One time, I left a mum and baby class without staying to feed my son even though I knew he was about due one.
He woke up when we left, as he normally does if he hasn’t taken a feed in a few hours. I hurriedly said my goodbyes and made haste for the door. We trundled through the park to the post office, that I had to get to before 5. It was half 4. I could see him gurning, prayed that it wouldn’t escalate before we got home. Of course it did though. He started screaming right at that point where I was closer to my destination than to home.
“Aw, someone’s hungry”, commented the woman who served me in the post office, as he spat out his dummy and screamed.
The woman who held the door for me gave me a sympathising glance as I hustled him into the cold, hoping that might calm him down. But no. He continued screaming.
He screamed as I pushed the pram in the wrong direction and had to stand in the street with my phone out trying to figure out how to get home. He kept screaming as I hit upon the brainwave of feeding him in the safe, neon foyer of the New Victoria Hospital, a safe space, where I’d attended my midwife appointments and antenatal classes. I knew I could sit and feed him comfortably and without judgement. It was one of those piercing, sore-sounding, slightly pathetic screams that only newborn babies have. People tutted, gave us the side eye, dodged the pram to get by us without making eye contact. We made it to the hospital, he had his feed and we could make our way home.
The reason I didn’t want to feed him in the mum and baby class left me feeling ashamed. I didn’t want to feed him because he takes a bottle, the mum and baby class was a breastfeeding workshop and I was embarrassed. Lucas slept all the way through it while I tried to explain how hard and frustrating and tiring feeding had been. The other mums nodded and said yes, they were exhausted too, their precious darlings breastfed too much. One mum dominated the conversation humble-bragging about how tiring it was feeding a newborn and a twenty month old at once. I had to stop myself from telling her it clearly hadn’t had any positive effects on her twenty month old’s behaviour, as the little shit wrenched a succession of toys from the hands of an eight month old baby.
Some mums were nice, but they still had their own judgements. I said that our midwife had advised me to give Lucas pre-mixed formula as a top up. They tutted, turned up their noses, they shouldn’t be telling you that. They overlooked the fact that we’d been told this because Lucas had lost 13% of his body weight and had to be readmitted to hospital. It didn’t take into account his as-then-undetected tongue tie which meant he couldn’t latch on to breastfeed and was pretty much starving. This group felt like a last lifeline, though. All of the mum and baby workshops, baby cafés and support groups were for breastfeeding. There was no bottle-feeding support. If I couldn’t breastfeed him, where was I going to go? How would I meet other mums?
It turns out there are plenty of other options- it just didn’t feel like it at the time.
My post about Lucas’s first month, and a post on Instagram, detailed our experience with feeding and the tongue tie clinic and I got a lot of feedback from mums who’d been through similar. I still couldn’t find a lot of support for bottle feeding, though. Even buying formula online had a “breastfeeding is best!!!!” disclaimer slapped on it. Sure, the NHS website had a step-by-step guide to covering the basics, but the support is notable by its absence. The difference in menu options says a lot…
There’s bottle-feeding information, yeah, but look how- pardon the pun- formulaic it is. How to sterilise bottles, how to make up formula, what types are available. On the topic of breastfeeding, there’s a wealth of information about how to feed, what positions are best, feeding your baby in public, trouble-shooting, even testimonies from other mums. There are no testimonies from bottle-feeding mums.
I know, I know. I’ve seen the posters, read the literature, spoken with health professionals. I know “breast is best”. Bottle-feeding was never my first choice. For one thing, well, the health benefits. For another, the convenience. Like I could take my baby out for hours and not have to worry about making up feeds because they were right there. And yeah, the crucial factor for me, it’s free. Formula is EXPENSIVE and you only go through more of it because, let’s face it, your baby’s only going to get bigger.
What message does it send, though, that bottle-feeding is treated like such an afterthought even by our health service? I don’t mean this to descend into a breast vs. bottle debate, and it shouldn’t be. However, the drop in mums who breastfeed goes from 81% in hospital to 55% after six weeks. Surely they can’t all be ‘just lazy’? A study on baby café services in the UK concluded that unrealistic expectations from antenatal services left mums unprepared for the reality of feeding.
