So, this is a two part blog, covering two different topics. For they are different! This blog will be about how that whole well thought out, “bipolar birth plan” worked out. And the second will be about new parenthood in general and the feeling of your skin being stripped off your body. It’s too much to cover in one blog.
First, thank you again! Always thanking you, you considerate bastards. Thank you for your emails, comments and congratulations. I haven’t responded because I only have one hand these days. My lap is marked Occupied, which makes it very difficult to blog. I do tweet a lot- you can find me over at ms_molly_vog. Twitter, like food, is a one handed affair. Add me!
How did that, “bipolar birth plan” work out? In short, it didn’t. Absolutely nothing went to plan, including the thing I took utterly for granted- my son exited via the sunroof and not my vagina. Lesson 1: Don’t have a plan!
The, “birth story” bit is largely for my benefit and it’s quite long! You can navigate thusly…
Part 3: How things are now, 11 weeks on.
Exit via the sunroof
I’d been booked for an induction on Thursday, but was so very unwilling. By that point, I was feeling unexpectedly traumatised from two sweeps. A sweep is when a midwife sticks her hand inside you and sweeps membranes away from your cervix to initiate, or speed up, labour. I had been pretty nervous about giving birth but was so fed up of being pregnant (I went to 41+6 in the end!) that I was sanguine about it. From the first sweep onwards, I found myself sobbing every day. I was so very desperate to go into labour naturally, with a longing that shocked me. I pushed the induction back to the Saturday.
On Thursday I started getting strong braxton hicks, though I didn’t know it then. I thought it was the real deal, and scoffed at the whole, “contractions are like your body being wrenched in half”. This was a piece of piss, but not piss-enough for me to sleep. I didn’t take my medication as I had images of me falling down the stairs in the dead of night and slurring in the back of a taxi, unable to properly understand what was happening. I wanted to be completely present.
On Friday, the real deal happened. Contractions, which, it turns out, are indeed pretty fucking painful. All day, on and off, then suddenly they ramped up in the night (I like to say triggered by my friend’s funny tweet. I told him it had made me go into labour and he didn’t believe me). Excitement, and relief! It was happening naturally! Soon I’d be in the labour ward huffing and puffing and purple and beautific and then waaah a scream and there we go, job’s a good ‘un. Of course it didn’t happen like that.
As I mentioned before, I was with a team who care for women who are having home births, and also women with mental health conditions. Gold star service, and I can’t thank them enough. You get a pager number to call when you’re in labour. All I was having at the time were contractions- no dramatic, The Shining-esque gush, a pitiful bloody show (more a fecking matinee). But they were pretty bad, and we were timing them. Lots of dashing around, packing, tea-making, laughing (me), swearing (both). When they were 2 minutes apart, we tried the pager number. And tried. And tried. And it wouldn’t connect. (This is thanks to giffgaff, not hospital). Rang the labour ward and they caught one of the Brierley midwives on shift, and she made her way over, an excruciating hour wait. She arrived, examined me (1 of ELEVEN exams to come)- 1cm dilated! Did some breathing exercises with me, which helped. Lots of arse-in-air, head-on-hands. Had a shower (ace).. I couldn’t go to the labour ward until I was 4cm, so off she went apologetically and I stayed at home. Had a glass of wine, attempted to watch Wayne’s World on Netflix. Had a bath (useless) with Robert rubbing my back, tried (ahaha) to sleep, while Robert slept soundly next to me, my rage at him mounting with the pain. SLEEPING BASTARD.
Day 2 of no sleep.
