Belly Monday!

6 weeks vs 11 weeks with baby number 2!

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Here we go again…

BCP started 8th August, first ivf appointment on 31st August for a scan for me and for Lou to get an injection. And egg retrieval planned for 30th Sept. Not sure of the deets just yet but will keep you posted.
Meanwhile thanks to the pill I’m on day 9 of my period wheeeeeee!!!!!!! 

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How old is she?

How old is she?

I remember how after you were born, I called my mom and dad to tell them they were grandparents, and texted everyone else. You were a brand new baby girl.

I remember the first time I put you in the wrap and walked up to the stops. An old lady who could barely see your covered head asked how old you were, I said 6 days old.

I remember when we went out on our first family outing to a friends birthday party. Your mummies were terrified. Everyone was cooing over you, and a pregnant lady came up to us and asked how old you were. We said, she is 10 days old.

I remember driving into the roughest part of London to finally register your birth. You were in a beige dress – your first – and your mummies were so proud of you. When the registrar asked your age, we said 5 weeks old.

I remember Christmas Day, sitting in the emergency room with you, sick with bronchiolitis. The doctor asked how old you were, we said 8 weeks old.

I remember waking up one morning, looking at the clock and instead of saying 2 or 3 or 4am, it said 7:20am. I flew out of bed to see if you were still alive and there you were, still snoozing away in your crib. You were 15 weeks and 5 days old.

I remember going on one of our long Sunday morning walks with you in the backpack. We stopped at Gregg’s on the way home for a coffee and Mummy’s steak bake. Your hat fell on the floor and I asked a lady if she could put it back on you. She asked how old you were, I said 5 months old.

I remember when we called 999 because you were wheezing and had a barking cough: a severe case of croup. The operator asked how old you were and we said 6 months old. She sent an ambulance to take us to the hospital.

I remember getting on the airplane to visit your family in America, and you stood on the seat and smiled at the lady sitting behind us for ages until she saw you and smiled back at you. She asked us how old you were, we said 8 months.

I remember when a friend saw a video I posted on Facebook of you taking your first steps. She asked how old you were, I said (very proudly, because you are so strong), she is 9 months.

I remember when we went to visit nurseries for when your Mummy went back to work. We went to 10 different ones, and they asked us how old you were. We said 10 months (but you wouldn’t be starting until 13 months!)

Today, my baby, you are 1 year old. Yesterday I could say you were 11 months old, but today I start counting your age in years. How quickly time passes, yet it seems like you’ve been with us forever. I can’t wait to watch you grow up, because you will always be my little baby.

Love you always. x

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The One Where The Non-Birth Mother Got the Baby Blues

In the weeks before Baby A was born, I was mentally preparing for the possibility that Lou might get the baby blues, or worse post-partum depression (PPD). Her sister and her mum both have histories of PPD (one diagnosed and one undiagnosed), but this equals every woman in her immediate family to have a baby. The upside was that Lou herself does not have a history of depression or anxiety, but I knew that if it were to hit then she would be the last to come forward and say that she wasn’t feeling right. She has an extreme dislike of medicating away any pain – be it physical or emotional. It took me years to convince her to take ibuprofen for her menstrual cramps, and years again to get her to ask the GP for Valium to help her deal with her fear of flying. Even while she was in induced labour, she refused gas and air for hours, then refused an epidural for a few more hours, even while the midwife was telling her “Please, you are not even in active labour yet, you’re hours and hours away from having the baby, and you are already exhausted.” Only when I said to her it was definitely time, she surrendered to the epidural.

So I planned to be super vigilant. I would know if my wife was going down that road, and I would do my best to steer her to safety.

As it was, the birth was fairly traumatic. As I mentioned before, breastfeeding did not go well from the start. And in hospital Lou was exhausted from 21 hours of labour and constant feeding attempts. It was all so much change and trauma to deal with in such a short time, and we both felt like we had been pushed into the deep end…. and were drowning.

I remember one instance in particular when we had just come home from hospital, day 3 I  think, where we caught each others eye and in both our eyes there was fear and panic… and regret. Is this what our new life is now?

