I have had another baby, hurrah! I’ve been trying to write about this for 9 weeks, but we had a bit of a rocky start and I haven’t had a lot of space or brain power to finesse my account. If it’s incoherent, consider it a deliberately postmodern take on the whole experience.
I was booked in at 38 weeks for a procedure called an ECV (External Celaphic Version), to be followed by either induction or possibly an emergency c-section depending on the outcome. This was due to a combination of Gestational Diabetes and the baby lying transverse (which means across the way, as though on an imaginary chaise, rather than assuming the head down position. Extremely impossible to eject from such an angle).
The ECV involves being given an injection to relax the womb and a doctor lightly pummelling your stomach to persuade the baby to flip round into a more amenable position. Fun, right?! When explaining it, the doctor said the most common reaction from her patients was “it’s not as bad as you think it’s going to be.” Love that for me.
Fortunately, at some point between being admitted and examined by a midwife, and a consultant turning up to do The Thing, my offspring had flipped on their own so I didn’t need the ECV in the end. NB – this genuinely took place in a half hour window of time. Contrary from the get go, you have no idea how proud I was (and continue to be).
Inducing another baby
Anyhoo, shame to waste a good induction so they got me on the ward for a cheeky balloon pessary. This is exactly what it sounds like. They insert a balloon into your cervix, inflate it, and it rubs against the membranes to get you ready for labour. It’s sort of like the most uncomfortable smear you’ve ever had x1000. Plus when the thing is in, you feel as if everything is going to fall out of your pelvis any time. This means it’s working though, so yay I guess?
After 24 hours it had made my cervix suitably ‘squidgy’ (bonafide medial terminology used by the midwife) to go onto the labour ward to have my waters broken. I’d been in hospital 2 days and nights at this stage – faster than the first time round, but a long time for the 3 year old left at home.
They let me have a bash at labouring on my own for a few hours, which was exciting as I wasn’t allowed to the first time round. I hilariously joked that we’d be done by 5pm and husband would be home in time to put firstborn to bed.
Unfortunately, by 5pm my contractions weren’t coming fast enough. They wanted me to be having 4 every 10 minutes and I was only having 3, so another intervention was needed because you can’t labour for too long after your waters have been broken without risking infection.
That meant the return of the oxytocin drip, and several conversations with different staff over subsequent hours about my impressive pain threshold as they had it on the top level for about three hours before much changed. For some reason we also had a lot of conversations about the cat during that period.
They deemed me in active labour between 7.30pm and 8.30pm, I’m unclear as to when exactly. At some stage not very long after I got fed up with it all and had gas and air (which I didn’t hate as much as the first time but still not a fan), my blood sugar dropped down to 3ish so I had to imbibe a tube of sugary gel (truly disgusting), and eventually I delivered the bairn at 11.38pm. We’re not 100% sure but husband thinks the The Legend is True! by the Aquabats was playing at the time.
I had very weird deja vu in the moments beforehand and was absolutely convinced the midwife was telling me to count to slightly wrong numbers whilst pushing. In my brain she was doing this in the knowledge that if she said ‘count to 5’ I would make it to 3, when 3 was what I actually needed to get to. How DARE she use mind control (probably) to help me give birth! I was very annoyed at the whole conspiracy.
Panic! On the labour ward
So far so straightforward, but it was at this point the placenta decided it wasn’t going to detach. There was one of those panicky moments where the room floods with people shouting about what to do and explaining things to me and asking me to sign things and trying to make me give the baby to dad, which made me extremely angry. My first born was also whisked away from me too quickly so I could go to theatre and I was raging it was happening again. I wanted that peaceful golden hour moment they put on all the literature.
I did then deliver the placenta after what felt like a sustained period of palaver, but they took me for surgery anyway because I’d lost a fair whack of blood and they weren’t sure if it was from me tearing or the placenta tearing, which might have meant there were bits left behind which could make me really ill. I’ve said it before and will doubtless say it again, this process is MAGICAL.
