The maternity checklist. To me it was less of a ‘checklist’ and more of a ‘novel’.
I remember packing my bags for hospital, and when I say ‘bags’ I mean ‘plural of bag’ because I had… what? Two? Three of them? Plus a pillow, plus a car seat, plus a birthing ball. I don’t think I have ever been so prepared in my life for anything than I was for the births of my two children.
The very last pregnancy photo / trying to relax with Balamory
In my naive, blissed-out natural birth-planning state, labour was to go one way, and one way only. The labour niggles would begin, I’d take a paracetamol and get some sleep, take a bath, strap on my TENS machine if it all got a bit much and head into hospital. I’d be bout 6cm dilated and use gas and air before asking for an epidural and get told it was too late. I would push baby out drug-free and rejoice at the power of my body, feeling enthralled by my birthing prowess.
What I didn’t bank on was the three long nights of contractions that would stop as soon as dawn arrived and then start again at 4pm the next day. I didn’t think I’d keep getting to the TENS stage and want to then throw it out the window because of how annoying I found the vibrations and how they distracted me from breathing through the contractions. It might sound like a silly thing to say but I didn’t count on labour being so bloody painful.
One of my many baths / the dreaded TENS
It all started on the evening of Will’s birthday party. The period pains had been on and off for a week or so but the real contractions started at around 8. I timed them for a while, took a couple of paracetamol and tried to sleep. It didn’t work, I was way too excited, so I took a bath instead and watched about 8 episodes of the office. Then it was TENS time, and this took my mind off the pain enough that I snoozed off at about 5am.
When I woke up the contractions had GONE. I was a bit disappointed but not too much, stuff was happening, we were on our way, it wouldn’t be long, right? WRONG.
Watching a million episodes of The Office / trying to walk the baby out
It was time to show the foetus the metaphorical womb door, so Will and I grabbed Elfie and went for a swift 3 mile march round the local country park. I even had a gentle bounce on the outdoor kids trampoline. Nothing. I needed to relax more so I took another bath and the contractions started again. YAY. We were in business.
Baby Hux in graphical form / LUBE – snort
OR NOT. This process was repeated for another 24 hours and I was losing the will to live. I was so frustrated and distracted with it all that I won Worst Wife Of The Year award, completely forgetting to wish Will Happy Birthday on the morning of his 30th. The poor man. That afternoon at 39 weeks and 5 days pregnant I started to get a bit concerned that baby hadn’t been moving as he should have been so we headed to hospital for some monitoring.
A contraband cheeseburger smuggled in via a Marks & Spencer carrier / support stockings
They were slightly concerned as baby’s heart rate was dipping slightly so asked if I could stay for them to monitor me for the evening. I’d asked the midwife to examine me to find out if I’d dilated at all but she said no as I wasn’t having contractions. Luckily 20 minutes later they re-started with a force so she agreed to see how far gone I was. I requested a decent rummage whilst she was down there, see if she couldn’t get things going a bit more. I was 2cm. Which though not very far gone made me pleased I wasn’t in pain for nothing and as requested she did a bit of a sweep.
They took me up to a ward for overnight monitoring and I was greeted by a woman in labour on all fours, sucking on gas and air as if her life depended on it and screaming blue murder. It was animalistic. They handily put me in the bay opposite her (erm, thanks) but once the midwife saw the look on my face at her screams I was moved to next to the window. I wanted to cry as I realised what was round the corner, although I found out the next day that she was only 3cm dilated at this point.
Chocolate breakfast / contraction distraction
My contractions were becoming more intense and painful but I found I took a lot from my Hypnobirthing book and was able to deal well with them. I breathed through them and envisioned tightening rather than pain, and this really helped. I noticed that when I didn’t concentrate on the sensation of tightening they hurt a hell of a lot more. It was doable and the lady opposite commented how calm I seemed, apart from when a contraction hit which was apparently when I went a bit red.
The next day I was examined again and had reached 3cm, but the contractions had eased once more. After a couple of tearful conversations with Will and the consultant I decided to accept the Caesarian that was offered to me that afternoon. I wasn’t getting anywhere far with my contractions, drugs to speed things along were out of the question due to my previous section and I was exhausted. I felt crushingly disappointed that I wasn’t going to see the labour through to the end and I genuinely believe that if it had speeded along quicker then it would have been a different story, but I was so tired and was fast running out of mental strength. I’d been in pain for four days. The consultant gave me another rough stretch and sweep and the section was booked for six hours time, had that not worked.
