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.
It’s a bit heathen-esque for me to admit that I’ve never been into art. I like a pretty picture as much as the next person but I really have no great appreciation for cows suspended in formaldehyde or great water colours by 18th century French men. This possibly goes against my middle class facade and I may well be turned away from John Lewis the next time I step through their doors but it’s the truth: I am the woman who went to the Louvre, took a look through the window then decided to drink a bottle of wine in the cafe next door. My motto? You’ve seen one painting, you’ve seen then all.
One exception to this rule is PHOTOS. Photos, I love. I really appreciate the work of artists like Ryan McGinley, Harley Weir, Terry Richardson and even Richard Kern, and I was introduced to these people in my job at Vice Magazine before Elfie came along. It was the most wonderful exciting, cutting-edge and creative atmosphere to work in and gave me so many opportunities, from going to fashion week to sending my dad to a rock festival in France and as much vodka I could possibly drink.
Unfortunately, family life was not so compatable with all that crazy fun so I went self-employed after maternity leave but I still like to keep up with my old friends at Vice; that’s how I came across this incredible series of photographs by a Russian artist. Entitled ‘Waiting’, it’s a collection of pictures that Jana Romanova took of her friends and their partners in different stages of pregnancy as they slept in bed. Setting up a ladder the night before she would creep in at 6am to snap her photographs quietly, before they woke up. I’m not sure how well I would sleep knowing someone was about to come in and capture the crusty bits around my mouth but I think it’s such a wonderful idea and a real intimate insight into an aspect of a couple’s life you don’t normally see. It makes me think back to that special special time when we were waiting to meet our babies, the kicks, flips and turns you feel so much more at night.
You can see the full story and an interview with Jana Romanova over at Vice.com or visit Jana’s website here.
When I reviewed my 9 months of being pregnant with Elfie I commented how amazing the body’s capacity to forget is. You look at photos of your pregnant bump and it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside despite nine months of hell and illness. Don’t be fooled by my smiles, they’re just for the camera.
Weirdly enough I didn’t feel that pregnant but looking back on it now I definitely looked pregnant. Very pregnant. I kind of miss it (SEE??! 9 months of hell and my brain is tricking me into missing it) but having Huxley on the outside is wonderful. It’s so strange to look at the 6 and 8 week photos and imagine him as a teeny tiny foetus inside me. So much has happened in that period of time; we’ve moved house twice, I’ve worked on lots of lovely projects, stopped working because I was too knackered, experienced a Christmas and only hair my hair cut once (oops).
Pregnancy: it’s 40 long weeks of a beautiful, vommy, exhausting, wonderous experience.
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!
Huxley William Harold arrived yesterday, the 16th May, at 3.04pm. He was born via semi-emergency caesarian after four loooong days of contractions, a worrying period of decreased movements, heartbeat decelerations and a lot of monitoring. It’s been a long week.
We are both doing very well in hospital and will be here for a few more tests until Monday at the earliest whilst the Doctors determine whether or not he has inherited the same condition as Elfie. So far so positive.