Motherhood - not for sissies

Motherhood - not for sissies

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Friends for sale

When you get pregnant there is a 'to do list' that is pretty much the same for everyone:

  • Make GP and midwife appointment
  • Start researching ridiculously priced prams
  • Start discussing names with your significant other - usually met with a 'nope, don't like that, he was a knob at school' response to every name you like.
  • Worry about, and google every tiny thing that you can think of that may happen during your pregnancy, and finally,
  • Sign up to an NCT class

Historically, antenatal classes were provided by the midwives at the local hospital, along with an abundance of other classes such as 'parentcraft' and the like. I remember my sister, 20 years ago now, attending a class or two every week when she was pregnant. Now, if you wish to attend the NHS classes your choice (although dependent on where you live) is:

  • A two hour antenatal class
  • Breastfeeding class
  • Back pain session - one hour
  • Breastfeeding class
  • Session for dads - one hour
  • Breastfeeding class
  • Did I mention breastfeeding class?
So, if like me, and many other first time mums, you want to experience the antenatal classes you think you are missing out on then you have to pay. The 'market leader' of antenatal classes is run by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). I thought it was a charity, so was expecting to pay around £50 or so, boy was I wrong! £250 or so later (paid in three 'handy' installments) The Husband and I were the proud owners of a place on our local NCT class 'september/october babies Egham.' First class - breastfeeding session (!). And lets not pretend I was going to these classes because I felt 'entitled', or that I needed to learn about birth (I was booked for an elective caesarian), or that I needed to learn how to look after a baby, or 'how to be a good parent.' I was going to these classes purely and simply to meet mummy friends, 'purchasing friends' if you like. 

Everyone had an NCT story. My neighbour still meets up with her class 30 years later. My good friend Nicky is close to all of hers, and they have all had their second babies together. My bestie hated hers and never saw them again after the class (she's a bit strange though!!) The Husband's reaction was;

'They'd better not be a bunch of knobs.' 
And I spent many an hour wondering who we would end up with, and hoping that they were not a bunch of knobs..........!!!!!

I think my premmie baby was around 6 or 7 days old when I had the sudden realisation. We'd had a rough couple of days with E, she'd been really sick with sepsis and had stopped breathing many times. We were exhausted, had barely slept, and were now terrified that this tiny foetal baby that we had grown to love was now going to be taken away from us. So why at this point my sudden realisation happened I really do not know. But sitting in the parents room in the neonatal unit (NICU - our new 'home') I suddenly gasped:

'We're going to miss NCT!'

For The Husband this meant nothing. For me it meant everything. 

From then on it was another 'loss', among so many that just added to my bitterness. I couldn't put a finger on why I was so upset. I had friends, and now I had NICU friends. I didn't need more friends. But I was gutted. My counsellor says it's due to expectations. To attend NCT was one of my pregnancy expectations. That, among so many others, had been crushed following the abrupt end to my pregnancy. NCT were great, and refunded me straight away, along with a 'congratulations!' email - another 'congratulations!' lost on me. 

Once home from NICU after 7 weeks NCT was a distant memory as we got on with trying to be a family and look after this (non) newborn. Being home was amazing, and after our two weeks quarantine,  and after several hints and 'encouragement' from the health visitor we started tentatively looking at classes at our local children's centre, in order to start 'mixing' with other mums. The problem with having a premmie and it being the run up to winter is that 'mixing' isn't really an option. The Health Visitor, like nearly the whole 'non-NICU' population, didn't really understand this. We'd had it drilled in to us in NICU that a cold could mean hospitalisation and ventilation - therefore we were now petrified of germs. After ruling out anything that involved toddlers and pregnant people I was left with baby massage, which wasn't the worst thing in the world as I'd wanted to learn some anyway, I had massage oil along with my abundance of 'pregnant purchases', and I wanted to use all these things! 

