Thursday, 22 May 2014

Pump Pump Brrrr

We made it. We survived my first few days back at work and our first real time apart. Well, I survived (barely), Blake hardly even noticed I was gone.

Actually, it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. I honestly thought I would be in floods of tears within half an hour of being back, but I dealt with it far better than I thought I would. If anything, it felt a bit like the last six months had been nothing but a dream and the baby was just a figment of my imagination, which was rather disconcerting. You know that feeling when you get back from a holiday and wonder if the whole thing actually happened? It was like a really extreme version of that. Thankfully, I had regular updates and facebook photos from my sister and from Mr Meaney, which was like a little pinch to remind me that it wasn't a dream at all, but a bloody beautiful reality.

As I say, Blake breezed it, barely a whimper, but we did discover that he eats far more when feeding from the bottle and, despite the fact that I'd thawed out more than enough milk plus a little bit extra for luck, he soon ran out. As a result, I was greeted on both days by a hungry and grumpy baby rather than the excited face I had hoped for.

The real difficulty came in the form of expressing at work. It really brought home to me that breastfeeding and work don't really mix very well, or at least not in my circumstances. My work were actually very accommodating, and allowed me to disappear off to pump whenever I needed to, but each session was carried out with me feeling guilty that I'd left the shop floor for an unofficial 'break'. Over the two days I must have spent an hour an a half in the kitchen on top of my scheduled breaks. It was necessary of course, and far from relaxing, but that did nothing to alleviate my feeling like a pain in the arse. Particularly yesterday when it was just my boss and myself in; I felt like I was abandoning him. 

The kitchen itself is quite a chilly room, a factor that made the entire process uncomfortable and quite depressing really. I was plugged into the wall, with a blanket wrapped around me in case the delivery boys or fitters came in for their lunches, shivering as a cold rubber plunger sucked at my nipple. I was self conscious about the noise of the motor should any customers venture up to that end of the shop, and the pump picked those two days to keep separating and losing suction. During one session, I had to hand express from my very full right breast as the pump simply wasn't getting anything and I needed relief urgently. Picture the scene: I was leaning forward over a little plastic cup, milking myself like a cow, blanket off to allow me to see what I'm doing, more milk running down my arm than going into the cup. It was at this exact moment that the carpet fitters walked in for their coffee break: poor boys nearly cried. 

The pump itself needed washing and sterilising after every pumping session, meaning that I spent yet more time in the kitchen rather than actually working, and the whole thing actually made me wish that I just had normal, non-udder breasts for a few days. It seemed foolish though to wean him off of the breast just for the sake of a few days so I carried on, alternating between shop assistant and dairy cow. Whether or not I can continue to breastfeed once I return full time will depend entirely on Blake. If he still wants milk during the day once he's weaning, I'm going to have to switch to formula and let my boobs retire until the next time that they're required. I'm not going back full time until September and he'll be coming up for nine months old then, so I hope I won't feel too sad about the whole thing.

It's funny really: my breastfeeding goal post was three months, now here I am lamenting the fact that I may have to stop at nine. It sure does suck you in...

Monday, 19 May 2014

Separation Anxiety

Well, after weeks of preparation, the day is almost upon us: tomorrow is the day that I go back to work. Not properly back to work, just two days this week. It's a scheme the government have put into place called 'Keep In Touch', where women on maternity leave are able to work (and get paid) for a set amount of KIT days during their maternity leave. The idea is that you don't end up feeling alienated during your leave and then struggling to slot back in, and from the employer's point of view it stops you from forgetting how to do your job.

I have incredibly mixed feelings about this. 

On one hand, I'm really looking forward to going back. I've always struggled when I'm out of work, and these past six months have been no different. Despite the fact that I'm still technically employed, I find being at home difficult. It's not that I've had nothing to do; with a small baby, an ongoing degree and some very important socialising to do, I've certainly managed to keep myself busy, but I feel weirdly idle anyway.

