Birth stories: why you won’t be hearing mine.

*trigger warning: despite the title there is a bit of birth talk in this post*

When I was a new mum doing the drinking-coffee-with-one-hand-rocking-pram-with-the-other-attempting-to-maintain-a-half-decent-conversation-thing was part of the deal. Admittedly a much nicer part than the crying at sleep-deprivation and poo-handling bits. It helped me bond with my fellow mums, mostly because we frequently did the too-much-information-thing. You know, talking about the colour of poo; the state of your boobs; your distinct lack of lobedo. Oh yes, small talk becomes a whole new ball game once babies are involved.

Of course, on the top of all our over-sharing lists was the birth itself. With slightly pained expressions, we’d ask each other if the birth was ‘okay’ and wait to see what was divulged. Some would give a short account; 40 hours, exhausting, natural delivery. Others would go into much more detail. This was not because they wanted the attention, nor were they playing bad-birth top trumps, they just needed their stories to be heard, especially by those who could have some genuine empathy.

In those early months I talked birth a lot. The funny thing was I never really wanted to talk about it at all. For me, labour was traumatic. About a thousand people tell you ‘nothing can prepare you for it’ when you’re pregnant, to this you might nod sagely in agreement. But then it happens and you realise: nothing can prepare you for it. Nothing. This isn’t to scare any one or say that antenatal classes are useless; I am very glad that I went to NCT and in some ways it did prepare me. But this is the queen of visceral experiences and, as such, no one can quite put it into words. And I’m not just talking long labours or assisted births (I’ve given my two pence about ‘good births‘ before). I know women who have had 7-hour labours and delivered in the pool and felt, well, frankly, fucked. Feeling like that myself, but not really being able to articulate it, meant it was not easy for me to talk about births, or hear about them. A swell of dread would rise in me at the mere mentioned; sort of like a flashback. It was not pleasant.

Despite my internal panics, I continued with the chat. In fact, often I would initiate the chat. Why, Dear Reader? WHY? Someone would make an offhand comment and I’d follow it up with a question. Then, before you know it, BOOM! This is a proper conversation with details and what not. As if nursing a baby whilst simultaneously trying to drink a luke-warm cappuccino weren’t enough to cope with on 3 hours sleep. Deary me.

The thing is, I wanted to have these conversations with my new friends and I’m sure they brought us closer together. It is an honour to be admitted into that most viscerally private of experiences, even if all that you learn is that they were scared, or shocked, or awed by the whole thing. I’m glad I know what happened to my friends and that many of their experiences resembled mine. I never thought I would shout I shout the words “I had an episiotomy too!” quite so loudly, or enthusiastically over a table in a public place. Once all of the babies were born our groups’ catchphrase became “where are all these ‘natural births’ then???” as 7 out of 8 of us had some complication or other. Sharing it meant we could laugh about it, just a little bit.

But sometimes, when these type of chats were in a group rather than one-to-one, I’d would feel myself slowly disappearing into an internal world. I remember meeting up with a group once, and a mum who I didn’t really know talking about her birth. I had thought we had passed the ‘how was your birth’ stage by then – I desperately wanted to be – even though it was probably only about 3 months after the fact. I found myself not bloody caring that she’d been sent home because she wasn’t dilated enough, and I certainly didn’t want to know home much hypno-birthing helped her. “Yah, so I started doing my meditations…” Meditations?? WTF??? after 2cm I couldn’t bloody see-straight! (FYI I do not think hypnobirthing isn’t good/genuine/etc, but because at that point I was still in the ‘if I’d done that it would have been better’ place. That place is crap.) The more she shared, and others shared with her, the more urgent the sense of dread became in my body became. If we’re talking ‘fight or flight’ reflexes, mine body was definitely telling me to catch the next flight to Kazakhstan.  So I just sat back in my chair and nodded at the appropriate points, trying to do my best interested/sympathetic expression. But I wasn’t really there, I was hiding somewhere in my head. Which was sad.