In my experience this was absolutely true. I wanted to breastfeed, so I never felt pushed into it by antenatal services. However, at no point did they say just how hard it’d be. I seem to remember there being talk of it being a new skill that you had to learn, but it revolved around the first couple of days in hospital. Lucas’s first feed, in the hour after he was born, went without a hitch. I mistakenly thought that was it. It was a different story at home. He couldn’t feed or get the energy to feed and so he cried. The more he cried, I cried, and the whole process just felt torturous.
We took him to the tongue tie clinic at the Royal Hospital for Children, in the hopes that it’d help him latch on. It didn’t, and we went back to the same routine. In between this he was happily taking formula. He was steadily putting on weight and the health visitor commented on how alert he was. I tried to express but got less and less each time. It came to a head when he screamed even before he tried to latch on. “What the fuck DO YOU WANT?” I yelled. Then it hit me. I was shouting at a baby for something that he couldn’t help or understand. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
This post by the brilliant Not So Smug Now was really eye-opening. I didn’t know that it was illegal to advertise formula. The government, it seems, views formula in the same regard as tobacco. The World Health Organisation isn’t too keen on it either, believing that its use should only be considered following an informed and impartial decision.
It’s a good thing that breastfeeding is being encouraged, as is the push to normalise it in public. Studies have shown that a woman’s decision to feed can be based on environmental factors, and that young mums are more likely to bottle-feed as it’s deemed as socially acceptable (although a big part of me thinks this is due to a confidence issue as much as societal). Expectant mums should absolutely encouraged to breastfeed, or at least be made aware of its benefits. However, if mums do choose (or have) to bottle feed, similar information and support should be offered.
MP Alison Thewliss published a bill last week on the marketing of formula feeding. She’s done a lot of work in promoting breastfeeding, and I agree with many of the points, but I do have some concerns. I definitely think it should be tested independently under scrutiny, and companies should be held accountable for misleading promotion. Independent findings should also take precedence over formula-sponsored ‘research’. It’ll allow mums to make a more informed decision regarding feeding choices, which can only be a good thing. I think follow-on and ‘hungry baby’ milks are a complete con, and shouldn’t be marketed as a supplement to weaning (we bought Lucas ‘hungry baby’ milk only to be told that it’s not more dense in nutrients. It just bulks up more).
Plain packaging feels like an easy target, like formula should be something that’s hidden away out of sight- much like tobacco products. Same goes for not allowing it to be discussed in mum and baby clubs. Excluding support for mums because of their feeding choices isn’t going to help them feel included and supported. I doubt that’s the intent, but who knows. You can read the bill here and make up your own mind. These measures aren’t going to increase breastfeeding awareness. That can only happen through education, continued research into feeding choices and better access to feeding consultants and postnatal care.
What I do know is that we need to refocus our own scrutiny. 50% of new mums in England and Wales feel that their mental and emotional wellbeing was overlooked due to a lack of access to midwifery care. In 2016, Citizens’ Advice reported a 58% increase in expectant mums raising concerns over employee rights. There is still a gulf between maternity pay and maternity allowance that can cause anguish for mums on zero hour contracts or who are self-employed.
Instead of shaming mums for their feeding choices, let’s direct that energy elsewhere. It’s a crazy notion, but let’s support them instead. Being a new mum can be an extremely lonely, vulnerable and emotional time. Lucas was referred to the tongue tie clinic a second time, but they said there wasn’t really much to be done. “If the bottle works for you, keep doing that- just enjoy him”. That’s exactly what we’ve done. As long as a baby is fed, clothed and loved, it’s no one else’s business what teat it prefers.
The NCT’s advice on bottle feeding includes how to prepare feeds and deal with common feeding problems.
The fantastically funny (and honest) ladies over at Frank About Feeding talk about all things breast and bottle- no prejudice here.
Fearless Formula Feeder, aka author Suzanne Barston, offers a refreshing look at formula feeding, with enough support and information to help you make an informed decision.
You can keep up with official developments from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding.
NHS Scotland has a with lots of resources.
