Work. Wardrobe. Winter.

Today was a day in which our very unlovely front ‘garden’ lived up to its very apt nickname of The Somme. Buckets of mud slip-sliding across chewed up turf really set the scene for a sortie in to Chaddy, along with a baby really quite cross about being strapped down in her chariot.

Alice is 8 months old. She commando crawls, she high fives, she feeds herself, she understands her name and ‘up’ and ‘Dadda’ and ‘tickle’, and plays peekaboo in various forms. Delightful as she is, every achievement and milestone is a reminder that I have to go back to work. Some days I feel a bit misty-eyed about speaking with adults, having a coffee and using my brain all without the constant physical wrangling and half-diverted attention necessitated by motherhood, but other days I plot and scheme about how to stay home with my munchy-munchkin forever (but also how to earn exactly the same income as if I were working full-time. Too much to ask?).

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I think we look a little alike here!

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Not the most flattering angle, or the best styled hair (either of us) – but the giggles were superb!

Today, a grim and rainy Friday where I had absolutely nothing to do except trawl the bright shiny shops, epitomised this push-me, pull-you existence. Nowhere to be and nothing to do except window shop, drink coffee and chat to Alice – I will definitely be a SAHM forever! Distracting a screeching child in changerooms, leaving shops with items unpurchased to avoid a meltdown, walking and walking and walking once she was asleep just to keep her down despite having no more change for coffee and having missed lunch hours ago – I will definitely go back to work!

A half-formed idea of buying some new work clothes pushed me into shops I haven’t visited for quite some time. Post-honeymoon, our house purchase and renovation (and the daily takeaway and alcohol that accompanied it) and pregnancy meant that my work wardrobe undertook rapid and massive changes, and although I have shamefully reverted to regularly wearing some tops I wore whilst pregnant, I refuse to return to work in my horrible Target pregnancy pants. Despite the terror that a full-length changeroom mirror now elicits in me I thought some nice new things might take some of the sting out of the mental countdown I’ve now begun until I have to obey the alarm clock and cram myself on to a train before sitting static all day, away from my baby and without the cheeky option of a quick bit of ‘Location Location Location’ in the afternoon. But that requires trying things on.

Let’s just say that while I tra-la-la-ed my way through pregnancy convinced that my compact bump reflected minimal weight gain, my body was sneakily and steadily spiriting away every single surplus calorie and distributing it in places I wouldn’t notice while I was focussed on my belly. And let’s just also say that post-pregnancy the 500 or so extra calories a day that breastfeeding burns have not even brought to me break-even point. Hence, my horror of mirrors and terror of trousers.

Anyway, I found two tops, a cardigan and a pair of 7/8 pants which will work well with what still fits me from Ye Olde Days, along with some clothes that have been shared between my sister and I over several years. Along with some shiny shoes and practical flats, these will do for the two days a week I will return to work from October to January, and the three days thereafter.

I’m ready to work, almost. I’m not ready to leave her. However even being able to turn these thoughts over in my mind is a reflection of the privilege of being able to stay home for a whole year, thanks to a generous maternity leave policy, the Paid Parental Leave scheme, and a steady income. Work seems like just yesterday but a different country.

The countdown’s on. So much to get ready – most of it mental. But some of it materialistic.

Today:

We went to Chadstone to pick up a repaired necklace, and had a look through shops for clothes. You really didn’t like being stuck in changerooms! You had one breastfeed, a snack and a play before falling asleep. It was a good day to be inside and you enjoyed sitting up like a big girl in your pram and watching everything around you.

We are waiting for Ellie’s baby who was due five days ago and Heloise’s son who was due yesterday. We have recently welcomed Stacey and Jarrod’s Gabrielle Rose and Sarah and Dre’s Grace Ilaria (continuing the naming similarities!).

I’ve stopped recording your sleeps but after a rough patch due to teeth you are settling more easily, around 9:30pm, and waking around 8am with perhaps one or two quick resettles in the evening as you roll over (sometimes you’re not even awake), and usually one feed overnight.

At 8 months, Alice:

  • Weighs about 10kg and is about 72cm long.
  • Wears 0 clothes but is edging in to some 1s for width.
  • Has 7 teeth – 4 on top and 3 underneath. Teething has been marked only by disrupted sleep (what’s new?!). She teethed 7 teeth in 10 weeks!
  • Started solids at exactly 6 months and is a little dynamo. She has tried absolutely everything put in front of her and even though not much of it makes it to her tummy, she investigates and explores and enjoys it all. She likes to use a spoon herself and won’t let anyone feed her. Still can’t sip from any kind of cup though!
  • Has Mumma’s mouth, nose and chin; Dadda’s eyes, eyebrows, forehead and face shape.
  • Has started to grow more hair.
  • Has started swimming lessons with Dadda and mothers’ group and is getting braver in the water.
  • Can commando crawl and does lots of rocking on all fours. She has been sitting for quite a long time and is really quite speedy as she wriggles around.
  • Is a happy and giggling baby. She now knows what it means when something is taken away from her though and seems set to be a good whinger.
  • Is practicing spending more time with Grandma and Grandpa.
  • Loves singing and has a definite sing-song voice of her own.
  • Babbles a lot and is starting to say Da-da more to Dadda.
  • Understands her name, ‘up’, ‘tickle’, ‘boobie’ (no surprise), and we think ‘Dadda’.
  • Shakes her head to ‘nononono’. She high fives, is learning to wave, and has just started handing me her spoon when I say ‘more’.
  • Is not yet pulling to standing but hasn’t really had much opportunity.
  • Likes a late bed time, but also sleeping in.
  • Is still called Allie by Grandma, and Honeybun, Bunny, Munchkin, Munchy and mostly Bubba.

After eight months, Mummy and Daddy:

  • Just think Alice is delightful and are so proud of her.
  • Are getting more sleep. A solid night is a thing of distant memory.
  • Are looking forward to their wedding anniversary dinner but have booked a restaurant very close by in case of another emergency return call!

Alice’s birth story

Consider yourself warned. This post is graphic, describes labour and birth, and it is long. Very long.

