Determined to eat the "right" kind of foods to nourish my baby.....soon, nausea set in with a feeling of complete exhaustion. I just ate what I could get down in the end for the first 4 months.
Determined to give birth naturally- wanted to birth in the water at a midwife led unit. No drugs. Just breathe the baby out. I was certain I could do this. I didn't consider the possibility of not being able to do this.
This part goes on a bit but it has been a cathartic exercise getting it all down. It is something I couldn't talk about until I went to therapy whilst pregnant with my second child. I suffered PTSD from T's labour and I didn’t realise until pregnant again. I can talk about it now but it's still hard.
It has helped me to realise it wasn’t my fault and to unpack the guilt. Every mothers birth story is her own and she should be given space and time to share it if and when she feels able.
Determined to go in to labour naturally.....T was so overdue and I was made to feel like my body was failing to do what it was built to do. Stretch and sweep after stretch and sweep but nothing worked. I could barely walk at this point so a long walk was completely out of the question. I was booked in for induction at 12 days over due. When that date was written down in my notes, that felt like the end. Even on the day I held hope that my body would still spring into action as it should, right up to the moment we had to leave. My husband found me crying on the bed, hard, painful heavy tears because I felt like a failure. We got to the hospital nearly 2 hours later than planned.
I just wasn't ready. As I had channelled all my energy into a natural birth I hadn't even researched what induction meant or involved. My experience was horrendous. I just gave up on myself as once in hospital I had lost all sense of control. I was strapped to machines, spoken to like I didn't matter, my birth plan was disregarded and even laughed at. It was hot, over 30 degrees on the ward. A pessary was inserted. It really hurt. It didn't work, as 12 hours later I was still there. Another pessary was inserted. 6 hours later it was taken out, having not worked. Although, they felt that a 3rd pessary would do the job. By this stage I was having a panic attack when the doctor came to put it in. It took me 10 mins to calm myself down, all while the midwife and doctor were standing there checking their watch and tutting, telling me to just "pull myself together".
Anyway, as my body was almost ready, it didn't hurt. And I was allowed to go to sleep- this was all happening on a full ward, at 1am and I wasn't allowed to make any noise. 🙄 At around 5.30am contractions started!!! Hurrah!!! They were slow, but very painful right from the start and I felt sick as a dog all day. I had no sick bowl so was running (waddling) around trying to find a midwife to get me one. I was guzzling blackcurrant high juice squash (I hate water and this is my favourite) but was just throwing it all up every time. The contractions just rolled into one another with no gaps. Labour ward was full so I had to stay where I was in a 3m by 1 meter cubicle closed with a curtain in a full ward in 32 degrees heat. It was hell on earth. At 6pm I was taken to the labour ward and told to lay on my back and not move. What the frick!!! Contrary to popular belief and what the films would have you believe lying on your back whilst in labour is the worst!! Especially if baby is back to back! I was 6cm dilated and they "had" to break my waters to "speed things along".....I later learned they just needed to speed every woman along as they had no room for everyone.
The hormonal drip was administered which ramped everything up. The baby became distressed and alarms were sounded doctors rushed in and the drip was reduced. It worked, but they wanted things to move faster so it was ramped up again, alarms sounded and the baby was in distress again. Just leave me alone I cried, I just wanted to birth in the way nature intended. My baby doesn't need extra hormones, it isn't helping. But still they insisted. I was offered an epidural as I couldn't stay still or stay lying down and I was struggling to cope. I couldn't understand why I wasn’t allowed to get up and move to help me cope with the pains. Anyway, after a couple of hours I gave in and had the epidural. It was the most unwanted element of birth I could imagine apart from a c-section. But at that moment I needed it. Mentally, I needed it to regain composure and calm so I could focus. Of course, after this, everything slowed down and 10 hours later my birth hadn't progressed. This made "them" worry. I was taking up precious space on the labour ward. I was told I needed a c-section. I refused. I waited 2 more hours. I was told again. I refused. I could hear the midwife and doctors telling my husband and my mum that I needed one, I was too tired to do this etc(I wasn't).
Another hour went past and I could hear them being told to try and persuade me to have a section. I didn't want one. I didn’t need one. I was fine, the baby was fine. Still they persisted. I gave in. I felt so pressured to agree and signed the paperwork through heavy tears. The fight had been lost. I vomited through the operation and cried. When T was born she was brought round to see me- I couldn't bear to look at her. I felt like I'd already let her down so much by not giving her the natural birth (with all of its natural goodness for her micro biome).
I was stitched up in double quick time (later learned it wasn’t done correctly but that's a whole other long story on my physical healing) I played the part though once back in the room. Pretended I doted on her and then quickly handing her back so I could sleep. It had been nearly 4 days of no days by this point. T had been born 24th June 2014.....14 days overdue, via the sunroof!
She was perfect!
Determined to breastfeed!