Happy new year, everyone! The collective mess of 2016 has finally drawn to a close. Never has a year carried such a weight of anticipation as 2017. I know you can’t really blame a year for being ‘bad’. The loss of celebrity idols doesn’t equate to a ‘bad’ year (although Bowie and Alan Rickman within days was a bit sore). If we’re being really pernickety, time is linear and the concept of it is a man made construct, so we can’t constrict bad times to a 12 month period.
Still it’s always nice to put a full stop on a stressful time, which is what 2016 was for me- and a lot of friends, too.
It wasn’t all bad though. One of the good things about reflecting on the past year is remembering how much good actually happened. Upon reflection there was a lot to be thankful for. Even before I started blogging again I liked to have a wee look back on the year that was- it’s something I’ve always done at this time of year. Now that I have a blog again it’s nice to have a snapshot of different times of the year. I can see how my writing has developed (if at all- you tell me). It shows me how far I’ve come in a lot of aspects of my life. In this year of big change that’s been especially welcome. As is tradition I’ve compiled a wee list of some of my favourite posts of this year: ones that are special to me, that I’m especially proud of or ones that have had memorable responses. Let me know what you think of my choices… I haven’t even been blogging again for a year so I guess I’m still learning!
FYI, clicking on the post titles will take you straight to them.
This was my first post of the year, although it took me until February. I’d meant to write a travel post after our first Berlin trip in November 2015 but graduation, work and Christmas sort of got in the way. Three days in Oslo seemed like the perfect way to break myself back in to writing, and try something new with travel writing. It also meant I could show off the sweet skills of my new phone camera (alas, we can’t all afford the tools we’d like) and new found love for VSCO. Writing about something new helped to refocus me. It enlivened a love for writing that had lain dormant. I also wrote that Berlin blog after our second trip, which you can find here and here.
Despite being an early entrant, this was one of my favourite posts of the year. It wasn’t written with any agenda or expectation. I was completely free in writing it. It was just a nice way of documenting a spontaneous adventure, something different after a hectic 2015 and the start of (what I thought) would be a year of adventures. If there’s anything to take from this post, it’s that I should learn to just write for the enjoyment of doing it. It’s easy to write yourself into a rut but getting out of it can be tricky. It’s definitely something I’ll be taking with me in 2017.
In all honesty I got a little complacent after graduation. The job market started to pick up after new year but- other than just apply for ’em- I wasn’t doing much to make myself a Top Candidate. I fell into a routine of applying for jobs during the day, working in a bar at night time and being thoroughly miserable for the entirety. In March, I received a shock when I was let go, over the phone, without any warning or explanation. I wrote this post after weeks of trying to explore other options (such as employment tribunals) and realising that I had none. My case met all of the criteria for a tribunal, but as I was on a zero hour contract I had no entitlement. It left me feeling at the end of my rope. I felt like no one could help me- or wanted to. I wrote this post to make people aware of the conditions that zero hour staff worked under- regardless of the establishment. After posting it, I went for a walk to prepare myself for the negative feedback. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The outpouring of support was pretty overwhelming and I even got a new job- and a reconnected friendship- out of it.
This whole debacle was one of the biggest hidden blessings of the year. It forced me to rethink where I wanted to go, and look at areas in which I was lacking. It made me take action. I’d gotten lazy. I started looking into volunteering opportunities, and got more involved in the online blogging community. I took my story to my local MP who was immediately on board (because she is amazing). She took my case to Westminster and used it as part of a campaign against zero hour contracts. Unfortunately the DWP still thinks they’re a great idea but there’s a long way to go. The DWP is also headed by a man who allegedly believes in gay conversion while also getting embroiled in extra-marital sexting. Workers’ rights are really close to my heart but I didn’t get as involved as I would’ve liked last year. I’m excited to see what 2017 brings.
Speaking of unexpected twists…
Writing about personal issues has never been my forte. For all that I post on social media, it’s never that deep. I’m just not a very open person. Some people aren’t. I admire the openness of people who can wear their hearts on their sleeves, but that’s just not me. However the feedback from A Protest gave me a boost in confidence. I found that I could write about personal issues if I felt they could help other people. It didn’t make me feel all that vulnerable if I knew that other people might take something from it, or use it to further their own knowledge.
