And all of a sudden; after all of the pain and amidst all of my fear, my baby was here.
She was beautiful.
In that tiny little person, I saw more beauty than I could have ever imagined.
She was perfect.
Every inch of her. Just perfect.
After all of the drama, the chaos and confusion, I lay propped up on the hospital bed with my toast and tea, watching my husband Matt cuddle our little lady. A wave of relief and contentment washed over me and I felt like I could finally breathe.
We made it.
When I write those words, I really mean them. There were moments when I truly believed, and feared, that we might not have made it through labour. But we did. I have the scar to prove it. It definitely didn’t happen as I hoped or tried to imagine it would. I would have absolutely loved a water birth. I never envisaged myself how I ended up, but that’s just the thing … labour is NEVER like how you imagine and you just have to go with it. For me, it was all about the end result; my baby. Getting her out safely was the only option. I was second place and was only ever a vessel to keep her safe and deliver her safely into the world. Once our labour ordeal was over I took a few deep breaths and got ready for the next stage in our hospital journey - breastfeeding.
After Matt and I had some bonding time, just the 3 of us, my lovely midwife Shauna returned. “Shall we try to breastfeed?” she asked. I nodded and she placed my baby (still unnamed at this stage) on my chest and she slowly began rooting for the breast. I was a complete novice and had no clue what to do or expect. I did exactly what Shauna told me to and it (sort of) seemed to work. It wasn’t long before we were ready to be moved up to the ward where I would spend the next 2 nights. It felt very strange being wheeled out of the Delivery Suite doors with my baby. Those doors always looked so ominous during my previous Antenatal visits to the hospital! As I was wheeled into my bay on the ward a new midwife asked to take baby away to change her. I had, thankfully, packed 0-3 months babygrows as the midwife took one look at my baby and the newborn babygrow, shook her head and asked for something bigger! Amongst the chaos of labour and delivery, we had forgot that we left one of our bags in the car so all the baby clothes were cold. I was instructed to warm my baby’s clothes and so the midwife stuffed them down my nightie; all I could think of was how smelly and gross I was after everything and now my baby’s clothes were going to be stinking! I can only imagine how awful I looked; mascara stained eyes, sweat strewn hair and total exhaustion - the perfect combination for post-birth beauty!
Once my baby was returned in her own little clothes, we spent some time with our families who had arrived. This was the first grandchild so lots of cuddles, kisses and ‘Aw’ing’ ensued! Gifts were given and precious photos were taken with new Aunties, Uncles, Nannies and Grandpas. Though no photos of the crazy looking new mum!! Neither family stayed long as it was getting late and I was exhausted. Thankfully, Matt was able to stay until around 10pm and then had to go home. It was a surreal moment saying goodbye after such a long, life- changing experience and I was a bit nervous to be left without him as I wasn’t really able to move much and certainly wasn’t able to lift my baby from her cot or tend to her at all. I felt helpless as I watched the midwife change my baby’s nappy and lift her to and from me as I tried to breastfeed, without much success. I was shown the call buzzer to call a midwife whenever I or my baby needed help. It was unnerving as every instinct in me wanted to tend to my new baby’s every need, but I physically couldn’t. I was still numb from the spinal block and under a lot of pain relief so wasn’t exactly sure just how far I could push myself. How far was too far? Could I reach into my baby’s cot? Could I lift her out? Everything was awkward and slow and when your baby is crying, every inch of you reacts to soothe and comfort her. I was well out of my comfort zone and every moment was a new step into the unknown, unchartered territory of new motherhood.