Just days before we were sitting on this sofa, our arms and legs tangled up together like so many times before, the fire was on, I was watching TV and Lou was dozing off. My main concern was whether I should just hold my tea or if I could balance my tea on the pillow beside me. We had a really nice life, before. We have been together for 9 years, married for 2.5. We were settled into our own little routine, which was just enough not-routine to keep it interesting. We had friends round for dinner, we did the pub quiz on a Thursday, on a weekend we popped out to Ikea to look for some new candles. And most evenings, our favourite thing to do was chill out quietly on the sofa watching mindless TV and cuddling.

In an instant that life was a million miles away. There was a baby, whose harsh, insistent cries made both of us jump, even from the other end of the house. We knelt down in servitude to the whim of this tiny person, this tiny little dictator, who now ran the show.

Would life ever be the same? Would we ever know each other again? What have we done?

A friend who was also a non-birth mother, rang and said to me, “Lou’s job is to look after the baby, and your job is to look after Lou.” So I did. I told Lou to sit on the sofa and relax, and focus on feeding Baby A and sleeping. And I ran around the house like a headless chicken, fetching bottles, muslins, bibs, changes of clothes for both, doing laundry, doing dishes, running the steriliser, changing nappies, reading the baby books, bringing Lou water and juice and meals and snacks.

We were running on 3-4 hours sleep per day for the first two weeks, but I had energy. In fact, I was manic. I couldn’t sit still, I could always think of something else I could do, even when everything was done. I could light candles to make the room feel relaxed, or I could Google whether it was OK that my baby hadn’t pooped for 3 days, or I could take the tags off the new baby clothes our neighbour dropped off. Countless times, I made a cup of tea that would go abandoned and cold. I would reheat it and hours later would find it, still in the microwave.

Pretty soon I noticed that I was having a bowel movement every time I went toilet, and actually it was diarrhoea. Friends would visit and cook us delicious dinners that I would pick at because I had no appetite and everything tasted like sand. Most of the time I would just forget to eat. A couple friends laughed at me because I couldn’t hold a coherent conversation, or would jump between topics and lines of thought without warning. Whenever the vacuum was on or the tap was running, I was certain I could hear the baby screaming, so I would turn everything off several times just to listen and check. My eyes were so tired they were blurry, and my muscles in my arm and back started twitching. When I would start to fall asleep in bed, my leg muscles would seize and jerk.

Lou was not doing enough resting, she was also trying to get things done around the house and look after the baby. This stressed me out and worried me because I was trying my best to protect her and stop the bad thoughts creeping in. but it only angered her when I commanded her to sit down. So I tried to do everything before she could even think of doing that thing.

Our friends would come around and would coo and cuddle, and Baby A would sleep like an angel, and they would ask “Are you loving it?” and “Enjoy this because they grow up so fast!” “Loving it” was not the correct words, but “relentless” sprang to mind. This was the hardest I had ever worked in my life. But I needed to put on a brave face for Lou, who was visibly exhausted, in pain, and struggling. So I would smile and nod.

I remember standing at the sink feeling my heart race. I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths and put my OM chanting music on. I needed to regain a bit of control and CALM DOWN, and I managed to marginally do so before the baby started crying again.

I was due to go back to work 2 weeks after Baby A was born. On the eve of my first day, I weighed myself. In two weeks I had lost 5 pounds off my 5’2″ frame which was already running fit. It was my lowest weight since high school.

In the following days, there was a drastic improvement. My first day at work I cried at my desk several times and rang home constantly, the second day I only cried once, the third day I remembered to eat lunch at lunchtime, and even finished it.

In retrospect, I was in survival mode. I was also experiencing high levels of anxiety and an ounce of depression, which was basically mourning our old life and the uncertainty of what this new life would be like. Fear of whether I was cut out to be a mom, and if not, holy crap what do we do.

The best way I can describe it now, it was the feeling just before you give a big presentation – hyper alert, adrenaline kicked in, nervous and anxious, and ready to go. I was like that for 2 weeks straight and could NOT kick myself out of high gear.

