Tuesday, 28 August 2012

3.5 Weeks with Walter

I may not have had much to say about pregnancy, but motherhood is something totally different. Life has changed so much, without really having changed at all (at least for the good things). I’ve never before had days that can change so quickly from incredibly frustrating to incredibly easy (and sometimes back again!). I’ve never done anything that could alternate so quickly from being almost overwhelmingly demanding to being almost laughably easy. I’ve certainly never multi-tasked so much, nor felt that I’ve accomplished so little in a day.

Enjoying some cuddle time :
The funny thing about a day’s accomplishments is that I get the same amount of non-‘work’ related stuff done as I did before. I know this because I was feeling like my days were just slipping away, so I compared what I would do on an average work day as opposed to what I get done now. Productivity levels are about the same. In fact the house is slowly getting cleaner than it was when I was working. The only area where I’m falling behind is in book reading. I used to get through 8-12 books a month, and now I’m lucky if I finish one in a week. I’m slowly getting more reading time, as I can often now balance Walter & a book when in bed and if I didn’t have so much stuff to organise for our upcoming move I could claim more reading time.

Walter in his 'big boy chair'--it allows us to cook, sometimes even together, when Walter is awake. He tolerates sitting in the kitchen doorway and watching us, as long as we keep up a steady current of song.
My days of fancy cooking are currently on hold, since my new meal philosophy is quick, nutritious, low-labour. Walter is still too young to be somewhat predictable. He has days where he seems to be awake all day, and other days where he seems to sleep all day (usually one follows the other). He also has days where he likes to be quiet in the morning and active in the afternoon, and then he’ll switch a couple days down the road. Cooking, then, can only be done in his quiet moments (or if David takes him).

I do feel really spoiled with David working at home. At first we didn’t think it would work, but he seems to like it and I think I leave him alone more than he thought I would. When he wants a break he’ll usually come and sit with Walter, which means I can get stuff done even if he’s needing attention. It also means that there’s someone else to heat up lunch or make my breakfast if Walter can’t be left.

My little family
The biggest challenge continues to be Walter’s eating habits, or at least his digestive habits. More evenings than I like to remember contain an hour or two of a screaming Walter, either because he has gas pains OR because he insists he’s starving to death (while we marvel that he can be hungry yet again and worry about overfeeding him). In fact most of his crying spells are because he’s hungry. In that sense formula feeding is quite challenging, at least for me. I can see how much he’s eating and always worry that we’re giving him too much. I know I just need to get over this. As my mum reminded me the other day, I really don’t need to worry about his diet and over-eating until he’s on solids. Still, it is frustrating trying to guess how much and how often he’s going to eat on any given day, especially when some of his meals bring on his gas pains which always makes me feel guilty. That said, some of his other meals bring on the end of his gas pains, so I guess he knows what he wants!

Aside from the day-to-day of looking after Walter, David and I are busy trying to tie up loose ends in Cambridge in anticipation of, hopefully, a two-month working holiday in Germany.  It would be a research trip for David and a holiday/change of scene for me & Walter. The amount of stuff that needs to come together for it to work can feel quite overwhelming, especially when it comes to Walter’s passport (which is the main worry, actually, because it is a giant pain to get while living abroad and the consulate is not overly accommodating), so your prayers would be appreciated. If it all works out tho, and we’re really praying it does, it will be an awesome adventure which will help fill this strange limbo that we’re about to enter into. 

My sweet sleepy-head at 3 weeks old

Monday, 13 August 2012

Walter's First Week

Walter is one week old today (although might be more by the time I’m able to post this!). This first week with him has been one of ups and downs, but it’s getting steadily better. Having my mum here has been the biggest help imaginable.

Mum 'settling' Walter
Although he was perfectly healthy even with his fast arrival, Walter stubbornly refuses to nurse. This has been the biggest challenge that I’ve faced since his birth. He ‘knows how’, in the sense that I was able to successfully nurse him a few times, but he really dislikes it to the point of epic levels of screaming frustration and refusal to take in any food.

