Ollie has been in our lives 4 weeks today.
4 weeks ago, Dave and I became parents to an amazing little human being, and our lives have never been the same since.
Of course we were prepared for this – we weren’t naive – but just HOW our lives would change, and the number of ways, is something you don’t fully realise until you’re actually doing it.
I only feel like I’ve been a proper mum for 3 weeks because that’s when we brought Ollie home from hospital, and as cliched as it sounds, you really can’t remember what your life was like before you had a child.
I have vague memories of lounging away hours on the sofa reading magazines, and literally walking out the front door with just my handbag at a moment’s notice if I so fancied it.
I see exactly why they call this the fourth trimester, and there isn’t enough discussion about it. In the same way I don’t feel antenatal classes prepared me in any way whatsoever for labour, childbirth or recovery, I don’t think anybody talks about what the reality of those first few weeks after birth is like.
Yes, everybody says “it’s hard”, but that’s so fucking vague! In all areas of life I like things to be explained to me in every little detail so I am as prepared as can be – I don’t like surprises, I am an itinerary with minute detail kinda girl – and I really would have appreciated someone spelling out to me exactly WHAT is hard about motherhood, especially first time motherhood. So I’m going to explain what MY reality has been like. It may not be anything like another mum’s reality, or it could be just like someone else’s experience, but if me chronicling my first month of motherhood helps open the eyes of someone else then great.
I never personally got the baby blues – on day 3 post birth, or at all. In fact I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried since Ollie has been home, and that’s only really been down to my frustration in not knowing why he’s crying.
The first week of his life when he was in NNU I did a LOT of crying, but I strongly insist that wasn’t hormonal. It was pure shock at what we’d both been through, the pain of my recovery, worry for my son’s health, and missing him so much. At no point did I feel unstable or that I didn’t have a justifiable reason for crying. There’s been no irrational crying that is clearly down to hormones. In fact, I think the experience has actually toughened me up (since bringing him home).
That’s not to deny the sheer and utter terror and panic over the realisation that you have to keep this tiny person alive EVERY SINGLE MINUTE OF EVERY SINGLE DAY. And they can’t even tell you what they want or need. It’s like you’re competing in a game show in Japanese. In sign language. You just have to totally wing it and hope for the best. It helps to remember that every other person is winging it too and what works for one parent may or may not work for you. It’s impossible to not compare yourself with other mums and what their kids did at your child’s age, but I’ve learned to trust my own instincts with my own child. And if he’s happy, feeding well, settled in between, sleeps soundly and has wet and dirty nappies then I must be getting something right.
But last weekend Ollie was unsettled (we think due to upping his feed a bit before he was ready for it) and it took hours for us to settle him on Sunday night which made me cry and panic at the thought of Dave being at work the next day and I’d be left on my own with Ollie and not know how to settle him. As it happened, Monday morning and lunch was an absolute nightmare which just compounded my fears and when my mum turned up early afternoon (at my request) I literally handed him over to her sobbing and went straight to unloading the dishwasher. That was my coping mechanism.
Long story short, I got through that day. And I got through the next day. And Ollie has survived my parenting – and thrived too, actually. Some days are harder than others, where I have to keep the tears at bay until Dave comes home and I feel secure again (having Dave around always makes me feel better), but other days I feel chuffed with how I’ve accomplished things and Ollie has been settled and chilled.
That’s when I gain perspective on things, which helps keeps my emotions in check. Everything I’ve gone through with Dave’s mental health over the past year has made me feel like I can get through anything, and that nothing is ever permanent.
So when it’s 5:30am and I’ve been awake since 3:30am and I’m trying desperately to relieve Ollie’s trapped wind with different positions as he cries and I want to cry too, I remind myself that this won’t last forever. And one day I’ll actually miss it.
The trauma of childbirth
Every woman has their “story”. Mine is worse than other women’s and nowhere near as bad as others. It’s not a competition but equally how it affects each woman shouldn’t be dismissed either.
