The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum


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Dear Huck

Dear Huck

I’m terribly sorry that in our first correspondence I have marked myself out as an arse, for as everyone knows the open letter is the preserve of the idiotic and the bumptious. However. I can’t seem to express myself to a faceless audience or it seems one with a face, even your Mum. So I talk to you, a nothing, not even a cell. An idea, a whisp, a phantom. Dear Huck.

Your name is Huck here because it won’t be when you are born. Mum won’t allow it despite my protestations that it’s a great, strong name. She thinks it’s stupid, despite your brother being called Murdo. She thinks a stupid name for one sibling needs to be balanced out with a ‘normal’ name for the other so you will be James or Ben or something of similar tedium. So here you are in only my head- a little boy; scabby of knee and snotty of nose, and you are called Huck.

You will be our sixth. Imagine that… Mummy has shown me a pissy blue line 6 times now but you only have one brother. He’s pretty cool. At the moment he cuddles his dolly and says ‘this is my baby brother’ and breaks another little bit of Mummy’s heart. He can’t wait to meet you. He’s funny and recently got his head stuck in a toilet seat. Right now I can hear him doing a peepee on a potty for only the second time in his life. He thinks he’s a bit of a genius but he also shits on the floor.

The other four didn’t make it, Huck. They didn’t make if past six or eight or ten or twelve weeks and the fourth was only a couple of weeks ago and I’m so angry that I don’t know what to do. I worked out the other day that I’ve been to fifteen scans. The first three were magical. The heartbeat, the little head, the jokes on Facebook about the size of his cock. The next 12 have been soul crushing and I’ve driven home through the viciously ironic beauty of Richmond Park twelve times, in every changing season with tears flowing down my cheeks.

They know us in Isabella ward. Our names, how we take our tea. ‘You’re back’ they say as we arrive for my wife’s womb to be evacuated again. The drill is: We arrive at 6am and wait because it’s a shift change and the one who is leaving just wants to leave and the one who is starting is bleary and wants a fag and a coffee. Eventually we get shown to a ward of unfettered misery. No one gets good news in Isabella ward and the tears and whelps and the miasma of sorrow is over powering.

A nurse comes round and takes your Mum’s blood pressure and we sit for a bit, looking at our phones and the thought crosses my mind that people die under general anaesthetic and this might be the last time I see her alive and we’re both looking at Twitter. Then they wheel her out. Past, incidentally the waiting room where people are waiting for their scans. Your Mummy, wheeling past in tears is the manifestation of their dread and they stare in morbid fascination and terror. Why NHS? Build another fucking waiting room, yeah?

And then she’s gone and I go to the cafeteria, Huck and I have a Full English Breakfast and a coffee. Then I go and put some more money in the parking meter (why NHS? Give grieving fathers one less thing to fucking worry about, yeah?). I go back to the ward and sit in our curtained cubicle, listening to grief and wonder if your Mum is dead for a bit until a lady farts raucously and I stifle a guffaw. That happened the first three times, Huck (except the raucous fart – that was just number two), almost to the letter every time. The fourth time was different. It happened in a restaurant, with friends. Miscarriage rips away dignity and tramples it into the dust. Your mother is incredible.

I wanted to give up on you last week, Huck. I wanted to look into adoption or consider having one child. I felt like I couldn’t take seeing your Mummy, broken and in brittle pieces any more but she looked aghast and said she was nowhere near giving up. She is driven by a force stronger than I can understand and when I hold you in my arms it will be because of her. Sorry Huck, but I would have let you go.

We’re nowhere right now. The incredibly expensive doctor says we should keep trying, that we’ve been unlucky but maybe we try IVF next. We’re back to the start, eighteen months after the second blue pissy stick. My therapist said I was a fixer and I’m angry and frustrated because I can’t fix this. She’s probably right. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life, son. I want you more than anything and I can’t have you. I want your Mum to hold you and look at me and say ‘I told you so’ and I want this black cloud that stalks our every move to FUCK OFF. We’ll cope with this shitty pain until you turn up and I’ll try to make your Mum laugh and not drop your brother on his head too much, but COME ON. Get your shit together son. Hurry up.

Regards

Dad.