My first night with him in the hospital was hellish—my epidural didn’t take the first couple of times so the dosage I had was really strong. Between that and the catheter I had to wear, I was bed ridden for almost 24 hours. Walter slept near me but I couldn’t move from my bed to pick him up if he cried or threw-up, and so I’d have to ring the buzzer and wait ‘ages’ for someone to come pass him to me. He only properly nursed three times in the 24 hours I was there. He had swallowed an excess of amniotic fluid which meant his tummy was too full. I don’t know if anyone reading this has experienced similar, but to be brand new mum and unable to physically reach your ‘distressed’ baby is one of the most awful things.

Fortunately I was producing epic amounts of colostrum and was able to hand express into a syringe to feed him. Because Walter refused to nurse the hospital didn’t want to discharge me, but I knew that staying in the hospital wasn’t going to help matters as I was exhausted, starving (the food was so nasty), and my stress was mounting. When you have four different midwives telling you that your nursing technique isn’t the problem, and when they can’t suggest that you do anything different to encourage him to eat, there doesn’t seem to be much point in another day of bad food and no sleep. On top of it all, David was leaving for Germany at 2am on Sunday, and I felt that I couldn’t stand it if I had to go without seeing him before he left. We’d hardly had any time together in nearly 48 hours.

The head-midwife was really helpful. She agreed to let me go home if we picked up some formula to top-up Walter’s feeds, and sent us home with a bag of bottles and very encouraging words. But by the time one of the community midwives came on Monday, the situation hadn’t gotten any better. Walter spent the night times crying for hours, while his jaundice kept him asleep during the day. It was a no-win situation. He wouldn’t wake up long enough to feed during the day, and at night he was so angry that he refused to settle down. I was exhausted and getting quite depressed. The midwife we got on Monday was an answer to prayer. She took one look at him, told me he was ‘ravenous’, and I explained the situation. She watched me try to nurse him and reaffirmed that the problem wasn’t me. She then gave a load of advice about combination feeding and different things I could try. She’s also one of the few midwives I’ve spoken to who are willing to admit that some babies just won’t nurse.

The hardest thing for me has been coming to terms with Walter’s complete disinterest in breastfeeding. Fortunately I have had enough of a milk supply even with his lack of breastfeeding that I could express (by hand at first and now with a pump) and he’s been able to have some breast milk every day. We even managed to feed him almost solely on colostrum the first few days.

I read so much about breastfeeding before he was born, and find it discouraging (in my bad times) that it is portrayed as “so easy” and that any problems are simply the fault of an improper latch (ie the fault of the mother!). I went into this as prepared as anyone without a live-baby can be, and it just hasn’t worked out the way it’s supposed to. And, because I’ve read so much on breastfeeding, I’m armed with a load of guilt-inducing information about how superior it is to any other way of feeding your baby. I am totally pro breastfeeding, but I think the breastfeeding education over here could use a helpful section on what to do when it doesn’t work. Sure, everything from sore nipples to mastitis was covered, but not once do they discuss the baby who won’t feed, or the baby who latches on wonderfully but refuses to suck.

Now that Walter’s gaining his weight back and his jaundice is going I’m starting to feel relaxed. The first couple of days when he started producing the expected number of wet diapers made me want to celebrate. I spent the first few days of his life feeling the whole weight of responsibility for his life on my shoulders, and feeling that I was failing him. I was terrified that something terrible would happen to him before David got back. It was difficult to bond with him because I was just exhausted and anxious about his health. Now that things are sort of normal it’s a lot easier. We have cuddle time almost every morning after his “decent hour of the morning” feed, which means another hour or so of dozing time for me with a snuggly warm baby.

I don’t know if Walter is going to be a ‘formula baby’ or not, but I do know that this experience has made me understand why so many people react negatively to the “breast is best” promotions. Feeding Walter formula wasn’t my choice, it was my only option. I was given loads of support with breastfeeding but no one could figure out how to solve my problem. Finding out that both of my parents, who are in excellent health for their years, were both formula babies has gone a long way to relaxing me IF Walter ends up the same way.

