Celebrating my boobs

During my first midwife appointment, only a few months pregnant and not really even showing yet, was when I was first asked, ‘Will you breastfeed?’. A silly question to ask at that stage to be honest, because no one can know for sure, but I certainly wanted to try.

It seemed that my boobs wanted to try too, because at around six months pregnant I started waking up to small wet patches in the bed where I’d started leaking already. This was when I first started thinking that, really, the whole thing with boobs is weird.

We are subconsciously taught from a very early age that breasts are for admiration. They are a feature of attractiveness, a sexual tool. And yet here mine were leaking through my clothes and bedsheets at night – not at all sexy! Suddenly they were not mine anymore, they were preparing for someone else’s arrival instead.

Once Millie had been born we began to negotiate the breastfeeding minefield, which for us took a while. My nipples were dripping milk onto my swollen tummy in the shower, they were suckled for hours as Millie would fall asleep during feeds so I was expressing to make sure she was drinking properly, and as it turned out they weren’t quite large enough and needed little silicone shields to ensure a good latch. They were now a constant consideration, as they became full, hard and sore, then had to be switched regularly to ensure good flow for Millie, and were also pumped like udders with a loud electric device to allow my husband to get involved in feeding too.

This is all a bit overwhelming for anyone, and I feel lucky to have stayed in hospital for six days where I had access to clinical experts and a daily breastfeeding clinic where I could go and ask questions, and sometimes just sit and feed knowing I had people around to help if I needed it. The first time I literally asked the nurse to grab my breast and do it for me because I felt so lost, and she duely obliged – that level of support was invaluable to me.

Being able to ask my mum and friends openly about feeding was also vital, because it helped me feel more normal and less isolated – I’ve said it before and will always insist that a support network of any description is they key to how you manage with a child. No one can do it alone.

Initially I had been pleased at my extra cleavage but in fact it’s a huge amount of pressure. On top of trying to manage the varying size, leaking and feeding, there’s the constant talking about it all. Asking friends if the things I was feeling were normal, did their babies do this or that too, trying to fit my breasts into different bras, checking for their fullness. I lost count of how many times I was asked how I was feeding, and then when I started topping Millie up with formula at around six weeks because I couldn’t keep up with her appetite, waited for the judgement. I wasn’t often openly judged, in honesty, but there’s so much conversation about it that I felt ready to be, which is wrong in itself really.

The breast vs bottle thing is a crazy weight to land on a woman’s shoulders after squeezing a human out of her hoo-ha. Yes, breast milk has the longest list of utterly fantastic properties, but if we’re honest formula is great too these days, and the fact is that not every one can physically breastfeed, and even if they can they may not want to – and that’s THEIR decision.

Then came  feeding in public. Because of some of the hype around breastfeeding publicly I was ready to fight anyone who dared challenge me, despite never having actually been challenged! I believed vehemently in my right to feed my daughter wherever and whenever she needed it, and never shied away from that, because I was determined to normalise it and help change perceptions, but then I came back to the old societal rules. There are loads of places that openly support breastfeeeding in public, which is fantastic, but sometimes I didn’t want to just flip my boob out for all to see, despite the very necessary purpose. It feels beautiful, but also vulnerable, and very out of the ordinary for a woman, so I used to carry a big cloth for a bit of privacy now and again if I wanted it.

On the flip side of all that, breastfeeding Millie was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had with her. My favourite times (and my husband says the same, so it’s clearly more about bonding than just boobs) were the night feeds. In the early hours when it felt like we were the only two awake, quietly snuggled together as she filled her tiny tummy and blessed me with her new smiles. It was all about her, all about us, and those moments are so very precious.

Then at only five months it was all over, we’d worked so hard to create a routine and adapt together to her needs as she quickly grew, and then one day she decided she had finished and preferred full formula. I was bereft, and not ready, but the use of my body in this way was no longer my decision, and my baby was choosing to move on.

Now my lovely lumps, humps, breasts, boobs, tits, jugs, or whatever you call them (thanks again to society for steering us towards objectification) are mine again. They’re sexual again, meant for a very different purpose than for those few months of newborn sustenance. And I think I love them a little bit more now. They’re not quite the same as they started out but they’ve worked hard and deserve to stand a little less high, though no less proud.

