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The miracle of birth comes in all shapes and sizes for women, for partners and for midwives it really does. The challenge for midwives is to be ready for any shape, at any time and adapt to the fluid and change shapes that pregnancy labour and birth brings. To see each experience as a way to connect, support and empower women in their journey.
I truly believe that there are times that women come into your life for a reason. On that day when I notified our communications team to post our very first maternity voices forum advertising for women to give us their views little did I know that that post would change a path, define a new one and led to a level of healing that I could not comprehend. It was shortly after that post that I spoke to Rachel for the first time.
Rachel at that time was so frustrated, she was cross at the situation, she did not feel satisfied and she needed answers.
As a midwife we want to hear women’s voices; get the feedback, learn and grow, but for me the truest sense of maternity voices partnership was when the connection between a woman who needed to be heard and a midwife came to life. Without social connection which allowed me to connect with Rachel in an instant, I may never have heard her voice. She may never have felt that it was the right moment, situation, or person to express her frustration, fear and choices. Yet in that moment, she took to her keyboard and wrote to me. Told me what she needed and how we could potentially make it better. For me it was about listening, understanding, acknowledging and then using my skills to offer options. I arranged for Rachel to see our consultant midwife, Fran our acupuncture midwife and I really believe that from that moment we changed her path so that no matter the shape or size of her next birth that Rachel would be okay.
I wanted a water birth with as little intervention as possible. I wanted to be that woman, that mother. It’s what women’s bodies are designed to do after all!
My birthing story could not be further from that ideal.
I debated if I should write this as ‘I’ – or if it should be ‘we’ as what happened was not just to me but to my husband and child too. But this is my story and how I felt and indeed feel about it so have settled on I.
I was desperately trying to avoid being induced (back then you couldn’t have a water birth if you were induced because of the types of monitors available) so I begged the staff to give me a second sweep. The appointment was at about 9am on a Thursday morning. I didn’t make it out of the hospital and my son was born by an emergency section under a general anaesthetic at 8.10 that evening.
The staff were amazing, keeping me informed whilst also breaking news to me bit by bit and in a gentle way. I remember the moment that I realised that I was in a high dependency room on the labour ward and that the water birth option had gone. I remember wanting to get up and about but being encouraged to stay on the bed. But most of all I remember the 2 minutes between the ‘look’ the two doctors gave each other as they carried out what seemed like the 24th examination of the day and being asked to shuffle my bum over onto the operating table.
It was that quick – this baby needs to come out now – no time for a spinal, it has to be a general anaesthetic - sign this, drink this – go. The midwife stopping the trolley so that I could say goodbye to my husband.
Turns out it was 20 minutes between them making the decision and our son being born. And as the fog of drugs and recovering from a really major surgical procedure turned into the sleep deprived fog of being a new parent, I didn’t really give that day a huge amount of thought – I didn’t have the capacity!
But it affected me deeply. I can’t remember when I first started acknowledging my experience as ‘traumatic’, I think it was a gradual thing. Birth is presented as this amazing thing, the most powerful thing a women can do, a rite of passage almost, that precious moment that you hold your baby for the first time – I don’t remember that moment; I remember waking up to see my husband holding a baby, the next thing I remember is someone essentially milking me like a cow trying to get baby to latch. Not being ‘present’ not remembering those first moments, not being in control of anything, that was all really hard for me to deal with. But I did deal with it.
And then we decided to have baby number 2. When on my scans it became apparent that the same issues that had caused a section the first time were there again, I sort of went into melt down. I couldn’t go through that again. I wanted to know what it was like to give birth, to hear my baby’s first cries, to be there.
I’d got involved in a conversation on the Maternity Unit’s facebook page which led to me having a long telephone conversation with Jo who in turn set up an appointment with Louise. I wasn’t sure what she would be able to do but felt it was worth doing in order to gather more information.
What Louise was able to do was go through the issues and possible outcomes for this pregnancy. What Louise was able to do was explain everything clearly, without being patronising or over complicated. What Louise was able to do was pull my notes from my previous pregnancy and talk through what happened and why. What Louise was able to do was spend time with us – as much time as we needed to talk everything through. What Louise was able to do was take me, my fears and my anxieties seriously. What Louise was able to do was to treat me like a human being and be on my side. What Louise was able to do, I will never be able to thank her for enough.
I knew all about postnatal depression but I had never thought about perinatal anxiety. As with mental health issues generally there is a lot of work being done but more to do in making it acceptable to say I’m not OK and to offer safe spaces for people to discuss their anxieties and get the appropriate support.
So there’s 2 points to this I suppose – the first is that if you have complications in your pregnancy or are concerned about anything, talk to someone, find that person that can be your advocate and tell them. But the second is that when you’re at that baby group, wrestling the octopus and dodging poonamis, of course talk about the present (no sleep and how much fluid such a small thing can produce) but also to talk about the past, talk about your pregnancy and your birth. It won’t just help you deal with it but it will also help to raise awareness that the ‘miracle of birth’ comes in all shapes and sizes.
