Looking back to ‘D’ day

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Home…after a long day!

I thought now would be a good time to look back to the 24 hours that changed our lives. It’s been about 12 months and it’s still fresh enough that I can be subjective, yet long ago enough that I can be more objective!

Amelia arrived exactly two weeks earlier than her due date. Something I was not really expecting but was a pleasant surprise. From the time we were given my EDD (estimated delivery date) we added two weeks to it. Term can mean anything from 37-42 weeks, and many people we knew had been overdue. So we decided to plan for 42 weeks and anything sooner would be a bonus. As such I had considered what I would want to happen should she still not have arrived by the time they would be looking to offer an induction of labour.

I tried to avoid spending too much time thinking about the actual delivery and how it might pan out. It was difficult to imagine that day arriving and it going smoothly. This was simply based on the experience that I’d had as a doctor, and that (in the UK anyway) we very little involvement in straightforward pregnancies and deliveries. This role being undertaken by all the excellent midwives out there. As such the births I had witnessed tended to be more complicated, protracted and intervention based. There had been many long, drawn out inductions that had failed to produce a satisfactory outcome, and emergency caesareans in the middle of the night for one reason or another. I desperately didn’t want to have a long and complicated delivery. I also wanted as much control over the process as possible. (See here for more about how I chose to retain control over the birth) I lived in hope that the relatively short, easy labours experienced by my own mother and sisters would be an inherited trait, and that I would get lucky and pop Amelia out with ease!

The day before her arrival was a day where I didn’t really stop. My dad and some friends of his were kindly doing some work to lower a big hedge we have. I was assigned to the role of supplying drinks and food. I went over the top – making quiche (not my most successful attempt) and cake. I should have been doing more sitting around with my feet up as I was getting tired. The reason for my continued activity was guilt at them working so hard and me not being able to get involved. I am excellent at garden demolition work! Then as they went to dispose of some of the sawn off branches I took an opportunity to help. I thought I could perhaps just rake up some of the leaves and put them in the bag for waste. It wasn’t too heavy duty and they wouldn’t know, as they’d be gone. So I got to work raking leaves, ending up on my hands and knees, scooping leaves into the bag. A celebratory meal out ensued at the local pub.

It was the early hours of the morning when I woke to use the bathroom, at the same time that had been my usual wake up call for the last three or so months. But this time I couldn’t hold it. Suddenly my pelvic floor had given up on me. It’d been doing so well. Then it dawned on me that perhaps I hadn’t suddenly become incontinent and that maybe this was my waters breaking. Upon inspection it was pinkish, and didn’t have a smell of urine. Excited that I wasn’t incontinent but nervous because I wasn’t sure if it should be pink I woke my husband who called the labour ward for advice. It must’ve been a rare quieter night as they offered for me to come down and get checked over.

We packed my bag into the car and set off to the hospital calmly but with some excitement in the air. After being checked over, confirming that my waters had broken but my cervix wasn’t dilated we were booked in to be reassessed should contractions not start, and sent home to wait it out. If the contractions started we should let them know when they were regular, strong and I was having about 3 every 10 minutes. Off we went. As we left the hospital I began to get what felt like period cramps, which were completely bearable. We stopped via the McDonalds drive-thru that we passed on our way home. This was an inspired move that would get us through the next 12 hours! On reaching home I took a Paracetamol and tried to sleep. But as the time passed, quickly, the cramps began to come more regularly and intensely. By 7am I was out of bed and hunched over my gym ball. We had only got home at 4.30am. By 8am I was finding them really uncomfortable and they were coming thick and fast. We decided it was time to return to the hospital. The husband went to fit the car seat in whilst I tried to shower. I am not entirely certain why this seemed a good idea. I spent quite a bit of time knelt in the shower wondering how I’d get back out and dressed! But I did and we set back off to the hospital. This time the journey wasn’t as laid back. The 15 minute journey seemed to take forever, and we could only think about reaching there and being told that I wasn’t that far along, and being sent home to wait longer.