I have since tried to Google whatever this 2 week phenomenon was, and every single time “Baby Blues” comes up. It links to almost every symptom that I had: restlessness, inability to concentrate, tired but unable to sleep, loss of appetite, anxiety. Not so much the diarrhoea but I think the stress triggered an IBS episode, which I have had a couple times in the past.

The main confusion I have with the “Baby Blues” explanation, is that it is always linked to hormone changes. But as the non-birth mother, I would not have had the same level of hormonal flux, even if some hormones were triggered by Baby A’s birth. Was it just a bad reaction to stress? Was it just a reaction to being 100% out of control and trying to retain some sense of control? Was it just being a first time parent?

Can a woman get baby blues if she hasn’t had a baby?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. All I know is what I experienced, and that I wanted to share it with the t’internet in case anyone out there is going through the same thing.

It does get better! This is how it was for us:

Week 1-2 were specifically hard, in every possible way.

Week 3 – still hard for sleep, but we felt more calm because we started to get the hang of caring for Baby A, knowing her cries and how to make her happy (also this is when we switched to formula feeding).

Week 4 –  Baby A started to reliably go 4 hours between feeds at night, which meant only one night feed, so Lou and I could start taking shifts and get some predictable sleep.

Week 5 onward – we both manage to get 6-8 hours of sleep per night (added up, and in shifts) which has shone some perspective on the whole situation and made literally everything feel more manageable.

So if this is you, hang in there. I feel your pain, you are not alone, and just know that it WILL get better very soon, and soon this new life will feel much more comfortable.

x

SN: The responsible side of me needs to mention that if these symptoms continue for a month or more, or feel so extreme that you have harmful thoughts about you or your baby, it’s time to see a doctor. Please don’t feel ashamed or like a failure, even just talking to somebody can help. 

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Immunisations – 9 weeks + 1 day

Yesterday Baby A had her first GP appointment and got her first round of immunisations. We got to the appointment an hour early, which was my fault. And in the precision timed world of newborns, we had fed her an hour before we left, let her play, then planned for her to sleep in the pram, meaning she was due another feed during the appointment. We also stupidly forgot to bring any bottles with us. So no surprise when she woke up in a cafe and was a little hungry, she got a bit fussy. We managed to keep her chilled until her doctor appointment, where she passed all her checks with flying colours. She weighed 12 pounds (5.44 kg), was 57 cm long, and head circumferences of 49.5 cm. Baby has a big head.

Then was the nurse appt and her injections. I had to hold A, which as a public health professional I happily did – telling her “Look at all these diseases you aren’t going to get!” while Lou was so nervous she had to stand on the other side of the room looking out the window. The nurse gave the injections quickly and deftly, but A got pretty pissed off about it. Especially the 2nd one, that needle was pretty thick. She cried for a few minutes then fell fast asleep. When we got home we gave her some Calpol (Baby Tylenol), and she slept most of the rest of the day, and – like a New Year Miracle – she went 6 HOURS between feeds last night (8pm – 2am!). Aside from being a bit sleepy, she hasn’t had a fever and the injection site looks fine. My only complaint is that they taped cotton wool to her legs using that white hospital tape, and ripping it off was like giving her another bloody injection! Poor little poppet.

But for the record, it’s ALL WORTH IT. Get your children vaccinated, people! If not for your baby, then for everyone else’s babies. (Insert lesson on herd immunity here. Or Google it if you wish, but it is a thing.) ALL routine infant immunisations are proven safe, even for babies who might have allergies. Side effects are minor. Any severe reactions will be immediate and handled by your doctor, and are extremely rare.

All babies should receive their immunisations as recommended.

#endrant.