Cut to me hunched over on a gurney in theatre, teeth chattering, more tense than I’ve ever felt, whilst a nurse and a midwife told me different things to help me relax and the anaesthetist tried 4 times to get a needle in my back to numb me for surgery before asking whether I have scoliosis cause he’s having such a hard time with it. The GP has since confirmed that my spine is straight.
They stitched me up and parked me in recovery for a bit, kicked my husband out at 3am and popped me and the baby in the high dependency unit where I was given one of the best cups of tea I’ve ever had. Then began the constant back and forth of people telling me to rest whilst they came to wake me up for various reasons.
- Between 5 and 6am, four medical professionals attempted to take a blood sample to see how my haemoglobin was doing in case they needed to give me a transfusion. My body wanted to keep what blood I had left (I’d lost 1.5litres), so they couldn’t get any and I just ended up with lots of bruises.
- Various people came to do checks on the baby.
- There were several conversations about the baby’s blood sugar (failed the first one)…
- … and feeding (I said I was happy for them to give a bit of formula to start, they were reluctant)
- The consultant who stitched me up appeared to have a quick check of something
- The midwives who helped me deliver came back at the end of their shift to say goodbye
So after a restful 45 minute nap, I spent most of the day in high dependency waiting for a bed to become available elsewhere. At 5pm I was whisked off in a wheelchair to a ward where everyone else’s babies were in neonatal and there were a lot of closed curtains and crying. I remember vividly being that person with my first and it made me feel guilty and relieved that I was the main issue this time round and the baby was fine.
We were only in one more night and they discharged me. At the time I was thrilled, but with hindsight I suppose it mightn’t have been the best idea. I hadn’t walked any further than the toilet on the ward at that point and it turned out the walk to the car was a million miles? I made it, but my husband had to lift my legs into the footwell of the car for me because I didn’t have the range of movement to do it for myself. Then once home, I couldn’t get warm, my teeth were chattering, I couldn’t bend over and my back was so sore I was starting to wonder if it was permanently damaged (it isn’t). HOWEVER it was super wonderful to be with both my children and I figured things would work out.
Of course by 11pm I was a wreck worrying about whether the baby was too cold/warm/dehydrated and too sleepy to learn how to latch (they recommend waking newborn babies to get them to eat because they’re tiny fools). I also worried about whether my milk would not come in for longer due to the blood loss…
… And turns out yes! Breastmilk is literally made out of blood, did you know that? So it took a bit of time. When it did come in, the baby’s mouth was too small to latch for a couple of days because it made them enormous and overly firm (kind of an early 2000s glamour model vibe). We tried expressing, syringe and cup feeding – but ultimately our efforts weren’t enough and baby got jaundice.
So, come now past the blood thinners and iron tablets, past the post delivery bowel movements shaped like a haunted forest, down the rabbit hole of feeding ‘on demand’ in the neonatal unit…
Adventures in neonatal
I’m sure we all know about jaundice. It turns you yellow and you definitely know someone who has had it. I had it myself as a baby. Doctors and nurses are great at fixing it. But that doesn’t make it less upsetting to spend another 5 nights in hospital dealing with it and a cheeky bout of hypoglycaemia, whilst struggling to establish breastfeeding, mostly alone whilst your partner tries to create a bit of consistency at home for your other child. The rule in neonatal during a pandemic (quite rightly because babies are fragile) is that your partner is allowed in, your other offspring are not, and you can fill out a form for one (1) other named visitor only.
So after three days at home, my sister took us back to hospital. They immediately put baby in an incubator with a feeding tube up the nose, lit up with the maximum amount of phototherapy lights. The jaundice levels were high enough they said they’d consider a blood transfusion if this didn’t work (but the nurse also said she’d never known this to actually happen as the lights have an incredible success rate).
Whilst the baby was being treated, I was in a room down the corridor to pump milk/sleep/cry/update family and friends. Overnight they introduced a 36 hour course of antibiotics after spotting oxygen somewhere it shouldn’t have been, a possible sign of infection. And they did a heel prick test before every feed to check the baby’s blood sugar and gas – often more than once because their machine wasn’t working properly. Love to watch a series of people apologetically squeeze blood out of my tiny infant multiple times a day.
