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. 

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