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The first 2 weeks (or How Breastfeeding Didn’t Work For Us)

I started writing this post when Baby A was 2.5 weeks old, and saved it as a draft in case I forgot anything and I could amend it later when I felt more awake. Well, Baby A was 2 months old this week, and needless to say I never came back to this post, although we have (just!) emerged from the newborn fog and feel a bit more alive…

I have written 100 more posts in my head in the meantime, documenting those tiny moments here and there, and addressing some of the major parenting issues – feeding, sleeping, sickness, immunisations, etc… I hope to catch up on a few of those today, now that Christmas is over and I have some brain space…

Day 0

Baby A was born! And born hungry! From about 2 minutes after she was born, and the midwife put her finger in her mouth to check her palate, Baby A sucked her finger so hard it gave the poor woman a fright. Baby A spent most of the rest of the day sleeping and rooting around when she woke, while Lou recovered from the anaesthetic and the 20 hour semi-traumatic birth. Breastfeeding-wise, Baby A latched on OK initially, but would give up really quickly so we were all unsure whether she was getting any of the colostrum. Auntie Jo was her first visitor, showing up in her police uniform. Happy tears and laughing all around. Lou managed to take a shower about 7pm, and we were moved to the quieter post-natal area. I went home that evening to see to B-dog, and Lou had hectic night with about 4 hours of midwife support to breastfeed, though she didn’t make much progress. The blood sugar heel prick test was OK though, so nobody was too concerned, except Baby A, who was getting quite stressy.  Baby A did her first meconium poo, and I panicked and asked the  student midwife for help. After this she did a few more and we handled our business after that!

Day 1

Still in hospital to monitor Lou’s iron levels & blood pressure because she lost 1 litre of blood, and to help Baby A with feeding. Lou’s iron levels were about 9.7, low but not needing a transfusion. They gave iron tablets but withdrew Diclofenac today, the slow acting painkiller which meant Lou – who never complains & hates medication – was in significant pain getting in and out of bed and felt trapped & unable to care for baby. I was there all day and, like the day before, they allowed me to stay from 1-3pm when no visitors are allowed, to support Lou & Baby A. Baby A had her second visitor, Auntie Tin, who also showed up in full police garb. The staff must have thought we were serious trouble by now. There were a few more meconium poos, and wet nappies which told us that all the inner mechanisms were working fine. The student midwife sat with us for about 2 hours helping with breastfeeding again, and finally in the evening the nursery nurse came and cup fed her. Baby A had her hearing test and check up from the baby doctor, and passed everything with flying colours. Towards the late evening, Baby A had a complete meltdown while attempting breastfeeding, screaming and coughing and struggling to catch her breath. We pressed the red button, and a midwife came eventually and told us that baby was fine because babies cry! (no shit!) but quickly ran away when she found out we were a same sex couple. The nice midwife came back, and decided to order an X-ray to check that everything was OK with her trachea and esophagus. Lou was very scared for those couple hours that Baby A was away and asked me to go to the NICU to check on her, which I did and found she was just chilling totally fine. The NICU nurse came in an hour later and asked if it was OK to bottle feed her formula just to check her suck/swallow. We said OK, as you do when you trust medical professionals. An hour later Baby A was wheeled back in, swaddled and tucked under the blankets, fast asleep. Who is this baby, we wondered!? And the nurse told us she took an entire 50ml bottle in 7 minutes, and she will likely sleep for 5 hours. She left us a couple spare bottles, to use as top-ups while we figured out the breastfeeding. Brilliant we said! And I went home feeling very confident that Lou would have a good night sleep. When I got home, I put the parking ticket I got on the kitchen table and went out to scratch off 1 of the 2 evil parking stickers off the car window with a razor blade.

Day 2

As we had hoped, Baby A slept for several hours and Lou got some much needed sleep. The nice night midwife also reinstated her Diclofenac prescription for another 7 days so she had some good pain relief. Lou kept trying with the breastfeeding all day, for about 30-45 minutes on the breast (which equalled about 5 mins actual feed) then topping up with the formula. With our concerns about feeding slightly lessened, we were discharged from hospital about 1pm. Lou sat in the back as I drove, and Baby A slept soundly in the car seat. I was honked at 3 times by passing cars for going slowly, so Lou was very proud of me. We arrived home and started to settle in and unpack. About an hour later our neighbour Sue knocked on the door, and we invited her in for a cup of tea. This was visitor 3. We were both shattered but she was so excited to hold Baby A, who slept in her arms, that this unexpected visit was actually quite nice. We persevered with the breastfeeding, while topping up after every feed with formula.

