Author, Blogger, Mother, Procrastinator.
Big fan of honesty.
Wilf's Birth Story
It has, quite remarkably, been three months since our unit of four became a five. I have been meaning to blog our birth story ever since and in many ways, I’m surprised it has taken me this long to share what was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I suppose I’ve been a bit worried that anything written in the newborn-brain-fog wouldn’t do our story justice but I’m not sure the fog is going to lift any time soon (I can still barely string a spoken sentence together) so I’m going to do my best. As most of you will know, Wilf is our third baby. My previous two deliveries were less than ideal and, if I’m honest, had left me feeling pretty negative about labour. I won’t give you the full background on Henry and Jude’s deliveries as this could easily become Essays in the Unmumsy Births volumes 1-100 but in a nutshell, I had preeclampsia with Henry and a ‘failure to progress’ with Jude, leading to two very ‘medical’ feeling births: me on my back, bright lights, lots of bodies in the room, ALL the drugs and a total loss of control on my part – the low point being during birth two, when I went on strike at 10cm dilated, sploshing about completely naked in my waters, refusing to push and declaring that I was dying (out of sheer terror, I think – I can still remember the panic!) Wilf’s birth could not have been more different and three months later I'm still on Cloud 9 about how well it went. Shortly after I’d had Jude (who was ‘definitely going to be our last, thank you and goodnight’) I wrote that in the unlikely event that I ever had another one, I would give hypnobirthing a bash and I cannot begin to tell you how glad I am that I did. I honestly feel that the whole delivery was a testament to hypnobirthing. On the morning of 12th December, I had ‘the show’ (always makes me want to do jazz hands) and started to feel a bit funny. I had Henry’s nativity play at the local church at 10AM and by the time I was sat down listening to him singing Prickly Hay I was having light contractions every 15 minutes or so (way more intense than Braxton Hicks but I could still chat through them). Back at home, they continued in the same manner for the best part of the day (not yet enough to head to the hospital) so I did my best to chill out, watching The Holiday (love that film), drinking tea and eating biscuits. At 4PM, I attempted a nap to bank some sleep and help me relax but found I could no longer sleep through the contractions, which were around every 10 mins. At 5pm, my waters broke all over the living room floor (proper comedy waters gush like in the movies, it was everywhere). It was at this point that I had a bit of a worry as I realised, with all the excitement over things ‘kicking off’, that I hadn’t felt the baby move for a couple of hours. After phoning triage at the hospital, I was told I needed to go in just to check the baby’s heart rate and although I had hoped to relax at home for a lot longer to minimise hospital time, I needed peace of mind that he was OK, so we loaded the car with the hospital bags (yes bags, as James has his own bag with snacks and drinks to 'keep him going') and off we went. I don’t know if it was James’s driving or the sudden change of plan but during the 10 minute car journey I had three contractions and they were pretty intense! With Christmas songs on the radio, I started breathing as I’d been practicing - in for 4, out for 8 – and felt pretty calm and relaxed as we arrived. The midwives were not expecting me to be in active labour when I turned up and I think my calmness on arrival was deceiving, so we were told to wait in the general triage waiting area. This was not ideal as by this point I was having contractions every 2-3 minutes and could no longer sit down. I waddled over and told the lady on the desk that things had changed and I needed to get to a room in the birth centre ASAP (the polite way of saying ‘shit’s getting real’). We were put in an assessment room to check Wilf’s heart rate which was fine, thank God, but my blood pressure was not and it was at this point that I feared my calm birth was about the fly out the window. Given my history of preeclampsia, the rapidly increasing blood pressure was a big concern and after consultation with doctors, I was told that the recommendation was to send me to labour ward and not the birth centre as planned. I was also informed that a water birth was no longer recommended, due to an increased risk of fitting associated with the blood pressure drama. If there was a Sliding Doors moment of the labour, where everything could have changed, this was it. I remembered Siobhan (my hypnobirthing teacher)’s encouragement to ask questions about the risks and benefits of any decision (and needing to change my mind set about ‘not being allowed’ to do things). Given that I was already having contractions every two minutes, I asked if it would be at all possible to get into a pool and reassess my blood pressure from there, as I had a strong feeling the baby would be making an appearance very soon and I was terrified that laying on my back on a labour ward would set me back. Our midwife, Rosie, was brilliant, and given that my blood pressure was not yet an emergency situation (let me be clear: if