On the other hand, I'm absolutely dreading it. The longest I've left Blake with anyone else up to now has been the odd half an hour here or there; this is eight bloody hours. How the hell am I supposed to deal with the fact that I'm leaving my five month old baby for eight hours? I'm leaving him with my very capable sister, so I'm not actually worried for his safety, but I do worry that he'll miss me. Whenever my little Prince is upset, he automatically looks for me, and for the next two days I'm not going to be there. What if he hates me by the end of the second day?

There's also been so much preparation involved. By now you know that Blake is breastfed. If you don't, then shame on you, you have much background reading to do on this blog. Leaving a breastfed baby for a significant length of time is no simple task. For the past couple of weeks I have been little more than a dairy cow, pumping an ounce here or there to try and build up a supply in the freezer without stealing what the boy is using. The whole process is barbaric: I slot my nipple into a rubber plunger that basically plugs into the wall, and then it rhythmically sucks the milk out to a charming Hills Have Eyes whirring soundtrack. It's brutal and makes me sore. Added to that, my very clever boobies have, by now, managed to limit supply to exactly what Blake needs, and I've been stealing it to put into the freezer. As a result we've had some very frustrating evenings in which Blake has had to work his little butt off to get the few dregs at the bottom of my ducts. Mind you, a rather pleasing side effect is that he's using pretty much everything that he takes and his prolific poo output has slowed down considerably.

Just getting us both up and ready in the morning is going to be stressful enough. Blake is a lazy baby; he's been sleeping through for a month or so until five or six o clock, at which point he gets up, has a little breakfast and then gets back into bed with me, usually sleeping in until around nine. Tomorrow I will have to feed him and then put him back in his own cot (can't see that going well), only to wake him up at about half past seven to get him ready to leave the house. I foresee a complete meltdown, he's like a teenager when you wake him up. For my part, I'm going to have to stay up after the first feed to try and get everything organised.

With that in mind, I'm off to bed. I can't see me being able to sleep much, I'm far too excited/upset about adult company/my child hating me forever. Good night, constant reader, wish me luck. I expect I'll be in tears at my desk by nine thirty...

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Mother Mental

A strange thing happened to me today: for the first time in a few years I was self conscious of people staring at the scars on my arms. 

The beginning of Summer is always a slightly strange time for me. My arms are suddenly out in the open after several months of being safely covered by jumpers and jackets, and I'm always more aware of people looking on their first outing, but I haven't actually felt vulnerable about it in a long, long time. Today was different. Today I did feel vulnerable. In fact, I almost felt ashamed, and there was only one thing different to this time last year. Today I was pushing a buggy.

Today was the first time that I have been outside among people that I don't know with my arms out, just me and the baby. When it was just me, I wore my scars like a badge. I was proud of how far I'd come and their obvious age showed strangers just how strong I was capable of being. But today, as a mother, I worried that strangers were looking at me and wondering if I was fit to care for my son, what with being mental and everything. Suddenly it was as though my scars were still angry, red and fresh; testament to my unstable state of mind, rather than evidence that I had gotten better. 

In my heart I know that to stare is just a reflex when someone wanders past wearing an arm full of obvious self harm scars, and I doubt that the buggy really made one jot of difference to the opinion of those looking, but it sure made a difference to me. It seems that, as a parent, I'm going to have to get used to them all over again.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Looking Back at Labour

It was recently pointed out to me by Mr Meaney that I hadn't written a blog post about Blake's birth. I think part of the reason for that was that the day had gone nothing like I'd hoped it would, and I thought that writing it down might make me feel sad for the natural birth that never happened. However, me being me, it no longer seems sad; in fact, nearly five months down the line, I can kind of see the funny side. With that in mind, I thought it was finally time to share a little bit about the day that my little Prince came into the world.

