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.

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