Sleeping like a baby

My first baby friend and to this day my bestie baby friend, in fact, the one who got me drunk and convinced me having a baby was a good idea, used to tell me tales of how her daughter wouldn't sleep. She’d never slept through the night (bare in mind we met when her daughter was about 1). I knew nothing about babies sleep patterns but by the way she spoke about how bad it was it made me think her baby was something out of the ordinary! Why wasn’t her baby sleeping? I wasn’t even pregnant at this point nor read a single baby book so my advice was dumb but I wanted to at least pitch in to show I cared ‘Have you tried a blackout blind?’ ‘Have you tried no TV before bed?’ Yeah right like she hadn’t tried doing that, what was thinking. 

As time went on and I became pregnant and began reading all these baby books, her daughter got older and still wasn't sleeping through the night - I couldn't believe it!! 'Have you tried getting rid of the dummy?' 'Have you tried putting her down drowsy but awake?' Yes, yes and yes to anything else I might suggest. 

I sit here now, with a 9 month old child... has he slept through the night? HEEEELLL NAAAAW! How naive and dumb was I pre-baby to be thinking it was something my Baby Momma friend was doing. Kids just don't sleep! They don't! And the ones that do! Their Mums really ought to STFU.

As if my Baby Momma friend hadn't tried everything under the sun to get her baby to sleep. That extensive list of desperation is something I've made my way through much the same in an attempt for better sleep. 

Black out blinds. White noise. Loud white noise. White noise with ocean sounds. White noise with rain sounds. White noise with rain sounds and lullabies on a piano over the top. Lullabies with the sound of a heart beating. Night lights. No lights. A fan. A humidifier. A moving star projector. A stationery star projector. A late bedtime. An early bedtime. Self soothing. Boobing to sleep. Rocking to sleep. Dummy. No dummy. Bed sharing. Side crib. Big crib. Own room. Our room. Calpol before bed. Calpol in the middle of the night. 12 hour nappy. Nappy change at 3am. Grobag. Blankets. More blankets. Less blankets. Amber teething bracelet. Calpol plug in. Sleepyhead deluxe. Sleepyhead grande. Extra mattress. Blanket that smells of me. Breastpad that smells of my milk. Baby massage. 'Sleepy' lush lavender body lotion. Lavender bubble bath. Calm bath before bed. Exciting bath before bed. Story books before bed. Dad putting him to bed. Me putting him to bed. 

YOU NAME IT. IVE TRIED IT. And in the grand scheme of things has any of it made a huge difference? NNNNNNOPE! 

Along with trying to get your child to sleep comes with all the pain in the ass advice and morons delivering guilt trip advice. "Don't feed your baby to sleep or he won't learn to self soothe" "Don't give him a dummy he'll never get rid of it" "He needs to learn to fall asleep by himself". If it works - DO IT! Recently I've thrown a deuce up to any of these sayings and just thought you know what, you don't see 15 year olds being breastfed to sleep. You don't see 12 year olds with Dummies. You don't get an 18 year old waking up every 45 minutes. These things are all things babies grow out of with or without your input. So stop wasting all of your energy on doing what you 'should' be doing, and just get the damn kid to sleep no matter what it takes! 

We give these babies far too high expectations. A baby has constant attention all day long. They need fussing over every tiny little thing, help with everything they do, to be taught how to do something over and over. Why should that be any different at night? Why do we expect a tiny baby to be ok with having the door closed on them for 12 hours and see you in the morning! (Granted if this started happening I'd be so thrilled. Adios Amigo.)

Even if Oscar did sleep through from a young age, I'd worry about him. I'd miss him. Is he getting hot under that blanket? Has he wet through his nappy? Is his bedroom too cold? How would I know all this if I closed the door and didn't see him ’til morning. I keep reminding myself this every time I go in to comfort him. That it's a chance for me to check everything's OK. That his blanket hasn't been pulled over his face, that he hasn't sunk down into his GroBag, that the white noise maker hasn't imploded and set the room on fire. 

Oscar has always been a ‘good sleeper’. But what does it mean to be a 'good' sleeper? YES he sleeps for 12 hours, is it in a row? No. Is he up several times? Yes! But he is in his crib for 12 hours, tired, wanting to sleep and I think that's pretty damn good. Only on the odd occasion (maybe 5 times in his life) has he woken up around midnight and wanted to ppppaaaartyyyy. These times are not good times. I don't do partying anymore. Least of all at 12am. So yeah, he may not sleep through but he goes back down every time I snuggle that MOFO or give him the ol' boob. 

Oscar has been a good sleeper because he goes to sleep. It took a while to realise but if he doesn't want to sleep, instead of trying to force it, give him half an hour, 45 minutes downstairs playing and try again and he’s much more inclined nod off. He goes to sleep at 6:30pm and always has! He’s always done a really good stretch at the start of his sleep and then from about 2pm it goes out the window and he’s up every hour! This has always been the way. My Mum’s always said I should put him to bed later and that long stretch would be further ahead in the night meaning I could get some sleep, but I really value my baby-free evenings with Luke where we can have adult conversation, a peaceful dinner and a break from the annoying songs baby toys make. 

Oscar started to sleep really well and when he woke up at 6am he would be awake for an hour and go straight back to sleep for another few hours - ahhhh those were the days. I wouldn’t leave bed in the mornings and could have a morning cat nap and feel human again ready for the day. It wasn’t long before the 4 month sleep regression hit. It hit us late, about 5 months old and suddenly he was waking like a newborn. He was feeding every single time he got up and some stretches were only a mere 45 minutes before he was up again. It was then that we decided to put him in his own room, when he was 5 and a half months. It was really tough for me and took it as a huge deal and the first night I was really anxious. I hated having no one next to me in a little crib and it meant I couldn’t wait for him to wake up because I missed him so much, which helped soften the blow of all the wake ups!

From the 4 month sleep regression we never looked back. It was pretty shitty from then. Not forgetting the hideous phase of 5:30am wake-ups - Oscar, what the hell was that about??

  Now, at 9 months, we’re finally getting somewhere! I think we went straight through hell with the 4 month regression, nothing improved and we went right through the 8 month regression to find ourselves here. With a blackout blind, white noise, in his own room, a 6:30 bedtime and yes he is FED/ROCKED to sleep. He now, sleeps from 7pm and wakes about 2pm and 5pm and will be up for the day at 7pm. I can’t complain!

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And as for my Baby Momma friend, you’ll have to ask her over at www.Momish.co.uk cause that hoe blogs too! (Spoiler alert: still not sleeping through but HEY thank God we have wine) 

So if you’re reading this and your baby sleeps through, go pour yourself a glass. If you’re reading this and your baby doesn’t sleep, you deserve a bigger glass! But stop feeling the pressure to stop yourself doing what you ‘shouldn’t be doing’. The most important thing you can do is survive. Get naps in wherever you can to catch a break, follow my sleep deprivation tips https://www.oscarsmum.com/blog/2017/8/14/survival-tips-sleep-deprivation and stop listening to the BS you hear from other Mum’s that make you feel worse about your baby’s sleep.

WE CAN DO IT!

Getting around with a baby

Getting out and about with a newborn

The biggest shock to the system for me that I felt most overwhelming and tricky with a newborn was how small tasks turn into the biggest ordeal. I had always heard that ‘you wont be able to leave the house in 5 minutes like you used to’ and was always baffled by this as, as long as I had nappies and wipes and a spare vest, I was pretty much good to go (thank God all I need to feed him are my boobs, and I never forget them).

The most life-changing, (and yes I say life changing because life soon becomes about going ASDA) is how inconvenient it is to shop with a baby. I remember the first time I needed to ‘nip into’ a Tesco Express by my house and had this tiny baby in a carseat. I actually got mild anxiety thinking of the possible scenarios that could play out. This may sound daft to you if you don’t have a baby, but to me, it was so difficult to grasp the concept. 

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Before having a baby a normal person would park their car, get out their car, walk in, maybe pick up a basket, get their items, pay and leave. When you’re alone with a baby, it sure as hell gets difficult to carry a carseat (have you ever carried one of those things? They’re crazy heavy) AND carry a basket (because lets face it there’s no way you’re going to be able to hold those items and carry the carseat, so you pick up a basket). But wait, how do I get the items in the basket, both my hands are full? Ok, ok so I put the car seat down every time I want to put something in the basket. The basket then gets heavy, the carseat is heavy and suddenly both my arms are bright red. I’ve then got to get to the till, put basket down, put baby down, get my purse out, pay, take the bag of shopping and the baby, head back to the car and put both in and drive home! HEEEELL NA… Must be an easier way…

Round 2… Lets try the pram. I hate this thing, the less I need to get it out the boot and clip the carseat in the better. Realistically, I ought to just get a grip and use the pram more as it saves me breaking my back and getting sore arms from carrying the car seat. It just seems so much upheaval for a trip to a Tesco Express. Hey ho, here goes. Take the pram out of the car and unfold the wheels, take the carseat out the car and put onto the wheels. Go into Tesco, carry a basket with one arm and try and push the pram with the other hand, basket becomes heavier on one side and basket begins to tip… end up wheeling the pram into the food aisles due to being unbalanced. I also become unnecessarily paranoid that the basket will pick up and almighty force and begin swinging to and fro and into the baby’s head (this would never happen but my Mum-brain works in strange and mysterious ways)

Round 3… Lets try putting my shopping in the bottom of the pram. Ok this seriously looks like I’m shop lifting. How about using a Bag for Life, the buggy clips, and taking a spare bag to unload the first bag and pack it back into the new bag… too many bags right? The bag for life works great when using the ‘Scan as you shop’ in a big Tesco, but alas, I AM AT A SMALL TESCO…

Round 4… A trolley, one trolley big enough for a car seat, outside. Can fit less shopping in than a basket and is the opposite of discrete but IT WORKS… that is until you get to a different express and they only have the tiny, stupid trollies. 

I used to sit and daydream about Round 5… what I wouldn't give for Oscar to be stable enough to hold with one hand so I could nip in with him on my waist, run in and grab a few bits, pay and leave… Little did I know this is impossible because if your baby isn’t stable enough and needs two arms holding him, this leaves no hands for your shopping and if he is stable enough it means he's old enough to want to touch EVERYTHING in the shop

To sum up, Tesco express with a baby can just GET FUCKED… if anyone has cracked it let me know. 

Getting petrol.

This I have avoided like the plague. I have tried to always get petrol when I am giving someone a lift in my car so that they can stay in the car with the baby while I pay, or I have used Pay at Pump so that I don’t have to leave him. The times I have left him, when he was smaller and/or asleep the thoughts that have gone through my head are like no other. I know very little about phones in petrol stations and why you have to turn them off but I just know that you have to, something about the sparks and the fuel… I’ve really no idea. But the thought of a petrol station EXPLODING is the only thing on my mind when I get fuel with Oscar in the car. That, and someone kidnapping him, the car overheating, the car locking and I can’t unlock it - the sheer anxiety of what could, but probably would never, happen is another level. I’ve left him a handful of times, only when I’ve parked on the pumps closest to the checkout, waited in my car until the queue had completely gone, dashed in with the exact amount of cash, THROWN IT at the man behind the till and ran back. Even typing this gives me heart palpitations. Now that he’s older, if I’m not in a rush I will get him out and take him in, get a drink and make it a leisurely affair. 

The big food shop

This gets more difficult as time goes on. It took me a while to realise that trollies exist that you can put your carseat on top of and actually strap in, I thought this was GENIUS the first time I found it. Tesco and Lidl have these and are exceptionally high, they have a car seat rack on top of a standard trolley. Although its a great idea because it means you can shop without disturbing your baby, have an entire trolley’s worth of space, you can’t see where the hell you’re going. I have hit many a small child by not knowing where I’m going. ASDA - however, are right on the money. They have low trolleys, with wide handle bars and a carseat rack. If ASDA met Tescos, and had the perfect trolley and Scan as you Shop - Holy moly I would be one happy Mama. 

When Oscar got old enough to sit in the trolleys with the child seats and have his legs dangling I was buzzing. I felt like he was a proper little boy, theres tons of space in those seats so I always either stuff his blanket around him or grab a thick wooly cardigan before I leave if its a hot day to use. I find it makes him less 'grabby' and not wanting to touch everything on the shelves if he's a bit more wedged in. This doesn't, however, stop him from putting the metal clip that you insert into the trolley in front afterwards to get your £1 back, I can't imagine the filth on there. Once the novelty has worn off of how exciting it is to have your once tiny baby, sat up in a trolley, it soon becomes THE most annoying thing on the planet, to have to concentrate on doing your shopping but also to make sure your child doesn't touch or eat or lick anything, this includes trying to bite the handlebars, touch everything that crosses his path as you put it into the trolley and touch the car keys and put a few of those in his mouth as you hang them up. 

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Shopping in town

Manoeuvring a pram around town is bloody hard. Nearly nine months later and I still make a royal ass of myself. I almost always smash the front wheels into the side of a door frame or the door itself, always go into mannequins or clothes rails. Pair this, with the fact you’ll need an extra large changing room and can’t go up the FUCKING escalator anymore so spend half your time at the back of the shop to get to the lift. 

Meeting anyone or doing anything near bedtime

This for me, is just a big fat Ha Ha NO. If someone wants to meet me outside of my house, and it’s anywhere near 6 o’clock, I invite them to challenge Oscar not to fall asleep in the car on the way there/home. Believe me, I’ve tried not to be the anal bedtime Nazi that stops me from meeting up with friends, but I just can’t help it. Once you become obsessed with naps, bedtime and timings, it’s game over. 6-8 months for us was the best age to leave the house at 11, and arrive at a lunchtime destination, have slept in the car, be sociable for a few hours, and have a nap on the way home around 2, aaaah the 11 and 2 o’clock naps, I miss you old friends - you were so convenient. 