Actually, it all started the day before. My blood pressure had been all over the place for weeks, and I'd been to-ing and fro-ing from the hospital on a regular basis, with the occasional overnight stay and hopeful talk about an induction. Fortunately for my health, but not my impatience, it was never quite high enough to start labour before my due date. It was, however, bloody inconvenient. Heavily pregnant and having to drive thirty odd miles twice a week to Barnstaple hospital was not ideal, and I even had to have a midwife come and check my BP on Christmas morning. At my appointment on the 27th December, my normal midwife decided that enough was enough and, despite my due date being four days away, she was going to try and get this baby to arrive by means of a membrane sweep. A membrane sweep, if you don't know, is basically when they stick their fingers up there and feel for the amniotic sac, which should then break naturally as a result of this stimulation. This is all very well if your cervix has begun to open: mine had not. I was still shut like a clam. For all intents and purposes, baby Meaney was showing absolutely no signs of putting in an appearance anytime soon. I was pretty gutted, I had been told by the hospital over and over again that they expected me to go into labour any day and now this. I had friends whose cervixes (cervii?) had been open for weeks. Did I have weeks left?

I went home feeling wounded and a little violated: It was the most intimate anyone had been with me in months and I'd gotten absolutely nothing out of it. However, I had read somewhere that orgasm could  help to bring on labour, so I took myself off to bed and reluctantly took care of that, and then drifted off into fat, uncomfortable sleep. I woke an hour or so later to find that the pelvic pain I'd been experiencing for a few days was suddenly worse. I felt that I'd been tied to a train track in my sleep, and that a steam engine had mullered my lower half, but still no contractions. Pissed off and in pain, I sat myself on my exercise ball, face set into a charming bulldog-chewing-wasp expression and waited for Mr Meaney to come home with a takeaway to cheer me up.

Halfway through my Chinese, it occurred to me that the pelvic pain was no longer constant. It was coming and going in waves. Fuck, I thought, I think it's actually starting. I got out my phone and started timing the discomfort on my much anticipated contraction app: three minutes apart. Holy bloody moly.

By this point, Mr Meaney had settled down to watch the Shawshank Redemption.

"I need you to put the Moses basket stand together," I said.

"I've just started watching the film," he said, pouting, "do I have to do it now?"

"Yes. I'm in labour."

Cue some rather frantic (and hilarious) furniture assembly and a phone call to the hospital. They weren't too bothered: I wasn't in enough pain, apparently. I had to concur. Labour's easy, I thought, I can totally do this. They advised that I took a warm bath and called back an hour later, giving Mr Meaney a chance to watch some of his film after all. An hour later I called back: this time, I told them, I was most definitely in enough pain. Ordinarily they would have delayed admission to hospital but, thanks to my questionable BP, they asked that I come in, explaining that they fully expected to be sending me home again. I had other ideas. The pain was becoming intense, and I knew that the baby was coming, whatever the midwives might think. By this point, it was nearly 1am, and I had to call my Dad. Mr Meaney didn't drive until January this year, and there was no way I was going to be able to drive myself to the hospital (please do not ever try driving in labour, however early the stages, however close your hospital) and I needed a lift. I had already expressly told my Mum that I didn't want her at the hospital, so my Dad was the obvious choice.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love my Mum. I love my Mum so much that you wouldn't believe, and I would have loved her to be part of Blake's debut in the world. But my Mum brings out the little girl in me and I needed to be a grown up if I had any chance of dealing with this pain. If my Mum was there, I'd have been crying on her shoulder within minutes. As it happened, I managed the entire forty five minute journey without once making a  sound during the now very regular contractions. I breathed through them quietly, timing each one diligently on my phone. Just outside Barnstaple, I suddenly announced that I had to pee, and instructed Dad to stop at a service station. Mr Meaney helped me in and reassured the very worried looking cashier that I wasn't going to give birth on the floor, as I stopped for a contraction in the middle of his garage.

On arrival at the hospital, my Dad made himself scarce as I had an internal examination. In fact, I've never seen the man move so fast in my life. The contractions were coming hard and fast and lasting well over a minute, so I felt sure that I was progressing towards delivery.

"Well, you're about 1cm dilated," the midwife said, "so you're only in the very early stages."

I  was so disappointed. Normally they would have sent me home, but my blood pressure was once again being naughty so they decided to keep me in for observation, potentially admitting me to the ward and sending Mr Meaney packing. Fortunately they took pity on our car situation and let my Dad go home instead: poor fellow had work in the morning.