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This is the story of a girl who planned everything. She loved planning and arranging and sorting things, was convinced that forewarned was forearmed, and that by being prepared every eventuality could be anticipated and accounted for.

This is the story of a girl who got it wrong.

I wanted the birth that was best for my baby – the only birth that was good enough, in fact. I wanted a drug-free, intervention-free labour and delivery where I trusted my body which in turn rewarded me with a straightforward, safe and entirely manageable birth with a healthy baby at the end. I knew that allowing my young and healthy body to labour naturally would achieve everything I wanted, and that there was no reason to assume that I couldn’t do it. I was going to be the calmest, most serene birthing woman they’d ever seen. They were going to marvel at my ability to endure contractions, remain collected and keep it all together. I was made to do it. I was built to do it. I would do it.

My husband and I attended a Calmbirth course in preparation and we wrote a birth preferences plan including everything that was important to us about our baby’s birth: no analgesia or anaesthesia, no internal monitoring or examinations, an active labour, no directed pushing, delayed cord clamping, and a physiological third stage. Many of these things were standard in the birth centre we planned to attend, so we were sure that we were doubling our chances of success. We included a statement that we understood that these were preferences and in the event of an emergency they would have our full co-operation – but we knew that this was lip service because we’d never need any assistance at all. We’d planned the perfect birth.

When my waters finally broke at 4am on Thursday 29 November 2012 they did so with a pop and a splash during one of my frustratingly regular night-time toilet breaks. I called and called for Luke, who sleeps the sleep of the dead, and once he came to inspect the evidence and get me a pad we went back to bed to see what would happen. Like the sleep champion he is, Luke was fast asleep soon after while I lay awake not quite sure how the next few hours would pan out.

Contractions began at 4:54 am (according to the handy tracker app I’d downloaded in my planned out way), and came at 5-7 minute intervals lasting for anything from 30 to 90 seconds. They felt like bad period pain and I practiced breathing through them, thinking it was all a bit of a doddle so far and wasn’t I a clever girl.

By 6am-ish the contractions were 4-5 minutes apart and lasting well over a minute each. They were more and more uncomfortable and I began to moan and groan. Still, not so bad and a few heat packs helped ease the cramping and back pain quite well. Wasn’t I clever?

At about 8am we called the hospital to let them know I was in labour, and I mentioned to the midwife (in between contractions on the phone which I was careful not to make too much noise through because I wanted her to think I was handling it all very well) that there had been some greenish-yellow staining on my first pad. The midwife, Zoe, said that if it was greenish then it might be meconium, which would mean an automatic transfer out of the birth centre and into the birth suites. Although I knew that meconium in waters could be very serious, I didn’t know that this was a reason for transfer. Zoe suggested that we come in to check the colour of the staining, and then go home if labour wasn’t too progressed. I agreed, thinking that the trip to the hospital would be tough but that I could do it, and said that we’d wait to come in until the peak hour traffic had passed as we had to drive on the freeway. I blithely ignored any small whispered suggestion in my head that his wasn’t in the plan. I was still quite in control of myself and the situation – what a clever girl I was.

After this call the contractions became more and more intense. I had a hot shower and did the stamping recommended in Juju Sundin’s ‘Birth Skills’ book, telling myself that I had to become bigger than the pain. Barely able to stand up I’m not sure how I was bigger than anything much, but at least I was clean. I was still quite clever though as I was able to move around on my own.

Contractions were getting closer and closer together, now around 2 minutes apart and lasting for about 1 minute. I began an involuntary high-pitched yelling, a sound I’d never heard myself make before, sounding like an prolonged “aaaaah”. I sat on the toilet and lay on the couch, staggering between each and directing Luke in the packing in between bouts of yelling. I was so clever to be able to co-ordinate this in between yelling, wasn’t I?

After checking my pad again and finding an ominous green stain we rang Zoe back. I said I wasn’t going to come in and go home as I wouldn’t make it and she agreed that once I was in, I was in. The thought of the car journey was daunting, as I was unable to sit or stand for long, but it had to be done so at around 9:30 and after a few false starts where I ended up doubled over on the couch, I walked myself slowly to the car and prepared for the ride. Gosh I was still clever to have lasted at home for over five hours, which would surely mean I was well-progressed already.

Traffic. An accident had caused a backlog of traffic along the freeway and at our exit. I will forever be grateful to Luke for being the calmest I have ever seen him in a traffic jam, allowing me to focus solely on managing the increasing pain. I’m sure other drivers saw my yelling and fist thumping as signs of road rage, but as we got closer to the hospital I could hear my yelling becoming louder and louder and more and more rhythmic as the only way I could get through each contraction. I began to vomit. I kept timing them using the app, but for the most part was still able to speak normally between them. At one break between contractions I checked my email to find a message from my dad’s cousin in England letting us know that my great-uncle had died. I couldn’t take in more than the bare details, but it made me think about the turning of life and the strange synchronicity of the world. I was pretty clever to be multi-tasking through this, wasn’t I?

Each time we’d visited the hospital for ante-natal visits we’d giggled at the signs apologising for the lack of parking and promising a new carpark soon. Never had those signs seemed more mocking than as we drove around for a quarter of an hour desperately seeking a park, any park, any where. I refused to be dropped off and be alone, and continued yelling (windows up) as we circled and circled. With great relief we saw a man heading towards a car and Luke asked him if he was leaving as I was in labour. The man said he’d forgotten where he’d parked but would remember extra quickly for us – which he did, thankfully for poor Luke’s eardrums. I was still able talk normally between contractions, which meant I was still a clever girl.

I had a contraction waiting for the lift but managed to swallow the tail end of it as we entered, carefully ignoring everyone inside. I walked slowly and painfully to the birth centre, aware that the waiting room was watching me. I ignored them too, wanting only to lie down again. I was able to walk so I still felt pretty clever.

