It's amazing how much your life changes when you have a baby. It sounds like such a cliche but it really is incredible. Little things that you assumed would go on as normal literally change 360 degrees. Simple tasks like making a sandwich can take up to an hour (please note this is not an exaggeration and one day it actually took me six different trips to the kitchen to actually put the sandwich together. Every time I would leave Billy in his bouncer and walk away he would cry just as I reached the kitchen. I eventually sat down on the couch with the baby latched on to my boob feeding away and tried to eat the sandwich with the other hand that I wasn't using to support him. What resulted was my sandwich falling apart and Billy with lettuce on his head. But Billy really enjoyed his lunch...).
But life really does change for the better, hour long sandwich constructions and all. It's just the most incredible feeling in the world. I remember my aunt trying to explain it to me one day and she really did describe it very well when she said it's like you're floating on a cloud for those first few days. Even if you're in pain for whatever reason, you're sleep deprived, and you feel like you haven't a clue what you're doing and how you will look after this perfect human being properly, you just feel this unbelievable surge of love, protection and gratitude to be in this position. It is profound really. I'll never be able to put it in to words (but she'll try says you!).
I think this is a bit of a bullet-point type of post because there are quite a few things that I'd like to touch on and I don't want to write a book about it or bore you all to tears. Here are some of the things that I have noticed about these first few weeks as a first time mother.
- I think it is important that women be prepared for the fact that they may not feel great in the hospital or when they leave. While it's an incredible 'out of this world' type of happiness, sometimes it can be hard to really enjoy every single moment if you're in a lot of pain. The amazing thing about becoming a mother, and the whole notion of giving birth, is that the mother doesn't actually have any time to really look after herself and heal after the birth because she immediately has to care for a newborn baby. This is something that completely took me by surprise. I was on such a high after I had Billy. I had loads of visitors that night and I was just so excited showing them my pride and joy. My beautiful son. I felt prouder than I've ever felt. I felt no pain at all and I just felt extreme happiness. People kept commenting on how great I was to be moving around and how well I looked. I couldn't believe that after all that I had gone through I didn't feel an ounce of pain whatsoever. But the next morning... oh dear lord. I woke up feeling absolutely awful. Turns out the night before I was completely full of pain relief. The good stuff. I had been given a diphene suppository straight after the birth and I didn't even know. The midwife kept referring to the Diphene I had after the birth and I kept thinking she was mad because I knew I didn't take any tablets, and then I realised what suppository meant. For anyone who doesn't know? They put that bad boy up your bum. Something to do with it being the place in your body where the bloodstream absorbs the pain relief most quickly and efficiently. Sexy! The next morning everything down "there" hurt so bad, stung so bad, and just felt... broken. I don't know how else to describe it. I don't want to put a negative spin on the amazing experience of having a baby, but I cried so much from day 2-5 (some of that were the baby blues, which I'll get to). I was in so much pain for a lot of reasons but mainly due to the stitches and the internal bruising that is often associated with a forceps delivery. This really took me by surprise. I remember lying in the hospital bed and Billy was crying and it took me so long to actually manouvre out of the bed. I found this really distressing and I could feel myself getting panicky but thankfully a midwife was never far away. So remember ladies, labour is a huge undertaking and what our bodies go through is quite extreme, so just expect that you won't feel 100% after it. Take all the pain relief they offer you in the hospital and look after yourself when you get home. I was prescribed two week's worth of diphene tablets as well as paracetamol which I had to make sure I took to keep the pain at bay.
- Sometimes things don't always go to plan. As mentioned in my birth story, I had always wanted to have a natural birth and that didn't happen. But in the end my baby was delivered to me safely and that's all that matters. I found the birth quite traumatic and in those first few days and weeks I had moments where I would get a bit upset thinking about how it all happened. It kind of hit me in stages throughout each day and I would relive it all in my head. When it all happened I was feeling high on life (and gas and air) but bit by bit it all began to hit me. Thankfully these feeling passed and I don't have those flashbacks anymore (I do still cry though when I hear two songs that I associate with Billy's birth. One is "stay with me", the Ed Sheerin version, and the other one is "all of me" by John Legend). My advice would be to speak about your feelings and make peace with your birth experience and just look at that beautiful face looking back at you and you'll realise that you would literally do ANYTHING to bring this baby safely in to the world.
- The "baby blues" are very real. It's not just some quirky thing people say. I think that they say to expect them around day 3 and mine arrived a little earlier. I'm sure it's different for everyone, but for me it meant being suddenly so extremely emotional. I was crying constantly, but not in a sad way. It's hard to put it in to words but it's almost as if you're so profoundly overwhelmed with love, happiness and a bit of shock that you don't know where to situate all of the emotions and what manifests are many tears. It is such an emotional time. I remember Billy was 1 day old and I already had this intense need to protect him. I remember lying there feeling sad thinking about how one day he will feel sadness and pain as he goes through life. I felt a bit mad for having these thoughts but it is all very normal and expected. They are so tiny and helpless and you will have the most intense feelings of love for them. You already want to shield them from anything negative in the world. Also just think about all the hormones floating around your body, they're bound to make you feel emotional. The good thing is that the more intense feelings pass after a couple of days, and the baby blues will run their course. The main thing is to watch out for signs of this feeling lingering on for weeks and months as it may be developing in to post-natal depression and you will need to speak to your PHN or GP. Do not suffer in silence.