Our pregnancy announcement was met with an influx of congratulations but I felt like a fraud. It had taken us a long time to get to a happy place with the news. It was a shock for which we weren’t ready, or even sure that we wanted. My first reaction wasn’t excitement. It’s hard when every pregnancy announcement, blog or website talks about the joy of impending motherhood when you don’t know how you feel. The two weeks in between taking a pregnancy test and sharing our news were the loneliest and most terrifying of my life. We didn’t know how we were going to proceed and I couldn’t tell anyone until we did. I wanted to put a little contribution out there in my corner of the internet for anyone in the same position. I wrote this thinking that if at least one scared expectant mum saw it, she’d know she wasn’t alone. It was still scary to publish, but it turned out to be my most-read post thus far and the response was pretty overwhelmingly positive.
I could never have predicted the reaction this post received. This was only my third post of the year. I had no following. I wrote it so my friends could see it. The amount of shares, comments and messages that I received, from people who had felt the same, was unreal. It just showed that the way I felt wasn’t weird. It didn’t mean I was going to be a bad mum. It was normal. It was what spurred me to keep writing, but with the same honesty I’d put into this. To everyone who read this, or who will read it, I hope you manage to take something from it- and please know that however you feel, you’re not alone.
After months of writing pregnancy updates, I’d hit a wall. Writing about pregnancy had been a great way of helping me navigate it. There had been a few missed weeks where I’d been lacking in inspiration, working back shifts and getting home late or just felt a bit deflated. I’d tried to write different kinds of posts but a creeping self-doubt had set in. Posts where I’d tried to make a serious point descended into hormone-fuelled rants. Deviations from my usual content felt forced, uninteresting, unfunny. I couldn’t think of how to get out of it, but opted to stop trying to make it happen. In that time I’d noticed a pattern in comments people were making about me, my bump and pregnancy in general. The more it went on, and the more I smiled through gritted teeth, an idea came to me. I started taking note of the more common ones, mentally noting the things I wished I could say. Stuck at home with a bout of the lurgy one day, I wrote them all down and voila- a list long enough to make a post out of. Again I almost resigned this one to draft post purgatory in case it came across as ‘woe is me, no one understands my life choices’. To combat this I scheduled the post and busied myself for when it was due to launch. When I came back to it, it had already been shared by some new and expectant mum pals as well as- the ultimate test- child free pals, too. Not too shabby.
I guess a common theme here is to have more confidence in posts that I think people will hate. I know, you should write for yourself and not care what people think. The fact is, as much as writing is cathartic for me, it’s also about connectivity. Getting comments from people who’ve read what I’ve written, and have their own take on it, is the biggest compliment because it means they’ve engaged with it. Even if people don’t agree with me- well, it’d be boring if everyone thought the same. Pregnancy is such a topic of contention- I’d read a few posts and they can come across as a little sanctimonious. I made an effort to not come across that way, and I think it worked. This one taught me that just because a topic has been written about, doesn’t mean mine will be the same. My voice isn’t the same as anyone else’s. If I can take anything into my 2017 blogging agenda, it should be this.
Again there are so many “X Things Before x Years” posts out there, I never thought mine would be any different. However, approaching 30 felt like a big deal to me. One that should be marked. I’d never made a “30 things to do before I’m 30” list because, well, I didn’t really know where I was heading. All ambition and no direction has always been my downfall. The place I’m in now as a result is far removed from what I imagined. I thought about listing 30 things I should’ve done, but what would’ve been the point? Listing your regrets, and things you didn’t do, is a waste of time. It’s not going to make them happen. Instead I went a little more introspective and looked at what I’d learned instead.
Writing has always been really cathartic for me, and none more so than here. Not only that but it was revealing. Thinking about what I’ve learned in the last ten years made me realise how much I’ve actually done. It made me see how far I’ve progressed- maybe I’m not where I thought, but it’s been a hell of a journey getting here. Again I used a sick day (this time muscular pain which had pretty much left me bed-bound) and typed until I had a complete list. The first few took time but once they did, they kept coming. It helped me focus on my achievements rather than my failings. It reminded me that even when I thought I’d gone the wrong way, I’d still taken something from it. Reflection is eye-opening, and it can be scary, but this taught me that it’s worth checking in every once in a while.
