The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum


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An ode to the midwife

So three weeks ago I gave birth to my rainbow baby, 6 weeks early. We shall call her Minnie, for she is tiny. It was dramatic (when with me is it not?) but effectively she was delivered by emergency caesarean due to my bleeding from placenta praevia. It was all pretty hairy for a while, and I shall write more about it later to help anyone who also is diagnosed with placenta praevia (in short – pack your hospital bag asap) but for now I wanted to write about the midwives and staff of the maternity ward I was at. I wanted to write this while filled with hormones because I’m not sure how much appreciation midwives receive when mums are discharged as then life takes over.

When I refer to midwives here, I also include everyone who works at Maternity wards. I mean the obstetricians and paediatricians, the nurses and cleaners and caterers and people who bring you cups of tea. I am mainly referring to the post-natal midwives here as Minnie’s birth and delivery took place in around 20 minutes!

I should also say for topicality reasons, that I’d estimate around 70% of the midwives and staff at the hospital were foreign, and were uniformly wonderful, and for that reason I’m hoping nothing changes as the care they gave was exemplary.

I wanted to make a list of all the amazing things the midwives did for me before and during Minnie’s delivery, and in the 4 days that we were in hospital afterwards, for I’d forgotten the amazing job they do:

  1. Bringing cups of tea, glasses of water and biscuits when you need it, when you’re too tired to get up, or when your legs are so anaesthetised you can’t move.
  2. Making it clear you can call the nurse-call button for literally anything, including holding your baby so you can pump milk or just have someone to talk to.
  3. Hand-expressing tiny molecules of colostrum into a syringe so your milk comes in and your baby can eat. The patience this must take – it took 10 minutes to express a single drop for me – is incredible.
  4. Not flinching nor exclaiming “oh my god that’s revolting” when checking C-section scars, episiotomy scars, emptying catheter bags, or dealing with various gross post-birth wounds and stitches.
  5. Making it clear that the men come second and making maternity wards the most maternal, feminine, oestrogen-filled place I have ever been.
  6. Not batting an eyelid when women have boobs flopped out, or spend 3 days wearing trackie bums and baggy t-shirts.
  7. Listening, and allowing you to cry, making you feel like you aren’t crazy or alone, when emotionally it all gets too much.
  8. Bringing paracetamol, iron tablets, fragmin, anti-inflammatories, peppermint water, laxalose, vitamins, and all manner of pills and supplements to make us better, checking blood pressure and pulses and temperatures and generally making mums feel cared for and looked after.
  9. Picking up your baby, cuddling them and making you feel like they genuinely ARE the cutest baby ever.
  10. Having endless time and patience and love for everyone – mums and dads alike.

Of course there are exceptions. Shifts are long and there were midwives who complained about how tired or stressed they were, and the most annoying thing for me was the different opinions on feeding (amounts / length of time / positions etc) that were offered which was quite confusing, but overall the work midwives do is just incredible.

So if Mr Hunt or Mr Gove or Mr Farage or any of those people try to impinge on the working lives of midwives – to restrict foreign staff working, to increase their hours or cut their pay – then we must all stand up – mothers, fathers, children alike. The job midwives do is above and beyond, is literally life-giving, and we must protect them and support them all we can.

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C-sections and the pressure to have a “perfect” birth

Last week at my 32 week scan (yes I can’t quite believe we’ve got this far), I found out my little girl is healthy and happy, but that my stubborn low-lying placenta has refused to budge and is completely covering my cervix. This is called major or complete placenta praevia.

It is now very unlikely to move between now and the birth (baby has done a full 180 since the 20 week scan in the meantime) so that means a scheduled C-section for around 38-39 weeks as natural birth is just not possible. Baby would have to push through the placenta and you’d haemorrhage. There’s just no choice about it.

And the main thing – of course – is that baby will get out safely this way. But I was truly gutted not to be able to have the natural pool birth I was hoping for. And because the chances of this happening are something like 1/200, I figured we’d had enough bad luck in this whole department, thank you very much.

In my head, I’ve been envisaging a calm, beautiful water birth with her popping out into my arms, cathartically healing the pain of what came before – the traumatic shoulder dystocia birth with my son and then all the losses.

But is that so realistic?

I have been so taken in by the natural birth movement and its ideals of a birth “experience” that brings out the earth mother in us all. But how common are these ideal births? And why do I feel such a failure not to have experienced this sort of birth?

A straw poll of a group of girlfriends and it seems I’m not alone. If we were in medieval times, we’d have all pretty much died in childbirth. Between us we had a ruptured placenta, shoulder dystocia, infections, sudden haemorrhaging and a myriad of conditions and problems leading to emergency C-sections, drips, inductions, forceps and ventouse.

In fact, amongst the more straightforward births my friends have had, the most common comments I’ve heard have been how great the epidurals were because you couldn’t feel a thing, or just that it was “bloody painful”.

That said, I do know at least two friends who did have amazing sounding births. One roared like a tiger and became some sort of primal powerful animal. The other had some sort of spiritual connection with her partner and gave birth in the pool.

But the only other time I’ve heard about great births have been in natural birth yoga classes, books and workshops. Where birth stories talk of women breathing out the baby, golden breaths through the surges, and how lavender oil totally helped. But is this a realistic image to give women, and does this not add extra stress and judgement to women who have other sorts of births – the frantic and the traumatic and the drug-filled?

I mean, my son wasn’t breathed out so much as forcibly yanked, and I cried all that night feeling I’d failed as a woman and let him down (and that was even after having refused an epidural and managing largely without pain relief – a mistaken belief at the time that I should endure the pain and move through it rather than wash it away). That was why I was hoping to somehow prove myself this time – I’ve been like a woman training for a marathon, all pelvic exercises and yoga classes – just so I had the chance to do it again “properly”.