I had assumed that I would want an active labour, that is that I'd be up walking about during contractions in order to alleviate the pain, but I found any movement instantly brought a contraction on and made the pain worse. The only way I was able to cope was to lay with my eyes closed and imagine I was on the beach in St Lucia. Due to my recent history, I was having both my contractions and the baby's heart rate monitored, but the contraction monitor kept slipping. In fact, at one point the midwife only knew I was contracting when I covered my eyes and 'went to my happy place'. I was offered pain relief and stoically turned it down: I was determined to do this as naturally as possible. Plus, I'd heard that several forms of pain relief actually slow labour, and that was not something I fancied toying with at that point.

Shortly afterwards, I was aware of a consultant appearing. There was some concern over the baby's heart rate, and I was informed that it seemed to be dropping alarmingly every time I had a contraction. However, the external monitors weren't accurate enough and they wanted to attach a trace to his head in order to keep a closer eye on his levels of distress. My waters hadn't broken naturally, and I was advised that they would have to break them to attach the trace, and also to check the colour of the fluid. Once again I was offered pain relief as the consultant gently explained that having the waters broken was uncomfortable and that the contractions would immediately become a lot stronger. At this point, I cracked mentally. I was exhausted and scared, all of a sudden I was completely out of control and things were starting to go wrong; I couldn't do it anymore. I sobbed as I requested an epidural: disappointed in myself that I had not been strong enough to cope how I wanted. However, the consultant wanted my waters broken immediately, and stressed that I would have to manage with gas and air until after the trace was attached. Then I could have the epidural.

As soon as my waters were broken, the contractions became more than I could bear. Partly because they were now 'dry', with no fluid to cushion them, but also because I'd resigned myself the epidural and every second waiting for it was like torture. On the other hand, the gas and air was wonderful: after being sober for nine months it was like taking down a bottle of pinot grigio, and I was quickly chastised for using it between contractions as well as during. Down the business end, however, there was a bit less of a party atmosphere. The waters now splashing around my feet were thick with fresh meconium, meaning that the baby was highly distressed and had emptied his bowels inside my womb. The consultant sprung into action. There was no time to attach the trace, he said, they had to get the baby out. Before I knew which way was up, I had a consent form for an emergency caesarean section thrust into my hand.

Throughout my pregnancy, a section had been my biggest fear, but now I didn't care. I just wanted my baby to be ok. In fact, I was slightly relieved: the epidural was no longer 'my choice', the pain would stop and I would have my baby in my arms in less than half an hour. I was still chuffing the gas and air on the way to theatre, alternately moaning in agony during the contractions and then giggling drunkenly about the fact that my bits were going to remain intact.

Despite the immediate relief given by the epidural, as the sweet, sweet anaesthetic coursed its way through my spine, terror and adrenaline took over and I began to shake harder than I have ever shook before, something that the anaesthetist assured me was normal.

"I'm so scared," I whispered to Mr Meaney, blinking away tears, as they laid me down and I began to go numb.

According to him, he had never seen me look so terrified, and I was. Terrified of the epidural, terrified of the section, terrified for the safety of my precious baby boy. I was also still a little gas drunk and hysterical, and made a few inappropriate comments about my Rasputin fanny as the surgeon stated that there was no need to shave me, and before I knew it the whole thing had begun.

Caesareans are strange, they feel a little bit like someone is doing the washing up inside your abdomen, but naturally I felt no pain thanks to the spinal, and before long I heard a tiny little cry that alerted me to Blake's abrupt presence in the room. The fear and exhaustion gave way to elation and awe. He was here. I was about to meet my son.

Mr Meaney crept around the dividing sheet and cut the cord, getting a birds-eye view of the inside of my uterus in the process, and Blake was brought round to meet me. He was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined, but I couldn't really hold him; I was still laying completely flat and the shakes were violent. I was genuinely worried I would throw him from the operating table as my body convulsed against my will. He was placed into Mr Meaney's somewhat steadier arms, and I was sewn up; a process that took far longer than the operation itself.

