Hello there! I have been a bit silent on the blog for the past few weeks… But I had a good reason: I’ve recently pushed a baby out! Though it seems like ages ago now that I gave birth, as our baby’s first few weeks were a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions. But now that things are stabilising a bit, I thought I’d give Baby J a bit of an introduction to the world. Read on if you want to know my perspective on his birth and what it’s been like to be a mum for a bit more than a month!
Strap your seatbelts in, as it’s a bit of a long blog post. However I think it’s important to share real birth stories and perspectives on parenthood. It does get a bit vulnerable and hmm intimate – you have been warned!
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A quick note on names, privacy, etc.
I thought I’d kick this off with mentioning what I would like to share and not share online about our baby. The main thing is that I would like to avoid using his name, especially his full name, online. This is for several reasons (in no specific order).
Our little kiddo currently can’t express what he does and doesn’t want shared about him online. While I’ll try to keep this about telling my experience of childbirth and my journey of parenthood I will obviously be sharing information about him. I’ll do my best not to write anything that would be embarrassing for him, but still I would rather that in fifteen years time the first hit on Google (or whatever has replaced it) his friends find isn’t about nappies and breastfeeding… Obviously clever people would still be able to find this post (and the others about him that will surely follow), but I would like to give our child the opportunity to forge his own identity – online and otherwise.
The other main reason – call this paranoia if you want – is that I don’t want random strangers from the Internet being able to recognise my child and call him by his name. This blog and my various social media accounts are open and public. And while I love sharing with as many people as possible, that does also come with (arguably teeny tiny) risks. If this is something you’re curious about, this episode of the Young House Love podcast recounts the kind of incident I would like to avoid.
Anyhoo, long story short, I can’t control what other people do, but if you do know our little baby, I would be thankful for you abstaining from using his name online until he is old enough to make decisions about it!
My birth story
Right, straight to the painful part – which in a way wasn’t actually the most painful part as I’ll discuss later! In early December, after what seemed like an eternity of people asking me “is the baby here yet?”* (Baby J arrived ten days after his due date, which is completely normal!), things started to kick off. *Don’t do that!
I was getting proper contractions in the middle of the night two days before Baby J was born. They were happening at the right intervals and I was coping with the pain quite well, so two young hopeful parents-to-be drove to the hospital in the early morning… To find that my contractions died off when we got there! One of the most annoying parts was the midwife telling us to come back when the contractions were three in every ten minutes. I felt like frustratingly shouting “they were!”, but instead we headed home and I slept.
I woke to quite intense back pain, which continued into that afternoon, for another full day and into the day Baby J was born. We bought a hot water bottle, which helped, but it generally felt like I had somehow “locked” my back in a quite painful way! So when the next set of contractions started, I didn’t get much of a “release” between them as the back pain was a constant. As with the first time, we called the hospital and they recommended we stayed at home for as long as I could bear. At that point, I really wanted painkillers so we headed in. Also, the midwife asked about the baby’s movements and through the pain I wasn’t sure if they were the same as normal or not, so they suggested we come in so they could monitor him.
So I sat in a hospital room plugged into a monitor for an hour – turns out our little athlete was kicking away quite happily as usual. Beforehand, I did a glamorous waddle from The Man’s car to the maternity assessment unit, holding my hot water bottle on my back, losing my too-big maternity jeans and pausing for contractions while strangers stared at me. The Man eventually managed to park the car and joined me.
After that first hour of monitoring in the maternity assessment unit and taking some codeine (goodbye plans for a natural, drug-free birth!), I was taken a few floors up. Generally it seemed like everything took ages and I was just keen for the pain to go away. I actually had thoughts (that now seem quite silly) that involved me fainting and having a C-section so that I wouldn’t have to experience the pain. I also asked for – but ended up not going with – an epidural, which was everything (catheters, drugs, no feeling in my bottom half) I had previously said I didn’t want. I am sure there are much more painful childbirth experiences, but it felt like a very long day.