When we arrived at the birth centre and I saw Zoe I almost cried for the only time during the whole labour. The relief to finally be there and to have someone else see what I was going through was overwhelming. We were taken to a room where I immediately went to the toilet and had another, very loud contraction – I could hear Zoe, Luke and the student midwife outside and when Zoe entered the bathroom I couldn’t have cared less. I’m sure I was going to the toilet as she did but it bothered me about as much as the fact I still had wet hair. But still, I was sure my increasing pain reflected incredible progress and I was a clever girl doing so well.

Zoe had seen the colour of the discharge on my pad and confirmed it was meconium. I would have to be transferred to the birth suites – but I still didn’t care. I tried to tell her during a break between contractions that I wasn’t as hysterical as I sounded, still keen to seem together and with it. I lay on the bed, vomiting during some contractions, and yelling and yelling and yelling. The student midwife brought cold towels for my head and a bag to be sick in which I clutched and bit for dear life. The pain now was all-consuming – I knew I was nowhere as in control as I had been. I felt less clever and this was the last time I cared.

I rolled on to my back with great difficulty when asked for a CTG of the baby’s heartbeat. I waited. I focused on myself. And then I saw Luke with tears in his eyes and a look on his face that I never want to see again. I realised that they couldn’t find a heartbeat and I reached out and gripped his forearm, not looking at him and feeling like my worst fears throughout the whole pregnancy – every time I’d presented for monitoring because I hadn’t felt a kick for a while – were being borne out.

We waited.

I looked anywhere but at Luke.

I looked at Zoe. She did not look at me, but concentrated only on moving the trace around my belly. She was quiet. We were all quiet.

Thump.

Thump thump thump. The best sound bar none I’ve ever heard. There was our baby, faint but clear and regular. Zoe said they would need to monitor it internally and I had no objections after that. Being a clever girl was over.

A clip was attached to the baby’s head, but throughout the course of the labour it had to be replaced four times as the cord did not match the machine or some other technical problem. A doctor attended, and another midwife, but I was oblivious to anything but my own yelling. The pain was now a constant. When I moved I surprised to see blood on the bed – I hadn’t expected it yet.

I was finally transferred to the birth suites, doubled over in a wheelchair and desperate to get horizontal again. The pain intensified as I was moved and I lost the rhythm of my yelling and instead began to writhe and kick to get through each contraction. There were fewer breaks between contractions where I felt like I was returning to being myself. I knew that this pain was more than anything I’d imagined and that I was somehow a different person when contracting – I sounded different, I said different things, and I didn’t like this person very much. She was whiny and weak and she was beginning to think about pain relief in a little secret corner of her mind. The ‘real me’ wondered when the ‘ideal birthing me’ was coming to take over, because what was happening now was not going according to plan.

The period between each contraction now seemed to run on without a break, with each peak followed by no respite. I remember telling Luke, in the other me’s high pitched voice, that it just didn’t stop and I just needed a break and if I could just have a break between them I would be ok.

I was determined not to say the ‘e’ word. I would wait. I could wait. I must wait. I wouldn’t break. I wouldn’t say it first. I wanted it so badly. I wanted anything so badly that would make it stop. I wanted a c-section if it would make it stop. I sobbed and whined and I just wanted a break in between to pull myself together.

The new midwife, Andrea, told me I needed to open my eyes during contractions, focus on something, and try to control my breathing. I felt like she was saying I was out of control, which I probably was, but I was also doing what came naturally and when I tried to force myself to do something else it lessened whatever control I had, taking energy away from my unconscious coping mechanisms and directing it to conscious action. Things were getting worse – I wasn’t coping at all as I thought I would, because the pain wasn’t at all how I thought it would be. When would someone suggest an epidural for heaven’s sake? It was all I wanted but the last thing I’d say.

At about 10:30 am another internal examination to re-attach the monitoring cord found that I was fully effaced and 3 centimetres dilated. Andrea seemed to think this was quite good and that I’d done a lot of work already, but I was crushed and so disappointed. I’d expected to be much further along, and despite Luke reminding me that dilation only told you how far you were at a certain point in time and not how far along you’d be soon, I was fearful that I had hours and hours to go.

Andrea suggested the gas and air which I said I’d try. She showed me how to use it but on my first sucks I was sure I wasn’t getting enough oxygen and began to feel panicked. I threw it away and despite being told it needed a few goes to get it right, I knew it wasn’t for me. Luke says that I did get a bit spaced out after each puff I took, but I felt nothing except that my breathing was compromised and I knew I didn’t want to use it again.

Andrea suggested pethidine, which I refused as it would make me sick. Even though I’d had Maxalon to prevent more vomiting, the idea of nausea on top of the pain was unthinkable. I also knew this left only one option for pain relief, but I’d be damned if I’d suggest it first.

Luke left to get the rest of our bags. I yelled and yelled. It was worse and worse and contractions were steady at about 2-3 minute intervals although there was still no relief between the peaks of pain. Where was my labour bouncing on a fit ball? Where was my hot shower and sacral massage and deep breathing? Where was my inner calm? All the things that I was sure would be my tools to help me birth my child were the last things from my mind, because they would have been useless. Even if I had managed to sit up, or stand, or move in any way from the bed, none of them would have touched the sides of this pain. I knew it was time to abandon those things.

I asked for the epidural while Luke was gone.

Luke came back and I told him I wanted an epidural.

Luke and Andrea did the right thing and offered the gas again. I gave it another go and found it as terrible and terrifying as the first time. Maybe it was now that she offered pethidine, but I can’t remember.

I said it again, and Andrea made the call.

I told Luke I couldn’t cope, and having tried to support me in our original plan, he now supported me in this.

Finally a proper room became available and I was transferred on a trolley to a birthing suite. I contracted on the trolley and tried so hard to keep it in while we were in the corridors, not wanting anyone else to see (or worse, for some poor pregnant woman to hear and have the fear of God put in her). Again, the transfer intensified the pain and reduced any control I had, so that by the time we were in the birth suite I was completely oblivious to everyone in the room and anything except my pain and the sound of my own wailing and the kicking and twisting of my body.

