I have struggled with writing this post for the #BetterPostnatalCare campaign. Several times I have opened the lid of my laptop, only to shut it again. The blank page seeming too overwhelming. The words I needed to share not coming easily. I have locked them away for nearly 8 years. I have tried to forget and move on. Yet, I am talking about the birth of my oldest child and the early days of her life. It is a memory that I should cherish, yet, without wishing to sound dramatic, it is a memory that haunts me.
The Early Days
I have never written about the early days of Oldest’s birth, I have never shared how I felt with anyone. Even my husband. I didn’t know where to start. I couldn’t muster the energy to mutter the words. I felt broken. Raw. I wanted to forget what had happened. I wanted to move on quickly. Yet, in reality I have never moved on, I have just buried how I felt. The Mumsnet – #BetterPostnatalCare campaign has given me a reason for sharing my experiences and that is what I am trying to do. But I feel like I am wandering into a hornet’s nest of emotions.
Oldest’s entry into the world was somewhat dramatic and fraught and I have written about having an emergency C-section and how that made us feel. It was far from ideal. We were told to prepare for our baby to be born “abnormal”. We were left alone for most of the time I was in labour. I was vomiting, unable to keep food and water down. I was also exhausted having been in labour since the Friday night and we were now in the early hours of Monday morning. My whole memory of the event is fragmented and disjointed. Like a bad dream that you can’t quite place back together, where you find yourself in the middle of something terrifying but you can’t quite work out how you got there. However, even in the nightmare there was humour to be found. When I was told that I was being rushed for surgery and Mr C was told to get into some surgical scrubs. There were too small for him and he looked ludicrous and I remember laughing at the surreal nature of it all. Then I remember looking at his face and realising how he was scared. That stood there in those scrubs that were too small, he looked like a little boy lost. We were both lost.
Not The Birth We Had Planned
It wasn’t the birth we had planned and I talk about how traumatising the whole event was for me but it was equally horrific for Mr C. He has snippets of memories that don’t match mine. He remembers me being wheeled off to surgery and how he was told to wait outside in the corridor. For what felt like hours (but in reality was probably minutes) he sat in an empty corridor. He said that he heard my screams but I don’t remember screaming. I remember the anaesthetist who was clearly very grumpy. I know that he was grumpy because he told me that. He told me that he had been tucked up in his warm bed until he got the call to come in and “deal” with me. I remember that he barked at me not to move, and I remember how he told me that one move could render me paralysed. I didn’t move and I held my breath as the contractions ripped through my body. I didn’t want to upset the anaesthetist, this man who could leave me paralysed and on whom my baby’s life depended.
Some failed forceps later and I found myself on the operating table under the bright lights of the operating theatre. I remember the feeling of tiredness was overwhelming and I drifted in and out of sleep as they performed the C-section. I think there was music, a machine beeping and hushed conversations about football. I remember that I just wanted it to end, that I just wanted to sleep and then just like that the silence was broken as Oldest was yanked out of me. Airways cleared, wrapped up and dumped on me as I was told to breastfeed. I remember thinking “What? How? Am I a mother now?” There was no euphoria. Just sheer relief that she was healthy, quickly followed by an overwhelming desire to sleep. Then I was sewed up and wheeled upstairs with baby in hand and Mr C by my side. It was now 5am on a Monday morning. Neither of us had slept since Friday night. As soon as we arrived into a room on the side of the ward Mr C was told that he had to leave. I remember feeling petrified. I had this newborn and their life was now entwined with mine. I was responsible for them. I couldn’t do it on my own and I didn’t want my husband to leave. Yet, he was ushered out and told to return during visitor hours. I was told to ring for help if I needed it and told to get some sleep and with that they left me in this room. I was on my own with my baby and I was petrified.