Will ready for the operating theatre / the first photos of Huxley
The feeling that I’d let myself down didn’t last long – I couldn’t believe we were going to have a baby that afternoon. When I’d gone in the previous day for monitoring that had been the last thing on my mind and I couldn’t wait. I was prepped for surgery by some lovely Doctors and Anaesthetists and Will was brought in for the birth moment; though not before he’d been taken into the wrong operating theater. “Erm… that’s not my wife”. Awkward.
The happy new parents (I look like I’ve been in labour for days…)
Huxley William Harold was born at 3.04pm on 16th May. His APGAR scores were 10 straight away (winner!) and Will was able to cut his cord. I spent about 10 minutes with them before Will went with Hux up to the ward and I was sorted out. There were big issues getting my uterus to contract back as it should (I quote: “Mrs Harold, you have a flabby uterus”) and I was given some hefty drugs to help that made me feel horrendous. I got taken to recovery and immediately started begging to go back up to the ward.
This was the first photo Twitter saw of Huxley / skin-on-skin snoozing
Meanwhile the paediatrician we’d been assigned was battling with Will to try and get Hux into Paediatric Intensive Care so he could have a cannula put in for immediate blood tests. We had not been told of this after-birth plan for him and Will very firmly told them there was no need for a line in or any sort of intervention at this stage. If Huxley was going to be affected by Elfie’s condition it was going to be a slow burner, not something that could be identified and treated immediately. Luckily Huxley was kept on the ward with Will and I was able to have skin-to-skin and feed him as soon as I was back from recovery. I’m so thankful that he was able to battle the Doctors on Hux’s behalf like that; can you imagine if I arrived and he’d been taken away needlessly? There would have been trouble.
Elfie meets her new brother / daddy and son
The Grandparents were summoned and Elfie was brought in on her own first to meet her baby brother, who had thoughtfully bought her presents of a Peppa Pig story book and a doll of her very own to look after (the doll’s name is now ‘Mama’). They didn’t stay long thanks to how awful I was feeling, leaving us to get our heads around the newest member of our family.
More snoozing / feeling patriotic
We were told the plan for Hux: blood sugar monitoring every three hours via a heel prick, sodium and potassium monitoring every 12 hours (a spike or drop in either of these or the blood sugar not remaining stable is the first flag for the condition) and then 5 days after birth he was to have a test to see the effect of stress on his adrenal gland.
This food is not good for recovery / more skin-to-skin
The week passed in a haze of bad food, bonding, resting (as much as is possible on a ward with 5 other women and babies) and trying to establish the horror of breastfeeding. There was plenty of tweeting, a bit of weeping and a lot of nipple cream. My mum and dad brought me some delicious meals, Will delivered daily M&S picnics and the lovely Bryony brought a care package of gin and Pimms in a tin, chocolate and bath goodies. By the time the stress test came around I was almost out of my mind with the desire to go home to be with Elfie and Hux in my own house but we had to wait another day for the results.
Hux wears an actual outfit / drinking my gin-in-a-tin
It was wonderful to find out he was in the clear – more weeping – but of course we had to hang around for another few hours as we waited to be discharged.
An M&S picnic / lamb tagine made by my dad and smuggled in
Walking through my front door was one of the nicest feelings ever and Will and my mother-in-law had been busy making the house lovely and clean for me, as was being able to step in my own shower that didn’t feel like it was crawling with MRSA. It was wonderful to have Elfie home to get to know her little brother and to begin our lives as a family of four.
My KIDS / The two Harold babies, with baby doll ‘Mama’
So far she’s been a pretty good big sister- she likes pointing out his eyes and ears and saying ‘there there’ to him when he cries. She also seems to like getting into his car seat and swing chair and hugging him, though a little more violently than perhaps I’d like. Huxley is very tolerant of her, long may it last.
As for my feelings on the birth? I’m still feeling some disappointment at not being able to have a VBAC and there will always be that element of What If… but I do feel like I tried to see it through to the end, though tiredness and pain got in the way. The fact that I’ve been so determined to get through the worst week of breastfeeding has helped allieve this guilt somewhat; Huxley has put on 2lbs in three weeks of being exclusively breastfed and I know I’m doing the best possible thing by him right now.
Let me tell you, a whole week in hospital on a hot, noisy maternity ward with your new baby really makes you think about and appreciate the small things. Especially when neither of you are ill so the stay seems kind of futile. I tried to view it as extra healing time for me and extra bonding time with Hux, but I missed Elfie and our home so so much. Our families were brilliant and rallied round so Will was able to be at the hospital the majority of the time but I think he was driven slightly mental by the whole noisy ward experience – as was I.