To be fair, I had worse. Friends without babies who I told I was ‘upset’ by the birth (and the award for understatement of the year 2013 goes to…) and didn’t really want to talk about it, would often respond by asking questions about the birth or, worse, telling me about ‘really bad‘ births they knew of already. I shit you not, Dear Reader, I shit you not.

And you know, I’m beginning to feel all weird as I write this. I’ve got the anxiety tingles. A year on I still find it hard to think about this stuff. And I’m not even thinking about the actual stuff, I’m thinking about talking about the actual stuff. What strange creatures we are.

Now, I shall get to the point. A lot of bloggers writing eloquently and movingly about their births. Some have managed to turn their traumatic experiences into dark comedies for our enjoyment, whilst others have shared their most profound tragedies in order to raise awareness and comfort others. All of these things are wonderful. But I won’t be reading any of them, I’m afraid. Not for a while yet, any way. And (obvs) I won’t be writing one either. Because it is not a day I want to relive.

I used to feel deeply sad and intensely guilty about not being able to remember my son’s birth fondly. But why should I? It was defo, totes, 100% the most physically traumatic experience of my life (and it wasn’t even a ‘really bad‘ one, bleurgh). Yes, afterwards I had my Bubs, but as I mentioned in the post I have just reblogged, my bond with him took time to form. I didn’t feel the Hollywood-sudden-rush-of-love sensation that makes it ‘all worth it’.

Now,, of course, I couldn’t be happier to have my Bubs (okay, I could be a bit happier when he is screaming in my face). As I may have mentioned before; he is the best. person. ever. (Sozzers other mums, but that is an objective fact!) And thought I am happy about the fact he was born (understatement of the year 2014) ; I will never be happy about the act of that birth. ‘The fact, not the act’, is actually a little phrase I coined to help me come to terms with my feelings about the it all. Pretty nifty, dontcha think?

When I realised that I never had to be happy about the labour and delivery, that I didn’t need to amalgamate the memory of a horrid stitches infection (TMI?) into some grand “isn’t motherhood wonderful at all times” narrative, it was a major relief. It is probably not a radical statement to say that women don’t  always have to smile fondly and say “it was all worth it!” when recalling the birth of their children, but it feels radical to me! Because, yes, or course it’s bloody worth it, but sometimes I just want to say it was fucking traumatic without a caveat, without any “but now he’s here and…” stuff. Sometimes, things are just shit. And I think going through labour earns us the right to say so!

So, just in case you were hoping to hear all about my birthing experience (weirdo), you won’t be. But I have created this visual aid, just so you’re in the loop:

Nuff said.

 

If you feel confused or upset by your birth then it might be an idea to talk to a Supervisor of Midwives at your hospital, see more info on my help for you page.

How to feel about retelling your birth? Maybe you adopted and feel left out in these conversations? Have your say by commenting below, go to my facebook page or tweet me @aafew

Mummy Mantra #5: Some things we’ll just never know.

well never know

If you had to describe your parenting experience in 3 words would one of them be ‘unpredictable’?  Do you find that whenever you detect and begin to ease into a pattern it suddenly changes again? It’s like as soon as you say anything out loud (e.g. ‘he has a really reliable nap in the mornings now’) it just stops happening. Mildly exacerbating, no?

My previous mummy mantra was all about sleep. ‘All babies sleep eventually’. I did mention in that post that Bubs was sleeping pretty well these days. So, guess what happened that very night? Wakey wakey, mumsy!! What a fool I am!

Now, this time I’m pretty sure I know why he’s waking. It’s the obligatory bi-monthly snuffly nose fortnight. He’s currently pulling of the snot-moustache look with some aplomb and I’m pretty sure it’s that that wakes him up. (Can I take this opportunity to thank Calpol for all it’s done for parent kind??) However, there have been other times when I’ve had no clue why, after 5 nights of sleeping through (aaah, sleeping through, those magical words) he suddenly decides that he needs two feeds a night again. Good one.

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘it must be a growth spurt’ come out of your own mouth? Or said ‘maybe she’s teething’? Or agreed with a friend over coffee that it must be a ‘developmental phase’ as they are ‘processing so much new information at the moment.’? I mean, there’s got to be an explanation. Riiiiight?