OK so this one is a bit of a cheat since it’s technically two posts. One is a continuation of the other though, and they tell the same story, so it’s cool right? These posts were important for a couple of reasons. First of all, superficially, they were the first posts on this, my new blog domain. It seems trivial but it was a big deal for me. Blogging has always been a sideline for me, even with my increased content this year. It was never something I’d invested in (other than time). Investing in a new domain and theme meant paying actual money, which meant I had to really believe in what I was putting out- or rather, in where I was taking it. Going self-hosted was a big step for me and I looked into a lot of options before I did. I haven’t had much chance to get the best of it but it’s still early days.
Secondly- obviously- it gave me a chance to reflect on my birthing journey and share it with whoever might be interested. I didn’t want to present a sugar coated view of labour, but didn’t want to go into the blood, sweat and tears either. I like to think that months of writing about pregnancy in that way had made it easier to write about the birthing part, too.
I’m not sure I was prepared for how emotional this would be to write. After restarting my blog to document pregnancy, surely I knew all along that a birth story would be the natural end. As I said though, I’d gotten so used to pregnancy that it was hard to associate this baby with the bump I’d grown to love. The birth story was a definite full stop to a previous chapter. In the weeks that have passed, I’m glad that I have pregnancy posts to read back on. It’s nice to see everything that we got up to, and how it felt at the time. However, a very distinct new story has very definitely started. I might be a little melancholy to leave the old one behind. There was so much help along the way, check ins every few weeks, a definite end. The new one doesn’t have an ending, or much direction. That’s what makes it scary, but it’s also what makes it exciting.
Writing this post makes me feel a little conflicted.
On one hand, my main requisite for this blog was honesty. I wanted to write about pregnancy and everything that came with it, without sugar coating anything. After all, my first expectant mum post focused on how lonely the glut of pregnancy positivity made me feel. There are plenty of websites, blogs and magazines that glorify pregnancy and new mum life. These are fine- and once I started to enjoy pregnancy, gleefully embraced them- but they’re not really my kind of writing.
On the other, I also don’t want to share horror stories. Towards the end of my pregnancy I wrote about dumb things people say to expectant mums. Labour oversharing played a big part of this. No one who has yet to go through labour wants to hear how horrific it is. All mums to be have to go through it, and additional anxiety really doesn’t help. With that being said, there’s no getting away from it. This second part of Lucas’s birth story focuses on the actual *gulp* birth part- take that as a disclaimer if you wish.
In all honesty, labour is kind of a blur. I remember most of it- not the specifics, mind you, but overall. Looking back doesn’t seem anywhere near as long as it actually was. Most of it was spent floating in and out of consciousness in some glorious diamorphine dream. Yeah, it hurt. I can’t really lie about that part. It’s not pleasant. It’s pretty much common knowledge anyway. What I will say is that Lucas’s birth was about as straightforward as it could’ve been. Apart from a minor incident with a wrong entrance…
When we rocked up at the hospital we’d already battled through early morning commuters and a severe bout of car sickness (I always get that though, I’m a terrible passenger). We got confused about which entrance to use and ended up at A&E. This was when things started to get hazy but I remember a paramedic jumping into the driver’s seat and driving us round to the maternity entrance.
“I’ll take you straight in. I’ve got gas and air in my ambulance”
This woman was a straight up angel.
She walked me into the assessment ward, giving me a puffer of gas and air to help me make the walk. In all honesty it was probably the only thing that helped me make it. The whole way in, she chatted to me and Ally, trying to put our minds at ease, and walked me straight to a bed- with a final puff for good measure. I never saw her afterwards to thank her but I don’t know if I can ever really thank her enough. All I remember was that her name was Angela, and she didn’t have to help us but went out of her way to make us feel safe. When you’re going through a stressful or vulnerable time, a small act of kindness can mean so much. It really, really did.
