How to Survive the First Year of Parenthood

How to survive the first year of parenthood….

So, as many of you know I have a 15 year old lad and a just over one year old little girl. Due to fertility issues it took us ten years to conceive our Little Miss and during that time we forgot it all. I forgot how small newborns were. We forgot how exhausting the sleep deprivation was. We forgot the timescales for weaning and immunisations. We forgot how much babies cost. We forgot EVERYTHING. The only thing we hadn’t forgotten was how to make a baby (and thank goodness for that!).

In a way, I think it was a purposeful loss of memory. Like all my brain cells got together and agreed ‘If she remembers how sheer bloody difficult it was, she might never want to do it again so let’s wipe her memory. Get rid of it all! The all-nighters, the projectile puking, the soggy shoulders, the I-haven’t-washed-my-hair-in-three-weeks look and every other tough time that they went through. Sayonara memories! Smell you later!”

Maybe it was for the best.

So when we were finally blessed with our Little Miss, it all came as quite a shock. Yes, we had been there before, but it was 14 years ago. It was a lifetime ago. A lot of the official guidance had changed so it was like having our first all over again. We were older (but certainly not wiser) and not as spritely as we had been with our first and having a high risk pregnancy followed by a special care baby placed us under pressure from the moment that little blue line changed our world.

I’ll tell you the punch line now though: it was so worth it. On many occasions over the course of the first year, it’s been tough. Like really tough. But never has ‘tough’ been so joyful, so full of love, so fulfilling.

 I’m no parenting expert (says the woman who has to bribe her one year old with a bag of Pombears, the top of a french stick and half a packet of chocolate buttons just to get round half of Asda) but thought I would share a few things we learned along the way:

  1. Pack a couple of different sized sleepsuits in your hospital bag. With my first (he was a whopping 9lb10oz so came out the size of a fully grown 3 year old) he was too big for newborn so needed the next size up and with my second, it was the opposite! She was far too small for newborn. I had lovingly chosen what was to be her ‘first outfit’ and all that went to pot when she was born so teeny. I ended up having to send my Hubby shopping for tiny baby sized clothes. I felt awful that I didn’t have something to put her in that fit her straight away. This wasn’t helped by the fact that my baby brain had led me to packing a hat for a 6-12 month old in my hospital bag. I ended up being given one of those nana-knitted wooly hats from the hospital to put on her when she was first born. I treasure it now though.
  2. Try and control your spending – this was something I was TERRIBLE at. I exercised no self control whatsoever but when I was handing over a black bag of brand new, tagged, unworn baby clothes to a pregnant friend, I sure wish I had. My baby would have had to remain at newborn size for three years to get through the wardrobe of clothes I had bought for her. I wasted so much money, which would have been far better spent on the boring stuff like nappies and wipes!

 

 

  1. Try not to romanticise the birth in your head – go in with an open mind, what will be will be. This is a biggie for me because both of my deliveries had their complications. I had an extremely difficult birth with my son which was incredibly traumatic and with my second it was an emergency section. So many mums visualise a boho-chic birthing-pool-with-whale-music-and-absolutely-no-pain-whatsoever- birth. Some mums get it. They are lucky. People like me don’t get that lucky! I think if I had gone in expecting a birth like that, I would have been extremely disappointed. All that mattered to me was that I had a healthy baby at the other end. I know that birthing experiences are very important to women – and so they should be – and women should absolutely have every say over how their birth is managed and planned. Unfortunately for me, both my deliveries went tits up but did it matter? No. My babies matter. They came through it, and that is all that matters.

 

  1. Take control of your first moments together – I learnt the hard way with my first. I welcomed every man, woman and child to meet my son when he was only a matter of days old. I soon felt really overwhelmed with it all. I resented handing my baby around all the friends and relatives for cuddles because I didn’t feel like I had even had a chance to enjoy those cuddles myself. With my second I was a bit of a Mum-Zilla. She was in special care for a while and quite poorly and I didn’t feel up to visitors. Nor was I ready to share her with anyone. We welcomed grandparents (and the cuddles, support and reassurance they brought with them) but we said no to everybody else. Once we got home, I still took my time before inviting friends and family around. I wanted time as a family. I wanted to close the doors on the world and just enjoy her. I wanted my Big Lad to adjust to having a baby sister without the doorbell going every half an hour. I think she was almost a month old before my best friend met her. I don’t regret it though. I’ll remember that time we had, feeling our way through becoming a family of four, forever. It was beautiful.