I remember feeling a gush of liquid and asking in surprise if I’d wet myself. It was just fluid but from them on I was more aware of how much I was leaking, and how little control I had over it.

I was examined at about 12pm and was 5-6 centimetres, which meant that I had dilated 2-3 centimetres in just an hour and a half. In retrospect I’m sure that it was the speed of dilation that caused the intensity of contractions, and as I’d had no pre-labour I think I had begun dilating from 0 centimetres when contractions began at 5am that morning. I’d gone almost a centimetre an hour on average from the get go including full effacement, and in hindsight was actually dilating much faster because it wasn’t long after that I was at 10 and fully dilated.

When the anaesthetist arrived I was in a rare break between contractions, and when she introduced herself I told her I loved her. I’m sure she gets that a lot. I knew the risks of the epidural but was willing to take them – I knew that I was distressed and that could compromise a safe birth in and of itself, and as I was incapable of moving I wasn’t jeopardizing an active labour either. I was put in a gown and instructed to sit and not move at all costs. I kept saying that I needed them to wait until I was between contractions and was told that they needed to get it in quickly – I just wasn’t sure I could hold still. I hung on to Luke’s neck, biting and clutching at him. With each contraction I started to push involuntarily, feeling more liquid gushing out. I think I may have begun to transition now, telling everyone that I needed to push. I also said I needed to poo and was told quite firmly that this was just the contraction and it would pass. I insisted that it wasn’t – pretty familiar with the feeling after a lifetime – but it did in fact pass and to be honest I wouldn’t have cared too much if I had gone then and there.

I barely felt a thing as I held on to Luke and the needles went in. I distinctly remember feeling so grateful that I’d had a rare longer break between contractions as I was prepped and anaesthetised. It was 12:30 and there were a couple more contractions at full force to get through before it took effect. And once it did, it was like a heavy curtain had been lifted and I was myself again. Within 15 minutes I felt only a lovely numbness from the waist down, and complete relief. I sounded like myself again and the wailing ended. I could see a change in Luke’s face too as the burden of helping me through each contraction lifted. I dozed for 20 minutes under the initial fog of anaesthesia, and Luke did too.

A new midwife, Siobhan, and a student midwife, Katie, came on duty. For the next hour I was observed, checked, had my contractions and heart rate and blood pressure and level of anesthesia monitored. Luke and I chatted with Katie and I even put some make up on, sure that I’d been undignified enough that day and there was only more to come, so I might as well feel presentable.

When Luke went to get a coffee and a sandwich Siobhan checked me as I lay on side. Quite calmly she said that she hoped Luke would get back soon or he’d miss the baby. I double-checked – oh yes, she could see the head. I felt nothing!

At 2pm Siobhan went to check with the doctors when I could start to push. They agreed that seeing as the baby’s head was descending so nicely on its own there was no point in me pushing and exhausting myself just yet, so we waited some more for Luke to return while I marveled at how calm this all was, when in my ‘ideal birth’ we would just be getting to the pointy end.

Luke returned, somewhat surprised to be told we were so close to push time (and offended we’d thought he’d got lost). We waited and timed some more contractions, and Siobhan went to check again with the doctors. At 2:55 we could start pushing. It was 9 hours since my waters broke, and just 4.5 hours since I was 3 centimetres dilated, meaning that I’d gone 7 centimetres in either 3.5 hours (to 2pm when Siobhan first thought I might push), at double the expected rate, or in 4.5 hours (to 3pm), still a cracking pace.

I’d been lying on my left side to keep the epidural at an even level, and Siobhan suggested that I push in this position as well. Holding my right leg in the air was one of the least dignified positions I’ve ever been in but it was effective. I was told to put my head to my chest, hold my breath and push with each contraction – exactly the directed pushing I wanted to avoid, but with the epidural I couldn’t feel any contractions, pressure or urge to push to do anything else anyway. I pushed as hard as I could, with Siobhan placing a finger on my inner thigh and telling me to aim for there. She kept saying ‘keep going keep going’ and I didn’t know if I was doing a good job or not but just went as hard as I could. Luke stood to my right, helping hold my leg and giving me an arm to pull on to get leverage.

Siobhan said that the baby’s heart rate was decelerating at the end of each contraction, and she urged me to push more and more. Luke would tell me when the heart rate would pick up so I didn’t have to crane my head to the monitor behind me, and I just kept pushing.

And then suddenly there were doctors in the room, Claire who had seen me much earlier in the birth centre, and (I think) Kristen. I don’t know who called them but they were there and telling me that they needed to use forceps to get the baby out as the heart rate was dropping too low and not rising. At the time I didn’t realize the implications – that each time the birth would be described from now on it would be as a forceps delivery; that the use of forceps was something more serious than it seemed at the time – which I think I did objectively but in the moment it just seemed like the next thing to do. I just kept pushing.

I was placed into stirrups and Kristen told me that she was very skinny so she needed me to push hard to help get the baby out. I remember saying something about being the fattest person in the room, and her laughing that she should have said she was weak rather than skinny. Nothing seemed too dramatic or urgent, and I just kept pushing.

At some point Claire took over the forceps. In retrospect changing doctors would indicate that someone more senior needed to do it, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. I now know that Claire was the registrar. I just kept pushing.

I told them that they had my consent to do an episiotomy, and they laughed and said it had already been done to get the forceps in. Usually I’d be outraged that my consent wasn’t sought for such an invasive intervention, but given the time pressures I know there was no choice and it needed to be done for the baby. I just kept pushing.

I could see the heat lamp being turned on for the baby, and a paediatrician named Gemma introduced herself. I became more worried that she had been called, but I just kept pushing.

Luke was able to see our baby’s head crowning as I pulled on his arm. He could see the top of the head; he could see the head; he could see the face … and I just kept pushing.

 I heard Claire say that they needed to “do a MacRoberts” and the bed was tilted so that my pelvis was lifted and my head fell back. The next few moments are absent from my memory, but I do remember a sort of slithering feeling and then …

At 3:16, less than twelve hours after my waters broke, our baby was lifted up and I reached my arms out to her. I don’t remember the first words I said but I told her that her name was Alice and she lay on my chest all red and purple and white and wet. She didn’t cry so I blew on her face for what seemed like minutes and minutes, sending air to shock her into life.