So my disappointment on hearing I would likely have to have a C-section was very real. But then I got sent this  Hadley Freeman article in the Guardian about not judging women who have C-sections, saying “if you want an experience, go to Disneyland” but otherwise when it comes to birth, go with whatever works.

I do think we put far too much pressure on ourselves to have this magical (and possibly mythical) birth experience. There is a competitive streak to it – to refuse pain relief like I did with my son (why?! In all likelihood he was bouncing on my sciatic nerve – pethidine was a warm and fuzzy relief) and push through the pain to some sort of spiritual plane. Some women may be able to summon the spirit of Mother Earth and breathe out a baby, but in the majority of cases, mine included, it was a hard tough slog with complications and problems and urgent medical care needed.

The world exerts so much pressure on women to be the best wife, best mother, best employee, to keep ourselves young and beautiful and healthy and fit, do we really need to have the perfect birth too?

The fact is, when my son was handed to me, the first thing I thought was “oh fucking hell I’m knackered, what do I do with this then” rather than anything more profound, but soon we had the loveliest happiest bond between us that grew through time, in spite of, and not because of, the birthing experience we had (bloody awful – read about it here if you must).

And so I’m slowly accepting that this will be our little birth story, me and hers. One which isn’t really what I’d planned but which will be ours. I’m hoping she can be pulled out to a song by Deacon Blue maybe, or Stevie Wonder (“Isn’t She Lovely”?), and later, I can show her and my son the scar where she entered the world into our arms.

And anyway, The Chef still gags at the smell of lavender oil following our first attempt at a perfect birth. A small reminder that you can’t always get what you want.

 

 


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Pregnancy after Recurrent Miscarriage

Yes, the clue is in the title. The Happy Baby Project is 26 weeks pregnant!

So are the (sparkling elderflower) corks popping and the trumpets blowing? Well, no, sadly. And that is what I wanted to write about today, for all those women pregnant after suffering from recurrent miscarriage, and their friends and family who may not understand.

Pregnancy after recurrent miscarriage is a very different kettle of fish to my first pregnancy with my son, before any of this miscarriage journey had begun.

Then I was full of joy and confidence. We announced early, we posted our scan photo on Facebook with cheeky comment, we marched into scan rooms smiling and shouting “don’t tell us the sex!” as if that was the only worry we could possibly have. I bought baby stuff early, talked about it incessantly. In short, the world revolved around me and my growing baby. I was in a bubble of joy and happiness.

How innocent this now seems. How foreign.

But also, how annoying must I have been to my friends who were struggling with IVF or miscarriages or not having found the right person to have kids with, at the time? They didn’t say anything to me (what lovely friends I have) but it is only now with hindsight I see how hideously smug and self-possessed I was then, how a lot of pregnant women can unknowingly be, and how upsetting that can be for other women. Especially with the current fetishisation of pregnancy and motherhood, all baby on board badges and tight lycra maternity clothes and twee social media posts, I know well what pressure and pain this sort of thing exerts on women who are unable to have children – for whatever reason.

Because one of the greatest things that recurrent miscarriage has taught me is empathy for other women going through hardship, and what a dire slog making a baby can be for some of us, in fact – at my age – I’d say most of us.

I’d never post a scan photo again, never consider a brash pregnancy announcement, I creep into scan rooms rather than striding, and I have had my ostrich neck in the sand about this pregnancy the entire time.

The fact is, the first 12 weeks were just hideous. We thought we’d lost the baby several times, and the rest of the time we didn’t acknowledge it, so much was the pain from our 4 previous miscarriages. All I could do was try to go to bed every night and wake up every morning, head down, another day that the baby could hang on in there, until my 12 week scan.

When we heard the heartbeat, a moment’s joy was replaced by thoughts of how much harder it would be to lose the baby now we had a glimmer of hope.

Even at 12 weeks and a successful scan, I worried about later losses, and genetic abnormalities.

We told friends then (I was fed up of nursing a warm glass of wine at Christmas parties) but I didn’t want to talk about it, and peppered any responses to questions with “if this baby makes it” and “touch wood”. I didn’t feel engaged with other pregnant women who wanted to chat about maternity leave and age gaps and double buggies, I just wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening, it felt easier that way. I felt – still feel – more aligned with women who struggle with infertility and miscarriage, as I feel I am forever one of them now.

At 16 weeks I bought a Doppler and checked the heartbeat several times a day.

It was around this time my husband politely requested I stop using the word “if” when talking about the baby’s arrival and instead say “when”.

At 20 weeks, we had a great scan, and she (for I am having a little girl!) is completely perfect in every way.

And it’s STILL hard. Because I love her more than I can possibly imagine. My heart breaks for her already, I ache to feel her in my arms and play with her hair and her podgy thighs and to tell my son – finally – that his little sister is here.

And that plus my lack of confidence in my body and its ability to make babies, makes me worry still about late losses, and still births, and I still google “chance of success for pre-term birth at X weeks” every week in case I go into labour early. I count the kicks every night. I found myself at the weekend saying “if I go on maternity leave” rather than “when”. I still struggle to answer questions about birth plans or childcare options just in case it all goes wrong.

We announced then on Facebook to let wider family and friends know, but a fairly somber announcement, and I wanted to add that I’d had a tough time getting there. I wanted other women to know things hadn’t been easy because if they didn’t know about our miscarriages, brand Facebook would have made it look like we’d been living on a bed of roses for the last couple of years.

Around 24 weeks, I bought some pretty pink baby clothes in a sale. My husband was unable to look at them. I put them in the drawer unopened.