Breastfeeding is beautiful, important, effective and bloody hard work at times, and I’m very glad I was able to feed Millie this way for a while. Everyone does this slightly differently, and ‘trial and error’ were never more important words for me than in raising a child. We made it work for us, which I think should be celebrated and cherished. I look forward to the day she might want to know her story, and perhaps if she chooses, to experience all this for herself.

Whether you breastfed or not, give yourself and your boobs a little hug, because whever you’ve been through, you deserve it!

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A letter to myself

I found out recently that maternal mental health awareness week was happening this week (1-7 May), and it got me thinking. Having a child – whether you’re pushing it out, having it surgically removed, adopting or whatever else – is the most incredible life change. There is no amount of reading or research that can prepare you for the sudden weight of responsibility in keeping such a small person alive. It’s a 24 hour operation, and if ever there’s a time in your life when your normal defences are down, and you are vulnerable to a bit of mental pressure, this is definitely it.

Some people take to it like they were born to (the buggers), but others, like me, don’t. I suffered with post-natal depression in the months after Millie was born, and at the time I thought there was something wrong with me. I refused medication, I didn’t talk about it, and I pushed on through. My life and experiences may have evolved and moved on, but there are many, many more people out there feeling like I did then. Eighteen months on, I’ve written my new mum self a letter with some advice I wish I’d had the courage to ask for then.

Dearest Liz,

Hits you like a brick wall, doesn’t it? I mean, you expected it, but you also really didn’t, and it’s hard. It’s so very hard sometimes, and you need to acknowledge that; you don’t have to brave face it all the time.

We need to just set a baseline here – you’re doing a good job. You know why? Because you give a shit. I read this recently and it makes total sense. The very fact that you worry about Millie getting the best, and feel guilty about what you think she might be missing out on, makes you a good mum. If you weren’t you wouldn’t care. Take heart in that.

I know it’s a rollercoaster. I know that you can’t leave her sight for a second, and that sometimes when you do the cry you hear makes every nerve in your body jangle, and you need to take a breath before you can walk back in and paint on a smile for her. I also know that when she smiles back and kicks those little legs because she’s happy just to see you, your heart melts. I can see it in your face. She’s a powerful being, and personally I think mother nature makes babies that way on purpose. They have to be so delicious in order for you to take the hardship – they give you strength.

You need to draw on this strength when you are at your lowest. Those times when you think she’d be better off without you, and you want to disappear? That it would be easier if you just kept driving and never stopped? You’re wrong. You need each other, right now more than ever.

You are strong, you are doing a brilliant job, you are not failing her, she does not deserve a better mum. There is no one better than you to look after your daughter.

I know you can hear all this, but you don’t believe a word of it. You feel battered, exhausted beyond the realms of possibility, and like you’re falling at every hurdle. There are days when you feel disconnected, and have nothing left, and can’t summon the energy to look after yourself, let alone a baby. And that’s ok. There is no overnight fix, and for now just that you’re hearing the words is enough, but you must never, ever forget them. When you lay down on the floor on her mat just to get a better look at her and drink her in, or during the many hours you sit staring at her sleeping on your chest, tell yourself how great you are. When you look in the mirror and cringe at your reflection, or hold back tears because she’s been crying for hours, tell yourself again. The smiles, the contented naps, the giggles, are all because of you. She’s figuring out a lot right now and growing fast, so she’s got a tough job to do too. You are all she wants in the middle of all that; you’re her whole entire world. You must be pretty bloody special to hold that spot.

Now I’m nearly done. See that bloke on the other end of the sofa? The one holding his iPhone? Tell him. Tell him everything you’re feeling, and ask him to help. He won’t be sure how, because he can’t be when you don’t even know yourself, but you can’t do this alone. Plus he’s not a mind reader! Then tomorrow text one of your friends and do the same. It’s scary to be so honest when you’re breaking inside, but it’ll be worth it. BT once said it’s good to talk, and they weren’t wrong. It takes a village to raise a child, so start getting your village on board!

