Monday, October 20, 2008

The Aftermath

Mr Green and I recovered in a nearby delivery suite, sipping on tea and munching on toast and, it goes without saying, ogling our new son while the midwives prepared the paperwork. Mr Green returned to the pool room to fetch my CD and was horrified to see, now that the lights were up, the bloodbath left behind. (Thank God or whoever for the invention of the dimmer switch). On wonky legs, I trundled across the hall to have a much-needed shower. By about 11pm we made our way to the ward, and it was sad partings between Mr Green and me. If the adrenaline hadn't quite worn off, then the lack of entonox made the night seem very long indeed. I was given a few paracetamols and tried to rest, but the various screaming babies weren't having any of that. For hours I gazed over at my own newbie, contentedly sleeping through the ruckus, filled with pride that he was such a beautiful lamb. All of that changed a few hours later when he stirred. I put him to my breast every hour or so when he demanded it, and rang the buzzer so the midwife on duty could check that he had properly latched (most problems with breastfeeding are down to an incorrect latch on the nipple). It was a long night to say the least. LGO had worked up quite the appetite, and I was exhausted. At one point it seemed relentless. As soon as he fed (sometimes for up to an hour), he was inconsolable again. Eventually dawn broke, and I counted down the hours until Mr Green's return. I had the option of staying in the ward a second night, but despite the support on offer I couldn't bear the thought.

In the morning one of the midwives showed us how to bathe and change LGO, and we were discharged around 4pm. Being at home was wonderful yet disquieting. Our little angel slept peacefully during the day, and was a complete terror from 10pm onwards. No matter how long I fed him, he never seemed satisfied. In distress, I rang the ward. The midwife believed it was trapped wind, but no matter how long we burped him he refused to settle. Hearing his little cry escalating to the point of a squawk was so upsetting, not least of which because we felt powerless to soothe him. Mr Green's mother came to stay a night, then my own mother arrived to help. But after a few nights of this, I was beside myself. The more frustrated LGO became, the more aggressive he was on the breast. Painful cracks on my nipples split and then bled. Eventually raw, open sores developed on my nipples, and despite several desperate phone calls and visits from breastfeeding counsellors and midwives I ultimately had to throw up my hands and admit defeat. Even with nipple shields, I could no longer feed my son. He had stopped pooing; he had stopped peeing.

As a last ditch resort, armed with a breast pump, I decided if I couldn't bring the baby to my milk, I would bring my milk to the baby. After 45 minutes, I expressed milk a measly 20ml -- about a quarter of his intake in a single feed (he feeds roughly every 3 hours). Seeing what little came from such an effort was illuminating. For his own sake, I switched him to formula to stave against dehydration. The result was an utterly different baby. Contended. It was a scary, emotionally and physically draining week. The adrenaline of labour had worn off, and the culmination of sleepless nights and strain on my body had taken its toll. Despite the fact that the baby either had an adverse reaction to my milk, or that I was not producing enough to meet his needs, I felt incredibly guilt-stricken. After all, a mother's ability to nourish her baby seems so fundamental that failure to do so felt like a first, crushing failure as a mother. Common sense says that making sure your baby is sated and hydrated by any means is surely of foremost importance than the means by which he feeds. Still, it took me a few days to come to terms with the bottle -- as real as any physical impediment -- coming between us. And I felt cheated of that closeness. When the midwife visited the other day, she reassured me that I had given him the best start since during the first few days of feeding he received colostrum: a substance packed with antibodies that the hind milk comes in around day 3.

To say that these past few days have been the hardest, far harder than the relatively brief period of labour, is no exaggeration. But I feel like we have come through a dark patch together, and I need only give myself space and time to heal and enjoy my baby now that he is thriving. I owe it to him.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Drum roll, please...

Weighing 8lbs 6oz, LG was born at 18.27 on 11 October at Pembury Hospital near Tunbridge Wells, Kent. But let me rewind somewhat to events leading up to his birth... Last Wednesday I checked in to the hospital overnight for voluntary induction since I was over a week overdue and going out of my mind with impatience and excitement. After several hours of fetal monitoring and a night of roaring newbies, I was told the following morning that the ward was now too busy and short-staffed to induce me. Discouraged and angry, I was discharged and told to stay home until the hospital could accommodate me. Of course now I was getting seriously worried. Post-mature babies carry an increased risk of stillbirth among other things, as the placenta gradually becomes less efficient at nourishing the baby. By Saturday, exactly two weeks past Little Green's due date, and according to hospital policy, I was now considered a "priority", meaning the hospital couldn't reasonably fob me off anymore.

Thus it was we returned to the hospital on Saturday morning. After the usual monitoring, the midwife assessed me and much to my dismay, said that she didn't think I was quite ready to have my waters broken and that perhaps I would need the pessary after all (a gel to stimulate the cervix) and let's see what happens in 6 1/2 hours' time. I begged her to check again and to go ahead and attempt to break the waters regardless of how painful the procedure might be. She did so, and yes, as pain goes, it was the eye-watering variety. Mr Green went so pale and sweaty just watching me I had to stop holding his hand. Finally a hot gush. Success! And midwives senior and student left me to wait for the contractions to begin, while Mr Green vanished for a McDonalds. Not 45 minutes later I as pacing the room listening to bad pop on the radio and reading magazine snippets in between contractions that were coming increasingly thicker and faster. By the time the party returned to the room, I was kneeling on pillows against an armchair, Mr Green was massaging my back as the waters continued to gush down my thighs, and I was asking to try out entonox, commonly known as 'laughing gas'. While it didn't exactly make me laugh, it distracted me from my own brain and pain without quite relieving it entirely. Mr Green (bless him) was all-too present in his own mind, helping to mop up the fluid that was coursing from me with each contraction. I warned the midwives of his history of hospital squeamishness, but he made me proud and never once fainted.