The Husband took E to the first baby massage as I was preparing a dinner party for 8 people. Yep, I certainly was. I was still at that stage where I believed I could do it all. Well I could actually! We had not been home from NICU long at that point, and looking after E at home was like a walk in the park compared to 12 hour days in NICU, so at that point I absolutely could host a dinner for 8, do night feeds and keep a baby clean and alive! I was invincible.  It's a different story now however! I'm now very much in to 'new mum' mode - wondering when I last straightened my hair and applied make up, and where my next coffee is coming from. Crazy really, given that I can run an emergency department and keep several patients alive (and management off my back!) They don't require me to sing 'the wheels on the bus' repeatedly and talk in a high pitched daft voice though..............

Anyway, we digress. So The Husband took E to the first baby massage, and came home broken. This was the first time we had mixed with 'normal' mums and babies and he had found it really difficult. He had listened to the trials and tribulations of having a newborn, no sleep, crying etc, wishing that we'd had all that stuff to worry about, instead of worrying whether she would survive another night, remember to breathe, and would still be in the same place when we returned to NICU in the morning. E was also the oldest in the class, yet the smallest, and the most like a newborn. While the other babies were wide awake and responsive to their mummies, E was fast asleep for all of it, and wasn't responding to us in the same way at that point. Terrifying when we were constantly worrying how her brain was developing. So after telling me all of this and being quite upset, he then threw in at the end;

'Oh, and they all seem to know each other too, think they must be friends or something.' I knew instantly, and all the bitterness came flooding back;
'They'll be an NCT group,' I spat, overcome by immense jealousy, so I went to dress my table. 

The following week it was my turn to go to baby massage. I was quite nervous, knowing that the mums were all friends, and I was sure they all thought I was a complete weirdo having had a dinner party the week before and therefore not attending (The Husband had kindly told everyone). I was also hungover. I had gone out the night before for the first time since having E, had 3 glasses of wine, and had this horrendous hangover. Clearly my metabolism had changed during pregnancy! So not only did I feel like the world's worst mummy for abandoning baby massage because I had a dinner party to host, I was now hungover! I walked in, with my cabin crew smile fixed on my pale hungover face, and sat down.

The first person to talk to me was the person sitting next to me. A scary 'second time mum' type, also with a 'prem'. He was born at 38 weeks......(!) From then on, all I heard about was her 'prem' baby, and all I wanted to do was squash the complementary cake in her face. I was hopeful that all the mums would be the type of people who I wanted to squash cake in their faces. Of course, it was the complete opposite. The other mums, the 'friend' mums, the NCT mums, were all lovely, and all people I could imagine hanging out with. Every week at the end of the class I could hear them arranging their next meet up, coffee, lunch, walks, and I'd be gutted. Soon I worked out that this group would have actually been my NCT group, this is the group I had signed up to! And I was even more gutted. 

It was at this point isolation was kicking in. We'd been home from NICU a while, so the messages and visitors had dried up.  The Husband was back at work as well as all his other activities. Meeting up with my NICU group was like trying to access Facebook in China - working around colds, germs and hospital visits. So when I got an email at the end of the baby massage course, with the email addresses attached of all the other attendees, I wondered if I was desperate enough to send a group email casually asking to meet up sometime for a coffee. Yep. Of course I was. I cringed when I sent it, but I had nothing to lose.

I lost nothing. I gained 8 friends (16 if you count the babies!)

Now I have my very own 'NCT group.' And guess what. I didn't even have to pay for them!!!! Silver linings and all that.


Sunday, 21 February 2016

Daisy Daisy

Daisy Daisy - my friend at university used to call me that, because she said I looked like the comedian Daisy Donovan and had similar facial expressions. As a care free 20 year old I had no idea that one day I'd be called that again, instead because I'd be milking myself several times a day.

I'd had no breastfeeding versus formula feeding ideals when I was pregnant. I felt quite relaxed about the whole feeding thing. As a formula fed baby myself I knew that it wasn't this big evil devil food that it is made out to be - I had turned out OK! But I was quite open to giving breastfeeding a go, although I'd had a strict word with myself to never get stressed over it. I'd had so many friends who had been truly miserable during those first few weeks, battling with breastfeeding and an inconsolable baby. I was not going to be like that. I was not going to be stressing about milk production. Not me. No way. And then I had a premature baby.