It is true what they say, the more time passes the more the memories fade. And I couldn’t see that at the time, because when you’re in the thick of it, you can’t see the wood for the trees. But the residual issues surrounding everything remain.
Talking has helped massively. To my family, friends, through my blog – even to strangers. It’s helped me see the events objectively. I give a lot of credit to James, the assistant surgeon, for tracking down Dave and me two days after the birth to spend nearly an hour dissecting what happened. It answered a lot of questions and cleared up some queries of mine.
But I still need to put it all in a little box and close the lid on it firmly. So we will still do Birth Afterthoughts with the hospital, to go through my notes and detail what happened and why. But I’ve also self-referred myself for counselling with a service called Steps 2 Change on the advice of my health visitor, because I don’t want the issues I have to remain unresolved, escalate into something further, and affect a future pregnancy.
As it stands right now, I am absolutely bloody terrified of getting pregnant again, which is so sad when I think of how desperately we wanted those two pink lines for 20 months when trying for Ollie. But I challenge anyone to go through what I have and not feel absolute dread of going through it again. It doesn’t matter how many people tell me that another pregnancy, labour and birth could be totally different to this one, or how many times they tell me, there is still 50% of me that feels “yes, but it also could happen again”.
The rational part of me agrees with what people tell me.
The irrational part – and what I need therapy for – believes that my 18 hours of separation from Ollie immediately after his birth has affected my ability to understand his needs (not my bond with him though, thank god). I feel that Ollie knows when I’m fucking up because the nurses who cared for him for his first week did such a better job than I could ever do. I feel I am constantly playing catch up because of missing his first week of life.
I feel grief over the birth that I didn’t have. I didn’t hear the first breath/scream as he came into to the world, as there wasn’t one. I mourn the absence of that skin-to-skin contact that we never had. I feel angry that I didn’t get the nice birth that most others get. Then I feel guilty that I feel this way when others have it so much worse; at least I got to take my baby home.
I have some key memories that stick out for me that I want to erase from my mind – or at least deal with professional help so I can move on without them affecting me so much: the moment Ollie was pulled from me and the silence and fear that he was dying and so was I; the first night when I was on my own in recovery – with no baby, husband or family around me, just complete isolation; the endless days afterwards on the ward surrounded by mums and their babies whilst I was apart from mine; and coming home from hospital without Ollie and collapsing on my front lawn in hysterical tears. Whenever I think back to it all, over the past 4 weeks, it is those flashbacks that haunt me.
I don’t have a single positive memory about my experience. And that’s what I need therapy for.
We don’t want Ollie to be an only child because of my issues. And I don’t want to spend a future pregnancy not enjoying it or dreading the ending. So it is crucial I get this dealt with sooner rather than later.
I’m still amazed I haven’t developed PND or PTSD as I’d be a prime risk candidate for it.
The postpartum body
I think I have fared pretty well in this department. But there are also some things I wasn’t expecting.
Every woman’s body is unique and therefore every mum’s recovery is individual, but I actually PREFER my body shape now to before I was pregnant. Simply because pregnancy has given my previously straight up and down apple body more of an hourglass shape.
I’d always maintained that my hips hadn’t got wider because I really didn’t see it or feel it, but since losing my bump, I now have a clearly defined waist that wasn’t there before. As such, with my boobs well supported in a bra, my waist looks positively trim above my shapely hips.
Of course I have the cellulite, stretch marks, flab and wobble, but I’ve always had those so they are not new things to get used to. I’ve lost 3 stone 2lbs since giving birth, and although I still have around 2 stone to lose to get to my pre-pregnancy weight, I’m not fat or huge or flabby. I can fit back into my size 10-12 maternity and pre-pregnancy clothes. Yes they are a bit snug but it could be much worse. My stomach has gone back to how it was before – flat but untoned. I can work with that. I credit expressing for helping my tummy go back down. There are stretch marks under my belly button but I’ve slowly learned not to be bothered by them. I’d rather they not be there, but I never got my belly out in public anyway so it seems silly to stress over them. Dave is the only one seeing me naked so his opinion is the only one that matters. And if he still finds me sexy, then that is enough for me. And if anything he finds me more attractive than before.
