Planned Parenthood

I honestly don’t know where to start.

It’s been so long since my last post and it goes without saying that a lot has happened. I’m sitting on the sofa in my living room with my newborn in a crib next to me. A newborn who has been chilling out in there all morning, but has decided to start wiggling and fussing the moment my fingers hit the keyboard, naturally. I’ve a feeling this post will be written with a number of breaks in between!

So, obviously the biggest thing that’s happened since my last entry is that I’ve had a baby. I was induced on the 26th of November and our baby was born on the 28th.

The 26th was one of the strangest days of my life, with both of us sitting around waiting for a call to be told when I could go and have my labour started. We’d been told to hang out in the house and wait for a call from the maternity ward to let us know what time to come up. Not exactly how most people expect that trip to hospital to play out, but honestly I was glad that I had a definite date. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit of a control freak, and I was glad that I would be able to plan around my induction date and keep everything nice and neat and predictable.

My phone had decided to give up the ghost that morning, as it had been threatening to do for a few weeks, so there followed a mad rush to Tesco to grab a phone and switch the SIM as quickly as possible in case we missed the call. Then, because I couldn’t just sit around waiting anymore, I went up to get a shower and, naturally, that was when the midwife rang and told us to just come up whenever we were ready. Dave didn’t know how to work my new phone and accidentally hung up on her, then had to call her back with a red face. Personally, I was delighted with the timing, because I could go to the hospital sparkly clean for labour, and be picture perfect for my first glowy, blissful picture with the baby (spoiler: by the time labour was over, I looked like a cabbage patch kid that had been buried in someone’s back garden since 1994).

As we drove up to the hospital at around half past four, we had the pleasure of witnessing a stunning sunset. It felt surreal, watching the sun go down on our last day as a couple on our own. Everything was about to change.

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I’ll spare you the details of my labour. Suffice to say it wasn’t pretty and it didn’t go entirely as expected. And at the end, after all of my speculating over what we were having, there was no big declaration of “It’s a boy/girl!” I asked why my baby wasn’t crying, and the paediatrician replied, “He’s alright, he’s just a bit stunned.” That was it. That big reveal of what he was just wasn’t important. I looked at Dave and asked him if we were still going to use the name we’d picked out for a boy, and he said yes. So Oliver it was.

It took a good hour to get stitched up, but once they were happy with Oliver they let me hold him, and that hour barely existed to me at all, it disappeared so quickly. The thing is, no matter how sensible and pragmatic I like to think I am, it turns out your own child can kind of capture you with that first look. For a little while, the room is full of you and him and empty of everyone else and all their chatter and business. He’s sticky and scrunched up and kind of looks like Winston Churchill after a bar fight, but to you that little baby is absolutely perfect.

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I was in hospital for five days overall, including the time it took between induction and Oliver being born. Chronic anxiety has a way of making that feel more like a month.

People tell you to enjoy your time in hospital – to take the opportunity to get some rest and let the midwives help you with the baby. I absolutely hated being there. Don’t get me wrong, I know how lucky I am to have access to good maternity care. The staff I met in the maternity hospital were absolutely amazing, from the labour suite to the ward. But there’s something about learning to care for a newborn in a noisy, overheated ward crammed with strangers, in a space the size of a disabled toilet cubicle, using one kitchen-sink-sized surface to change, dress, and put baby to sleep in, that left me feeling claustrophobic and anxious. It didn’t help that for the first two days after having Oliver, I couldn’t actually do much for myself. Between the effects of the epidural and the litre of blood I lost in labour, numb legs and dizziness both played a part in pretty much confining me to my cubicle. On the first day, I couldn’t even stand. I hated constantly having to buzz staff because my baby was crying and I needed someone to hand him to me, while the women around me all seemed to breeze through the change-feed-burp cycle like they’d done it a thousand times before. On the first night, I slept through him grizzling and throwing up and a midwife took him away to the nursery. I cried the following morning, absolutely ripped to bits with guilt, and refused to go to sleep that night until a midwife promised to wake me up periodically to see to him. Then came the guilt I felt for feeling so worried and miserable all the time because I knew how fortunate I was to have a healthy baby and access to a good hospital in which to recover.