Her cry was loud and cross, such a piercing sound from such a little girl. Luke and I looked at her, taking in her molded head, bloody scalp and vernix-covered face. She looked like neither of us despite months of speculation about which of our features she would inherit, and we couldn’t believe she was ours. We talked to her and stroked her and held her tight, our little squashy girl finally in the light.

While we had skin to skin, gazing at this little squirming creature just minutes old, I was being stitched up and given an injection to deliver the placenta, all of which I felt none of. Claire pressed hard on my belly and told me something about the placenta but I really didn’t take in any of it – what was happening at that end of my body may as well have been on the other side of the world. The placenta was delivered by cord traction in the end, all of which I was completely oblivious to. I asked if Luke had cut the cord and he had, which I also didn’t realise. I don’t know if we had delayed cord clamping in the end, or if it wasn’t possible given the effort required to get the placenta out, but I suspect that as with many things we had wanted, it was a moot point in the end.

Once the work to finish the delivery was done and Alice was wiped clean of the worst of her blood and fluid, she lay on my chest screaming but searching for a breast. Another midwife, a second Andrea, and another student midwife, Britt, took over shift and Britt helped as I tried to attach Alice for her first feed. She suckled a little and I thought we’d done a good job considering neither of us knew what we were doing.

An hour or so after her birth Alice was held by her Daddy for the first time. He looked so natural and in such wonderment, and I took some photos of their first cuddle. The photos now show a shocked and exhausted Luke holding a little bundle so tenderly and in some bewilderment.

I called my parents and sister, letting my dad tell me about my great uncle’s death before mentioning that I had read the email earlier in the car, while I was in labour. Which I wasn’t any more. Because I’d had the baby. Get it? The squealing in the background was loud as loud can be, and I found out later on that it was just my sister – I had assumed it must be her and my mother given the volume. Luke called his parents at home, reaching his dad first and asking what he was doing that evening and whether he’d like to visit his granddaughter. He rang his mum who was at his sister’s house, checking her availability too. Funnily, Luke’s sister had texted about twenty minutes before we rang saying she had a feeling that I’d go in to labour that night.

We also sent out text messages and posted on Facebook, knowing that the news couldn’t be contained long, happily announcing the arrival of Alice Elizabeth to the world.

My sister arrived at some point, as we were allowed to sneak her in for a visit as long as we were still in the birth suite and not on the ward. She was the first family member aside from us to cuddle Alice, and had apparently demanded to be driven to the hospital by our dad “now!” when told to come.

Alice screamed and screamed – understandably given what had happened to her.  She was weighed and measured (7lb 8oz, 51 centimeters long, head circumference of 35 centimeters) and dressed, with Luke taking charge of learning how to change and dress her as I was still on the bed and unable to stand.

My parents arrived (bringing food as requested after the kitchen’s attempts at a vegan meal for me ended in disaster) and an entire river of mushiness flowed as they met their first grandchild. Alice was slightly over-heated and needed to lie by herself in a crib so they couldn’t cuddle her, but they did try to put clothes on her, taking an age until Britt insisted she have some space. Alice seemed to agree as she stopped crying and lay still quite happily!

Luke’s parents arrived just after my sister left, and my parents left shortly after too. I never really imagined receiving visitors while lying naked on bloody sheets, covered in amniotic fluid and blood, draped with a sheet, but there it is. Once measured again Alice’s temperature had dropped so she was allowed a short cuddle with Mimmi and Pappy, while I was monitored more closely for high blood pressure, a side effect of one of the drugs I’d had.

After Mimmi and Papi left I finally had enough feeling back in my legs to let me stand up and have a shower. I was quite sad to see the catheter go because it had been the longest I hadn’t had to wee since I got pregnant and getting up every hour wears thin! A shower and clean hair made me feel human and presentable again even though I giggled at wearing for the first time the bathrobe I’d specifically bought to use getting in and out of all the showers and baths I was going to have to help me manage labour pains.

We were ready to move and head up to the recovery wards. Luke got everything together, looking like a packhorse, while I wheeled Alice in the crib. After the hours spent in the birth suite we couldn’t really imagine what would come next, but as with all things we had no choice but to find out and meet it. It was surreal to think of everything that had happened that day and what we had achieved. We’d brought a whole new person into the world together, who we were responsible for wholly and completely forever.

We took our daughter out of the room she was born in, and left for our first night together as a family.

 

**************************************************************************************************************************

I have done a lot of thinking about the way Alice’s birth panned out and how I feel about it. I feel a bit conflicted in that even though I am disappointed that we didn’t get the drug and intervention free birth that we wanted and did everything to promote, I know that even if I’d avoided the epidural it is most likely that Alice would still have required forceps to be born, and if so I doubt that I would have been able to push as effectively as I did if I was trying to cope with the pain of contractions and crowning, as well as the necessary episiotomy.

I spoke with one of the attending doctors, Kristen, the next day and she ran through the interventions with me. She said that the maternal effort had been good, the force required on the forceps was minimal, and the MacRoberts manouvre, normally used in the case of suspected shoulder dystocia, was used because Alice’s chin got caught on the perineum which can indicate a dystocia. It is usually expected in an instrumental delivery and Alice was not in fact stuck at all. This was very reassuring and a relief to know that as concerning as it had all seemed to me, to the doctors they had done their jobs well to prevent anything more serious happening and they were happy with the outcome. It also convinced me that if I had been dealing with the pain of the final stages of labour and the intensity of the moment I do not think I would have been able to co-operate or contribute as well as I did, perhaps delaying Alice’s exit and causing unknown additional stress to her.