Day 3

Sometime around 4-5pm on Day 3, we faced the realisation that breastfeeding was just not working. We would coax Baby A to take the breast for 15, 30, 45 minutes, and she would suck two or three times and come off crying. We would persist until we couldn’t calm her down between attempts and her cries became panicked and desperate, coughing or losing her breath. Then we would give her a bottle, and she would guzzle the 60ml of formula. Lou’s milk hadn’t yet come in, and while Baby A would bottle feed, Lou would hand express 1-2ml of colostrum into a syringe to give later. It was becoming so apparent that this child was not getting what she needed from Lou, and rather than giving formula “top-ups” we were essentially exclusively formula feeding. We discussed it briefly, and decided that in order to have half a shot at breastfeeding, we needed help. So we called Karon, our NCT instructor. It was the weekend, but I think she could tell my desperation and kindly offered to come over the next day. We struggled through the rest of the night, I tried cup feeding – expecting that she would tell us that bottle was not helping the latch – but this was a sort of torturous exercise in patience and persistence when your nerves are frayed and you haven’t slept for days. Just imagine – 2am / 4am/ 6am, sitting next to your distraught, sobbing wife who feels like a failure having yet ANOTHER unsuccessful feeding session. But you can’t console or cuddle her because you are trying to balance an agitated baby on your lap, trying to hold a small cup with 10ml formula, tilted at just the right angle for her to lap at with her tongue, while her baby bird mouth searches and searches for nourishment. One ml at a time, we would work our way through up to 10 of these cups, with half of it ending up on her bib, or in the crease of her neck, until she finally had enough or gave up and fell asleep. This was love for our child and pain in every other sense possible, a true low point.

Day 4

Finally – Lou’s milk came in this morning and she entered the living room with only her bra on and shouted “LOOK! Instant boob job!” Karon arrived at about midday and I hugged her hard and almost started crying. She is also a breastfeeding counsellor for La Leche International. She picked up Baby A and gave her a cuddle, calmed her down, and even that was a huge relief. A woman was here to help, and she had half a clue what she was doing. She sat with Lou for an hour, trying positions, and angles, and latching… re-latching… rocking and cuddling her calm before trying again. Finally, she asked if we knew what a nipple shield was. Neither of us had, but I set out on a hectic drive at 3pm on a Sunday to any shop that was open: 2  grocery stores – NO, pharmacy – all closed, and finally Toys R Us where I found a nipple shield. I brought it home feeling very triumphant, but Karon needed to leave right away so quickly showed us how to use it, while I barraged her with all the questions I hadn’t yet been able to ask. She left and we tried the nipple shield. Lou fit the shield on, expressed a few drops into the teat (so A would know something was coming), put A into a rugby hold, and put her nose to the shield to latch. A couple tiny sucks, a pause, and then a swallow. Another pause, but stayed put. A few more sucks, then swallow, and so she continued for what felt like forever. Our child was breastfeeding! She was really doing it! With help, OK, and Lou was having a very painful let down with all this new milk, but I knelt beside her on the floor and stared up at both of them on the sofa like a little miracle was happening before my eyes. However, Karon had warned us that her tiny stomach had become quite stretched with the formula, more than a breastfed baby would have, and more than Lou could produce right now. And A is a baby who knows when she is full, and will scream for even one last mouthful if you try to stop her feeding early. So we continued with the cup feeding, with the aim of giving less and less formula each feed and meanwhile she would take more and more from the breast.  This would be a hard slog, but we decided to bite the bullet and try. This was one of the very first things I learned about parenthood – everything is TRIAL AND ERROR. You have to try, and it probably won’t work, but when it does… WOW. Empowerment. Confidence. Relief. Joy. Love.