Saturday morning, the day of my scheduled induction, and I’d been having frequent contractions for about 18 hours. I couldn’t take any more. I rang the labour ward and told them I was coming. I knew I wasn’t dilated enough. I couldn’t phone a taxi, I felt horrifically vulnerable. I was mooing, sweaty, smelly. The thought of trying to hold myself together in the back of a strange man’s car made me weep. In desperation I asked Robert to call my friend Ellie who had a car and to beg her to take me to hospital, Thankfully, she was free, and she did. At 10am, a shock of pain over every bump, staring out the window, past Norwood, Tulse Hill, finally Herne Hill, the crawl towards the hospital. Two hefty suitcases- one for the baby, and one for me, since we were booked in for a long stay. Trying to find somewhere to park, a good luck wave and we were in. Robert in his good luck Word Up t-shirt. (Incidentally, Word Up by Cameo is a song we listened to a lot when Oisín was in the womb. Consequently, it’s one of the only things that is guaranteed to make him stop crying. Proof:
Thankfully, Kate was on the morning shift (after being on call the night before and coming out at 2am! Trooper) and congratulated me on holding out for so long and asked if I wanted an epidural. FUCK YES. Always say this to this. I think I would have been more hardy had I not slept for now more than 2 days and she was fully aware of that. I also didn’t take any medication in this time, worrying I’d be out of it for labour (and they said later they don’t think I could have given informed consent to a c-section- something to think about, mental friends). Until then, though, I had gas and air. Gas and air is a beautiful thing. I huffed more than I really needed, giggling my arse off while the room was set up. Music on (we had a birth playlist- that didn’t work out, either), snacks out, and Kate went to change into her scrubs.
The epidural was pretty frightening. I was giggling (part gas and air, part euphoria as I’d waited an hour and half for it). Siting the needle was quite scary. I was too afraid to move but still making quips, until the anaesthesia went in. It’s a feeling I can’t describe, as though half your body is being chalked out of existence. A wave of panic swept over me, a feeling that I was losing control. I held onto Robert’s arm, pleading eyes and I knew that was pretty difficult for him. Once it was in, though, it was great.
Then became the second of FUCKING ELEVEN vaginal examinations, each more hideous than the last. You can refuse them, by the way, but there was no reason for me to. I sensed I wasn’t really progressing, and my waters hadn’t broken yet. But the baby was fine. I was on continuous monitoring so I could see that.
To speed things up, they decided to break my waters. They use a little hook, and the first attempt didn’t work. The second did, and from there things became simultaneously frightening and really boring.
They broke, not in a gush but a trickle onto the giant maternity pad I was lying on. Clear, so that was good. Things weren’t so good with us, though. The baby’s (baby? There was really a baby in there, all along?!) heart rate became to drop on and off. My temperature and pulse were soaring- my pulse was so high they were having trouble telling if it was his heartrate or mine. I start to feel pretty unwell and my catheter is tested, there’s protein in my wee. I had various blood tests- my veins are terrible, so this was more painful than the contraction I was no longer feeling. Many, many, each making me more hysterical than the last. I was losing my good humour as they stuck a needle into my thigh in the end. Off the test goes for pre-eclampsia. It was negative- I had an infection and so now did my baby. It might have sneaked in when my waters were broken. It’s called chorioamnionitis- an infection of the amniotic fluid, but infuriatingly they never told me what it was infected with.
Another IV- this time, antibiotics. They put me on a Picotin drip to speed up the contractions to get the Bean out. Hours and hours pass. More and more examinations. I am progressing though- in the end, I actually made it up to 10cm, but there was a cervical lip in the way, and Oisin was twisting and turning inside, going from his perfect LOA position to who the fuck knows. But he’s getting distressed. His heart rate plummets and I find myself flat on my back, surrounded by doctors, crash button hit, preparing to be taken for general anaesthetic for a category 1 section. Robert is in scrubs, and I am sobbing. But it recovers. Calm comes back.
I’m not allowed to eat or drink in case I need an emergency section. Robert puts a mattress down in the bathroom and goes to sleep. I can’t sleep- my utter, ridiculous dependency on my medication fucks me again- so I try to watch a film on my laptop and chat to the midwife- the second one- Alex. More doctors come and look up my vagina. At this point I’d kick them in the balls if I could just move my deadweight legs. But I’m not in pain, except for the odd breakthrough where I use gas and air (and I was huffing it anyway to amuse myself- Robert took a sneaky few puffs when the midwife left the room).