Finally, step back and look after yourself now and again, don’t try and do it all. Walking the dog is driving you insane so get someone else to do it, and stop thinking about the hoovering, and making people cups of tea when they pop in. In fact some days you don’t have to say yes to them popping in at all if that’s what you want! Let people do more for you, it’s not for you to look after everyone all the time. Focus on you and Millie, get fresh air, take more baths, eat all the chocolate.

Oh darling, when I think of you now it makes me quite emotional, and I just want to scoop you up and hold you. It will get better, and as that little girl grows you will too. I promise.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself first sometimes. Millie needs you to.

Me xx

New baby love

One of my closest friends had a baby a couple of days ago, and another is ready to drop any day now, and I’m feeling pretty emotional about it. For both of them it’s their first child and it’s bringing back all the memories of the heady, exciting (scary, despairing) first days I had with Millie.

In fact when I was putting Millie to bed last night she drifted off as we had a little cuddle and I got a bit weepy thinking about her as a newborn, and the many hours I spent with her on my chest, just feeling the warmth of her and watching her sleep.

It’s unbelievable to think that was 15 months ago already, and how our daily routines have changed so much – what I need to prepare for each day now is very different!

I’ve been trying to decide what I might want to get as a little ‘welcome to the world’ gift for my friend, and I’d like it to be something useful. In trying to remember what we found vital with a tiny baby to care for, I’ve made a list of my newborn essentials:

  • All-in-one baby grows – Millie lived in these for months. We had bought or were given some other clothes but I found it so much more practical to have her in a baby grow, especially when you have to undress them so often. They’re warm, comfy and somehow babies just look extra cute in a onesie.
  • Bottle warmer – it was a couple of months before we got one of these. I breastfed initially but used to express too, and quite soon had to move to combination feeding because I couldn’t produce enough, so warming a bottle while out was a daily requirement. In M&S cafe one day they provided a Tommy Tippee one for us and it was brilliant so we bought one right away and used it constantly, it was so easy!
  • Dummy – this is a contentious one and I know not every one supports use of a dummy, but for us it was a game changer. When Millie wouldn’t sleep for longer than an hour at a time we began to go mad, and a midwife suggested using a dummy. I was always against them (I don’t know why!) but advice from a healthcare professional was like a green light, and Millie loved it. It’s helped with sleeping, teething, and is her all round comforter really. She still has it now and removing it is something we need to think about, but maybe not today…
  • Jelly babies – or any sugary sweets really. Millie spent her first 17 hours (or so) of life in the neonatal unit, and though I was hand expressing colostrum for her it wasn’t much, so she was fed with formula. She then struggled with a nipple and used to fall asleep immediately on the breast. I ended up using nipple shields to get her to latch on, but the process of figuring it out was over a good week or so and in hospital we developed a routine where I would try and feed, then get her down, express, clean everything and sleep myself, and it was about 30 minutes before it all started again. I’d bought jelly babies for the labour but used them for the night of breastfeeding to keep myself awake, and I recommend them to everyone now, fab for while you’re trying to adjust to waking up so often!
  • Electric breast pump – I expressed from fairly early on to allow my husband to get in on the feeding action (and give me some extra sleep!), and we bought a hand pump that proved itself redundant almost immediately – I needed hand muscles of steel and a good hour or so to get any decent amount out, and we needed an alternative. During my stay in hospital we’d been lucky to have use of an electric pump that sounded awful but expressed a full bottle in minutes, so we invested in one at home and never regretted it!
  • Friends! – I know some people spend days on end at home with their babies, but I am not one of them. I needed to get out and do something pretty much every day because a) having a goal of getting out of the house gave me something to work towards and b) it kept me sane! I had six weeks without driving after my c-section and the restriction I felt was enormous.What’s app chats, Facebook  groups and seeing friends or going to baby groups made such a difference for me. I needed the interaction, reassurance and change of scenery, and can’t stress the importance of getting out and about enough to new parents.