The community midwife came just as we finished the feed. She was a lovely lady. Baby A weighed 8 lbs 1 oz, only losing 3% of her birth weight (largely thanks to the mega formula bottles we had been using). At the end of her visit, Auntie Tin, Nanny Chris, and and Olivia come to visit for a couple hours. They brought cupcakes, which is mainly what I remember. (SN – several weeks later, Tin told me she was a little worried about me after this visit as I was up and down like a whore’s drawers, couldn’t sit still for a minute, rocking without holding a baby, generally hectic. This was a sign of the 2 week anxiety problem that I realised afterwards was what kept me running but also mentally exhausted and feeling quite negative and panicky. A post dedicated to this odd event coming soon…)

Sleep remains elusive, with Baby A taking naps no longer than 3 hours (except one which I stupidly woke her up from, panicking her blood sugar would drop too low, after reading some tripe on the internet. Note to new parents – in the first week, just let your baby sleep if they are sleeping!!!!) Since coming home from hospital, she doesn’t like to be put down, especially not on her back. So we try tummy, propped on her side, beside one of us in bed (not popular after Lou tried to tuck her under her bump in her sleep, thinking she was a pillow). But the clear winner is ON us. Either being cradled or sleeping on our chest in bed. So this is how we managed the next few nights, while trying to persevere with the crib during the day. Sleeping tummy to tummy with an infant is a very special feeling, and we could catch an hour or two here and there before trading off.

Day 5

Karon came back to check our progress, and was amazed with how quickly A took to the nipple shield. She tried her without it, but she wasn’t having it. So we continued. Breastfeeding with nipple shield, followed by cup feeding. Less and less, until we had our first exclusive breast milk feed that evening! Another giant mile stone. Lou was still having a painful let down. Our friend Jo visited, walked B-dog, brought chocolate, wine (which I couldn’t even fathom drinking at this point) & other supplies ! 3 giant bags of cotton balls, maternity towels, nipple pads, nipple cream, etc. Now that is a good friend who will bring you stuff like that.

Day 6

More progress with the breast feeding (our days were at this point revolving in every way around feeding). Aside from a 15ml cup feed in the morning, this was our first day of exclusive breast feeding. Baby A now feeding every 2-3 hours, more frequently in the evening (cluster feeds) and about every 3 hours in the night. My good friend Ruth visited, held Baby A for one of her naps, cooked us 4 meals & filled our fridge with leftovers! An absolute godsend in our ever deepening fog of sleep deprivation…

Baby A still resisting the crib, and also the swing. Screams emit almost instantly. Sigh, and pick her back up again…

Day 7

Karon came back to check, and was happy with breast feeding now exclusively. Baby A did get her first good latch after starting on the shield and taking it away, but Lou is lacking in confidence and prefers to keep using the shield after Karon leaves. Baby A also had her first poo since Day 4, a huge relief for all 3 of us! Also, her belly button falls off, making nappy changes (and poo explosions) a tiny bit easier to deal with.

Day 8

Days are starting to blend together now, although our little girl does seem to get day/night very early and never tries to be awake in the dark. But Lou and I have seen more consecutive sunrises now than ever in life, and the whole “both of us wake for every feed” is starting to wear us down.

Unfortunately, the side effect of exclusive breastfeeding is that Lou HAS to wake up for every feed, while I can sleep right through, leading to our first taste of unevenness in that department. Resentment on one side, and guilt on the other. This is not nice for either of us, and something for which we were not prepared. We are a very 50/50 couple.

Baby A had her first walk to the shops with Lou, she spit up in her pram (motion sickness?) but never fussed. She had her first bath – she screamed at first but then settled right into it. This baby who loves her cuddles, unsurprisingly also loves the wrap. It is an instant sleep maker, plus you can do what you need to do – be it sterilise the nipple shields, or make a cup of tea, or put on a wash. H and Nix and Eloise visit, and bring a huge chicken curry dinner & leave us leftovers. Of all things, this has been a wonderful time to truly appreciate the kindness of friends.

Day 9

Late this evening, Lou’s parents arrive to meet their granddaughter. Granda sits down on the sofa and Nanny puts her in his arms. We ask how he likes her, he replies “It’s a baby” and flips on Match of the Day. Nanny is much more impressed, and gives her cuddles and follows Nic around the house wherever she goes – which is usually upstairs to breastfeed because this cannot be done in front of her old school father!