At the labour ward waiting area I clung to a rail and tried to act cool in front of heavily pregnant women who weren’t in labour. I didn’t want them to see what labour looked like! Again we waited for what seemed like an eternity for a midwife. We had chosen to use the midwife led birth centre. The rooms were not set up like a delivery suite. There was no bed, just some beanbags on the floor and some kind of swing-type thing. I changed into a nightie and then proceeded to hunch over a beanbag, where I would spend the next few hours! Our midwife asked about pain relief and I was tempted to ask for anything and everything. The husband suggested we start with gas and air. A part of me wanted to beat him up for suggesting this when I desired something stronger to erase the pain I was feeling. Again, looking back it was a good choice because the labour continued to progress quickly. At admission I was 5cm dilated. The midwife came in and out. By around 12.30 things were getting to be unbearable. I had the overwhelming feeling that I needed to poo. I can only describe it as having the worst tummy bug ever mixed with irritable bowel syndrome. The midwife returned and was, I think, in slight disbelief that I could be close to the 2nd stage as it’d only been 2 hours thereabouts since I was 5cm dilated. We, too, were unconvinced I could be anything more than 7-8cm having been taught that it is 1cm an hour. We had prepared for it to be 3pm before I’d be close to pushing. However, re-examining me I was fully dilated. So she let me start pushing. I was still on a beanbag on the floor, and spent an hour with the three of us on the floor willing this baby to get out! I was pushing as hard as I could and trying to make the most of the moments between contractions when I could have a little respite. It got to a point where the midwife injected me with some local anaesthetic, preparing to perform an episiotomy, when her and my husband willed me to make one last really, really big push, and finally her head popped out. The came the shoulders and suddenly a baby was plopped on my chest, crying loudly. I was in a state of shock and relief! She’d arrived, and the pain suddenly subsided!

Everything from that moment on was so much better. I needed some stitches, and the place looked a bit like a crime scene from blood but who cared! The gas and air worked well to tolerate the stitches, along with some local anaesthetic.

I had a really good birth. It was a positive experience and made me realise that it is possible to have a straightforward labour. Yes the tear was painful and problematic for a little while afterwards but I didn’t expect to get through the delivery without one. I am so thankful that it progressed quickly, but glad I was able to keep as mobile for as long as possible, since I think this helped it move along. I was also glad to not need any big cannulas and needles. Don’t get me wrong – had the labour taken much longer I would’ve accepted anything on offer and probably opted for an epidural. We opted for an early discharge, so by bedtime we were home again, and a family of three. Life has not been the same since, but is wonderful!

How was your birth experience? Was it what you expected or hoped for?

Amelia turns 1!

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This week we will celebrate Amelia’s first birthday. It is hard to believe that she is really that old and that a year has passed by already. Yet it also seems like she has been in our lives for a lot longer. Thinking back to a year ago, when she was still comfortably tucked up my tummy, we had no idea what she would look like or what kind of character she would be.

These 12 months have passed by in a whirlwind of sleepless nights, feeding marathons, developmental leaps and milestones, laughter and a love we have never known before. Our life would be far less exciting without her. Watching her personality unfold and develop has been our favourite part of the journey by miles.

Amelia is good-natured and on the most part laid back. She can fall down in excitement and gets right back up, giggling as she goes. She dances, and practices her singing (don’t get me wrong – if mummy and daddy’s vocal skills are anything to go by you wont be seeing her on the X-factor or the voice anytime soon). She happily embraces new people, and is learning to share her food (not always welcome) and toys (slowly but she’s trying!). She can now sign for milk when that’s what she wants. She can say a word here and there (mama and dada are the most recognisable) and she is working on others – dog, all gone, yes, and other essentials! She loves bath time, but bedtime not so much! When you go to get her after she’s been sleeping she greets you with a huge smile, and often bouncing up and down excitedly. She is energetic and hilarious. She laughs at seemingly inane things.