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Baby Loss Awareness Day #waveoflight2015

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Today is Baby Loss Awareness Day where all over the world, at 7pm, women will light a candle for the babies that have died during pregnancy, or at, during and after birth, and leave it burning for at least an hour. We will be uniting with others around the world in honour of the babies who lit up our lives, and we will not be alone.

Tonight, I will be lighting four candles and I wanted to talk about the wonderful women who are friends in real life and who I’ve met online who have also suffered miscarriages, who I’ve shared heartache and joy with.

You would be mistaken to imagine that miscarriage would belittle them. They are some of the strongest, toughest women I know. They are intelligent, determined and witty. They carry on battling through tests and disappointments, and they cling onto hope. They support each other, they cheer the bumps and the babies too. Whatever life throws at them, they take it on the chin and they keep moving forward. I’ve learned a lot about life from them.

You should not fear women who’ve lost babies. There’s a trend on pregnancy forums for other mums to show some sympathy but then ask miscarrying mums to go find the miscarriage forums to continue their discussions. It’s as if miscarriage is contagious. But hey, you can’t catch miscarriage guys! Let us speak out, we shouldn’t be ashamed.

Miscarriage has taught me many things. It has taught me that life can be cruel and this ridiculous pursuit for perfection – the perfect career, the perfect family, and popping out perfect children for your perfect facebook page, is all illusion. This is what life is – this joy and this misery – it’s all of it together. You need to revel in the happiness where you can find it, and don’t be scared to feel the sadness too. It has taught me to appreciate what I have, and choose to be positive. It has taught me compassion and sensitivity for others. And most of all it has taught me how precious and sacred life is, and what a miracle babies are.


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To Parents Of Even Smaller Children

So, I’ve had a couple of miserable days recently. And then it all gets better again and I forget how bad it was. Only I write a blog so I wanted to write about the miserable stuff too, before I forget. To share, you see. To make you feel better perhaps. Hell, to make me feel better.

First, there was the day I was cooking a fish pie, with my son bouncing in his jumperoo, nursery rhymes playing; feeling warm and cosy and thinking what domestic bliss! I am a domestic goddess earth mother type person! My baby boy had even fallen asleep on the jumperoo he was so relaxed and I popped him easily in his cot for a snooze.

Only, an hour later, I woke him up by mistake trying to get some of his dirty laundry to wash, and he screamed the house down. Nothing I could do could get him back to sleep so by the time I’d bundled him into the pram, the fish pie was burnt, the Le Creuset pie dish was smashed in my rush to tidy the kitchen, and I had to leave my cosy warm house to walk out into the rain to calm a sleeping baby back to sleep before I even had the chance to grab any lunch. Suddenly I was tired, and hungry, and cold, pounding the streets endlessly until he fell asleep. And of course then the chaos had a knock-on effect on the rest of the day, making us miss a baby class and cancel a coffee with a friend.

A few days later and unplanned Armageddon hit again. Having had an amazing week with Mr Schmoo (for that is what he is now called), where he was happy and sweet and fell asleep easily for long naps, suddenly my baby boy was changed. He was whingy and whining and kicking and arching his back, and refusing to go down for naps even though I could tell he was exhausted. But why, I cried to the heavens?! It could have been many things – teething, constipation from eating solid food, a “Wonder Week” leap of development that had sent him bananas.

All I knew was my perfect routine was now shattered. But on this morning, I also woke up shattered. I had a cold, a sniffy, achey, knackered cold which meant all I wanted to do was curl up on the sofa, put the fire on, and watch Ray Donovan on repeat. Add to this it was cold and pouring outside and I envisaged a lazy day of playing and snoozing.

Sadly Schmoo had other ideas. He was up at 5am and didn’t fancy going back to sleep again. Then he ate a bit too much acidic fruit for breakfast and spent the entire day straining in a constipated fug that might almost have been funny if it hadn’t looked so painful. Add to this crazy teething that made him bite anything in sight (including my face). Any attempts to make him nap when he looked exhausted ended up with him SCREAMING blue bloody murder, arching his back and kicking around, so all I could do was rock him and walk and eventually reach for the Calpol. He didn’t nap AT ALL. And so, I ended up, of course, pounding the streets again with the wee man in the pram. With pouring rain soaking me, a passing car chucking a puddle onto me for good measure. Not one walk but THREE walks. All lasting exactly the length of time that he slept, round in circles sometimes, perhaps stopping for a coffee and maybe a sit down…..NO he’s woken up, up you get and keep walking…

Hungry, cold, tired, ill. But luckily The Chef did bedtime and got him to bed, only the wee man was so tired he didn’t drink enough milk, so we was up at 3am, and again at 4am….