 

  1. Forget your usual standards. So, you used to have an immaculate home? You used to hoover on a daily basis? You used to make all meals from scratch? You used to put your make up on every morning? Whatever your standards were before having a baby, make no mistake that there is no shame in lowering them (and lowering them again) after having a baby. Becoming parents is the most beautiful gift. But it is bloody exhausting. For a while, you live in a bit of a bubble. A big, love filled bubble of loveliness. Then shit gets real. It has to get real, unfortunately. I would LOVE to spend the rest of my life in that love filled bubble but, and it’s an unfortunate but, life kicks in. The hubby goes back to work. The washing basket is overflowing. The fridge and kitchen cupboards are empty. Reality bursts that bubble and suddenly you are expected to do everything you did before having a baby, now with a baby. I remember on my hubby’s first day back to work after paternity leave, I tried to be the ultimate domesticated wife. I tried to make a hot pot for him coming home whilst feeding the baby and shushing her and hoovering and dusting then shushing some more. I ended up burning the tea. The hoover spit out crap instead of sucking it up because it needed emptying and I hadn’t even noticed. And the milk I had just lovingly fed my baby ended up being sprayed all over the sofa in a reflux inspired vomit sesh. Yup. Never have I ever looked less domesticated.

Just because the hubby went back to work and I was at home on maternity, I felt under immense pressure to be the all-singing-all-hoovering housewife. I put myself under pressure to have a homemade dinner ready for him coming home, a clean and tidy home, a freshly bathed and changed bubba for post-work cuddles and maybe even a dash of lippy on my chops. What he got instead was a warbling hormone crazed mother with vomit in her hair, a shit tip of a home and a burnt hot pot. Did it matter? No. Was he expecting anything different? No. Taking care of baby is a huge deal. It is bloody hard at times. Don’t be afraid to lower your standards while you feel your way in to motherhood. You’ll never look back on this time and say ‘I really wish I had kept my home tidier’ but you might think ‘I wish I had just lowered my standards and focused on me and my baby.’

 

  1. Trust your instincts. On a couple of occasions during her first year, I have felt, instinctively, that something has been wrong with Little Miss. I sometimes felt silly making a GP appointment ‘on a whim’ or phoning the Health Visitor for the 35th time that week to talk through something that I was sure was totally in my head. My GP told me to always trust my instincts. If you feel like something is wrong, don’t be afraid to say so or seek help. The consequences of not saying it could be too big.

 

  1. Sleep is a constant topic of debate amongst parents. Or, more like, lack of it. Sleep deprivation is hard. There are no two ways about it. And as much as I loved to steal extra night time snuggles, when you’ve been ‘night time snuggling’ for twenty three nights in a row with about 40 minutes of uninterrupted sleep, it gets wearing. I was the silly mother trying to be Super Woman, telling her husband to go back to sleep while I sort the baby out. I was worried that he wasn’t getting enough sleep for work. And, well, let’s face it, I’m on maternity leave, so I don’t need the sleep as much as he does. Right? Wrong. We all need sleep. I reckon even super duper survival expert Bear Grylls would agree with me. You’ve got to be in it together. It becomes impossible for one person to continually bear the weight of sleep deprivation. It leads to exhaustion, resentment, illness – it’s not good. Share the load. Do alternate nights, or alternate get ups. You’re in this together. Don’t try and be a Super Hero, just be you, be the best mum you can be whilst taking care of yourself also. You are no good to anyone if you end up collapsing with exhaustion!