So when I stand in front of the mirror, I’m not as trim as last summer, at the height of my slimming world weight loss success. But when I smooth the extra pounds and inches away with my hands I can see how phenomenal my body WILL look once I get back into my fitness plan.
And I’m bloody proud of what my body achieved of course. Not just in terms of giving me Ollie, but for how quickly it recovered from all the shit it went through.
I honestly thought the trapped wind in the first 72 hours after birth would never pass. Literally.
That pain (along with my guts settling back into position after being coughed out of my body repeatedly during surgery) is like no other I want to go through again.
The first poo wasn’t THAT bad (and I’ve read some baaaad experiences) but that is because I didn’t have a vaginal birth. I don’t want to imagine the agony of shitting after a tear or episiotomy.
BUT, the iron tablets I have been on for my anaemia have made my poo black like coal and – at times – hard to pass. So as soon as I left hospital I started taking dulcoease to aid the exit of my bum nuggets. I’m just bloody glad I was at home for my first poo because when I needed to go, I NEEDED TO GO. And my bathroom was so much more comfortable to do the mother of all shits in, compared to the very public hospital toilets. I was gripping the towel rail with one hand and the sink with the other whilst breathing and lowing like a baritone hippopotamus giving birth. Each time my bowel muscles pushed it felt like a contraction and I ahhhhhhhhed so loudly that Dave could hear me from downstairs. And the smell. Rotting cabbages is all I need to say.
My pills finally run out this Wednesday and then I can look forward to having normal brown slippy poos again. Yep. I actually wrote that down for you to read.
But it’s important I wrote about my poos. Because this is what you aren’t prepared for. When you have to choose between a crying hungry baby that demands they be fed RIGHT NOW or having a poo that has to come out RIGHT NOW. Your husband is at work so what do you do? Feeding the baby and the winding process afterwards could take an hour, by which point you may have shit yourself on the sofa. So you do what I did. Lay a towel on the bathroom floor in front of the toilet, put the baby on it, hold a dummy in their mouth with your big toe to temporarily soothe them whilst you speed shit in 3 minutes flat.
There is also the leaking boobs.
I have sat on the loo having my morning dump and made the mistake of taking off my sleep bra too soon (in anticipation of having a shower) and my tits have literally POURED milk all over my thighs. And I could do nothing but sit there holding toilet paper against my nipples until I’m done.
Or I’ve bent over the bathroom sink brushing my teeth whilst puddles of milk form at my feet. You feel so undignified.
But the worst indignity of your post partum body, especially after having a C-section, is not being able to bend over to put your pants on or change your sanitary pads.
So my mum and my husband have seen me at my absolute worst in that first week after birth. I remember standing in the communal toilet at the hospital, naked, all exposed in the worst possible way, whilst my mum changed my bloodied towels and helped me step into my mesh hospital pants. I am 32 years old and no one wants their mother to see them like that.
I remember Dave being in the wet room with me on the NNU fishing out the maternity pad that had accidentally fallen into the toilet and putting a clean one into my pants. And then him helping me wipe myself or patiently wait in the room whilst I did it myself. It is the most vulnerable you can be around your husband. He swears he doesn’t think about me in that position any more, but it will always stick with me.
Nobody prepares you for THAT.
My section scar is in the perfect position – right on my bikini line where my abdomen naturally creases with my pubic mound – so I can’t complain about that. It’s neat and tidy and healed perfectly, which is nothing less than a miracle considering. It is weird to still have numbness around it 4 weeks on – no one told me that would happen.
I have residual nerve damage from the epidural around my tailbone and in my right bum cheek like I’ve been in a paintballing accident. Something else I’m getting used to.