In the modern era we are used to having our questions answered. Gone are the days of long drawn out debates in the pub over which actor played So-and-So in that Bond film, or which year it was that Channel 4 came on air. Nope, our pocket Google-machines have rendered all that unnecessary (other search engines are available). Even at work where we may face knottier conundrums there is usually, eventually, a satisfactory answer to whatever the problem is.

So, when faced with our baby’s crying/not eating/being hungry all the time/not sleeping/being in a right mood, it’s understandable that we think we should be get to the bottom of it all. The books (arg, those pesky bloody books again) encourage us to think that way. ‘How to soothe a crying baby’ promises the chapter title, followed by basically a ticklist – hungry? dirty nappy? tired? bored? etc. When we have exhausted these lists and our baby is emphatically not soothed it can be more than slightly disconcerting. ‘What had I missed?’ We ask ourselves.

But, the truth that we all come to learn, Dear Reader, is that sometimes, we’ll just never know. By the time Bubs is old enough to explain why he was so screamy on that night back in February, or why one day he went from eating whatever I put in front of him to throwing most of it on the floor, he won’t remember. In fact, I’m not really sure he remembers now. Babies don’t work like that.

As loving parents we all want to solve every problem our children will ever have. But we half of the time we won’t even understand what the problem is. We’ll just never know. A wise woman (OK, my therapist) said to me last week ‘you can’t solve an emotion’. Sometimes there’s nothing to solve, no question to answer. So we’ll just carry on trying out best. And that’ll be good enough. Promise.

Mummy Mantra #4: All babies sleep eventually, all babies sleep eventually, all babies sleep eventually…

Honestly, they do.

Honestly, they do.

It’s 3am. Your baby didn’t settle until 11pm. Now they are just crying. And crying. And crying. You are soooo tired but if you so much as sit down the decibel level increases tenfold. How do they even know? I’m still jiggling around but somehow the 2 foot descent provokes screams of despair. Bleurgh.

We’ve all been there. For most of us it’s in the first months, or when our children are teething or ill. For those of you who endure this nightly for more than 6/12/18 months, we salute you. Hang in there!

I don’t know about you but when my baby has had a few atrocious nights I start to feel quite mad. The depleted brain function caused by sleep deprivation is coupled with a nagging mental search for the cause of this nocturnal malfunction. Is something they ate? What have I done or not done to cause this??? Double bleurgh.

When your mind is thus befuddled it may help to repeat this simple phrase: all babies sleep eventually… This little mantra works on two levels.

1) No human can fight sleep forever (though it sometimes feels like it) and so you can rest (or not) assured that at some point the crying will give way to that adorable sleepy face. You know the one, it makes you remember how cute and lovely they are. It may not last as long as you want, but sleep will happen.

2) I don’t know any 18 year olds who still wake 4 times a night demanding milk/cuddles so when you say ‘all babies sleep eventually’, you can be telling yourself that the night waking won’t last forever (I know for some it lasts far too long though).

Every baby insists on having these battles with sleep even though, as I often tell Bubs, this is only time in their lives when they can literally go to sleep whenever and wherever they want (it’s like, duh, take advantage!). To call this a bit frustrating is a bit like calling Ryan Gosling mildly attractive; it just doesn’t cut it. But we get through.

So as you sit (if you’re lucky) rocking back and forth in the corner of the nursery, you can repeat this mantra for some reassurance. Or even just for something else to listen to! Yes, you will look ever so slightly insane, but hey, it’s 3 am, who’s watching?

FYI: This post is dedicated to my own mother. I woke every two hours, every night until I was 9 months old. And she was a single parent. So. Much. Bleurgh. Sorry mumsie!

Got your own mummy (or daddy) mantra? Please share by commenting below or tweet me @aafew

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Mummy Mantras #2: He’s not sad, he’s just a baby!

image

As I have mentioned before, the cry of your own baby is genetically designed to pierce your very soul. Fact. It is then, quite useful to have a few phrases you can repeat to yourself as you are incessantly rocking your screaming bundle at 2am. Because, let’s face it, when you’ve reached that point in the day/night (what’s the difference? I hear the new mums cry!) you’re just not really in a lullaby place. You’re in more of a anything-to-retain-my-sanity type place.