Midwife number three comes on shift. My exhaustion is beginning to flatten me, on day 3 of no sleep- she prepares cold towels for me and rubs my arm and chats to me in the low light of the labour suite. I switch positions often- my left side being best for labour but worse for me due to the drips and epidural, which I am terrified of coming out. I can feel the tightening of contractions, know there is a black world of pain beyond the epidural. I play with the bed controls to try and sit up and feel pressure down below- hoping, hopes dashed- that I’d need to push soon. I hadn’t eaten or drank in 15 hours and felt shaky from hunger. Fluids were being pumped into me and I could sip water but lack of sugar coupled with intense tiredness was killing me. I’d started to vomit at about 8cm so that added to the fun.
They got the baby on an ultrasound and he was back to back (was nice to see him one last time on the ultrasound- I can’t believe it was him in there, all along). The last little bit wasn’t going to come away, and his heart rate was dipping, up, and down, from stress and sickness. The consultant came in and told me we had to do an emergency cesarean. I cried, and snapped at him when he started talking about, “normal birth”. One third of women have these, it’s normal. I felt weighed down by failure and utter terror. Robert was petrified too, kissing me, apologising for all the wrong things he’s done, for not being perfect, thinking, and me too, that I’d die, and our baby would die. I signed some paper work outlining all the risks, each one I felt certain would happen to me. And then I was wheeled to theatre.
It was a bit of shock, the white white lights away from the timeless darkness of the labour suite, the busyness of the place compared to the intimacy of before. I saw it all flat on my back. They put my arms in a crucifix position and topped up the epidural. They tested it by seeing if I could feel the coldness on my abdomen. They described what was going to happen, but I was gibbering from terror. I’d had few of the warned side effects from the epidural up until this point- a mild headache, that was it- but the top up made me shiver uncontrollably. I think I was in shock, too, thinking that this can’t be happening. Robert was next to me, holding my hand, telling me he loved me.
They asked me if it was okay to have the radio on- it was, I can’t remember what was playing, something cheerful. The screen was raised so I couldn’t see (I kind of wish I could have! I watched a video of another c-section on Youtube to see what had happened) and away they went.
This was Sunday morning. I tried talking to Robert but, well, it’s hard not to be distracted by someone opening up your insides. Tugging, pressure, but no pain. Then he was out- I didn’t see him, which I regret. No cry, not for a minute or so. He was whisked away and then he cried. Relief! He was born on 1st March at 11.24am, 25 hours after I’d gone into the hospital. 7lbs 12oz of loveliness.
I couldn’t move, obviously, so Robert up to see him. He said he kind of looked at him, like he knew who he was. After a minute or two they bought him over to me. And I wish I remember what I felt the first time I saw him, but I don’t. I don’t remember these photos being taken. I look happy- I’m sure I was. I was just so exhausted by this point.
They stitched me up and then we were taking our separate ways. No immediate skin to skin or breastfeeding, which even now makes me want to cry. But he had to go to SCBU- we were still suffering from an infection and he needed antiobiotics. Robert went with him, and, so soon, already, we were separated. Off to the recovery ward I went, feeling overwhelmed and a bit confused. I had a baby.
So, I’m in the recovery ward feeling like I’ve been hit by a bus. They told me to rest (3 nights, 4 days without sleep now), which I didn’t. After about an hour, they bought Oisín back. With some help from midwife Sue, we breastfeed and had a bit of a cuddle, and it was lovely.
The bipolar birth plan had specified some key things, remember. Thing 1: private room. Thing 2: Robert to stay with me. Thing 3: I get some rest. Thing 4: Minimum 3 day stay.
There’s a fundamental flaw in the whole plan- you’re never alone, and you’re not allowed to either leave the ward nor take the baby off it.
Thing 1 we got. It was a tiny side room at the end of the (huge) postnatal ward. But there was nowhere for Robert to sleep, not even a blanket for him. I don’t expect hospitals to be hotels, but this was in our plan, we were being forced into this. So Robert called his brother for help (and this is why I mention it- what if we’d had no family, no friends to help?), and he came with an inflatable bed and a blanket for him. I sat paralysed, bleeding and cathaterted up, and not in the mood for visitors (who I banned totally from the hospital). Oisín was in a plastic cot in wheels, like a chicken in an incubator. Twice a day, he’d be wheeled up to SCBU for his IV dose of antibiotics. We’d be staying until he was clear of infection, which could be up to 10 days.