How is Amelia doing? She is crawling at the speed of light, cruising proficiently and letting go on occasions. She is clearly thinking about taking her first steps but is not quite brave enough yet! She loves to feed herself and is great at picking food with her fingers. However the use of a spoon is still a little hit and miss, and requires some ducking and diving on our part! She can use a Sippy cup, and is working on sipping from a Doidy cup. This often results in a soaking wet Amelia and anyone else within close proximity. She loves to wave hello and goodbye, and in the right mood claps her hands together. She enjoys reading her books and turning the pages, and generally emptying boxes of toys or books. She is more destructive than constructive when it comes to making towers!

There have definitely been moments of frustration, mostly fuelled by exhaustion. The early days brought hours of cluster feeding from 10pm onwards for 2-3 hours. The worry of getting the breastfeeding established was stressful and at times I was desperate to give up and give her bottles. It was annoying when she decided, overnight it seemed, to quit bottles when she was 4 months old and I was responsible for all feeds, day and night. Weaning was fun yet it has made me feel like I need an extra 3 hours in the day to accommodate this sometimes lengthy and messy process. The amount of time I spend doing laundry has tripled since Amelia arrived, and I should probably have part ownership of the company that produces Vanish, since we get through so much of it. Who knew carrots, sweet potatoes, etc. could stain clothes so much and be so stubborn to remove. Don’t even get me started on Weetabix and it’s magical ability to stick to clothes and remain stuck despite said item being spun around a washing machine! Nappy changes started out as a delicate process, and though relatively mild smelling the poops were sticky and also excellent at staining clothes. Again, I have never spent so much time soaking clothes. I now have a dedicated bowl for soaking baby clothes in Vanish and washing detergent. I have also found a use for my out of date bicarbonate of soda! I never knew how much effort babies put into pooping, even when not constipated. I also never believed I could find it so heart-breaking to see another individual constipated! And who knew prunes tasted so good and sweet! Another thing to note about nappy changes is the way in which babies seem to have a natural talent for pooping immediately after you have changed a nappy. My lesson learnt – always wait five minutes or so as often more poop is produced after the first go. Yet always be on guard for a poo-losion. They happen, and resemble Vesuvius erupting!

Amelia’s first birthday will be spent on holiday, with mummy and daddy, having fun. It will be the perfect way to end our first year as a family of three, and enter the next stage – the toddler years!

A new S.E.T. of challenges – Sleep, Eat, and Teethe!

Once upon a time Amelia’s (and our) routine was ‘Sleep Eat Poop Repeat’. This was a rapidly cycling process occurring several times per day. We have progressed from this to what I like to call the S.E.T. cycle – Sleep Eat Teethe – which are longer cycles of changing habits with respect to these areas. In all honesty I think it’s the teething that causes the others to cycle between being really good and truly awful!

 

Teething is now easily recognisable by the ‘symptoms’ Amelia displays when a new tooth or two is considering popping through. The obvious feature is the dribbling, and need to chew anything within reaching distance – food, toys, furniture, knees, whatever isn’t a specific teething toy really. Her sleep becomes extremely disrupted, and her eating habits altered. Her behaviour also changes – she is more clingy, whingey and at times does what I could only describe as throwing a tantrum (which at 11 months old leaves me worried about what the terrible twos might hold). All of which leads to a really difficult period of time until the troublesome tooth causes a whitening of the gum. The actual popping through doesn’t seem to cause much bother!