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Several of my mummy friends on Facebook posted this article by Steve Wiens in the Huffington PostTo Parents Of Small Children – which talks about how exhausting and relentless caring for little ones can be, and how, although wonderful at times, kids can make you frustrated and so bone-tired, you almost can’t imagine making it til bedtime.

When I first read it, I’d had a lovely day with Schmoo and couldn’t really empathise. But now I think about it all the time.

When I’m walking in the rain pushing a crying baby I also think – how on earth will I make it to bedtime?

I think of the relentlessness of it all, the fact that I never really stop being responsible, never really get more than a few snatched hours as a break.

And that even if I could have longer I don’t actually want to or feel I should, and I need to go through the arduous process of finding a good childminder and then paying them money I should be saving.

I think of the “breaks” that I do have that are filled with pureeing, and sterilizing, and washing, and cleaning, and doing admin, and replying to emails. And never seem to be filled with nice things like doing my nails or having a bath or reading a book.

I think of my friend who didn’t even have time to change her Tampax when her baby was screaming, until she finally ended up screaming herself.

I think of my friend who is now up every two hours at night, after months of sleeping through.

I think of my friend who’s son pulls out great tufts of her hair every day.

(It’s not the same friend, by the way, that would be really shit).

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But then the next day, today, Schmoo is back on great form. And one big, gummy smile, and I’m delirious again. And I’m tickling his tummy listening to him laugh, and in awe of him rolling not once but twice. I’m bouncing him on my knee singing Grand Old Duke Of York, and giving him huge cuddles and kisses. I’m pushing him in his pram, this time singing, and I’m laughing and smiling at him, thinking how wonderful and amazing he is and how much I love him.

And it’s OK now, it’s really OK.

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So what have I learned from the shit days?

  • The Wonder Weeks app is a fairly good indicator of whether you will be living with a saint or a monster
  • A night out with friends can restore your sanity – and all it costs is the price of a bottle or wine, and a hangover
  • A few hours’ break courtesy of a partner or friend can make a huge difference. Go shopping! Have a bath! Sit in your pants and look at Facebook!
  • Babies have rubbish memories so they won’t remember the crying and the screaming, once they feel better they won’t recall any of the bad stuff
  • But WE do remember and it does affect us – it’s OK to walk away sometimes and let someone else take over
  • They only last a few days, weeks at most…

….Everyone goes through it and it will pass.

It does pass, really.


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When two tribes go to war – on breastfeeding, Bounty & competitive mums

So I wrote this post on why I combination feed my son, and while I knew it was an emotive topic, I was amazed at the ensuing bun-fight. While the comments were well-meaning, and very welcome, discussions by several mums on the benefits of breastfeeding were perceived by some other mums (most of whom had had to resort to formula) as being unfair and judgmental, even though I am sure, in the most part, the comments weren’t intended to be. The responses I got on twitter were even stronger.

As for me, I felt guilty. I thought maybe I was putting my relaxing evening over cluster feeding. Was I increasing my baby’s risk of allergic conditions? Was I being selfish? Well, turns out after a few evenings of trying extended cluster feeding, it was clear that it didn’t work for my baby either, and we’re back to a top-up bottle of formula a night. But what remained was my surprise at how guilty I’d felt and how vehemently women had reacted to the pro-breastfeeding comments.

And it wasn’t long before I caught another social media bun-fight, this time in relation to Bounty (Mumsnet and this petition are calling for Bounty salespeople to be kept out of post-natal wards). My personal feeling is that the Bounty bags are great, but allowing commercial salespeople into maternity wards where vulnerable, knackered, emotional mums are often alone and shocked, only a few hours after birth, is a violation of privacy and the protective bubble you need around you at that time. I had tears running down my cheeks, struggling to recall my address, while I was pestered for my postcode, just so they could send me marketing emails. Kingston won’t allow siblings to enter wards for fear of the norovirus, but salespeople are OK? I’m against it, but the angry taunts on twitter from both sides were incredible. Some women suggested those against Bounty bags were stuck-up poshos who sneered at freebies. Others said you should call to get the salesperson in question sacked. Mums judging other mums just for having a difference of opinion.