I continued to shake as I was wheeled into recovery, and Blake was placed into a crib as I was giving an oxygen mask and some time to calm down. Soon after though, the midwife brought him to me anyway, anxious that my tiny 6lb3oz baby needed to feed as soon as I could manage it. Amazingly, the shakes stopped within seconds of him being placed on my skin and his tiny mouth latching on to feed from my breast. I was calm. I was content. I had found my place in the world.

It's true what they say: you never know real love until you've had a child, and I would go through the whole drama again in a heartbeat for my little Prince. Blake Stephen Meaney: the boy who stole my heart the second I saw his face.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

10 Things They Don't Tell You About Breastfeeding

When I was pregnant, I went to an antenatal class dedicated solely to educating expectant mothers about breastfeeding. With medical guidelines recommending that babies be exclusively nursed for the first six months, it makes sense to fill new mums with all of the facts. Unfortunately, that's not really what they did. Don't get me wrong, the class was unbelievably helpful and took me from sitting on the fence to determined to breastfeed, but there was an awful lot that I was left to find out for myself.

Learning on the job.

I've nearly given up breastfeeding on a couple of occasions, mainly when some spanner or another has thrown itself into the works, and I've been left to work out what the hell is going on. I think that we need to stop sugar coating nursing and tell new mums the truth. And though it might read like a horror story, hopefully it will help them to deal with some of the curve-balls that are undoubtedly coming their way. After all, knowledge is power.

So, you're determined to breastfeed your new bundle? That's wonderful, I'd highly recommend it, but first of all sit back, take a deep breath and read on. There's a few things you should know...

10. It can hurt.

During breastfeeding classes, it is drummed into us that breastfeeding should never hurt if it's being done correctly. That's simply not the case. Once I had Blake's tongue-tie fixed, he had a perfect latch, yet some days I would get impossibly sore nipples for no real reason whatsoever. I assume it was just simple overuse, as he was effectively using me as a dummy when he needed comfort. It was never sore enough to need to resort to nipple shields or religious use of nipple cream, but it was far from comfortable. 

Now that he's older, we have a whole new set of nipple issues. At four months old, he is noticing the world around him and wants to see it. A distracted baby who desperately wants to look behind them isn't worried about a graceful unlatch. They will simply wrench their head away and your nipple has no choice but to go along for the ride. I've heard this referred to as 'niplash': an accurate term for a painful phenomenon. 

9. Day 2 sucks.

At no point in my antenatal class did anyone tell me about Day 2 (the second day after birth). Obviously I was aware that my milk would be coming in a few days, but nothing prepared me for the way that baby makes this happen. It was the day after I'd had major abdominal surgery and, at this point, I hadn't slept for around sixty hours, but biology stepped in and told Blake that he needed to do his part to bring my milk in. This involved feeding, and lots of it; almost constantly in fact. He was doing an important job to tell my body how much milk he'd be requiring, and therefore how much I needed to make, but unfortunately the midwives had neglected to tell me what was going on. Exhausted and sore, I let him feed for as long as possible, but after two and a half hours and my energy rapidly dwindling, my mum decided to ask the midwives for help. They simply told her that it was normal, and that I needed to try and see it through.

Luckily for me, I was still in hospital. Had I been at home (as most mothers would be) and didn't know that this should be happening, I am certain that I would have given up there and then. Day 2 sucks, but it passes and if you're ready, you can see it through.

8. It takes a long time.

At first anyway. Bottle feeds can be turned around pretty quickly from quite a young age, but this often isn't the case for breastfed babies. While Blake was getting the hang of what he was doing, and while I did the same, a feed could sometimes take an hour or more. Nightfeeds could last two when you factored in nappy changes and re-settling him. This will get better as your baby learns to feed more efficiently, but while it's happening you need to take any help that is offered. Forget your chores, don't worry about washing your hair, just make sure that someone is on hand to bring you food and water when you need it.

7. Supply issues are a thing.

A thing that is enormously played down by midwives. We are told that it's very rare for a woman to not produce enough to feed her baby, and that's about as much information as we get. Yet I know several women who had problems with supply from the very beginning. Often I think that this exacerbated by a confused Day 2 at home, with the new mother not knowing how much feeding is necessary. Many babies in this situation will need formula top-ups, and that's ok.