Less than an hour after my 29 weeker was born, having been resuscitated and rushed off to the neonatal unit, me laying on the theatre table amongst this aftermath of chaos, my poor sliced up womb now out on my belly being sewn back together, the neonatal sister burst in; 'Michelle, were you planning to breastfeed? We need to know for the care plan.' My husband and I just looked at each other in bewilderment, each looking to the other for the answer to the question. It was my husband that answered, 'Erm, we think we were going to do a bit of both?' I had no idea at that point the direction that my breastfeeding journey was heading, instead I had images of a tiny baby suckling at my breast the next day!
It starts with the hand expressing. I was shown this technique by about three different midwives until I was shown the correct technique. I managed to get my first lot of colostrum on the second night, 0.5mL if I remember rightly. I felt like a superstar. I still at that point, had no idea about the pump. I had signed the consent for donor milk, which you don't even think twice about, because by this point you know how vital it is that your tiny baby has breast milk. It is only now I sit and think about the donor milk that I feel upset that my baby had another woman's milk in her first few days of life. That was certainly not part of my 'relaxed about feeding' plan. I carried on with the hand expressing for two more days when the neonatal sister mentioned the pump. Because I was so tired from all the medication I was taking, as well as my three litre blood loss, she said she would show me the following day.

The following day we arrived to discover that E had moved from ITU to HDU. Although just two doors down it was like a different world. Different nurses, different babies, different noises and beeps. I felt immediately on edge, as we had just started to settle in to NICU life, and now our routine had changed. I should have felt elated really, E wasn't sick enough for ITU! But now it was all different. I know now that the sullen and stressed nurse who showed me the pump was brand new herself. It was five minutes of 'this is how this goes together, use this setting, turn it up as far as you can manage.' And that was it. I just didn't know better at the time, I really thought that was it, so I just got on with it. I will never 'blame' the nurse for it, but I really think that was one of the main reasons why I always struggled. My milk had 'come in' that day. I think I got about 10 or 20 mLs. I was told that was brilliant, and so I just carried on. It was so painful that first few times, feeling my wounded insides contracting with every pump, I'd often be in tears in the express room.

Expressing every 3 hours, 8 times a day and during the night is really really hard work. In the early days I didn't really take notice of the amounts, I just expressed, almost in a robotic fashion. It wasn't until I was out of that initial NICU 'two week fog' that I started to take notice of what I was actually doing, and also what everyone else was doing, and that's when the 'express stress' began.

The stress starts when you notice the amounts other mums are getting, and then you compare it to your piddly amount in the bottom of the smallest pot. I saw mums with the super duper large pots full to the brim. I also noticed the freezer, jam packed full of milk from the other mums. Why wasn't I getting these amounts? 'Because you are anaemic. Are you eating enough? Are you drinking enough? Are you stressed?' Of course I was stressed, I delivered my baby at 29 weeks, nearly lost her, and now we have to exist in this neonatal unit.........Of course I was stressed, and not eating enough, and not drinking enough. I was also hugely jealous of my husband, who got much longer cuddles and much longer quality time with E, while I was always rushing off to the expressing room.

I started carrying a huge bottle of water around everywhere I went, eating flapjack like it was going out of fashion, smelling like curry due to my intake of fenugreek tablets, and turned the pump up as far as I could possibly manage. Bad move. Doing that results in horrendously cracked and painful nipples, and eventually, mastitis. This meant that when we started encouraging E to latch, it was eye wateringly painful for me. I looked at picture of her while expressing, I expressed by the incubator, I sniffed her blanket like I was told to, I ate a box of 'lactation cookies' sent to me by my lovely friend, but nothing worked.

Twice a week we would get so excited for weigh day, but that excitement then always turned in to anxiety for me. E was doing so well, gaining weight like a trooper, but with every weigh day came an increase in milk requirements, meaning I needed to express more and more, and I was still struggling. My 'personal best' at this point was around 50mL, I was still on the small pot, and it was really upsetting me. My friends talked of a 'let down', of feeling full and empty, but I felt none of these things, and therefore I felt like I must have been doing something wrong.