Heads up. After all the excitement of getting to the hospital it can feel kind of anticlimactic once you’re there. The assessment part feels like it takes forever. I remember going for a check up before and being relieved to be sent home. At that moment I couldn’t think of anything worse. A nurse took my name and date of birth. When she told me it was for a bracelet because “you’re not going anywhere” I could’ve cried with relief. I was 5cm dilated and we were ready to go. This could only mean one thing though- I was going to the labour suite.
I don’t know what expectations people have about labour suites. I thought they’d be brightly lit, stark and sterile. By contrast, the first room was fine (other than the terrible radio station). There was a bed and my beloved gas and air, as well as natural light. As much as birth plans can go off track, it can be helpful to bring some home comforts. Even if the room isn’t what you expected you can always add some personal flourishes. I took our sofa blanket, my gym ball and some of the teddies we’d bought for l’il bean. The blanket was a godsend on the ward more than the suite, but the teddies were a nice touch. It helped me focus on why we were there. Alas, we weren’t in there long enough to decorate as the first room wasn’t to be. In my birth plan I’d asked for a birthing pool and thankfully one was available (birthing pools are generally first come, first served if it’s something you’re considering). The pool room was huge. I don’t know what I expected- something the size of my bath, maybe- but this thing could fully submerge me and the water was lovely and toasty. In case my dignity hadn’t gone far enough out of the window the day before, I also had a contraction while climbing into it. Ah, well.
My plan the whole way along had been the pool with gas and air for help. Not for bragging rights- I’ve mentioned before that’s something I can’t stand. Not taking additional relief doesn’t mean you coped with birth better, in the same way that getting a section doesn’t lessen your birthing experience. I just thought it’d mean a shorter recovery. We’d been told that being on the bed delayed labour too, so I thought the pool might ease things along. It didn’t work out that way. It was hard to stay submerged as contractions came on faster. The midwife kept asking if I wanted any additional help and the only thing putting me off was a fifteen minute wait for diamorphine to kick in. You had to get out of the bath then wait for it to work. It seemed a long wait and anyway, what if it didn’t work? Eventually I took it. It was for the best- the contractions were getting pretty gnarly. For the remainder of my labour I floated in and out of consciousness, waking up when a contraction came on to sook every ounce out of the gas and air then passing out again. It. Was. Awesome. Apart from my attempts to maintain normal conversation, that is. Know how when you try and talk to your mum when you’re drunk to cover up the fact that you’ve been drinking? It was like that, but way more intense.
The worst part about labour is not knowing when the end will be. Our midwife examined me when I came in at 8am and said she’d do so again at 1pm. For the rest of the morning I kept a hazy eye one the clock, feeling like 1pm was the longest time. I was clearly in pain. Couldn’t they just do it early? As it turns out, they didn’t have to. Shortly before one, the wee man was ready to make an appearance. I was only pushing for 17 minutes but it felt like an age. The thing they don’t tell you in antenatal classes is how you can feel them moving. It’s sooooo weird. Like you can feel them going in and out. My biggest concern had been keeping Ally away from the business end. No one wants to see that, and I wanted to retain at least some dignity and mystery in our relationship. When the time came to push I couldn’t have cared less if he’d been inspecting it himself with spelunking gear and a torch. I just wanted him out but it felt like I just couldn’t push hard enough. I gritted my teeth and prepared to bear down for the long run.
Until, all of a sudden, out he popped.
Usually in birth a head appears, then shoulders, then a pause before the rest. Not so in our case. In one (albeit mighty) push our baby went from being a li’l bean to a real, live little being. I mean, I didn’t see it myself but my source was pretty reliable. In Ally’s words, he “florped” out and rolled around the bed. I think that might be onomatopoeia. I don’t know, but it’s been the best word that we can think of. I just remember thinking that he was absolutely definitely a boy. The midwife scooped him up to wipe, weigh and measure him then placed him into my arms. And there he was, our baby son.