At almost 27 weeks, I still, still now, don’t entirely feel that it’s real. I still feel anxious and think I always will until she is in my arms. There is a dark cloud of self-doubt and anxiety that creeps over my head every so often, blacking out the positivity and joy I’d been feeling, making me angry and scared.

I see that even if I felt a tenth of the love I feel for this baby now, even a hundredth or a thousandth, which I would have had at 5 or 6 weeks gestation (when I lost 3 of my 4 other babies), my heart would still have broken into a thousand pieces, which makes me realise anew how hard it is to lose a baby at whatever stage of your pregnancy.

But here I am, we’ve made it so far, me and my little girl, as we go into the third trimester. I now need to believe this beaten up body of mine can give birth again, can feed her; that I can find some confidence and self-esteem that was knocked out of me by this miscarriage journey to believe I can be a mother again.

And quite frankly I owe it to my little girl, to feel some joy now. To relax and bond and daydream and just allow myself to show her how much she is loved.

Because that’s the final thing about pregnancy after recurrent miscarriage, and it’s a good thing. The grief we’ve been through makes us appreciate what we have so much more and the happiness we feel is more than we can ever imagine feeling. I feel so lucky and so blessed, even after all. I feel she is the baby I was meant to have, the perfect age gap for my family, our destiny.

So now I must just countdown until she arrives this Summer. We’ve been waiting long enough!


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3 is the magic number*

* yes it is, when it comes to miscarriages

So, the HBB is sadly a recurrent miscarrier. That means I have had 3 miscarriages in a row. And for those in this unfortunate predicament (1% of all women apparently), and for those going through a heart-breaking 1st or even 2nd miscarriage, given there is SO little help out there for us, I thought I’d write down some things I know about it. I hope, as always, this helps.

  1. The sadness is all-consuming

I am heartbroken to lose a thing I loved so much. My heart feels heavy – particularly first thing in the morning and often last thing at night. I had so much love for this baby, I wanted it so badly, and each time I got pregnant I loved it just the same (even though I tried not to).

Is it better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all? Nope. I know trying and failing to get pregnant in a year would be hard, but getting pregnant and miscarrying regularly is harder. “You should feel pleased you get pregnant so easily” is a hollow compliment.

It is also hard because I want to be happy mummy to my toddler. But mummy IS sad right now. But maybe it’s OK for children to see their parents being sad sometimes – it helps them to know they can express their emotions too.

  1. Anxiety and Stress

This fills me with unhealthy and angry adrenalin and keeps me awake for nights on end. For one thing, my hormones have gone up and down like a mad rollercoaster – I have been pregnant and then not pregnant 3 times in the space of 9 months – which is stressful for my body.

And then as with any stressful life event there are tangible anxieties that stem from it – am I letting people down at work? Should I tell people? Why do I feel so ashamed? What if something’s wrong with me? Will they ever find out what is wrong? Is this affecting my friendships or my relationships or my other child?

Finally, there is stress about hypotheticals – will this happen again? How many times? Will I ever have another child?

I’ve learnt two things that help with this. Mindfulness, to try to live in the present and appreciate what I have, and not worry about the future. And secondly, to treat these worries like floating lanterns – acknowledging each as a valid worry, then letting it go and float up into the wind.

  1. I’m angry

At the world.

At mother nature.

At my body.

At the NHS.

At the government.

At Facebook for unannounced baby bombs (miscarrier lingo for pregnancy announcements and newborn photos).

4. Sometimes friends and family don’t know how to help

While the vast, vast majority of my friends and family have been brilliant, some have been a bit distant, and some unsympathetic. I have also noticed that after 3 miscarriages, the texts and calls faded a bit. I wonder whether people just don’t know what to say anymore; or if some think by the time you have 3 you’re used to it? Actually, 3 is the hardest, the lowest ebb. I’ve needed to reach out to friends to say I need help. For a tough cookie like me, that’s been hard, but I think you need to tell people you’re in pain and need a bit of love. It’s the love of friends and family that has kept me going.

The fact is – when you are grieving you want that grief acknowledged, and not belittled.

You can still grieve a lost child if it was only alive for a few weeks.

You can still grieve a lost child if you already have a child.

You can still grieve a lost child if the chances are you will have another child one day.

You can still grieve a lost child if you’ve already lost other children previously.

You are not only grieving a lost child, but the loss of hopes and dreams, the loss of plans and the family you wanted, and that you can never get back.

You are grieving and there is sadly nothing you can do to make people react in the way you want them to. All you can do is avoid people with unhelpful responses until you feel stronger.

5. Jealousy is a hard pill to swallow

I want to be a good friend, but it is hard sometimes to deal with friends who are pregnant, or who have the family I wanted (2 kids with a 2 year age gap please!). For some people it seems so easy.

It’s not that I don’t want them to be happy – I do. But sometimes it makes my stomach twist with longing to be reminded of something I want so badly, and something I can’t have. And it kills me every time my toddler cuddles a baby and says he loves it – all I want is to give him his own sibling to cuddle.

I have valiantly attended baby showers and cuddled newborns like a seasoned politician, coming home to blub on the sofa, but now I feel I need to give myself a break, and hope my friends will understand

6. Miscarrying regularly takes up a lot of time

If I recall the last year – most of 2014 for example – I have mainly spent it miscarrying.

I have missed a whole load of work, lots of events, holidays and parties. I have spent around 8 months not drinking alcohol, and the remaining 4 months drinking excessive alcohol. I have thought about starting a gym regime 3 times and then stopped because I got pregnant, and then thought about starting again. I have got fat and dieted 3 times. I have unpacked and re-packed my maternity clothes 3 times.

Several of my friends got pregnant months after I first did and have now had their babies. I’m reminded of an egg and spoon race where we all started together but I kept dropping that damn egg and keep having to go back to the start.