And I’m guilty of judging too. The woman I shared a maternity ward with fed her child formula from the get-go and then had to be woken by the midwife to change her baby’s nappy. What sort of mother is that I thought, unable to sleep a wink, jumping out of bed every time my baby made a sound. But, now, I think I judged her unfairly too – what do I know of her situation, of why she’s made the decisions she did? What did I know of how exhausted she could be?

Even the Daisy Waugh school of  “guilt-free motherhood“, can actually be guilt-inducing. Her description of pain-free inductions to fit in with schedules, and why stair-gates are a waste of time, suggest that any mother who has actually tried natural birth or invested in fripperies like changing matts are high-maintenance control freaks who probably aren’t much fun at dinner parties. Like other parenting philosophies, hers is extreme and judgmental too. So much for guilt free mothering…

Anger, blame, recriminations, guilt. Changing bags at dawn.

It might be because us mums are thrown together – the NCT, nursery and school all make shaky alliances of women who don’t know each other well enough to laugh off competitive jibes or support those who have chosen a different path. It reminds me of being 14 again, at an all girls’ school where, until we were old enough to know better, we befriended those who were the same as us, and ridiculed anyone who dared to be different. We had to have the best school bag, the flashiest pencil case, the shortest skirt. We fancied the same boys and liked the same bands. It was our way, or the highway – a very lonely highway in a deserted lunch room, a girl sent to Coventry, tray wobbling as she scanned the crowd for someone to sit next to. I rejected all that when I matured, of course, but here I am, 20 years later, with that same feeling that I have to fit in, that we’re all competing again.

It doesn’t help that a lot of these parenting philosophies (are you a Gina Ford-er or a Baby Whisperer or a French Children Don’t Throw Food-er?) are rather one-sided and not very pragmatic, and we tend to swallow them whole rather than picking and choosing from them according to what works for us and what doesn’t. We also tend to get a bit blinkered that what works for our child works for ALL children, even though every child is an individual person with their own characteristics, and often changing day by day, week to week. So it’s hard for us to accept that other mums might have found a method of parenting which might suit their child perfectly well, but might not work for us. But rather than accept that, we seem to feel the need to defend our own stance, or feel guilt that we’re trying something else. For example:

– My saying my son sleeps through the night might make someone who is up every 2 hours feel like they are doing something wrong. They aren’t and it’s not because I’m doing anything right either – it’s just the way he is and it might all change tomorrow anyway

– Your saying that your 14 week old is going to monkey music, baby sensory, and swimming lessons, makes me feel lazy for only taking my boy to the park or chilling in the house all day because I’m a bit knackered. But in my heart I know he could stare happily at his toy chicken for hours and it blows his tiny mind, whereas other babies need much more stimulation

– Your saying you let your baby sleep and eat on demand makes me feel a bit strict in Gina Ford-ing mine, but as long as we’re all happy then that’s what matters

–  Your telling me you have enough milk for your child makes me feel inadequate that I don’t have enough for mine. But I don’t have to worry about milk seeping through my clothes, I don’t even need breast pads. But I’d take all that and more if I could feed him all day like you

– Your enjoyment of co-sleeping and carrying your baby around on a sling makes me feel guilty I shipped my baby off to his own room at 3 weeks and prefer to leave him kicking on his play matt. But when I think about it I know he’s an independent little squirt who loves being left to kick around on his own, with a big cuddle and a play every so often

– Your claiming that the weight just “dropped off” because you breastfed makes me feel crap that my arse has actually GROWN during the process. I’m actually quite depressed about it. But my body is obviously conserving calories for some reason and I love it all the same

So what is the answer?

Firstly, us women need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know any mother who isn’t trying to do the best for her child, and dealing with a crying or unhappy baby is stressful and upsetting for us all. Let’s just accept we are responsible, intelligent adults who would do anything for our children, and let’s also accept that all babies are individuals and what works for one might not work for another, or might not even work a few weeks down the line. Let’s stop competing, and start supporting. And if that doesn’t work, let’s share a bottle of wine and talk about something else for a change.

Secondly, let’s remember no-one is handing out a prize for who is the best mother (unless you’re Foxy Bingo and think Katie Price is a paragon of parenting). All that counts is that you, your partner and your little one are happy, and that you aren’t making anyone else unhappy in the process.

