Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Falling in love

I always thought I'd have children. Two in fact. I'd love being pregnant, give birth, and fall in love with my baby. But in reality it wasn't quite like that. 

The birth wasn't as I'd hoped. A hemorrhage left me with severe anaemia, and pretty much out of it. I struggled to drink, to eat, to function. I even fell asleep with food in my mouth, sat upright in a chair. I was re-hospitalised two days after going home, a frightening experience. None of this helped me bond with my new daughter. 

Two minutes after E was born, she was taken from me as I started to haemorrhage. She cwtched skin to skin with the other-half-of-us instead, something that gave him a massive leap ahead with his bonding with her. He fell in love instantly. I simply struggled to stay conscious. When calm ensued once more, my tiredness combined with blood loss meant that although I managed to feed E, all I could think about was the need to sleep. I didn't really see E until the next morning, this tiny girl with masses of dark hair and rosebud lips. 

Looking back, the next few days are blurred in my mind, hazed over by my illness. I fed E, changed her when the other-half-of-us wasn't there, and cuddled her when she cried. Instinct took over, and I gave her as much care as I could, while not really being with it. Day three was my personal hell, the night even worse. Extreme tiredness and painful feeding led to a huge internal battle with myself- wanting to leave but needing to stay. I am sad now that I missed this precious time being properly with her, yet so glad I battled on through. 

Don't get me wrong. I felt an attachment to her. I wanted to feed her, to care for her. I just didn't feel the overwhelming love I expected. 

As my iron levels increased, and I slowly returned to myself, I began to get to know this little person for the first time, to soak her in. I saw her personality, her tucked up legs, her tiny nails. I saw her eyes, her hands, heard her strong newborn cry. As the days passed, and we got to know each other more and more, I started to like her, to love her. 

I had to fall in love with my baby girl, a process over days and weeks, not minutes or hours. I had to learn about her, get to know her, and feel better in myself before I truly started to fiercely love her. 


Feeding and some of the views we've had

E has been solely breastfed from birth until now (8 weeks 3 days and counting). For me this statement comes with a great sense of achievement, mainly due to the fact that I didn't give up. It is not that I believe she has to be breastfed, rather that I kept going with it despite everything. Some women can't breastfeed, or find it too difficult, for so many reasons. As far as I'm concerned you need a happy mummy to have a happy baby, and the method of feeding is mostly irrelevant.

I decided early on I wanted to breastfeed. I am inherently lazy, and the idea of having to sterilise bottles, get water at the right temperature, and mix the formula before each feed, seemed rather too much effort! Add into that the cost of a tin of milk, as well as the other benefits of breastfeeding, and I decided I would give it as good a go as I could.

We didn't get off to the best start. After my haemorrhage, I was barely with it for days, if not weeks. I struggled to even feed myself. The other-half-of-us literally did everything (other than overnight in hospital when he wasn't allowed to stay) for the first two weeks. Yet I battled on with the feeding. The midwives in the hospital were amazing, and kept helping me latch her on every time I asked in the first 48 hours. To start with I found it really painful and alien. Lansinoh lanolin was my saviour, keeping the soreness to a just about tolerable level, although I do remember crying during feeding a fair few times.

Overnight on day three was one of the worse nights of my life, and it took all my willpower not to give in. One factor may have been that we had no formula and there are no 24 hour supermarkets here, so there was no other feeding option, but I would like to think that my stubborn nature also helped me through.

E loves to feed. At times she would barely go an hour between feeds (from the start of one feed to the start of the next), not aiding my soreness. A friend tried to help stretch her time between feeds one weekend, but I couldn't bear the crying, and felt that she knew when she needed food so I should just feed her. Now she can go around 2 hours most of the time, more if she sleeps, and about 6 hours at night. Our main issue now is her writhing around as she feeds, mainly due to wind.

I have tried never to let feeding get in the way of doing things. As we demand feed, letting E choose when she wants food, I can never plan what we do around her feeding, and so quickly became used to feeding wherever we are. We have fed in cafes, in the car, on the beach, perched on rocks, sat on the floor... anywhere and everywhere!

Some things that have helped me:
  • Nipple cream - using lanolin to help sore nipples really is amazing
  • Relatching - knowing how to detach her in the early days and trying again to get a less painful latch really did lead to less stressful (and painful) feeds
  • Sleep! - Now she can go 6 hours between feeds at night, giving me a much longer period of sleep, I am much more able to deal with any stresses during feeding
  • Time - It is true, the first few weeks are the hardest, and it really does get easier
  • Good breast pads - Lansinoh pads seem to work best for me as they stick in place better, are larger, and much more absorbent than other brands
  • A dummy - E is what the midwife called a 'sucky' baby. She suffers terrible wind and finds sucking a huge comfort. When we realised some of her feeding was simply a comforting device, we introduced a dummy at a month old to take off some of the pressure. It has really helped!
Now I can even say that I enjoy feeding her at times, listening to the little noises she makes, and wondering at this little amazing creature who was born knowing how to suckle. 