So it struck me as I looked at the time that the email from Rachel pinged into my inbox, discussing possible topics for our blog-the things you don’t expect when you are expecting. The time was 3am. Who sends an email at 3am? WOW I thought she is super dedicated to our cause. Oh wait a minute; it’s not that she’s got a newborn.
3am is the middle of the night. No one in their right mind sends an email at 3am, unless of course you are writing an assignment and it’s overdue. Other possible explanations included getting up to catch a plane- flying to some lovely holiday destinations or that you’re a midwife on the night shift and 3am is actually your day because you’re on night 2 of 4.
In reality 3am is the time when a lot of new mums are awake. It’s also a time when new mums believe that everyone else in the world is asleep. I mean everyone. As you are sat with a newborn who does not remotely look like they will ever sleep again 3am is torture. Or if you are Rachel you put your time to good use and share the pain with fellow parents.
I remember personally how the nights were always the worst, I would always start the night thinking maybe tonight will be different, maybe tonight my lovely beautiful baby will sleep through like all the other angel babies at the baby group do. Yet somehow he never did. I found it so hard. I can honestly say I thought the sleep deprivation would never end. As a midwife you are supposed to be expert, experienced wise! Ha that was never me. I remember trying all the tricks, reading all the books and still I would see my lovely boy at least 20 times each night.
My baby boy turned 16 last week and just to be clear, we survived, we got through it. (He slept through when he was 3. QUICK Get the calculator out to work out how much longer it goes on for. I bet you can do that sum at 3am.) BTW He is number 1 of 4 so in reality the sheer exhaustion, lack of sleep and everything that goes with it cannot have lasted as long as it did in my head. Otherwise baby 2, 3 and 4 would not have happened. Oh and just so you know, it actually does get easier. Well a bit, now I think I’m going to enter the cant sleep until he come home phase of parenting very soon. Can’t wait for that!
Another thing to note is the sheer irony of it all. The first few years of his life I spent trying to get him to sleep. My new reality is that I cannot get the boy out of his bed. The good thing is now though is I get to wake him up. My how the tables have turned!
So before I leave you with some inspirational message that’s gonna keep you going for roughly 7 minutes, I need to make sure that you don’t forget to remind you of safer sleep rules- that you must try to get a break and a sleep when your significant other- friend- mum step dad grandma sister- quite frankly anyone ( just kidding) takes over. Talk to someone if it gets hard and when you are struggling, it’s okay to feel like it’s hard. Lastly remember that most people will almost certainly have been through it too and do not believe anything that is said in the baby groups.
So the message from me is this. If you are like Rachel- up every night A LOT just remember you are not alone, you are absolutely amazing and when you feel so tired, or disheartened just remember that actually you are doing a good job and you are the centre of the universe of a small person who you made from scratch. You are kinda wonderful, keep up the good work and if you’re stuck for something to do write me a blog like Rachel does.
8.30pm - it's Friday night and I'm going to bed - oh how times have changed! I will definitely see the wee small hours of the morning but it will be in our bedroom in silence save for the gentle squeaks and glugs if a 1 month old having mama milk.
10.22pm - WOW, nearly 2 whole hours of sleep, that's amazing. I'm sat in my feeding nest as I like to call it, comfy chair with arm rests, with a blanket and dressing gown on it; water, muslin, flapjack, tissues and feeding pillow all within easy reach. I am awesome, I can totally do this.
11.29pm - still sat in the chair. I must be a stone lighter by now with all that feeding - that reminds me, must weigh myself tomorrow - my arms are getting a good workout with all the burping and bouncing - every cloud has a sliver lining - remember to drink the water.
11.49pm - sometimes it's hard to understand what your baby is trying to tell you, that's not the case right now - how dare you put me down in that monstrosity you call a Moses basket?? I don't care if it's a family heirloom that took you ages to clean and you spent a fortune on a custom mattress for because it's an odd shape, I am not sleeping in there and the fact that you even asked me to means you must be punished - you shall sit in this chair whilst I sleep on you for the next 90 minutes and if you even think of moving I shall just require more milk.
1.30am - OK, so our bedroom is not silent!! Yes there's the cute feeding noises from baby but they are drowned out (well psychologically at least) by my husband sleeping. He's not even snoring but his slow, deep, steady, relaxed breathing makes me want to reach for a pillow to smother him with. The rage inside me at his audacity to be asleep at this point in time fuels my murderous plots. I consider throwing the water bottle at him but I don't really want to hurt him and besides, I need the water - god breastfeeding makes you thirsty! I fume silently, stewing my anger like grandma's casserole.
2.34am - my arse is numb, I fell asleep in the feeding chair, shit that's an hours quality sleep I missed out on and instead I've got a stiff neck. Tried to put baby down which received a level of protest to spark deployment of military back up so now we're back to square one, and husband sleeps on....