I am also happy with how our birth went because of the excellent care we received at every stage. I think that many women who have births that don’t meet their original ideals feel disappointed or cheated because they feel like they were victims of the cascade of consequences. I, however, had complete trust in my caregivers to recommend what they thought was necessary, and am certain that what happened was inevitable and important in ensuring Alice’s safe arrival. Even when I was most distressed and being ‘the other me’ I was always treated with respect and with just the right amount of bossiness and direction to let me know that they knew what they were doing no matter how desperate I felt. I am grateful that I was in a place where we could both receive immediate interventions to avoid disaster, and that it was all done so quickly and so well. I am also grateful that I was supported firstly to try to have the drug-free birth we wanted, and then to have the anaesthesia I needed when I called for it.

 I have realized that the unknown factor in any labour is the actual pain of contractions. It is the X Factor and can throw all plans in to disarray. I am convinced that each person experiences an objectively different level of pain, and it has nothing to do with pain thresholds or perceptions of sensation: it is different amounts of pain, full stop. It is not conceivable that any amount of changing positions, heat application, breath control or immersion in water could have made any difference whatsoever to the pain I experienced, any more than an aspirin would be an appropriate response to a amputated limb. If other women birth and these things are sufficient to manage the pain that they feel, then I’m pleased for them and that their level of pain allows them to manage it in those ways, but that is not what I felt nor would it have been possible.

Before having Alice I thought that saying that all that matters is a healthy baby was a truism but also a bit of a platitude. Of course the birth itself mattered, which was why we went to such lengths to ensure we were going to get the one we wanted. This is still true to an extent and each woman is entitled to make choices about what she wants for her body and her birth, and we shouldn’t diminish impact that not getting a longed-for birth can have, but more than ever I whole-heartedly agree that the outcome every parent wants is a healthy mother and healthy baby, and the ways of getting there are many and varied. Each woman has to consider how to achieve that given the labour that they actually have, not the one they imagine they will have, and the means taken to get there may need to change once labour begins.

Next time I will still attempt a drug and intervention-free birth because I do believe that, all things being equal, it is the healthiest way for mother and baby. It is still my ideal but I now think that the ideal must adapt to match the reality of experience. When I have another baby I will think about at what points I will consider different pain relief options which may help arrest the climb of increasing anaesthesia, and I will go into it open to changing my mind to suit the circumstances I encounter and the things I cannot anticipate.

As I look at my perfect and healthy daughter I know that all I need to do is make the best decisions I can for my child, which is all that can be asked of anyone.

 

 

Alice – four weeks

I’m typing one-handed as my little girl feeds. She is already a people person, demanding human contact at all times. At. All. Times. (I’m also writing this days in advance as my new baby-imposed timeline means that things get done much, much more slowly. By the time you read this she will be four weeks old).

snuggles on dad

Snuggling on Daddy.

I’ve been up with her since 4am when she fed, and then she and I sporadically cat-napped until her next feed at 6.20, after which she slept on me on the couch so Daddy could have a quiet sleep after doing the first night shift. Since then, except for a short break to express, she has been in my arms (or on my boobs!) and it is now 11.20. But she has just dozed off and I know there will come a time when she would rather die than be civil to me, let alone cuddle me or find comfort in my presence, so I am soaking in her new baby smell and her nuzzling in to my neck while it is still so important in her world.

surprise

Surprise!

Little Bunny, at one month you have already changed so much from the squalling, red and squashy creature who we met for the first time. For the first two weeks you seemed still shell-shocked by the cold bright world, although you made clear your need to snuggle into our chests very quickly. In your first few days we were so proud of you when you easily drank EBM via syringe, cup and bottle – while I was truly surprised that I couldn’t feed you from the breast straight away, we were so relieved that you had no feeding issues of your own and we didn’t have to worry about your desire or ability to eat.

adorable

Smiley!

Since then you’ve also become a skilled and voracious breastfeeder. After some help from the hospital’s lactation consultants to teach me how to hold you to latch on you are now proficient and barely need my help at all. You love boobie and I don’t mind if you fall asleep feeding either (as long as you fall asleep!). You also happily devour two bottles of EBM a night, one that Daddy feeds you after I have gone to sleep, and another somewhere between 2 and 4am that he gives you while I express.

smiles

Mum! Milk!

Which leads me to the next major topic consuming every new parent: sleep.

It’s too soon to expect you to have a routine of your own, and certainly too much to ask for you to follow one of our choosing, and I am happy to demand-feed you and let  you decide when you need to sleep. But could you sleep when you are tired do you think? Like your mother you fight sleep even when exhausted, thinking that being bored and awake is still preferable to being out for the count. Once fast asleep you are – excuse the pun – a dream, oblivious to all around you, happy to re-settle yourself, and barely stirring when transferred from arms to pram to car seat. It’s the getting to sleep that’s difficult, as you resist being settled like you know what we’re trying to do, and then it’s another battle getting you into your bassinet in the day. You have a red alert radar that can tell when you’ve been put down and within five minutes you start to grizzle and then increase the vocal force of your displeasure. This makes it very hard to get things done and on bad days I am effectively pinned to the couch by your tiny sleeping body! Daddy and I have a shift each over night so we can at least get one solid block of sleep each, which is usually two hours or three if you’re really good. I get about five broken hours a night, something like 11-2, then 3-4, then dozing while you cluster feed every hour until 6.30. You also have a 2-3 hour sleep starting mid- to late-morning, and another in the afternoon, although you often stay awake for much more than the recommended 60-90 minutes and the other day managed a stupendous and frustrating six hours.

milky

Boobiemonster.

You are already a card and pull the most hysterical faces, especially when you’re milk drunk and half asleep. You often smile when dozing off, just a flicker of a twitch, but Daddy swears that this morning (Xmas Eve) you gave him a long and deliberate smile when he picked you up. He is obviously besotted. You have definitely become so much more aware and alert in the last two weeks, really looking at us and the things around you and making so many vocal noises that I am convinced that you take after me in the chatterbox stakes.

You have also been joined by new friends already; it appears that December is a popular month for being born. My oldest and bestest friend Keren has had Jack; Rachael has had Ella; and Carly has had Flynn, and we still await the arrival of Kelly’s little boy, Stacey’s bub and Sarah’s bump next year. You are lucky to grow up surrounded by such a large group of kids of a similar age.

