Sunday, 31 January 2016

To c or not to c: thoughts on a section

When I agreed to speak to the Observer for a piece on the ‘incessant increase’ in caesarean rates among first time mothers in the UK, I knew from the get-go that this wasn’t going to be a straightforward, ‘cut and shut’ story, but that it would spark reams of comments from readers outlining their own birth experiences or debating mothers’ rights and mindsets, the adequacy of antenatal information and the state of the NHS.

When the photographer arrived to take a (lovely!) picture of little miss and me, his first question was: ‘So, are you one of the good or bad case studies?’  I didn’t want to be the poster girl for either – my operation was unwanted but medically necessary, and while it ran smoothly the recovery was brutal.

I was relieved when, in the resulting article, the journalist had managed to make good sense of what I babbled at her and my case study seemed relatively balanced.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for some of the rest of the piece or, predictably, the comments underneath.  Do calls to action such as ‘stop first-time mothers having caesareans’ and phrases like (shudder) ‘too posh to push’ really help in any way when we are talking about mothers undergoing major abdominal surgery, in most cases on medically necessary, sometimes life or death, grounds?  Even the usual terminology, ‘elective’, is a complete misnomer, suggesting that choosy new mums opt for a caesarean in the way that they might pick out curtains or a Pret wrap.

Few people who have been adequately informed about the process, risks and recovery period want to have a caesarean over a natural birth.  For me, however, the knowledge that I might need one was never far away in the late stages of pregnancy, even as I pored over the pros and cons of water births and weighed up the merits of hypnobirthing. 

At 33 weeks, I was told that I would have to have a planned caesarean if my baby, who was using my uterus like a hammock, blissfully unaware of the complications she was causing, didn’t turn from a transverse position to head down by week 37.

Four weeks of frenzied bouncing on a birthing ball and uncomfortable moves from the Spinning Babies website and we’d nearly got there – I had a head down albeit slightly diagonal baby but she hadn’t engaged yet.  I thought I had plenty of time before I needed to start worrying about it.  Sod’s law had other ideas; my waters broke at 37 weeks and my tiny (4 lb 11) girl was pulled screaming into the world through an emergency c section after things didn’t get going after a day and a half and her heart rate went sky high mere minutes into induction.

I’d be lying if I said that the recovery period was a walk in the park – just walking up the stairs was an ordeal in those early weeks, and trying to sleep for the short stretches my new baby allowed propped up in an armchair was a fitful, excruciating affair.  The whole area surrounding the scar was black, purple and swollen for several weeks, the curse of someone who bruises like a peach.

Do I wish I didn’t have to have a c section?  Of course.  Do I regret that I said ‘yes’ when a concerned team of consultants scurried into the delivery room and gently recommended that it was the safest course of action for me and my distressed, low birth weight baby?  Not for a moment. 

However, I do recall a brief, pre-spinal, moment of weakness, where I said to my scrubbed-up husband and the midwives, ‘I’m sorry if I’ve failed.’  This comment was probably mainly fuelled by tiredness, nerves and nausea, but I think it’s a sorry state of affairs where pregnant mothers, especially anxious first-timers, are conditioned into thinking that they have not given birth in ‘the right way’, or that having a c section is in any way something that they or an obstetrician have decided to go through on a whim, for convenience or on cosmetic grounds.

There probably is a small percentage of pre-parenthood people who think a c section is a less painful, more straightforward option, or who prefer the idea because they are legitimately anxious about natural delivery.  Rather than slamming this group as selfish or weak, surely we need to be giving them the tools to make informed choices about how they give birth, and not stigmatising c sections when we are talking about saving the lives of the mother, the baby, or both?  In the lead-up to my op, I was equipped with advice from friends who’d already had c sections and what I’d learned in antenatal classes – that isn’t the case for everyone by any means.

As I say in the Observer, a caesarean is by no means an easy way out. But the most important thing is the baby’s safe arrival, whatever method it might be by.  I have the amazing efforts of the NHS to thank for that, and it’s something I am grateful for every day.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The big girl's room

We have done the deed.  As of two nights ago, and at just over six months old, little miss is no longer spending her nights swallowing up her parents' bedroom floorspace with her cot bed, but in her own, not-quite-finished nursery.  Hubby and I knew the moment would come eventually, but unfortunately the transition ended up a month or two earlier than we'd hoped, born solely out of neighbourly necessity (those of you who know me well will know exactly what sorry state of affairs I'm alluding to here!).

In the lead-up to nursery night one I felt the expected mix of emotions.  Excitement that little miss would now be sleeping in a tailor-made, less cramped space which, thanks to a recent ebay smash and grab, is starting to look more like a little girl's room than a blank-walled dumping ground. Bittersweet pangs that she would no longer be sleeping mere inches from her mummy, and that the bedtime lullaby will now be on a rocking chair rather than snuggled up in her parents' bed.  Apprehension at how the switch would go, remembering how the first night in her cot bed produced a hyperactive and livid baby who somehow managed to traverse the vast mattress with her flailing limbs, ending up wedged and wailing in the top corner.