2.51am - to wind or not to wind, that is the question, whether it is nobler in the long run to suffer the sore stomach and farts of not winding or to take arms against the risk of waking... I plump for not winding, screw it, bed is calling.
3.24am - 1,2,3 shakey shakey shakey shakey shakey. That is one cross baby!! Legs kicking, not wanting boob, but screaming the place down. It's heart breaking. Baby massage seems to help. 1,2,3 shakey shakey shakey shakey shakey, should have bloody winded!!
4am - pick up phone for a nosey to keep myself occupied and try to stop me falling asleep again. Not looking at the news, too negative and I'm emotional and neurotic enough right now, and definitely not looking at self help social media - too much misinformation. I check Facebook which reminds me that 1 year ago I was sunning myself and quaffing ridiculous (i.e. amazing) cocktails with friends in Spain. Not much doing there, I go to the Internet and Google colic - I want to Google reflux but it's dark o'clock and I've not a clue what I'm doing. I read a really interesting couple of articles about breastfeeding then spend ages looking at the references trying to work out if the person who wrote the article is trust worthy or not. I look at a forum I've read for years that's not baby related - it's strangely foreign yet familiar and reminds me of who I am beyond a mother.
6am husband is a god and all is forgiven when oldest child tries to get into bed with us (a prospect that will result in no sleep for anyone) and he gets up and takes him away; I don't know where to, at this point I don't care, but finally true silence prevails and sleep beckons.
Asking a midwife what to expect during and immediately following birth is something that is almost always part and parcel of antenatal education and a big topic of conversation. How will I know? What does labour feel like and does it hurt? Are the most frequently asked questions. These loaded questions are so difficult to answer in a way that doesn’t sound like a text book, or a way that is really meaningful because labour and birth is so emotive, subjective and actually try as I might 4 babies later, I cannot tell you exactly what a contraction feels like.
I have watched many women birth. No one experience is the same, each person’s journey distinctly unique. The things that you think are self-explanatory about birth are sometimes not. For example, I remember my sister’s absolute joy and elation to get to the end of labour, push her baby out, and feel like she had conquered the world only to find that she had not finished- You should have seen the look of utter disgust that came along when I told her that she needed to birth her placenta. – How I ask did a midwife’s sister not know that she would have to part with the afterbirth almost straight away after her baby? Of course she knew she had one, and that it couldn’t stay inside, but the fact that she had to actually be part of getting said placenta out was a shock to her- it just never occurred to her to be worried or give it a minutes thought. Let’s fast forward 30 minutes, placenta out √ and we then told her we needed to check whether she needed stiches, to which she simply said you have got to be joking…….. Admittedly it was her first baby and things have changed in the last 10 years since she gave birth for the first time, but what are the REAL reality’s of labour and birth and who should tell us….
So I started to look for someone who could help. Someone who could provide balance to a midwife perspective. Someone who could present the real voice of reason. Someone who could share experiences and tell it like it is. So we have me as midwife Jo and Rachel new mum- Maternity Voices eat your heart out...
Rachel is a version of maternity voices. Not exactly what NHS England would have described a maternity voices partnership but as far as I am concerned an equally important partnership, and actually maybe a better way to get feedback?
Rachel is the newest mummy, she has an actual newborn baby and I am in awe of her. She amazes me with her ability to tell her story and that within the mayhem of newborn family that she has still found some time in the day or night as it seems to be to share her thoughts and feelings with us all. So I thank you Rachel, for being the voice of women and telling it how it is as a new parent. I thank you on behalf of the pregnant women out there who are patiently waiting for a baby and want to glimpse of their new world ahead. I thank you on behalf of the mummies and daddies that are awake with you at 3am as you write. I thank you because understanding how it really feels to be newly pregnant, heavily pregnant, finding it hard, finding it easy, in early labour in labour having a caesarean,….. and so on means something to us all. So for our first. So for our first “let’s talk about it” blog here’s Rachel- who made me laugh outloud.
Hi, yes, that's me, Rachel, Mum to 2 awesome little sleep thieves, both born at Warrington, the youngest just a week old. Keeping myself sane with the 3am feeds by writing nonsense which Jo seems to think others may find useful... I hope so.
So to start us off- Just a taster of what’s to come in our joint BLOG, bearing in mind I have just told you that on writing this I had a 1 week, yes 1 week old baby. Here are 5 unexpected things I learned during labour and immediately after:
1. The gas and air makes a farting noise!
2. My ability to swear at a comparative stranger was matched only by their ability to ignore it.
3. The sense of utter release and satisfaction upon delivering the placenta which was soon quashed by the necessity examination to check if everything is okay.
4. I normally hate sanitary towels but was glad of the "padding" provided by the extra thick maternity towels.
5. My body knew what to do not only during labour but afterwards too - it's self protection is strong and automatically quelled bodily functions (sneezing especially) until I could handle it.
So watch this space for more… including a night being a new mum, 3am is such a great time to be up, and apparently etiquette goes out of the window when you are pregnant/ new mum/ breastfeeding.