The first night as parents was hell. People kept commenting on Facebook how amazing the first night must be, when we were both in tears and feeling as though we were going mad. We were interrupted CONSTANTLY by staff, for various reasons. Checks, OBs, intrusions. The whole, “stay here to get rest” part of the plan was dreadfully ill thought out. Because a) we were always having someone knock at the door and I was woken up often and b) two people in the room are still in a room with a crying baby, and it’ll wake both of us up. None of us got any rest. I ended up, even with my medication, getting only four hours of sleep after now 5 days without any. Robert was exhausted, too. Nobody ever knocked, including the cleaning staff and food people, while I lay on bed, tearful, with my breasts hanging out struggling to breastfeed. I was confused every time the baby cried, a totally alien sound to me. I kept forgetting I had a baby, and I was paralysed from the epidural and couldn’t get up to help him. It took me a few days to comfortably lift him from the cot.
Perinatal psychiatry discharged me after the second night on the ward, with no concerns. They were bollocked by me and Robert, who told them we couldn’t understand how they thought that trapping someone on a ward, in a room, with constant intrusions, was in any way going to let them rest. There was a bit of back and forth, but basically, the psychiatrist admitted it wasn’t the best plan. Once I left, my nurse would come to see me weekly (now fortnightly).
I couldn’t leave anyway- we had to stay until Oisin was free of infection. I was on fairly heavy duty myself- a regime of antibiotics, nightly clexane injections and diamorphine for the pain. The pain was fine, as long as I kept on top of it. On the second day, I bounced around like Willy Wonka and sorely (so very sorely) paid for it by being immobilised the next day.
I had reasoned with myself that the plus side of being on the postnatal ward so long was that I could get lots of breastfeeding support. Hooray! But the support was crap. Hooroo.
The first time we breastfed was, as I mentioned, in the recovery ward, after being separated for more than an hour. A midwife in the breastfeeding cafe later said this might be a reason we had problems, which made me cry. But that time wasn’t too difficult, and it felt lovely. It made me feel spacey and relaxed. I chased that ease and feeling for the next three weeks, before giving up.
My supply was fine, great, in fact. The problems we were having were that it was hard to get him to latch, and I was in a lot of pain from the surgery and struggled to find a comfortable position. What I should have done, and what nobody ever told me I could do or helped me to do, was to basically stay in bed naked and do skin and skin a lot, to let him find his way, and to express and feed him that. Instead it was a few hellish, uncomfortable days of increasingly feeling like a complete failure and giving him formula in begged bottles.
I asked for a lot of help on the postnatal ward, which mostly consisted of people shoving my breasts into his screaming mouth. The last time I asked for help was on our last night there. I’ve found out in my notes (which I got in my “traumatic birth” debrief) what happened behind the scenes.
The night shift midwife came on and I asked if we could have a bit of support breastfeeding. I wanted one last good go at it before we were leaving. She said to set an alarm for the baby’s next feed, which was in 45 minutes, so I did. 45 minutes passed, the alarm went off and I wandered out to let them know. Over the next hour or so I tried again and again, while the baby got increasingly hysterical from hunger. They kept telling me someone would be with me, and an hour later, they came in. They told me they’d been on holiday so didn’t know these “new” positions (I’d asked about rugby hold, which was the comfiest position we’d tried) and only knew “cradle hold”. Which we tried, but it was futile because he was screaming his head off, and then started kicking me in the scar. I was fairly pissed off and exhausted and said to leave us alone. One of the worst feelings in the world is trying to feed your baby, and not being able to. I was a bit rude, but no more than any new, exhausted mum.
The next day, without warning, while I was quietly sitting on the bed with the baby, reading magazines, my perinatal nurse walked in. She said the midwife (who hadn’t once approached me herself) had rang them to tell her to come straight away because I was, “hyperactive, chaotic and abrupt”. It should be said that previous night I’d slept better than any other- I was asleep by 1am, after I’d made a cup of tea. I guess, though, because I have bipolar disorder, that was, “hyperactive and chaotic”. As for abrupt- I’d barely slept for 10 days. Robert was pretty abrupt, too, but because he’s a man without a diagnosis, I guess he was just “forthright” instead.