And sometimes you will fuck up, and that’s OK. We’re not perfect, that’s what makes us human. One day we can teach our children that it’s OK to mess up sometimes too. And with a lot of love, and perhaps a bit of Calpol, everything will be alright.


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Breast is best?

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My happy baby boy doing Calvin & Hobbs – 12 weeks

This week is National Breastfeeding Awareness week and so I thought it time to share my thoughts on the whole thorny issue of feeding.

My baby boy is a healthy wee thing – he sleeps through the night and has done since he was about 8 weeks, he’s a big bouncing boy, holding his head up and smiling lots, and I have no worries at all about his health. I was lucky enough to breastfeed him from birth to now, without many problems, but since he was about 10 days old we have topped him up with formula, now almost daily, for reasons I will explain below.

When my baby boy was born, he couldn’t latch on for a day or two because he was so knackered from the birth and being yanked out after getting stuck. I expressed colostrum (or was expressed like a cow when I was too exhausted) and fed him with that and then on day 2, he latched on and it was wonderful. I’d feed him for as long as he wanted, when he wanted, and then we fed him every 3 or so hours when he came home.

I love feeding him – I do it quietly and calmly on a nursing chair in the nursery and its our time together. He smiles at me, I stroke his head, its a lovely bonding, happy time. I also feed him when he cries sometimes to calm him, and before he goes for a nap if he’s unsettled. I don’t care if certain people (looking at you Gina F) say this is a bad habit to get into as we both feel happier and calmer when we do.

But we had a problem quite early on. I am VERY annoyed that I got bad advice from the first community midwife who visited, who said I was feeding him too much (!) and that he should only be fed every 4 hours. This was terrible advice (everywhere I read newborns must be fed every 3 hours!) and in hindsight I was so sad to see we followed it to the letter, and in the app where we recorded breastfeeding, I saw we moved from every 3 hours to 4 on her advice.

Poor baby got quieter and quieter, never crying to be fed, and we mistook this for having a chilled out little baby, congratulating ourselves on how relaxed he was. Unbeknownst to us, he was actually weak and dehydrated, and at his first weigh in at the hospital he’d lost 14% of his body weight.

I was devastated, crying my eyes out, especially as he’d been feeding so well and we’d acted on bad advice. We had to go to the children’s wing of the hospital where we pleaded with them to let us take him home and feed him up (the alternative was him staying there on a drip). They said we just had to feed him up and asked us what we thought about formula. Initially we were very against it, but they needed us to feed him up and we would have done anything to make him better – I could hardly bear the guilt that I’d actively caused him to be dehydrated – so we agreed. For the hospital, they didn’t care HOW we fed him, just that he was fed enough.

There began Operation Military Feeding where I had to breastfeed him, then express and feed him that, then feed a top up of formula, every 3 hours. It was exhausting, but so worth it. The formula was a godsend – it gave him the strength he needed to breastfeed better. In 24 hours, our wee boy had gained 200 grams. In 3 days, he was crying to demand to be fed for the first time, hydrated and fighting fit, and discharged from hospital.

While it was a scary and sad experience, it was good in that:

1. It meant I expressed from 2 weeks in and realised the benefits of this – relieving painful engorged boobs, meaning I could feed him out and about by bottle if I didn’t fancy breastfeeding in public, and allowing The Chef to do feeds.

2. It made me get over my initial reluctance to give him formula and to understand the benefits of formula top-ups.

The fact is, the hardcore breastfeeding brigade would have encouraged me to keep breastfeeding him exclusively, and in fact the community midwives wanted me to wean him off formula as soon as I could. Their argument is that formula and bottle-feeding stops milk production, makes babies go off nipple feeding, and adds extra bacteria to babies’ stomachs.

But now, knowing I’d received bad advice before, I stuck to MY instinct as a mother and carried on with top-ups of formula as and when needed. The hospital too just wanted me to feed my baby, full stop, no matter how. In my case, top ups of formula made my baby breastfeed BETTER as it gave him the strength to feed, to cry and demand feeding for the first time, so he fed better than before.