A lot of mums will have you believe that the first time you see your baby you get the instantaneous rush of love. Maybe they do, I’m not saying they’re lying about it. However it makes the rest of us worry. Like, what if I don’t feel it? Am I a terrible mum? What if I never feel it? Don’t worry. My first thought wasn’t “oh my god, I’m so in love”. I just watched him in amazement as the midwife did her thang, trying my best to comprehend his existence. It was the single most overwhelming emotion I’ve ever felt but it largely comprised of confusion and bewilderment. Even when she gave him to me I couldn’t quite make a connection between my bump- which I’d grown to love so much- and this baby. I felt extremely protective, but it was only hours later- when we were finally alone- that I realised the extremities of my feelings for him. They came from a place of love, but I couldn’t understand them. The diamorphine was working its way out and my hormones were creeping up on me. I couldn’t articulate to myself what it was that I felt, so I cried. It didn’t stop. I didn’t try to make it.
I don’t want to portray too much of the gory details of labour. Everyone’s birth story is different. If you’re an expectant mum, even the same steps as mine could yield totally different results. My birth story was personal to me and my family- if you’ve been through it, I’m guessing yours was too. If it’s impending, don’t worry. It’ll happen as it’s supposed to for you. Having a birth plan is a great way to rationalise what’s about to happen and gives you an anchor. However, don’t stress too much if it goes off track. It might be that you need a little extra help. What I will say is- don’t be a hero. If you need the drugs, take ’em. That’s why there are professionals on hand. Listen to your body. It sounds clichéd but try not to stress. If your baby needs some help to come out it’s not a failing on your behalf. Labour is tough on your body. It’s tiring, painful, uncomfortable and- in terms of time- unpredictable. Focusing on the end result helped me to stay calm (well, that and the drugs). Speak to the staff who are there to help you- they can advise you on what’s best and listen to any concerns. I cannot say enough about how wonderful our nursing staff were throughout our entire birth journey. People are quick to complain about the NHS but the staff at the Princess Royal Maternity couldn’t have done enough to help me and my new family. They got me through one of the most intense experiences of my life and ensured the safe delivery of the most precious present I’ve ever had.
We were in for three days while they monitored Lucas’s progress, observed him feeding and taught us the basics of bathing and changing. It was all so new, but felt totally safe. The ward was an impenetrable little bubble that existed only for us. When Sunday afternoon came, they told us we were free to go. We hung around a while to have some lunch, get washed up and say goodbye to our baby’s first home. My mum came to pick us up and we packed up our lives and prepared to set off into our new one.
“This is where your lives change forever” she said, as we walked outside to my dad’s waiting car.
We had no idea how right she was.
My last blog post ended on a somewhat optimistic note, as I mused over my impending maternity leave and preparedness for birth.
“I’ve written out my birth plan, we’ve packed mine and the baby’s hospital bags, Ally’s achieved the impossible and constructed IKEA drawers for the baby’s stuff in the time between him finishing work and me getting home. We’ve got a little rocker all set up in the corner, a cot, a pram and a car seat all ready to collect and a stockpile of nappies we’re adding to every week.
All we need is a li’l bean to fill them. I just hope we’re not waiting too long”
Less than 48 hours later, I was sitting in the maternity ward of the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital with my newborn son in my arms.
Everyone, meet Lucas.
I know, I know. It was a pretty big shock to us, too. When I’d said I hoped we wouldn’t wait too long, I meant ‘after my due date’. My last day of work was supposed to be the 9th of December, after which we’d have ten days to prepare ourselves for parenthood. I had so many plans: birth plans to finalise, playlists to make up, forms to fill in, a flat to clean, a breastfeeding DVD to watch, one last aquanatal class to go to and maybe- if I had time- hair to dye and nails to do.
It’s fitting that it didn’t turn out that way, really. My pregnancy was an unexpected surprise so why should the birth have been different? Much like that fateful day when I took a positive test, the birth saga itself feels like something I watched out of body. It’s hard to articulate without being matter-of-fact. I’ve already retold the story so many times that it feels like I’m running through the plot of something. I worried that it came across detached when the reality as quite the opposite. It was all I could do to keep my emotions intact to stop me feeling scared and overwhelmed. In order for me to do so, I had to treat it like any other day.
In the end up, I don’t know if going the full ten days would’ve made me any more prepared. I’d probably have sat at home, frustrated that I couldn’t do as much as I wanted. Yeah, some time off would’ve been nice. The way things ended up, it was for the best that li’l bean came out when he did.