Day 10

Lou’s parents hang out for the morning, and then head off around 2pm for their 3.5 hour drive home. We pack up Baby A in the car and go to friend David’s birthday party, we managed to stay for an entire 2.5 hours and she was the life of the party while there. Sleeping mostly, thankfully. She slept in the car seat, and aside from a little spit up, did great in the car there and back. More things to tick off the list – leaving the house for more than an hour, check! Car ride, check! BFing away from home, check! We are exhausted when we get home, this is really, really hard work.

Day 11

We have a visit from our friends Amber and Shirley who have boy/girl twins. Somewhat humbling to think of doing this with TWO babies! We ask loads of questions and they give advice, but we are realising that most people don’t have such a hard time with feeding, and we feel a bit sad about this. Is our baby particularly difficult? Are we doing something wrong? I think they can sense our desperation and tiredness, although their visit is very welcome (and they too bring food!) and they leave after a couple hours. That evening, Baby A cluster feeds more than normal and Lou’s milk seems to have dried up. She is eating about every 40 minutes – 1 hour. Left breast producing more milk than right, but even that is not satisfying her and Baby A spends most of the evening crying, and we fear that this is a huge regression in the breast feeding. In retrospect, this is likely her 10 day growth spurt.

Day 12

It’s my last day of paternity leave. We just have a chill out day, and try to relax together with Baby A. The past 2 weeks have been the longest of my life, and also flown by. I can sense Lou’s anxiety about how she will cope when I am gone. I am worried about being away, not being able to cheer her on through another painful feed. I don’t know how my brain will function beyond the basic survival skills needed to keep my family alive. I decide to do some 6 hours days for the next week or two.

Day 13

My first day back at work, it was so so tough. I cried several times at my desk, and can’t stop calling home and looking at baby pictures. I seem to have verbal diarrhoea whenever a colleague asks how Baby A is doing, wanting to share and explain everything, warn the non-parents how difficult it is, and seek the advice of the already-parents. This is another point of realisation, that I am completely off the deep end, baby obsessed, and also that other parents basically block out the early days of infanthood. For example, when I ask one woman at work about breastfeeding who recently returned from maternity leave, she explained that it was tough because her baby had a tongue tie that wasn’t sorted out until 8 weeks. I ask, but how did you manage to keep breastfeeding before then? And she looks thoughtful and says, I don’t know, I just did. They sorted it at 8 weeks though, and after that it was fine!

Listen parents – if a first-time parent comes to you with questions in the first month, they want details. If you can’t give them that, just give them a hug. But please, don’t blur together the first few months. What happened in week 8 is good to know in a couple months, I want to know what happened week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4….

Anyway, Lou’s friend Sam comes down to visit for the day. She has 2 young children so is a huge support for her. The community Midwife comes – and A weighs 8 lbs 9 oz, and has regained all her birth weight plus a bit. The Health visitor comes right afterwards, who is not so nice – wakes baby up to undress her and do an exam, waits until baby is thoroughly agitated then hands her back and asks Lou to fill out some forms. WTF.

Tonight I came home, and debriefed with Lou. She had a good day but this whole breastfeeding thing, the pressure is immense and she’s not sure how long she can take it. She feels she is not producing enough (although she probably was) but it is still painful, she is dependent on nipple shield, and frankly she is just. not. enjoying it. This last bit is crucial in our decision to discuss introducing formula. Lou has conflicting feelings – fear she is a bad mother for not wanting to breastfeed more than she does, fear she is letting me down, but at the same time a sense of relief, like a weight has been lifted.

It’s fair to say that our decision to persevere with breastfeeding was led by me. Left to her own devices, Lou probably would have given up in the early days. Although she is proud of herself for continuing, in order for baby to get the colostrum – the “liquid gold” – she is struggling to see a light at the end of the tunnel. While I am at work, I can not support her, and I see signs of baby blues creeping in. This is my biggest fear – since Lou’s mum and sister both had post-natal depression. And Lou had a pretty traumatic birth experience, I am desperate to find a way to build her confidence and make her feel empowered as a mother. She is not one to ask for outside help. We are in a tough place.