I’ve been fortunate that my SPD went immediately after birth but my lower back issues remained for a few weeks afterwards as my back muscles regained their strength. Being able to sleep on my back again has been my saviour – as I always knew it would be.
My fitness has totally been shot to pieces. Walking is definitely going to be the only exercise I will be doing for the near future. I hope to be running and doing my cardio DVDs again by August, but mo this of being effectively housebound on crutches has really set my fitness back. All in good time though.
I suppose the best part of my post baby body is that my vag is unaffected! Which is well received by Dave haha.
It was always my ideal to breastfeed but I entered into it with my eyes wide open and the knowledge that none of my close friends were successful with it. I knew how difficult it was. But what I wished I’d known is how blood loss can affect milk production. Once I’d accepted that I simply wasn’t able to produce enough milk to satisfy Ollie, and that it was completely out of control, I came to terms that my breastfeeding journey was over quite quickly.
It was 2 days after being home with Ollie that I made the decision to stop. It wasn’t worth the stress or tears on both our parts. I had a big cry and heart to heart with mum and I reminded myself that fed is best.
The night after Ollie was born I started expressingand the hospital would feed him my milk whenever I had some to give to them. But of course this was administered through a bottle. So from day one Ollie was brought up on bottle teats, rather than nipples. But when I tried to breastfeed him on the Wednesday and Thursday after his birth he amazed me with his ability to latch on brilliantly. The issue was actually my flat nipples and the need for nipple shields to bring the nipple out for him to suckle on.
However, his appetite quickly grew and the hospital advised that Ollie be bottle fed with a combination of milk and formula whilst they worked on getting his kidneys stable. Of course Ollie’s health came first and I didn’t want him going hungry. So I focused solely on expressing as often as I could.
When it came to me staying in overnight before he came home the next day, my breastfeeding sessions went 1 hour, 45 minutes, 30 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes. The pattern only appeared to me on the Wednesday, during my cry with mum, after the previous day of Ollie not successfully breastfeeding, when I realised my milk supply was already dwindling and I’d never be able to satisfy his increasing appetite.
I made the decision that with formula we knew exactly how much he was eating and I could include my own milk whenever I had some to offer.
As it happens, I can now only express once or twice a day and I’m lucky to get 2oz total from both breasts in 30 minutes, so I imagine that by this time next week I will no longer be expressing as there is nothing left to give.
I’m okay with that. I didn’t think I would be, but I am.
Ollie has head mummy milk for 4 weeks. Okay, it’s not the 7 months on the boob that I had visions of, but he’s had my nutrition at the time it really mattered: in his first month of life.
And our feeding routine has actually been the best thing for him. He currently takes 6oz each feed (I know it’s a lot but it’s what he asks for) over 4-5 feeds in 24 hours so he gets a minimum of 24oz total. He’s been sleeping through the night since about 2 weeks old because he is going to bed with a full tummy. He keeps it down (mostly) with only a little bit of possetting and only cries if he has a bad bit of trapped wind. He has plenty of wet nappies a day (Dave and I still celebrate every blue line on his nappy after being desperate to see one when he was in hospital) and about 2-3 dirty ones. He has active awake time, and is content and settled between feeds and naps. Plus he was last weighed as 9lbs 6.5oz so what we are doing is fine I feel. We are listening to our son, and he’s a hungry big boy – he showed that throughout my pregnancy – and he’s the product of two people who equally love their food, one of whom is 6ft 2in! So I believe we are just raising a potentially strapping lad.
Had I insisted to breast feed, I think the picture would be very different. Ollie would have inevitably lost weight and become more and more unhappy. I’d be getting no rest of sleep either because of needing to feed him more frequently. Ollie kept the schedule that the hospital initiated – feeding him every 3 hours to keep him alive and his weight up – but he’s since extended those gaps himself to be 4-5 hours between feeds because he enjoys sleeping too (just like his mum!) apart from at night when he often goes 7 hours in between. There’s no way this would be happening if I was still breastfeeding him.