Then for several days we proceeded to get two good blood sugar readings followed by a dip – and I can’t help but wonder whether this was down to the hospital’s bizarre approach to breastfeeding.
Breasting Boobily About
For readers who are interested but don’t know, a newborn baby has a tiny tummy which fills and empties pretty fast, and breastmilk is digested quicker than formula. So if you’re giving breastfeeding a go, you can expect it to really take over your life for a while. You’ll have to feed anywhere between every 1-4 hours to start with, with 4 hours being the maximum amount of time to wait between feeds for the first little while.
Unless, as it turns out, you’re in the neonatal unit with a wildly understaffed team following advice that my mother in law remembers her mother saying she received in hospital: baby is fed every 4 hours, the end.
They also told me I had to use nipple shields to feed due to being too busty (not remotely an issue with my first) and that I was only allowed to feed for 10-20 minutes at a time before I had to stop – even if it was going well – to give a bottle top up of my own expressed milk.
By day 3 in hospital I was feeling like I might be losing my mind a little bit. There I was with a child whose jaundice was on the mend but who still had unstable blood sugar levels, being told that I was not allowed to nurse until they said so.
At one stage, a nurse even got special permission from the consultant to bring the baby to me for a feed an hour ‘early’. They’d kindly given a bottle of expressed milk for one of the night feeds to let me sleep a bit longer, but the baby wanted more and wouldn’t settle. But the 4 hours had not passed so she had to check. It is incredible to me that a professional person would have to wait for the say-so of a senior member of staff to get a crying, hungry baby fed. Also, how does this approach help to manage hypoglycaemia? Imagine a diabetic person had a hypo and was told ‘nah mate, no food for you, you ate something two hours ago. Soz!’
They also suggested, after a video call the next morning when I held it together right up until my firstborn asked ‘Mummy, when are you coming home?’, that I simply go home for the night and leave the baby behind because I ‘seemed a bit stressed.’ YA THINK. Also lol no.
I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not trying to have a go at any of the team in recounting this. They were all kind individuals working in crappy circumstances. I’m sure they didn’t want to deal with the sobbing lady down the hall (whose baby was basically fine FFS, both these conditions are astoundingly common in newborns and totally treatable) but they did their best for me. It was the working processes that confused and irritated me.
Anyway, after 5 nights and about nine million quid spent in the M&S Food Hall (I wasn’t a patient anymore so no more NHS scran for me) we were allowed home again-again.
It Takes A Village
All of this was going on during the run up to Christmas, which is obviously a busy time – so we were really lucky and grateful to have friends and family rally around with practical and emotional support.
On The Worst Day my parents and brother rallied at very short notice to come to the hospital and give me moral support when it became apparent husband wouldn’t be able to come for the second day in a row (firstborn was ill).
One friend (up at all hours with a baby as well) listened patiently to my ranting from hospital and sent me breastfeeding resources to help me get back on track, including a link to a map showing Lactation Consultants near me. I was able to get a home visit from Mo at Nurture Breastfeeding just before Christmas when all the local groups and things had finished up for the holidays, and that made a huge difference to my confidence.
Other friends and my mum jumped in to give a hand with shopping, cooking, childcare, the nursery run and even did some of our washing (absolutely above and beyond, in my opinion).
And my sister and brother in law, who had just moved house and were knackered, found the energy to pitch up a few days before Christmas with decorations and a 6 foot tree! Christmas in our house would have been 99% less magical without their help.
People have continued to offer help in the weeks since, providing food for our freezer and help looking after 3yo and knitting clothes for both children and generally being outstandingly kind. I hope to be able to return the favour or pay it forward some time soon.
I have emerged, I think, from the postpartum fug and processed most of it, although I’m still figuring out how to parent two small children. I suspect I’ll be working on that for a lot of years yet. The baby has had three colds in nine weeks (the perils of having an older sibling in nursery) but other than that seems healthy and happy. My bigger one is mostly excited about having a baby to hang out with. Sometimes too excited, to be honest. We’ll figure it out.
I’m not sure how to close this post. We’re gradually clawing our way towards some kind of routine that works for us as a family and spring is on the way? There’s a metaphor to be had there somewhere I’m sure. Fill yer boots.