At this point, I was given an injection of meptid, which made me sick, though I wasn’t particularly worried about it. The Man helpfully passed me a little bowl every time I regurgitated the fizzy sweets I had been snacking on. Note to self for any future babies: people recommend sweets for a sugary energy boost during labour and most sweets aren’t vegan, but maybe do a bit more research next time as the vegan sweets we found were fizzy and not the most digestible! The meptid started a – strangely pleasant in a way – cycle of mostly passing out between contractions. I was still aware of what was going on around me but I felt drowsy and would lie on the bed with my eyes closed, occasionally (and painfully) changing the side I was lying on.
After what felt like ages, I was eventually allowed to go up to the midwife-led unit where I had planned to have our baby. During the stay in the lower level, I had felt… there’s no glamorous way to put this… quite a lot of rectal pressure and I was feeling frustrated at how slowly things were going. That continued upstairs, during what felt like a slow handover and then a slow filling of the birthing pool… Which I didn’t get to sit in anyway! The Man was an excellent birth partner, handing me the gas and air mouthpiece when I needed it (at each contraction!).
There was a midwife shift change and the “new” one had a peek “down there” to decide if I was ready to pop in the bath or not… And spotted our baby’s head! She then directed me on how to push and he was born within minutes. I can remember asking the midwife to pull him out, which strangely enough she didn’t do. I felt some burning “down there” but as I felt I had been pushing for hours unnoticed, it all seemed to then happen quite quickly. What had been a pretty horrid day so far turned around! The midwife put our baby on my tummy and The Man told me he was a boy.
Our darling baby was born at the healthy weight of 3.86 kg. We had cuddles while the midwife gave me an injection and delivered the placenta. That bit was apparently quite a sight according to The Man, though I saw none of it. The blood on my socks where I sat cross-legged was a bit of an indication though. The midwife also gave me four stitches very close to one of the most sensitive parts of the female anatomy… On a slightly more positive note, I was told when we visited the midwife-led unit that after giving birth, I’d be given the best toast I’ll ever have. And it’s true! Jam on toast and coffee tasted amazing after all of the day’s adventures!
Baby J was born in the evening and both of his parents spent that night at the hospital. The midwife-led unit has rooms with double beds and private bathrooms, which was amazing as The Man could stay overnight to help with and marvel at our baby. A lot of people popped in during the course of the next day: midwives, some nice Brazilian catering people and a baby photographer! We had some pictures of Baby J taken, which at the time seemed quite expensive, but I am now very grateful for. We gave them to his relatives at Christmas and have a few for ourselves, including one that goes in a frame with his hospital wristband.
A difficult start to parenthood
It might seem quite cheesy, but when we left the hospital the day after Baby J was born, everything seemed more beautiful. The sky out of our window in the hospital, the streets of Oxford, the Christmas lights we saw on the way home… All of it looked like a show the world put on for him.
Ideally I would have liked to have a couple weeks to rest and “figure things out”, but quite a few people came over to see our baby. In the future I’ll know to be a bit more assertive in protecting our little family bubble. As a quick guideline if you’re visiting someone with a newborn: check in advance that it’s okay to “pop over” and BRING FOOD. One of the best gifts we received (in my opinion!) was The Man’s aunt bringing me some vegan sausage rolls. In the tired and confused early-days haze, they tasted just as amazing as the toast after giving birth! A family brought over cookies: also very popular! Here is a great short guide on things to do (and not do) when visiting new parents – please take a break from this blog post and go read it!
We had one major “blip” in these first few weeks and it regarded feeding. I wish more emphasis was put on how difficult breastfeeding is. Childbirth is painful, but it only last for a few hours (in my case anyway). Figuring out how to feed a newborn doesn’t feel natural or easy. I definitely experienced difficulties and it’s only when I started talking about them that other mothers started sharing theirs too – I wish I had known sooner and been more emotionally prepared!
Baby J was quite sleepy at hospital while he got over the emotions of being born, but by his first night at home he became a bit more restless. Long (long long) story short, he wasn’t feeding well, lost too much weight and became dehydrated.