None of this is anywhere near as traumatic or upsetting as being in hospital for an actual serious illness, but nonetheless, the illusion of perfect newborn bliss was shattered pretty quickly. There were no fluffy, perfect Pinterest-worthy photo ops – I barely allowed my mum to take a photo of me holding Oliver in the hospital because I felt so disgusting and dirty. There was just me fumbling through changes, more thumbs than fingers, and wondering why my baby wouldn’t stop throwing up every time I fed him. There was just me getting everything wrong and wondering how all those beautiful internet mums were doing it.

I owe a lot to a student midwife called Sarah on the ward for keeping me sane. She came to see me the day after I gave birth and asked me how I was doing and I sort of word vomited all over her, explaining that I felt absolutely mental for all the reasons listed above, plus I hadn’t been able to shower for three days between my prior inability to stand for long and my current fear of taking my eyes off Oliver in case he needed me and I missed it again. She spent a lot of time with me, probably more time than she really had spare. She offered to take him for half an hour to allow me to go and get a shower and wash my hair (I think she might have felt a bit bad for making me cry by telling me I wouldn’t be discharged that day!), and I don’t think I’ve ever come so close to hugging a complete stranger. She did the same thing the following day, making sure I knew that Oliver’s final check with the Sister would take thirty minutes, which would be long enough for me to get a shower and a cup of tea. It’s the little things, really, isn’t it?

Going home was both incredibly nerve-wracking and a huge relief. I was happier than I can put into words to get back into my own house, with my own things, and able to work to my own schedule. Still, once our parents got up off the sofa and said it was time for them to leave, my heart sank. We were on our own, and between the tiredness and still being really unsteady on my feet, I was convinced that I wasn’t going to be able to cope. Over the next number of days, I found myself crying over strange things. Because I’d dropped a bottle on the floor. Because I couldn’t decide if I was hot or cold. Because I loved Oliver.

During this time, I feel like the universe reiterated to me just how amazing my husband is. He sort of took control the first few days, from covering nappy changes to avoid me getting down on the floor and bothering my stitches (and still-reeling head) to walking upstairs behind me with his hands on my back so that I wouldn’t fall. He held on to me every time I cried (and I cried a lot), and tried to convince me that I was doing a good job. I dreaded him going back to work.

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But, then, as the days passed, things got easier. I started learning how to read Oliver, predicting what he was going to want before he started wanting it, changing him faster, handling him with a bit more confidence. Dave went back to work and Oliver and I were on our own. I was shocked to realise halfway through the week that actually, we were doing okay. We got our own little routine going and I started to feel capable. I went outside with him by myself. Oliver is four weeks old now. It’s a little bit belated, but as my confidence has grown, that ‘newborn bliss’ experience that I was so heavily sold throughout my pregnancy has crept in, albeit less glossy and polished than advertised.

I suppose what I’m saying is that parenthood isn’t quite what I expected, and that I was an idiot to think that I could plan everything out like a birthday party or a home refurb. But that doesn’t mean I’m not happy or that I regret it. If anything, the absolute chaos of the last four weeks has just reinforced the knowledge that being a mum is not going to be easy. It’s going to be a rollercoaster of emotions. Sometimes it’s going to hurt like hell. Sometimes I’ll feel like I can’t do it.

But when I hold Oliver and he looks into my eyes in that strange, intense way that new babies do, my heart soars in a brand new way that I didn’t know existed before. When I speak and he turns towards my voice, I remember that someone very special is relying on me to be the absolute best I can be. When I watch my husband cuddling our son, chatting away to him and exchanging little babbling noises, I know how lucky we all are to have each other.

So, if a little addition to your family is on the agenda, all I can say is maybe don’t try to plan how it’s all going to look once they’ve arrived. The glowing new mother is a myth. Pinterest can go and do one. Plan only to laugh a lot, to cry a lot, and to love a lot. That’s all you can really be sure of.

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