So, as my body had failed to do its job of naturally birthing my baby, I was adamant it was dam well going to feed her!!! She fed, around the clock. My nipples were on fire. I used a whole tube of nipple cream with 3 days. She was never satisfied, never slept unless nestled at my breast. Of course, the midwives said this was all normal so I just carried on. I was hallucinating throughout the night. Midwives tried to settle her for me so I could grab an hours sleep. They brought her back screaming so I could feed her. Those 2 nights in hospital were so awful. The midwives were run ragged- not enough of them to do their jobs effectively. My bag from my catheter burst, as did many other mums on my ward. People couldn't get out of bed to pick up their crying babies and no one would come to help. The toilet and floors had blood drips and pools all other the place where women were struggling with the basics of personal care with no one to help them. Many of us were left without sufficient pain relief after our surgery because of errors on hospital notes. It was the grimiest of places to be and I just couldn't wait to get home. So, T was feeding, and I had managed a wee. My husband had helped me shower as I could barely walk or stand. After many hours waiting for paperwork to be signed we were allowed home and given a pack of paracetamol for my pain relief. That's it!!!
It was raining when we stepped outside but the fresh damp air felt heavenly. Once home, calm was restored. Breastfeeding was relentless. She liked to feed every hour day and night. After 5 weeks I woke up with bruised feeling breasts. They were hard and solid. I was also due to fly to Hungary for a family wedding that day. I called a local breastfeeding support group leader. She didn’t answer. I googled mastitis....oh shit!!! That's it!! I had mastitis! A temperature soon ensued, and I hobbled my way to through the airport until I could buy some paracetamol and ibuprofen. Suddenly Claire called (breastfeeding support) she told me what to do. Feed, feed, feed, check bras fit properly, take painkillers regularly to keep on top of the swelling and pain. If it gets worse then get to a hospital- if untreated mastitis can turn incredibly nasty. For 4 days I felt like death. But it got better. I was incredibly grateful to have breastfeeding support on the end of the phone, even when in another country. It saved me. That trip gave me enormous confidence. I fed T, every hour, in every place imaginable. Nobody batted an eyelid. Locals smiled and offered water and shady place to sit whilst feeding. I felt worthy and valued as a mother doing her best. When we came back to England I had a renewed sense of confidence. I was ready to get out. I went to a weekly breastfeeding support group. Just to feel part of a community was so helpful. Others I had met in hospital or neighbours had long since given up breastfeeding and raved about the ease of bottle feeding. I felt alone. The support group was a lifeline. Month after month new mums would come in. Eyes red and puffy. They would sit down, we would hold their hand and their baby and just listen. Each mothers story was one of pain and struggle and loneliness. We all became friends. We consoled each other. We talked about sleep... oh sleep....the holy grail of motherhood. I remember naively asking the leader when T was around 8 weeks old when should I expect her to start sleeping through the night. (Expected an answer of around 3 months old like the books/films say) The answer was softly and kindly offered.....who knows. Some take 3 months, some a year, some many years. T took 4 and a half years. She just turned 6 and still occasionally wakes once or twice. My friends in that group saved me and stopped me torturing myself on whether I was a good mum. I stopped reading books, searching Google for answers and tuned in to my baby. We co-slept a lot. We breastfed a lot. I loved it. I was good at it. I felt like motherhood had been the making of me.
When she was a year old we moved to North Devon. Here, there were no mums my age, no small children. No friends. It was tough. I decided to train to become a breastfeeding supporter to mothers in the area. I studied a course in breastfeeding and birth. At 18 months T stopped asking for milk. She slept through the night for 2 weeks. We thought we'd done it! We thought "let's have another baby". We tried for another baby. T stopped sleeping through the night. Doh!!! As I was pregnant and working I didn’t feel I could commit to volunteering for breastfeeding support. But I helped some friends through struggles. Pointed them in the direction of local support groups. Helped with supplementary feeding systems when babies wouldn't latch or weren't gaining enough weight. Helped with pumping and different kinds of pumps and how to pace feed bottles when they were bottle feeding so the baby could initiate the end of the feed and be in control of their hunger. These women wanted to keep going with breastfeeding but health workers were pressuring them to stop. I've donated my breastmilk to a mum whose baby was born prematurely and desperately needed extra whilst she expressed enough. She struggled with tongue tie and eventually after exhausting all avenues and struggling with her mental health she moved on to formula feeding. She was grateful to know she had support and had been given the opportunity to try every avenue available. It meant she could own her decision. I admired her. She was in a single sex relationship and the sperm was gifted from a stranger on a website for women desperate for a child but unable to financially go down the official routes. She felt so vulnerable because of this. I feel proud to have been a part of their journey.
Breastfeeding my youngest was a different journey altogether. She was easy. She fed every 3 hours or so. A good long feed. No soreness. She was settled and content and slotted into family life with ease. People at baby groups would say "you make it look so easy". I would say, "I've been where you are too" " I've experienced full circle", "ask me anything". She also slept. I was in love with her. I worried I wouldn't be able to love another child as much as T but the love just keeps on doubling. I carried her in a sling on my front all day. I cuddled her, I didn't put her down. She never cried. This was weird, and just kept on thinking " I know this won’t last, any day now she will throw us a curveball, it's what babies do". She breastfed for 2 and a half years. She just needed it more. She wasn't so independent as T, needed the comfort and I was happy to provide it. Towards the end she would leave days between feeds. Sometimes a week. One day I heard her telling my sister that she doesn't have mummy's milk any more because it's all gone. I hadn't even realised. Natural weaning is often like this. I felt content in the knowledge that both my children had stopped when they felt ready.