I needed to sleep, yet I was unable to. I stared at her, I was scared of her. I had been told that she was abnormal yet she was perfectly healthy. Had they missed something? Was she really healthy? What if something happened and I couldn’t help her? She slept and I stared. The wind blew and one of the ceiling tiles kept lifting and dropping making a noise that would jolt me from my sleep deprived stupor. I had been through what felt like the longest marathon, I had been ripped open and then left in a room. I remember that she woke-up and I managed to lift her and I remember struggling with my gown to try and feed her. Nothing. She was hungry and I was frustrated. Nothing. I hadn’t anticipated this. I had thought that it would happen naturally but it wasn’t. I rang the bell for help but no one came. I tried again. Nothing. Tears streamed down both of our faces. My baby was clearly hungry and I was frustrated that I was unable to help her.
On The Ward
I stayed in a side room for two days. In those two days I struggled. I felt overwhelmed and scared. I was petrified. I was told to ring the bell, that I was not to pick up my baby myself. Yet every time I rang the bell no one came. Every time I cried for help no one came. I struggled out of bed because that was my job. I struggled to feed her because that was my job. I struggled to change her because that was my job. Yet, I didn’t know if I was doing my job properly. I didn’t know if she was getting any milk. I needed help and it didn’t come. The nights were the worse as I would feel alone, like I was ringing a bell into the great abyss. No one ever came. However, I don’t blame the nurses or the midwives. They were understaffed. They were doing the best they could. At the time I thought that perhaps this was how it was. I felt that it was my fault. My fault that I hadn’t been able to deliver my baby, my fault that I was now struggling to lift her, feed her and change her. It wasn’t my fault. I had been through a traumatic birth, I had been hacked open and I might have been put together physically but mentally I was still very broken. I needed support and I needed help. I needed someone to show me how to breastfeed. I needed to be told that it was normal to feel like you were going to pass out from pain every time you lifted your baby. I needed to be told that it can be hard to breastfeed, especially when you have had a C-section. I needed someone to listen and to guide me. I needed reassurance and support. There was none.
I would like to say that things improved when we were allowed home. They didn’t. Oldest was clearly suffering, she would scream for hours. Always the same time every night. She barely slept for longer than 30 mins at a time. It was only after having a second child that I realised just how wrong this was. In the early days a newborn should sleep a lot. I remember telling the midwife who visited us at home that I didn’t think breastfeeding was working, she didn’t listen and insisted breast was best. I remember telling her that I thought she was suffering from colic, she told me that was impossible because she was breastfed. I remember telling her that I thought she was starving, she told me that wasn’t the case. She didn’t listen to me. Oldest ended up losing too much body weight and we ended up being rushed back to hospital in an ambulance and spent a fraught night watching Oldest as she was hooked up to machines. When we were discharged I told the midwife I would be bottle feeding and she gave me a lecture. I started combine feeding. Smuggling Oldest bottles like I was some drug dealer. I wasn’t, I was doing what I knew was best, yet I felt ashamed. The midwife made me feel like that.
Did We Complain?
You might be asking yourselves if I complained about our experiences. We had obtained the address and number of the commission that we needed to complain to. However, we found ourselves so traumatised by what we had been through that we felt unable to find the words. We felt unable to find the energy to lodge our complaint. In some ways we felt sheer relief that everything eventually turned out okay. We just wanted to move on and forget about it. So much so that I said I didn’t want any more babies. We did go on to have another baby and I did have another emergency C-section. This time I begged to be allowed out within 24 hours. They did reluctantly agree that I could go home and I was very relieved. I should say that second time round my experiences were so much more positive!
Why I Am Sharing Our Story
I am talking about our first birth now because I realise that what happened to me was not okay and it was not acceptable. I should not have spent my time in hospital, hardly seeing anyone, feeling alone and scared. Having to ask family to smuggle in food and having to ask family to bring in bottles of water. That is not acceptable and it is happening all of the time, everywhere, in all corners of the country, in many hospitals to lots of mothers.
I do not blame the people that work on the ward. They are doing the best that they can in very difficult circumstances. Postnatal care does need looking at and it does need more funding. That is why I am supporting the Mumsnet Better Postnatal Care campaign. Changes need to be made. Mums need to be supported. If you would like to support this campaign then you can write about your own experiences, or even vlog them. Share the #Betterpostnatalcare on twitter and get the campaign out there. Let’s make change happen.