Due to all this feeding stuff, last Thursday was the first day when mum & I could actually get time to relax. No midwife visits! A much more comfortable feeding routine! We went for a pub-lunch and then mum sat with Walter at the foot of Castle Mound (site of a Norman castle) while I went to Shire Hall to register Walter’s birth. Things have been getting better since then, for the most part. I keep forgetting that I’ve had surgery and that I’ve given birth, so my tendency to overdo it pops up and we’ve gotten a mammoth amount of paperwork-type things done including Walter’s passport & citizenship photos. Mum has been incredible, cooking all the meals, doing most of the cleaning, and having sleepovers with Walter at night (including doing his middle of the night feed) so that I can get enough sleep to keep going during the day. We’ll have another adjustment once she’s leaves on Sunday and there’s not the extra support of someone with experience (and a mad desire to steal every minute of snuggle time that she can!), but I’m also looking forward to seeing how we work as a little family.

David is the best father I’ve ever seen (aside from my own). He and Walter are already best chums, and David’s quickly learning all the taking care of baby things that he’ll need to know. He can already change and dress Walter, which is pretty good for someone who hasn’t even been at home for 48hours! Yesterday (Sunday) we drove to The Orchard in Grantchester for High Tea, which we took in grand style out in the apple orchard. It was Walter’s first family picnic and a lovely chance for us three adults to enjoy an excellent meal in the fresh air.

Life with Walter has been so incredibly different to what I thought. I may never be the type of person to gush over other people’s babies, but damned if I don’t think mine is the most perfect little man in the world. He is utterly fascinating and I can totally understand why parents are always getting absorbed in their kids. He is able to recognize the difference between mummy and daddy, and you can see that he feels most content when we’re both close to him. Before Walter came people were very quick to tell me how much stress and disruption a baby could cause, but very few people could articulate just how wonderful it would be and how it would all be worth it. 

Friday, 10 August 2012

Walter's Birth

I've tried to keep the details as reader-friendly as possible, but read at your own risk!


I didn’t expect to be putting Walter’s birth story up on the blog, as I figured it would be fairly routine, unpleasant, and private. But as it turns out, mum and I have been retelling it to people so many times...

My NHS-issued due date was July 28th, but due to the length of my cycles plus the charting I do for NFP, I figured that July 31st would be closer to the actual date of arrival. Still, after the midwife had promised me a membrane sweep at noon on August 3rd (ewwwwwwww) I was pretty determined to have my baby out by then. The days of waiting after my NHS due date passed were agony, particularly as David had to leave for a major conference in Germany in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Now I can look back and chuckle, but at the time the number of people who thought nothing of asking my really personal questions about how many centimetres I was dilated (never did find out) or whether or not I was having contractions and what they were like etc was not amusing. As mum points out, pregnant and delivering women lose a bit of their dignity, or at least modesty!

I felt uncomfortable for most of Thursday, so we ordered in some spicy Chinese food to ensure I had a good amount of calories just in case. I spent the evening drinking mugs of raspberry leaf tea and watching The Color Purple with mum. By about midnight I was having recognisable, regular contractions and had a steady back-ache. Mum called the Birthing Unit which led to the first disappointment of the evening – even tho’ I’d been signed off as having a low-risk pregnancy, and even tho’ the midwife who checked me at 36 weeks had sent in my paperwork, they refused to take me because of my pre-pregnancy weight. I was really annoyed, since all along the midwives had been telling me that I could go wherever I wanted. Still, we got advice on where to call when my contractions got stronger, and I tried to control my levels of annoyance as they were interfering with my contractions! Now I keep enjoying the irony that I’d been turned away from the midwife unit only to end up with a home-birth!