it had been deemed at all dangerous, I would have waddled at speed to labour ward), she agreed to try it my way for a bit in the hope that the pool would relax me. The next two hours were everything I had hoped birth would be this time around. James put some gentle spa music on, we sprayed some relaxing room spray and I went into my own zone, focusing on breathing and, lo and behold, my blood pressure went DOWN! I had requested to have no internal examinations (as these really stressed me out in previous deliveries) so was left to my own devices, with Rosie monitoring Wilf’s heartbeat with the hand-held Doppler thingy while I was in the pool. For an hour and a half, I barely made any noise except to breathe as I'd practiced and I really made use of the visualisation techniques, particularly a hot air balloon one where I imagined the hot air balloon inflating as I felt a contraction coming on, and then floating away as it eased off. I found it really helpful to have something to focus on and I can’t even begin to tell you how different it was to Jude’s birth, where I swore, shouted and begged everyone to put me out of my misery. At around 11:25PM, I felt like things had changed and that the ‘up’ breathing I’d practiced was no longer working - like something was pushing down into my bum and I knew it was time to change to the ‘down breaths’ (I’m laughing as I type this, aware it sounds a bit wanky but IT WORKS, I promise IT REALLY WORKS!) Despite having had zero internal examinations, I just knew it was time for him to arrive and I can’t tell you how nice it was not to have people saying ‘you’re 10cm, it’s time to push, no you can’t go on strike’ like I’d had before – this time, the midwives just trusted from what they were observing that I knew what to do. After 20 minutes of bearing down into my bum using the candle-blowing-out breaths (which I had practiced when going for a poo, yes really) accompanied by a bit of cow-like mooing, Wilf’s head was out. I felt so calm, even stopping to have a chat about the colour of his hair, and shortly after with one final big poo-push the rest of him followed, just before midnight. The cord was wrapped twice around his neck which made me panic momentarily (“OMG DO SOMETHING!”) but he was absolutely fine and Rosie helped me get to him onto my chest. The feeling at that point was total euphoria. I have never been prouder of myself and after two pretty negative births I almost felt like this birth had put the others right, somehow. Wilf was 8lb 13oz – my biggest baby yet – but I’d had paracetamol and codeine only, as I just didn’t feel like I wanted anything else (I’ve sampled ALL the drugs in previous births and never enjoyed the sensation of being ‘out of it’, though I did find the epidural pretty magic with Henry). Post-birth, things very nearly got medical again when the placenta got stuck and had to be manually manipulated out by poor Rosie (not going to lie, this was basically like being fisted), but again I breathed through it and the atmosphere was not at all one of panic. After tea and toast, some skin-to-skin and Wilf’s first feed we left the hospital just a few hours later and were back at home by 5AM, meaning Henry and Jude had gone to bed like normal and woken up to find a baby brother! I know every birth is different but I am convinced that the reason this birth was so different was due to the time I’d spent with Siobhan and the resulting calmness and confidence I had in my own decisions. I’m so glad I decided not to have any internal examinations and pushed for a water birth (clearly if I had considered this a real safety concern I would have reacted differently but I was so sure the pool would help and that he would arrive soon, and he did!) and the biggest game changer of all was the breathing. The most important tool ever, I felt in control (almost) the entire time. I have had so many messages since I mentioned hypnobirthing asking if I would recommend it and I honestly can’t recommend it enough (and this goes for every type of birth - including induction and c-section - it's not all about drug-free water births). I'd say there is probably a spectrum as to how 'into' the hypnobirthing you get and I reckon I was somewhere in the middle - I never got used to calling contractions 'surges', James never once joined in with reading me any of the 'affirmations' (nor did I particularly want him to) and I would be lying if I said I didn't feel pain but bugger me, it was 100x better than I ever imagined birth could be. This comes from a sceptic - someone who was worried she might have to start chanting or sacrifice an animal under a full moon while wearing tie-dye – when in actual fact, it was just a course geared towards making every type of birth as positive as possible. I did hypnobirthing with Siobhan, founder of The Positive Birth Company, who, alongside classes, also offers a digital download pack with all the hypnobirthing resources you could need for just £35. For more information visit the website or see @thepositivebirthcompany on Instagram. I have not been paid for this post. I am sharing because I would like to give something back to Siobhan who gave me a birth experience I will remember fondly forever (and which has gone some way to drowning out the memory of the swearing and the 10cm strike).
