The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum


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My Anti-Plan Birth Plan

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At 36 weeks, I’m now contemplating the realities of labour and birth and, for the first time, getting really excited about what lies beyond – the adventures of babies and crying and breastfeeding and what on earth are we doing?

But for now, I’ve written my birth plan and shown it to my midwife. It describes the ideal birth of my dreams, mirroring the ones I’ve read about from Ina May Gaskin, in Maggie Howell’s fantastic Birth Preparation book and from stories read out at my Active Birth yoga class. This means:

  • Staying at home for as long as possible, using homeopathy, movement and massage
  • No inductions / sweeps unless medically necessary (and I will pester them to tell me why so)
  • A water birth
  • No pain relief (although I am tempted by gas & air)
  • No interventions unless medically necessary
  • Staying in control of the process, asking for full information and time to assess risks and make decisions
  • Privacy, music and candles, dim lights, encouragement but no time pressure
  • Letting the cord pulse until it stops
  • The moon on a stick.

So far, so unrealistic?

Maybe not. But we all know life does not always go to plan and only a very small handful of my friends had a blissful, empowering birth experience. Most had surprise illnesses and complications, some had real horrors. All seem pretty unfazed by the whole thing, which shows as long as you have a happy healthy baby at the end of it then how you got there probably doesn’t matter.

Add to this the fact that we also know that pregnancy has a lovely way of throwing spanners in the work and lo and behold, at 35 weeks I was diagnosed as having possible OC (obstetric cholestatis) from tests done after I mentioned that I had been itching. OC is basically where your liver doesn’t work well and doesn’t filter out bile salts properly, which stay in your body causing incredible itching. The bile salts in turn can harm baby by increasing the risk of late-stage stillbirth, so you are normally advised to induce at around 37-38 weeks.

To sum up, therefore, my peace n’ love hippie birth – all surges and turning down the pain dial and breathing in golden light – may well now turn into an induction-cranked chemical fest which has all the potential of turning into an intervention-filled nightmare.

Thing is, I’ve been itching since day 1, given my hives and excema (lucky me) but it’s never been the on-hands-and-knees-ripping-off-skin-til-4am type of itching – mainly on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet – that OC sufferers describe and I actually feel really, really good right now. So the fact that my body might be letting me down is annoying. While my bile salt tests are normal, my liver function test (ALT) is high so they still worry I may have it and need to monitor me carefully. I have accepted that I can’t do anything to stop it and obviously if the baby is in danger (and as long as I’m sure I have all the information to allow me to weigh up the risks myself) then we will induce and intervene to get baby out safe.

But something interesting has happened since I’ve found all this out. After initial panic, worry and tears (heaven help a hormonal lady with a google search button), and taking several days to get my head round the fact that I could be induced several weeks before I thought I would have my baby, I found an acceptance, a letting go of expectations and plans, which has actually made me feel liberated, calm and in control. So back to the theory behind my original birth plan.

Yes, for a planner like me, the idea of things happening sooner than I expected, at a time when I can’t control it, was at first terrifying. But I moved important appointments forward to my 37th week (well – my hair won’t colour itself), leaving week 38 and onwards entirely free. I wound down at work so I could leave promptly if required. I washed all the baby stuff, had a lovely lunch with my best friends, finished all the odd jobs round the house (or rather got The Chef to help). I read the birth stories I wanted to read, played the hypno-birth CD on repeat, packed the hospital bags.

So now, I feel ready. And more than that, I have discovered a new sense of purpose, a new open-mindedness that I didn’t have before and which I believe will make me stronger for what lies ahead. A very clever friend of mine said to me that all this OC stuff was actually a good thing because it was teaching me perhaps the most important lesson of motherhood:

That nothing can be planned. Expect the unexpected.

At our first NCT class (more later – actually really enjoyed it), we were shown a photo of a doctor-led medical labour ward room – as opposed to the midwife-led nest we’d all come to want – and asked how we would feel about that being the place we were told we had to give birth in. While most of the couples appeared to hate the thought of such an industrial, medical environment, choosing words like “anxious” and “worried”, I went straight for a card that appealed to me. It read:

IN CHARGE

And on the back of this was marked the hormone that I’m aiming to harvest more than anything – OXYTOCIN – the hormone of love and labour.

Straight away I realised my mind set had changed. That, having first embraced a natural, instinctive birth, I now knew that if I need an induction, an epidural, hell if an entire team of scrubbed up consultants came in and told me I had to have an emergency caesarean, then I would probably be able to stay in control, to make this birth the way I wanted it to be.