And here’s the most useful bit of advice that you eventually learn, but no one tells you: sometimes babies just want to cry. We seem to be programmed to want to stop the crying and take away whatever’s bothering them, but sometimes they just need to get it all out, and that’s ok. If they’re fed, watered, burped, clean and warm then there’s little else you can practically do but be there. Hold them, talk to them, and be there. If you’re knackered and it’s a long crying session it can be so wearing, but the world is so overwhelming for babies, and crying is the only outlet they have! We all have shit days, and babies are no exception. Sounds pretty obvious reading it back now but it wasn’t at the time!

All this thinking of what we did or used in the early days has led me on to a list of what wasn’t essential at all, but that’s for another day!

 

Ready made meals

I’m making a confession (and a recommendation) – I’ve started using ready meals for Millie. Occasionally. And not the nice Ella’s or Cow and Gate kind, but the Morrison’s own kind.

They are healthy ones and there’s nothing weird in the ingredients, but still they’re supermarket ready meals, which makes me have an extra helping of mum guilt.

When Millie first started weaning I was all about the DIY. I spent hours making all the different purees myself, dedicating a whole freezer drawer of well labelled bags to her nutritional needs. And I was smug about it.

I also made different meals as she got older and began expanding her tastes…and then I went back to work.

Now I find that I have either no time or energy to keep up the variety of home made meals for Millie, and particularly not since a lot of it goes on the floor! If Dave and I eat something she can have I’ll put a bowl by for the next day, but my planning for what we eat is pretty rubbish anyway so that doesn’t always work.

So a few weeks ago I was trying to get some different meals for Millie so she wasn’t always eating the same stuff (like we so often do) and there was a nice paella in the fresh section. I checked what was in it and just tried it, and the little peanut loves it! Not only is it tasty, a good mix of meat, rice and vegetables, but easy to practice spoon feeding herself or eating with her fingers. Winner!

So tonight I bought another one, and a carbonara too. Six meals in the freezer, meals I don’t normally make at home, saving me time and effort and keeping Millie happy. She still gets a few Ella’s pouches, and some fresh or frozen things I’ve made, so at least we have a mix. I do feel bad about not doing it all myself, but I think that’s an expectation I’ve created in my own head, and it’s not realistic for me. Though social media might make you think all the other mums are doing it themselves, they really aren’t.

If you’re popping into Morrisons soon take a look at the fresh ready meals. You’ve got to try these things and find out what works!

By the way – I know these are low fat versions and Millie’s definitely getting a balance in her diet, just so you know!

Lessons in patience 

Lately the husband and I have been commenting on how much we’ve been enjoying our little family. We were living in a bubble where our teamwork seemed to be in sync, Millie was a dream every day and loving every moment of her little life, and I dared to think we might have cracked it.

I had forgotten/ignored the fact that with every peak comes a trough. Two weeks ago was Millie’s birthday, and the following day we allowed the NHS to attack her tiny limbs (and deliver life saving drugs) for her 12 month jabs. Ever since that day we’ve been in a definite trough.

She had the predictable lethargy, fever and irritability that comes after jabs, and seemingly the irritability just never left. We get pockets of smiles, giggles and playfulness, but we’re also getting loads more crying, whinging and unhappiness, and it’s hard for all of us. We’ve gone backwards with weaning off the dummy, which is almost permanently in at the minute, and our improving sleep situation has gone way off kilter.

She’s also getting teeth through so that’s likely to be to blame, I’ve been ill which she may have had a bit of, and we’ve been away for a few days with disrupted routines, new people and places so she’s no doubt overwhelmed, but realistically I’m guessing. I’d love to say that a year in it’s educated guessing but I’m not so sure! I find this gets really tiring, because you never know if you’re doing the right thing, and even if you are for that moment it could all change again tomorrow.

I hate that my contented little girl is so troubled and I’m struggling to help ease her discomfort, and I hate questioning myself so much. I know this is normal but that’s not the answer either. I cherish so many moments with Millie but right now they’re few and far between!

So essentially I’m having my turn for a whinge. Sometimes you do everything you can think of and its not enough. Here’s hoping the next peak isn’t too far off!

