In my early years of teaching, I was very lucky to find myself working with a lovely young lady by the name of Stef. Stef and I both eventually gained new jobs at different schools. In the last five years, she has excelled in her profession, whereas I got knocked up – twice. However, in June Stef is expecting her first baby. We don’t see each other very often anymore because as you well know, life gets in the way. But what I do know about Stef is that she is well known for her random acts of kindness. Earlier this week, we had a little Whats App conversation about her impending motherhood and, as everyone does, she has a few worries about birth, feeding and what it’s like to be the mother of a new born. Therefore, this, my dear, is my random act of kindness to you.
No one else but yourself can prepare you for the birth of your child. People can guide you and coach you, but no one knows your body, your physical and emotional state as well as you do.
Don’t think you’re not prepared. Believe me, your body is prepared – don’t underestimate it.
Your birth will be unique to you and you simply have to listen to what your body is telling you. This is what mine told me on the morning of the 29th October 2011 when I was 37 weeks and a day pregnant with my daughter:
My body, at 7am, told me I needed a wee.
“I think I have had ‘the show’,” I told Teaching Dad as I climbed back into bed for more sleep.
“What’s that?” he said.
“Erm, it’s a bit minging, but it’s also a sign to say that the baby might come soon,”
That’s when I felt it. Something was about to explode and I needed a wee again. I waddled to the loo and my waters broke just as I made it to the toilet.
“I think my waters have broken,” I called from the bathroom.
“Are you sure you haven’t just p*ssed yourself?” was the response.
I didn’t answer because I was really giddy. I wasn’t frightened – I was excited. I had packed my hospital bag a few days before and was good to go. I thought I was prepared, but then again I had in my bag a pack of Bodyform sanitary towels. So yes, my body was ready, but my common sense wasn’t!
Off to the hospital we went and once we arrived we were asked to wait. My waters kept breaking over and over again, but I wasn’t in any pain and I decided to display this fact by standing and swinging my legs backwards and forwards one after the other. By the time the midwife arrived, my trousers were soaked through to my skin and I was slightly out of breath from trying to prove to my partner that being in labour was a piece of cake.
The midwife had clearly been moved by my performance as she sent us home.
She made a mistake.
She shouldn’t have sent me home and perhaps I should have been more assertive. As soon as we stepped through the door, I started to feel a bit of pain and within half an hour, I was bent double.
We hotfooted it back to the hospital and was placed back on a bed where I was told not to push because I was still fully clothed. I pushed anyway because when your body needs to push, you obey.
Forty-five minutes later, my daughter was born.
Hours passed and we remained in the birthing room as a new little family; it was lovely. However, the time soon came for Teaching Dad to return home alone as my daughter and I were required to stay overnight. Being left on your own in a hospital bed with your new born child can be quite daunting. I was in a ward with three other women, all of whom had their curtains drawn tightly around their beds. I felt incredibly alone and yet incredibly happy and in this oxymoronic state, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I tried to sleep, but when it didn’t come, I simply waited for my girl to wake. She didn’t feed after she was born, so she would be hungry.
Finally, she began to cry and the midwives came and tried to help me breastfeed, but I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t a complete failure; she managed to latch on for a few minutes on one side. The anti-natal classes had lied to me. This didn’t feel natural. It felt uncomfortable and overwhelming, especially as I had two midwives grabbing me and contorting my boobs into ridiculous shapes in order for them to fit into the tiny mouth of a newborn. Throughout this comedy of errors, I remained mostly silent when really I should have spoken up and told them that right there, in that moment, it wasn’t working for us and was there anything else we could try? However, I just nodded and agreed with everything that I was told to do because I didn’t know any better.
Don’t be afraid to admit that you feel over-whelmed. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what to do right away. You’ll get it. We did, eventually.
I found breast-feeding my daughter very difficult in the first few weeks; it was also very lonely at times. Pumping ‘liquid gold’ at 3am in the morning on an electric breast pump with nothing but the whirring sound of the machine can do that to you. This situation I found myself in was my own doing. I had told the midwives I wanted to breastfeed and they took this to mean that I wasn’t willing to try anything else. Not true. I would have tried anything, but how were they to know this if I didn’t speak up? On my daughter’s first night on earth, she barely ate and the second night was pretty much the same as she slept for six hours without waking. Piece of cake this mummying lark, I thought as I grabbed a few hours of sleep myself . However, by the morning, I was soon told that this was because she was weak. Throughout the night, I had heard other women struggling to feed and heard them being offered formula, but I was never asked. I was too damn polite because I knew midwives were always so busy.
