not all plain sailing
Someone said to me the other day that everything appeared to be plain sailing in the Hope household and we were all getting along famously. On one level that is true; home from hospital, Hope now 4 weeks old (cliché but I really can’t believe it), feeding tube out, bags under eyes well and truly established, weight finally coming on to her, my scar and post cesarean pain easing, the ability to eat fast and often learned and how to change a nappy and dress her without waking her or making her cry occasionally mastered.
However, while the day to day reality of having a tiny incredible bundle of Hope is miraculous it is also hard and confusing work, especially when at times my eyes are so tired I find it hard to focus on the instructions on everything from how to put on the baby carrying device or text messages from friends let alone how many mls of breast milk I’ve expressed.
Let’s start with the milk expressing and feeding generally … not easy … well not for me, other people seem to be far more natural. One thing I learnt in hospital was that as soon as you have a baby and state that you plan to breast feed your baby, your breasts, nipples and chest generally are no longer your own. I don’t mean that they belong from then on in to the baby, I mean that every second midwife, lactation consultant (love that phrase), nursing assistant and (it seems) random passer-by comment on your breast feeding technique and offer advice and physical help. For me this involved being told “you have great nipples”, and then having them pinched, pushed and firmly directed into the mouth of wriggling Hope. I’m quite open minded and laid back but it did take a bit to get used to and sometimes it was frustrating that when someone else did the pinching and stuffing it seemed to work but when I tried (no matter how exactly I attempted to copy the picture in the breast feeding magazine) she was just left “hunting”, her head bobbing frantically, her mouth opening and shutting like a confused cod and inevitably loud wails ensuing. In the end I felt I’d got the knack but was never sure she was getting alot of nourishment… she took ages to settle down or go to sleep when she’d stopped, and more often than not it felt as if she was just playing with her food … and the number of courses she had would put any fancy restaurant tasting menu to the test.
Yesterday I went to a ‘breast feeding drop in’ I felt like a knock kneed scared person as I clutched my small sleepy Hope and meekly walked into the room of 4 equally shattered looking mothers, one bemused husband and 2 very ‘in control’ looking lactation consultants. I sat in an arm chair and waited my turn; Magnus to my left was having problems due to his mother’s large areola, the little chap to my right was suffering due to a tongue tie and young Isabella opposite looked quite happy but was apparently treating her mother’s nipple like a feeding bottle and not getting enough milk. The bemused father and his very tired looking wife had a tiny baby and were just very nervous of their feeding technique. I felt immediately reassured, it isn’t just me that is constantly concerned I don’t have a clue. One of the lovely lactation ladies came and sat with me, commented on the size of my breasts and talked with me for over an hour on technique, types of milk, dummys (yes they have been proved to help reduce cot death… BUT … they tend to come out during the first 30 mins of sucking and deep sleep – when cot death can happen – occurs generally after 30 mins, and they can confuse new babies sucking techniques), sleeping patterns and all sorts of other really helpful things. Then we had a hands on session as Hope was getting peckish … the lady described the technique and then firmly grasped breast and baby and sure enough Hope was soon drawing great gulps of milk with the gusto of a deprived bloke having his first pint at the end of a long walk. I tried, same as in hospital; couldn’t do it … she demonstrated again and then miracle of miracles, I managed it. We tried on the other side and sure enough the ‘one two three SHOVE’ approach worked wonders (my description not hers!). I left feeling empowered, relieved and happy. Hope cried all the way home – I think I had over fed her in my enthusiasm. A day later we’ve got into the swing of things and had a great night (well when I say great it still involved me being awake for 4 hours between midnight and 8am) .. but we’re getting there … a month on!
The night time feeding thing is hard as well. I express milk (using a basic manual breast pump which seems to work fine but gives me hand cramp and takes ages), it is gratifying to see and also slightly odd to watch the little blue bottle thing filling up with creamy white milk (which tastes a bit like evaporated milk or even carnation condensed milk – of course I’ve tasted it). So at night when Hope doesn’t seem to have had enough from breast feeding I’ve been ‘topping her up’ (as instructed by the lovely neo natal outreach team midwives) with 30 mls of either expressed milk or chemical milk – Aptimel or some such formula stuff .. she had it when she was first born when she was in intensive care via her nose tube. Expressing is ok – it is odd watching your nipple going in and out of the tube bit and it hurts more than breast feeding but it’s ok … just finding the time during the day to feed and then express and so on. Feeding sessions from start which is usually a nappy change, to end ie her being asleep seem to take up to 1 hour 45 minutes … and when the cycle is 3 hourly feeds that only leaves 1 hour 15 mins afterwards for bath, my food, work, phone calls, laundry and so on.
The midnight feed is the hardest as I try and doze before it. Waking up is like crawling out of thick treacle and it almost physically hurts … once I’m up it’s fine it’s just escaping from sleep’s tender clutches that I struggle with. The 3am feed I do in a daze and 6am is fine as I’m generally starving then so have to get up to hunt for food for me!
When you’re tired you feel grouchy at times, logic goes out of the window, you are slow on the uptake and generally it is a bit like living in slow motion or in a slightly confused state and everything seems to take ages to get done. STILL, we’re getting there. I’ve also managed to print thank you cards and am slowly making my way through the list of incredible people that have sent so very many wonderful presents, I’ve been interviewed by the local paper about being an older mother and writing this blog … I’m to start writing a blog for the paper as well (Lord knows when I’ll find the time for all this), and was interviewed by the local BBC radio station – again about being an older mother and my experiences… it seems this blog has spread fairly widely and people want to know more about how mush brained me has coped with it all (I have no idea why).
I’ve taken a Moses basket home, admired the spare room – now Hope’s room – newly decorated and finally empty of all my junk which her father has painted, recarpeted and sorted out quite beautifully, only to find that most of the final contents of the spare room (which had to go somewhere and I need to sort through) are now in my bedroom which is impenetrable and the bath which is also unreachable … still I guess we’ll get there at some point hopefully soon as I want to get home. It has been and is wonderful staying at mother’s house and she is the best friend I’ve ever had and the joy of seeing her calm Hope when I can’t, of watching her smile with delight at Hope’s little gurgles and so on, is a rare and special treat and privilege which I am so thrilled to share. Yet tiny though my house is, and cold by comparison, it is still home and I do miss it and am keen to get back there – I’ll still be here at mother’s during the days.
My paperwork is miles behind, my work output is virtually non existent and my income about as dried up as the Sahara … but we’re getting there … and I’m blissfully happy with the most perfectly beautiful marvellous baby. It’s hard work, it’s not all plain sailing but, to coin yet another cliché , it’s all worth it.
Today I spent two hours uploading photographs, singing along to Pete Seeger and John Denver songs on the computer while mother held Hope and we just chatted. We had hot chocolate in the farm shop and I will take Hope outside later (with her hat and woolliest of jumpers on) to see the snow.
Well that was the plan … I went downstairs after writing most of this and tip toed in … the little monkey was on full alert and woke up and started howling … the moon is bright outside, the fine hair on her ears was on end, I swear she is part wolverine sometimes!! So … 2 hours later she has had another feeding frenzy, had her nappy changed twice and been winded and is still unsettled although for a few brief minutes she is lying in her bed beside me looking around contemplating how next to party and which would be the most fulfilling sound for her to fill the silence with.
I’m knackared!! Whatever, it has been a wonderful day, and I am so very fortunate. Seeing her dark dark eyes looking up at me makes me feel very emotional and very proud and just totally awed but this little marvel.