A letter to my daughter 

Dearest Millie,

Well we made it, today is your first birthday, and it feels a bit surreal to be honest. This past year has been the fastest of my life, and yet there have been many times when I thought the end of the day would never come.

Having a baby was not a decision I took lightly. I waited and agonised for years, and though I was in a place in my life where I was ready, as soon as you arrived I questioned what I had been waiting for. Until it happens, you just can’t grasp what a change it is, and I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but I quickly realised we are a little team, taking on the world, and we can work it out together.

There is not a single part of my life that has not had to change or flex to adapt to your arrival. I have become adept at showering in mere seconds, living without ever getting enough sleep, and missing meals. I’ve also been completely and utterly overwhelmed every day by your mere existence.

I have never known emotions like I do with you. It’s a life full of extremes; of happiness so great my heart wants to burst, of giddy excitement at seemingly tiny milestones (like today when I saw you sign ‘listen’ for the first time), of crying in the shower out of utter despair. It’s been such a roller coaster and it’s taught me so much about myself; I have a strength, a purpose and an identity I never knew before, because of you. I’m a mum ❤️.

I’ve been so very proud of how you’ve developed, because being a baby is tough and you take it in your stride. The first night you spent in your own room at 12 weeks old, when you’re poked and prodded by doctors and nurses and you watch with quiet curiosity, and when you flatly refuse to do anything you don’t want to do. My heart swells and I love it, I feel so privileged to watch this tiny personality taking shape in front of me.

I wonder and worry about your future sometimes. You have so much ahead of you, a lifetime of possibility, and having seen the scale of change in the world since I was a child, I can only imagine what your adulthood will look like and the opportunities you’ll have. As a woman your choices, aspirations and ideals will be so different to mine, my mum’s or grandmother’s, and it’s very exciting. On the flip side I don’t know what threats you’ll face, and the knowledge that I can’t protect you is frightening. Parenting gives you such a lot to think about!

I can’t pretend to you that it’s all been wonderful. I don’t think I’ve ever faced challenges like those I have this past year, especially in the early months. The physical, mental and psychological strain is immense, doubting every decision and feeling completely inadequate. I went through a period where I was convinced I simply wasn’t good enough for you, and thankfully you won’t remember but I apologised endlessly. Throughout it all you’ve provided so many highs that I’ve learnt I can overcome the lows, and you’ve given me the perspective to see that it’s all part of the experience, we’re incredibly lucky to have our time together, and tomorrow is another day.

I know the first year is only the beginning, but it’s a big achievement for us both and I feel like we’ve come such a long way. You’re no longer so dependent and tiny, but growing into a proper little person at an alarming rate. I promise to try and make good decisions, but I’m going to have bad days too. Sometimes you’ll get a lazy dinner, or I’ll snap in frustration, but please know I’m always doing my best. I want to model patience, kindness, honesty and strength, I want to show you how to have fun, enjoy a meaningful career, see the value in the little moments and always believe in yourself. Having said this, I can be moody, argumentative and lazy (to mention just three of my less desirable traits!) so I’m never going to be this image of parental perfection all the time, but I’m trying darling, and you make me want to be better at it every day.

I love you so fiercely it overwhelms me, and whatever our future might hold, you are all I really need.

Happy birthday, little Millie xxxx

Post party reflections

This afternoon (note how timely this post is? Go me!) we held a little first birthday party for Millie. A few weeks ago I was still planning to do nothing so it was quite last minute but I’m very pleased we managed it.

I absolutely love cooking or baking for people, and I’m always quite determined to have everything homemade, which is wonderful in theory, but never fails to cause me stress. I spent all of yesterday and this morning frantically baking, icing, making sarnies, checking lists, getting mad at how little time I had, and being generally very late. But I made it.

I should also point out that I only made it, and only ever make it, thanks to having lots of help. Some people made delicious goodies to bring along, looked after Millie or walked the dog, helped set up the community hall we’d booked because they arrived before me to an empty room (oops) and then tidied up afterwards too. They are all very lovely, and understand my poor time perception and how disorganised I can be despite my best efforts.