Donating milk/what is cluster feeding

Donating milk had been something I heard about while on a car journey with another Mum. We were discussing how we were both really fortunate by pure luck to have really healthy and what appeared to be, above average supplies. Through surrounding myself with the world that is breastfeeding through books, Facebook groups, discussing with other Mums and most importantly experiencing it myself, I have come to realise that a lot of women struggle to use breast pumps well enough to make a full feed in one session. Some mums can spend hours hooked up to a breastpump and only achieve a few drops/ few ounces and others can make ounces in minutes.

 

When I was in NICU I went straight to the pump, which may be why I'm able to create such a high supply but may just be luck. I truly believe, through speaking to a number of women and seeing multiple Facebook posts, that it really is just luck. You can either do it or you can't, sadly. Some women believe eating oats and taking supplements are a few of the ways you can increase your supply and others say purely by having your baby feed more will increase your supply- no supplement or type of food will help. I have never needed to and therefore never tried these supplements, but if my supply was dipping or I believed I needed to make more milk for my baby I would try everything under the sun- so no judgement here. I'm simply repeating what I've read!

 

A lot of times during the early days, Oscar went through phases of cluster feeding and had I not been properly informed through reading up about the subject or being told by my experienced breastfeeding mama friends, that although it seemed like both my boobs were flat, deflated, empty and I simply couldn't produce any more milk- this was impossible. Breastmilk is a river not a reservoir, as they say. You will always make more milk. Cluster feeding is combined with all sorts of leaps and growth spurs that your baby is going through so it's a tricky time to have faith in yourself and your milk. A lot of women see cluster feeding as that their baby isn't satisfied with their milk and that they're crying because they're starving or that they're sucking and nothing's coming out. Believe me I thought this too when it first started happening. This can then lead to a lot of Mums falling into 'the top up trap'. When you're well informed about cluster feeding it allows you to understand what's happening in your babies life. When a baby cluster feeds it's known as 'putting their order in for the next day'. So if your baby is likely going through a growth spurt, their bodies are smart enough to know that, right, Mum, tomorrow I'm gonna need to feed double what I had today. And how do they do that? By cluster feeding. By feeding over and over and over they're sending all sorts of signals to your body to pick up the pace and that they're hungry. Come tomorrow, your body will start producing more milk to support this growth spurt. Cluster feeding happens every 6 weeks or so in a newborns life. If you've read my previous posts it's all about getting prepared. Having great films to watch, plenty of snacks and water around you and getting comfy in bed. Oscar once cluster fed for three hours. The first time I didn't know what the hell was going on and thought I can't possibly be making any more milk. I was also desperate to go to sleep so I was willing for him to go to sleep even more so.

 

The 'top up trap' is an unfortunate cycle where by a mother thinks she isn't providing enough milk for her baby due to cluster feeding and wonders why they're feeding so much and not falling asleep as they used to after a big feed. Then they go and buy a bottle of formula to a) fill their babies tummies because they feel like their milk isn't enough b) make the baby sleep.

 

By skipping cluster feeding and going through the long and tedious process of feeding, baby falling asleep, waking up as soon as they're put down, feeding, falling asleep, waking up, feeding AGAIN, falling asleep, waking up, feeding AGAIN... you get the picture. Instead of going through this process and carrying out the signals needed to be sent from their baby to their boobs, effectively, their body WONT make more milk. The baby will be full of formula, sleep and the Mums supply will remain the same. They make wake up the next day and want to continue their breastfeeding journey exclusively and come night time the baby will do the exact same thing, why? Because their body didn't get the signals needed from their baby to produce more milk for the next day. Their baby went to sleep, skipping all that vital cluster feeding and having a belly full of formula that takes a lot longer to digest than breastmilk, thus letting the baby sleep for longer. Sleeping baby = happy Mum. Skipping cluster feeding for sleep = Mums supply won't increase.

 

If the Mums supply then doesn't increase and the baby tries to cluster feed again. If the Mum is ill informed about cluster feeding and thinks its 'Night 2 of me not making enough milk for my baby', the Mum will most likely make another bottle of formula. And come night 3, 4 or 5 will go for formula straight away. By missing those lucrative night feeds the Mums supply WILL drop. She then WILL not be making enough baby for her milk and WILL choose formula full time for their baby. (Everything they dreaded in the first place and could have avoided) It's a sad, vicious cycle and sadly does cut a lot of Mums breastfeeding journeys short. There's nothing worse than feeling like you're not enough for your baby and having to swap to formula despite it being the last thing you intended. By being well advised, well prepared and having faith in yourself and SCIENCE - it should all work out.

 

Formula fed babies also cluster feeding and this can lead to a lot of Mums putting their baby on 'hungry baby milk' as they mistake a baby trying to cluster feed for a baby that's 'extra hungry'. This is simply a marketing ploy by formula companies that take advantage of Mums that will buy a thicker, higher calorie formula to fill their babies tummies to stop them crying for more food (the way nature intended). It is the only thing that truly upsets me when I read other Mums putting their baby on hungry milk, 'bed time milk' or rusks in their bottles just to get them to stop crying/sleep more. Breastmilk digests in 2 hours roughly in a newborn and formula takes a lot longer and therefore baby is more 'content' supposedly. However I would much rather my baby fuss a little to increase my supply, and be breastfed, than fill their little tummy with a powder based milk just to get them to be quiet. (If a Mum tried everything they could to breastfeed and simply couldn't, I don't judge this, but formula just to get some sleep, makes me sad!)

 

Anyway, enough about cluster feeding and rocking the boat with my formula opinions. Back to pumping. I have never had any trouble with pumping and have always had a great supply. A lot of women who struggle ought to check the 'flange size' this is the size of the hideous bit that goes over your nipple. The pump needs to mimic your baby suckling, a flange too small and it will only stimulate the end of a nipple. And breastfeeding works by the baby suckling way further back and getting a flow from the back of the breast. A baby doesn't suck on the end of a nipple so a flange needs to not just 'tickle the end'!! Too big a flange and the machine won't be able to produce a big enough force when mimicking sucking as there will be too much air/space around the breast for the machine to really latch on. So finding the right flange size is crucial.

 

Having the right settings is also important. Most machines (I've used two- one from the hospital and my own Medela double swing) and both have settings available where you can start the pump on short, quick bursts of pressure to stimulate the breast and encourage flow. It's also a nice gentle way to ease you into a pumping session instead of going HAM straight away. Once you've done a few short, high pressured pumps (not a lot will come out during these pumps but it's important to stimulate flow) you can swap to long, medium pressure, exaggerated pumps. This is when the pump reeeeeally starts to sound like a cow in a field mooing to the lasted Electro House track. This is when you should start to see the milk coming out. It should feel tingling but by no means painful.

 

When I decided to donate, Oscar was 8 months old, so instead of trying to increase my supply drastically, I simply let him feed on one side during the night so that I woke up with a FULL side and pumped that, then when I put him to sleep and he began his stretch of around 5 hours sleep, after 2/3 hours I would pump half one side and half the other. These sessions I was able to pump for 7-10 minutes and get 5oz each time. This is something I almost feel embarrassed to share as so many women struggle to get that amount. But I'm sorry, can't be helped! I think by donating it made me feel like I was putting my super strength pumping abilities to better use and really making the most of them.

 

I wrote on the Facebook page Human Milk 4 Human Babies UK and stated my age, smoker status (non-smoker), good diet, no health conditions and where I was located. I had two women contact me, one was a woman who struggled to breastfeed and baby had really bad reflux so was vomiting a lot of her feeds back up and also didn't take very well to formula so the woman was searching for a donor, the second woman who contacted me lived a little further away than the first, but her baby was born 6 weeks premature, was now 4 months old and was fighting some health conditions. This 'case' was a lot closer to my heart as I know exactly what the Mum went through and couldn't imagine her pain not being able to feed her baby. But thought it was amazing that she went the extra mile to find donated milk for her baby as breastmilk has so many more beneficial factors over formula and will improve the likely hood of her daughter getting better due to the properties of breastmilk.

 

I ended up pumping for two and a half weeks and donated 150oz of milk. She drove an hour to me and I met her 20 minutes from my house in a pub carpark.

 

Using the Facebook group to donate milk meant there was no guarantee of the health of the person donating. I felt a lot of pressure to make sure I cleaned my breaspump thoroughly inbetween every use and made sure every 5oz bag I pumped went straight in the freezer so there was no chance of any of it being left out too long.

 

One day I came downstairs in the morning and found the freezer settings had been tampered with and the box had started to melt so I went down to Currys and bought a chest freezer thinking mine was broken (OH came home and fixed it at the end of the day in seconds after all that) I lost 10oz but just fed Oscar them in a cup and pumped the feeds he would have had.

 

I'm so glad I was able to give back and do something for the 'premature community'. I stopped after two and a half weeks and donated 150oz and then went on holiday two days later so I'm glad I didn't set myself a goal too high, pump loads and make my supply double only to be left uncomfortable or have to pump on holiday!

 

Pumping that much brought back all the memories of pumping in NICU and I am so glad we were able to ditch the pumping and just breastfeed because I forgot how tedious it all is! But so worth it.

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Having a premature baby

A premature baby is a baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy and despite Oscar being 5 weeks early, I haven’t actually come into contact with him meeting any typical characteristics of a premature baby. He was born perfectly healthy and since having been discharged, albeit a few dips in his levels regarding vitamin/iron/phosphate, has been a happy, healthy, normal baby. To me, he was just born small, otherwise I have had no other reason to feel any different than if he were a full term baby! (Once we were discharged of course, nothing compares to the first 10 days in the NICU) 

I will never forget others reactions when I would say how old he was, as he was so small. I would, for that reason, introduce him as ‘Oscar, he’s 2 months old but he was born 5 weeks early so he should only be three weeks!’. When he got to around 5 months old and I started going to more and more baby groups, I realised that Oscar had quickly caught up with those his age. Oscar is intact bigger than other babies older than him. He has absolutely thrived and I couldn’t be prouder (or more relieved!) When he got to 5 months I stopped explaining that he was early and just said how old he was!

You can’t help compete as a Mum, if your baby can do something before someone else’s you feel smug! Oscar has done so well in his development so I can’t honestly say how I would have coped if he had been behind. The “he was five weeks early” seems to be an excuse as much as it is a boast. If he fails his driving test when he's 17 will I say, “Oh, er, well he was 5 weeks early” but if he gets a First in his degree will I say, “Yep.. A first, AND he was 5 weeks early!!!” When will it end? Right now, it’s the biggest thing that has ever happened to me. Nothing has been more traumatic or out of my comfort zone so in 20 years will it still be something I talk about or will the newborn days be a blur?

Depending on which side of the bed I woke up on, people’s generic comments can make me feel one of two ways. When I explain he came early, or that he was due in January but came 5 weeks early, if I’m in a bad, defensive mood, comments like “he just couldn’t wait to meet you” or “he was too excited for Christmas” I think are a serious blow over of a really serious, scary situation. If an adult spent 10 days in hospital hooked up to wires, you wouldn’t laugh at “Oh well, at least you got some time off work” or “At least that coma meant you could get some rest!” because 10 days in hospital is usually something really serious you wouldn’t joke about, especially not to a stranger! If I’m in a forgiving mood, I brush it off as I just assume they don’t know what else to say and are trying to make me feel better about it.

Most people when they hear my story, react far worse than I ever did at the time. Just by describing my story I’ve had people nearly in tears, wondering how I ever went through it. It’s crazy that other people can feel more hurt by it that me. It makes me think, am I emotionless or did I just cope really well? I had no other choice but to be okay with it… who was I helping, what was I changing by being upset by everything that was happening? When people hear that he was early they all assume that I went into labour and gave birth early, but are shocked and horrified when I say that it was an emergency c-section as though this is worse. I would far rather have had a medical intervention, a c-section and have been in hospital from the second they knew things needed to press forward than have my waters break unexpectedly and be rushed into hospital! 

Before having Oscar I knew nothing about premature babies. I didn’t know the mass number of reasons that a baby could be born premature and how that effects the Mum and/or the baby. I hope that by writing about my experience it can make it a little less scary if anyone finds themselves in my shoes as I think so rarely you hear about the positive side of it. The same goes with labour stories, we all know “that one woman” who had an awful labour but nobody tells the story of their friend who had an average labour, nobody wants to hear about average! 

 

You wouldn't even know Oscar was premature, he has come so far and I am so proud! 8 months later and we are still breastfeeding... here are a few comparison photos from his first few days to now, 8 months old! 

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NICU Aftercare

I was hesitant whether to discuss the after care I have received after Oscar left the NICU. I feel like it would be such a bitter post to complain as all Doctors and Nurses, I’m sure, are just doing their best. It’s been so complicated having Oscar registered with a Doctor’s Surgery, where he has his immunisations just like any other baby, but his aftercare lies with the NICU. The Doctor’s Surgery don’t have any experience or knowledge, per say, on premature babies - so they don’t deal with any aftercare. This would be fine, if the NICU, took full responsibility for the aftercare of their previous ‘patients’ if you will. 

When Oscar left the NICU he was prescribed with 4 large glass bottles of ‘Phosphate medicine’. Each bottle expired after a week of being open and all opened bottles had to be kept in the fridge. It was a clear liquid and I was given a dozen syringes to administer the medicine. The odd thing was, nobody explained to me what Phosphate was (I still have no idea) and just explained that it’s ideal for Oscar’s phosphate levels to be optimum in order for healthy bone development. Oscar had scheduled blood tests every 3-4 weeks to check if his levels were improving. These blood tests began as a heel prick test.

The heel prick test is pretty self explanatory, they prick the baby’s heel which causes it to bleed and they squeeze the foot so that blood comes out and they collect it. The most frustrating thing about coming in for these blood tests was the temperature outside, compared to the boiling hot temperature of the toasty NICU. It was the middle of winter, early January so to take the baby out the house I had to dress him in several layers, gloves, hats - you name it. To bring a baby into the NICU, take him out what I imagine is an already uncomfortable carseat, undress him while he squirms around, to then prick his foot, slap a plaster on and get him dressed again - was an ordeal.  Sometimes he would be asleep or have just had a feed so would sleep straight through the blood test and that was a good day for everyone. But, sometimes he would cry and I just felt dreadful. 