Now, at almost 13 weeks, we top him up with formula almost every day. Either because he’s hungry and my milk is coming out too slow, or its in the evening and I just don’t have enough milk for him and he’s a hungry baby boy, or because I’m out and about and breastfeeding is impossible. I do still breastfeed him 5 times a day and The Chef gives him what I’ve managed to pump for his late night snack, but its never quite enough and he needs formula to satisfy his hunger.

And I’m really, really happy with this. It gives me the freedom to formula feed him now and then, to get The Chef to do a morning formula feed if I’ve had (a very rare) night out, and to make sure he’s getting enough food. As the Baby Whisperer Tracy Hogg says – in the 60s when formula was invented, the medical profession thought it was far BETTER than breastmilk and breastfeeding dropped right down to around 20% of mums as everyone was formula feeding, thinking it was the best thing ever. Nowadays, the medical profession thinks breastfeeding is best, but hey they change their mind about everything all the time (vaccinations, when a baby should be weaned, inductions, etc) so who knows if they will change their mind again, and formula is improving all the time so that one day it might be better for our babies than our own milk.

Breastfeeding is such a personal thing, and I KNOW my milk changes all the time – sometimes my boobs are huge and I am an impressive dairy cow, and other days my boobs are floppy and for no reason I can see I just don’t have enough milk and my baby isn’t satisfied with me alone. In the evening I know I have less milk (I know for a fact as I’ve pumped and seen I don’t have a full feed) – which makes sense as I’m probably tired and a bit dehydrated from feeding a hungry baby all day. Some days my milk is white, other days its translucent. Some days I’ve eaten something the baby doesn’t like or my milk is coming out too slow or fast as he cries and pulls away and he won’t eat unless I feed him from a bottle (expressed or formula).

For me, mixing and matching is great – I KNOW he’s getting nutrients both from me and whatever the formula is giving him, I KNOW he’s getting enough food, and as an added bonus for mummy, it allows me to pass over occasional feeds to The Chef or to have a leisurely pub lunch as I know I don’t have to breastfeed in a busy pub when I’m hot and its noisy, because I have a bottle of formula in my bag instead. I’m a responsible parent and I believe I’m acting as responsibly as I can, while giving myself some freedom and ensuring I’m not stressed or anxious (which is the worst thing for baby anyway).

And the fact is, while I know that he feeds better when it’s just the two of us in his nursery, quiet and calm, I also know my baby boy sleeps better in his cot rather than out and about in the pram, and loves nothing better than when it’s just the two of us alone at home, and if I acquiesced to his wishes all the time I would pretty much NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE and become a complete hermit. I’m not a robot, I’m not a dairy cow, I’m just HUMAN and I need my baby boy to fit in with me sometimes. And if he gets a bit of formula because I want to meet friends or need a lie in, and if he has to have a longer afternoon nap because we had a nice lunch out and he had to sleep in the pram, then he will be fine, and I’ll be happier for it, which in the long run is better for him.

So my problem with the hardcore breastfeeding brigade is their emphasis on EXCLUSIVE breastfeeding, and continuing with breastfeeding when it’s just not working, to the detriment of both mother and baby. I have a friend who had mastitis and was told to continue breastfeeding by a community midwife, until she ended up in hospital on a drip. I have another friend who thought she wasn’t producing enough milk in the evening, but who was told she should persevere to increase her milk supply, and whose baby cried all evening with hunger (for 3 months!) until a breastfeeding counsellor from the hospital confirmed she wasn’t producing enough milk and said to top up with formula. That little girl slept through the evening for the first time ever.

I do believe women should give breastfeeding a go (and it is such a lovely bonding experience for you and baby), but if it doesn’t work or isn’t enough, then you shouldn’t feel bad about using formula, which, after all, was once hailed as better than breast. One of the happiest, liveliest and biggest babies in my NCT class was formula-fed from birth as breastfeeding didn’t work at all.

The fact is, parenting and breastfeeding theorists are ALWAYS extreme it seems to me – never adopting a relaxed, try it and see approach, but advocating strictly one camp or the other. This just makes it confusing for mums who feel they can’t trust their own instincts, and puts undue pressure on women who are desperately trying to breastfeed and suffering because it’s not enough for their babies. At the end of the day, us mums know best – we do – we HAVE to trust our own instinct and go with what we think right, and not beat ourselves up for topping up with formula, or reverting to formula feeding when breastfeeding won’t do.