We continued with the breastfeeding as well as the expressing. E did so well breastfeeding and I was starting to enjoy it, until she decided one day to stop breathing while feeding from me - enough to put a halt to the most successful of breast feeding journeys! I decided then to just concentrate on expressing what I could, and we introduced E to taking the expressed milk from a bottle. She took to it like a dream, and I managed to just about keep up with her milk requirements. I would still put her to the breast occasionally, and I loved it, but was petrified she would stop breathing again.

Once home, and having battled with mastitis twice, nearly resulting in an admission for intravenous antibiotics, I decided to stop expressing. At the time I was excited to stop and feel freedom from the pump, but once stopped I felt really sad. I missed seeing her latched on to me, her little face looking up to mine. But I knew that I couldn't be ill again and look after her, especially now my husband was returning to work. She had breast milk exclusively for nearly 8 weeks, and although I was sad to stop, it is more than I ever imagined I would do when I was pregnant, and for that I'm pretty proud of myself.

This expressing and breastfeeding battle is one felt by many mums of premature babies. Your body isn't expecting to start producing milk so soon, that's the first battle. And then you don't feel all those lovely baby hormones they tell you about, as you have very limited skin to skin time with your tiny baby, and they very rarely latch straight away, so you don't get that natural increase in milk production. You are stressed, confused, bewildered, guilt ridden, tired, and terrified that your baby may not survive. Is it any wonder that so many have difficulties expressing?

I look back and wish I hadn't felt so stressed over expressing, as it seemed to dominate most of my time and thinking during the days in NICU. I also look back and laugh a little, knowing that I went against everything I had felt so strongly about, but how can any best laid plans come to fruition when your baby decides to make an early appearance?!

The Phantom Kick (original blog for The Smallest Things)

The phantom kick. Just when you start to have a good few days, days without flashbacks, days without tears, days believing you are a 'normal' family, and then it happens again. The phantom kick. People keep telling me it is wind. It's not. I know what it is and it kills me every time.

I miss the movements so much because it was something I was never meant to experience - they are also the reason my little girl is alive today.

In November 2014, after 3 painful operations to remove severe endometriosis and a total of 25 sub mucosal fibroids we were told that due to the extreme scarring in my womb lining, along with the rapid regrowth of my fibroids the chances of a fertilised egg implanting were around 0.1% We hadn't really considered or decided if we even wanted a baby until that point, and here we were being told that a surrogate would probably be the sensible choice. We were sent to an adhesion specialist to see what advice he could offer and whether IVF would be worth a shot. In January 2015 I was waiting for day 1 of my cycle so we could begin IVF 1 never came! A determined little bunch of cells had made itself comfortable in my scarred lining!  Although we were permanently on edge during most of the pregnancy, as well as on an abundance of drugs ,as soon as those first movements started it was all so worth it. I could not wait to get snuggled on the sofa each evening, with my hands on my bump feeling and cherishing every headbutt, kick and punch.

And so it seemed incredibly cruel that the universe was to bring my cherished pregnancy to an abrupt end. On the 28th July 2015 my baby was quiet. Breakfast, a coffee, lunch, cold water, fizzy drink and laying on my side did not wake her up. 40 minutes after walking through the doors of the hospital I was in theatre, and half an hour later my baby girl was born via crash section at 29+4weeks gestation. Luckily the skilled anaesthetist had managed an incredibly swift epidural while the theatre staff scrubbed in, so I stayed awake. We did not know at the time, but our baby did not breathe for 8 minutes and her pulse was incredibly low. Once she was stable we heard a small whimper, before she was whisked away to the NICU. It sounds crazy to me now, but once we knew she was alive, and once the atmosphere in the theatre changed to that of relief (the radio went on!), I really thought I'd be taking my baby home in the next few days! I had no idea the journey we were about to embark on, and this is coming from a nurse of 15 years!

Nobody warns you about having a premature baby. As the last in my group of friends to have a baby (and having been a birth partner twice!) I knew all about nightmare births, forceps, meconium, stitches, c-section recovery, breast feeding troubles, yet I knew nothing about premature babies. Surprising really, given that two of my friends had walked their own NICU journey. One of the NICU nurses came in to ask if I had planned to breastfeed while I was still open with my insides showing on the theatre table! We didn't know! We hadn't even been to NCT class yet! And that was the beginning of the surreal NICU journey we had suddenly found ourselves on.