After his first blood test, it then came back that the medicine hadn’t improved his phosphate levels in the way they had imagined, so they asked me to double the phosphate medicine and increase the Abidec from 0.5 to 1ml twice a day. “What’s Abidec?” I asked. Abidec, was a multivitamin that had been prescribed and not given to me when we left the NICU. I couldn’t believe it, we had been discharged for 3/4 weeks, in which time he needed to be taking a vitamin supplement and hadn’t because they forgot it. I even checked our records and the Doctors notes said Abidec - I of course read these notes when they were originally given to me, but of course the word Abidec meant nothing to me.

The worst bit of Oscar’s aftercare was that the Doctors had no real idea how much to increase the medicine by. Everytime they would take a stab in the dark, “Hmmmm… ermmmm…. ok….. so….. maaaybe… increase it by…. double?? Twice a day?” for them to be so vague about the medicine I was putting in my premature, tiny little baby was worrying to say the least. It was as though the dosage didn’t correlate with how much his levels were increasing/decreasing. It was all one big guess. 

Oscar was diagnosed with Jaundice when he was in the NICU which is easily identifiable by the baby’s skin being unusually tanned. It also causes babies to be very sleepy, which initially was why he couldn’t breastfeed for long as he kept falling asleep. To treat jaundice they use a blue light on a crane, above the incubator, then the baby is kept in their nappy so as much skin is showing as possible and they wear small white goggles to protect their eyes. Oscar’s jaundice levels improved after a couple of days worth of light treatment and they were happy his levels weren’t of any concern. To test that the jaundice had gone, or that at least his levels were improving, he had to have a blood test and a urine sample.

For this blood test, it was at the hospital rather than the NICU so it was all new to me. We went in and had the blood test in a tiny, pokey office. Instead of doing a heel prick blood test, they took his hand, bend his wrist forward, inserted a needle into a vein on the back of his hand, let the needle hang out his hand while blood dripped out the other end, that they collected. This was really traumatic and he cried, and I cried. It seemed so much more invasive and brutal than a quick heel prick test. We then had to get a urine sample. They told us to take his nappy off and just wait with a plastic cup until he wee’d and catch as much as we could. We couldn’t use the office we were originally in so they booted us out to this random common room. They gave us a puppy pad to lie him on incase the wee went everywhere. We sat and waited, and waited - 20 minutes had passed. We then got told that they needed room to do a training session and the volunteers hosting it seemed really annoyed we were there. We then got screened off and they continued to use the room. So we were in the corner of a random room, with a naked baby, waiting for him to pee. He then started to get hungry so I had to feed him. This meant keeping him naked, feeding him, having the puppy pad on my lap to catch any spills, and Luke sat with the plastic cup waiting for him to pee. We finally got the sample after 40 minutes. 

In terms of blood tests, I have always been told ‘No news is good news’. This was true throughout my pregnancy too. If the hospital were concerned about the test results, they would ring, so if you don’t hear from them it means they have no cause for concern. With the jaundice test results, nobody told me anything but Oscar still looked alarmingly orange.

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I presumed that because I hadn’t heard anything in over a week - he was OK. So I rang to check. They informed me that he was still jaundice but that his levels weren’t of any concern and that his body was capable of levelling out itself. I would have thought that if the baby was still jaundice, this would warrant at least a courtesy call to fill me in - but I had to chase up the results myself.

A couple of blood tests went by - the older he got the more alert he was. I dreaded taking him. It was so infuriating that they were guessing the dosage of the medicine willy nilly and just waiting to get the blood tests done to see how accurate their guesses were. To them, a blood test was nothing, to me, it broke my heart. It seems the heel prick was only the way the NICU did it because every external blood test at the hospital was the horrible method in the back of his hand. Sometimes he would have just had a feed and even be asleep and with a bit of numbing spray on the back of his hand, he didn’t even wake. They would use a tube of sugar water and put it in his mouth which would distract him as of course it was super tasty for babies.

At one appointment, the nurse was really blunt with me. Oscar was in a good mood, happily sucking on his dummy. She abruptly said ‘OK well he’s hungry so do you want to feed him?’ I felt really pressured, and guilty that she would insinuate I hadn’t fed him when he needed it. So I took my boob out in front of the two nurses in the tiny office, sat on a stool and started to feed Oscar. His little face, looking so content as he fed away, eyes closed looking sleepy and milk drunk, they took his arm and put in the needle. He screamed and pulled off from feeding immediately to cry and cry and cry. I felt so awful - like I had tricked him into a false sense of security. That I had manipulated and blackmailed him into this horrible blood test. I tried getting him to feed again to make him feel better but his mouth was too busy wailing, wide open in complete hysteria. I started to cry and couldn’t help how bad I felt. I was alone, so it was just me and Oscar and I felt completely useless. I then fed him again outside in the waiting room apologising and stroking his hair, I felt absolutely awful. Even when he didn’t react I would still be a blubbering mess, he hadn’t even flinched one time and the Nurse said “Is he your first? Don’t you just wake up every morning thinking how lucky you are and how much you love him?” I was so full of emotion I just burst into tears - “YES I DO!”

After a few blood test results had come back to say that Oscar’s phosphate levels still weren’t what they were hoping for, they decided to test for Vitamin D. This meant taking two capsules of blood rather than one. Seeing that much blood being taken from my baby, when he had such a tiny body anyway - made me feel sick. His Vitamin D levels came back that they were really low and he was given a Vitamin D supplement. Turns out that the phosphate needed optimum Vitamin D levels to work - why wouldn’t they check for this the first time around?

This meant that Oscar was now on three supplements twice a day. Each doctor just told me to put it in his bottle and that babies didn’t have taste buds so it didn’t matter. I couldn’t believe how ignorant they were being. The Abidec in particular was revolting. It was orange in colour and looked like iodine - it stained EVERYTHING. Walls, clothes, my hands, Oscars face. He only had bottles when he was being looked after by family so for the sake of being able to put the medicine in bottles, it wasn’t worth expressing two bottles a day so I just put the syringe in the corner of his cheek as he would feed and squirt a tiny bit at a time. This meant my bra, my breast pads, my BOOB, his clothes and his face were all covered in this stupid bright orange, disgusting smelling and tasting medicine. 

When Oscar had his Vitamin D supplement prescription written up, I had to collect it from the Doctors, so while I was there I asked my GP if she could explain a little more about Vitamin D levels - “Vitamin D is really tricky to get from foods and would otherwise be generated by babies and adults being in the sun, what with this weather it’s actually really common and most babies and adults across the UK are deficient in Vitamin D. It just means that without optimum levels of Vitamin D he is likely to be a bit sleepy and we obviously want what’s best for him so that he can be nice and lively”. I felt relieved, that it wasn’t anything serious and that the supplement would really help him up his levels. 

I then had a routine check up, his 4 month NICU follow up - this was routine for all babies that stayed in the NICU. This was a brand new Doctor I had never seen before. We went over the most recent blood test results and he sounded really concerned about his Vitamin D levels. I told him what my GP said and he could not have looked more shocked and concerned. He told me that low levels of Vitamin D were really serious and if low enough, research has shown it can have links to cancer. I could not believe that the GP said the baby would just be sleepy, but the Doctor said he could get cancer. For perhaps the millionth time, I cried driving home. I cried with frustration, with guilt, worry, sadness, concern - I felt horrendous. I couldn’t believe all this was going on inside Oscar’s body. He seemed so healthy and happy you would never know anything was wrong with him.

Finally his phosphate levels were at the right levels, thanks to the Vitamin D supplement. The Vitamin D levels then reached the right levels. When I received the call that the Vitamin D AND Phosphate levels were both exactly what they were looking for in a healthy baby. I felt so relieved, finally, he could stop all his medicine, his little body was fighting for itself. I couldn’t believe all the blood tests could finally end. “We will book in a blood test in 6 weeks to check that his body is sustaining these levels while on no medication” I couldn’t believe there was still MORE blood tests to come.

Oscar is now 8 months old and he had this final blood test two days ago. He was an absolute dream and was smiling and happy the whole time, he or I didn’t even realise the needle went in! I had the same nurse again who said would I like to feed him and I said “No thank you I will feed him when I leave.” Knowing full well I never wanted to betray him like that again. I wish I had stood my ground the first time. A day later, a man at the Doctor’s surgery rang. “Hi there, I have just received blood tests back, I think they’ve gone to the wrong place though as I don’t deal with NICU out patients… Did you know Oscar was anaemic?” “No… No I didn’t” “Oh okay well yes, he is anaemic, so I think you should ring the doctor now that ordered these tests.” “Ok… it was supposed to be a vitamin D test, has that come back?” “No, sorry it doesn't state his vitamin D levels, just that he is anaemic, ok? Bye then” I could not believe it. I couldn’t get hold of the doctor at the NICU for a good hour. I Googled it (why, why do I always do this) and scared myself shitless researching anaemic babies. I finally got hold of the Doctor who said, “Not to worry, his iron levels aren’t alarmingly low, just a little lower than we would have hoped to see. That will be sorted with a supplement in no time”

And so it continues… I have no idea if he has been able to sustain his Vitamin D levels as of yet and he is now anaemic… 

This post is by no means to criticise the NHS staff as I know they all work really hard, have a lot on their plate and get paid far less than they should. But the number of phone calls I have had to make to chase results and appointments, the way they dish out blood tests like they’re a walk in the park, guessing their doses, and nobody taking any responsibility for Oscar being under their care and for the information to be so different from one Doctor to the other… my mind is blown how any of this would affect a baby that was seriously ill, with anything other than just ‘low levels’.

Survival tips: Sleep deprivation

Morning

When you wake up after a L O N G night. And your eyes feel drier than the Sahara Desert. It stings to open them and your body feels weak and heavy. Last nights make-up is gluing your eyes together and you’re wondering how the hell you can do this. Here are my tips for when you first wake-up (anything before 6/7am is still considered night time, keep lights off, soft/quiet voices or even don’t speak at all, no eye contact - baby needs to be reminded this is time to sleep not play).

Mint body wash - Take a shower first thing, it will make you feel so much more awake. Sometimes this is easier said than done so I would suggest giving your baby a big feed and putting her in a chair in the bathroom that plays music or vibrates (battery operated of course) and talking to her the entire time, singing songs, making eye contact. Once in the shower, this body wash will make you feel A L I V E. Definitely get a body puff to really lather the product up and ensure you get a good wash.

Brushing your teeth - I do this in the shower. A) to save time and B) because for some reason a minty fresh mouth makes me feel so much more alert and ready for the day than a warm, morning breath mouth (gross ha). I would get a toothpaste that is so minty it takes your breath away and then brush brush brush.

Make-up wipes for eyes - I keep make-up wipes on my bedside table. I find that wiping my eyes in the morning just freshens them up. It stops them from being sleepy and wanting to close again by waking you up. It gets all the left over make-up off and leaves you feeling cleansed. They’re quick and easy and something you can do while feeding the baby/the baby sleeps without having to get out of bed (just yet)

Get jobs done in the morning - no guilty naps - For the first few weeks you will feel like, and people will tell you, not to do the jobs around the house and to soak up your baby and enjoy these days. But lets be honest sooner or later you need to get off your ass and do the dishes. If it’s your first baby you’ll have a lot of time on your hands, especially if you can’t drive for 6 weeks if you’ve had a c section. If you have a reasonably content baby you can definitely find time to do housework and take care of yourself.

I can definitely recommend, after a morning routine to get you out of your sleepy state and feeling fresh and awake - to get your jobs for the day done first thing. This leaves for a guilt free day. If I have to do dishes or laundry, or normally both, but I fall asleep with the baby at 1pm, and 3pm- you can guarantee they would’ve been guilty naps. Naps where I don’t deserve them and still have the thought of all my jobs on my mind on top of looking after a baby. Although its a huge struggle to get them done sometimes, if you aim to have them done before midday, it leaves for a whole afternoon of being a lazy slob/cuddling the baby/sleeping when the baby sleeps. If you have a busy morning it will also make it easier to have an afternoon nap as you’ll be so zonked you will just sink into that mattress.

Quick wash - Tits, pits and bits - If you don’t have time for a shower, definitely just have a quick wash over the sink. It’ll take seconds but make the world of difference and also stops you from stinking.

During Nightfeeds

Repetitive film, no bright lights - During night feeds I would use the TV as a light. It was far enough away that it wasn’t in the baby’s face and would light the room ever so slightly - enough for me to wake up but not so bright that the baby wakes up. I feel like had I put a big light on it would’ve fully woken up the baby and risked disturbing that sleepy state which enables him to (hopefully) fall back straight asleep after a feed. If I used a really subtle light it wouldn’t be bright enough to keep me awake. If you have a hallway or an en suite, keeping a light on in there and cracking the door is also a great idea.

Instead of watching TV or a series, or anything new - I would watch a film that I had seen a few times, and simply replay it over and over every time I woke up. I found that if it was something I’d seen a million times, it didn’t keep me awake enough because I knew exactly what was going to happen/all the words. If it was something I hadn’t seen before, it was too much to concentrate on at 3am when you’re too tired for words. So a film I had seen a few times was the perfect amount.

Don’t get too cosy/warm - if it’s winter, sometimes the heat of your bed is something you never want to escape. We all know the feeling of being in bed and just snuggling back in when your alarm goes off. It’s crucial that you fully wake up to feed your baby as you could fall asleep with them under the duvet - God forbid. You need to stay focused! Sometimes undressing ever so slightly or pulling the duvet off can be a good way to stay awake if you’re slightly chilly you’re more likely to stay awake. 

Stay hydrated - Before bed, I use an Arbonne water bottle because it is PERFECT for this. It has a wide neck which means you can fill the bottle to the top with ice and screw the lid on. This means that as the ice gradually melts, every time you wake up you have cold, fresh water. Nothing worse than either forgetting to bring a drink to bed completely, or waking up in the middle of the night and the only water you have is luke warm. 