Surely as long as our babies are well fed, that will lead to a relaxed and happy baby and happy mum too?


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A medical update & thoughts on dealing with obstetricians

As some of you may know, I was recently sent to an obstetrician to see whether I might have obstetric cholestatis (OC), in which case they may have induced me early (around now actually!) due to possible harm to my baby. This led to a dramatic turnaround in my original birth plan and was a real eye-opener in terms of learning to expect the unexpected.

Well, the good news is that it is very unlikely I have OC as my bile salts are fine and my symptoms aren’t very suggestive of it. But the original tests still show a high ALT (liver function) test which is abnormal, and the weight of medical science suggests that this is a bit odd. That’s pretty much all I know, but I’m beginning to think its just a wierd symptom of pregnancy, of baby causing all sorts of problems. But in terms of hard, cold facts (which, as a risk-averse control freak I always like to be in possession of), I’m yet to know why I have this or what it means to me or my baby, so until we know more I am in a state of limbo, not knowing whether I will be able to have the natural birth I want, and worrying that things will get worse.

Note I have nothing against induction for medical reasons, I know how common they are, and I know that many inductions can lead to wonderful, natural births. Although I also know that something like 70% of inductions lead to epidurals (many are done at the same time) due to the sudden, quick contractions that don’t build up gradually as they do in natural labour, making you work super hard to cope. I also know you need to be monitored in hospital so my prefence for privacy at home for as long as possible, for active movement, would be reduced. Although as I say, I’ve heard some wonderful stories about brilliant induced births where mums managed to move around and have lovely, natural (and blessedly very quick!) births.

The obstetrician started by telling me: “Its my job to worry; and I get worried about heavily pregnant women with abnormal liver functions walking around in late pregnancy.”  Which hinted to me that he was thinking about induction. At this, I burst into tears, and when he asked me why I was so against induction (he seemed genuinely surprised), I explained I’d just rather things happened naturally, given all I’d read about the body’s natural production of oxytocin, and my hypno-birth/active birth preparation, although of course if there was any chance my baby could be harmed I’d induce at the drop of a hat.

I also asked him what was causing the dodgy liver function, and what harm it could do to me or my baby, and it transpires that he didn’t have a clue. It was an anomaly. It could be anything, possibly a virus that I’d picked up, but it was unlikely that we’d find out what it was. I suggested a liver scan (thanks to some great advice, as always, from twitter mums) to see if it was something as simple as the baby kicking my liver, and he proposed a raft of blood tests to check for things like hepatitis.

So, subject to the tests showing up something specific (unlikely), or the ALT levels increasing to a worrying level (fingers crossed), or me starting to feel ill (I feel great), or the baby stopping moving (baby appears to be doing a daily marathon inside me so no worries there), then I suppose I can carry on happily until labour starts naturally. Which is great news. The consultant isn’t seeing me again for another 2 weeks which shows he can’t be that worried. And I’m doing all the natural things to induce in the meantime – long walks, gardening on hands and knees, raspberry leaf tea.

However, I’m not sure we would be here in this relaxed “lets wait and see” situation if I hadn’t made it clear that I was against induction, and hadn’t asked a raft of questions about why my wierd liver results were a problem. So my tips if you find yourself in a similar predicament are:

  1. Find out as much as you can before you see the consultant. Ask your GP for information, speak to your midwife, ask twitter and find out what you can from the internet (although don’t panic if you read anything bad).
  2. Be clear about your personal choices for birth – you shouldn’t be pushed into something you don’t want to do if it isn’t necessary. If you’d rather only induce if absolutely necessary, make this clear as it won’t be assumed. I’m amazed at how many women I’ve seen on mummy forums saying they actively want to be induced even if its not clear that there’s anything specifically wrong.
  3. Ask lots of questions – if they want to induce then WHY – why are you or your baby at harm? What is wrong? If they don’t know, the next stage should surely be more tests – blood tests, ultrasound scans of your organs.. If you don’t know what you’re dealing with, how can you properly evaluate the risk?
  4. If you do find out you might need an induction, don’t panic or get upset, speak to other women in your NCT group, or email Natalie at Tell Me A Good Birth Story, to put you in touch with other women who have had happy, successful inductions, to hear some positive birth stories. It may not be what you planned, but with a little mind-change and some planning you can still have the birth you want.


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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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