With more and more practice, it got easier to get out of bed and into my wheelchair. We were then able to visit Oscar more and more. Each time we saw him he was doing better and the number of wires and breathing assistance seemed to decrease each time we saw him. We had to wash our hands with soap at the sink in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and then sanitise after. This seemed tedious at first but soon became the norm. We were only allowed visitors at a certain time, an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. And only parents were allowed to touch the baby. This was really tough for both our parents, that they weren't allowed to touch their first grandchild. I can understand that the baby needs as little contact with the outside world/outside germs, as a child could potentially have 8 grandparents if both our parents were divorced and with new partners. So I totally get the 'no grandparents touching rule' when Oscar was in his little incubator.
A day or two after he was born the midwife spoke to us about collecting colostrum for Oscar. Colostrum is the first substance that comes out when a baby starts breastfeeding. It is known as 'liquid gold' and is 100% everything a baby needs in the first few days of its life. Some women start producing colostrum around 38 weeks and research has now shown that colostrum is packed full of so much nutrients that it is now more common for women to be told to harvest their colostrum when pregnant. This involves hand expressing (squeezing your boob) and collecting the tiny droplets of colostrum in a syringe, putting a cap on it and storing it in the freezer ready to feed the baby when it's born. Breastmilk begins a really thick, yellow milk that is full of fat and minerals and as the baby gets older the milk thins out and turns a white colour.
The midwife gave me a handful of 10ml syringes and said to try hand expressing to see if I could get any colostrum. They didn't put any pressure on me whatsoever and told me not to expect much to come out. They told me to take my time, relax and not worry too much about it.
The body is ready to start breastfeeding from the second trimester. As soon as the placenta is removed the body starts producing milk due to the oestrogen and progesterone levels in your body dropping. This makes way for the hormone prolactin to be released from the pituitary gland in your brain.
The midwives told me to look at photos of my baby, make videos of the noises he was making (which weren't many) or the sound of him breathing and play them back, think about him and stay relaxed. Thinking and looking at your baby releases oxytocin which is the love hormone and the motion of hand expressing (squeezing your boob) recreates asif your baby was feeding. It was really weird to be staring at photos of a baby I hadn't even held yet, seen his face properly or had any bond with and trying to fill myself with love. I felt sad and it all felt really unnatural but I knew I needed to do it to feed him so I did everything they told me.
Here comes the bit that I could never imagine doing with anyone other than Luke. It blew my mind that couples would have to do this and could've gotten pregnant on a one night stand or have broken up during the pregnancy. I felt so lucky that Luke and I had been together for as long as we had, felt comfortable around each other and didn't take ourselves seriously enough that it was weird. As I squeezed, Luke collected in the syringes. We were sat in the hospital bed, with the curtain drawn. Working as a team to collect these tiny droplets of colostrum. Hands down the weirdest thing we've ever done.
It felt like nothing was coming out. It took us 20 minutes on one boob to get 7ml of colostrum. They say there's no point crying over spilt milk! But, every time we missed a drop we got stressy with each other - then couldn't stop laughing because of how daft and strange this all felt - he was effectively milking me. We took the syringes up to the ward where Oscar was and I felt ashamed of my tiny 15mls of milk.
I showed the midwife and expected her to be sympathetic but still say I did a great job... but she couldn't believe how much I had and so quickly! She thought she would give me the syringes and I would come back with 1ml after a few hours... not 15ml after one hour! As the days went by it got easier to collect more and faster. My supply was increasing by the hour! I felt so proud everytime I had to ask for more syringes and eventually I asked for bigger syringes of 25ml because I was filling up the 10 ml's so quickly - GO ME! At first, they would feed Oscar themselves but eventually they said we could. We dropped a few drops on his lips and he reacted to the taste. And then used the feeding tube to insert the rest of the milk. The drops to taste so that he would associate the taste of the milk with feeling full. I couldn't believe that he was surviving on a mere few hundred milliliters of milk a day but remember seeing the diagram of the size of a newborn's stomach so knew he fine as I presume his was even smaller as he was premature!
The midwife asked me when he was born that for whatever reason, if I didn't want to or couldn't produce milk for the baby, even though it is strongly encouraged, what brand of formula I would like to give the baby. I couldn't believe we were talking about formula on day 2 of my baby being born as I had such high hopes for breastfeeding. I hadn't even looked into the different brands of formula as I had no intention of using it. I couldn't answer. I told her whatever she thought was best would be fine. She told me it couldn't be her decision and that it categorically had to be mine, so she asked again. So I asked what the most popular formula was used by parents of premature babies on the ward, she told me she couldn't tell me that either as it could sway my decision, and the decision had to be mine. I couldn't believe how unhelpful she was being to a new mum that had no idea about formula. I said the first one that came to my head - Aptimal. I couldn't believe that I had spent the last few months going over every tiny detail of my pregnancy - what I need to pack in my hospital bag, what baby items to get, how to hypnobirth my way through labour... and I didn't even look into what formula would suit me and my baby most. I now had to guess the most important decision that would keep him alive. The medical professional infront of me wouldn't give me any advice - it was all on me. It made me panic and think, if she can't influence my decision that means she can't take any responsibility for my choice - why would she need to rid herself of that responsibility? Could I choose a brand that could be harmful to my baby but as long as she didn't make the decision I can't sue the hospital? Why couldn't she just HELP ME!
To this day, (6m 3w old) Oscar has never had formula. So all that worrying was for nothing. P-H-E-W! But seriously, help a sister out. Doctors can be the best and worst people all at the same time. Damn you, you incredible, superhuman, genius saving my child's life.
The first few days were a blur of, eating toast, being milked, taking pain relief, trying to sleep, stroking Oscar and taking pictures of him.