So we all had cake and sandwiches and a bit of chopped fruit and veg (eases the conscience when you’re feeding children) and generally just had a wonderful time. Millie woke up with a gunky, puffy eye that might be a bit of conjunctivitis so she looked a bit like she’d had a row at nursery or something but she perked up considerably seeing all the people and toys and food. Easily swayed with food, just like her mother!

Now in the quiet when I’ve tidied up, Millie’s recovering with a nap and I’ve stopped for five minutes, I feel a little bit overwhelmed. My little tiny baby is about to turn one, and she’s definitely not a little tiny baby anymore, but she certainly is a very lucky girl. She had family and friends all turn up on their days off just to see her today, some travelling considerable distance. It’s just so heartwarming, I feel very thankful.

So I’ve shed a few tears today and will most certainly not have finished before the end of her birthday later this week. This year has gone so fast, and I need to hang on to every second I can and keep building our memories. She’ll definitely be getting a party every year.

The sleep issue

Millie loves sleeping in our bed. What baby doesn’t like the big, warm, smells-like-my-parent bed?! Except I think I’ve allowed her in so much it’s now expected, and it may* be an issue.

* I’ll come back to that later

So how did I get here? There’s a list:

  • Millie’s room is tiny and there’s no room for a chair, so on the nights when she needs long cuddles or doesn’t want to go back to sleep, my back will only hold out so long without support so I’ve ended up nipping next door to sit on my bed, then it would be easy just to lay her down 
  • I quickly realised that when I was struggling to stay awake for night feeds/cries/whatever and just needed to get some sleep, she would settle very quickly laid next to me (she’s even mastered a cheeky grin that definitely says ‘I won!’ When I lay her in my bed). Sleep always wins so this has become my answer to getting a little more shut eye
  • For daytime sleep particularly, I absolutely love laying next to her and playing or cuddling a bit until she drifts off, and you can’t really do that in her cot

So now, she goes down at night in her room, and if she wakes for a feed it’s very hard getting her back into her cot so she often ends up in with us til morning. Also, literally all her naps at home are on our bed. 

So is this actually an issue? On one hand I think no, it’s not what most other parents I know do but if we’re happy isn’t that enough? She’s sleeping well so that’s fine really. But she’s getting bigger and I would like my bed back during the night sometimes, and it would be good if she were more comfortable staying in her own room after a night feed. 

The naps could pose more of a problem, because she never naps at home without one of us there laid next to her. This feels like an issue because it’s drilled into us that they should be able to self settle but I don’t know if I agree. It’s more inconvenient sometimes, and there’s a pretty serious risk I will end up asleep too, but for the most part it’s just how we do it. What is definitely an issue is that she doesn’t crawl yet but she’s trying, and when she does there’s no protection around our bed. Though it’s going to be hard moving her to sleeping alone during the day it’s a necessity for her safety (plus she does it at nursery without a problem, which means it’s not impossible and I guess also means it’s me being too indulgent 😁).

Part of me thinks I should fall in line, do what my friends do and get her in her cot all the time. It would definitely be easier. But there’s also a foot stamping part of me that thinks ‘no!’. Co-sleeping is wonderful, good for bonding, means we’re both getting better quality sleep (OK, she is at least), and really I’m just enjoying it. She’s so beautiful when she sleeps, and she’s growing too fast already, I should enjoy this shouldn’t I?! 

So there you go, I don’t have an answer but at least I’ve been honest as a lazy parent who defaults to the easy option. She’s napping on my bed right now actually, with pillow bumpers just in case. I might stop typing and sneak a cuddle, while I can. Here’s a bed selfie as a sign off 😍

The birth story

We’ve all got them, and every one is different, so here’s mine…just make a cup of tea before you start because it’s pretty long! I want to tell Millie this story one day so I needed to get every detail down.

I was due on July 14, 2015, and for weeks had been convinced I would give birth early, but the day came and went with no action. I walked every day, ate pineapple and spicy foods, bounced on the yoga ball, tried all the things people tell you will bring on your baby, but she was far too comfy in there. Eventually Dave and I found ourselves in the induction ward at 7.30am on July 26.