- Breastfeeding is hard. I'm not sure if I mentioned this but I am breastfeeding Billy and I felt very strongly about doing this. I really really wanted it to work. It's a personal decision and it's not for everyone but I really wanted to do it. While breastfeeding is natural, convenient, and not to mention free, it can also be quite challenging. My advice would be not to give up when it feels tough, or like it's not going well. You can almost be guaranteed that you will feel like this at some point. Billy is five weeks now and we still have our challenges but if you want something bad enough you will persevere and make it work. When Billy was in the special care unit he was bottle fed, and because he was pale and showing signs of infection it was recommended to me that they give him formula while I was waiting for my milk to "come in". They wanted to make sure he was getting enough and they could measure formula. Once he was discharged from that unit I started trying again and he just wouldn't "latch on". For anyone who doesn't know, this is the term used to describe how the baby attaches his mouth to the nipple. It's an instinctive thing usually done for the first time at birth as they naturally know to do it. We didn't get to do it at birth though as he was immediately taken away to be checked over and have tests by a paediatrician due to his low heart rate and the nature of how he was delivered. I think the problem with his latch stemmed from him being bottle fed in those first few days, even though at the same time I kept trying. With bottle feeding, babies don't have to do much work to get the milk. The bottles are fast flowing and the milk comes easily. With breastfeeding, babies have to do a bit more work and latch on correctly, bring the milk "down" and make sure they are attached properly in order to get enough milk. Little Billy seemed to know there was an alternative and therefore didn't want to latch on. The cheeky little thing. I was beginning to think that it was a lost cause and then we found our answer. A nipple shield! This is basically a silicone cover that you place over your nipple and it makes it a bit easier for the baby. It probably feels more like a bottle to them, it's easier to latch on, and it also protects your nipples which is an added bonus. In our case nipple shields are exactly what we needed and we continue to use them very successfully. I have two different brands, Avent and Nuk. Both are very good and work well for us. I have a handle little carrier for them and I sterilise them in a microwave steriliser which works well. You can buy these in any pharmacy and they are usually located where the soothers are. My advice to anyone who wants to breastfeed is to really persevere through the obstacles because it really is the absolute best thing you can do for your baby. It has been scientifically proven that breastmilk has so many more benefits than formula and you're giving your baby the best start in life. I also know that it doesn't work for everyone, particularly with busy lifestyles and other children, but if you can then why not give it a go? I know several people who actually didn't plan to even try but it turned out to be handy for them and they love it now. As I said above, we still have our tough days but that's normal. Learning to be confident breastfeeding in public can be difficult but if your baby is screaming to be fed you will put your own feelings aside and you'll do what is right for your baby. I'm currently researching breastfeeding support groups in my area and I plan to attend one soon because there is always more that we can learn, and I want to breastfeed successfully for as long as I possibly can. Some nights can be tough because breastfed babies go through growth spurts where they want to feed for hours and hours on end. This called 'cluster feeding' and is actually an important part of the process as the baby is telling your body to produce more milk when he gets bigger and needs more in the coming weeks. Isn't that amazing?
- Just embrace the change. Things change so much when you have a baby. For example, when I was pregnant I always loved having a tidy house and I was always cleaning and tidying, almost obsessively sometimes. This has totally changed! I don't know what planet I was living on when I thought that having a baby and having a clean house were easily achievable. I kind of thought everything would just be the same in that regard. How wrong was I? Babies are very demanding and these days I just about get to do the essentials to keep the house afloat. He'll fall asleep after a feed and I will jump up to unpack the dishwasher, or chop some veg for the dinner, or stick a wash on. Basically keeping the house ticking over. This is a far cry from the days I would have the time to clean the house from top to bottom before lunch and still have the whole day to relax. I've had to just accept that having a spotless house is not the priority, and looking after and spending time with my baby is what really matters.
- You'll surprise yourself at how little sleep you can actually survive on. Some nights I have only gotten 1-2 hours sleep yet I've still managed to function quite well the next day. You'll be able to function and look after your baby because you have to. Simple as. I remember before I had the baby I would be exhausted if I didn't get 6-8 hours sleep before work. Us ladies must have a switch that goes off when we have a baby that allows us to manage well on lack of sleep. Having said all that, sleep deprivation is very tough and when it's 5am and you still haven't slept your mind goes can go a bit demented. Don't be afraid to ask your friends and family for help if you need it. Also drink plenty of water and make sure you are eating enough to keep your energy levels high.
- "Sleep when baby sleeps". Please see points above. Totally easier said than done. This is generally the only time I have to eat something or do something around the house. But if you can manage it then do!
- Do what works for you. There is so much advice out there and you will hear conflicting opinions about so many issues. My advice would be to listen to everything and try to find what works best for you. You may not realise it, but your gut feeling us usually right.
- Public health nurses are great! You will be assigned a PHN when you leave the hospital and she will come and visit you in your house a few days after. She'll weigh the baby, give you some tips, and answer any questions you might have. She will give you her number and if you have any questions you can call her and get some help and advice. For example, a few days ago Billy started getting these little spots on his face and I got panicked thinking it was an allergic reaction to antibiotics I am on. A quick call to the PHN (and eventually a visit) and she confirmed that it was nothing to worry about and was the very normal "baby acne" which many babys get in the first few weeks due to hormonal changes. I didn't even know baby acne or PHN's existed. So there you go! Avail of the help and advice available to you.
- Enjoy every moment. Everyone says this but time really does fly by and Billy has already changed so much since he was born. I'm enjoying every moment with him. They are the most incredible little gifts that you will ever receive, and before you know it they will be going to school in their little school uniform and you'll wonder where your baby went. (So I've heard)
Those are the main things that come to mind when I look back and think about the last 5 weeks. Every single day brings new challenges and milestones. You'll wonder what you did with your days before the baby arrived. I feel like he's been here forever. The love you have for your baby is just out of this world. It's 6am now and I'm sitting up feeding Billy, and I'm looking at his little face still in utter disbelief that I am the lucky person who gets to be his mammy.
Until next time, here are some recent photos.