Of course formula is more expensive, but we can afford it. And thankfully Ollie was fed ready to drink Cow & Gate milk in hospital which is what we give him if we’re away from home and away from the Tommee Tippee prep machine. And of course both Dave and I can feed Ollie which helps with bonding. He can actually gaze into our eyes more easily than if he was squished up against my tit breastfeeding so I no longer feel worried about any bonding issues during feeding.
Ultimately I take my hat off to breastfeeding ladies because it is fucking hard.
Obviously there are no routines with babies. Only what they fancy doing on any given day. I can’t believe we’re at 4 weeks already because I genuinely do not know what day of the week it is most of the time!
Some days are a success. Like when Ollie decided to be asleep by 6:30am and didn’t wake until 10am which meant we were able to get into town, register him at 9am and be back home without him every realising he left the house.
Other days you are still in just your pants at 11:45am without even having had breakfast because your child has decided to be completely unpredictable and you’re on this merry-go-round cycle of feeding, burping and nappy changes with no napping and lots of crying in between.
Breakfast ends up being lunch, showers are had at 5am, and dinner is often beans on toast, or cold soup, or a packet of crisps and jelly sometimes.
Some days you manage to leave the house and see somebody. Some days you’ve literally paced a path in the carpet between the sofa and the changing station on the kitchen table.
Ollie has untapped the patience in me I didn’t think I had, and encouraged flexibility in me that I knew was there but I didn’t often unleash. I set no goals for myself each day but to keep him alive and for us both to go to bed happy.
I do nap when I can, but I also have housework to do. Now don’t even try and tell me that chores can wait, because if you do that then you must be wearing bin bags for clothes and eating off paper plates (that’s not a bad idea actually…)
The bottles HAVE to be cleaned and sterilised or else there won’t be any ready for his next feed.
The washing HAS to be put on or else there will be no bibs or muslins. AND YOU CANNOT FUNCTION WITHOUT BIBS OR MUSLINS. Trust me.
The dishwasher NEEDS to be loaded and unloaded for those mugs that you will be drinking cold tea out of. Or ignore and forget about.
The honest summary
I’ll admit, babyhood is NOT fun. You’re learning what your baby wants and needs without any manual or rule book. When they cry and you can’t soothe them it stabs you in the heart. Sometimes you dread them waking up because you don’t know if this next awake cycle of feeding and burping will last 1 hour or fucking 6. And if that’s in the middle of the night then it’s a very lonely and isolating place to be.
I’ve always been honest with people that I have no maternal instincts when it comes to babies as I have zero experience with them in my 32 years on this planet. I am looking forward to the toddler years when there is a degree of communication between parent and child, and their personality shines through.
That’s not to say I’m not enjoying this at all, or that my bond with Ollie is weak it’s just being honest.
Sometimes it is boring. And monotonous.
But then it is also fucking magnificent and glorious.
I’ve spent hours over the past 4 weeks staring at Ollie as he sleeps and marvelling at this perfect little being that we have created, or laughing at his faces when he’s trying to trump or poo, or watching his expression change as he starts recognising things.
Dave and I can’t wait to see the person Ollie will grow into, and eagerly await to embrace every aspect of his personality. We’re looking forward to all the bear tribe adventures we’ll go on as a family.
I know I’ll look back on this time and miss snuggling in the corner of the sofa with Ollie cuddled in my arms. And sniffing his baby head.
It brings a lump to my throat whenever I think about how each day he grows a little big bigger and he’ll never be as small as he was the previous day.
And I never take him for granted either. We waited and tried for so long for our little bear cub, and there is no guarantee that we’ll ever be blessed with another child. These sleepless nights and bottle feeds and nappy changes could be the only ones we ever do.
Ollie, you have turned our lives upside down and inside out since you came into our world, and we wouldn’t change a single thing.
Love mummy and daddy xxx