 

The change in sleeping habits is one of the hardest. I know I go on about the sleep a lot but it really is one of the hardest aspects of parenting that I have found, on a personal level. I have never enjoyed night shifts, and once comfortably asleep have not tended to wake in the night. So being rudely awoken in the early hours by loud crying is a challenge! Especially now I am back at work. The feeling of waking at 4am, wondering how long you will be up for, and that your alarm is set for 7am (cutting it a little fine to get us all up and dressed and out of the house but I can’t bring myself to set it for earlier) is pretty miserable. We have cycled through so many sleep habits in her nearly 12 months of life. The early days of feeding every couple of hours, the treat of a six hour run of continuous sleep, the dream of 12 hours of straight sleeping for Amelia, to the cycles of teething. During these times she wakes again in the night, once or twice and for variable lengths of time. They can be up to two hour stretches where she seems wide awake and ready to play. She just doesn’t understand why mummy or daddy doesn’t want to get up and play too, and why they are so grumpy with her. These stretches can start at any time of the night. Part of the frustration is the difficulty we had trying to get her to go to sleep in the first time. I remember a period when she was struggling to stay awake much beyond 6.30pm. Now, she shows signs of tiredness but just wont go to sleep. It can be 8-9pm before she finally drifts off. Getting to this point has usually involved milk, reading with her, her climbing over us and trying to dive head first on to the floor, lots of rocking, and pacing the bedroom with her in our arms, trying to get her to go down in the cot (and stay down). It has involved her sitting and then standing up in the cot a number of times and being laid back down, and then patting her rhythmically whilst singing to her. This may then be repeated from the start again. I admit that one night I even left her to cry it out and just went in every few minutes to lie her back down and remind her it’s bedtime. She will have had medicine to try and relieve the pain of teething. It is really tough, when looking back just a few months she was a dream to put to bed. It was a simple matter of putting her down, often awake, with her comforter and leaving her to fall asleep by herself with no drama. I think her ability to stand herself up has been one of the big contributing factors because now she automatically rolls on to her front and pushes herself up. She has learnt to get herself back down again now, because previously she would cry out because I don’t think she was sure how to get herself back into a good sleeping position again.

 

When she’s teething mealtimes can become quite a battle too. She becomes very disinterested in food. She’s never been a big eater, and it’s a lot of time and effort to build up her appetite for food. It’s not that she wont try food – she’s actually very good at trying new flavours, and is really good at eating savoury foods and vegetables. She’s done a lot better since working on her fine motor skills and being able to use her thumb and forefingers to pick foods up herself. On a good day she can polish off a three-course dinner (of sorts!), but when she is teething she might eat a few spoonfuls or a couple of sticks of vegetable before deciding to ‘wipe’ her tray table clean and let us know that she is done for that meal. Again it becomes frustrating, because of the worry that she’s not eating enough. I know that she is getting plenty of nutrition from her milk but it still seems a bit concerning.

 

The ‘tantrums’ are hard work. It’s not easy trying to get things done when you have a clingy baby. But I would rather this than the Amelia that doesn’t want to be held, but at the same time doesn’t want to be put down. She is screaming because you are holding her, and then if you dare try to put her down she throws herself about on the floor screaming. It’s at this point that I reach for the medicine and cause even more drama by trying to convince her to take it. But I can only believe that it’s pain that makes her behave this way. I guess if I could throw myself around screaming if I was in pain, then I would!

 

The best bit about these times is that they do go away. They’re just phases that last a couple of weeks and ease off again. They are just so frustrating at the time as there’s not a great deal that you can do. They’re part and parcel of her growing up, and it’s always lovely when the tooth finally pops through because it’s just another step forward in her development. I guess it’d be more fun if she were like some other babies who’s parents report that they don’t teethe and new teeth just pop through without any trouble!

 

I would really like peoples opinions on the best ways to manage teething, and thoughts on amber beads to help. I have had mixed feedback as to whether they really work or not. Also, any thoughts on managing her sleep, now she tends to stand up when we try to put her down, would be much appreciated.

 

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Happy Mother’s Day!

IMG_9946Happy Mother’s Day to all the mummies out there! Today’s my first Mother’s Day. I can safely say it was not a wild or fabulous day but a typical Sunday!