Not too sure about my Xmas dress.

We waited so long to meet you. Every day we learn more about you and we can’t wait to find out who you are.

Alice and her great-grandfather.

Alice and her great-grandfather.

Today (27 December): you are four weeks old exactly, 2 days off being a calendar month. Your birth certificate arrived in the post and we are going to take you on your first expedition to Doncaster. You had just two overnight feeds, one long nap and are feeding again as I type. You’ve had two nappy changes, gave me a long smile as you lay down on your feeding pillow, and I am slogging through your birth announcements and folding laundry when Daddy holds you.

At four weeks, Alice:

  • Has put on heaps of weight and is visibly bigger than at birth.
  • Has long feet!
  • Is still in 0000 but said feet might not last much longer …
  • Appears to have blue eyes.
  • Has so much hair that everyone comments … and that Daddy likes to style.
  • Still doesn’t look clearly like either of us, but we think has my mouth and chin, Auntie Hannie’s eyes, and Daddy’s forehead. Daddy is on the lookout for the Burrows Eyebrow.
  • No longer screams at every nappy change.
  • Quite likes bathtime with Daddy, except for being all naked and cold afterwards.
  • Falls asleep easily in the pram on a walk and in her car seat.
  • Sometimes likes her lambie rocker.
  • Has a very strong neck despite not having been awake for tummy time.
  • Really only cries and screams when hungry (or to be picked up from the hated bassinet). We’re learning not to secondguess this, even if she’s just eaten.
  • Has Mummy’s gap between her big and second toes.
  • Has very nice hands which come from neither of us.
  • Loves to snuggle on chests and tummies.
  • Is beginning to be called Al or Allie.
  • Has been given her Tibetan name by her Pala and Amala, which is Dechen Dolma, Dechen (“Day-chen”) meaning Great Bliss and Dolma (“Der-ma”) being a name for the deity Tara.

After one month, Mummy and Daddy:

  • Are smitten!
  • Realise that they are  totally incapable of any objectivity about their daughter who is patently the most beautiful, intelligent, adorable and talented child in the history of the world ever.
  • Are operating quite well on limited sleep and are proud of their teamwork.
  • Are very impressed with how the dogs and cats have adapted.
  • Are getting used to lowered expectations about how much can get done in a day.
  • Have conquered a number of poosplosions.
  • Have incredible  respect for single parents.
  • Mummy loves her new earrings!

Alice’s nursery

I can finally show the other ‘project’ I’ve been tinkering away on! I couldn’t share any pictures of Alice’s nursery before she came along because we had some special items that we couldn’t put out to finish it off until she arrived – those items being pink! We found out that our Bunny was a girl at the 20 week scan, but chose not to tell anybody that we found out. We just wanted to keep a little something about our baby to ourselves which I’m glad we did, but it did complicate some things! Apologies to all those we lied to … it wasn’t easy!

Here is her door …

Welcome to Alice's room!

Welcome to Alice’s room!

I bought the Beatrix Potter letters from Peter’s of Kensington and then mounted them to a canvas … well actually Buzz was in charge of the gluing and I directed. This is the extent of my crafting ability!

Room layout

Alice’s Expedit. On the top are a set of prints from Etsy that were the very first things I bought from her nursery, along with some special items including the Steiff bear that my sister brought her back from Hamley’s in London and the measuring tape used to measure and record her statistics straight after birth. Above the Expedit are some Martha Stewart paper chains from her baby shower.

I love a good Exedit!

The Expedit contains a lot of my own baby toys and books, as well as the lovely gifts we have received for her. I keep her blankets in a storage cube (and I do not recommend these horrible plastic ones from IKEA – they are a nightmare to assemble and caused a few injuries in the process!).

Some special items:

Top row, second cube from left: Alice’s Daddy chose this print on our honeymoon in San Francisco from an artist at a street festival. At the same time I chose a print of a little girl with dark hair and blue eyes, and when I bought it I told Buzz that this was our daughter. It disappeared when we moved house, making way for the real little girl to arrive. In front of that print is a modern Beatrix Potter book given to me by my aunt called “Rabbit Organises Everything”: too perfect!

Second top row: Books! The most wonderful things in the world. I thoroughly believe that children should be swamped in books. So many of my own are here, and new editions that I’ve bought for her: Anatole the Mouse, Ricki Ticki Tembo, Edward Ardizzone books, Peepo, Madeline.

Alice's Expedit

On the top of the Expedit is my childhood print of the Snow Queen, which fascinated me no end with its ethereal queen and her gossamer dress; a little shoe I wore ; Alice’s birth card; and an owl which is too pretty to be a doorstop as intended (I stalked PoK for months until they got this owl back in stock).

On top of the Expedit

On the other side are the most special of my toys. On top are my teddies: Big Ted, a handmade bear; my number one Ted, given to me by my grandma when I was born; and Little Ted, an antique with glass eyes who my Dad bought for me at an antiques fair at the Camberwell Civic Centre when I must have been about five. In the cube underneath are my Humty, Ollyfump (bought by my Dad before I was born), and Yangzom, a doll given to me by His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s sister, Jetsun Pema-la, when we were in India when I was 2. I named her after my ‘Tibetan mother’.

My bears

Here is the reading corner, with my grandma’s TV chair re-upholstered and re-sprung. I love the fabric and even more love how a piece of furniture that I associate so strongly with her has been given a brand new dose of love and will be used by her great-granddaughter. On the floor next to the chair is Barkly, my wooden dog, who has been dragged around hither and thither. Penny the Penguin sits on the side table, bought by us in Sorrento while on holiday.

Our reading chair

Above the reading chair are decals chosen by Alice’s Daddy from 41 Orchard (does anyone else look at a lot of nursery decals and feel a bit sick at the overload of princessy-ness or, in the more hipster stores, owls?), and a print from Etsy (framed in a Target frame – bargain!). I love the sentiment.