I used my call buzzer often for various reasons: nappy change, trying to breastfeed, incessant crying and more pain relief. As the night wore on, I was encouraged to try and get some sleep. After all, I hadn’t slept in more than 40 hours. Ha! 2 minutes was the height of sleep that first night. All my baby seemed to want to do was cry. It was like she knew I was unable to help her. It was just awful. I was acutely aware that I was in a ward with 2 other mums and babes who seemed to be sleeping soundly and my baby only wanted to cry. There were times when I pushed my buzzer and there was no midwife in sight for what felt like hours (though it was only minutes!) The feeling of helplessness was so crushing that I got to the stage where I did stretch too far and pulled my baby from her cot and onto my chest to try and cuddle and soothe her. Even then, I was stuck to the one spot on my hospital bed and soothing a screaming and writhing baby was proving difficult! On top of this, I began to get the very real sense of guilt and failure that comes with unsuccessful breastfeeding. My little one was really struggling to latch on for any length of time. Every time the midwife would seem to get a successful latch, my baby would almost instantaneously fall asleep! As the night turned into morning the midwife hand expressed some of the precious colostrum milk into a syringe so my baby was still able to get fed. At around 6am my baby finally drifted off to sleep and so did I. Unfortunately, things liven up on the ward around 7am. Lights are switched on and breakfast is made so I was wakened and ready for something more substantial after being so food deprived during my labour. Besides, breakfast is my thing!
That first breakfast after labour was delightful! I enjoyed a decent breakfast while my baby finally slept and it wasn’t long before my mum arrived over to check on me and grab some more snuggles with her new little granddaughter. I had been waiting for a few hours to get my catheter taken out and had been warned that if going to the toilet afterwards was unsuccessful, I’d need to get it back in again. (Ouch!) I had to drink enough water to get me feeling the urge to go, but I had to wait for an hour before I was allowed to see if things were functioning normally again after the surgery. When it was finally time to be able go to the toilet, it was also my first time getting out of bed since the operation. I took it slow; I had to actually, as my whole body seemed to ache with pain. I don’t think I will ever forget this, but I stood up and went to take my first step and WHOOSH … (sorry if you’re squeamish or if this is TMI!) Blood … Everywhere. All over the floor. Dripping all down my legs. I thought I was going to die. Apparently this was normal. What?! Certainly didn’t seem normal to me! I called for a midwife, was presently cleaned up and off I waddled to the shower room under strict instruction to splash a little water over myself, NOT immerse myself in water. All I wanted was to give myself and my hair a good wash but it was too dangerous after the op. I awkwardly tried to give myself a wash and struggled to pick up my (blood, sweat and other bodily fluid stained) laundry off the floor. The pain after the C-section was intense and it was only once I was actually up on my feet, did I realise it. I attempted to apply some makeup and there was simply nothing to be done to my hair to make it any better for the visitors that evening. Matt arrived soon after and we joined another couple to watch a demonstration on how to bathe our newborn. I watched in fear and trepidation as the midwife expertly held, manoeuvred and splashed water round our baby, knowing that very soon, I’d have to do it for real. My husband and I were still handling our baby quite gingerly; she was just so tiny and we were totally new to all this! Thankfully it was soon time to rest in bed and I gratefully dozed while Matt took over baby duty. He had just enjoyed one of the best night’s sleep of his life and I had definitely earned some down time. When I woke, we began to deliberate over some names for our little one. When I was pregnant we found it much easier to decide on boys names and really struggled with girls. So, naturally, we had a girl and didn’t have a clue what to call her! We tried a few names that we liked and nothing seemed right. The name Phoebe was brought into the mix and the more we said it, the more it suited our daughter perfectly. It felt good to finally decide on a name and begin speaking it to the newest addition to our little family, Phoebe Rose Duke.