I can't really remember the first time I saw my baby in the NICU, no matter how hard I try. I vaguely remember being told that all her initial scans were normal, and that she had 6 toes! She also had an incredibly swollen leg where they had struggled so much to get her out. It was thought for a small amount of time that she may lose the leg, we didn't care, we just wanted her to survive. The strongest feeling I remember is that I just didn't know her. I didn't know who this tiny foetal like baby was, they kept telling me she was mine, but how could she be? My baby was still inside me. All of my expectations of that 'huge rush of love' were among many of my expectations which were now crushed. I felt nothing but shock, fear, guilt and that I had been robbed of my pregnancy. I could not understand why nobody seemed to understand me and how I felt. I kept getting told 'yes but she's here and she's safe.' I could also not understand why I kept getting cards through the door with 'congratulations' adorning the front, when in my head there was nothing to be rejoicing about.

Once out of ITU and in to HDU, and having battled RDS, sepsis, reflux, apneas and bradycardias, we soon fell in to NICU life. Twelve hour NICU days soon became the daily routine of express, feed, cares, consultant round, feed, express, coffee break, feed, express, lunch break, afternoon visiting, express, and then try to go home without my baby yet again. This is perhaps one of the hardest things, to leave your baby in the hospital. It never got easier, not once in 46 days.

Bizarrely on the day we were due to take our baby home, the day we'd spent 7 weeks dreaming of, I was so upset! We had become institutionalised, and this NICU life was our new 'norm'. The thought of going it alone at home was terrifying! Luckily E has made it incredibly easy for us. She is an amazing baby, and each day I am totally in awe of her, and everything she has battled through. I can't bear it when people say in jest 'it's a hard life!', when they see her sleeping peacefully with a tummy full of milk. Yes it was a hard life for her, and look how amazing she is!

I don't think our NICU memory will fade just yet, we are currently battling through our first winter, terrified that she will get a cold bad enough that will hospitalise her, and every milestone reached sees us breathe a huge sigh of relief. I still have my own internal battles to fight too. The flashbacks and negative feelings have reduced slightly, but we still have a way to go. The hospital have been great, and have provided counselling for us so we can work through our feelings. And I hope that sometime soon those phantom kicks will disappear.

Since discovering 'The Smallest Things' things are a little easier. Reading the blogs has helped no end, and I love to see the great work that is being done. It makes me quite passionate about prematurity awareness and supporting other NICU mums as best as I can. A colleague of mine has recently had her baby at 23 weeks, and suddenly I knew I could turn my experience in to something positive, by supporting her as much as I can.

NICU makes you a different parent I think, all the small things are indeed small things, not worth getting stressed about. The fact that she breathes, eats, smiles and moves is good enough for us! If she cries through the night, so what?! We are incredibly lucky that  she can. If she clings to me all day and won't be put down, so what?! I have a lot of cuddles to make up for. We continue our life like we did in the NICU, one day at a time, each day is a new blessing and our house is full of love, kisses and incredible gratitude.


Seven months ago I had a baby. I did not plan to have a baby seven months ago. I planned to have a baby four and a half months ago. My baby came eleven weeks early. I know that I am not alone, and that there are so many mummies trying to deal with prematurity, yet it can sometimes feel like the loneliest place in the world. 

After discovering an organisation called 'The Smallest Things' I started reading blogs from other parents with premature babies, and suddenly I realised that I was not alone, nor was I alone in my thoughts, as I battled to get through each day without a flash back, or tears, or guilt, or helplessness. Soon I wrote blogs of my own and it helped! It helped me to make sense of what had happened and what I was feeling. It also helped others! I was delighted to read comments from other mums saying they had felt the same, the same things had happened to them, or that my writing had simply made them feel better. My friends who do not have premature babies also said it helped them, that they understood a little more of what happened, that it made them think differently about what and what not to say to me. And so here we are. My very own blog. 

It's for me really. To help with my recovery and to help me to move on. But if it can help others in the way 'The Smallest Things' has helped me then I will be thrilled. It may also, at times, stray away from prematurity, which, when trying to move on, is no bad thing.

So welcome, and thank you for your support.

Love Michelle xxx