We were concerned when we found urates in his nappy – which look like brick dust and are a sign of dehydration. His mouth was dry and he was lashing out at the breast, so in our desperation we gave him a tiny amount of water, which calmed him down for a while. We later learned that it’s a no-no… when a kind support worker came over for his five day checkup. She weighed him and told us that our lovely baby had lost so much weight that it was an automatic admittance to hospital. A lot of tears were shed, then and during our stay in hospital. We had to go to the accident & emergency department and then spent two nights in hospital.
We were put on a regime of feeding him donated breast milk and me using an electric breast pump every three hours. On top of all the worry about our baby, my ego was shattered at the idea of giving him someone else’s milk. Unfortunately I was producing very small amounts of milk myself. It is quite frustrating that we never got to the bottom of my low supply: possibly because I was generally very stressed and thus not producing the right hormones. The other possibility that we only discovered weeks later was that Baby J may have a posterior tongue-tie, which makes it virtually impossible for him to feed from the breast. Therefore my nipples (getting very personal here!) were probably not stimulated enough and my milk supply never really picked up.
We might never really know. Though if we have other children, we will be more assertive early on – The Man had asked about tongue tie the day after Baby J was born and was essentially ignored – and we will get expert help early on. Before having our baby, I thought “lactation consultants” were people with made-up, unnecessary jobs. I mean – who needs help with breastfeeding, it comes naturally right? Hmm no, or at least not for everyone. We paid a lactation consultant to do a home visit on the 30th of December and she is the one that picked up on the possible tongue tie. Amongst all the “what ifs”, she said that we did all we could to persevere with breastfeeding and that we should now just enjoy our baby and the flexibility that comes with bottle feeding. Which is what I’m doing!
When we were readmitted to hospital for the weight loss, I had a real epiphany moment when I decided to put formula feeding “on the table”. We had always imagined I would breastfeed, so we hadn’t bought any bottles or powder. In my mind formula feeding wasn’t an option because of all the benefits of breastfeeding and because baby formula is made from cow’s milk and therefore isn’t vegan.
But in the hospital I was feeling what can only be called despair watching drops of my milk barely covering the bottom of the electric pump bottles. This feeling was exacerbated by the unhelpful “breastfeeding expert” (whose sons were breastfed until the age of 2.5 and are both now doctors… good for you) who kept putting pressure on me to preserve the “exclusivity” of my milk. She wanted me to avoid formula at all costs, because apparently we could no longer receive donor breast milk if we tried to give Baby J formula.
Well, my epiphany was simply that many babies are given formula milk and do perfectly fine. The Man had popped out at that point but he says that he could feel the relief in the room when he came back in. With the reduced pressure to force breastfeeding to happen (which involved both the baby and myself getting upset), we were able to start enjoying our time together. Our little boy quickly put the weight back on again and his blood tests all came back normal. I cried (all the time…) when we discharged and set the doctor off too!
I hope that I don’t sound judgemental regarding people who opt to use formula (as we also do now anyway…). Parenting is hard enough, there’s no need to add shame on top of that. I sometimes still have to learn not to shame myself however! “Mum guilt” is indeed a very real thing and there were a lot of tears and quite a low tolerance to humour for several weeks after our stay in hospital. I have joked about creating a T-shirt that says “If you haven’t been readmitted to hospital, are you even a parent?” though…
Our first six weeks with Baby J
I bought The New Mum’s Notebook as a little gift for myself before our baby was born. It has prompts to help make note of everyday feelings and baby’s milestones. Along with the Your Baby Week by Week book, it is something I would strongly recommend getting for yourself or someone who is expecting. The following lists are my notes in chronological order from the birth into the first few weeks with Baby J and are based on the prompts in the notebook.