Eight weeks in

E is now 8 weeks old! She has started to chat away and gives glorious smiles. We are well and truly in love.

She loves to stand up, held by the hands and look around. In fact she enjoys watching everything so much she rarely wants to sleep during the day. At some points we've gone 13 hours with only a couple of 10 minute catnaps! She takes everything in, rewarding the things she likes with a broad smile. The downside of course is that she gets overtired and then gets herself very wound up and upset, making it even harder to get her off to sleep. Somehow though we are still doing well at going to sleep at night after her 11 or 11:30 feed, sleeping through to 5 or 6.

Her noises have started to widen both in the sounds she makes and the volume. She certainly likes to make herself known. My favourite is currently an 'nnn gehhh' sound.

We have her 8 week immunisations tomorrow. I'll be interested to see how she copes.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The birth story I didn't want

My birth story isn't the one I wanted. I didn't really make a birth plan, other than liking the idea of a water birth, but even so I felt let down by the reality of what happened.

A week or so before my due date, the baby started to shudder and have strange movements. After speaking to the midwife I had to go into hospital to be assessed. Monitoring of the baby's heart rate produced no evidence of a problem (other than the movements causing the monitor to disconnect during the one episode recorded), and I was sent home. I had to return two days later for further monitoring, again with no problems seen, and again in another two days to see the consultant. At this point I was told they would induce me the following day, 'just in case'.

I was given no option in the matter. With hindsight I wish I could have refused, but hindsight isn't there at the time. I felt that I had to follow a medical professional's opinion, and knew that if I refused and there was something wrong with my baby, I would never forgive myself. I did ask about increased risks etc with induction, but was told there were no real drawbacks for me, and I could still have a water birth if I wanted. I went home, repacked my bags, and spent a last quiet evening with the other-half-of-us. I didn't do any research into induction, for which on one hand I'm grateful I didn't know what was coming, and on the other hand wish I'd been prepared for the reality of induction.

The following morning, after a delayed start due to the number of women already giving birth, we headed to the hospital. In a way it was nice to travel calmly with no rush, but looking back now I realise I expected and almost wanted that middle-of-the-night hospital dash of excitement and fear, just one of the many parts of my 'expected' labour that didn't happen.

Once at the hospital, things were slow to start with. I had a pessary inserted, and a sweep given at the same time (with the comment that they were surprised I hadn't been given a sweep prior- another thing I regret not having happened). For a few hours not much happened, and the other-half-of-us and I whiled away the time chatting together (with a walk to M&S to get some food!) until he had to return home. As night approached, contractions started with a vengeance. By 1am they were under 3 minutes apart and lasting over a minute each, and there was no chance of sleep. With my TENS machine going I, paced the corridors for most of the night, something I apparently became known for by the staff: various midwives later commented on how they'd seen me wearing a groove in the floor that night. I think I coped pretty well at this stage, thinking that things were surely progressing.

In the light of day, with an internal examination, a hard reality hit: nothing had happened. The cervix was still in pretty much the same state as before I had had a single contraction. I felt defeated, as if all those hours had been for nothing. I now know that induced labours tend to have more painful contractions for longer than non-induced labours, a fact I wasn't aware of at the time. I simply felt I had let myself down in some way. To make matters worse for my mentality, I was also informed that induced labours have to be monitored throughout, and therefore I was not allowed a water birth. At around 6am I was encouraged to have a bath to see if that helped. I sat in it and cried my eyes out.

As the contractions continued to build I was moved into a private room. The other-half-of-us soon arrived; my rock and support back with me. I finally accepted painkillers (paracetamol), and as the pain increased, tried gas and air. It did not agree with me. As soon as I started breathing it in, I felt dizzy. I had to stop breathing it as soon as I reached the peak of the contraction to prevent myself passing out, but this meant half of each contraction with no pain relief. The midwife commented she never wanted to see me take recreational drugs as I reacted so strongly to gas and air! A trip to the (ensuite) toilet was a mission, supported by the other-half-of-us, and those contractions made me miss the gas and air even with the effect it had on me.

After what seemed like eternity and an infinite number of contractions, an internal examination at around midday revealed I was at 3-4 cm dilated. Again I simply felt defeated, as if all this pain was achieving so little. I told the other-half-of-us I was done, that I couldn't go on. I was moved to a delivery room, now labour counted as 'established', involving a slow stagger along the hall, basically held upright by the other-half-of-us, gown hanging open for all to see! Once in the delivery room, an epidural was suggested. At first I held back, having decided previously I wanted to avoid one, but soon gave in as I realised I was in no fit state to carry on otherwise. It turns out the midwife had already ordered the epidural before I consented, knowing that it was the best plan of action for me, but she did an amazing job of still making me feel I had made the decision myself, that I still had some kind of control over my labour. My mentality had hit a new low, and I needed a new plan.