By the evening, it seemed like Phoebe was never going to get the hang of latching to breastfeed. She much preferred dozing off and enjoying cuddles, rather than feeding. Typically, just as our visitors arrived, it was also time to give breastfeeding another attempt. I was determined to give Phoebe the time she needed to try and latch, so kept our male visitors firmly outside the curtain, only letting the girls in to my bedside. Unbelievably, and to my absolute delight, Phoebe finally decided to give feeding a good go and latched securely and successfully for the first time. I was elated and felt a huge victory had been won! I definitely felt pressured to succeed when our guests were visiting and I really shouldn’t have! Especially as I was a complete first-timer and no-one in our close family had first-hand experience of babies. There it was again, that “mum guilt.” It’s inescapable!! Precious memories were created as Phoebe was showered in gifts while enjoying meeting her new Aunties and Uncles. It was such a special time with our families and friends that was all too short as the bell chimed, signalling the end of visiting time. It wasn’t long before the time also came for Matt to head home and once again it was just me and my girl. I desperately prayed that she would settle better and that we both could enjoy some much needed sleep. Routine checks were completed, meds administered and the midwife said she would wake me up to feed in a few hours time. I played some soothing baby music from my phone, Phoebe sucked away at her dummy (she incessantly sucked her hands so I sent my mother to the shop for a dummy!) and very soon we were both sleeping soundly. Around 4am the midwife quietly woke me up and changed Phoebe’s nappy while I prepared to feed. After her change and feed she was content and happy to sleep for another few hours and I enjoyed a few more winks. Very soon I wouldn’t have the comfort of a midwife nearby to see to our needs. These needs were all too unfamiliar and I was much sorer and uncomfortable than I expected I would be. As the stronger meds wore off I could feel the pinching and prickling of the staples under my still very bloated tummy and the pain in my back from all the failed attempts at inserting the spinal block. Every move I made was tough, and getting on and off the hospital bed required an awful lot of deep breathing and will power. To this day I can still feel the pain and am surprised at just how much the C-section took out of me. I’m not sure I really want to have to go through it again!!
After 2 nights in hospital I was eager and excited to know when I woke that Thursday morning that I’d be going home that day! It was getting ever nearer to Christmas and our house was decorated and ready for our first ever Christmas as a family of three. Phoebe had to undergo some tests to check her hearing etc before being discharged and the wee photography woman arrived to take some hospital shots of our babe. Then it was time to wait for Daddy to arrive with the car seat to take us all home! Note to self: Familiarise oneself with the car seat BEFORE putting baby in and spending 10 minutes fiddling and fussing trying to get her securely fastened in while she gets more and more agitated at your failed attempt at new parenthood! Before leaving, Matt was instructed on how to administer the injections into my belly every night for the next 7 days and I was given my pack full of pain relief meds and warned to make sure I kept to a strict schedule to ensure I stayed as pain free as possible. If only I’d taken this advice … I had everything packed away and was eagerly waiting for Matt to arrive. He was slightly delayed and I really should have taken my medication BEFORE leaving the hospital, NOT when I got home. By then, it was too late. I had to endure the most horrific pain on our car journey home. I am not exaggerating. It began with the long journey walking to the car in the car park. (In hindsight, Matt should have brought the car right to the door. We know for next time!! Ha!) Next came the struggle to actually get IN to the car. Holy moly, at one point I honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. (Again, in hindsight, I should have sat in the front seat in a recline position and put Phoebe in the back; not me sitting squished in the back seat with all the hospital bags, bolt upright?! What were we thinking?! Clearly, we were too blinded by our adorable little Phoebe and too excited to finally be getting home to think rationally!!) Once I somehow managed to awkwardly manoeuvre myself into the car, we headed on our way. Living in the country has many advantages but on this occasion it was like driving through hell to make it there. I felt EVERY bump, EVERY turn, EVERY brake. I was gripping on to the handle in sheer terror as pain ripped it’s way through my abdomen. All I could do was cry. I cried and cried and cried the whole way home. It was 20 minutes of total torture. By the time we finally arrived home, I couldn’t even think. All my (albeit unrealistic) expectations of a blissful arrival home with our newborn were cruelly shattered. I was physically and emotionally wrecked. I tried to lie on the sofa but it was too low. I tried to feed Phoebe but it was too painful. I tried everything to try and not be sore, but I was in agony. Eventually I gave up and headed (very slowly) upstairs and into bed. This is where I remained for near enough the next 2 weeks!! And do you know what, it was the best thing. Phoebe, Matt and I enjoyed some of the most precious times together and too many episodes of The American Office!! After the C-section I was forced to rest and re-coup. I was forced to relax and just enjoy my new baby. I was forced to not stress about things and just concentrate on getting better. It took weeks and weeks before I felt anywhere near my normal self after giving birth and my labour experience was certainly nothing like I could have ever imagined. It was frightening. It was excruciatingly painful. Yet it was the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done.