Tuesday, February 7, 2012
On one, dull March lunchtime seven years ago, I went to my midwife appointment for my 40-week check. I had been having contractions throughout the morning, so I asked my husband to drive me. He didn't really believe that I was in labour, which meant either I was hiding it well, or he was in denial. The midwife checked me over, then confirmed that I was in labour, advising us to contact the hospital to let them know. She added that we might like to do this, quite soon.
We went home, had a cup of tea and some toast, watched Neighbours, and listened to the silence of the house. My partner put the bag into the car, went around the house checking windows were locked, turned lights on, and put the radio on - the routine he did when we went on holiday! I remember feeling excited, nervous, and apprehensive. A sense of calm had descended around me, making me feel like I was in a protective bubble. As we left the house and I shut the door, it occurred to me that when I next walked through the door, I would be a different person. I felt as though I had shut the door on a part of my life which had passed.
I remember three things about the car journey:
1. It was the most uncomfortable trip of my life
2. I had a contraction at a set of traffic lights, where a man in a white van next to our car was watching me with an expression of fear mixed with fascination
3. The trees along the road leading to the hospital were budding, awaiting the signals of the arrival of Spring
When we got to the hospital, the birthing pool was occupied, so I waited, hoping that it would become available soon. But the calm, quiet birth I had hoped for wasn't to be, and so several hours later I found myself in theatre having an emergency caesarian section. The sensation of being in indescribable pain in one moment, and feeling completely numb the next is a surreal experience. My daughter was delivered, bundled into a towel, and handed to my husband.
I waited an hour for my first cuddle with her, and later was sent up to the post-natal ward. My daughter and I were separated by a cot, the spinal block that prevented me from moving for several hours, and a "no lifting" policy which the staff told me meant that they were unable to help me sit up to attempt to feed my baby. They were too busy to help me, so it was hours before I was able to properly cuddle her and feed her, giving her the skin-to-skin contact she needed. Needless to say, within a couple of days she became jaundiced and required a few periods on the bili-bed, of which I was given no warning, other than the NICU nurse arriving suddenly late into the evening, stripping my baby girl down to her nappy, and putting her onto the bed. The nurse left without explanation. I was furious, confused, and upset.
In my mind, I had failed my daughter. I had failed to bring her into the world quietly and calmly; I had been unable to give her the skin contact I wanted to; and I had failed at feeding her enough milk, resulting in jaundice which required medical intervention in order to make her better. When I reflect on this experience, as a trainee breastfeeding counsellor I know that the problems I had with feeding her - painful nipples, difficulty latching on, and later mastitis was because I wasn't attaching her correctly to the breast, and she was unable to suckle properly. The midwife breastfeeding co-ordinator at the hospital was simply too busy to spend any length of time with me to observe a feed and help me with positioning and attaching, but she did, at one point, grab my boob and push my daughter's head onto the breast! I am pleased to say that this is a no-no, nowadays - but at the time it added to my feelings of failure and lack of confidence.
Four years later, and I was about to have my son, this time as an elective c. section. We had moved to a different part of the country. My midwifery care was excellent all the way through the pregnancy. I was told about a "natural caesarian" where the baby is placed onto the mum's chest after delivery to optimise skin-to-skin contact. I opted for this and had a wonderful, beautiful, calm birth. This time, though, I didn't have my partner with me, as our childcare for our daughter had fallen through at the last moment, so he stayed with my daughter. The staff invited them to sit on the "sidelines" of theatre, separated by a screen. After spending some time nuzzling and staring at me, my son was taken to meet his daddy and big sister. Behind the screen, his cries were hushed as my daughter quietly sang "twinkle twinkle little star" to him. It was a moment to cherish, and one we remember and recount to our son.
The staff helped me with skin to skin contact, breastfeeding, and put all of my ghosts of the birth of my daughter, to bed.We spent hours just staring at each other, my daughter and partner getting close and cuddling, too. He attached himself to the breast and with some jiggling around a little, and some slight shifting about in the bed, we got going very quickly, and with only a little discomfort. It was a fantastic experience!
It seems that, within a comparatively short space of time, care and practice for skin to skin contact has advanced and improved greatly. Skin to skin contact after delivery and in the first weeks of life help with all sorts of things. Immediate placement of the baby onto mum's chest (or dad's if mum isn't able to do so) helps to mix the parent's natural skin bacteria with the skin of the baby, which helps with the newborn's immune system; it also helps to regulate temperature, raise the baby's blood sugar levels; regulate heart rate and breathing, and any nuzzling, suckling, or even touching the nipples by the baby will help to stimulate the hormones required for milk production (International breastfeeding centre). You can read more about the importance of skin to skin contact here.
What could be more rewarding than, at the end of labour, to snuggle up with your baby on your chest, resting, staring into each other's eyes, with partner and siblings cuddling and stroking your newborn's skin, and getting to know each other...apart from a cup of tea?!
- Nikki Harman
- I am a mum to two children, a registered nurse, a trainee breastfeeding counsellor, reiki practitioner, photographer, and generally into keeping things natural. Going back to the basics in life, respecting nature, the planet, and each other. Teaching this to my children and others who are interested. This blog comes from a good place, and is intended to give the reader an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective, and make an informed choice. I welcome constructive comments and would like it if you could share (acknowledging me as the source) and follow the blog. Many thanks!