I was given my pessary and waited six hours. I was then two centimetres dilates which was positive, so the midwife broke my waters with the scary knitting needle thing. A very uncomfortable experience that led to no liquid leaving my body, immediately or in the hours that followed. Go figure.

Eventually, at 4pm I was moved into a room on labour ward and hooked up to two drips to begin receiving the hormones that would begin contractions. Here are two things they did not tell me; that once the drip began I could not eat or drink anything except water (I hadn’t eaten for 5 hours before this, thank goodness for the jaffa cakes we had packed in our hospital bag!), and that the hormone drip is designed to bring on your contractions hard and fast to encourage your body to get involved. I wasn’t really prepared for this.

I started off bouncing on a birthing ball but very quickly I was unable to concentrate on staying steady during contractions and had to move to the bed. Within an hour or so I felt like they were coming every minute and I couldn’t manage to speak to Dave at all. I was given gas and air because I didn’t feel I was coping well with the pain and that really helped to focus my breathing but very quickly I felt panicked because they were too much for me. The midwife said I was having four contractions in ten minutes and that I needed to maintain that for a number of hours. I simply replied ‘No’.

At this point I’d had enough and asked for more pain relief. I must have looked pretty pissed off because they went straight for an epidural – despite the nine months of insisting I didn’t want one I almost called the anaesthetist myself I was so desperate! The lady putting the giant needle in my back was so lovely, she was gentle and calming and stopped working as promised during the many contractions that came while she got the line in.

Within a short time the effect kicked in and I was ecstatic. I think must have said about a hundred timed ‘this is bloody wonderful’. It meant a catheter, plus they attached a heart rate monitor to the baby’s head, and I had an odd side effect in that I was shivering badly from head to toe, but to be honest I really didn’t give a monkeys, I was just so happy not to feel the pain anymore.

It was around this time that the staff began to notice the baby’s heart rate dropping during some of my contractions, to worrying low levels. She wasn’t consistent and would pick it back up again for ten or twenty minutes, but it still kept happening periodically. This is when we began to worry, because although the midwives were very reassuring and offered various ‘normal’ reasons for it happening, there were more people coming in to check us, including senior doctors.

So this carried on for a while as baby seemed to pick back up and then her heartrate would drop again on and off, and eventually someone suggested I may have to be prepared for a caesarean. Now we never really had a birth plan, but a caesarean was something I had genuinely, and somewhat naively, never considered, and it scared me. I said ‘ok’ a lot to the surgeon when he came in to speak to me briefly, but in my head I was saying ‘no thank you’.

So this all carried on for some time longer until a doctor came and asked to examine me. I told her she could do what she liked because I couldn’t feel it anyway. We all had a little polite laugh. While she was down there, and I had my leg in the air on a stirrup, I noticed my pants in the corner of the room and I was horrified. I whispered to Dave to remove my pants to save my embarrassment – I’m not sure my drug addled brain really grasped my current situation.

One other side effect of the epidural was that I became desperately thirsty, and my lovely husband had been continually providing me water, which never seemed to hydrate me at all. I decided I needed to clean my teeth instead to try and stop the horrid feeling in my mouth and sent Dave out to get me a cup to spit my water into. All this still while the doctor was doing whatever she needed to inside me. Apparently they’d never seen anyone clean their teeth during labour so at least I was memorable!

This was where our journey took a turn. The doctor announced I was 8cm dilated and could be in a position to push soon, which we were delighted about. She wanted to take a small sample of blood from the baby’s head to test her oxygen levels and see how she was coping with the dropping heart rates, which was very quick, and within minutes someone looked round the door to give the result, which was a number I can’t remember, but we immediately realised it wasn’t good.

Still very calm, the doctor pressed a button somewhere and said we were getting the baby out now. I then felt a bit like I was in an episode of casualty – within seconds there were about eight people in the room and I was swiftly unhooked from the two monitors on my tummy, the one in the baby’s head, the two drips in one arm and the pulse monitor on the other hand, and the epidural line in my back, before being wheeled out of the room.