A Grief Encounter
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a PR company inviting me to attend a special Mother’s Day event. ‘A treat for you and your mum!’ the invite read. My heart dropped into my stomach and I promptly deleted it. It’s just an email, I told myself. Deleted. Forgotten about. Only it wasn’t forgotten about. As I carried on with my day, attempting to busy myself with whatever I had been doing before I’d checked my emails, I could feel a little doom-cloud descending. It felt like the light had been turned off on my day and I was annoyed at myself for allowing a single email to switch my mood from good to grumpy. Grumpy is how grief manifests itself, for me. I have never been much of a take-myself-upstairs-to-cry-at-pictures type of person, though on a very small number of occasions that has happened. I’ve always coped far better with being in ‘a bad mood’ than I have with being in a sad mood because a bad mood means I can stomp around with people thinking I’ve simply ‘got a cob on’ and I can still function perfectly well complete with cob. A sad mood is a lot trickier to contend with. I hadn’t prepared myself for the feelings this email would stir up because it came out of the blue and I was therefore completely unable to control my mood. The bad mood pretty swiftly became a sad one and before I could stop it, my mind went there. To the place I try so hard not to let it go. I imagined what ‘a treat for me and my mum’ would look like. I imagined us getting the train to London and drinking coffee and laughing at Mum’s insistence on wearing her backpack on her front so nobody could steal her purse. I imagined linking arms on our way to a spa somewhere, excited about being pampered after having left the kids with Grandad for the day. And then came the usual crushing realisation: Mum is not here. She hasn’t been here for a very long time. In fact, this year marks the birthday where I’ll have spent more years without her in my life than I spent with her in it. I have lived more than half of my life feeling like something is missing and in many ways, becoming a mum has only made that void feel bigger. The birth of each of my babies has been tinged with an unshakeable sadness that I will never be able to hand them over for a cuddle with their Nanny Debbie. They will never know her and she will never know them. The sadness of that thought has been so intense at times that I have felt a physical pain in my chest; the true meaning of heartbreak. Grief never ends. There is never a line drawn or a feeling of being ‘over it.’ You will overhear people say, ‘life goes on’ but you will know that your life will never go on in quite the same way again. Instead, you will make a new life and that new life can be happy and fulfilled and wonderful but it’s still more than possible that you will find yourself alone in your kitchen, fifteen years later, reading an email and having a little cry over the version of your life that you had to say goodbye to. I didn’t reply to the email, in the end, nor did I reply to the chase-up email I received which asked if I’d had a chance to ask my mum if she fancied a Mother’s Day treat yet. I didn’t want to make the sender feel bad by responding, 'My mum's dead, actually. Regards.' She was just doing her job. It sounded like a lovely event. What I did want, more than anything, was to pick up the phone to my mum and ask her if she fancied popping round. To talk about something trivial, like whether she thought it would be good drying weather at the weekend or if she’d caught up with Tuesday’s The Chase yet, as a single player had beaten The Dark Destroyer in the final chase. I wanted to ask if she had any ideas for World Book Day costumes and then I wanted to say, ‘Love you!’ before I told her I would see her soon. Normal stuff. Mum stuff. Bloody lovely stuff. So no, I didn't reply. I did what I have been doing for the last five years whenever things have felt a bit much and I wrote a blog instead. Because every time I do, I reach people who have been feeling the same. There are so many people who will find the upcoming conversations around Mother's Day hard for a wide variety of reasons, of which loss is just one. If that's you, this one's for you. xx
LEGOLAND (Extract from The Unmumsy Mum Diary)
