This Time Last Year

I remember the way I felt this time last year. The way the air felt, the white noise of something mechanical humming at night (I still can’t figure out what it is), the way the lights across the city seemed crisper… It all reminds me, like the most wonderfully enchanting memory. There is no doubt in my mind that I’m remembering with rose-tinted glasses. But I know for a fact, also, that I remember that the person I was before Reuben was born felt a kind of excitement, naivety and apprehension that I’m scared I will never feel again.

The selfie I took before heading to the hospital to be induced.

I remember feeling dreadfully uncomfortable, completely DONE with being pregnant and massive. And moreover, I was done being told how massive I was. As if I couldn’t tell!? I was sick of the sickness, the acid reflux, the endless peeing, the pain I was feeling around my ribs, the ridiculous amounts of discharge and the sweating. You know, I was still trying my best to cherish my pregnancy but I think I spent more time trying to film baby kicks than I did actually appreciating the moments (something I will remember if I’m lucky enough to have a second). I would rest my hands on my bump, take endless photos, but by 37 weeks I was done. So when I was offered an induction days before my due date, I leapt at the chance.

I’d seen a lot of inductions on One Born Every Minute and I’d read the leaflet but nothing could have prepared me for the days that followed. I felt like I’d been in hospital for a week before I was actually induced – in a different hospital – on my due date.

But my mind seems to have fixated on the little details of the hospital I was supposed to give birth in, when I was waiting to be taken to delivery suite to have my waters broken. In all honesty, it was quite lovely but I was so impatient and being in a hospital bay all day waiting around was driving me a bit nuts. I wasn’t very well prepared, I hadn’t brought much to entertain myself – which is probably why I remember the space around me in vivid detail. From the way the light hit the blue flooring during the day, to the way the overhead lamp created a calming ambience at night. I remember bouncing on that big purple gym ball for hours hoping labour would come on spontaneously but I now realise, it was doing very little for me, and it was probably making me all the more impatient.

I was offered a transfer to the other hospital where I had a bed on delivery suite waiting for me on my due date, a few hours after my mucus plug went, and I jumped at the chance. I now wonder if my experience might have been different if I’d have stayed at the hospital that I wanted to give birth in. But nevermind, what good are what ifs? No good at all.

So there I was, in the delivery suite of this other hospital, taking a quick video of the room for my Instagram. I was telling people I’d no longer be replying. Although I did later on, at some point, I can’t remember when. And I had no idea what was coming as far as the syntocin drip was concerned.

I love that before they broke my waters and put me on that drip, I was blissfully unaware saying “whatever happens I’ll deal with it, as long as baby is okay”. I mean, that wasn’t a bad mindset to have but… Yeah… the girl on the ball in her nightie who just had her waters broken, and the girl on the bed who just got given the epidural were a couple of hours apart, and I can assure you the girl on the bed felt like she’s been through a kind of hell that she knew had changed her forever. The rest of it was a breeze though, if that’s any consolation – it was to me!

I gave birth to Reuben just over 12 hours after they’d broken my waters, and it was incredible. I felt the love instantly – it was euphoric! I felt the rush of love which I’d heard people say is indescribable and I was so relieved. I was so, so happy. When I had been waiting to push, I remember thinking “this is it, my dream is about to come true, I’m gonna meet my baby!” and that was an unforgettable moment too.

So is it any wonder that I feel this way now that Reuben’s 1st birthday is a day away? It’s so bittersweet. I feel happy and sad at the same time. I feel my heart aching so badly when I think back to it. I know this is common in mothers but I never really hear or read anyone talking about it.

Maybe it’s because I feel cheated out of enjoying those newborn days, maybe it’s because I had a vision of how I wanted things to be during pregnancy and it wasn’t like that. It’s not like my expectations were high but when you’re poor and feeling unsupported through both pregnancy and your newly made mother days, it’s very hard to feel like I got anything right at all back then… I don’t know. I guess I am overly critical but when I think back, I have regrets and I find myself saying “here’s what I’d do differently”.

Anyway, it’s hard to believe Reuben’s been on this earth for a year now. He’s turned into my little best friend & he makes me smile all the time. Even though we have been poorly recently, there’s still been smiles. And I’m far from perfect but I know I’m a good Mama.