I am in a constant state of limbo.

I have been pregnant for 9 months and yet I have no baby.

7. Channelling a happy sheep (bear with me on this one)

There is evidence (if you read Dr Regan’s book on miscarriage) that by just being looking after – monitoring and hand-holding – the likelihood of having a successful pregnancy that ends in a live baby, increases from around 65% to around 80%. And that’s with no medical help or intervention – just extra scans and care.

That’s 15% of women who will have a baby JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE LOOKED AFTER AND GIVEN SOME TLC.

And that’s something the NHS should heed because (see below) if you have 1 or 2 miscarriages, they do precisely jack shit to help you out. Unless you are one of the lucky ones with a sympathetic GP or you pay for private help, you are left on your own, bleeding and alone, trying to work out what is going on yourself – mainly through Dr Google and Mumsnet.

That’s 15% of women who will take home a baby just because they are being cared for. That’s 15% less scans and GP visits, less EPU trips and ERPC operations, less anaesthetists and surgeons, less time off work, less boxes of tissues, less counselling and pain and grief. Just because they get some care.

My lovely midwife friend, the daughter of a sheep farmer, described this phenomena differently. “I would never expect a sheep to give birth if it was scared”, she said.

And so here I am, channelling a happy sheep.

8. Being the perfect plant pot (again bear with me)

Here is something practical we miscarriers can all do. This is from a friend who visited Zita West,who I’ve heard good things about. Sadly, her consultations aren’t cheap, however it is this sort of pro-active, helpful advice that miscarriers like to hear.

A friend who visited one of her acupuncturists, was told birth was like planting a seed – and your job – or your uterus’ job – is to be the best soil possible.

So how do you do that? Well, cut out booze, eat well and exercise. Get your partner to cut down his booze too, and take a supplement. Try to de-stress – acupuncture and reflexology helps. Which is easy to say but after a miscarriage you are bloody knackered and want to drown your sorrows in a vat of gin. But when you get strength back, it is something to think about.

Supplements may help too – evening primrose oil, Agnus Castus, Pregnacare, Q-10, to name but a few.

Will it help? Who knows, but it makes you feel like you’re doing something.

9. Recurrent miscarriers become walking medical dictionaries

Only those who’ve lost several babies will be familiar with terms like luteal phase defects, uterine NK cells and antiphospholipid antibodies. You need to know this shit because sadly the medical world often needs to be prodded to do any testing, and often don’t agree amongst themselves what the best course of action is.

The NHS (and BUPA) won’t do any testing until you’ve had 3 miscarriages. There is some statistical evidence for this – given only around 50% of tests actually come up with something.

singe_04

The NHS when you have 1 or 2 miscarriages

This kills me for two reasons.

First, it shows a complete lack of TLC and care for miscarrying women, and completely disregards the hideous grief that accompanies a miscarriage. Remember that 80% statistic?

Second, basic blood tests (they say in half of cases you never find a cause – which surely means in 50% of cases you do?) could highlight a problem which could be rectified. And that could mean 50% less miscarriages – less scans, less surgeries, less tissues, etc etc. In my case, that is particularly painful as one consultant believes my problem is a “simple hormonal issue” that turns out could have been solved with an £8 prescription drug.

Since my 3rd miscarriage, I’ve been offered NHS recurrent miscarriage testing but its slooow – taking months which if you’ve already been miscarrying for months is hard to bear, particularly if your body clock is tick-tocking or that age gap is steadily widening. So I’ve augmented this with private help – costly but at least it happens quickly and you know all your bases are covered.

The tests you can get are**:

** I’m no medical expert, just a recurrent miscarrier with a curious mind and a subscription to Mumsnet

  1. Hormone levels – this should be done by the NHS and is typically done at the start of your cycle and then around day 22. An example of this is a luteal phase deficiency which means you aren’t producing enough progesterone after implantation. This can be remedied with progesterone suppositories and in some cases, Chlomid.
  2. Blood clotting – things like thrombophilia, tested by the NHS. If your blood clots too much, it won’t allow blood to flow to the placenta. This is remedied with aspirin or heparin injections or both. Some people take aspirin “just in case” but others suggest this is dangerous. After 3 miscarriages, I defy anyone to not be a “just in case-r”.
  3. Immune problems – the NHS tests for some immune issues, but won’t test for NK cells and nor will BUPA. This is because it’s a controversial issue and some believe it’s not proven. But it’s not proven perhaps because there is a remarkable lack of knowledge and research in the world of miscarriage. NK cells are natural killer cells – helpful for killing cancer and other bad stuff, but in elevated levels in the uterus, they can attack a growing embryo. I wonder if I have this because I had terrible hives with my toddler and this is an immune issue. The only people that I’ve found to test for this are: Dr Thum at the Lister, Dr Shehata at Epsom hospital and Harley Street, and Prof Brosens and Quenby who are doing remarkable pioneering work in Coventry. Lots of people swear by these guys but you will have to pay (£360 in Coventry and up to £2000 for Shehata and Thum). Coventry and Shehata have a remarkable success rate but mean waiting for a couple of months at least post-miscarriage for testing before trying again, which for many of us is hard to do. The remedy for this is steroids.
  4. Genetic problems – You got a bad egg. Or bad sperm. Or bad sperm and egg combo. Especially prevalent in us ladies who spent most of our twenties hanging pissed off a chandelier in dodgy nightclubs in Ibiza. I can’t see what else you can do with this other than keep trying for a good ‘un, or get genetically screen IVF embryos, at a whopping price tag.

Monica from friends – is my uterus an inhospitable environment?