Friday 2 September 2016 Oh Lordy. I am writing the bare bones of this diary entry as an iPhone note in the car while James drives. We have just left the Land of Lego behind us and are now sitting in Friday-evening commuter traffic ahead of a three-hour drive home, so I thought it would be as good a time as any to debrief on the whole experience. I just asked James whether he could help me out by providing a summary of our family’s outing to the brick-themed adventure park and, after a long exhalation of breath, he replied simply, ‘Fuck me.’ So I’m going to try to flesh it out a little bit. Firstly, I should say that the entire ‘take Henry to the place he most wants to go on earth that isn’t Disney World Florida’ endeavour was arguably worth it purely to see his little face when we first walked through the gates and told him he was in charge of the park map. I’m not sure at what age kids are able to start banking long-term memories but as Henry stood tracing his finger over all the rides on the map and staring in wide-eyed wonder at all the buzz and commotion, I felt certain that he would remember this trip. If he doesn’t remember it, I will drip-feed him a favourable version of events until he thinks he remembers it. Whatever happens, it’s safe to say James and I have banked a long-term memory of Legoland. The day started with some vocalised impatience from a pram-restricted Jude. He gets irritated whenever the pram isn’t moving, so things got tetchy as we waited in the Q-Bot line for what felt like an eternity. (There’s something ironic about queuing for a device that alleviates queuing, no?) After finally setting off to properly begin our Big Day of Fun and making our way towards the first ride, it soon became apparent that the day wasn’t going to unfold quite as we had imagined when Henry performed a dramatic U-turn on his chief reason for having begged us to go there in the first place. You know all those rides he’s been telling us he has been desperate to go on ‘all his life’? The rides he has made us watch endless hours of YouTube footage of? The rides we secretly feared he would be too young or too short to go on? It turns out the age and height thing was pretty bloody irrelevant because he didn’t want to go on any of them. Not one. (Deep breath) ‘But Henry, sweetheart, this is the Dragon’s Apprentice! You know, your “favourite ride” that you were telling Grandad about? Shall we get in the queue?’‘No! I don’t want to go on it! I want to watch other people on it. Can I have a snack?’‘Sorry, pudding, Mummy’s just trying to understand what’s going on here. You want to watch other people go on all the rides you said you wanted to go on? It’s not snack time yet. We’ve just got here, to ride some rides. Shall we have a wander along to see if you want to go on a different ride?’‘OK, I’ll have a look at the other rides. Then I’ll have a snack.’ The exchange of glances between James and me at this stage was a mixture of ‘Fuck my life’ and ‘Whose idea was this?’ The entire trip had, of course, been my idea and, in the preceding two days, James had endured several hours’ driving and ‘sweaty balls’ from the sauna-like sleeping conditions at the budget hotel - all as a warm-up act for this outing, to give our little H-bomb his special treat before he starts school. Do you want to know how the day panned out, in the end? Well, Jude, back in his pushchair (after having lost his shit on the only toddler-friendly ride he'd agreed to sit on), ended up sitting on James’s shoulders as I followed behind with one hand on Henry and the other on the empty pushchair, which I had to slalom between hordes of excited families as they made bee-lines for rides their children actually wanted to go on. We parted with the best part of £15 for two lacklustre baguettes and some water which the boys then turned their noses up at. I failed to capture a ‘look at how much fun we’re having on our day out!’ family photo and, overall, aside from the forty minutes they both spent happily playing in the splash pool (a definite hit, but we have water parks in Devon), neither of the boys wanted to go on anything. We ended up having to use the lure of a toy in the gift shop to essentially bribe our firstborn to allow us to take him on just a couple of the rides he had been begging us to take him on for months. After a quick ram-raid of the shop on our way out, we are now sitting in the above-mentioned traffic jam, with Jude having a Danger Nap (anything after 4 p.m. spells trouble), me checking my phone for travel updates, James staring ahead like he’s dreaming of leaving us all and Henry piping up with completely random questions every two minutes, such as:‘Who’s taller? Jude or a penguin?’‘Why are roads called roads?’‘Does Father Christmas wear pyjamas?’And ‘How did pterodactyls die out?’ I bet pterodactyls died out not because of the impact of a meteor or some kind of climate change sixty-something million years ago but because the mummy pterodactyls were so stressed after a day out at DinoLand that they ate their babies. I might tell Henry that if he doesn’t stop talking. I know it’s frowned upon to daydream about alcohol or indeed to rely on a bottle of something as a pick-me-up when things get stressful, but I am now properly fantasising about pouring myself a glass of Sauvignon Blanc as big as my head. What a day. The Unmumsy Mum Diary is out in paperback on 22 February. Available to pre-order here.