- holding my baby;
- cuddling Baby J;
- the feeling of Baby J’s soft head;
- managing to breastfeed [turns out he wasn’t getting enough milk];
- Baby J’s little eyes when he looked at me;
- having a sausage roll and decaf at 5 in the morning;
- co-sleeping: we tested it for a few naps / rests during the day and it was a lot less stressful than feeding sitting up [turns out we only did it once overnight as I felt tense and stressed about the risk of rolling onto the baby];
- Baby J and The Man looking cute sleeping in;
- kissing Baby J’s head;
- that Baby J is putting on weight;
- getting organised for the week;
- watching Baby J and our friends’ baby on the playmat.
- a lot of pain in my back, “rectal pressure” and like the medical staff didn’t realise how far along I was; I also felt a lot of stinging “in the front” as the baby came out;
- the world looked more beautiful with Baby J in it: the sky through the hospital window, but also Oxford and Abingdon (lights namely) as we drove home;
- very tired and sleepy;
- my milk come in;
- relaxed when we rested together;
- more like myself – it was lovely to have a quiet morning: breakfast and organising things on my phone;
- tired and went for a nap while we had visitors over;
- very tired [sense a theme?] and slept throughout the day;
- in love with my little squishy baby.
- drugs to help me with the pain;
- help with feeding, including expressing into syringes;
- food quite regularly – in-laws were very helpful;
- to hydrate – a bit headachy, but have since “caught up”;
- more sleep;
- time for myself with Baby J – to get things done and enjoy cuddles;
- the nap I had in the afternoon;
- more sleep this morning and got it.
- for naps, but we had visitors;
- little Baby J would latch on quickly and painlessly every time;
- we had figured things out earlier and that he wouldn’t lash out when I’m trying to feed him;
- I could get all the things on my to-do list done, but I made good progress;
- I could make enough milk for Baby J;
- for a nap;
- I could be more productive.
I struggled with:
- constant back pain and repetitive “rectal pressure”;
- Baby J being restless his first night “at home”, but we figured out how to breastfeed together [or so I thought];
- sleepiness and a bit of a sore back;
- the baby crying and lashing out;
- feeding him, i.e. getting him to latch, but I have a lot more patience lying down;
- the fear of injecting myself with the blood-thinning jab but overcame it and did it!
- listening to people complain;
- feeding Baby J for ages in the morning;
- talking to The Man without things escalating;
- nothing really.
- it all to give birth to a healthy baby;
- my self-consciousness and breastfed in the lounge;
- my “poorly tummy” – realising my uterus contracts near other organs helped psychologically;
- my worries about co-sleeping – it’s natural and safe when done sensibly;
- my fear of the injection and just did it;
- the desire to snooze my alarm (midwife appointment);
- the temptation to just keep going and just chose to rest;
- my tiredness in the afternoon and stayed awake.
- was born;
- was calm and slept well his first night;
- was calm most of the day, then quite hungry in the evening;
- rested for a lot of the day, then cried from just before dinnertime onwards;
- loved napping in Mummy and Daddy’s bed;
- needed almost constant attention – or at least someone within arm’s reach;
- giggled in his sleep;
- fed regularly;
- gained weight;
- loved the attention when his uncle and the midwives were over;
- had cuddles with his uncle;
- needed food at regular intervals (often more than three hours);
- loved the breastmilk and formula cocktails;
- was a bit more awake during the daytime;
- settled better when I laid him on my arm and patted his back;
- enjoyed being read Cinderella Liberator to.
Things to remember:
- Try to relax into feeding;
- Be grateful for every day – he’ll never be this little again;
- Everything’s going to be okay;
- There’s no need to do everything.
Memories to recall:
- How amazing the toast tastes after giving birth;
- The Man saying he felt like crying several times;
- Baby J’s little blue eyes staring at me;
- His hand around my finger;
- The Man getting upset in the middle of the night because he cares so much and can’t soothe the baby;
- Baby J peeing on me first, despite The Man changing the majority of the nappies;
- Baby J smiling at me.
There you go, thank you for in a way joining me on this adventure that is parenthood! Feel free to share your experiences of childbirth or the early days with your baby in the comments below. But please no advice – nobody needs extra unsolicited advice! Big hugs to any new parents also trying to figure “this” out!
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