  1. Try, try again

Something like 75% of recurrent miscarriers will go on to have a successful pregnancy eventually. But when will this be? I’ve now met women who’ve had 5, 6, 7 miscarriages. I’ve heard of others who’ve had up to 10. Where does that leave your life – your marriage, your existing children, your work? Where does that leave your body and your mental health?

The NHS often suggests you keep going, that it’s a numbers’ game.

And we will. That is what my body tells me to do. But for a recurrent miscarrier like me, this is little comfort.

  1. I think sometimes I’ll only get over this when I have another baby

But it scares me how long that may take. And what I do if it doesn’t happen at all.

  1. I feel I need to do something to remember these babies

Because I never want to complain about being pregnant, or how annoying my kids are, or how awful the birth was. Because right now I would be just so happy to be there, no matter how bad it was.

This year of my life has been remarkably hard, one of the hardest years I’ve ever had to face. Some people plant trees, or get a tattoo.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I never want to forget what I’ve been through, and I never want to take the good times for granted. I also never want to be bitter, or regret this year as its just part of my life and part of my story and my family’s story.

For my father we put up a bench. I’d welcome your thoughts on what to do for my lost babies.

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Update May 2015: To my surprise (and probably thanks to the fact that I’ve been writing about miscarriage recently rather than what to pack in your hospital bag) I’ve been nominated for the Best Baby Blog category at the MAD blog awards. I suspect I’ve got as much chance of winning as I have regaining my pre-baby weight, but what the hey, if you did want to nominate me then please feel free. Click on the link below and thank you.

Tots100 MAD Blog Awards


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A little word about PMS…ssssh

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Myself and a mummy friend were discussing this the other day – how much worse PMS is post-baby! And why no-one mentioned this to us beforehand?!

I am now a roaring lion, rage-filled and snappy, sending The Chef scuttling away to the kitchen. Then, I am suddenly prone to bursting into tears at the slightest thing – sobbing into my glass of wine at The Voice, adverts about dog rescue; crying because I love my son so much or because the world is a sad place or because I don’t like our kitchen units. It is so ridiculous, so over-emotional, that I often find myself laughing at me crying, while crying, becoming a snotty crazy mess.

I googled this and was overwhelmed with the amount of forum posts asking whether anyone else found PMS worse after a baby. The answer is YES, it’s much worse.

A small bit of research revealed that it tends to be worse for new mums due to a combination of bad diet, lack of exercise and exhaustion – so it should get better after a while, and I expect it would improve if you went to the gym, took some vitamins – particularly B6 which helps if you’re run down -and cut down on the custard creams. Plus the first few times the new hormonal change is probably difficult for your body to process. Or so I’m hoping.

It is also apparently worse for mums who suffered from post natal depression. I think I may have had mild PND at times – or I was just over-emotional and very hormonal – so I am not surprised its been pretty bad for me.

And hey, yeah I know it’s not particularly dignified talking about periods or PMS but I wish someone had told me before I spent another month blubbing on the sofa…

If you want to read more about how you can cope with post-partum PMS, I found this article really helpful.


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On Happiness & Motherhood

Note from Sasha: I wrote about happiness and being a mum on my other blog, The Happiness Project London, and I thought I’d share it here….

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And then there were three….

You will have to excuse my lack of blogging of late. But on 27 March 2013, I gave birth to my son and my life changed out of all recognition. And recently, 7 weeks on, I’ve realised some things about happiness that make the HPL rules more important than ever to stick to and I wanted to share them here.

It is only now, as my body releases the hormones I’ve had circulating in my system over the last 10 or so months, which kept my baby inside me and allowed him to grow, that I am able to reflect on how I’ve changed.

Firstly, I realise I had a tough pregnancy. I have a new-found affinity for Kim Kardashian in that I too grew to the size of a small bus while carrying my baby boy, to the extent that many people (including medical practitioners) told me I must be having a huge baby. I feel for her because while you can put vanity on the back burner as much as you can, hating photos of yourself, catching yourself sideways in a mirror and gasping at your sheer bulk, isn’t the best thing for your self-confidence or esteem.

And then there’s how the hormones affect you. For me, my body was allergic to the hormones, and while my body gave everything it could to make my son the beautiful and chilled out boy he is, it took something from me – my skin became red and sore and swollen and itchy, I didn’t look like me, I would look in the mirror and cry in pain and in sadness at the loss of something. Only now, when he is 7 weeks, and my skin has begun to look normal again (thanks, in part, to Waitrose Baby Bottom Cream, who knew?), I feel that I have regained “me” again, only a fatter me with droopier boobs.

Then there’s the moods, the loss of confidence at work because of baby brain and guilt about maternity leave and your career path, the overwhelming love and fear for your baby and your family, and the separation from old friends whose lives are now on a different track.

Then there’s the birth. Well mine was pretty bloody awful. It was brutal and traumatic and you can read about it on my baby blog here if you want to. It gave something to me, of course – it gave me a power and a confidence, especially as I did it without an epidural and mostly on gallons of gas and air, but it also made me cynical and angry at mother nature and at life, and its something I realise I need to recover from mentally and emotionally, as does The Chef who saw things I can’t even imagine.

And finally motherhood. The highs, those incredible highs – of picking up a sleepy warm baby in the morning, of the first smile, the picking his clothes and laughing when he does something funny, the watching him asleep, the cuddles and the love – that overwhelming love again – and the worry about anything that might happen to him. I feel such pride in my family, in him, this chilled out wee fella that The Chef and I made, who seems better than us, who seems so perfect, who I can’t wait to watch grow, who develops every single day.

But, at 7 weeks, as the hormones that made him slip away, I feel something new. A sense of change, of wondering who I am now, what I do from here.

