Sunday, March 6, 2011
The Other Side
My son is two months old today (the photo is about a month out of date now). His birthday gave us a hat-trick of birthdays on the 6th of the first three months of the year. He is the 6th of January, I am the 6th of February and my dad - who is 75 years old today - is the 6th of March. These two months have been the longest of my life, I think.
I've heard the first few weeks with a newborn described as "ecstatic", "babymoon", "precious" and other similarly delightful terms. I can only describe our first few weeks as fairly hellish. Things are still fairly chaotic, but we're reaching a point where a certain amount of sanity has returned.
I'm not sure that I can give you my birth story at all clearly, as the whole thing is a bit of a blur, but I'll try.
We (me, my husband and my sister, who trained as a midwife) went in on Monday 3rd January at 5.30pm so that I could be induced. The hospital was so understaffed that I didn't get the pess.ary put in until 1.30am on Tuesday 4th (my due date). At that point, my husband and sister went home to get some sleep. I did NOT sleep - monitoring, nervousness and noise on the ward prevented it. The necessary 24 hours passed and nothing happened, so in the early hours of Wednesday 5th January they put some gel in and did more monitoring of the baby. Baby and I both came to hate the monitoring - tight belts round my belly, left for well over an hour at a time many times over the days I was in hospital. I know it was for our own good, but in the end it made things worse. I did not sleep on either the Monday/Tuesday night or the Tuesday/Wednesday night and, as it turned out, during the monitoring on the 2nd night, the huge movement I felt in my belly was the baby moving from the perfect "his spine down my left side" to the very much less than perfect back-t0-back position.
On the morning of Wednesday 5th, the midwife on the ward decided that I had dilated enough to be moved to the labour ward and have my waters broken. When I was examined by a doctor on arrival on the labour ward though, I was told this was not the case. Instead I had another, very painful sweep and was left to wait (sister and husband were back with me at this point). As I was high-risk and going to be having an epidural, I was on a more monitored part of the maternity unit. But again, they were understaffed, so instead of having a midwife with me all the time, I had to share one with the room next door, and got through 4 midwives in the 18 hours I was on the ward. Not great! Thankfully, I had my sister - had I not, I would have been terrified.
I had some contractions, tried gas and air, felt sick and dizzy and gave up in favour of some strong painkillers. As the painkillers took effect, the contractions stopped. In the middle of the afternoon, my nice consultant was passing and decided that she was going to break my waters. After that, the contractions came back, but not as effectively as they wanted. So they put a drip in and I asked for my early epidural. Four hours later, I got it! I did FOUR HOURS of strong back labour with no pain relief at all. My sister tells me I was amazing. Apparently, whenever a contraction came, I went very quiet, closed my eyes and breathed. I only swore once during the whole birth, when I was told (three hours after I'd asked for an epidural) that there was still no anaesthetist available. I have almost no memory of this part of the day at all.
Eventually, the anaesthetist arrived and put in the epidural. That part was OK, but it only worked down one side of my body and I continued to have terrible pain on the other side. The midwife and anaesthetist did some fancy manoevering over the next hour and managed to get it most of the way through the other side too. However, just when the pain stopped, the monitors started to show that the baby's heartrate wasn't great and I was threatened with a C-section. At this point, I didn't really care how they got the baby out, I just wanted him out and safe. Before they made a decision, they tried a scalp monitor and took a blood test from the babies scalp to see if he was in distress. The scalp monitor did not work well at all, and made it look like the baby's heartrate was dropping. I was terrified by this time. Thankfully, just as they were about to whisk me off to surgery, the results of the blood test came back showing that the baby was basically OK and we had more time. They put me back on the belly monitor and things settled a bit.
During all the investigating, they found that I was 9cm dilated and, once they'd established that the baby was OK, they gave me one hour to push before taking me into surgery for a C-section. The hour did almost nothing - they'd discovered that the baby was back-to-back with me by this time - but it did get things far enough on that they started talking about forceps rather than a C-section. How I wish I'd taken the C-section now!
The nice doctor who was looking after me by this time brought me a consent sheet to sign, whereupon I read her name - she was the parent of a child in the same year that I had been teaching at school, in the classroom next to mine. On the one hand, I shall probably not be able to look her in the eye again, on the other, I think she took extra care of the baby, who emerged without a mark upon him - quite unusual for a forceps delivery. They had to turn him manually first, then pull him out with the forceps. By this time, we'd had to leave my sister behind and it was my husband and me and a lot of medics - midwife, doctor, my consultant (who happened to be passing again), anaesthetist, paediatrician and several other folk who I never identified.
My epidural was topped up and then they began. I am honestly not sure how my son's head remained attached to his body. I felt no pain, but I felt the force of the pulling and it was quite something! I have since read of people seeing their midwife or ob/gyn putting a foot up on the end of the trolley to brace themselves to pull a baby out using forceps. It doesn't surprise me! And although the baby was left unscathed, I am going to be feeling the effects for some time. I had an episi.otomy, which came unstitched and got infected and I have prol.apses front and back and possibly in the middle too - waiting to see a consultant about that next week. Childbirth is the gift that keeps on giving here!