Bedtime

Take off all make-up - if you have gotten around to wearing make-up in the day, definitely remember to take it off at night! There is nothing worse than crusty eyelashes in the morning after not having taken your make-up off. It’s also really bad for your pores/skin to leave make-up on so the last thing you need on top of post-partum healing is bad skin. I don’t know about you but nothing makes me feel more ready for bed than putting on fresh Pjs and taking my make-up off. 

Don’t use your phone before bed - O.K. O.K. I know this is easier said than done as we are all glued to our phone but reducing screen time before bed allows your mind to relax and you’ll find it easier to fall asleep. The last thing you need is your brain still ticking over when you’re trying to get as much sleep as you can before the baby wakes up for its next feed.

Go to bed when the baby does - I worried so much about spending time with my partner to make sure we still had a healthy relationship, that I would stay up in the evenings when the baby was sleeping. I soon realised this was stupid because it was valuable time I could be sleeping. I breastfed so the feeds were all really down to me. Luke was still working 9-6 so I couldn’t expect him to help me with night feeds. What worked really well for us was catching up about 10pm. I would go to bed about 7/8pm when the baby did, and manage to get a few hours sleep, which just felt like a nap. I would then wake up to feed the baby and it was the same time he was going to bed. So we would watch an episode of something together and chat for a bit around 10pm and then we still got to fall asleep together like a normal couple. I think the most important thing to remember is these sleepless nights won’t last forever, the first few months are rough but the baby soon settles and/or you get used to sleepless nights and don’t know any different. In the newborn days its all about survival. Do what you need to do to survive! Everyone will soon forgive you if you ignore or don’t have time for them - even if it is just to sleep - you just need to survive.

Newborn Days

Newborn advice

The thing that surprised me most about myself through pregnancy and this whole experience was how much reading I did. I fell pregnant during the last week of my exams to pass an NVQ Level 2 in Beauty Therapy - this was what sparked my love for reading. For a change, I was interested in what I was reading. I couldn't get enough, until I found baby books! I have never read so much in my life! I am obsessed with finding out as much information as possible in order to make the best decision possible with Oscar's best interest at heart. 

Difference between day and night

I read this tip in a book and I feel like it has really helped us. In the daytime I would make sure Oscar was asleep in the daylight, even if he slept better in the dark, I would refrain from closing the blinds or curtains to help him drop off. This meant that he learnt to fall asleep no matter how light or dark it was. It was also important to teach him the difference between day and night, in the newborn days this isn't crucial as they pretty much just feed and sleep, but by making the daytimes light and the evenings/night times dark it means you can start to teach the baby that light is daytime, time to play, time to talk, time to be awake. When it is dark, it is time to be quiet, to sleep, be calm and settle down. This helps (sometimes) if the baby wakes early once they're a few months old and want to play, you can remain quiet, keep the room dark and reinforce that it is still night time, time to be quiet, sleep, be calm and settle down and they should (lol) go back to sleep. 

In the newborn days we kept the changing table in our bedroom. I did this out of pure laziness but also meant that Oscar would stay in the same lit and temperature room when he would wake to be fed and changed. He was born in the winter so can imagine that if I had got him out of bed, in our dark, cosy warm room, taken him out into a bright, cold hallway and then into another room to change his nappy, you can bet he would've woken up. He slept in a GroBag which meant that again, when I picked him up, I wasn't removing any heat from him by removing blankets, as the blanket effectively came with him when I picked him up to feed him as he was wearing the GroBag. I also used minimal lighting, mostly just the light from the TV in the corner of the room, as I knew that if I switched on a lamp or even a ceiling light, that the baby would fully wake-up and be stimulated by the light and struggle to go back down. 

Sleeping/Feeding

This is personal preference, however I read enough articles on the effects of sleep training under 6 months so was strongly against it. For the first 6 months I would feed Oscar on demand and tend to him within seconds of him stirring. A baby's only way of communicating is vocally and I really believe that a baby cries because they need something/someone. A baby that is ignored will eventually stop crying because no one is coming. This increases the risk of SIDS as a baby will stop communicating if there is a problem.

Once he reached 6 months I began trying to settle him without the use of a dummy/being picked up and would start to just soothe him by placing a hand on his stomach and/or letting him fuss and send himself to sleep. Oscar started teething at 6 and a half months and the dummy was the only thing that soothed him, so the dummy stays however, I will feed him before his bath, then just cuddle him to sleep, so that atlas, he's not being fed to sleep which will help when I plan to night wean him. 

Anyway, I'm rambling, as a newborn if Oscar seemed unsettled I would feed him straight away. You cannot overfeed a breastfed baby, sometimes it may seem like they are 'eating' loads, but it could just be suckling to increase your supply if they're going through a growth spurt. Once you are a few weeks in, it's a good idea to work out how often your baby is feeding - we were put on a 3 hour schedule by NICU so this is what I stuck to. If I left the house, I made sure I was either back, or somewhere I could feed him well in advance of him getting hungry. I would look out for feeding queues (see below)

and anticipate his hunger and feed him before he got fussy. This is easier said than done but before you know it you will know your baby. 9 times out of 10 Oscar would get fussy and could be soothed by feeding. I love breastfeeding so much for this reason as I had, in a matter of seconds, food. I know really little about bottle feeding but I would presume you would make up a bottle just before you anticipate the baby getting hungry rather than waiting for them to get fussy and then trying to calm them while you make the bottle. I think the green label at the bottom is really important, to soothe a baby first. If a baby has been in tears and is really worked up, they won't want something shoved in their mouth, they are only tiny and can only concentrate on one thing at a time, being upset, or feeding. It breaks my heart to see babies crying their eyes out and just have a bottle shoved in their mouth. Sometimes they just need a little reassuring with a cuddle and calming down before they feed.

"Sleep when the baby sleeps"

While I was pregnant I remember women reading about how ridiculous this was and how they didn't have the time to sleep when the baby slept - O.K. I can understand this if you have more than one child but if I were to of slept when Oscar slept, ALL I would've done was sleep. It took until he was 3 weeks old to interact at all. His routine was to sleep, wake up, nappy change, feed and would then fall asleep again. He was always sleeping. I loved him sleeping on me, as long as I was wide awake. Lucky, he slept like a dream in his Sleepyhead. This was a life saver for me as I was able to put it anywhere! The dining table, the breakfast bar, in his bedroom, in my bedroom, round other peoples houses. It was a bed, anywhere you wanted! I can't recommend it enough. 

Over stimulation

The understanding of over stimulation I have found crucial to having a placid baby. There was a big poster up on one of the walls in NICU saying "The best stimulation your baby has is you". As a tiny baby, just trying to grasp the features of your face is a lot for them. Sticking them under a play mat with multicoloured toys, singing, flashing and moving will easily over stimulate a baby and cause them to get fussy/tired. Over stimulation can come from all of their sights being interacted with and for too long. We would always joke when Oscar would fuss and say "Ahh! It's too colourful!" and take away the toy and he would calm down. I can imagine the worst thing to do would say, "it's okay! It's Mr Bunny!" and try to change his mind about the toy by making it wave or using a soft voice. If they're getting fussy it's too much. Take it away! Limit stimulating your baby to a small amount and gradually build up the older they get. Even now, at 7 months, Oscar can get over stimulated if he's been playing with toys for too long. 

Tummy time

Tummy time can be as simple as lying them on your chest and encouraging them to lift their head up. When Oscar was a newborn he was far too busy sleeping and feeding and I only managed to squeeze in maybe one 'tummy time' a day if I remembered. When he started to get a bit more alert I would interact with him while he was on his back, roll him over for a few minutes and then roll him back. At the start they just face plant the ground and don't like it but over time you can see them get better and better. Using a breastfeeding pillow for him to rest on helped a lot with his neck strength as he didn't have his face in the carpet which would distress him.

Bedtime routine in winter

I would say a bedtime routine is definitely easier in the summer, or at least in a warm house! Our house was warm enough for us but definitely too cold for a baby without blankets. I used to heat up his bedroom using a heater while I did his bath, then put the heater off and in the corridor, then do a bit of baby massage, put him in his pyjamas, milk and bed. It would definitely have been easier in summer! Using cellular blankets really put my mind at ease that he was warm but the blankets were still breathable. I began a nighttime routine when he was 3 months old. 

Post Partum Hormones

The days of having a newborn seem like a blur. The topics that spring to mind straight away when thinking of writing this is the fear of other people holding your baby, the feeling of being away from him, the non-stop nappies, the sleepless nights and the feeling of thinking, “is this really happening?”

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As a person, I’m pretty laid back. I won’t get annoyed about anything unless its seriously annoying. I let the little things go and generally try to get along with everyone. I like to think I’m a pretty reasonable person. The emotions of a new Mother are unexplainable. It became apparent that I had this uncontrollable urge to have the baby in my arms at all times. I was so glad I was able to say that he should avoid cuddles until his due date, but even so, close family, Luke's parents, even my own parents, holding the baby, I just couldn’t wait for it to end. I was so used to holding him every second of every day it just felt so unnatural for me to be watching someone else holding him. It wasn't even, for the most part, the worry of someone else ‘doing it wrong’ by not supporting his neck or disturbing his sleep or making him unhappy, it was just the thought that he wasn't coming back, or would be away from me for more than a second, I just couldn’t shake the feeling. I knew it was irrational and that my hormones were all over the place but I just wanted to shut myself out, in a room alone with the baby. It made me snappy with other people and I knew I was being a dick but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted him 100% safe in my arms. I wanted to know the baby could smell me and was safe and I could feed him in a second. I think that’s a huge part of why I love breastfeeding, that I am the source of nourishment. If the baby is hungry, he HAS to come back to me to feed, and I can even excuse myself to another room to feed. Not for privacy but for my own damn selfishness.

I discussed with a few of my Mum friends and they said the feeling was very mutual. It doesn’t matter who they are, once it’s been longer than a few minutes, you want the baby back. I became so over-protective. I didn’t want any second hand smoke around him, no one with germs, no dogs around, no one with the hint of a cough, everyone that held him would sit still and do so quietly, no walking around with the baby, nothing. Just sit, hold him, and give him back. It became all I could think about when any was holding him, “When are they going to give him back?” I bit my tongue because I knew I was being irrational but I couldn’t explain it. I knew that it was both our parents first Grandchild, that everyone was so in love with him and he was a part of their family as much as he was mine. But I just craved to have him back. I thank God I had breastfeeding as an excuse. Even if he was fussy and didn’t need feeding, I would say he might be hungry just to get the baby back. I became possessed like Gollum over the Ring.

As time went on, as expected, it became a lot easier for others to cuddle Oscar. Especially when he started to gain head control and wasn’t so floppy. I wanted to stay happy and polite but it’s difficult not to leap into action when someone doesn’t support his head properly.

I was really lucky that everyone kind of ‘got it’. Nobody asked for ‘five more minutes’, nobody whined or moaned that they had to give him back. Nobody questioned my motive that I wanted him back, and I’m so relieved it wasn’t a big issue. I don’t think anybody knew what was really going on in my head. I knew it was hormones. It was like having a split personality. I had to control my inner self and remain polite and human on the outside. I used to have to exclude myself to wind down and relax once I got home from visiting others or others had visited me, after getting so uptight and worked up about the time someone would hold the baby. It was madness. I was battling this crazy, obsessive personality inside me.

About 6 weeks after Oscar was born I was having my usual day of tidying the house, changing nappies, messaging my friends, watching TV. I remember everything was reasonably tidy, Oscar was asleep and I was just staring into space. I felt really, really down. I couldn’t for the life of me put into words why. I went to type to my friends asking for advice or comfort but I felt silly as I couldn’t say what was bothering me. I just felt like I had a cloud over me and my day. This came and went over a few days and I knew it was just a dip in my hormones. The only thing that helped was knowing that it was completely normal and it wasn’t just me. I just decided to be at peace with the cloud and let myself feel low and not force myself to feel better. 

The most bizarre feeling of all was how different I thought I would feel and life would be. I think as Oscar has always been a breeze, he has slotted really nicely in to my life. I just ate and watched TV the whole time. It was the nights we spent watching the TV with Oscar in his pram (he didn’t have a bed for a week so slept in his pram) in the lounge with us. When he was sleeping it was like nothing had changed. After 8 months of being pregnant, an emergency c section, ten days in the NICU, here we were, back where we spent every evening, in front of the TV. I expected everything to be SO different but it felt exactly the same. Everyone describes birth and motherhood as such chaos and you don’t have time to shower or brush your teeth. I was preparing myself for hell. It was a breeze. I’m not suggesting everyone should start saying babies are easy, but maybe stop saying ALL babies are difficult. The newborn days are changing nappies, feeding and sleeping. Eat, shit, sleep, repeat. It’s cosy, quiet, surreal and the days blur into night.

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I think as a new Mum I didn't expect to feel so many NEW emotions. I have never felt like I couldn't explain my sadness, I've never felt like I was possessed and over protective, I thought that I would stay the same person but instead I developed all these new traits. I think it's important to take every day as it comes and try not to force yourself to get back to normality or feeling like 'you', just run with it. Your body will sort itself out, the dust will settle. It's all new and I think as Brits, we are very self conscious of being polite 24/7. We don't want to upset other people so we excuse our behaviours and feelings. I'm so glad I spoke up and asked for Oscar back when I wanted him in my arms again as I would've driven myself mad if I had stayed quiet just to be polite. 

To my C section Sisters

Having a c sizzle. A cesarian section. The baby coming out the sunroof. The "too posh to push", exit signs here, here and here. 

I never thought I would have a c section, but here I am. There are definitely a handful of cons but a butt load of pros. Speaking of butt load... wait, I'll get to that later. 