Speaking to other parents, it seems that the transition to the big girl's/boy's room provokes a range of reactions.  Some parents seem to be on a countdown from day one to the time when they can put baby in their own bedroom and enjoy a night free of nearby grunts and grumbles, while others put it off until they're sharing sleep space with a toddler.

There are no rights or wrongs to what to do or how to feel, but suffice to say I found it an ordeal, with a few tears after lights off.  Little miss, on the other hand, barely clocked any differences, settled quickly in her new surroundings (for the first night at least) and, aside from a brief bout of fussing at 2am, slept through happily.  As I'm not ready to leave her alone yet (not least because the baby monitor's only just been ordered!) I joined her later for a sleepover, spending a slightly less peaceful night shivering on a pile of sofa cushions.

All in all, the first night was a success, albeit an emotional rollercoaster.  I wish I could say the same for the second night, but that's another, sleep-deprived and sweary, story!

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Teeny Weany

The time is finally upon us.  From now on, little miss will no longer be confined to thin, oddly fishy-tasting powdered milk when she needs to satisfy her hunger, she’ll get to supplement it with a wondrous range of painstakingly pureed mulch too.  Let the weaning commence!

I imagine that many first-timers have approached the lead-up to weaning in the same way that I have, veering between stages of excitement, apprehension and, to be frank, bemusement at having to suddenly master and find time for a whole new area of food preparation and administration at a time when their little ones are only just managing not to puke half their bottles up. 

During the excitement stage, I’ve pored over Annabel Karmel’s advice, drained Amazon of every bit of weaning paraphernalia I do and don’t need, and got hand blender-happy with assorted root vegetables.  During the apprehension stage, I’ve fretted over allergies, mess, routine disruption and the prospect of even more explosive nappies.  During the bemusement stage, I’ve bought vast quantities of Ella’s Kitchen pouches and reasoned that they will probably be received better than the unappetising orange lumps currently wedged in my freezer.

Little miss shared none of her mummy’s qualms in the feeding lead-up.  For the last few weeks, she’s been eying up her parents’ bolted-down meals as if she’d never been fed.  When we recently let her lick a piece of apple it was as if all her Christmases had come at once, plus many more considering she’s only had one so far.

Yesterday, after an evening of pummelling squash and sweet potato (a task my husband relished, since he hates both with a passion), it was finally time for our first teeny weany session.  We filmed little miss’s initial smiles and quick onset of disdain for her first mouthfuls of baby rice, as it formed a white goatee on her chin and her face started to say ‘Have you nothing else, dear?’ to her jittery parents.

One outfit change, a ginger goatee and a lot of grizzling, gurning and spluttering later, and today’s offering of pureed carrots has been met with even more indifference than its predecessor.  I know we can’t expect mealtime miracles in the first week or so, but I’m hoping for a little more success over the next few days as we move on to apple, squash and sweet potato.  My husband sure as hell won’t be eating the latter two if she doesn’t like them!

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

New year, new mummy?

Well I'm back on the blogwagon after a wonderful festive hiatus, now the grateful owner of a living room which looks like it's been sponsored by Fisher Price thanks to little miss's doting grandparents, aunts and uncles.  It might seem unwise for someone who struggles to keep her champagne flutes intact for a year, let alone a bunch of resolutions, to even bother setting some, but as I'm a mum now maybe I should at least attempt to be, y'know, responsible.  So here goes:

  1. Get out more with the baby.  While the weather needs to be nigh on apocalyptic to stop me at least venturing out of the house, most outings tend to be brief, mundane and necessary: doctor's, supermarket, coffee shop.  They're not exactly broadening little miss's horizons or adjusting her to unfamiliar surroundings and longer times away from home, something which became all too clear over Christmas, when the inevitable bevy of visits to family often resulted in a grumbling grandchild hankering after her own bed and unrivalled attention from mummy and daddy.  
  2. Get out more without the baby.  A handful of date nights, girls' nights and work days since little miss arrived have slowly drawn me to the conclusion that as long as she's being looked after by hubby or family, I don't need to be there for every feed, change, cuddle or kick-off.  That reconnecting with who I am as a wife and friend as well as a mother is critical.  And that a large glass of rose once baby's in bed is SO DARN GOOD.
  3. Decorate the baby's room.  We've graduated on from the early days, when little miss's room was little more than a dumping ground for boxes and assorted baby equipment which we hadn't had a chance to unpack yet thanks to her unexpectedly premature arrival.  However, it's still very much a cluttered space where little other than changing her takes place.  Hubby and I have been obsessing over pictures and frames practically since day one, but in true scatty style have got precisely nowhere so far.  Without going overboard and striving for Pinterest-perfect, I'd like us to create a little girl's room to be proud of, at least a day or two before we end up moving.
  4. Learn to love every moment.  It's not always easy when I'm functioning on three hours' sleep, worrying how the next bill is going to be paid and on the fifth outfit change of the day (three for her, two for me).  However, against the odds we have a beautiful daughter, who depends on us, loves us and lights up when we enter the room.  That might be just about worth keeping the resolutions for.