 

  1. Take photos. Steal precious moments. Breathe it in. That might sound a bit airy fairy but believe me when I say that time flies. They aren’t small for long and that first year is really special. Even the evenings I spent pacing the floor with a baby who thought sleep was for the weak gave me the opportunity to steal precious moments. Holding her close to me, in the dark, in the silence, just me and her . Ok, I was an exhausted mess, but I consciously told myself that one day I will look back on that moment and want to relive it. So I held her a bit closer. I breathed her in. The smell of her, the soft touch of her skin, tracing her tiny fingers as they grasped mine. There is something to treasure in every moment.

 

  1. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for advice and don’t ever be afraid to ignore unwanted advice. Everyone thinks they are an expert when it comes to parenting. It is one of those topics that no one is ever going to agree on. We all have different ideas, different parenting styles, different ways of doing things. And thank goodness we do – it’s our differences that make us beautiful, after all. Get used to the idea that family, friends (and maybe even complete and utter strangers) will want to share their advice with you – even if you express no apparent need for it. Don’t take it personally. Listen to it if you like, consider it if you want to, but it is equally fine just to ignore the buggar and continue doing your own thing. My mother in law once mocked me for parenting my baby ‘as if I’d read a text book on it.’ I’m not sure what she meant by that. That I was trying my hardest to get it right? That I had done my research? That I was an uptight parent? I’m still not sure what she meant by it and she said it 15 years ago. But the look on her face when she said it definitely suggested that I was getting it wrong. I was only young at the time so it definitely knocked my confidence. Don’t give anyone that power. Parent the way you want to parent. By all means get support and advice but on your own terms – when you want it or need it – and forget everybody else.

 

  1. Finally, try not to compare your child to others. Both my babies have been slow at achieving the physical milestones like crawling and walking. With my first I actually lost sleep over the fact he wasn’t walking at 14 months. I would go to playgroups and see babies the same age as him whizzing around the place or see babies older than him at his nursery well ahead of him. I was convinced he was never going to walk. My Little Miss isn’t being much different either. She’s definitely got a bit of the lazy thing going on. I mean, why walk when you can flutter your eyelashes and get your big brother or daddy to carry you?! She’s a diva in a nappy. This time though I am so much more relaxed. Contrary to my fears, my Big Lad is not still crawling about at 15, he just walked in his own good time. Nothing good can come from comparing your child’s development to that of others. If you have any concerns about their development, it is best to see a professional for advice. Every baby is different, they will achieve milestones at different ages, they will grow and develop at their own pace. That doesn’t mean that there is anything to be concerned about. Just focus on your own little bundle and support them to learn and grow and flourish and they will get there.

I hope the above helps, even if just in a teeny way. Wherever you are in your first year, enjoy it. The joy our little treasures bring to our lives is just immeasurable. They are the most precious gift. Enjoy every moment. Even the poo and vomit filled ones.

I’m Late. Again.

So, here’s the thing. I am late for everything. Like, EVERYTHING. So it will be of no great surprise to those who know me well that this blog post is late. It was Birth Trauma Awareness week last week and this little ditty was in the diary to be written to coincide with it. So, basically, now this post has absolutely no common relevance whatsoever. But I’m going to write it anyway. Because, if nothing else, I think it might be quite therapeutic. For me, that is. Not you.

I’ve had the pleasure (and absolute privilege) of bringing two beautiful babies in to the world but neither births were easy. In fact, they were pretty traumatic. My memory of both is really quite limited. I wonder whether that was the drugs pumped into me or whether it is some sort of self defence move my brain has pulled.

What came out of both births is that I do not take for granted that I now have two healthy children. Yes, it would have been nice to have a romantic water birth surrounded by scented candles and whale music whilst being held lovingly by my husband but the reality is it all went a bit Pete Tong. It was crap. But, you know what? I’ve got two healthy and strong children. As much as it was traumatic and I felt the effects of it for a while afterwards, I am now able to move forward and look upon the births as a difficult journey that we had to embark on to get my babies here. A bit like a turbulent  long haul flight to get to some idyllic tropical island: the journey was hell but it did its job, I’m now relaxing on golden sands with a frozen Margarita and all was worth it.