I’m not working, my life is my baby and cups of coffee, endless coffees, with other mums. We talk about our babies and about our boobs and our stitches. I am fascinated with recording every feed, every poo, every minute of sleep.

I found myself telling a (male) friend of mine, in great detail, about how my son hadn’t pooed for 2 days and how it was great that he had finally done a poo that morning, explaining in detail how he went red and I felt bad for him but was also happy as he’d been constipated… and halfway through I thought – what on EARTH am I doing! I’m talking about my son’s shits in great detail! To a bloke! I’ve become one of those mothers….And I post photos of him on Facebook all the time. And when The Chef brings up something in the news I feel ashamed – I didn’t watch the news today, in fact my world is here, so small now, between the bedroom and the nursery and the kitchen. And between the coffees, I am here – in the nursery mostly – with him, loving him and cuddling him, but alone, lonely at times. Working us both up to the next coffee, the next GP visit, the walk to the park, that is the day’s activity.

My god I’m not complaining. I love being a mum – I’m good at it I think. I love him and I love our life together and I love my family. But I realise my identity, my happiness, my confidence, has taken a knock with all this, left me moody and on the verge of rage or tears fairly easily, left me not quite knowing who I am now, how I’ve changed, whether I will ever be the old “me” again. And so now, I realise how important it is that I work on my happiness, and in doing so, work out where I go from here.

And so to the rules again:

1. Be Active – important given I can only live in elasticated waistbands for so long. I’m doing a mother & baby yoga class to ease my creaky bones, and I’ve dug out my gym kit with thoughts of swimming and running.

2. Connect – vitally important for me right now. I miss my friends after 7 weeks of wanting to be holed up with my baby boy. I want to organise a girls’ night out and drink wine – wine! – and a night eating good food with The Chef. I want to drink a martini. I want to go to the cinema. I want to see old friends, and friends without kids, and phone people when I feel isolated with a baby stuck to my breast.

3. Give – my current bugbear, after awe-inspiring treatment by NHS midwives at Kingston hospital, is the proposed plans for the NHS – the fact that it is effectively being privatised from under our noses to an American-style insurance-based system with healthcare for the richest, from private companies, while the poorest will suffer. I need to see what I can do to get involved. As a mum I’m also filled with an empathy I don’t think I had before – so I want to make sure I give clothes and toiletries to charities that help women and children.

4. Nurture – easy. I do it every day until around 7pm when I put him down to sleep. But there are other projects too to get excited about – transforming my garden, planting new colourful flowers, transforming the house in which I spend so much time in nowadays. Projects, and economical maternity-leave budgeting ones at that, will keep me busy over the next few months.

5. Learn – I’m going to learn to cook. As The Chef knows, I can barely boil an egg, but I’d love to get better of it, to become a bit more domesticated, to feed my lovely family. I’m starting this week with doing a few simple meals. God help us all.

6. Be Curious – Since the hormonal fug of pregnancy has started to lift, the baby is able to sleep in his pram, and I’m mastering public transport, I want to go exploring London again. So many places I want to go – Eel Pie island (open house 22/23 June), the Polka Theatre, the Electric Cinema, some of the new restaurants whose openings I’ve totally missed.

Happiness, like confidence, is a transient thing, and one you need to keep working at. Getting married, having a baby, can be the happiest time of your life, but the changes they bring and emotions they evoke can be overwhelming at times. I’m glad I have the HPL rules to ground me, and I love a project to work on. I’ll let you know how I get on.


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My birth story

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Our son, age 19 days

Note from Sasha: When I was pregnant and before I gave birth, I wanted to surround myself with positive birth stories. I listened to hypno-birth CDs, read Ina May’s wonderful birth stories, heard delightful birth tales from mums at my active birth class, and sucked up the positive birth stories and videos from the Tell Me A Good Birth Story blog and Facebook group. I didn’t watch OBEM and I kept myself mentally in a positive place, visualizing the birth I wanted to have… The birth I ended up with however, was not quite what I expected. While the middle bit was lovely in parts, the beginning was difficult and at the end there were complications. I am writing this in the hope of finding closure for some of the scarier parts of it, to get catharsis from re-living it (and hope The Chef can do the same – for he saw things that I didn’t and doesn’t have the same rose-tinted lenses as me), but I don’t want any pregnant ladies getting upset and I would therefore recommend you only read this on the understanding that what happened to me was rare – I consider myself one of the something like 20% of births that has complications due to the position of the baby – and that if you totally understandably, as I did, want to read only positive birth stories, this is probably not a good one to read!

And on that basis, we start at 3.45am on Monday 25 March 2013, in bed….

There was a pop and then a splosh as my waters broke. It could have been nothing else, I knew it immediately. As I ran to the bathroom it popped again, and I was suddenly standing with a puddle of water at my feet on the cold tiles. My waters. And so it begins.

Our first schoolboy error was to get over-excited. It was 3.45am for god sake, and contractions turned out to only start the next evening, but we were excited and nervous and The Chef and I didn’t sleep any more that night. Plus, amniotic fluid kept coming out of me in gushes making sleep impossible. The Chef stayed home from work, we pretended we were going about our business as normal, but we were rabbits caught in headlights, I was timing contractions, anxiously waiting for the onslaught of birth.

This was schoolboy because by the time labour did start, almost 24 hours later, I hadn’t rested or slept and had barely sat down since my waters had broken. It was also a mistake that I excitedly texted people to tell them, not only because then we were on a stopwatch, a countdown, which meant I perhaps did not let things progress as slowly or patiently as they might have done as I could feel a clock ticking towards induction (at 24 – 48 hours after my waters had broken); but also because some started calling or texting to check I was OK given the long delay to labour, even when I was in the middle of pushing, which disturbed the peace we had worked hard to create (I don’t blame them, I just reckon its best to keep it to yourself). I didn’t tell the hospital as I didn’t want to come in – I was positive my waters had broken and there wasn’t any brown, green or blood stains in it so no need.