We were in awaiting the results of tests that Huxley needed to see if he was born with the same condition as Elfie. Because what she has is so rare and not very well understood they were being super cautious about releasing us, but yesterday we were given the preliminary all-clear and allowed to come home. There are still more tests to come back but everything looks good and we believe Huxley will not be affected. The relief was incredible and I was so happy to get him home yesterday.
The amazing thing about hospitals (alongside their ability to look after and cure people) is the sheer melting pot of people they attract. Like the post office. So many times I wished I had the energy and means to blog about what was around me, it was so surreal and weird at times.
There was the woman who I was placed opposite on the ante natal ward when i was admitted at 2cm who was on all fours with a canister of gas and air, howling like a banshee and screaming that she needed to push. After a very loud examination (midwife: “I haven’t touched you yet, please stop screaming”) she was carted off to the labour ward. At 3cm dilated. According to Will, my face at that point was a picture, but really her screams were totally One Born Every Minute-esque and not good for the mental state of a woman who planned on calmly and quietly breathing through labour, i.e. me.
Then there was the relief I felt when the consultant started talking about a c section which would take place at 39+6 (though my notes said 40+1?), because even though I felt like I was letting myself down by not attempting to move forward with the VBAC I knew I couldn’t take any more sleepless nights of ineffectual contractions along with the decreased movements and slowing heartrate; it had been four days already, I may have gone mental. At that point there is nothing I wanted more than a lovely kind surgeon to cut my abdomen open. They did a pretty thorough stretch and sweep but put me on the emergency list for the afternoon of the 16th May should that not bring on more contractions. It didn’t.
Let’s not talk about the surgeon who put in my cannula IN MY TWEETING HAND when I specifically requested it go in my left, and instead feel thankful that it didnt work so someone had to swap it around.
Next in my hospital chronicle is the anaesthetist who congratulated me on my excellent banter (he actually used those words) before telling me post-section my uterus was ‘flabby’ and warning me that the medicine he had to give me to contract it would make me violently sick, but that’s ok because that’s better than bleeding to death, right? I wasn’t sick (champion!) but did feel completely and utterly horrendous for the next eight hours.
Best of all was all the amazing midwives who were just superb and who made the experience so much more pleasant than it could’ve been.
My roommate throughout the whole experience was a heavily tattoed Biker/Butcher lady who had some very interesting opinions: 50 Shades Of Grey? Not that sexual according to her. Her baby was 6lb born at 35 weeks so was quite jaundiced and spent the whole week under lights. Happily she got to go home the day before I did, she was quite hilarious.
I think I did a pretty good job of staying positive when I was in there – I hated not knowing how long they would be keeping us in – and having poor mr Huxley poked for bloods every 6 hours was awful. The lovely people of Twitter went a long long way towards keeping me sane as well as helping me with breast feeding questions in the middle of the night when I felt like I was passing glass through my nipples (answer: plenty of Lansinoh and it WILL get better). I think my mental state was mostly down to the fact I daren’t hope to go home as I knew that if Hux’s tests had come back positive then we’d have be there for the foreseeable future. And that would have been awful.
Anyway, walking through my own front door yesterday felt beyond heavenly. I feel so lucky for my lovely little family, our beautiful home, my caring and thoughtful husband and all the people we have around us. And shit, I have 2 kids. How did that happen?!
Psst… don’t forget you can still vote for More Than Toast as Best Pregnancy Blog at the MAD Awards!
I AM SO TIRED. If you follow me on Twitter you may or may not have noticed me mention that maybe once or twice recently. Or eighty-two times. But it’s very true, this stage of pregnancy is so physically demanding it’s difficult not to fall into bed at every opportunity, or moan about it on the internet whilst on the sofa watching the haircut episode of Balamory for the twentieth time. Luckily Elfie is still napping for around 2 hours a day so as soon as she’s back in bed I am too. Which is good for my tired aching body and mind but bad for work and blogging.
I’ve been back in hospital a couple of times in the last fortnight for monitoring thanks to some palpitations and dizzy spells. I’ve had some tests done that have all come back fine (did you KNOW that when they do an ECG they get a very young male Doctor to put sticky pads all over your boobs? I didn’t) so I will be going back on May 11th for an appointment to have a device fitted to take a 24 hour heart trace. I’m pretty sure everything’s going to be fine but it’s a bit scary to go so breathless all the time. It seems to be mostly triggered by stress, but by stress I mean silly things like being late for a lunch date or a train, not big life stress. I have to say that my local hospital have been wonderful with my stresses and freak outs and the experience has been all-round happy, though if yours isn’t you can always give a clinical negligence solicitor a call!