I am led to believe that the epidural had to be placed twice as the first did not work very well. All I remember is the torment of having to keep still while contraction after contraction raged. I clung onto the other-half-of-us for dear life! But what a difference once it started to work. I could have kissed the anesthetist. With each trickle of icy water on my thighs feeling less and less cold, the pain of each contraction began to ease. I felt like I had re-entered my mind again, like I could think better without the cloud of hellish pain. At this point I apparently turned back into me, and started apologising to the midwife and the other-half-of-us for my behaviour. The next few hours are the time I remember least of the labour. With the pain reduced, I watched the contractions roll past on the monitor, drank water, and calmed right down.

At 4pm, the next internal revealed I was almost fully dilated. I felt such relief. What a difference those four hours had made. I was told we would wait another hour for the last tiny bit of cervix to move out of the way, but before the hour was up the midwife said she couldn't wait any longer and checked again. Now fully dilated, I was at the pushing stage.

This bit was tricky having had an epidural. In theory I understood how I needed to push. In practice, pushing when you can't feel your bottom is hard! I had already stopped topping up my epidural, and as time went on and it began to wear off, I could feel more and more. After an hour, a doctor appeared. She told me I hadn't pushed baby far enough down the birth canal and would need to go to surgery to have a ventouse delivery, which would probably not work and then I would have no option but to have a cesarean. She gave me 20 minutes to see what progress I could make on my own. I am told as soon as she left the room I stated "do not let that woman cut me", although I have no recollection of that!

At this point, a team of amazing midwifes entered the room. My cheering squad gave me the support and guidance I needed, showing me exactly how to push. Helped by the extra feeling I had back, I got the hang of it, and soon was told they could see that my baby had lots of hair! I was encouraged to feel the head, to feel the physical progress I had made, and it really did help. Knowing that my baby was so close gave me the mental capacity to push as I had never pushed before, to really give it my all. By the time the doctor returned she stated I could have a ventouse delivery in the room, but my cheering squad encouraged me to keep at it and push baby out myself. I ended up having an episiotomy, but pushed my baby out unaided, the only part of my labour I am proud of. And what relief I felt once the head was out, knowing I had reached the peak of pain and baby was almost here!

My baby was placed on my chest, and the other-half-of-us cut the cord. He then informed me, in a somewhat bewildered way that it was a girl! We had convinced ourselves we were having a boy, even though we had kept the gender as a surprise for this moment, and so were both a little surprised. As we gazed at her, trying to take her in as she started to suckle, I could feel the placenta being pulled gently out (it felt so much bigger than I expected), and I relaxed. This would be that moment, after all the pain and hard work, where the other-half-of-us and I got to meet properly our new daughter, to bond as a family.

But this did not happen. The placenta was out two minutes after I gave birth, and seconds later, I started to haemorrhage.

Within seconds every midwife on duty plus the registrar and consultant were in the room. I am told the call button sounded like a submersing submarine siren, that everyone in the room needed clean shoes and trousers afterwards, and other gruesome details I won't share here. I lost a litre and a half of blood. I remember trying to focus on the ceiling tiles, willing myself to remain conscious, my logic being I couldn't be dead if I could still see the ceiling! A doctor put a canula in my arm, and I could feel blood running down my arm from it and dripping on the floor. Someone had their fingers in me to stop the blood flow, which eventually got packed and stitched up. I cannot fault the care I got, with one midwife stood next to my head explaining what was going on, and my midwife through labour staying and holding my hand. Throughout, the other-half-of-us was sat in the corner, holding our new baby against his bare chest.

Eventually the room emptied, crisis over. I was washed down with a flannel, and the lights were dimmed. I'm not sure whether I had the baby back at this point, or later when I was transferred to a four-bed ward. The blood loss combined with tiredness meant I felt completely out of it. There were long pauses between me being asked a question, computing it, coming up with an answer and saying it aloud. I managed to feed the baby, judging from the feeding chart of her cot, but I remember little of it. Hours later, a doctor came to remove the packing still inside, having been stuck in surgery until this point. Thankfully he declared as was well. It was now 2am or so, and I desperately needed sleep but couldn't switch off- I remember asking the other-half-of-us for sedation! In the end, after the other-half-of-us had left for the night, a wonderful midwife took our new addition away for a few hours, promising to bring her back if she needed feeding, and at last I fell asleep.