My memory of Tuesday is a little hazy, the universe very kindly erasing the more painful aspects of the experience in my mind (sadly not in The Chefs, which is why I don’t think I could bear to read his version of events), but contractions got stronger in the evening until they became close to being unbearable. On reflection, I think he was in a difficult position, right in my bottom. There was no warmth, power and pressure to the contractions, just an agonising pain right in my bottom which made me scream and cry out loud. I couldn’t sit or lie down, having a bath didn’t ease it. I can’t recall the pain even now but it made me screw my eyes up and shout and I just couldn’t get comfortable. From the sounds I was making and the pain, we thought I was in labour so at 11pm we drove to Kingston Hospital, me screaming in pain every few minutes. The Tens machine was useless, the lavender oil on handkerchief actually helped, but I was in trouble. My hypno-birthing was out the window, nothing brought comfort, I was panicking.

We had a miserable half hour at hospital. The midwife in triage didn’t seem particularly sympathetic and insisted on a vaginal exam which I just couldn’t do because of the pain. She offered me an injection for the pain and I said no immediately – again on reflection given what transpired I should perhaps have said yes. A different midwife from the Malden Suite with a softer, calm attitude took over and explained I couldn’t go to the birthing room or get any pain relief until they knew how dilated I was. I nodded and submitted to the painful exam and was told the worse news possible – I was only 2cm dilated. She gave me a sweep and told me I could either go home or walk the stairs at the hospital to get things moving.

At this point The Chef did something heroic. We spent a miserable few minutes walking the cold, grey stairs of the hospital, me moaning in agony on his chest every time a contraction came, and I believe if we had stayed there I would have had an epidural and probably a caeserian section, but he made the decision for us to go home – a brave decision given he must have known he was taking me and my pain on himself only, with no-one to help him, whereas many men would have wanted to stay at the hospital with others to help and shoulder this burden.

We went home and from then until 2am was the most miserable part of the whole birth. I was in agony. With no pain relief, no position could bring any relief. There was just a shooting, agonising pain and pressure in my bum with every contraction, and the only thing I could do was to sit on the toilet and shout it away. My poor neighbours. I spoke to my active birth yoga teacher who thought the baby might be back to back given I was fairly compus mentis but unable to deal with the pain. She suggested some positions that might help but nothing worked.

I was devastated, saying to The Chef I can’t do this, I can’t bear this, I can’t take any more. I want an epidural. I want drugs. Call the hospital and tell them to come here and inject me with something. I can’t get in the car, I can’t get to hospital. Tell them to come and help me.

At around 1.30am he decided enough – back to the hospital – but it took me a full 30 minutes to be able to handle the pain enough to get in the car. Even though at the hospital they said this was just a normal labour where the baby is in the back and bottom, I have read so many birth stories and wonder if this is true – the fact I could not get into the car, I could barely walk, couldn’t get comfortable in any position, felt like the baby was ripping me in two with every contraction did not feel normal. But hey I will need to try it again to test my theory…

Back at the hospital 2am, more screaming and running to the toilet, another examination. I was 6cm dilated and in labour. I’d gone from 2cm to 6cm in 3 hours with nothing more than paracetamol.

Two rays of light – drugs, drugs, drugs for me please. I begged for an epidural. They went off to call someone. I was also able to get a birth room in the Malden Suite with – hurrah – the lovely midwife from before.

Two bits of luck – Firstly, the midwife looking after us had read my birth plan and in it the fact that I wanted a natural, private, active birth. This would make for a wonderful experience with her and lead to her encouraging a great decision that I was to make shortly. Second, they were unable to find someone for an epidural so we’d have to wait for a while, and in the meantime they offered me pethidine which I took and which took 15 minutes to work and…

…..ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..

I was in the lovely midwife-led birth suite. Gas & air which was wonderful and which I sucked happily for the next 10 hours. Pethidine which made me feel light and relaxed. The relief. Oh the relief!

I turned to The Chef and smiled for the first time in hours.

“Thank fuck for that” I believe were my words.

The next 5 or so hours were spent, in my mind, in relative bliss, at least compared to what came before. I was still unable to sit or lie down, so I literally stomped the floor for hours. We put music on, LED candles, ate starburst and drank juice. I cracked jokes with the midwife. I smiled. I told The Chef how much I loved him. I danced to the music. I sucked the lovely gas & air, my new and bestest friend. I was enjoying it. The contractions came on strong but sucking gas & air right in took it away although my moans hung in the air but that was from another me, the gas & air me was OK now. I barely breathed normal air at all now, apart from when a new midwife who’d come to put in an antiobiotic drip due to my waters breaking so long before told me I should stop as I was swaying. I could barely leave the gas & air nozzle. I wondered if I could carry it around like a drip. I would run to the toilet and run back to it. If there is a number 2 baby I would like gas & air mainlined from the start, installed in my house – is such a thing possible?

Halfway through this, the midwife came to tell me that they were free to give me an epidural. But now, I didn’t need it, I felt fine, happy. I was having the birth I wanted, this was all going swimmingly. Brilliantly, she’d read my birth plan and I think was encouraging me to stick to it now I was able to cope. I said no to the epidural and I am amazingly proud of myself for doing so as I managed fine without it and again I suspect if I’d had it, I may have ended up with a C-section given what was to happen…

And then – it got even better. As the pethidine wore off, I was able to move to the birth pool room and there followed around 3 or so hours (time is hazy) of comparative bliss. Comparitive because I was on gas & air and it seemed heavenly. I was naked, with The Chef outside the pool holding my hand, and the new guttural low moans I was making felt right, natural, good even. At 8am there had been a midwife shift change and we had a new woman with us. Yes, she was absolutely lovely and again did everything according to my birth plan, but she was a stranger and on some level I know I was trying to impress her, trying to do things quickly, aware of how long I’d been taking, feeling impatient to get some results…

At some point, The Chef whispered in my ear I was doing brilliantly, it was going great, I was fully dilated.

