Monday, 15 October 2012

A Sucky Start to Motherhood

You don't have to be a well read Mum-to-be these days to know that breast milk is the best thing you can feed your child.  Pro-breastfeeding material is lobbed at you by every health care provider you meet from your initial booking appointment to the day you turn up in labour.  The leaflets, like all good propaganda, only tell you part of the story in the best possible light.

I was as gungho about breastfeeding Munchkin as I had been about having a natural labour.  When it came to the crunch though my labour was unnaturally assisted and heavily medicated and I was sorely disappointed in both myself and the whole experience.  This perceived failure at the starting block of motherhood goes a long way to explaining my perseverance with breastfeeding beyond the usual boundaries of sanity.  Breastfeeding is a natural process but it does not always come naturally to either babies or new mothers and more people should be told this!

Despite my labour culminating in a Hitchcock worthy blood bath, thanks to the almighty epidural, I was in a comfortable space to have skin to skin time with my beautiful daughter when she arrived.  When some of the dozen or so medical personnel vacated the room I had a go at bringing Munchkin to the breast.  She seemed to know what she was doing and it was all good.  She nuzzled in and MC fed me some toast and for a good hour or so we were left to our own devices.  When I was taken to the ward MC seemed to have her asleep and so I assured him we were all good and I'd see him in the morning after a good sleep.  He'd only just left when she started to cry.  Despite the shaky legs I got her out the crib and into bed with me and the midwife suggested she wanted to nurse for comfort.  This was at midnight.  She went through a sequence of nursing, falling asleep and then waking screaming the minute I laid her down until around three.  My night light didn't work and I was the only woman on my ward with a baby: the others were all waiting to be induced.  I felt terrible that my baby was keeping all these people awake when they needed rest.  I twice asked the midwives to come and help me with latching and when I buzzed them again after three it was to beg them to help me get her to sleep as I was so tired I couldn't get my limbs to function.  I don't know what time they brought her back to me, all swaddled by the professionals, but when the hoovers woke me at six she was fast asleep.  She was still fast asleep when the midwife came to check us at eight where I was berated for not having woken my baby up to feed.  I had blood blisters on both breasts.

So, we didn't get off to the greatest start but this wasn't the worst part of the horrid hospital feeding fiasco.  My baby wanted to sleep pretty much all of the first day we spent in the hospital.  Two lots of visitors came and she slept.  MC and I spent a dedicated two hours between visiting times trying to wake her up.  When we'd get her eyes open we'd try to get her to latch only for her to lie passively in my arms looking at me like I was stupid.  One midwife would say, "You must wake that baby, she must feed."  The next would say, "This is normal, as long as she wakes within a few hours it's all fine."  This went on and on and I got more and more upset.  Eventually I had two midwives in front of me around nine at night and confronted them on the conflicting advice and both together they couldn't agree on what was to be done.  Eventually, around midnight, Munchkin woke and wanted to feed.  We spent a couple of hours in bed just feeding and snoozing and feeding and snoozing and the third day she was more awake and feeding regularly so we were allowed to come home. 

On day four it all went horribly wrong.  First day at home and my baby wouldn't latch at all.  She screamed blue murder at me and despite all my efforts she just got more and more distressed.  She was jaundiced and there were pink crystals in her nappies (not a good sign).  By evening I had sent MC to Sainsburys to pick up a breast pump and we were cup feeding her 10mls.  She finally slept.  That night was as close as I came to the baby blues.  I remember cradling a screaming Munchkin and MC cuddling me as I cried about how I couldn't even feed my baby.  It wasn't pretty but uphills struggles are never best attempted on no sleep while you're in less than great physical condition.

When the midwives came the next day Munchkin had lost 11.9% of her birth weight and it was looking as if we'd end up back in the hospital if things didn't improve.  I kept expressing and we progressed from cup feeding to using a syringe.  Oddly I got more and more sore, despite having given up trying to get the baby latched in favour of expressing and knowing how much milk she was getting.  The midwives came every other day to monitor her weight.  Within a week I was in so much pain I couldn't even attempt to let Munchkin feed from me.  The mere thought made my toes curl and a cold sweat run down my neck.  Being in the shower hurt, clothes hurt.  The midwives finally stopped coming to see us and we went to the feeding clinic at the hospital.  They sent me to the GP with suspected thrush.  I didn't even know that was a thing.  

Within two days I was able to feed my baby directly without expressing.  It took about another week for us to completely make the shift from expressed bottles to full time breastfeeding.  All in all, it took us four weeks to overcome our difficulties and I don't know how many times I considered giving up and feeding her formula.  

Rather than this be a cautionary anti-breastfeeding tale, I would want other new mums to take the following lesson from the fiasco above: if you are having problems get help early.  Go to the professionals at the feeding clinics, rather than rely on the advice of midwives.  If you're having problems feeding, of course there will be issues with your child's weight gain but be firm with the midwives.  Don't wait in for them, just tell them you're going to a clinic for help.  No two midwives can agree on anything I have discovered. 