The baby was placed briefly on my chest, looking grey and bloody and not crying, and was then whisked away to be looked at by the paediatrician. I heard him start to cry as he was taken to the next room and my husband tells me that by the time the he saw him, the paediatrician said "perfect - nothing for me to do here". His APGAR score was 9, which is one off perfect actually, but it was good enough for me. I was stitched up and the bleeding (which was quite a lot) was stopped and then I was given the baby back in recovery and I fed him. My sister was brought back at this point and we were all taken up to the postnatal ward. My son was born at 4.07am on 6th January - Thursday's child, just like I had been 41 years and 11 months before him.
The postnatal ward was not a great experience - once again, understaffing was largely to blame. My medications were late, sometimes missed and I had to chase them up myself, and when I said I was having difficulty breast.feeding, I was given formula and a syringe!!! There were also good bits - a midwife who really did care, who took time to help me express my own milk and who was very thorough in briefing me before I was released, and a girl who was in the bed opposite me who was having a similarly tough time who I became friendly with and have continued to keep in touch with. We both agree that the first three weeks of motherhood were horrendous and we both thought "what on earth have I done?" once or twice most days during that time.
Getting home wasn't much better. I was out 2 days after giving birth after 5 nights of almost no sleep at all and was slightly mad and incredibly anxious and spent the next few days not eating and almost unable to sleep altogether. One of the visiting midwives, arriving after a particularly bad night, sent round a psychiatrist and acute psychiatric nurse, worried that I might have pue.rpural psyc.hosis - anyone who knows me well enough could have told her that my behaviour was fairly typical for me after two weeks of no more that 3 hours sleep a night and none during the day! Thankfully the psychiatrist and the nurse pronounced me to be utterly normal :-). That alongside yo-yoing blood pressure, the infected episiotomy, stitches coming out, wierd heart rhythms, a return stay in hospital with retained products and, worst of all, my poor baby coughing up blood (which turned out to be from feeding from me!) led to a horrendous first few weeks. And just as things began to settle, as my swelling went down, the prolapses became obvious, meaning that walking and standing are now uncomfortable. I am awaiting an echocardiogram and a 24 hour heart monitor, after some ectopic heartbeats and a really scary turn when it felt like my heart stopped for a couple of beats, I couldn't breathe and things started to cloud over before normality returned (ECG, bloods and chest x-ray afterwards came back clear but medics thought they could hear a heart murmur). And just yesterday, we discovered that the wee one has an ingu.inal her.nia and will need surgery at some point. My anxiety about my own health, always an issue for me, is even stronger now that I am spending time on my own with my baby - what if I pass out while carrying him, or die one morning leaving him on his own till my husband gets home at night and finds . . . what?!
On top of all this: we had to get the flat cleaned and decluttered ready to put on the market and we're now up for sale and showing people round the last four days out of six; my husband's hours at work have been cut just as my maternity pay comes to an end; we are now well in to the development of the property we bought with my parents and have a huge mortgage and cannot pull out without leaving my parents homeless. We are looking down the list of life's most stressful experiences and wondering which one is coming next.
But alongside all that anxiety and stress and sleeplessness (did I mention that the baby is colicky and doesn't sleep for more than 3 hours at a time?!) there are starting to be some amazing moments. When my baby smiles at me as I pick him up first thing in the morning, when he does something new like trying to get his thumb in his mouth today, when I see my husband with his longed-for son, when my father tells me that he thinks his grandson is incredibly clever and will be walking and talking in no time - then it's all worth it - every moment of pain and stress since the birth, all the worry and discomfort during the pregnancy and even all the sadness of the losses and the childlessness of the last eight years. I love my child so much! The fact that he is not genetically mine makes no difference to me at all. I will never know what it is like to have a genetically-related child, but I can't imagine for a moment that I could love such a child any more than I love my son - it's just not possible! And the wonderful thing is that it makes no difference at all to the rest of my family either: my mum and dad are clearly as besotted with him as they are with the other two grandchildren and my sister keeps threatening to steal him and has already begged me to make sure that she is the one we "leave him to" in our wills (if anything happens to her and her husband, my husband and I are to be guardians to their kids and she wants to do the same for us).
I want to leave this post with a message for those of you who are still trying to have a baby. If you are considering donor eggs or donor embryos and are worried about bonding with any resulting baby, I hope this gives you hope (and I have three friends who have also done donor eggs who are also delighted they took that decision). And for anyone who has reached the point where they have decided to live childless (or have accepted that that is what is inevitable): before this pregnancy, I had reached the point in my journey where I had accepted that childlessness was the most likely possibility and I had pretty much made peace with that - to the extent that there is a little bit of me mourning that life I had planned, with all the travel and freedom and possibilities of doing valuable things for people who really needed help. I love my son and I am very happy to be a mum now, but I can still see that place I had come to before this and it was still a good one. I hope I always remember the pain that our fight to have a child brought, but I hope that I also remember that I had realised that our lives were still important and valuable if we had never had a child. That is still very clear in my mind - I am not one of those women who has had a child and now believes that any other path in life is irrelevant. Had I had a child easily, I think I might have been, but that time of struggling and exploring alternatives has taught me a lot.