Dave was given a set of scrubs so I expected him to follow me down the corridor but he was quickly told he couldn’t join me – if I was unconscious there was no reason to have him sat in for support, so he simply got left behind, and was very alone after so much activity.

I was then in a theatre with so many people, and I was asked by a man to move myself onto the operating table. I told him I couldn’t feel my legs, much less move them, so he asked me again and I told him again. This all felt very weird considering we were in such a rush.

My lovely epidural anaesthetist lady was back and explained the two people in the corner of the room were baby doctors and would look after my daughter, and she then put a mask on my face and asked me to count to ten. The mask was very small and I felt suffocated, but I knew I had to keep it on, and my last thoughts were these; ‘if a teeny tiny baby needs two doctors things aren’t good’, ‘I might not wake up, and I never said goodbye to David’, and ‘what if that big light up there is the last thing I ever see?’.

My daughter was born at 1.20am on July 27. By the time she finally came out she had no heartbeat and did not breathe by herself so those two baby doctors had to help her get started, but apparently she very quickly took over from them. By the time I woke up at around 3am she was settled in a little plastic box in the neonatal unit, and David was at my bedside with my mum. I tried to ask a few questions, established she was ok and drank some liquid morphine before drifting off again for a bit.

David got to visit our little daughter while I was still out for the count, and give her a tiny feed of milk from a cup. We have a video of that, it’s lovely.

I was able to finally meet her myself around 7am after I’d woken up properly. I was still numb from the waist down so my entire bed was wheeled into the neonatal unit so I could meet this tiny, squeaky little being. I’ve read about these huge rushes of love when meeting your baby for the first time but I was a bit stunned by it all and kind of in awe really, and we just held hands and looked at each other, both not really sure what was going on, I think.

I had a day then away from my baby back in my labour room, with compressors on my legs to stop any clots. It was bizarre really, knowing I had a baby but not being with her, and didn’t feel real. I was the most thirsty I’ve ever been in my life. I was told it was still too early to drink for a while so Dave was sneaking me small glasses of water against his will until I was allowed to drink properly. It felt like every mouthful of water just evaporated immediately and my whole mouth was just sticking together. I ate nothing all day and just had litres of water instead, filling three or four catheter bags as the anaesthetic wore off.

We decide to call our absent baby Millie, and after we were eventually reunited later that day, the pair of us spent another five days in hospital, enjoying the support of medical professionals and getting to know each other. If you’ve read this far, good work for sticking with me. It’s a fairly long story, but a very personal and emotional one. Thank goodness for the NHS!

Caesarean ‘vs’ vaginal births

I gave blood today, and during the preliminary questions I had to declare my caesarean section operation from giving birth to Millie. The nurse and I bonded briefly over having had c-sections and she asked me, “Do you feel cheated? Not having had a normal birth?”

My reply was an immediate (and emphatic) no, but I was pretty taken aback by the question. I’ve never been asked that before, or even considered it.

I feel…very guilty I think, because Millie’s birth story was basically me being induced, a rush to an emergency caesarean, around 17 hours in neonatal and then five days in hospital. Those initial 17 hours are some of the essential ones you anticipate for nine months of pregnancy and however long you dream beforehand, enhanced by all the magazines and films. Seeing each other moments after birth, holding your baby for the first time, powerful skin to skin, the first feed, and Millie got none of that from me.

No one’s actually responsible, but for whatever reason our bodies were not working together that day and we took a slightly different route. But do it feel cheated? No.

I told my husband about this and he said he feels cheated, because he got nothing. I was unconscious for a decent chunk of it but he was left with an empty labour room for hours. No wife, no baby, just a whole lot of fear for both. An awful situation, bless him.

The same way that every baby is different (if you need a mantra as a new parent, that’s a good one!) every birth is too. Millie’s had a bit more drama but was still just as valid as everyone else’s. There’s some debate over different births but aren’t they all still births? Women producing actual tiny humans using their bodies? It’s a bloody miracle however they come out!

Frankly I’m grateful for our experience, because without the medical magic of an emergency caesarean, I’m not sure Millie would even have made it. And sadly many don’t. So when you think about it, I’m actually just very lucky.