listener, a lady, sent me something that I will keep forever. Obviously, this happened at the end of November, and at Christmas, into the office arrived an envelope, and I opened it up and she had knit me this little angel that you just hang on your Christmas tree. It was really soft, it was really beautiful. The note just said ‘I lost a baby. I made one of these, and every Christmas I put it on the tree, and it makes me think of my baby’.
“And I thought, That is so beautiful, that is so perfect. Because, first of all, it was kind: she took time out of her day to do that for me. But she acknowledged that’s exactly what I needed; that was my baby. And even when I took it out this year, I’ll be honest, it actually upset me a bit, but not in a bad way. I was so grateful. It was such a beautiful present, and I’ll have it forever.”
When MacSweeney became pregnant again she was nervous as she approached her six-week scan. But once the scan confirmed all was well, she took a “stoic approach” to the remainder of her pregnancy. “It’s such a special time, and I didn’t want to be worried about every kind of twinge.”
MacSweeney found having a baby during a pandemic a very different experience. “I’m so glad it wasn’t a first, because I feel so sorry for couples or for people going in to have their babies, or to have their pregnancy, which I had enjoyed so much with Roddy, on their own without their partner.
“With the pandemic and everything, Aidan was obviously at home with Roddy, so I don’t think he’d have been able to come in anyway, but luckily I had a very lovely, positive experience, and I didn’t need him there the way some people absolutely needed their partners in the last year.
“The thought of Aidan not being with me the day I got that bad news, I can’t even go there. Imagine making that phone call and going out to the car park. It’s just beyond comprehension to me. I think it’s actually a little bit barbaric. I know why hospitals are doing it, but I don’t think it’s right.”
Most of the outlets typically available to new mums have been severely restricted as a result of the pandemic, and MacSweeney’s postpartum period following the birth of her second child, Pixie, has proven very different from the first time around.
While MacSweeney is accepting that her own opportunities to get out and about may have been curtailed as a result of having a toddler and a baby now, she’s very aware of how the restrictions may be affecting first-time mums. “Having that support and having that outlet, meeting other mams who are also exhausted, or have a sore nipple, it’s great to talk to them. And I feel sorry for them. It’s so hard.”
The only negativity I've received is from breastfeeders, because I haven't done it for long enough
MacSweeney is currently breastfeeding her daughter, Pixie, but unlike her own mother she has had lots of positive experiences and kind comments about breastfeeding. “My mam said she was looked upon like a weirdo for breastfeeding. I think it’s definitely in the family – all my sisters breastfed, I breastfeed, it’s what you’re used to. My mam remembers her mam breastfeeding, so my mam did it. I remember my mam breastfeeding, so I did it.
“But this elderly lady came up to me and said, ‘This is wonderful. It’s wonderful to see the youth doing it. I did it.’ And she had this little story, like my mam would have, people looking at her back in the day, and she had to go to a bathroom to try and feed her baby, and I remember thinking, God, would people bother at all now if it was still like that? But all I got was a kind word or a squeeze on the shoulder, or ‘You’re doing great.’
“The only negativity I’ve received is from breastfeeders, because I haven’t done it for long enough,” she says, explaining that she breastfed her son for 5½ months. “I think if you do it a day, week, a month, every feed is brilliant, and they should be applauding that as opposed to, ‘You didn’t do enough.’
“I feeling like I’m dancing in a field with my baby and the sun’s shining,” MacSweeney with, laughing, “but honestly that’s how I feel when I breastfeed. I’m lucky I had two babies who were natural feeders. They latched on, on day one, and off they went. I just love the bond. I love looking down at them and seeing them asleep when they’re feeding. For me it was so easy, every bit of it. They can’t synthesise some of the stuff that’s in breast milk. It is actually magic. I just love it.”
The pressure to look a certain way after giving birth isn’t something MacSweeney has felt this time. “After I had Roddy, I remember that summer joining Slimming World and doing a few weeks of that and then thinking to myself, What am I doing? This is ridiculous.
“I unsubscribed from every diet thing that I followed online and every model that was showing us what powder she was drinking to make herself look like that. I was never going to look like that, and I’m okay with that. I’m 35 years old, and I’ve got two children. I’m young, I’m healthy, I’m fit-ish. I like how I look.”
Parenting in my Shoes
Part 1: Vicky Phelan
Part 2: Lynn Ruane
Part 3: Keith Walsh
Part 4: Victoria Smurfit
Part 5: Billy Holland
Part 6: Joanna Donnelly
Part 7: Eileen Flynn
Part 8: Matt Cooper
Part 9: Hazel Chu
Part 10: Ciara Kelly
Part 11: Dil Wickremasinghe
Part 12: Alison Curtis
Part 13: Dáithí Ó Sé
Part 14: Brendan O'Connor
Part 15: Anne Dalton
Part 16: Gary O'Hanlon
Part 17: Paula MacSweeney