Much like my birthday, Amelia started the celebrations extra early by waking at 3.15am. Then to make it even more fun having a dirty nappy, which as I changed it by candlelight (or something similar but more modern) she decided to have a mini meltdown. It led to a pooey nappy hanging off her, poo stuck to her bottom and me trying to save the situation before she sat up onto my beige carpet and used that, rather than a wipe, to clean her up. Anyway, once she went back to sleep I luckily got a lie in as Daddy kindly attended to her once she decided morning had arrived at 6am. The rest of the day was fairly straightforward with a long morning nap, a trip to the shops and then a tour of the major A-roads in the area after she fell asleep in the car. We went off to swimming, which she loved today. To round the day off we had dinner with the grandparents, where she alternated between happiness and tiredness in fairly rapid cycles. If only she could appreciate that a good night’s sleep might prevent such excessive tiredness in the day! But her current sleeping habits are a separate topic for discussion. I wanted to use this opportunity to celebrate being a mum, and how we are all different, with very different little ones!

I can safely say that no two babies seem to be the same. You can’t divide them into girls and boys and presume girls behave one way, and boys another. What works for some mums doesn’t work for others, and some tips that we receive are invaluable! Parenting is not easy, but somehow you just pick up the skills as you go along with little or no training. As many books or websites that you read, you will always develop your own style that takes on board your hopes, needs and beliefs, and your baby’s personality.

I have taken advice over the last year, and in all honesty I don’t remember where which tip came from. So I decided to go back to some of my close relatives who are going through their own parenting experiences, but a bit further down the road, to ask them a few questions. I asked them about the best advice they were given when starting out, what advice they would pass on, and what their best time as a parent has been so far. One thing that cropped up again and again was to enjoy every last minute because they grow up so quickly. Most of the mums said their favourite bits were the all little things that happened – impromptu and funny.

My sister’s best piece of advice from our mum was a very practical one – always raise the head of the cot when they’ve got a cold. Mum always used a towel apparently. Her advice to me was to go with the flow because you can’t assume both kids will be the same. She said her favourite times have been watching them grow and all of the funny things they do. Her top highlights included questioning the older daughter about who wrote on her dining table. Emily explained that it was Sophie. My sister then questioned why Sophie would choose to practice writing Emily’s name then. (Always blame it on the younger one – that’s my advice as a sister!) She also found potty training Emily was tough as Sophie had just become proficient at crawling. She once found Sophie just about to scoop Emily’s freshly produced poo out of the potty. Yikes!

My sister-in-law said the best piece of advice is to never get tired of nagging. Instil boundaries and stick to them without fail. Her best times are the little looks and impromptu cuddles her boys give her. I can confirm that youngest son is very good at the ‘look’, which he gives along with the phrase “love you mummy”. It’s pretty cute!

My cousin felt that the best bit of advice was that there is no right or wrong way of parenting. There is no magical parenting manual and everyone is making it up as they go along. Her advice was to love unconditionally, sleep when you can and ignore the competitive mums! She also advised that we stop and smell the flowers along the way! Although there are a million best moments, she thought that maybe the highlight so far should be that they are all still alive and two have even made it to the teens so far!

I think the best advice I have received so far was creating a bedtime routine early on and trying to stick to it. I would certainly pass this advice on, along with the advice that you can only do your best. Do not beat yourself up if things don’t go as you expected, particularly with breastfeeding. If you want to breastfeed then give it a go, but it’s ok if you find it tough, need help, or decide it’s not working for you. Finally, you will know your baby best. You will spend many days, and nights, with this little being. You will come to know them better than anyone else and, as such, your instincts should always guide you. You will come to know what cry means what, what they need, and you will recognise if something is wrong. As a doctor I always listen to a mother’s concerns. I may have only met their little one a couple of minutes ago. Mummy knows them inside out!

 

I really hope you have had a lovely Mother’s Day, however you have spent the day. If you have any advice to share or little anecdotes about the best times you’ve had with your little ones I would love to know!