My first thoughts after having had a c section was that the word 'birth' didn't resonate with me. I found myself pausing to think of how to describe how Oscar came into the world. I didn't give birth to him, because for me that involves me doing something. I did nothing. I led down on the hospital bed and did nothing. Perhaps had I had contractions I would've considered the ordeal to be much more like a birth, but to me it was like having a boob job. I led down, got sliced open, had something surgically removed, was stitched up and sent to recover. I didn't get to hold the baby, see the baby or go home with the baby. No part of it to me felt like 'birth'. I've had many a woman say to me not to discredit myself and that I did give birth and be proud but, I am proud. I don't mind that I didn't give birth to him. Or at least, I don't mind now. When I first had him I felt like I had failed at carrying a baby and that I could only do it for 35 weeks. That my body wasn't good enough to last the last five weeks. But it was for the best that he came early because God forbid I had carried him longer and something serious happened. I don't mind what happened because it got him here safely. At first I wished I had given birth but in hindsight, I am pretty smug I didn't! I didn't get any contractions, any labour and didn't have to push a baby out my lady end! 

My scar is healing really nicely and although the area still feels numb, really weird to touch, and sometimes if I let Oscar walk or balance on my stomach it can hurt if he's on the scar, it doesn't bother me whatsoever. It is low enough that you can't see it when I wear underwear/bikini and they did an awesome job to dodge my tattoo and stitch the skin back up so that it still all matched. Annoyingly, which is very vain and particular of me, the scar isn't in a straight line. It has a curve to it which looks really funny. I know that that really doesn't matter and medically it's perfect but the OCD demon inside me wishes it was straight. 

The plus side of having a c section, assuming you didn't try to push first, is that your lady bits are still intact. The babe came out the sunroof. The times I have read about fourth degree tears makes me shudder! I didn't have to use any of the cold packs, no aloe gel pads, didn't have to wee using a bottle full of water to soothe the burning sensation. I didn't get the 'ring of fire' as described by many women as the moment the babies head has fully stretched... down there. 

HOWEVER, and I am purely blogging about this because my God if someone had warned me I would've thanked them to the high heavens, the worst part of my entire experience... forget the scar, forget the needles, forget the spinal, forget the painfully engorged boobs, forget the pain of sneezing or laughing... my worst pain was my a-hole. Yes, ladies and gents, all though I fucking hope it's only ladies reading this, my butthole. 

I lost 1.2 pints of blood during my c-section. Luke and the nurses were actually joking about how much blood was on the floor and his shoes and the nurse joked he would need new theatre crocs because of how covered in blood they were! Luckily I didn't catch wind at the time of what they were saying otherwise I would've freaked out. But, Luke kindly filled me a week or so later. Because of this blood loss I was classed as anaemic which meant I was then put on iron pills that I had to take two a day for the next 8-12 weeks. What they failed to mention about the tablets is that an imbalance of fibre:iron makes your poos hard as bricks. I was literally shitting bricks. (Can't believe I'm blogging about this) but holy hell, I would literally dread going to the toilet, cry when I was in there from pain, wipe blood and then feel sad the rest of the day. At my six week check up the doctor asked very briefly how my c section was and if I was on any contraception. It was the most vague check up I'd ever had considering I'd had major surgery. Much to my disappointment, it was a male doctor with whom I had my check up with. I informed him that I had "hard stools" just to avoid saying shit, poos, turds or dumps. His reply, 'well I can certainly take a look at that for you today if you like'. OH okay sure I'll just hop onto this bench and show you my asshole, kind stranger. I politely declined and said please can you just give me a stool softener and maybe some cream, specifying that I was breastfeeding. He gave me Laculose and Anusol. Got home and the Anusol stated it couldn’t be used by breastfeeding mothers. Thanks PAL. The Laculose was meant to be a stool softener but the damage had already been done, I was in agony. I decided to take matters into my own hands and ask my good old friend Google. Google told me I needed more fibre in my diet so I looked up high fibre foods, I went and bought high fibre bread, high fibre cereal, you name it, if it was high fibre I bought it. I ate so much high fibre food in desperation, on top of a high fibre supplement drink, that I gave myself the worst stomach cramps and constipation. I was utterly fooling myself. I had OD’ed on fibre. 

The moral of this story is anticipate this happening before it does, I wish I had asked for the Laculose as soon as they gave me the iron tablets. It took a L O N G time to heal. It was hands down the most painful and long-lasting after effect of my entire pregnancy/motherhood journey.

Ok, ok enough talking about my butt. I’m so sorry if that wasn’t what you wanted to read but my Goodness me if I could have avoided that entire situation I would’ve. If you ever bump into me please don’t remind me you read about my b-hole on my blog. I’m writing this to be a good samaritan! 

Next up on the hideous list of c section after math, the injections. On top of the sexy white socks I was put it during and after surgery to reduce blood clots, I also had to have an injection once a day for 10 days. This could either be in your leg or stomach. After the hideous injection I had in my thigh before surgery I chose the stomach. I could never in a million years inject myself so Luke did the honours. We had to alternate between the left and right side of my stomach. We decided beforehand to ‘count to two’. If I ever have to do something I hate, I do it on the count of 2. I think I saw it in a film, or maybe on How I Met Your Mother. But three seconds is too long and you’re more likely to chicken out so two seconds leaves you enough time to prepare but not so much that you have time to overthink it. I hated them, every single one. It was a sharp stinging pain but we just got on with it. 

I had dissolvable stitches which at first glance I thought was a pube so I pulled it and it tugged at the skin. It was the grossest thing ever. I do not advise pulling anything you may think is a pube, a stitch, a fibre, anything. Just leave it alone. I had a white bandage on for the first two days and a nurse would come in every time they checked on me and draw using a biro around how much the bandage had bled, they didn’t explain this to me until the third time so when I looked down I had no idea what had happened. I thought it was a dark red edge of dried blood which was so confusing and weird. Until I saw her draw with a pen on the third time. You’d think someone would explain first hand if they’re drawing on your pubic area with a biro.

They encourage you to move around as much as you can, I got a wheelchair because I needed to go down the hall so was quite far to walk so soon however I once buzzed the nurse while Luke wasn’t with me, for help to get into the wheelchair as I needed the toilet. She told me she wouldn’t help me and that I should try and walk there. I thought she was joking but she actually made me get up. Apparently moving around encourages the blood to flow around your body which in turn, aids the healing process. 

My first shower in hospital was a sight for sore eyes. Luke helped me with absolutely everything. I leaned on him the entire time and moved slower than a snail. He was so patient with me! It hurt to do the smallest thing and crouching over gave me the most relief. It felt so good to be clean! A shower heals everything. A hangover. A break-up. Major surgery. I was so glad I had a thoroughly packed hospital bag and had everything I needed. My most valuable item was probably a shower poof, it just made me feel so much more pampered and thoroughly clean than a bar of soap. 

Once the dressing came off everything felt so much better. It was like a huge sticky plaster and as soon as that came off there was nothing to tug and move around if you bent over. It made the area that was sore seem bigger, because it was such a big plaster. But when it came off, the only area that was sore was the scar itself and a small area around it. I washed the scar really gently as you aren’t supposed to use soap on it for 6 weeks (I think) so just rinsed water over it. 

I refrained as much as possible from sneezing or laughing. I swear every time I sneezed it felt like my insides had ripped open. I found tickling my nose, breathing in and out rapidly and wiggling my fingers around seemed to stop a sneeze - I can’t guarantee this will work for everyone as it is not medical nor normal for a human being to do. It’s just what I did. I would also want to cry if something made me laugh so avoid talking to or being around morons at all time. Very hypocritical seeing as I was wiggling my fingers and tickling my nose all day. 

Hopefully if you have a c section you’ll have a supportive team around you and I was lucky I did. Everyone bent over backwards for me which was amazing. You’re advised not to hoover or drive for 6 weeks. I was hoovering after a week (panicking about bringing the baby home) and was driving after 4 weeks. I remember the nurse holding the door for me, and I was so overly polite, as I was quite far away, that I did a light jog towards the door and said thank-you. She stared at me like I was absolutely mental. I just healed fast! I felt human really quickly after the operation. I remember wearing fluffy socks in the NICU and ice skating around the room, sliding around on my socks. It was the easiest (and fastest) way to get around whilst moving as little as possible. Sounds absolutely ridiculous now, everyone must’ve thought I was a complete tosser.

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I’ve mentioned before my cluster feeding corner packed full of snacks, drinks, movies and pillows. This applies for c section recovery too. Get everything prepared! To A) annoy those around you less by having to beg less every time you want a drink or snack and B) you have to move less. It’s a good idea to use your stomach muscles as little as possible, if I wanted to be sat upright I would use several pillows and cushions to prop myself up, and if I wanted to lie down I would remove them one by one, lowering myself, thus not having to use my stomach muscles. If I wanted to get off the bed, I would twist to one side and slide off the bed, avoiding sitting up. 

I wore my maternity jeans for A LONG time after my c section. Not just for size but for comfort. The last thing you want is a zip going over that strange numb sensation or anything hard and metal crumpling over anytime you sit down. Leggings and maternity jeans were the best for this. I never wanted to throw them away. I miss you maternity jeans. I would also suggest keeping stocked up on big ol’ pants. Normal pants for me, sit juuuuuuuust above my section so anything tight and lacy would just irritate it so badly. So I rocked the high waisters for a long time!

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All in all, I would say a c section is nothing to fear. However, do take this with a pinch of salt. This is just MY opinion. I did not have any contractions, I didn’t go through labour and had I gone through all that only to end up with a c section - I definitely would’ve been pretty pissed! I also didn’t have a baby to look after, to pick up, to soothe, to breastfeed. I was able to rest, get a few full nights sleep (besides using a pump every 3 hours). Everyone heals differently but the point of this post and its optimism is to reassure you that if you get told you need a c section, that you are prepared, calm and know that you will survive! It will suck a bit but you’ll get through it!

I will definitely opt for a VBAC (Vaginal birth after cesarean) for my next baby but I can tell you now I am terrified for labour, contractions and the ring of fire. If anyone wants to tag me in a blog writing about the optimism of labour, please do so!!

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The healing process! 

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7 months Post partum. Pls excuse my leopard print pants.  

Hometime

It's a saying in the NICU that the closer you get to the door, you are to leaving. The NICU is a narrow rectangle shaped ward, at the far end is the intensive care, then there are two rooms called Nurseries. First, the babies are admitted into intensive care, then moved to Nursery 2 and then Nursery 1. Each room does get closer to the door and ironically does get you closer to going home but the entire time we were there it was unspoken about when we were going home. Understandably, the nurses didn't want to give us a date that we could go home incase things changed. Originally they told us we could be in any time up to his due date. I couldn't believe we could be in the NICU for five weeks. I knew nothing about premature babies or if this was a normal amount of time. But saying it could be up to five weeks meant I didn't get my hopes up while we were there. Even so, our family still clung to every word the nurses said. If they said anything hinting at a time frame or a date we would get our hopes up and try to depict what it meant. I tried figuring out what was written about him on the whiteboard and peeked in his notes anytime they were left out. I was desperate to know how he was getting on.

There was a checklist of things that the parents and babies had to complete before going home aside from medical checks. Bath time with the baby, one in four feeds on the breast, a baby first aid course, the car seat had to come in and be checked for size and the baby had to stay in a room with you alone for two nights. Some midwives were really proactive and would come in and check your progress and see if they could help in anyway to get you home faster but some seemed to do the bare minimum. I'm not sure if this was personal choice or the way it worked but it seemed frustrating that they had the power to get your baby home quicker and would choose not to.

One midwife, who was so lovely and definitely memorable, would make such a fuss and was always in high spirits. She would always try to get Oscar to breastfeed, was good at asking guests to go in a nice manner when she could tell you needed some time alone, was amazing at powering through the checklist and actually took the time to learn my name, instead of just calling me Oscar's Mum like the others.

Oscars first bath was super cute. It was scary to be holding such a tiny baby I got so scared I would drop him in. The nurse wheeled round the bath ready with bubbles in and showed me how to bath him. The water was so much hotter than I expected it to be but she said there's no harm in a nice warm bath, obviously just as long as the water isn't too hot! After he had his bath, his flattened, sticky hair had been washed and dried for the first time and he suddenly had AMAZING spiky fluffy hair all over his head!! All the midwives couldn't believe it. He really loved the bath and it was so cute to see him wrapped up in a towel afterwards. Even though it seemed a strange thing to have to have on a checklist to go home, I am so glad someone else was there with me the first time around. Had it been the first bath at home I would've been terrified. 

Once Oscar was out the bath and I was able to dress him in a fresh baby grow and dry his hair, it was the first 'Mummy' moment I had that I had dreamt about, other than feeding him. Plus it was a tick off our checklist!

Next was the First Aid course that reminded me a lot of a training DVD you have to do at work. I sat in the 'Parents room' which was a room where I often sat and had coffee, nipped to the toilet and made my toast in the morning. I sat and watched a DVD about babies choking, babies not breathing and how to perform CPR on a baby. This was really scary to watch and I got a bit lost in it as I was sat by myself. I started picturing myself having to ring 999 because my baby wasn't breathing and started to get upset. I'm glad I had the training and it put my mind at rest that I knew what to do in case of an emergency. It blew my mind that the training said it is better to perform correct CPR and break a babies ribs than it is to be gentle and not perform CPR correctly. I pray I never have to use what I learnt that day! The midwife then came in with the doll and we practiced CPR and slapping the baby on the back in the event of choking.

Oscar's feeds on the breast were increasing each day. He was getting stronger and stronger and was feeding like a champ. We were originally going to be sent home with Oscar's tube kept in and feed him through the tube but he absolutely aced breastfeeding and before we knew it he was exclusively breastfed. This took 8 days. We had been told we could have been in the NICU for 5 weeks and it took 8 days for Oscar to become exclusively breastfed. I wasn't expecting it at all. I had been staying in the NICU for three nights, getting up in the middle of the night to pump and feed him with the midwives nearby if I needed them. After night 3 of me staying in the NICU, Oscar's 7th night in total, Oscar then breastfed all day without needing the use of his tube. They then told me I could have him in my room overnight. I couldn't believe it. The baby stays in your room for the last two nights... were these our last two nights? I didn't want to ask incase I jinxed it but I was pretty sure we were nearly going home!