Hence our second #mummymantra (you gotta love a hashtag people!)

They’re not sad; they’re just babies!!

If I ever heard an adult crying the way my son does when he’s hungry/overtired I would immediately assume that one of three things had happened. 1) they had suffered a heinous injury 2) they were dealing with a massive and very recent bereavement 3) they had just been kicked off the X-Factor and were playing up to the cameras in order to squeeze out every last drop of publicity possible whilst still on TV.

Of course, the three are equal in horror, and I hope I would run to this person’s aid showing little thought for my own well being.

If this kind of crying were to begin occurring several times a day however, that kind of response would quickly become unsustainable. Sound familiar?

I got to a point early on with Bubs where I was essentially phobic of his cries. I was on edge almost constantly, even when he was calm, because I knew he’d start up again soon. Of course, I didn’t really notice this until I’d gone partially mad but I can see it now. And why did I feel like that? Because when your baby is doing it’s I’m-being-tortured-save-me-save-me routine there’s a major part of your brain that gets all shouty and says “Do something! You’re responsible for this human, just bloody sort it out!”

The thing is, babies cry. Sometimes they cry because they’re hungry; sometimes because they’ve got a dirty nappy; sometimes because they want a cuddle; sometimes because they’re tired. But we’ve all had times when the crying remains a mystery. We shall never know why that half hour in the dead of night last Tuesday was designated a scream-fest. Partly because within a day your baby will have forgotten it ever happened.

So if we let ourselves believe crying=sad we have a problem.

It doesn’t help when friends make comments like ‘Aw he’s so sad!’ when Bubs has an inconsolable meltdown on a visit to their house. In fact, I often deploy this particular mantra to counteract the gnawing guilt that immediately wells up in me whenever such a remark is made. “He’s not sad!” I snap impatiently as I struggle to get Him into his buggy for a march around the block.

But it’s true. 99.9% of the time any baby is crying it’s just communicating or protesting or shouting or requesting. And we’ll try our best but sometimes they will just carry on. Perhaps 0.1% of the time their sad but they are human beings so, you know, that’s gonna happen now and then.

When I remember that it makes the melt downs just a touch more bearable!

Supply and Demand: When the ‘let down’ is a let down.

Wowza, turns out A LOT of you have had similarly frustrating experiences with breast-feeding. Thanks so much for the response. So, time to get specific and talk about the issue that particularly effected me: supply.

When Bubs was a newborn he screamed. A lot. Yes, I know they all do that, but, phew, not quite like this. Honestly, nurses on a post-natal mental health ward were wide-eyed at his fits. When my Health Visitor heard him bawling directly after a feed she just turned to me and said. “Yes, that’s a hungry baby.” Up to that point I hadn’t really grasped the idea that there just might not be enough juice available to fill him up. The thing is that there was definitely some milk there. I didn’t know that it was supposed to be squirting out by now. I didn’t know that he cried more than most. He’s a baby. I just thought I wasn’t very good at coping with it all.

Before I started Bubs on formula I was pretty much breast-feeding all of the time. All. The. Time. I know this because of the hazy sleep-deprived memories of constant suckling, but also because in those early weeks I can find no photo of me with him where I’m not breastfeeding. Not one.

Here's a typical example.

Here’s a typical example.

And another. (note the mystery bruise)

Oh yeah, and this one.

Oh yeah, and this one.

Also this, in which my boy is giving the finger to all of the unhelpful advice.

Also this, in which my boy is giving the finger to all of the unhelpful advice.

Sometimes a girl has to multitask

Sometimes a girl has to multitask.

See, every bloody photo. I wasn't joking!

See, every bloody photo. I wasn’t joking!

Okay, I’ll admit, there are a few pics of us asleep too. But you see my point. I remember someone remarking sympathetically that I was doing a lot of breast-feeding. I also remember hurriedly snapping something back along the lines of “well it should be on demand do I just so it as much as he wants!” I got a bit defensive, mainly because I had no idea what I was doing and I didn’t want anyone to realise that. A mother should be able to feed her baby, right?