Because the waters mercifully came out clear (sometimes a substance called meconium, basically baby poo, is present which indicates fetal distress -- again, the likelihood of this happening increases with post-maturity), I asked if I could still use the birthing pool since the baby appeared to be fine. While the pool filled, I sucked from a canister of gas and air: my new best friend, calmed by my 'whale music' CD. A while later (maybe an hour or so, but truly I had no concept, which is probably a good thing) I stepped into the warm water of the pool which had the soothing effect of a nice bath. The lights were dim. Lightheaded, I sucked my way through the intensifying contractions. I remember there being a moment of sheer panic, as I emptied one canister and waited for a second... By the time I was 9cm, the pain was unbelievable and even as I professed that I couldn't do it, I knew the end was nearing and soon I would be holding my baby boy in my arms.

When I felt a searing burning sensation which I knew from TV to be the start of the baby's head crowning, the pain was the worst I have experienced in my life, and no amount of laughing gas could detract from it. However, in some far recess of my brain I knew I was too far gone for any real painkillers so I made my way through it gasping and later, howling for what seemed like eternity (about an hour and a half, Mr Green informs me). I squeezed his hand and occasionally paused for a sip of water, alternating between gagging and whaling. Around this time I was on the verge of throwing up, the body's natural reaction to shock... Finally, with some fancy tricks with mirrors and underwater torches, Mr Green watched the head emerge. Instant blissful relief. Then I could feel the baby squirming while still partly inside me. The sensation was so surreal. Another push or two and he was lifted onto my chest. While Mr Green blubbed like a little girl, I was speechless. My first impression was how huge and not-purple he was!! No small baby despite what we were told in previous scans. Certainly passing his head was pure hell, without a doubt the worst part, but because of the water I suffered only a couple very minor tears requiring stitches and one graze which was worse than any of the tears and would have to heal naturally.

Midwife senior asked if Mr Green wanted to cut the umbilical cord. He did! A minute later I left the pool. Mr Green cuddled his new son while I lay in the bed next to them, delivering the placenta (in 4 minutes according to the midwives' notes). After a few stitches, I held LG in my arms and then fed him off the breast. He was wide awake, staring inquisitively at me for ages. This beautiful, perfect creature Mr Green and I had made together. Quite simply a miracle. As for not remembering the pain... I don't think you forget exactly but it does have a way of being overshadowed by the rush of love you instantly feel -- that and the combination of adrenaline and hormones which make you feel like superwoman -- so much so that any pain which proceeded holding this little person in your arms suddenly becomes an irrelevance.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Help, this bump is past its sell-by date!

This may well be the last entry for some time... Officially past my sell-by date and in an impatient bid to finally meet Baby Green (forgive me little man), I arranged to have a sweep done this afternoon. For those of you fortunates unfamiliar with the lingo, a membrane sweep isn't a cosmetic treatment but a kind of internal examination whereby the midwife uses her fingers to literally 'sweep' the cells of the cervix. Similar to a smear but a much more bloody, painful and drawn out affair, it is (incredibly) considered less intrusive than other means of inducing labour in late starters such as myself. The hospital guidelines about induction claims the sweep can be uncomfortable. In short, it f-ing hurts (or at least it did for me) yet the process did grant me an opportunity to trial those tedious deep breathing exercises you get taught in antenatal classes, and to relish a little taste of the painful feast to come. Honestly, mothers are the real gangstas, the true and unsung tribal warriors of our time... No one but other mothers has a clue quite how brave and tough as nails you must be in order to give birth. Just hearing me describe the ordeal over the phone had Mr Green feeling faint. Thank God the survival of the human species doesn't rely on men who, it has to be said, have no qualms about rising to the occasion when it comes to mating but would struggle to give up the goods at the nth hour. Granted, even I went a little pale when the midwife cheerily announced, her hand up to my kingdom come, that she could feel the baby's head!

Strangely, the ritual left me in high spirits. Not only did the midwife commend my aura of calm as she discreetly balled up countless bloody tissues like Jack the Ripper, she was surprised to find that, considering the 'ripeness' and dilation of my cervix (about 2-3cm already -- to put that in perspective, a baby's head starts to crown at about 10cm) it was a wonder I wasn't already in labour. And in any case, she said she'd be incredibly surprised if actual labour hadn't started within the next 48 hours. Music to my ears. These past few days have been incredibly challenging -- an understatement akin to saying the sweep was 'uncomfortable'. With each passing day, the 9-month haul has been feeling like the build up to death row when you just want the damned needle already. My back has been hurting almost constantly from the 42lbs gained. Add to that the fear of straying too far in case your waters break in the supermarket aisle, and you start to feel like a prisoner in your own house but without the bonus of satellite TV. The mental hurdle is the hardest to overcome once the due date has been and gone and still no baby. I guess -- if you'll forgive the mixing of sporting metaphors -- it has to do with moving the goal post after your sights have been firmly fixed on it for months. Due dates are approximate and, like any anxiously awaited celebrity, rarely does a baby appear when he's scheduled to. Still, you can't help but focus and consolidate your energies on that calendar date regardless of the dictates of common sense. It is especially difficult as a 21st Century Fox to relinquish control over the events in your life and hand the reins back to Mother Nature. But ultimately it is she who has the upper hand, and pregnancy reminds us of this fact time and again.

So even though there are 'helping hands' out there in the guise of my matronly midwife, in the end our bodies are subject to nature's whimsy. We are all at her mercy. I just hope when the time does come that she goes gentle with me.