Poogate! Extract from The Unmumsy Mum Diary
Friday 26th August 2016 Oh my God, I can’t breathe for laughing. This tale of early motherhood, from a mum who has asked to remain anonymous, is, quite frankly, the sort of stuff I wish I had heard at antenatal classes – not that it would have prepared me for anything (there could be no preparation for this, and you’ll see why), but it would have made me laugh and given me a snapshot of reality, which is a darn sight more than the Bounty pack ever did. The message is pretty lengthy but I couldn’t bring myself to condense it when she has described the unfolding events so well. Enjoy. Oh, and maybe don’t read on if you’re eating . . . So I was reading a ‘things no one tells you when you have a baby’ article the other day – you know, the ones that circulate on Facebook, and it made me think of a particular occurrence in our house, from not long after I had our son, my second baby. My husband and I lovingly refer to this day as ‘Shitgate’, and I think I’m ready, after two years, to share it with the world. This is something that nobody warned me about. I arrived home after a few extra days on the ward, having had an elective C-section (thanks to problems with previous labour, but that’s a whole other horror story), and, after probably a few more days, I felt that familiar rumble and decided it was that time ‒ time for my first poo. The fear hit me, as it had last time – what would happen, would I be able to poo? Would my bum fall out? Would I burst a stitch? Would I end up with piles? Would I even be able to go? It occurred to me that I couldn’t actually recollect my last ‘motion’. It was certainly before I went into hospital, so it must have been at least a week ago, and with someone bringing me three square meals a day, which I didn’t have to cook myself (or wait to go cold while feeding everyone else before eating), I obviously didn’t turn any of it down. A considerable volume of additional boredom snacks, late-night feed snacks, and any-excuse-for-extra-snacks snacks had also been consumed. This might be a bit of a biggun, I thought. Little did I know. So I told hubby what I was up to and could he keep an eye on the kids, and off I went up the stairs, with no idea of the events that would unfold. I sat down and, at first, there was nothing. How could this be? I definitely needed to go, why couldn’t I go? As the minutes wore on I started to worry. I tried moving about, walking around, feet up on a stool, you know, all the normal stuff. This was starting to hurt, I was getting desperate, I really, REALLY needed to go. I asked hubster for some laxatives, but no luck, they didn’t help, so in a bit of panic now, I called the out-of-hours doctor. He (yes, a man, fab) was very understanding and said he’d email a prescription straight to Sainsbury’s so I could collect it. Several phone calls to Sainsbury’s and nearly two hours later, hurrah ‒ they have my suppositories there and we can collect them immediately. By this time, it’s the middle of the night, I’m glued to the loo, afraid that I’m gonna have an epic bum explosion at any given moment, but at the same time petrified that I won’t. The only person my husband can get hold of to come and sit with the kids, so he can nip out and collect the prescription while I’m stuck on the loo, is my father-in-law. Arghhhhh. He’s one of those manly builder types, so over he comes (did I mention that our bathroom door, at the top of the stairs, directly in front of you as you come in the front door, doesn’t close?) and now he’s sat downstairs in probable silence with my brand-new baby while I’m sat on the loo trying to shit. Thank God, he’s had four of his own, so I try to convince myself that he’s seen it all before and that at some point he’s surely already encountered some sort of labour/pregnancy/ baby poo situations. This was painful now. I felt like I was gonna poo, but no poo (plenty of sodding wind, though), and I felt like my stitches were just about to burst open. This was hideous. Hubby arrived home with the thing, with THE most fear I’ve ever seen in a man’s eyes, as he bounded up the stairs two at a time it crossed his mind that he might be asked to administer his bounty. Over my dead body. So I did the deed alone and, bloody hell, it did do what it was meant to do, in some respects. If you didn’t know this, apparently glycerol, which is