Day 14

Lou’s first day all on her own. It started off on the wrong foot, as I did the first night feed about 2am, which was a literal shit show, and included 2 nappy-bursting poop explosions, a nappy-free wee, and 3 outfit changes. After that I swaddled A and put her down in her crib (still getting used to this) and I slept in the spare bed. Lou took over, and she was awake feeding on/off with A until 7am. I gave her a bottle to let Lou sleep a few hours, and then I had to go to work. I left sticky notes around the house for her to find through the day. Lou kept herself feeling busy – she read a bit of Gina Ford, learned how to sterilise bottles and how to make up formula (which I had been doing before), spoke to Tin, and after another (!) 3 poopy nappies (god what is wrong with the child!?) she napped. However, I came home to a different woman. She was still tired, ragged, and in her pyjamas, but she was happy and had a new sense of strength about her.

Right or wrong, introducing formula / mixed feeding was the right decision for us. People may say, if only we had persevered, it would have worked out. And they might be right. But we will never know. Baby A is now 9 weeks old and there are still days when Lou and I both mourn the fact that our daughter no longer receives all her nourishment from Lou, we fear that we have wrecked her “virgin gut” with formula, we feel like failures and wonder “what if…” But on balance, we both feel at peace with our decision. Our baby is growing and thriving, Lou is thriving in her new role as a stay at home mother (which we are fortunate to allow her to do for 10 months). We are also comforted by our friends and family supporting our decision. I have happily taken over the night feeds, getting to participate in this very special ritual, staring at my baby girl’s face in the dark, my tired heart softening with every slow blink of her long-lashed eyelids, feeling a motherly bond with her like never before, feeling ultimately satisfied by her contented sighs after a good feed while my wife sleeps before taking over in the morning. 

This is not meant to be an anti-breastfeeding story. In fact, I used to work as a community nutritionist for pregnant women and parents of under-5s, and I used to be the biggest champion of exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months! I was convinced that if you just suck up the pain for a couple weeks, anyone can do it, and after all “breast is best!” I still believe that breast is best, and I prefer for all mothers to try breastfeeding, but now I also have the wisdom and experience to know that it doesn’t work for everyone. That what is best is a healthy baby, and a happy mother. That your baby won’t remember this. That every baby is different. That we are fortunate to have options in feeding. That sometimes you must ignore others, and trust yourself. That parenting is hard, and that you will fail over and over again, and that is OK. That all any well-meaning mother really needs to hear is that she is strong and capable, and that she knows what’s best for her baby. That you, as a mother, are not a failure if you do not breastfeed. This is the message I want to shout from the rooftops.

However, I will leave you with a word of warning about stopping breastfeeeding. After 2 weeks, Lou drastically cut her feeds without expressing. 2 days later, Lou woke up in the middle of the night with a severe case of mastitis. She drove herself to the out of hours GP at 2:30 in the morning, feverish and shivering, in extreme pain. I had to stay home with A. She got antibiotics and was in bed for the next 24 hours. She had to keep expressing every few hours to clear the ducts, which was very painful. Worse, at first we threw the milk away thinking it was infected. Only the next day Lou called a BF hotline and they said it was OK to give to baby. It was a horrible experience, and totally avoidable if Lou had weaned her gently – dropping one feed every few days – or had she continued to express. Since then we successfully expressed about 250-300 ml (8-10oz) per day in 2 expressing sessions until 6 weeks using a rented hospital grade Medela pump. At 6 weeks, Lou’s breasts became softer and her milk supply drastically reduced (likely in response to infrequent expressing) and she was able to wean the expressing sessions over the next week. She still produces some milk, but not enough for a bottle, and Baby A is now happily exclusively formula fed. 

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She’s here!

Baby A arrived on 30th October at 7:36am, weighing 8 lbs 4 oz and 19 inches long.

Birth story to come soon! But at the minute I am back at work and only have just enough energy to keep ticking over. Sleep deprivation is no joke my friends!

Love to all and good luck to all the ladies expecting imminently xxxx

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