I have my maternity notes, as I’d had a traumatic birth debrief. I’d thought the reason the midwife had called the perinatal team was because of my “abrupt” manner towards the (useless, rude) maternity assistant. Possibly, as they’d written down that I was very angry and “not being patient” (waiting for an hour more than your baby needs while he screams will make one impatient)- but what was more significant is that she’d noted- twice- that I had self harm scars. SIX YEAR OLD self harm scars- CLEARLY not new, and most clearly not new since the last fecking time she’d noted them. One of her notes was that I wasg with the baby with self harm scars. A new mother, holding her baby! I wore a cardigan anytime I left my room, but was wearing a vest top in my room, as it was roasting.
It’s clear what’s inferred, and it’s clear why she called my perinatal nurse. It’s that she didn’t trust me with my baby, because I had a diagnosis and scars, and because if you have those things, no matter what you do, your behaviour will be pathologised.
The perinatal nurse was, thankfully, bemused. I was so clearly fine- tired, grumpy and desperate to go home- but fine. She asked Robert if he was worried and if I’d been okay. Because you can’t trust mental people to tell the truth. Nor women. Robert said I was fine but that he was angry about the constant interruptions and had been going mad himself, and that we just wanted to go home now. But what if he hadn’t been there? Would I be on my way to the Mother and Baby Unit? (One of my midwife team agreed with my perspective on this, and said sadly, I was always going to face these issues from ignorant people).
The nurse had no concerns. And I have to emphasise here for anyone going, “but, but, but” that I was geniunely not acting in unusual way at all- I was tired, but, apart from to the maternity assistant- in good humour and polite. There was no reason for them to call. The experience shook me and I felt very upset. I felt like I’d been doing really well and realised that, forever, I was going to be judged upon having scars and diagnosis and that this midwife won’t be the last person to think I was a danger to my child. I place part of the blame for why I failed with breastfeeding at that midwife’s feet. After that, I was worried about showing any sort of annoyance or impatience in case they thought I was mad and called the perinatal team on me again. And ultimately, I did fail. I was with the midwives postnatally for 4 weeks and on the third, getting help every time but not cracking it, the baby hungry and me exhausted, and sick, sick, sick of being touched, I said, enough. Stop. I had only intermittently managed it with him and was expressing every hour. I’d had it. I still feel like an utter failure for it, I still grieve for not breastfeeding, but I was beginning to dread every time he woke up. It hasn’t affected my bond with at all- I don’t think I could be more bonded with him if I put him back in my uterus. I adore him.
But me and baby both infection free meant we were discharged later that day, hooray! We played him this and both cried:
Robert’s brother drove us home- it was a full moon that night.
So, eleven weeks in and I’m good. I’m still trying to make my peace with failing to breastfeed, but he’s thriving, which helps. He’s amazing- I’ve become one of those boring bastards who Facebooks their child’s every fart, but they are such lovely farts. He’s a smiley, happy, beautiful little thing.
(Despite having to attend 2 funerals before he’s even 2 months old- the first of my granny, the second of Robert’s. From 3 great-grannies to 1, within 2 weeks).
Mentally, I’m okay. I’ve been having a bit of resurgence of my anxiety. I worry about things happening to him and get some frightening intrusive thoughts. My death anxiety has come back, because a baby makes you even more acutely aware of your own mortality than before. I’m coping with it, though. I’m struggling a lot with my medication and wish I was off it but my team don’t support that in the slightest right now, and I’m worried about doing anything, “wrong”. Robert does all the night feeds, as I’m too drowsy. I did try, and dropped the bottle, and him. I feel quite useless sometimes, but coming off it will entail brutal insomnia so I guess now isn’t the right time. I see my perinatal nurse every fortnight and she’s been hugely encouraging and supportive. I’m glad she’s been there. The midwives who were with me pre, during and postnatally were also amazing, and I’m making them a nice card (because I’m 5).
And c section recovery wasn’t too bad. Pain and stiffness and weird bladder numbness but mostly fine now.
I have a whole ‘nother blog about parenthood, so I’ll end this one now at- fuck me, 4500 words! I bet your screenreader is steaming. Here’s some cute baby pics as a reward for sticking with it!