I had a birth plan but nature quickly threw a massive spanner in the works. Everything that could have gone wrong, did. An easy pregnancy suddenly turned into a nightmare, complicated birth.
After hours of trying to avoid it, my body was failing and we were all agreed – it was time to get my baby out with an emergency c-section.
When they finished, they handed her to me, all wrapped up and with a massive bandage around her tiny arm where a canular was fitted for antibiotics. Her eyes, focused and curious trying to take everything in.
After such a rocky start, I wanted to give her the very best. I was determined to breast feed. For two days in the hospital I tried my best but struggled to get a midwife to come and help. The massive bandage around my little one’s hand kept getting in her way and she struggled to get in position. Unlike the other babies on the ward, she wouldn’t settle. Kept crying. It was hot. Four beds in a relatively small room, plus all the other people’s relatives. I needed to get out of that place. To breathe.
When we arrived home, at first it helped. A calm environment. Space. Privacy. But then she wouldn’t stop crying. For a night, a day and then another night, she simply would not stop.
No matter what I did.
By 2am, having consulted with NHS111 and some GP who couldn’t hide their horror at the low volume of liquids she had that day, I took an Uber to A&E.
The hospital closes the main entrance at night, so I had to hobble up the winding stairs, three floors up, to the children’s A&E entrance, four days after major surgery, carrying a car seat with my four-days-old baby and pulling some of my internal stitches in the process.
The minute I walked through, a lovely nurse looked at me and instantly said – Oh! She is probably just hungry! We found out that she lost 10% of her birth weight in those four days. Just on the edge of things getting critical.
A tiny bottle of formula was in my daughter’s mouth a few minutes later. She instantly guzzled it down and fell into a deep sleep.
From then on, I was told to ‘top up’ with formula to help her regain her weight. I tried to continue breastfeeding but, every time I tried, my tiny daughter went into hysterics. She yelled and screamed and refused to even try. She got distressed. I got upset.
It was not pretty.
I started to express but quickly found that I only generated about half of what she needed. My day seemed to be a never-ending cycle of express, feed, clean bottles and pump (who invented a pump with 23 separate components!!!), express, inject myself with meds they gave me, feed, clean puke, mountain of laundry, express feed. One day, at 4am, with her having puked all over all of her clothes, and all over all of my clothes and sheets and me having to lay down a towel to sleep on (for lack of any other clean sheets), I set on my bed, silently screaming and weeping and wondered how anyone ever gets through those first few weeks.
Midst all of this, I struggled to bond with her. I did not have that ‘I am in love with my baby’ feeling that we are all led to believe we are supposed to have the moment we lay eyes on our baby. I was torn up with guilt over it – what was wrong with me??? Was it because of the c-section? Because I couldn’t get breast feeding to work? Because I was stupid enough to launch a new business just as I was about to give birth?
Internet search only revealed more guilt material – article after article how a c-section means certain hormones that help us bond with the baby do not get released by the body, that breastfeeding helps the bond, etc. etc. etc.
Exhausted, riddled with guilt, as a single mom, I felt I had nowhere to turn to. My midwife, an amazing woman, bravely handled my calls. With calm and compassion, she let me gush. She let me cry. Let me explain how I kept trying to breast feed and it JUST WAS NOT WORKING.
The message from my pre-natal classes kept ringing in my ears – keep trying, breast is best, the body adjusts supply to meet demand.
I felt that I was failing. That this was the reason I struggled to bond with my beautiful little girl. That there was something very wrong with me.
After a few weeks of this, she calmly voiced a thought that I have been desperately trying to ignore. “Stop breast feeding. It’s stressing out the baby, it’s stressing you out. Just stop and give yourself a break. She will be okay and you will find it easier to build a relationship with her.”
It took another four weeks of this mad cycle before I actually listened to her. Before I gave myself permission to stop. My body, exhausted from surgery and blood loss and meds, from juggling a newborn and work, from lack of sleep, instantly stopped producing what was left of my milk.
I breathed a sigh of relief, though still a guilty one, and started to relax.
My little one just turned three. She is a curious, affectionate, happy, fiercely independent little child who knows what she wants. She is healthy and we have, what I call, a “Gilmore Girls” relationship.
I know that none of it was my fault. I did my best. It did her no harm. And now, when my pregnant friends ask for advice, I always say three things:
- Stuff your freezer with high quality food before your due date,
- Have some formula on stand by - just in case,
- Don’t judge or guilt yourself, even if that is super hard – you will make the best decisions for you and your family, whatever that looks like.