I know that many women find that breast-feeding eventually becomes a close, warm, cuddly time of connection with their baby. I know that it’s hard for everyone and there is always a degree of ‘pushing through’. This was not my experience. No amount of resolve on my part could have made a difference. My baby rarely settled satisfied in my arms after a feed. He often just kept sucking until he tired himself out and fell asleep. Or resumed his regularly scheduled screamathon. Even now I feel a pang of guilt when I think that he was hungry all that time (you know, whilst I’m having a break from feeling guilty about formula feeding), though there was no reason I should have known that. He wouldn’t sleep alone because he wanted to be close to the source. He cried so much because he was trying to tell us something. Like “I’M F**KING STARVING OVER HERE WOMAN!”

Seriously, the very day I started to give Bubs formula a near-magical transformation occurred.  He cried about a fifth of the amount he usually did. I was so indoctrinated into the woes of bottle-feeding I actually worried I was drugging him or something. Drugging him. With food? Sigh.

Recently my sister-in-law has had a lovely little girl. Thankfully breastfeeding has generally gone well for them but, of course, the baby has the odd day when all she wants is to be nursed, you know those golden ‘upping mum’s production’ days? Fun. My wonderful sister-in-law says these are the days when she feels the most overwhelmed and on the edge. She realised that this must have been how my boy was behaving for the first month of his life. Putting it like that clarifies for me how hard I did try, and that helps to quieten the guilt a little. What’s more, I know I’m only one of thousands (millions?) of women who has had this experience.

So why no supply? I think for me it was a combination feeling traumatised by his birth (not awful in the scheme of things but, you know, forceps and operating theatres were involved, bleurgh) and the pain from an infection I got in my stitches. No one realised I had it for a while and by the time we did I was having to breathe through the pain (thank you Voltarol!), lie only on one side and go to the loo with a walking stick. Bleurgh again.

Let’s just take a minute here – I could only lie on one side and was in pain with every movement. But I still breast-fed. On both boobs. Oh the ridiculous contortions I made that young lad go through to get a few insufficient glugs of milk!! And I’m not saying this to show off – no no! This wasn’t a triumph of motherly love, it was a consequence of the fact that I thought giving your baby formula was basically like feeing them McDonalds! If I had a time machine I’d go back and tell myself to get some bloody Aptimil and go to sleep.

The fact is that the pain, trauma and antibiotics were giving my body and mind a lot to cope with when it should have been concentrating on getting that milk out. At a time when the best thing you can do is be relaxed (ha ha) my body was tensed against pain. So the ‘let down’ didn’t really happen how it should! It all seems pretty much like common sense now but in the haze of confused, tired, early-parenting the ‘breast is best’ mantra was heavily etched onto my psyche.

With all the “everyone can breast feed” chatter it’s hard not to feel that if it doesn’t work for you it’s because you didn’t ‘stick with it’ or that you’ve done something wrong. But this stuff happens a lot and it’s not anything you’ve done or haven’t done. One particular midwife kept telling me to eat more. “We’ve got to look after mum.” She’d repeat. The thing is that she never actually asked me how much I was eating. The answer was loads. Nobody has to tell me to eat 2,500+ calories a day twice; I am fine with that! Oh, butter and whole milk you say? Ok, well, if I must (nom nom). Oh and people kept lecturing me about how to breastfeed properly, how to get a good latch etc. This was usually before they’d actually observed me feeding, at which point they’d say something like “oh yes, that’s very good”. One midwife who observed my side-lying contorted breast-feeding described my technique as ‘expert’. So, I knew that the mechanics were not the issue; it was the fuel supply that was out. Grr, arg.

So do bare it in mind if you’re expecting or know someone who is. Sometimes you just ain’t got the juice. And that’s fine. No harm will come to your baby. (true story, a Health Visitor told me so!)

What’s your story? Share in the comments below, give a tweet @aafew or…

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