Eventually, formula was ‘forced’ upon us and I took it with open arms. Lo and behold, my daughter started drinking and once she found a bit of strength, she could latch on – but only to one boob.
In the weeks that followed, I had visits from some ladies who went by the name of ‘Little Angels’. ‘Little Pains in the Ass’ would have been my name for them, but they were only trying to do their job, which was asking me to strip in my living room where they could grip my boobs and wrestle them into my daughter’s mouth. I know they were meaning well, but I found it all achingly uncomfortable and by the end of the third week, I found myself ignoring their calls.
It all worked out, but for about four weeks it felt like torture – both physically and emotionally. Teaching Dad didn’t really offer much support. He had seen me shoot a baby out in less than an hour and he didn’t understand how breast-feeding could hurt more – but it did. After a few fraught late night arguments about him thinking I was being over dramatic about the pain and me waking him to make formula (only for me to not use it and use my one raw breast because the guilt I felt at the thought of using formula was crippling), we found that we were balancing our relationship on a fine line and it was about to break. Before this could happen though, we agreed to combination feed with both breast and formula and for six months that’s what we did and it worked. It just took a turbulent few weeks for us to get there.
You want your baby to be happy and healthy and your baby needs you to be happy and healthy. Fed is best – whether it be from a boob or bottle.
Things were a little different with my son. I was a little older, a little wiser perhaps?
We had chosen the local mid-wife led unit for my birth and on the morning of the birth (one day before his due date) I had downed two cups of raspberry leaf tea and eaten a full pineapple because no way was this little blighter go over due, not when my last baby was only 6lb 10oz. I wasn’t mentally prepared for anything much bigger emerging from down there.
I had started with a small back ache so decided to go for a walk. And by walk, I mean drive in the car. I called in at my local Natwest Bank and as I was standing in the queue wearing my ‘bang on trend’ black maternity leggings, I could feel water slowly creeping down my leg. My waters were breaking right there in the bank. Honestly, my first thoughts were not those of panic. I was, once again, excited as, if everything went according to plan, by the end of the day our family would be complete. Without any fuss, I paid in my money and left a trail of water behind me as I returned to the car, called Teaching Dad and drove home.
When we arrived at the mid-wife led unit, contractions were pulsing through me every few minutes.
“We might send you home for an hour,” my midwife said.
“You won’t,” I said. “Not again. I’ll wait. Can I get a cup of tea, please?”
There was no time for tea. There was almost no time for her to get her surgical gloves on.
“Hang on a minute,” she cried as I began to push.
Twenty minutes later, my boy was born.
I was a bit more assertive that time around. I never got my cuppa though, but I got a son, so I guess that will suffice.
With regards to feeding, this time I had come prepared. I had bought a new born starter pack that came with tiny bottles of formula. If my baby wouldn’t feed, then one of those bottles was going straight in his mouth. I told the midwife this and she understood.
There must be something about boys and boobs though because no sooner was he placed on my chest on the evening of the 7th January 2015, he latched on and didn’t stop feeding until March 2016! That was not in the plan!
I spent many a stressful night thinking about that. Would people think I was weird for feeding him for so long? How on earth would I ever get him to stop? Would my boobs ever look like they did back in 2011? But, there has to come a time when you stop stressing over small worries such as this and that time usually comes at 2.53am when you have woken for the millionth time to feed your baby. By this time, you feel emotionally and physically drained and the only thing to do is to put the baby in your bed, lay down and snuggle alongside them. Nuzzle in next to their head and take a deep breath inwards because their warm scent is addictive.
I suppose what I am trying to tell you is to trust your own body and listen to its needs and the rest will work out for itself. Everyone around you on the day and in the weeks and months that follow will always have your best interests at heart, but no one knows what your heart wants more than you and that little life inside of you that has been listening to it beat with excitement for the last eight months.
You’re going to be a great Momma Bear! x