None of my clothes fit me any more. I am really struggling daily to put together outfits that don’t consist of leggings, a jersey tshirt and a hoodie. I feel sloppy and wish the weather was a bit brighter so I could throw on some summer dresses and flip flops, because when your belly’s this big you can forget doing up your own shoes, hence the resurrection of my Ugg boots. Even my lovely H&M maternity jeans are starting to get a bit tight around the bump band. At last check a fortnight ago I’d put on 1 and a half stone and I’m trying very hard to stay away from the burgers in these final weeks as that’s really when I piled it on last time (nearly 2 stone in 8 weeks!). I’m finding it so much easier to be healthy as I’m at home rather than work – I don’t have 2 breakfasts or the opportunity to eat deep fried stuff for lunch and salads and lighter dinners are feeling a lot nicer to eat at the moment.
Last weekend we were lucky enough to be invited to the wedding of some lovely friends of ours in Liverpool! Elfie stayed at home with my parents so we had two whole days to ourselves. We had lunch as soon as we arrived at our hotel and headed to the wedding for 3pm: it was an absolute blast catching up with old friends who we hadn’t seen for years and making some new ones, too. I wore a non-maternity silk dress from GAP that I’d found a couple of weeks ago in their sale along with my beloved Comptoir des Cotonniers wedges (a risky move, the pain in my feet was bearable til about 11pm though) and danced as much as I could – it would have been wrong not to as the wedding DJ was the one and only Carl Cox. A bit of a stupid move as my Braxton Hicks were INSANE the day after (and have been quite painful for the rest of this week). Even more insane was the fact that someone recognised me from my blog… a very strange feeling. I was so overwhelmed that I forgot to ask (or remember) the lovely lady’s name but I was so pleased to chat to her, so if it’s you please say hello again! She was also pregnant (32 weeks I believe) and looked amazing in a beautiful minidress. I am delighted I have such stylish and lovely readers other than my mum. The day after the wedding we took a stroll round Liverpool for coffee and some lunch before jumping on a train home. Gorgeous.
Baby prep is in full swing at the Harold House. This weekend Will went up to the loft to retrieve our BedNest and various accoutrements (baby bath, swing chair, bounce chair, muslin cloths…) and I bought the essential stack of sanitary pads, toothbrush, arnica and underwear needed for my hospital bag. Which I must pack. I must I must. I also have a huge pile of baby clothes still to wash but the first load still needs a home. Also, newborn vests need locating, as do ‘just in case’ bottles, teats and pump… most likely these bits and bobs will be left until the very last minute/rush home from hospital, as long as baby number 2 has a place to sleep I am done stressing.
Don’t worry – I haven’t secretly given birth over the weekend (though the contractions I’ve been having since I overdid it on the wedding dancefloor on Saturday night have been something else). As we’ve been making plans for this next birth I’ve enjoyed reminiscing about the experience I had with Elfie. An ‘Elective’ Caesarian (though I hate the word ‘Elective’, she was breech so there was nothing elective about it) it was a wonderful experience and I can’t believe this was nearly 2 years ago.
When I first found out I was pregnant and started writing my blog, the ‘Birth Story’ post was the one I was looking forward to writing the most. I imagined it would involve a birthing pool, a bit of hypnobirthing and if I’m honest a good old measure of pain relief. But we know that wasn’t the birth I was to have, so really my birth story began 2 weeks before the 7th July when I found out I would be having a C Section.
I was convinced I wouldn’t go the 2 week stretch without going into labour naturally so spent the majority of that time feeling horrendously paranoid about every twinge and pain. It was nice to have that time to prepare for the baby, and I tried to get ready for baby’s arrival as much as possible by relaxing and cleaning the house.
The night of the 6th July we prepared our bedroom by getting baby’s cot ready; we’re using a BedNest co-sleeper. I didn’t sleep that much and we were up at 6am the next morning, ready to have a baby.
We got to the hospital for 7.30am and were shown our bed at 8.30. It was a 2 person ward but I would have it to myself. We were booked in for the second caesarian of the day and they estimated we’d be going down at around 11am. Time for one last bump photo!
I’ve been wanting to write about Elfie’s condition for a little while, to record what it’s like to live with a little one who has different needs to normal babies.