I’m feeling very nostalgic and wistful about this time last year but don’t worry, I’m also concentrating on making this year’s memories count! Reuben’s presents are ready for Thursday, the flat is looking nicer than it ever has done (apart from the kitchen right now) & I’ve even put the Christmas tree up!

I love motherhood, it puts a kind of joy and resilience in my soul that nothing else can. I mean, there’s obviously sadness and mum guilt in there too BUT! Let’s focus on the good!

Thank you for reading,

With love, Rebecca ♡

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A Painful Subject

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Reuben was hours old here, I was besotted.

I’ve tried to express this before but I haven’t managed to put what I’m feeling into words. I can’t seem to articulate what it is about my birthing experience that is still makes me cry; it’s a cry of anguish and I feel like I need to find peace with it. I just watched another wonderful vlog by Louise Pentland and I felt inspired, I felt like I needed to talk about what made my labour and post-natal care traumatic for me.

The word ‘traumatic’ is not a word to be played with. It’s not a word to flippantly use, to toss around as if it isn’t a significant description for someone’s experiences. In my life I have experienced a lot of traumatic events. It’s affected me in many ways, it’s debilitating, and coping with post traumatic stress disorder has often left me feeling isolated. I just needed to stress that before I continue on with what I’m saying.

I opted to be induced because of reduced movements but mainly it was impatience. I had been taking Ondansetron (anti-sickness medication aka Zofran) since I was 6 weeks pregnant for Hyperemesis Gravidarum and I couldn’t sleep for the acid reflux anymore. I was so uncomfortable and miserable, which isn’t uncommon, late pregnancy is difficult for most women. I’ll admit now that I was like, yes! please! let’s get this show on the road! And looking back, I feel like I was very misinformed on what being induced is actually like.

For me, it was traumatic. Not all of it, I actually spent most of it knocked out by the epidural, but the episode where I was on the syntocin drip without the epidural was… well, I can’t describe the intensity of the pain I was in, and quite frankly, the people who have reacted with amusement when I’ve told them is insulting. There was nothing funny about the way my body responded to the drip. There was nothing funny about multiple midwives trying to stick a clip to monitor Reuben’s heartbeat on his head whilst I was around 3cms dilated and writhing in agony. That was traumatic. That was horrible, that brings me out in a cold sweat now, and I know it was because they were having problems monitoring his heartbeat but because of past sexual assaults, I didn’t deal with it well at all. In fact, I’m sure a woman who had never been assaulted would have felt just as horrified. I’m not angry at the midwives, because I could not fault them on the delivery suite, but I do wish that when they were asking about pain relief that they would have informed me that I could have had the epidural before the drip was started. I now know from other women that is an option and if I’d have known this, I would have gone for it. If I’d have known just how bad induced contractions are, especially when your baby is back to back, I would.

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post epidural: i felt like I was a changed woman

I remember being in agony, throwing up violently, feeling my waters gush out of me (and probably wetting myself as well, who knows!) having to sit on a bed pan on the bed, with fetal monitors strapped around my bump, in the bright room, feeling as though I wanted to throw myself out of the window. I don’t mean because it made me suicidal, I mean because it was more than I could handle. I felt like being set on fire was preferable. Do I sound dramatic? Well, I’ve noticed that’s the general reaction to women not coping in labour. I’ve read a lot of comments about women ‘putting it on’ when they’re on One Born Every Minute but now I don’t believe they are. Because I was the woman wailing, crying, unable to see for the pain, clinging onto the bed desperately because before one contraction left, another one would start up and it felt like my body was being crushed by a vice – and the burning pain in my pelvic area? It was constant.

The good news is that once the epidural was administered (how I don’t know, but I absolutely loved the anaesthetician), the rest of my labour was actually enjoyable. It would knock me out enough that I couldn’t feel pain only pressure and when I felt pain again, they’d top it up and it would knock me out again. Honestly it was the most sleep I’d had in a while. But then came the meconium, the contractions not following the textbook and although that didn’t matter because I’d been dilating like a dream, and the vomiting and that wasn’t too fun – however I wasn’t in pain and when the time came to push, I really believed in myself then. Pushing, for me, was the best bit. I found it very natural, I could feel enough going on down there to do it as quickly as possible (so quick it put Reuben into shock but at least he didn’t inhale any meconium!) and when he was born? Oh goodness… my labour became irrelevant, and so did the struggles of my pregnancy, and I thought I’d forgotten about the traumatic part of my labour and maybe, for a while, I did.