what suppositories are made of, is a mild irritant – they basically make your bum muscles angry. So angry that, hopefully, you poo. Is that what I needed, to make it MORE ANGRY?! This was an epic fail. Now I felt EVEN MORE DESPERATE to poo, like more desperate than ever, and EVEN MORE ANGRY. I couldn’t understand it, why couldn’t I just poo? I’d felt permanently just on the brink for the past five hours, FIVE HOURS on the loo. I did next something that I will regret forever: I decided to reach around and have a feel. There were piles. Lots of piles. Could this get any worse? I asked myself. Yes. Yes, it could. Ah, I’ll call NHS direct, they’ll help. They wanted to know everything ‒ my whole medical history, my life story, my every movement since the moment I became pregnant. On their clever multiple choice ‘yes go left, no go right’ flow-chart thingy, one of the questions was ‘Do you have any pain in your chest?’ Well, by this time, everything ached, so innocently, the response that fell from my mouth was ‘Well, yes, a little actually.’ That was it. I was informed that, because I had answered yes to this question, they’d be sending an ambulance. WTF? I didn’t need an ambulance, I just needed a poo! I pleaded, I begged, please pleeeeeease don’t send an ambulance, it’s a total waste, they’re not THOSE kind of chest pains, Christ that’s not what I meant. No, they’re sorry, they have to send one, it’s on the screen. Fucking hell. There was a knock on the door as the dark bathroom filled with flashes of blue, and in they came, perched now on the side of the bath, while I sat there, pants round my ankles, horrific wind, piles the size of small countries, a desperate look on my face, and toilet-seat marks imprinted on my arse. I could not have apologised enough as we all sat there together, making small talk in our now foul-smelling bathroom, while I tried to poo and everyone else tried badly to pretend that this was ‘all in a day’s work’. Unbeknown to me, there was a small crowd of neighbours gathering outside, who’d seen the blue lights and, knowing I was about to have the baby, put two and two together and got God knows what, so my husband went out to let them know that all is OK and Mum and babe are fine, thanks for the concern. But all was not well, Mum is definitely not fine. If Mum doesn’t poo soon she is actually and genuinely going to explode. Her stitches are going to burst and a fortnight’s worth of poo is going to fly out. The ambulance crew – satisfied that I am not on the brink of a poo-induced heart attack and having fulfilled their duty of care – make their escape. A couple more suppositories and close to half a litre of lactulose later, and finally, through gritted teeth, and with tears in my eyes, it happens! And Jesus Christ does it happen. Once I start, I literally cannot stop. It goes on for what feels like forever, it’s like a labour all on its own – I swear the evacuated material was close to the weight of a newborn. As I turned in fear to observe my creation, it was with utter shock that I discovered that I hadn’t just blocked the toilet: no, no, I had filled it. YES, FILLED IT. Right to the top, the very top. How was this even possible? Exhausted from my ordeal, I had a quick shower and flaked out on the couch as, by this time, we were in the small hours and the baby would need another feed any moment. I had no idea, then, that my husband was about to undertake a task no husband should ever have to undertake. Yes, I’m pretty sure all husbands or partners see things or do things that they definitely didn’t foresee or sign up for when they got us up the duff, but that night, my husband, with a dustpan and carrier bag in hand, silently did the unthinkable. The toilet was finally clear and my husband had the same look on his face that he had after his first peek of me crowning in my first labour – the look of a man changed forever. Only this time, instead of a beautiful bouncing baby to hold at the end, he had a pegged nose and a Bag for Life full of his wife’s poo. Two years later, and we are thankfully able to laugh about it, but I’m surprised he’s been able to look at me ‘that way’ since then. It’s certainly something I don’t recall being warned about before I got pregnant. The Unmumsy Mum Diary is out in paperback on 22 February. Available to pre-order here.
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