I’m not going to attempt to re tell both births in this post. I think recalling them both may result in me becoming a fragile, wet mess. So, let’s talk about my little lass. Chosen purely because it was the least traumatic (and the most recent so my memory is a bit sharper!).

The whole pregnancy with Little Miss was difficult. Whilst I floated on air for several months after finding out I was finally pregnant, it wasn’t an easy ride by any means. I didn’t expect one mind so I was kind of prepared. I had severe morning-noon-and-night sickness until around 18 weeks and at around six months I became really itchy. I itched literally from the highest point of my scalp to the sole of my feet. It was worse at night and it literally drove me insane. I would never have even clicked that it was linked to the pregnancy had I not read an article in my local paper the week before about a lady who sadly lost her baby due Obstetric Cholestasis. If I hadn’t read that article, I am not convinced I would have ever even mentioned the itching to my midwife. Maybe I am completely lacking in intelligence and common sense but in my mind, I wouldn’t have even connected itchy skin to something more sinister surrounding the pregnancy. My heart breaks for the poor family featured in the paper and I only wish I knew who they were to thank them for sharing their story as it most definitely saved my baby. It just shows how critical it is to raise awareness of these things.

So I mentioned it to my midwife or sent me for a blood test. It came back straight away that there was an issue with my liver and I was sent up to the maternity department at the hospital. We were met by a consultant who explained I had Obstetric Cholestasis. He was really patient and thorough but it was a lot of information to take in. We were already considered a high risk pregnancy due to the sheer concoction of drugs I was on to manage the pain of my chronic disease so this was just another risk to worry about. He told us that our baby would need delivered early as the longer the pregnancy goes on, the higher the risk of still birth. He advised that 1 in 200 women with OC go on to have a still born baby. 1 in 200 may not sound scary but when you’re sitting there, nursing your bump as your baby kicks and moves inside of you, so full of life, the even remote mention of your baby being stillborn is about as scary as it gets. A C-section was booked in at 36 weeks and they organised a care plan, I was to visit the hospital every week to have blood tests, to monitor the baby’s heart rate and movements and I was given medication to try and reduce the levels of bile in the blood. I was also prescribed this amazing menthol cream (which I literally bathed in for the next two months!) which was great for reducing the itching. It still itched like hell but I got a couple of minutes of relief at least when the cream was applied.

We were already aware that our baby was going to be born dependent on morphine due to my medication and that was scary enough so when these risks were factored in too, it was a really anxious time. Every week we’d trek up to the hospital in the city and I would have bloods taken and whilst waiting for them to return from the lab, the midwives would hook me up on a monitor machine which measured the baby’s heart rate and recorded the movements I felt by a button I had to press. Most weeks I was kept on the monitor for longer than standard because either she wasn’t moving a lot, or she was sleepy, or her heart rate dropped. It felt like those appointments went on forever. In fact, we headed in to the city today and took the same road we always took for the hospital and I instantly felt that sick, anxious twisting-of-the-stomach feeling that I felt every single time I went up there. I always expected the worse. I’m not sure whether that was a self preservation tactic or what, I was just constantly paranoid that something was going to be wrong with my baby. My precious baby.

We got all the way up to 35 weeks and I was due to have my final monitoring appointment before the section that was literally scheduled for days later. That’s when things didn’t start going to plan. The midwife kept coming back to the monitor and looking at the scan on the paper it was printing out. I could see from her face that something wasn’t quite right. You know when you get sent in to a little side room closely followed by a suited up consultant that things aren’t going to plan. They told me they weren’t happy with baby’s heart rate. I kept dipping and wasn’t recovering as quickly as it should. They said that, ever so matter of factly, they needed to deliver the baby that day via an emergency section. Cue an onslaught of ‘my hospital bag, it isn’t here! What about the big lad? We haven’t organised childcare for him! I’ve not eaten yet! I’ve not shaved my legs yet’ ya-da ya-da ya-da. It turned out that my hubby could actually throw things together in a plastic bag, arrange childcare, prepare eldest child for the premature arrival of his sibling and get back to the hospital in time for the section (even if he did bring a hat aged 6-9 months for the baby to wear upon her birth…). My legs remained hairy but the surgeon didn’t seem too arsed. Either that or I was too blotto to notice. Whatever. I’m sure he didn’t go on his break in the staff room and say ‘You should’ve seen the baby I’ve just delivered, her mum had the hairiest legs I’ve ever seen!’ to his fellow surgeon mates whilst they dunked their digestives in their tea. Or maybe he did. Frankly, I no longer care.