I was so nervous! It was exactly how every new Mum feels. I now couldn't pop to the toilet anytime I wanted. He would be sleeping with no one watching him if I was asleep at the same time. There was no one all night to check if I was doing everything right! It was really overwhelming. He still had a monitor on his foot that was checking his heart rate so every time I picked him up to feed him I had to pick up the monitor and make sure the wires weren't tangled. I had a TV in my room and would turn on whatever rubbish was on the Freeview box to try and stay awake everytime I fed him. I had gone from getting up out of bed to tube feed where there was no chance of me falling asleep as I was up and walking around, to being in my dark room, cosy and comfy in bed. I was really lucky to have a rocking chair in my room so chose to get out of bed and feed in there so that there was no chance I could fall asleep in my bed! 

It was so much easier just to change and feed Oscar, then put him back into his bed. No messing around with the tube or using a breast pump. I didn't leave the room all night! When I woke up in the morning, it then sunk in how alone I was. Up until now I had felt like the midwives and I were a team, as Luke was still having to go to work so I was on my own most of the time. Oscar had been in the Nursery so anytime I needed to do something I could easily let the midwife know and be on my way. I could even nip home if I wanted to get more clothes! This was different, he was in my room, in my care!

I remember that first morning I woke at 8, I needed to have my pain relief, as amongst all this I was still recovering from major surgery! Before I could take my pain relief, I had to have something to eat as I couldn't take the tablets on an empty stomach. Oscar also needed changing and feeding. Oscar came first so I had to change and feed him, then change him again, then put him down in his bed, then go to the toilet, get dressed and then ask the midwives if they could watch him while I went and got some toast. I then went down the hall to the Parents Room and made myself some toast. I then got back and was in agony but was finally able to take my pain relief. That was a real 'I am no longer able to put myself first' moment! The baby came first and there was nothing that could come in the way of his needs! That day while Oscar was sleeping I left the door ajar to the en suite and had a shower. It was a cubical with 3 white walls and a curtain. I put my head against the corner of the shower and rested my eyes. I was so, incredibly, unbelievably tired. I was emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed and the last week had gone so slowly but at the same time so fast. Day rolled into night and night rolled into day. I was running on zero. I then jolted and woke up. I had fallen asleep standing up with my face pressed into the corner of the shower! I turned the shower to cold to wake myself up. Turning the shower cold became part of my daily routine to wake the F up!! 

That day, the nurses were amazed that I hadn't used his tube all night so said I could take it off. Finally. The first time ever Oscar would have nothing on his face! No wires, no tubes, no tapes, no breathing equipment. I couldn't wait! The plaster left a big nasty red mark on his precious skin as it came off but he looked beautiful nonetheless! 

Within 8 days of being in NICU he had gained 7oz from my milk. The last thing on the list was to check the carseat. He was SO TINY! We had to buy a premature insert. He fit nicely and the nurses were happy. We were done, he was healthy, breastfed, happy and our checklist was done. We had one more night tube free, exclusively breastfed and in the morning was allowed home. I left NICU with about 20 bottles of frozen unused milk to keep at home in the freezer. I couldn't believe he was coming home. No more sleeping in the NICU bed. The hard, uncomfortable, cold NICU bed. No more living out of a bag, eating hospital food and wandering around in my pyjamas all day. No more beeping from the monitors or having visiting hours for relatives. 

All packed and ready to go home!

All packed and ready to go home!

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I was terrified, we had gone from being the only ones allowed to hold Oscar and there being a hospital rule that no one else could cuddle him. And suddenly we were allowed home with no rules. I told the midwife I was scared about other people holding him as we had been so germ conscious due to the hospital rules and she said, if you want to be safe, don't let anyone hold him but yourselves and Grandparents until his due date. Then he will be a lovely healthy weight and able to fight off the germs from others! Until then just use hand sanitiser and hold off on the cuddles! So I sent this and a polite notice round to my closest friends and family so they knew not to ask and everyone was so understanding. 

We did it! 10 days in the NICU and we were on our way home! We couldn't have been happier!

Christmas Miracle

I got my first cuddle with Oscar when he was a few days old. I hadn't asked if I could hold him while he was in there as I didn't know the rules, didn't want to get my hopes up and was quite frightened to hold such a tiny baby with so many wires and monitors attached to him. So the day that the midwife said "Would you like to hold him?" I couldn't believe it! I was so excited and scared. I had to sit so close to the incubator as the wires weren't that long so he couldn't reach far. I was sat in my wheelchair and everyone helped me up and into the tub chair next to his incubator. The nurse took him out the incubator and together we put Oscar on my chest under my top so that we could have skin to skin.

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Skin to skin regulates a baby's heartbeat and temperature and is a really good way to bond. It also ensured he was warm. At first he was making weak, crying noises but as soon as he got comfortable he stopped and instead made little innocent squeaking noises. He grabbed my finger with his hand and opened one eye a tiny bit. The whole five minutes were so surreal. I couldn't believe he was once in my stomach and he was now in my arms. I didn't think of him as a sick baby. I thought of him as a small baby. I was really happy to be holding him and had a huge smile on my face. 

He still had a Canular in and it was so heavy in comparison to his arm so it made his whole arm flop so I tried putting it close to me to take some of the weight off. He had monitors strapped to his chest with little cartoon lions on and a heartbeat monitor around his foot. They were all hooked up to a machine that beeped and every time the door monitor fell off it would make a horrible beeping noise and the nurse would mosey on over, very calm and relaxed and just pop it back on. The first few times we were so on edge but it happened so frequently that you soon get used to it. Eventually the more cuddles I was having they would turn the foot monitor off so that would stop beeping.

The next day Luke got his cuddle and was so terrified as he was so tiny. He was glad to have had a cuddle but you could tell he was in a hurry to put him back safe in the incubator. I think it's scary for a man to hold a newborn as it is let alone a premature newborn!

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Oscar's limbs were so skinny and his face was all screwed up it was quite hard to see him look so vulnerable, but at the same time we didn't know any different. I think had we had a full term baby previously and Oscar was our second child it would all seem so much more upsetting and scary but the fact we didn't know any different meant we had no other choice but to take it day by day and trust the Nurses and Doctors.

During our time in the NICU we were there to establish breastfeeding. When Oscar was a few days old they drew the curtain behind us for privacy and tried to get him to latch on. At this point they weren't expecting him to have a full feed but to just latch on to the nipple and suckle if possible. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was sat in the tub chair, had a nursing pillow around me and the nurse placed Oscar on the pillow and tried to align him onto the nipple. They were quite confident in holding him and moving his head and neck whereas I was terrified to touch him incase I hurt him.

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I didn't have very erect/big nipples (Can't believe I'm blogging about my nipples!) so it was hard for him to even know what was going on. He was barely away having this flat nipple shoved in his face. Poor kid!! They had a breastfeeding consultant there that was giving me lots of good advice and being really encouraging. It took a lot of tries for him to do anything so it was hard not to get discouraged by trying so many times and getting nothing back. Eventually they gave me nipple shields. They are similar to the teat of a bottle, see through plastic. You wet them and slap them on your boob and they just have a big fake nipple over yours so the baby doesn't have to struggle so much and then the shield has holes in so that they can suck and milk will come out. 

As the nurses swapped shifts so frequently it was like repeating your whole story over and over again. Each nurse would come up and say "Hello! How are you, have you established breastfeeding yet? Has he latched on?" and I would have to explain that he hadn't and didn't really do much. It felt quite weird having a huge plastic fake nipple on and compared to his mouth it seemed crazy but we tried anyway with no such luck.

Look at the size of my pants!!!!!! High waisters!

Look at the size of my pants!!!!!! High waisters!

As Oscar became more stable he was moved into the Nursery. This was where the babies didn't need such intensive care. This is where it felt more like home - which is a daft thing to say, but we were kept at arms length in intensive care and were almost in the way so it wasn't encouraged that we hung around. I was still in hospital anyway so it wasn't so bad as I had a bed down the hall.

I remember coming into the NICU one day and walking up to the intensive care and his bay was empty. I will never be able to explain the feeling of your babies bed disappearing in intensive care. As I walked in they recognised me and said he had been moved to the Nursery. You would have thought they'd think to pre-warn me!! I thought he had died! Sounds ridiculous but what else was I to think.

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The Nursery was so much nicer. It had a completely different atmosphere. Intensive care felt like you had to whisper and you weren't meant to be there. The Nursery felt like a community. There were 4 babies to a room so all the parents got to know each other, there were 2 nurses on shift at a time and they were all so lovely. It's funny how you have such deep chats with a complete stranger just because it's 2am! You wouldn't ordinarily open up to someone like that but it's something about the night! Once you were in the Nursery, as your baby was stable, you were more or less allowed to cuddle them as you pleased. You would just have to let one of the midwives know, as opposed to asking to hold your own child, which was so nice to finally have that freedom.

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It was Christmas Eve and I was chatting to one of the other Mums who had premature twins. She and her two little girls had been through so much. I got to talking and was explaining how Oscar hadn't latched on yet. She told me to try a smaller size shield. I didn't even know there were smaller sizes! She took me to the Milk Room and in the tray there were all different sized shields. Small, Medium and Large. I had been using a Large!! I took the medium back and was desperate to try it the next time Oscar woke up. He definitely responded more to this size as it fit in his mouth so much better. 

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Christmas Day came and Luke had the whole day off work so we both spent all day in the NICU with Oscar in his incubator next to us. We set up two tub chairs either side of each other and put the iPad up on the shelf and had downloaded some Christmas films. When we came into the NICU in the morning there was a bag next to his incubator labeled Mummy and Daddy and a stocking saying Baby Boy on it. I couldn't believe it!

Inside the stocking there was a clear bauble with Oscar's birth tag in it, a bauble saying Baby's First Christmas and a blue hanging decoration saying Baby Boy. We got chocolates by the dozen and a hand knitted red and white blanket and a red and white hat fit for a preemie. We had a Christmas card saying Merry Christmas love from the NICU staff, with foot prints in the card. They had put blue paint on Oscar's feet and stamped them! We also got a card saying 'Mummy and Daddy' on the front, (the first time I'd seen our new status as Mum and Dad having been written down) and inside was a card with a photograph on the front of Oscar wearing a santa hat and was lying inside a red and white stocking. It read inside, To Mum and Dad, Merry Christmas, Love Oscar. I couldn't believe the effort they had gone to. The staff all wore Christmas hats and the radio played Christmas songs all day.

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We tried that morning with the new nipple shields and the combination of the new size and the fact that every day he was becoming more and more alert, he latched on. He latched on, on Christmas Day (I can't believe I am crying writing this!) but his little mouth latched on and I felt a pinch and he began sucking. It was incomparable to the feel of a breast pump. This was my baby, feeding straight from me. It was such a perfect moment. The midwife on at the time was one of my favourites and she was so pleased it was like we were celebrating together. It was a Christmas Miracle! His jaw was moving up and down and he was suckling and milk was coming out and his face was reacting to the taste and he carried on wanting more. He only sucked for probably five minutes but it felt like time stood still. It was so magical. I think the wait had made it all that more special. I felt so proud of us that we had both managed to establish feeding and that he had come so far from when he was first born. I felt so proud that my body was producing exactly what he needed and all the hard work and sleepless nights I had worked for, it all came together. 

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He was so tiny :-(

He was so tiny :-(

Oscar wasn't due until the 22nd of January so he wasn't even supposed to be here anywhere near Christmas but we had our first family Christmas in hospital and it was perfect! Our families came in with presents and food for us. We had cancelled both our plans for Christmas day because we couldn't bare the thought of celebrating with him being in hospital not with us, but we had had such a lovely day with so many memories that as Luke's parents were leaving that afternoon they said why not come for dinner? I almost didn't want to leave as I wanted to breastfeed again as it was so exciting I couldn't wait for the next time he was due a feed. But the midwife said, "You've had a long day, it's been such a success, you deserve a break. Go home, have some dinner and come back. I won't leave his side!" So we went to theirs and had a little whipped up Christmas Dinner. I cannot wait for Christmas 2017, he will be 1 year old and it will be such an emotional day.

From then on, feeding him from me became easier and easier. He had a little bit of jaundice which is where the kidneys aren't functioning to their optimum level which can lead babies to look really tanned. He would feed from me but very quickly fall asleep which was due to the jaundice so he had some light therapy treatment. After the treatment he was so much more alert and was having ten, fifteen minute feeds. The midwives were so excited you could tell we were on the road to home. 

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Our feeding journey in the NICU

So as Oscar didn't have any complications, he was simply kept in NICU to gain weight and for us to establish breastfeeding. We were put on a system called a PINC program (Premature Infant Nutrition Clinic) which meant the staff were working towards:

  • Working with infant’s primary care provider to improve growth and nutrition

  • Promoting human milk nutrition after NICU discharge

  • Optimizing mother’s milk supply

  • Assisting mothers and infants with the transition to nursing at the breast

  • Monitoring nutritional status of the infant

This also meant they were going to teach us how to feed Oscar with a tube so that we could be sent home quicker as we were able to do it ourselves. When Oscar was first in the NICU he had a tube that was in his mouth and fed through to his stomach but as he became more alert, he was moving his hands around and would pull the tube out. Within a few days of being in the NICU they moved the tube so that it went up his nose and down the back of his throat and into his stomach. (The thought of this now makes me so upset) They then used tape to keep the tube in place by taping it to his cheek. The tube had little markings on it that were increments of cm's and each baby required a different measurement. Oscars tube had to be at his nose at 17cm. (That's a really long tube to be down a tiny baby when you think about it.) This meant that the tube was further enough down that it was in the centre of his belly. Any shorter and it would have irritated his nasogastric tube (the bit between his esophagus and his stomach). 