Print from Etsy

Alice’s Boori cot was given to us by our ex-neighbour, so is well-loved and teeth-marked but still sturdy! Her pram (a Bugaboo Cameleon that we bought from gumtree.com in as-new condition for 2/3 of the price- score!) is also parked in here (the blanky in it is from here – I totally adore these florals).

Cot

Above the cot are decorations that reflect the same on the other side. The other half of the decal perches above the cot, and an Etsy print with matching font in the same frame heads the bed. The fishy mobile is mine from when I was a child and I love the glassy tinkle it makes in the breeze.

Print from Etsy

Alice won’t use her cot until she’s bigger, so until then it houses some toys including a big bear dressed in a footy jumper that was hand-knitted by Buzz’s aunt in the same pattern she knitted for him when he was born (and yes, I have allowed her to barrack for Daddy’s team), a giraffe from Buzz’s parents, and a bunny from my work colleagues. The teal and white chevron blanket was also knitted by Buzz’s aunt and is just gorgeous. The multi-coloured chevron minky is also from Etsy. The ‘Love’ cushion was handmade for me many years ago by my dear friend Zoe, whose latest venture, Beetle Bug Sleepwear, is utterly adorable handmade children’s sleepwear.

Special toys and bedding

The Boori changetable was a real find on eBay, in almost brand new condition and I was the only bidder. I stalked eBay for weeks waiting for the right thing that wasn’t going to go for a bomb. Who knew furniture that is designed to have babies poo on it would be so expensive?!

The tallboy was a Boori second (a couple of tiny dents!) and holds most of her clothes. The rest are in the cupboard just peeking in in the corner of the picture. A small library of books on birth and parenting are waiting for me to read them … or not.

Tallboy and change table

Over the changetable are Martha Stewart lanterns from the baby shower, and a print (Etsy again) that we displayed at our wedding with lyrics from The Pixies’ classic “La La Love You”. We sing this to each other – sometimes seriously but mostly tongue in cheek!

We also have displayed a little book called “I Like You” which is a poem by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, an excerpt of which was read by my friends during our wedding ceremony. A wedding photo and a beautiful framed print given to us by friends are also on display.

Lanterns over the change table

Naturally Alice couldn’t care less about any of this. Her world at the moment is cuddles, boobies and sleeping, which is all she is meant to do. When she is bigger I want her room to be her own space where she can learn to control her environment, explore whatever she wants, feel safe and have lots and lots of things to do. As much as I have loved making a room full of my memories and lovely things, I want it to become full of her own memories and things she likes. I just hope she keeps it a little bit clean!

Here she is!

At 40+6 and after a barnstorming labour of under 12 hours, we welcomed with some drama and flourish our beautiful daughter Alice Elizabeth, who looks like neither of us but is very much herself!

We are sleep-deprived and in a haze but learning more about each other every day.

Here are some photos from her first week.

Alice’s first cuddle with Daddy – one hour old

Alice sucking her thumb

Thumbsucker. We think those eyes will stay blue. 

Daddy’s shoulder

arms up

She sleeps like me with her arms above her head.

Alice and Mum

pout

This is my pout.

Alice asleep

My favourite picture of my favourite little girl.

 

Baby shower, bits and bobs.

baby shower day at 34+1 weeks. Bunny’s bassinet will live in our room.

Such a lot has happened and yet so little. I’m now almost 36 weeks pregnant, in my first week of maternity leave, and am still completely unable to accept that there is a real baby in that tummy. Surely you go in to labour to prove that you really want a child, and then after a while the midwives just bring in a baby and say “Here’s one we prepared earlier – you can have this one”?

Baby shower day – with the re-covered chair. Last time I’ll be wearing heels for a while too!

I feel like little has happened because I’ve spent the last few months slowly marking small things off lists, none of them amazingly important but all of them necessary. A good example is the photo above – was it worth reporting that I had my grandma’s chair re-covered (v happy btw), bought and built and Expedit, and framed some prints? Not really, but each activity required research, reconnoissance,  a number of visits and at least some swearing. It took time and energy but each was really a bit boring. Together, however, they all add up to something a bit prettier.

The photo above was taken just before my baby shower, which was generously hosted by my sister and sister-in-law. It was a just lovely afternoon with lots of friends and family, champagne (a little less for me) and afternoon tea – a chance to have some girl time and chats before I am swamped with nappies and various bodily expulsions (from Bunny, natch).

The afternoon tea set up.

This is the afternoon tea table above (taken from a poor angle!). You can see some of the lanterns I used (I placed myself in charge of decorations so I could re-use them in the nursery!) – I chose three styles from pinkfrosting.com.au and also used some gorgeous Martha Stewart paper chains (all pictures from Pink Frosting):

Pink polka dot lantern.

Blue butterfly lantern.

Sweet Lucy lantern (love this one).

Martha Stewart paper chains.

All of these will find new life in Bunny’s bedroom – I can occasionally be thrifty!

And here’s a better view of the tea table – instant diabetes.

The little flags, cupcake tower and table runner were also from Pink Frosting.

It was a real treat to just mingle, chat, catch up and spend time with so many dear people. It was the perfect way to mark the beginning of a new phase of life, even if I was mortified to learn that my belly measured 122cm in girth! There were also some amusing names mooted in the ‘guess the arrival date/weight/sex/name’ game – should I be concerned that ‘Bruce’ was mentioned twice?!

People were also wonderfully thoughtful and generous with gifts for Bunny (and some for me too!) – the thank you cards are on their way! It was very touching to receive such special things and the Bunny is a lucky baby indeed.

So the next few weeks … anything from 1 to 5 weeks and that’s it! I’m so close to term and will try to enjoy and rest during this quite strange holiday. I am powering through my To Do list while I have the energy, while keeping my (swollen) feet elevated.

Oh no she didn’t.

Oh yes she did.

When she actually just popped out to Big W to get a stray security tag removed from a boring breastfeeding singlet.

Jason Wu for Melissa ‘Jean’ in navy.

Linky . See how it looks like grosgrain?

Actually quite a lot more nude than beige in real life.

And if The Bunny turns out to be a girl, she’s getting a pair of these ASAP: