This is the first picture I ever took of Emily and I love it! It’s my little family all in one chair for the very first time. It makes me melt. The only things that I don’t like about this picture are those curtains in the background.
I believe those curtains will forever haunt my nightmares. The weird leafy bits and the multicoloured squiggles; I mean they are not nice curtains but this isn’t why I don’t like them. I don’t like them because I spent five days looking at them from a hospital bed with my baby in a Perspex cot next to me. Those five days were the most emotionally challenging days I have ever experienced.
After Emily was born we were allowed to spend some time in delivery suite. I think that the reason for this was because we both needed medication. Emily had to be taken across to NICU to have a cannula put in, receive her first dose of antibiotics and to have her blood sugar levels checked. That happened at about 5pm the day she was born. I was under observation owing to the fact that I’d just had a caesarean, needed pain relief for the surgery and antibiotics for my infection. It was all a bit crazy. At about 9:30/10:00pm we were taken over to the maternity ward.
Visitors aren’t allowed to stay on the maternity ward after 9:00pm. This included my husband who, promptly after taking us over to the ward, had to leave. I found this upsetting, because this was not how I expected our family life to start out. Emily and I stuck in hospital whilst Dan goes home to an empty house. I don’t know who I feel more sorry for now. Anyway this left me in a busy ward, in a 6 bed bay with 12 people in it. I had a catheter and a drain in, plus I was still plumbed into some drugs too. Emily had her hand strapped up so her cannula wouldn’t dig in and was in a plastic box beside me. With the bed raised I could just about reach over to pick Emily up for a feed but it was difficult.
That first night was a bit of a blur. I still had a fair amount of drugs in me and they were giving me liquid morphine for the pain. I slept very little as I spent much of the night being woken up. This is a list of the things I was woken up for: to check if I’d eaten, to check I was drinking, to give me liquid morphine, to give me other oral drugs, to give me IV antibiotics, to check my blood pressure, to check my temperature, to check Emily’s heart rate, to check Emily’s breathing rate, to feed Emily (which was her waking me up not a midwife for a change), to change Emily’s nappy (again she woke me up but I had to call a midwife over to do that), to check when Emily last fed and to take Emily to NICU for her antibiotics. Some of these happened several times during the night and I’m certain none of them happened at the same time. Now here’s a list of other stuff I woke up for but didn’t have to: every time someone in my bay turned their light on, every time someone pressed their buzzer, every time someone else’s baby was hungry or needed a nappy change, and trapped wind. Now if I told you that I went to sleep at about 11pm and woke up at about 6am, and then you try to fit all those things in in varying quantities in between there’s actually not a lot of time left for sleep. However I barely felt tired the next day. I think I running on adrenaline (and drugs).
That first full day in hospital was very weird when I look back at it. We had visits from our parents and Dan’s sister, which was lovely. But I also had to deal with having my catheter and drain taken out. Neither of these were particularly pleasant experiences. The removal of the drain still makes me shudder now. It wasn’t painful; it was odd. There were visits from doctors, midwives, MCAs, physiotherapists, paediatricians and audiologists. All had various bits of information to tell me. Some wanted me, others Emily. We had most of the same things going on in the day as we had had all night. Many people checked that feeding was going well and asked about my nipples. Answer: sore!
It was on that first day that we were told that if all went well we’d be home in three days. They said they had a couple of tests to do on Emily and if they came back good then we’d be out soon enough. One of the tests was for meningitis or something similar and the other was to check that the antibiotics were working. We would have to wait 24 hours for the results but I could handle that at the time.
The second night was worse. New people had arrived in the ward that day. All of them had their own set of circumstances. There was a lady next to me who had learning difficulties and her baby was in NICU. Whenever I walked passed her bed to go to the sink she would just stare at me. It was a bit intimidating. On the other side was a woman who was struggling to breastfeed but determined to carry on. Every time it was feed time her tiny cubicle would fill up with midwives or breastfeeding friends all of whom would make different recommendations. There would be tears and tantrums. In the far corner was a lady who was clearly in some sort of pain. Her baby also had a terrible cough. (She disappeared during that night and didn’t come back until much later in the week.) In the other corner was a rather large lady who was permanently accompanied by her partner. They watched Storage Hunters continually.
So that second night started with the larger lady kicking off because she wanted her partner to stay with her overnight. This was against the rules and they told her so. He left. To replace him she had the TV on loud all night. No one questioned this. Breastfeeding-struggles lady would have all lights on and talk loudly at every feed. This happened every couple of hours. This was on top of nearly all the stuff that had happened the previous night. Oh and I had to get up if I needed the toilet that night too. No catheter to save me the trouble.
Morning comes and I am now three nights in with no sleep. I spent much of the day whining to Dan and various visitors about how awful the night time was. I was told that I could switch to oral antibiotics but needed to take iron tablets because I was a bit anaemic. I just added this to the list of drugs. We got the news that Emily’s culture count had increased so they wanted her to stay in full five days. This was disappointing but I knew it was right for Emily.
Once Dan left that night, I set myself into a little routine of sorting myself out, sorting out Emily, preparing for things I might need in the night, reading a magazine and eating a little bedtime snack. It was really chilled out. As I was sat minding my own business, Storage Hunters No. 1 fan comes over to talk to me. She moaned about her partner not being allowed to stay and I tried to make the point that it was in everyone’s best interests. Blah blah! Then I asked her when she thought she would be going home. Her response “when social services let me take her home.” My eyes widened and I held Emily closer as she told me that she had six other kids and they’d all been taken away from her, but she was hoping that she’d be permitted to keep this one. This was the child who had spent the last two days ignored by both parents as they had chosen to watch hospital TV all day instead. This was also the child whose mother earlier on that night had almost discharged herself because her partner had to leave even at the expensive of having her child taken away there and then. This was the child who was also called Emily. I couldn’t help but wonder what this child’s life might be like. I hope so much that her parents do things differently this time round and she lives a happy and healthy life. The situation, at the time, made me quite sad, but also feel quite vulnerable. Anyway I went off to sleep and had a much better night.
Day three was the worst. It started off well enough. We had a lunch time visit from some good friends who brought gifts and chocolate. It sort of deteriorated after that though. Emily was now three days old so had to be weighed. When they weighed her it turned out she had lost too much. I think about 9% which was above the 8% that is considered normal. Personally this didn’t worry me too much. She was feeding, weeing and pooing well. It caused a bit of a flap though. It was suggested that maybe Emily was tongue-tied or that breastfeeding wasn’t going as well as perceived or maybe the infection was having other issues. All sorts.
That evening I decided to go with Dan to take Emily down to NICU for her antibiotics. I’d been before and she had made very little fuss. I liked to stay near her. This time I went and they asked about her weight. We told them and mentioned that she might be tongue tied and they said they’d put in a referral for us. They then gave Emily her antibiotics and she screamed and cried. It was terribly distressing and I couldn’t watch. I had to go stand outside. (What was wonderfully heartwarming, in the midst of my distress, was that as I stood outside NICU in floods of tears everybody who walked by stopped and asked me if I was OK. Aren’t people nice?) When I went back in the nurse said that she was trained to assess for tongue tie and could check if we wanted. We agreed and she did her stuff. She concluded that Emily had a restriction in all three areas.
We went back to my bed and I cried a lot. I felt like an absolute failure. Emily had to have IV antibiotics because of me and now she was tongue tied too. She had lost too much weight so I wasn’t feeding her right. It didn’t seem fair that someone so small should suffer. Not my baby. She was perfect and innocent. I wanted to protect her but I couldn’t.
After Dan left I figured I would go about following the same routine as the day before. Just as I started though, the night time midwife came to discuss the action plan due to Emily’s weight loss. She talked me through how to express milk using the pump and that I should use this milk to top up Emily’s feeds. I was to feed Emily, feed her expressed milk then pump again ready for next time. I took on board all the information about how to sterilise the equipment, how to use the pump, how long the milk lasts out of the fridge, in the fridge and in the freezer, where the cleaning stuff was and how to feed Emily from a cup. They eventually left and I carried on with my little routine. Half way through taking my tights off, Emily started crying and I started crying. I just sat on the end of my bed, half undressed and held her close. The midwife came to see if I was alright and found me in this state.
On reflection this little moment was what was needed to get me some space and restore my sanity. The midwife had offered to look after Emily for a while so I could sort myself out. I told her that that was the last thing I wanted and actually I wanted everyone else on the ward to go away instead. Emily, on her own, was easy but the noise of ten other people in my bay, the constant check ups, the expressing etc were what was too much. She disappeared for a while then returned to say that there was a side room available, where I’d get my own space. A bit of peace and quiet. Just me and Emily. I accepted but felt like I’d failed because I couldn’t cope.
When we arrived at the room and the midwives had left me alone, Emily started crying again. At this point I lost it. I couldn’t cope. I called the midwives and ask if they could look after her for a while. I hated myself as soon as they took her. I still do. I sat in my bathroom and cried and cried. I messaged Dan and told him that they had taken her because I couldn’t do it. It was the lowest point of my life. What was weird was that all I wanted was Emily back but I didn’t go and get her straight away. I think I knew that I needed time to sort myself out. And I did. After a big cry I felt better. And with Emily back in my arms I was more confident. I think I had seen my raw emotions. It had tested extent of my love for her and I now knew that she needed me completely. But also that I needed her.
We had a great night. We had good sized clumps of sleep. I woke when she pooed, I changed her, fed her, topped her up, expressed and went back to bed. When Dan arrived the next day he took over the topping up feeds so I could express at the same time. It was nice to have our own space, where we could talk freely and be a family on our own. My milk was in and Emily was gulping it down. She had put on a bit of weight so we kept monitoring it but things were good.
The fifth night I was allowed to stay in the side room. I was much calmer. The wonderful midwife who had helped me out in my worse moment the night before was on duty again and had asked to look after me. She left me alone as much as she could. She knew we were keeping records of wees, poos and feeds and that she could write it all down in the morning. She did the checks before I went to bed and the left it as long as possible before she came back. She was a credit to her profession and exactly what I needed.
Day five came and I was itching to get out. I was told that my discharge papers were all ready to go but they needed the all clear on Emily and her discharge from NICU before we could leave. We waited all day. Everybody that came in we told that we wanted to leave in case they forgot. My parents and sister came to visit that afternoon and while they were there we finally got the news that we could go home. I don’t think I could have been more excited. We packed everything up. I got given lots of drugs and told how to take them. We got lots of paperwork and told who to give it to. We got told that Emily was piling on weight. Good news!
Leaving the hospital after that amount of time was strange. I had been desperate to get out and it felt good. I felt free! But this was mixed with feelings of vulnerability. It was up to Dan and I entirely to keep Emily safe and healthy. What I felt strongest though was an awareness of my own health. Out in the cold March sunshine, I realised that I had had a major operation. I hadn’t given it any thought before because I knew I was in safe hands. Outside of the ward however I felt weak and aware of my limitations. At home I didn’t have a bed that would sit me up the press of a button. At home I had to climb a flight of stairs for a wee. At home there wasn’t someone to give breastfeeding advice whenever I needed it. It was scary. But this was nothing compared to how it felt to be going home.
Those five days were emotionally and physically challenging. Some of the lowest times of my life happened then but also they were filled with so much happiness. I was surrounded by truly fantastic medical staff who kept Emily and I safe throughout. I was given the best start possible to my breastfeeding journey and left feeling confident. I discovered that my husband was even more amazing and capable than I’d imagined. He was the perfect father, so caring yet so proactive. He was also the perfect husband. Every night after he left me he would go to the shops and buy me food, which he then cooked so that I would have fantastic gluten free food to eat the next day. He would clean the house in case I came home the next day. He would message me so that I never felt alone. What a star! I learnt too that I am capable of coping with more than I imagined and walked out more content with myself than I’d been in years. Most of all though, I became a mother. A mother to a little girl that changed my world in ways I couldnt have imagined. Those first five precious days will be remembered for all the cuddles and the kisses. The quiet breastfeeding in the middle of the night. The love I felt watching Dan and Emily together. The first time my parents met their granddaughter. The horrible bits will be forgotten. Some of it already is forgotten. The bits that matter will last forever.