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Next to Oscar's incubator he had a whiteboard that had timings and measurements on the board. His feeds started really frequently with tiny amounts. If Luke or I were visiting him in the NICU then we would assist in feeding him. In the NICU there were two areas in which your baby could be. The furthest end of the unit was intensive care. This is where the tiny babies start and have lots of observations and have their own section curtained off and grandparents are only allowed to visit in visiting hours. Once the baby has stabilized, they are moved further down the unit to the Nursery. This was a room with 4-6 babies in, grandparents could visit anytime and all other visitors in visiting hours. While Oscar was in the intensive care ward, he was mostly fed colostrum which was in 10ml tubes, they wouldn't let us handle the tube feeding while in intensive care but they did allow us to drip the colostrum onto his lips while they tube fed him. When he was moved to the nursery they then taught us how to feed him. 

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My milk came in on day 3 or 4. I would have to set a timer every three hours and use a breast pump. My milk had gone from taking 20 minutes of hand expressing to produce 7mls of milk to using a breastpump for 15 minutes and making 200mls of milk on each side. To me, I knew nothing different and thought that was what I was supposed to make, but the nurses were astounded. In the NICU there is a room called the Milk Room. It has huge industrial freezers and fridges, and a kitchen worktop. Every three hours I would have to go into the milk room, wash the breast pump apparatus and bottles in a bowl of hot soapy water, dry them off with paper towels, then put them in a white plastic microwave sterilizing bag that you fill with 50ml of water and put in the microwave for 8 minutes. This was a hospital essential, but in the real world you don't need to sterilize anything used with regards to breast milk as it is full of healthy bacteria anyway and doesn't run the risk of being full of germs as it is full of goodness! I would then go to the milk fridge and take out the oldest bottle of milk I had produced from the tray with my name on, fill up a jug with boiling water and go back to where Oscar was in the nursery. I then had to check the board, to see how many ml's of milk Oscar was on and measure it out using a syringe. I then had to put a cap on the syringe and let it bob around in the hot water to warm up. The rest of the milk I then had to remember to put back in the fridge. 

Next I had to change his nappy. In the hospital, they had to be extra sterile so I had to use water in a bottle, not the tap, cotton wool balls and they provided me with a nappy rash cream that had similar consistency to Vasaline but was cream in colour. 

Then I had to aspirate. I had never heard of this before but it involved taking a syringe, undoing the purple cap and taking a sample of his stomach acid. Sometimes the tube wouldn't allow the syringe to pull back which meant that the tube was against the lining of his stomach, or the tube wasn't far down enough and was trying to aspirate in his nasogastric tube. This was usually solved by either moving him so he was lying on one side and then putting him down again so the tube had wriggled around and moved position. Once the tube was co-operating, I had to pull out a ml or two of his stomach acid and place it on a testing paper, if the paper turned orange he was digesting efficiently and was ready to have more milk, if it was green in colour, it meant his stomach acid wasn't digesting and a nurse would then have to intervene. A couple of times it turned green, the nurse came over and realised the sample I had taken had been more mucus and clear in colour, than phlegmy and yellow that it needed to be to know it was stomach acid. This meant the tube just wasn't right in the thick of his stomach acid, therefore Oscar's green results were only green by mistake.

Once the test had come back O.K. The acid needed to be put back into his stomach so you simply push it back in using the syringe. I was then able to give Oscar the milk. When he was on small amounts the milk had to be pushed in using the syringe but by the time the amounts got up to around 80/100mls, they were held up with the cap off and gravity allowed the milk to feed down the tube, like a drip.

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It soon became habit but at the start it was really tough. Every six or so hours the midwives would swap shifts. Some were really, really lovely. Bothered to ask your name, came over every time it was time to feed the baby to chat to you, answer any questions, some would even say "Ok love, you change his nappy and I'll go get the milk for you from the milk room" and it felt so nice to be supported and made it a hundred times less scary that I was feeding my 5lbs 5oz baby through a tube. Others wouldn't even look up from their paperwork their whole shift. It was impossible to ask for help while I was in the middle of doing it all so that made it ten times more difficult as it's not like I could shout across to them, being in a room full of tiny sleeping babies.

My double room in the NICU - so so greatful to have had this

My double room in the NICU - so so greatful to have had this

The worst part about this whole routine, and what would have been a whole lot easier had Oscar been full term and we both went straight home - was that I was pumping and tube feeding throughout the night. I spent two days at home, in between not being weak enough to warrant staying in the postnatal ward, but there not being a bed for me in the NICU. Whilst I was at home I had to set alarms in the night and use my breast pump on both sides for 20-30 minutes. Get up, label the bottles with the time and date and put them in the fridge. As I was on such a strict schedule while in the hospital in the day times, my boobs got pretty efficient at filling up every 3 hours. So even when I was at home, which meant the midwives were feeding Oscar overnight, I still couldn't skip an alarm just to get some sleep as my supply was so high that I would wake up roughly 15 minutes before my alarm anyway with engorged, sore boobs. It was like having a big painful, puss filled spot that I was desperate to squeeze. Only they were huge, on my chest and took hooking up to a machine like a cow to relieve the pain. When my milk first came in, after a few days of hand expressing colostrum, it was around 7pm and Luke and I were at home watching TV. We then decided to go to bed as we were both physically and emotionally drained. (At this point I hadn't yet used a breast pump or been introduced to the three hour schedule, until now I had only hand expressed 7-10ml every few hours.) I then went to the toilet and as the big light was on, I looked down and my chest was enormous. I could not believe it. I shouted to Luke "Oh my god you've got to come see them they're huge!!!! They're rock hard oh my god!" To which he replied "Gross! Why the hell would I want to see that." So I was confused and replied like, "What?! Just come here!" he came in and saw my chest and his jaw dropped, "OH! Your boobs. I thought you'd done a poo and wanted me to see how big and 'rock hard' it was!!!!!" We both laughed sooooo hard and I was in so much pain as every time I laughed my c-section hurt so so much, as though I could physically feel the wound tearing back open. So we were sat trying to hold it in and not laughing at the poo-joke or my ridiculously massive tits. I couldn't stop staring at them in the mirror. My mum and Luke's mum had both warned me they'd be hard when my milk came in but never mentioned it would be this outrageous!!! I looked as though I'd booked a cheap flight to Thailand, gone down a back alley to have a boob job, and they put Butt Implants in instead. They were ridiculous!!! Considering I'd had a measly size A boobs my entire life- these were another level. The strangest thing about them was they weren't like a good boob job where the 'bulge' was in the cleavage, these were rock hard circular boobs. They were engorged right under my armpits, on top of my boobs and basically touching in my cleavage. They were hilarious. 

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They didn't bother me at first. They did feel really tight and my skin felt stretched and the whole thing was a little uncomfortable but all in all not unbearable. So I went to sleep. A few hours passed and I woke up in such pain. They had gotten even harder and my tshirt had wet patches in them where they had been leaking. I woke Luke up and told him to get the syringes. I NEEDED TO GET THIS MILK OUT!! I was so desperate and it felt so so tight. Whereas before, it had taken a lot of effort to squeeze one drop out, as soon as I went to hand express and Luke was ready with the syringe, it came pouring out, a thousand drops a second. We both couldn't believe it. The tiny syringes could no longer do the job so I just got a cereal bowl!! After squeezing both boobs into this bowl (LOL) to relieve some of the pain, I was then desperate to get some sleep. As breastfeeding was so new to me I had no idea what was in store. I went back to sleep and woke up again about 4 hours later this time with the same pain again. I didn't wake Luke this time so just sat in bed squeezing myself into this bowl before going back to sleep. I, of course, didn't have anything practical to take this milk to the baby in hospital so it just went down the sink. I then went into the hospital that morning and told the midwives that I had started producing milk by the gallon and they set me up with a breast pump.

Had Oscar come home full term, I would've been feeding him when my body woke me up from engorgement, or the baby would've cried for milk and I would've fed him, emptied my boobs and gone back to sleep. So my breastfeeding journey began with exclusively pumping for the first 8 days. Every 3 hours I would sterilise the pump, pump the milk, label and store the milk, clean the pump again. Get the old milk, measure the milk, aspirate the stomach acid, change the nappy, feed the milk, sometimes change the nappy again as newborns poo so frequently, then if it was daytime I would go back to getting on with my day, pottering around the NICU reading magazines.

My milk in the NICU Milk Fridge. The yellow colour is because the body produces exactly what the baby needs and this was super rich, fatty milk to help Oscar grow.

My milk in the NICU Milk Fridge. The yellow colour is because the body produces exactly what the baby needs and this was super rich, fatty milk to help Oscar grow.

After my milk came in we rushed to Mothercare to buy a breast pump. I then spent 3 nights at home. These involved setting alarms every 3 hours, steel siding the pump, pumping, putting it in the fridge, cleaning the pump and then going back to sleep. Then I got a bed in the NICU. It was a double bed in a nice room (for a hospital anyway) with a TV and an en suite with a toilet and shower. I slept in here for 5 nights. The first 3 nights, Oscar was down the corridor. This meant setting my alarm, pumping, feeding him and setting the next alarm for the next feed. I had so much to do in those night feeds that I remember sometimes setting my alarm for just 40 minutes time because it had taken me 2 hours and 20 minutes to pump and feed him. I was running on empty but I had no choice. I had to do every thing I was told to give him the best chance at a fighting start in life. I wanted to do it for him, there's no bigger motivator.

Getting up to pump while Luke slept peacefully

Getting up to pump while Luke slept peacefully

Luke stayed at home as he is self employed and as the baby came so unexpectedly, wasn't able to drop everything and just take two weeks off. Plus we had the two dogs at home. So Luke did the best he could to get time off whenever he could, come to see me and Oscar, bring me food and anything I needed from home and then he stayed at home to get a full nights sleep for work the next day and look after the dog. To be honest, it wouldn't have worked him staying at the hospital despite the room having a double bed as he would've been knackered and woken up every time I got up. It was better that I was in there on my own, focused and getting as much sleep to function as I could.

The first few days of being in NICU were a wirl wind. It became all about pumping and feeding. Pumping and feeding. Pumping and feeding. He was the most content baby and just slept most of the time, taking a few minutes to open his eyes and look around only to fall asleep again.

Using a double breast pump in the NICU with Oscar next to me in his incubator

Using a double breast pump in the NICU with Oscar next to me in his incubator

As I said before, some midwives were real Mumsy characters. As long as I was keeping up with pumping, it really didn't matter who fed Oscar. So some of them would say, listen sweetheart you just get up and pump and go back to sleep at the 3am feed so you can get some rest, I'll feed him for you - which meant I didn't have to leave my room. And some would say, as you've just pumped, (at say, 12pm) why don't you go and have a little lie down and I'll do this feed. Those midwives were the best. It's like they could tell when you needed a break. Some midwives didn't help in the slightest which OK I understand if I'm physically able to do it myself then I'm happy to but if not to help look after the babies what were they there for? Lend us a hand, love - I'm knackered! I remember one time saying my 'goodnights' as I went to bed in my room at NICU and asked really nicely if the midwife minded doing my 3am feed so I could get some sleep. Her shift would've been 12-6 or something so she was there anyway and had 4-6 babies under her care and two midwives on at a time, so they were fully capable. And she got all short with me and said "Yep, that's fine." I felt so awkward and guilty. 

Some Mums had babies in the NICU for months on end and had to go back to their jobs and sleep at home, visiting only when they could, so their babies were on 24/7 round the clock midwifery care and would've been tube fed by the midwives every feed! Yet she gets moody when I asked her to do one feed for me! I didn't ask again!  

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The first few days were a blur and it was pointless trying to distinguish between day and night as 24 hours a day was pumping and feeding.

To be continued...

The first few days

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.

 

 

 

The Aftermath

So it's been about 6 hours since I had Oscar. I'm lying in my hospital bed, pale as can be - I lost 1.2 pints of blood during the c-section and I am now considered 'temporarily' anemic. I have knee high white socks on to prevent from blood clots and a sexy white and blue diamond print hospital gown on. I'm wearing crepe paper disposable pants and a pad as thick as Kim K's ass. I cannot move except my arms to reach things and have an electronic bed that goes up and down and the back support back and forth. I have been cut open about 6 inches wide and have stitches along my wound, covered by a bandage. My stomach is orange in colour, having been tinted from the iodine used to prep me during surgery. My belly is now empty and feeling deflated and bruised.

The midwives draw with a biro around the blood so that they can see how much its bled since they last checked which I thought was clever!

The midwives draw with a biro around the blood so that they can see how much its bled since they last checked which I thought was clever!

I have a capped cannula in my wrist and the back of both hands are bruised from trying to get it in previously. I have a catheter fitted and a bag of my own pee at the foot of my bed. I am having rounds of paracetamol, ibuprofen and oramorph (liquid morphine) around the clock and have to have an injection in my stomach to prevent blood clots. I had been woken up at 8:30am to have a blood test and be given my toast and (surprisingly) coffee. I had a baby at 2am and it is now around midday. He is in an incubator down the corridor in an intensive care unit, weighing 5lbs 5oz using breathing machines and being fed through a tube. I have told a few of my closest friends and family, and Luke the same. 

Suddenly I get a ton of texts from people I'm not close with at all. Old work colleagues. Distant friends from school. Friends of friends. Congratulating me on having Oscar. I ask Luke if he has told anyone I don't know about or put it on Facebook and he says no, he hasn't. I click on my Facebook to find notifications saying "Joe Bloggs (or whatever) and 4 others have liked a status you have been tagged in". Considering how physically weak I was, I have never been so seething with anger and wanted to punch someone so much! One of Luke's friends had tagged us both in a status congratulating us on how he had woken up hearing the news of our baby being born. I messaged him every curse word under the sun, saying how dare he announce such precious news, especially considering Oscar was 5 weeks premature and who knows what's going to happen. The last thing I wanted, especially after having been so careful about who knew my pregnancy news before 12 weeks, out of sheer anxiety of anything traumatic happening, was the whole world knowing I had had a premature baby, before I had even held him.