There are lots of other humorous trials and tribulations when it comes to early breastfeeding.  My favourite was windmill arms.  To this day I just love it when my daughter decides she's full and presses the flat of her tongue against the flow of milk, soaking me and her in the process.  I also love waking up in the middle of the night soaked in milk and all my clothes smelling like old goats.  Breastfeeding is brilliant.

Breastfeeding is brilliant when you have it mastered.  Sarcasm aside.  It's convenient, it's cheap and it's good for your baby.  But between you and me, I'm not sure you don't have to be totally bonkers to get to that point!  I have a new theory on the history of wet nurses.  Rather than it being a 'too posh to be a child's personal coo' kind of deal, I think those women who could nurse did and kept doing it.  Failing at it wasn't an option in the days before formula.  

I take my hat off to all the ladies everywhere who have successfully breastfed their babies.  After the events we encountered I've met a lot of women who had similar experiences to mine or worse, had their milk dry up before they were correctly diagnosed with a problem beyond latching.  We need to have more open and honest conversations about breastfeeding if we are ever going to be able to turn around the formula frenzy of the previous generations.  

Breast may be best but getting the hang of it can be a totally suckerous experience.  

Monday, 1 October 2012

A New Life: A Different Brand of Bonkerdom

I had a baby.  Not news to many of you.  Said baby is now approaching ten weeks old.  It's true that between trying to sleep, eat regular meals and keep a small person alive, blogging has been low on my list of priorities, hence the lapse.  I did try and fail on several occasions to write my birth story in the weeks following munchkin's arrival.  On the one hand a part of me thought that it might be cathartic to 'get it off my chest', but a bigger part of me was just depressed about the whole experience and failing miserably to view it in any kind of positive light.  Although I still get a little sad thinking about what transpired for us, time has taken away the guilt factor and the satisfaction of watching our daughter grow has eclipsed the disappointment I felt over the birth plan going to pot.  I'm still not of a mood to share that story but I do want to start writing again.  It's a substitute for REM sleep as an outlet for sorting through the build up of bonkerdom that goes on in my noggin.

I fully plan on regaling the interwebs with our parenting adventures to date and back filling the gap (titles such as 'Breastfeeding: from Finger to Boob', 'Real Nappies: the Spectrum of Poo and the Wonders of Vanish', 'Conflicting Advice: How to Not Bop Health Professionals on the Nose' and 'Sleep or Lack Thereof'' all spring to mind).  For today though, I'm starting small and considering how my daughter has changed my life generally so far.

First up, I kind of miss my job.  Daft, I know.  Many people would consider nine months off from your regular nine-to-five a godsend.  However, I like my job.  I have a fairly good handle on how to do it and when I don't have a clue how to do something I just throw a lot of time and effort at it until the troublesome task is done.  Even on the worst days at work you are contracted to be there so many hours a day and you know that at some point it will all stop and you can put your coat on and go home.  This parenting thing is tough.  You never get to put your coat on for the day, and more worryingly, you're never quite sure you're doing anything right.  There are small achievements; ten fingers and ten toes, your child has a good weight gain, the first smiles and coos or even just making it out of the house by a given time.  However, there are a lot of disconcerting things too, like your child losing too high a percentage of its birth weight in the early days, not knowing why your child is crying, being unsure whether you're producing enough milk, are you dressing them too warmly or are their hands cold?  The list goes on.

Secondly, as a person, physically and emotionally, I am unmade as a mother.  I'd like to say I don't feel whole but that would imply that I've lost something or that I'm damaged.  I suppose it's more a feeling of being taken apart and not quite put back together with the pieces in the right places.  The emotional roller coaster of the first few days, not helped by serious feeding issues, settled quickly and only really gets rocky these days when lack of sleep is combined with the little one being unwell and more demanding than normal, or excessive cluster feeding.  I've also been really lucky and I've recovered well physically (stretch marks, or 'tiger stripes' as MC affectionately calls them, aside).  I have the remnants of some baby weight to lose but I'm content to do so slowly and steadily.  Munchkin is in a low centile for her weight gain (being a long skinny thing like her Daddy) and so I can't take any drastic measures that might affect her milk supply.  There's the physical stumbling block for me I suppose.  I don't feel like my body is my own.  I expected that of pregnancy, what with having an occupant and all that jazz, but breastfeeding is a marathon.  It's being on call to another being's needs twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  It's never being able to have your partner take the 3am feed.  It's not being able to be away from your baby for more than a couple of hours.

Would I go back and do it all over again?  For munchkin?  Definitely.  I'm not so sure I'm game for repeating the process but everyone says that at least for a while I suppose.

We created life and that's pretty amazing.  She's adorable and bright and exhausting and fun and I can't wait to watch her continue to learn and grow.  My life now: bent out of shape and slave to a 60cm tall strawberry blonde.  No paper pushing, meetings or major achievements in sight but today I got to add bogey patrol to my parenting repertoire.  It's still my life, just a different brand of bonkerdom. 

We made it through the early days and we're all still alive.  The potted plants however, didn't make it.  I apparently can't multitask living entities and I don't have the energy to beat myself up about that.  Life is about the small victories people.