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the day we went home

However, it was the experience in the postnatal ward that really messed me up. Everytime I see the curtains on a photo I am taken back to feeling the way I felt in there, and I feel such anguish, as if something has been stolen from me. Because I feel like those first few days with my newborn should have been precious and enjoyable but instead, I felt trapped and the pain. That triggered my PTSD. One midwife in particular, she wasn’t very nice… there’s nothing worse than feeling bullied when you’re so vulnerable, also I didn’t find myself to be feeling very supported. I was trying my best to breastfeed but apart from them sticking him on my boob and then walking off, there wasn’t any. They didn’t listen to me about my supply of colostrum although I’d been expressing it for three weeks, they didn’t tell me about topping him up with colostrum so that he wasn’t screaming all the time, they didn’t have the time to offer support at all. I don’t know if I’m just being ‘sensitive’ but when you can barely walk and they tell you to walk down a hall to get fresh bed pads, and you tell them your bag of colostrum is about to run out and you aren’t producing but you just get ignored? No… that’s not okay.

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Hours before I crumbled; sleep deprivation and pain can be cruel.

I spoke about this more in my post natal ward experience blog post but the night they took Reuben away from me to feed him, it devastated me, it wasn’t what they did it’s the way they went about it. It was the way they made me feel so ashamed of myself and left me sobbing in the dark next to an empty cot that made me feel like a useless mother before I’d even begun.

Luckily the next morning I was greeted by a wonderful midwife who I, to this day, believe saved me from developing postnatal depression. She listened to me, she offered support and advice, she gave me permission to use formula and not breastfeed. That probably sounds strange doesn’t it but I’d been determined to breastfeed, I felt like I couldn’t give up because I’d ticked that box. I loved the way Reuben huddled into me when he was latching on (because for hours he’d be on there for minutes at a time for comfort) and he’d made the most adorable little noises and I wanted it to work out.

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back at home, days old

Sadly every time I tried to breastfeed after, I felt like I did in the hospital. And soon, I realised Reuben had reflux and he would spend ages on my breast only to throw up for so long he would need to feed again. I spent nights feeding him, just for him to throw up for hours, and I could be crying, exhausted and starving and I couldn’t do anything about it. I didn’t have enough support from my ex partner, especially when he was away for days at a time. When I switched to anti-reflux formula at 3 weeks, Reuben slept better and was more settled through the day but my heart ached with guilt, as many a mother will understand.

Ultimately what I think I’m saying is that if I could go back in time, I’d probably do a couple of things differently. I’d wanted a water birth and maybe if I’d have waited, I’d have had that experience. And I don’t know if the post natal experience would be different but I have realised what I really needed in those days and things I was too afraid to ask for back then, I wouldn’t be now. Hindsight is all well and good now, but as a first time mother, I didn’t really know where I stood and I was too emotional to stick up for myself. For example, I wish I’d have said that I wanted a bed next to a window, so I could tell night from day, so I wasn’t next to the doors behind curtain walls feeling like the days were endless. I wish I’d asked for more help, a lactation consultant… I wish I’d known the things I know now.

When I think about the possibility of having another baby one day, I feel afraid of giving birth because I don’t want my experience to be like mine. It was upsetting, and it triggered my PTSD in ways I couldn’t have expected. It’s left me feeling cheated. I can’t watch birth videos without feeling like deep, uneasy sadness. It’s more than just aching to re-live giving birth and those newborn days. It’s more than brooding for a baby. It’s the feeling that it’s painful to remember, that it hurts for the wrong reasons.

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breastfeeding was beautiful when it felt like it was working

There are a couple of midwives I wanted to thank though and I sent them cards – I guess I was unlucky in postnatal but I know for the most part, midwives do an incredible job supporting women through the most profound life change she’ll ever go through. This isn’t a post to discredit them at all.

I just wanted to share my story, open up about what’s really hurting in a bid to heal.

Thank you for reading,
Rebecca xo