Again, with hindsight, I was happy then, with no urge to push. I might have rested, relaxed, waited until I felt the instinct to bear down. It may have helped. But given what transpired maybe it wouldn’t have. And I was tired, and I had been awake and birthing for almost 30 hours and I felt this is the time, and maybe I thought I should do this now, come on, hurry up.

So I started to push. But I didn’t really know what I was doing, I knew push into your bottom from One Born, but it isn’t natural in front of people or when its a baby which you know isn’t actually meant to come out of your bottom. I pushed.

And I pushed and pushed and pushed. I pushed for 2 hours in the end.

I pushed in the pool, several different positions. The midwife suggested breathing and ways to push. I pushed on hands and knees. I pushed on a birthing stool. I pushed on a bed and I pushed with my feet in stirrups. I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere and I started to get tired and dejected. I can’t do this. I never really felt the urge to push. I don’t know what I’m doing. I think I said these things. They gave me a deadline – 5 more minutes – I pushed sadly. No baby.

At around 11am the cavalry came to assist. I was happy to see them. But our karma, our candles still flickering, our birth music playing, was interrupted. They were sensible, serious, bearing a suction cup and green scrubs. They didn’t smile so much. I cracked a joke I think which they didn’t get. I want to lighten the mood, I said. They were there to get this baby out. Don’t squirm so much. Push into your bottom. No NOW.

I squirmed when she gave me a vaginal exam and felt for baby’s position – I found it unbearable throughout the birth. You can stay here on local anaesthetic or go to theatre and get a spinal she said, unsmiling. Stay here I said, but then when I cried at the pain of her hand I heard her say “lets just take her to theatre” and I thought I saw the midwife looking upset and trying to defend me but being overruled. But I stayed. Local anaesthetic only. Not much to dull the pain of what was to come.

Then they catheterised me an a litre of water came out. So baby couldn’t have got past a full bladder no matter how hard I’d pushed. And then they cut me, then or after I can’t remember. And then they sucked with the cap, several pairs of arms and hands holding me down and shouting and I had to push and I wasn’t doing it properly and The Chef saw all sorts of things that I will never know. And I was excited because they were talking about what to do after the head came out…

…and then the head came out.

But there wasn’t excitement, there wasn’t the body. There wasn’t the panting slowly that they’d told me. There was only panic, and emergency buttons, and people running in and shouting at me. And we didn’t know what was going on but it was urgent to GET HIM OUT NOW. And YOU HAVE TO STOP MOVING AND PUSH AND I CAN’T I CAN’T I CAN’T DO IT AND YOU HAVE TO JUST PUSH.

And more hands on me and arms pushing me down, and people rushing in and pushing my knees into my chest and pushing on my stomach and me saying STOP ITS SORE I CAN’T DO IT. And me kicking the women next to me. And me looking at The Chef with terror, and him in terror, and wondering will I live through this and what is happening and just rip it from me and make it stop….

And at 11.47am he was born.

He was purple, I was told. And he wasn’t breathing and he was whisked off to the side for them to help him breathe and make him live. And I could barely move my head to look at him and I didn’t feel anything except pain and trauma and shock. The brutality of it all. The Chef was also in shock – he thought he’d lost us both – and asked feebly if it was a girl or boy. It was a boy. I could barely summon enough emotion to care then.

The woman at my feet kept going then. She yanked my placenta out and stitched me up. I asked her to wait, that it was sore, but she answered, unsmiling, that she had to do this now.

After 5 minutes he was brought to me. My son. He had blood on his head and a bruise from the suction cap. It took me minutes, hours perhaps, of holding him, to love him. At one point, soon after this, my heart would burst with love for him – overwhelming, heart-stopping, love for him. But for now I was exhausted.

The Chef and I looked at each other. He sucked on the gas & air, still in shock. I said something like next time we adopt, or next time I get a C-section, or never again. But at around the time I burst with love for my son I said next time it will be better. Next time I’ll have pethidine immediately. Next time the position won’t be so bad. Next time…

An explanation

We needed some closure about the tugging and the shouting and the emergency. We didn’t know what had happened. That night, in the ward on my own with my son, exhausted, I sobbed to the midwife that it had been traumatizing, that I blamed myself, that I felt so sorry my son had gone through that, that I didn’t know why.

And they explained it to me and The Chef and it made it easier to digest, to understand and to reconcile ourselves with, although closure is just out of our reach for now:

Once my baby’s head came out, it started “turtle-necking” or going back in, and at this point (they couldn’t have worked this out any earlier), they realized that his shoulder was stuck in my pelvis. It’s called shoulder dystocia and it’s rare. They had to get him out as quickly as possible. They did what they called the McRoberts manoevre which involves pushing the woman’s knees to her chest and pushing on her stomach to get him out. This is the easiest, quickest and simplest way to deal with it and it worked. His body was out only 2 minutes after his head. After 5 minutes his scores were completely normal. He suffered no harm at all from this or the procedure.

Also something like 25% of first time babies are assisted on their way out, like mine was, but this is vastly reduced in second babies. Whether or not I ever understand and “get” pushing and the urge to push is another matter.

He is a happy, chilled, beautiful baby boy. He feeds and sleeps well. He rarely cries. The Chef and I love him to bits.