So, my hubby was gowned up and they took me in to theatre. I remember it being so brightly lit and not at all like the theatres you see on the TV. There was a radio playing and the staff were joking about how bad the Healthcare Assistant’s singing was. The Anaesthetist struggled to get the spinal block due to my spinal condition. She had told me that it may have been necessary to have a general if she couldn’t get the spinal in. I pleaded with her to keep trying. I desperately didn’t want to miss the delivery of my little girl. She worked like an absolute trooped getting that spinal block and she made it happen. I will forever be grateful for that.

I had a great medical team surrounding me, with a Baby Doctor on call ready to give our baby girl help if she needed it. It turns out she was an absolute trooper too. She was delivered ever so perfectly, with Daddy catching the moment she was pulled from me on camera (we’re saving that one til she brings her first boyfriend home). Every last ounce of her 6lb 12 weight was absolute perfection. You wouldn’t even know that she was born early, or born dependant on morphine.

But as I was obliviously coo-ing over the beautiful baby girl that was tucked inside my hospital gown, being held tightly against my chest, the rest of the surgery was not going to plan. The nurses did their best to reassure me when the machines started making extra beeping noises and they called the Registrar to come down, I knew there was something wrong. It was written all over the atmosphere in the room. It had gone from a jubilant, celebratory ‘Yay! It’s a baby girl!’ atmosphere to a everyone-looking-scary-worried atmosphere.

The Registrar came down and spoke very quietly with the Surgeon then came and explained that I was suffering Uterine Atony, my uterus had failed to contract after the delivery and it was causing quite a lot of blood loss. She was very upbeat, attempted to distract me with small talk whilst keeping one eye firmly on the developing surgery at the bottom of the table. It took the surgeon, what felt like, an eternity to get things under control. I did nothing but look at the faces of the medical staff, the way you look to air crew staff when you’re on a bumpy flight to see if they look worried, because if they look worried, well then it’s time to worry that the plane may be in trouble.

I tried to focus on my baby girl, my husband – anything other than the beeping of those bloody machines. The more I nestled my beautiful baby in to my chest, the more I worried that I wasn’t going to get out of that theatre alive to enjoy her. I felt cold and my hands were trembling as I tried to hold my baby close to me.

What felt like an eternity later, the Registrar finally looked at me, relieved and told me that I had lost quite a bit of blood but that the situation was under control and that I was now being stitched up ready to go in to recovery. The machines stopped beeping, the jovial atmosphere resumed with the Healthcare Assistant continuing with his rubbish singing and the room literally breathed a sigh of relief.

It turned out that our little baby girl wasn’t out of the woods unfortunately. We had a wonderful first 12 -18 hours with her before the drug withdrawal symptoms started taking hold and sge got sicker and sicker. I have promised myself I will write about our experience as parents of a baby with a drug dependency one day but I don’t feel quite ready to do it yet so I will come back to that another day.

One thing I must say on the subject of both her dependency and the birth is that I am so grateful for the incredible medical team we had looking after us both. Not once did we feel that we weren’t in safe hands. They were nothing short of outstanding. I know sometimes the NHS gets a bashing, and if I’m being honest, I have had my own frustrations with them in the past, but we could not fault the care given to either of us during our stay in Maternity.

Phew! I got through it! Apologies for its total lack of relevance due to my poor time keeping but posting anyway in the hope that one day it may raise awareness in the same way that newspaper article did for me. I owe the family in that article the world and then some.