I had a half day on the Thursday to go for my 38 week midwife appointment when I had the weirdest feeling. Walking up from the stairs from the train, I felt a sensation that was altogether warm and cold.
“Shit”, I thought. “I’ve pissed myself”.
Pregnancy is a pretty undignified process at the best of times. You lie in clinical rooms while strangers poke and prod you, ask intimate questions about your health and have a feel of your bones and muscles. You swell in areas you didn’t know you could and bloat beyond recognition. Still, though. Pissing myself? That was a new one. I’d drank a lot of water in order to take a sample to my appointment and figured I’d left it too long. It briefly crossed my mind that it might be my waters but honestly, I had NO IDEA what that entailed. In the early stages of labour you generally have your show first, then your waters break, then you get contractions. There’d been no sign of the first stage, which meant to me that I was in the clear. I thought your waters erupted in a gush, like The Shining’s elevators but with amniotic fluid. In any case I toddled to my appointment and was sure they’d let me know otherwise. I got there, they took some bloods, listened to the baby’s heartbeat and felt my tummy.
“His head’s engaged”, one of them said. “How have you been feeling?”
“Well, I actually thought my waters had broken”- she winced- “but it turned out I’d just peed myself”
Apparently this is a really common occurrence, so they didn’t second guess. I didn’t even realise it was still going. I told them I was finishing work the following day, they both wished me well and hoped I’d get some rest before baby came along. I made my appointment for 39 weeks, went into town to pick up some Christmas shopping and realised the pee was still going. It continued the whole way around town. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s ever had a little accident in The Disney Store but I’m sure the overwhelming majority are of single-digit age. By the time I got home, I had what felt like pretty gnarly menstrual cramps too. A bath didn’t help, and neither did a bounce on my gym ball. The li’l bean had given a few grumbles but nothing to suggest that he was on his way. The constant dull cramp had given way to sporadic bursts but it was nothing that a couple of paracetamol, peppermint tea and an early night couldn’t fix. Or so I thought.
As the night went on so too did the ‘bursts’, but due to a lack of show I chalked it up to Braxton Hicks. Ally kept insisting that I phone the midwife. It was only an hour later, when I realised that I was still- umm- leaking, that I took him up on it. When she asked if my waters had broken, I detailed the peeing myself debacle. She told me that it was a continuous process and I explained that it had been going on for about ten hours.
“It does sound like you’re in the early stages of labour. Keep timing your contractions and contact us when they’re about 3-4 minutes apart”
Ffffffuuuuuuucccckkkk. This couldn’t be happening. We weren’t ready. I had playlists to make up. Forms to fill. A week’s worth of me time to catch up on. It was ten days early. But no, contractions were coming on heavy and before I knew it, it was 4am and I was bouncing around on my ball while we double and triple checked our hospital bags.
Even looking back at it all now feels like I’m watching someone else. I don’t remember feeling scared or apprehensive as long as things kept ticking along. I felt very matter of fact. We busied ourselves with organising and tidying, pushing away the thought that every contraction as following closer than the last. Time seemed to stand still and tick away all at once. A follow-up call to the midwife confirmed that things were on track and I should go for a bath. I sat in it for almost two hours. It was gross.
The standard advice for mums to be is to stay home as long as possible before going into hospital. It’s supposed to be that your home is a familiar environment, it’s where you feel safe. That’s all good in theory but being at home was starting to have the opposite effect on me. I’d messaged my friends, my mum was on her way, my bags where packed. I’d started to normalise as much as I could but it was running out fast. I wanted to be where there were professionals and equipment to monitor my baby. I could only ration so much. It suddenly seemed ridiculous when my biggest concern was making my mum wait outside while I wrapped myself in a towel while still in the bath.
In the end, when she came to get us, we didn’t even phone the hospital. We just left. We piled out and the fresh air burst our little bubble. I thrust my phone at Ally, insistent that he phone my manager to say I wouldn’t be in for my last day. After that last piece of life admin was taken care of, I finally felt like this was it. I was in labour. Nothing was going to make it go away, other than actually having my baby.
But that’s a story for another day.