So that’s my birth un-plan. Wish me luck!

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My Hospital Bag

35 weeks on Saturday, all baby stuff bought or borrowed, and I’m now planning what to take to the hospital with me (while simultaneously harshing The Chef’s mellow with random home improvement requests).

I’ve seen hospital bag lists on numerous brilliant blogs (see Mums Make Lists or The Mummy Adventure) and also on various preggie Apps and retail sites (see Mothercare’s) but I have to say…

….I find the whole thing slightly ludicrous.

It feels half way between packing for a romantic minibreak – do you think the blue or the grey nightie would suit me best while I’m on all fours mooing like a cow? –  and packing for Armageddon; as if we will be stranded in a crevice a la 127 Days, having to rely on lavender oil and arnica to get us out alive.

Only women could come up with pre-labour grooming routines and hospital outfit ideas, as if our babies push happily through our opening cervix only to cry in disgust at an un-waxed bush.  However, I too have booked in for a pre-labour haircut, manicure and eyelash tint. Mock me all you like ladies, but I’m not the only one.

Friends of mine have got pre-labour spray tans, eyelash extensions, and bikini waxes (ouch). They’ve planned their labouring and day-after outfits to the last detail. Mummy forums* and blogs discuss the perfect baby going-home outfits and the most glamorous nursing tops.

Why on earth do we put pressure on ourselves like this? I guess it’s all part of this perfect family fantasy which we bought into as little girls. You know – the photo of you propped up in bed holding cute baby in novelty hat, husband’s proud and loving arm around you while you look, all glowing and wise, to the camera? Or the photo of you holding baby for his first trip home, him in perfect cutesy matching outfit, you both looking on in awe?

My own mother wasn’t impervious to this pressure either. She bought some fancy lace babygrow thing from Paris to clothe my 1 day-old self on the way home from hospital. This is captured in a gorgeous photo – me, angelic in said white lace gorgeousness, held by my proud father.

Oh, apart from the giant poo stain that soaks through the lace, covering the entirety of my lower region.

Let’s face it ladies. We will just have pushed a baby out of our bodies with great pain and effort. We will be pale, with bloodshot eyes, greasy hair, floppy boobs and bellies. We may not have had time to get our immaculately-packed hospital bags out of the car in the first place. We will be so excited about our new babies that we are unlikely to give a toss whether our toenails are painted or our outfit matches.

So, with this in mind, and with the emphasis on comfort and familiarity, here is what I’m planning to take with me:

Mummy bag:

  • Medical notes
  • Stuff to get to hospital & labour in: nightie from Primark (£3.50), Uggs, dressing gown – if I’m in the birth pool I guess I’d want to be naked
  • Stuff to make me comfy during labour: Cushions from home (I bought 2 for £7 from Primark),  Pillow from home, Throw (£7 from Primark)
  • Stuff to make the room nice (wishful thinking): Iphone and mini speakers, iphone charger, LED candles
  • Snacks for labour: fruit juice cartons, bottle water, healthy snacks, bag of Starburst, chocolate
  • Pain relief and comfort stuff: Tens machine (borrowed), Avene water spray, lip balm, flannel, handkerchief and Lavender oil, frankincense (yes, yes I know, but it works honestly), ear plugs, eye mask
  • Stuff to wear afterwards and the next day: cheap black knickers, comfy socks, nursing bras, nightie, slippers, cardigan, leggings, loose dark vests & shirts from Primark –  all very cheap
  • Post-birth  essentials: Arnica for bruising, nipple cream and pads, maternity pads
  • Flip Flops for shower
  • Dark towel
  • Magazines for hanging around
  • Hair bands & toiletries
  • Anti-bacterial hand gel
  • Plastic bags for laundry
  • Camera and charger
  • Boxers, toothbrush, socks & contact lenses for The Chef

Baby bag:

  • 4 x sleepsuits
  • Going-home outfit – yes I know but still succumbed as they can be so cute. Bought this one:

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  • 4x muslins
  • Hat
  • Cardigan
  • Blanket
  • Coat
  • Nappies (at least 24), H20 extra sensitive water wipes (thanks for the tip Look Mummy No Hands), cotton wool, nappy cream
  • Car seat

*baby forums should be avoided if at all possible. I’ve found them to be full of slightly hysterical women of the type who buy nappies in bulk at 10 weeks pregnant, or who moan about gaining 2 pounds in the first trimester