There's also such a thing as oversupply, which simply wasn't discussed at all in my antenatal class. That's a bit of a bummer, because it's something that I've struggled with from the off. Oversupply means that I often suffer with engorged and painful breasts, particularly in the mornings and the only option is to pump. When you pump you send a message to your breasts that more milk is being used and that it needs to up its production: a painful cycle that is difficult to break. Added to this, I also have a painful and over-active let-down which, in layman's terms, pretty much means that I spray like an open hydrant, drowning Blake and soaking everything within a 2 metre radius. Again, I had absolutely no idea that this problem even existed.

6. It's more portable... but only if you're confident about it.

Yes, breasts are a very portable feeding system. You have no bottles to sterilise, formula to mix or boiled water to cool, which means that you can feed your baby anywhere that you like, at absolutely anytime. I found that it was particularly handy for long drives, as you could stop anywhere and be ready to go.

You do, however, need to be confident. It's amazing how vulnerable you can feel when you have to feed in public when you're alone. This even happens to me, one of the most outspoken people you could meet. After all, you do actually have your boob out. I find that exuding an air of "Don't even bother challenging me," is very effective at combating this issue.

5. It takes a while to 'get it'.

Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, but it isn't easy, and it certainly doesn't always feel natural. In fact, it took me a good eight weeks or so to really find my groove with it. Before that, I found the whole thing a bit of a battle, and I nearly gave up on several occasions. Luckily for me, I have a friend who is five weeks ahead of me who was able to assure me that it would get better. I'm here to do that for you: it does, don't give up yet. 

4. It doesn't mean you're going to be thin anytime soon.

One of the big ways that health professionals try to persuade us to breastfeed is by telling us about the weight loss benefits. And there is something to this. Actually, my body snapped back far quicker than some I know who have bottle fed, but it hasn't snapped back all the way. 

Many women's bodies will keep a certain amount of fat back as a reserve, which makes sense really when you consider that it has to feed two humans. Though you might initially lose a large portion of your pregnancy weight, be ready to be stuck with some of it until you stop feeding. 

3. You will have ups and downs.

Breastfeeding floods your system with feel good hormones, and many report a feeling of calm and, sometimes, euphoria when nursing their child. I have felt the elation of sitting with my baby, gazing into his enormous blue eyes as he gently and effectively feeds and then drifts off to sleep. However, I have also felt the frustration of a fussy, cluster feeding infant, and had to fight the urge to just wrench him from my breast and stuff a bottle into his mouth.

Breastfeeding has its ups and downs and it's unrealistic to assume that it will always be a perfect bonding experience. More often than not, it'll be wonderful, but there will be days, when you're tired and the baby is messing about, that you will resent every second of it. Hopefully, you'll be like me and be too bloody stubborn to give up once you've reached a certain point. Hang in there, the beauty and bond will come back around, just be patient.

2. It's selfish.

And that's ok. It's fine that you secretly relish the fact that no one can help you, and that your baby instinctively looks for you when anyone else holds him. What you're doing is wonderful, you deserve to take a little pleasure from that extra attachment. 

1. People can be complete dicks about it.

Whether it's disapproving of public feeding, or criticising the age to which you decide to continue nursing, it will seem like almost everyone has an opinion about what you're doing. The best thing any women who wishes to breastfeed can do is grow an extra thick skin. The world wants to talk about women who breastfeed, and it isn't always kind. There are facebook pages calling for breastfeeding in public to be made illegal, with one actually claiming that it is 'mouth rape' of children, akin to paedophilia. Added to that lunacy, you have older people who simply have no experience of it, raising their own children at a time when formula was the norm. This lack of understanding can be frustrating, but you have to put it down to simple misinformation and move on.

Your breastfeeding journey is exactly that: yours. If you want to continue nursing until your child is five, then go for it and don't let anyone tell you that what you're doing is wrong. Listen to your body and your child, not the words of those around you. 

Most importantly, enjoy it. Now that you are armed with the real facts, there is nothing to hold you back.

You can do this, Mama.