I soaked in a hot bath and tried to stay relaxed while waiting for my contractions to reach 45 seconds, so that I’d be able to call the delivery unit and go in. After their brief assessment on the phone, we were told that I could come in but that my contractions likely weren’t long enough. We got there and the nurse who saw me decided that I didn’t seem to be in enough pain to even warrant a physical examination! I was sent home with codeine and told to call back if my water broke, if I couldn’t manage the pain with codeine & tylanol, or if my contractions finally hit a minute’s length and felt much worse. The drive back home was hellish, especially knowing that the pain I was in didn’t even count as ‘labour’. Every bump we hit in the car was awful.

I went back into the bathtub and tried to practice my deep breathing exercises. By this time it was 5:30am. My contractions still weren’t a minute long... and then...

THEN I noticed that every 15-20 minutes I would have a minute-long ‘contraction’ that was actually a quadruple contraction, with my stomach tightening up so hard that being in the bath was my only saving grace, since I could just allow the water to support me through it. The intervals weren’t regular enough for the hospital charts, so I stayed in the tub and kept monitoring the minutes. Those quadruple contractions were the most terrifying part of the whole thing, actually—I don’t remember much pain from them, because I mostly had back-labour, but the way my body was spasoming terrified me mostly because I knew I’d have to manage to get out of the bath, into my clothes, and back to the hospital. I kept having to push with each of those long contractions, since it was the only way I could manage to get through them, but I’d heard all about the little indignities of giving birth so I figured this was just one of those bowel-movement risks people go on about! It certainly felt more like that than a baby making it’s way down.

By 8:15 I felt I warranted getting back to the hospital for a shot of painkiller, as I needed to sleep. So mum got on the phone with the delivery unit, who said I could come in, and I sat down on the toilet to try and get dressed. Thanks be to God that it took me almost five minutes just to gear myself up to grab clothing, as otherwise we’d have been in the car and on our way out! As mum got off the phone with the hospital I felt another one of my long contractions starting. But this time when I pushed the weird ‘feeling’ was suddenly happening in the front as well as the back...so I put my hand down and felt the baby’s head. The first thought that flashed through my mind was “dear God, please don’t let me be like those women in the Walmart stories who give birth in the toilet!” followed by telling mum to call 999 because I felt the baby’s head.

It’s only by the grace of God that I managed to get down the hall and into my bedroom. I was so worried that Walter would just fall out, or that I wouldn’t be able to move and would have to give birth on the floor. The 999 operator told mum to tell me that if I felt like pushing I could push, which was great because I couldn’t really not do it by that point! So I hobbled down the hallway, hopped into bed, and a minute or two after that I had to push and out came Walter’s head. Mum was then receiving instructions on how to deliver the shoulders, which she was going to try to do with one-hand since the other was holding the phone. Fortunately our buzzer went at that point and David rushed downstairs...literally seconds later he was running back upstairs behind Simba the paramedic, who ran down the hall just in time to help mum deliver the rest of Walter.

The rest of the day was a blur. I think we were at home for two hours, with various paramedics and then a midwife coming in. Because Walter came so quickly and there was no supervision, I ended up with a third-degree tear. This sounds a lot more painful than it actually is. Unfortunately it meant that we had to be taken to hospital (via ambulance! Complete with sirens and lights!) since I needed an epidural and proper stitches in the operating theater. And once you’re in the hospital they don’t like to let you leave, so we were kept in for 24 hours.

Needless to say, nothing went as planned. The idea of a long and painful labour, followed by tears and family photos, was pretty much non-existent as I spent most of Walter’s birth-day hooked up to machines and unable to move from the waist down. My labour itself was short and relatively painless. Pain-wise, the most excruciating thing I felt was back-labour, and what was hardest for me was being unable to sleep. Actually giving birth hurt but in a very manageable, not extreme way. Now we just joke about how Walter is wrapped in the lucky number three—born on the 3rd of August, after 3 hours of labour, in only 3 pushes.  

When we made it to the hospital--before my surgery

One proud daddy!

Trying to get a proper look at my son--I'd hardly seen him other than some skin-to-skin cuddles at home