I felt like I had cheated and betrayed my closest friends that hadn't heard yet. That they had to find out on a Facebook status from some idiot. And that this idiot knew before them. I felt that I had worried friends and family by not being able to explain that I and the baby were O.K. I then felt such pressure and panic that I wanted to prevent anyone else hearing the news from anybody but me, that I posted on Facebook myself that he was born. And what photos do I have to go along with the status? Oh, a photo of Oscar covered in breathing equipment and pulse monitors, in an incubator. I have honestly never felt so robbed of such an intimate moment that should have been left for me and partner to decide when we were ready for this news to become public. I have no idea when I would've announce the news on Facebook, maybe later that day, maybe later that week but I didn't even get the chance to decide that for myself.

So far the first time I had seen of my child was on the screen of an iPhone and the news of the birth of my first child came from someone else's Facebook. I craved so much to be living 50 years ago, before any of this dumb, artificial technology existed. I have never, and will never forgive him for posting that status.

I would strongly advise you only trust your news with those you can trust. And if you can't do that, then at least spell it out for the dumb dumbs that think its O.K. to put it on Facebook before you do! 

Moving swiftly on. Hospital life was far from glamorous. I could hardly sleep because of the woman next door's husband snoring and the sound of the breast pump going off every 3 hours. Luckily, I had earbuds. I suppose I can't complain, a ward with 4 other women with babies would be a louder ward than 4 without. 

Every 2 hours I had a nurse come with more tablets to continuously over lap the pain relief. Rather than taking 4 tablets every 4 hours I was taking 2 every 2 hours. They would also take my blood pressure every 2 hours and write it in my notes. Time moved so slowly. The nurses ensured they would inform us of any news about Oscar, but as he was well and had no complications, he was just sleeping in his incubator the entire time. I expected hourly updates when really they had nothing to report back other than he was fine, so it was just a matter of waiting until I was healed enough to lift myself into a wheelchair. All we could physically do was sit and wait. It's bizarre because, what do you talk about? We knew so little about what was going on with Oscar other than he was stable and sleeping, it wouldn't do us any favours to sit and speculate what will happen to him or if he will be ok in the long term. So we just watched films and had small talk with the nurses and it was as though nothing had happened. 

When I first met Oscar

When I first met Oscar

Luke could go and see him any time he wanted, as he was able to walk and I wasn't! I Facetimed the pair of them a couple of times, it was hard to watch as I felt so helpless. I couldn't help but have a little cry as it all sunk in what was really happening.

Looking back at the photos now my face was so fat! Ahh the joys of pregnancy.

It definitely felt weird not having a baby in my stomach anymore and lying down I looked like I had quite a flat stomach. It felt so weird not to have a little baby kicking around in there anymore. It felt like I had dreamt my whole pregnancy and that it never happened. I had always wondered exactly what your stomach looks like after you have a baby... well, here it is.

The perfect birth?

At 35 weeks I questioned how I could possibly get any bigger. I felt huge, everything was so uncomfortable and it actually terrifies me to have another child as I can't imagine how HUGE I would be if the next baby went full term. I still had 5 weeks until full term and even then I could've gone two weeks over - I would have been so uncomfortable and absolutely enormous. I remember reading 'The Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy' which was a really good book, although it was American so the terms and the hospital system were a little different, but I loved how the woman referred to pregnancy being 10 months throughout the entire book. I had fully prepared myself to be in this situation for 10 months and I was only in it 8! What a cheeky little shit I am. I completely dodged the horrible end bit and am sometimes a right smug bastard about it all. No labour, no contractions, no 'ring of fire' or fourth degree tears. I got off the train a few stops early. Sorry, not sorry. 

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Although my situation was far from ideal in terms of 'the perfect birth' - I've made peace with it. I didn't get a single wish on my birth plan. I didn't get the amazing moment of birthing him and him being laid on my chest straight away and breastfeeding, as I had hoped. I didn't get the moment of holding him in my arms and crying, not believe he's here and to be so relieved the pain is all over. Luke didn't get to cut the cord or be very involved and didn't get a cuddle straight away either. We didn't get any photos of his first moments that don't have wires or incubators in. We didn't get to put him in his 'going home' outfit or any outfit for that matter for about a week. We didn't get to take him home with us for a long, long time - what felt like eternity.

Having said that, there are many pros and cons about my situation. Oscar was in the best place possible if anything went wrong with him for ten whole days. As a new Mum it's pretty nerve-wracking taking a newborn home, whereas we had 10 days to get used to each other, get into a routine and ask any questions. We had round the clock advice and support from the experts, which was especially amazing regarding breastfeeding. I had so much hands on advice and a midwife right next to me helping me guide Oscar onto the breast and check the latch was right and help me with positioning him. I was able to heal from my c-section without having to pick up a baby. (Although this did break my heart, I can't imagine how difficult it is to have had major surgery and look after a newborn. I thought getting in and out of a wheelchair was difficult let alone try and change, feed or hold a baby!) I was also in the best place possible, I could ask Midwives about my c-section if I needed to or if I was feeling faint or overwhelmed there was someone there at all times to help with Oscar. I had CPR and choking First Aid through the hospital for free - invaluable knowledge. 

Despite all this, I still had to feed my baby through a tube in his nose. Aspirate his stomach acid to check the PH before feeding him, every time. Lean over an incubator what felt like 24 hours a day giving me the worst back pains. Not be able to hold him whenever I wanted at the start and would have to ask Midwives if it was okay to see/touch him - my own baby. Only eat foods brought to me from visitors or the hospital foods (I can't complain as the food was delicious and visitors did bend over backwards for me when it came to bringing me food/necessities but I missed grazing the cupboards at home). Use a breast pump every 3 hours leaving me feeling like a mighty fine Dairy Cow and no dignity while every midwife walked in during said milking. 

I could go on and on, for every pro, there is a con. But the bottom line is Oscar was in the world, a beautiful baby boy with his whole life ahead of him. I feel like I can focus solely on the pros because Oscar is so healthy and happy. We were purely kept in NICU to establish breastfeeding and for him to gain weight. He had a few hiccups along the way such as being jaundice and having low phosphate levels (still to this day no-one has properly explained to me what phosphate even is - something to do with his bones!) but all were quickly discovered and he had both treated. I saw so many babies much worse off than Oscar and it really did break my heart for the parents, the babies and felt so incredibly lucky to be able to walk up the hospital steps and look forward to seeing my baby, instead of thinking 'What next? Is he ok? He's so sick, it breaks me to see him'

Although I didn't get 'my perfect birth' and I've always heard and seen how amazing it is to have those first moments. It's euphoric. It without a doubt makes me cry everytime I see a baby being born (on TV- I don't regularly attend live births) and pictured myself having the most natural water birth in a pool bringing him up onto my chest and holding him tightly. Having said that, I have had so many special moments and memories with Oscar since he was born, I don't feel like I have missed out at all. In fact, I actually prefer our memories at an age where Oscar can respond, recognise and is smiling or laughing. I feel like it's a shared memory, like he's aware enough to participate in us communicating and that he loves me (or maybe just my boobs ha!)

 My first and favourite memory of Oscar in the NICU was one night when Luke had gone home to get some sleep and check on the dogs, it was my second night in hospital. I couldn't sleep so got out of bed for the first time by myself and so incredibly slowly, lowered myself into my wheelchair beside my bed (taking my piss bag with me because I had a catheter in and placing it on my foot rest - sexy!) and wheeled myself down the empty, dark corridors at 2am. The hospital felt so empty as everyone was sleeping and there were a few night-shift midwives working. I wheeled myself slower than I have ever moved in my life, taking what felt like an hour to open the doors between the different wards. I was glad it was night as I didn't want to make a fuss and have midwives help me. I just wanted to sneak up by myself and be alone with my baby. I got up to the NICU and pressed the buzzer to be let in. (They have a webcam to check who you are before letting anyone in.) and they were all surprised to see me. I went in and went to the bay where Oscar was. He was 2 days old and still sleeping on his stomach. Up until now he had had breathing equipment over his face which meant his eyes were covered. As I got to his incubator, it was deadly silent in the ward and a few nurses were doing paperwork and checking on the other babies but smiled and nodded as me as I got to him. I looked inside the incubator and his breathing equipment had been changed to a smaller strap that didn't cover his eyes. It was the first time I had ever seen his face. This alone was so special and I couldn't believe it. I opened the latch on the incubator and put my hand in and stroked his leg. I spoke so quietly and softly said his name. Unbelievably, he opened his eyes. It was like everything I'd heard and not believed, that a baby knows his Mum's touch, their voice from inside the womb, was all true. I could not stop crying. I sat with him as he stared back at me, just the two of us, in the middle of the night. Until he drifted off again, and then a nurse helped push me back to the end of the corridor and off I went back to bed.

Maybe this moment was our 'look of love' but, instead of having it as he was passed onto my chest straight from birth - we had it a few days later. I like to think of it as even more special. We weren't covered in blood and gunk, no one had just had a traumatic ordeal; be it having been in excruciating labour for 24 hours or having had their head violently shoved through a vagina (the latter is Oscar, I don't and never had any plans to shove my head through a vagina), we were alone with no doctors or nurses, in perfect stillness. They say the blind have heightened senses and maybe in the same sense, the fact I couldn't hold him made him just looking at me, all that more powerful. 

I can without a doubt vouch that your birth does not correlate to the bond with your baby. I am besotted with Oscar and he with I. He doesn't know I had pain relief, he doesn't know how he came into this world, he doesn't know he wasn't meant to start his life in anything but an incubator, nor will he ever remember it. He is the happiest, most content little baby and we have fought together from day 1 and leaving NICU felt like we had both worked so hard to get to that point. 

I think it's really important to find the good in every bad situation. I have found so much good from everything that happened with Oscar and I. When I tell people what happened they look so sympathetic and feel so sorry for me to have gone through what I did. I choose to be happy with the way Oscar came into the world, yes it was tough, yes it was emotional and no, it wasn't at all how I pictured it, but my beautiful baby boy is here and he is everything I could possibly ask for. 

An Open Letter for Mums and Mums-to-be

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A few words of reassurance from a first time Mum.

To someone I was just six months ago: pregnant and full of anticipation. Or to the First Time, second time or third time Mum, I'm right there with you.

To the Mum reading this that's worried about getting her body back. To the Mum that's reading this that doesn't have the money to buy the luxuries for their baby they wish they could. To the Mum that's reading this that is worried they won't have a life after having a baby.

Do not worry for a second, it will be amazing. YOU will be amazing! For all your worries and concerns, don't let them consume you. It's a rollercoaster ride but an amazing, thrilling, exhilarating one at that.

There will be times where you are feeling stressed, tired, overwhelmed, guilty. There will be times when you feel low for no reason and times when you've read so much conflicting advice online you don't know what to do. There will be times when you feel helpless, times when you feel exhausted and would do anything to just SLEEP! But believe me when I say, there isn't anything you won't sacrifice for the tiny human you brought into this world. They are above and beyond, worth it.

For every time you have to peel your eyes open at 4, 5, and 6AM I promise you that little face makes it worth it. For every time you pee a little when you laugh because your body carried a human inside and things aren't like they used to be, I promise you, when they grab your finger with their tiny hands, it's worth it. For every single stupid argument you have with your partner because you're both so tired, when you snuggle as a family in the mornings, it's all worth it.

Whether you started as a size 8 and you're now a 14, I promise you, your baby loves you. Whether they're in a limited edition Silver Cross pram with a fur lining or a Gumtree second hand scuffed round the edges pram, I promise you, your baby loves you. Whether you had time to shower this morning or wipe off yesterday's smudged mascara or not, I promise you, your baby loves you.

Whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, your baby will grow, learn, strive and succeed regardless. Whether your baby sleeps through the night or doesn't sleep a wink, your baby will laugh, play and adore you. Whether you co-sleep, bed-share or they sleep in their own room, your baby will feel loved and nurtured. Whether your baby is chubby, fat, tall, thin, small for his age he is your baby and he is perfection. If he's not crawling yet for his age, not smiling yet for his age- his time will come when he is ready and it will be so worth the wait.

If you go back to work straight away, if you're a full time Mum, or just do what you can on the side, you're doing the best you can do your baby. Whether you can't let them go and can't stand the thought of being apart, you're doing what's best for you and your baby, whether you have date night once a week and Grandparents babysitting you're doing what's best for you and your baby. Whether you go to a baby club every day, you're doing an amazing job, or whether you stay in all day just you and your baby and laugh and play, you're doing an amazing job.

To the Mum that's overdue, it's worth it. To the Mum that's scared to death in the premature unit, it's worth it. To the Mum that's scared of surgery, it's worth it. To the Mum that can't stand needles, it's worth it.

To the Mum that's never felt true love, you wait. To the Mum that's always put themselves first, you wait. To the Mum that's always, always wanted a baby, you wait. To the Mum that never thought she'd have a baby so soon, you wait.

You wait til your baby first opens their eyes. You wait til your baby really sees you for the first time. You wait til your baby smiles and laughs. You wait til nothing in your entire life compares to this tiny, innocent bundle of perfection consumes your entire life in the best and most chaotic way.

Never fear you will not be enough for your baby because YOU ARE. Never fear your body wasn't what it once was because IT MADE A LIFE. Never fear it won't be worth it because IT IS.

Enjoy the early days because they go so fast. Hold your baby, rock them to sleep despite every book telling you not to. Hug them tight, let them sleep on you, spend your days doing exciting things and making memories, meeting other Mum's and talking about nappies like you promised yourself you wouldn't!!

Good luck for every aspect of his journey you are about to take. If you ever feel lost just know your baby doesn't know your flaws, your baby doesn't know your fears. Your baby sees their Mum. Their amazing, selfless, cuddly Mum and to them, you are perfect.