Elfie was born with a very very rare genetic condition. She is about one in a very small number of people in the whole world who suffer with this: it’s so rare that there isn’t much research to go on so Googling (my usual saviour) didn’t help when she was diagnosed. They have done some research in Frankfurt which is where our Endocrine team at the hospital have been getting information from for us, but no-where in the UK. It’s a fairly newly discovered disease so the oldest person alive with it is in their fifties.
Her condition is part of a wider ‘family’ of illness that affects the adrenal gland and the way our bodies process salt. Her body lacks the function we have to produce a type of stress hormone called cortisol when we are in physically stressful situations; so when she is poorly with a cold or sickness her body is unable to repair itself and she can fall gravely ill in a short space of time.
Elfie was about 14 weeks old when her condition was diagnosed. We’d struggled with her having an apathy towards feeding whole little life; one small feed of 80ml would take over an hour and then she would quickly be sick. Breastfeeding was impossible and nobody would help us: it was our determination to get as much milk into her as possible that kept her alive and finally our perseverance at the doctor’s surgery that got her seen for a potential nutritional disorder. I still have alot of anger towards all the health professionals who fobbed us off during this period and it has changed the way I deal with Doctors. When we were initially admitted into hospital hours after her first blood test (the phone call you never want to get: “don’t panic… but you need to bring her back to hospital. NOW”) she was badly dehydrated with extremely dangerous levels of sodium and potassium. We were told that so many babies with similar conditions aren’t as lucky, she was days away from a heart attack that would have been attributed to cot death.
Day-to-Day we manage to keep Elfie very healthy. Her body can’t retain salt so she is on a medication to help with this, as well as Sodium Chloride which we put in her milk and food, four times a day (people are horrified when they hear we are actively feeding our baby salt!). She also takes a Cortisol substitute three times a day and a low dose of antibiotic once a day (we hope she’ll come off this soon). She hits problems when she is ill and her Cortisol doses need to be trebled, and worse when she has either sickness or diarrhoea, when she must go into hospital to have her drugs via an IV. We’re on our toes a lot with regards to her health, constantly taking her temperature, monitoring how much she is sleeping (an illness indicator) and her blood sugar.
Everyday, normal tasks become that little bit harder. Want to go away for the weekend? We need to make sure we have the details of the local hospital and all Elfie’s medical notes with us as well as the various medical paraphernalia. Nipping out to lunch? I need to find a way to keep Elfie’s medicines at the right temperature and take her emergency injections with us. I could never go back to work full-time and leave her in a nursery and I am quite wary of taking her to playgroups with other children who are poorly (a sick child at the NCT group once bought us an overnight stay in hospital).
Babysitting is a challenge. She has never stayed overnight with anyone other than me, Will or my mother. Essentially, if she’s ill and doesn’t have the required amount of cortisol she could dip into adrenal shock which leads to a coma, and death. It’s not fair to expect your usual 16 year old babysitter to deal with this sort of pressure, and I don’t feel comfortable in leaving her. My mum, Will and I are the only people to know her little ways well enough to get her to hospital as quickly as she needs.
Aside from her genetic condition she is the most delightful little girl. She is so happy and content – just like a normal one-year old, though a little bit behind physically. I am very very protective of her and hate her spending time with people outside our immediate family if I’m not there, and I worry how this will manifest itself when she’s at school and I must trust others to look after her. I don’t like her going in cars without me in case there’s an accident and she requires emergency treatment and I’m not there to give her medical background; the same with her staying overnight without us and away from our local hospital, where all her notes and treatment information is. I won’t be taking her abroad unless we’re with a native language speaker who can explain her situation to a Doctor and trips to our lovely Greek island are out for the time being – it’s a long boat ride to the nearest basic hospital and the thought of her being ill while we’re there makes my blood run cold.
I don’t like to call her a special needs baby because She isn’t: she’s just different. We are eligible for an amount of disability living allowance as I would find it hard to work full time (even freelancing in-house at IKEA was difficult, I was forever rushing off to take Elfie to hospital, or staying at home with her as she had a temperature). But that’s OK, I like working at home, and this way I am only ever four minutes away from her.
It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with the idea of a lifetime of difference for her, and I wonder how we will best broach the question of her health when she’s older. But I wouldn’t have her any other way. She may be different, she may struggle, but she will always be so loved and helped. I’m not a religious person but I do believe things happen for a reason, and I know she is with Will and I because we love her so much. She is a special one in a million little snowflake and not just because of her health, but because she is an amazing little girl.