Wednesday, 11 November 2015

10 Things They Don't Tell You About Your Postpartum Body

Here I am: the proud owner of two small children. I am also now the veteran of two very different childbirth stories, having successfully delivered my second child by the conventional method, as opposed to having her lifted out of the sunroof. Neither is easy and they are starkly different experiences, which I will delve into at a later date when the memories don't make me cringe quite so much.

Today, instead, I plan to look at all the little bits of information that your midwife won't have given you about your body after your baby has left it. For the purposes of this piece, I will be focusing on what happens after you push one out, although a lot of these little nuggets of information will be relevant to both delivery methods.

Expecting soon? Pull up a chair; you're going to want to know about the weird shit about to befall your body...

1. You will be forced to pee.

It's immediately after delivery and you may or may not have just received more stitches than the Bayeux Tapestry. You've barely had time to re-establish which way is up and can't quite believe the things that your vagina has just done, when the midwives start demanding that you pee as soon as possible. You're not going to want to pee. Stitches or no, the thought of anything else touching your undercarriage is absolutely abhorrent, but they're insisting because they want to measure how much comes out of you. You see, some women get a thing called urine retention after childbirth and can't go at all; the hospital just want to make sure your plumbing still works after major trauma. My advice? Dab it dry, don't wipe.

2. You're going to sweat.

Pregnant women retain a lot of water. Once that woman is no longer pregnant, that water wants to leave her body. You're going to sweat harder that Oscar Pistorius on trial. Don't even think about taking polyester nightclothes to the hospital; it has to be cotton and it has to be comfortable.

3. You'll be frightened to poo, yes, but also to cough/sneeze/walk/breathe.

It's psychological really, but the sooner you get control back over your pelvic floor, the sooner you'll be able to go about normal day to day activities without feeling like your perineum is about to explode. If you've had stitches, holding a clean pad or piece of toilet paper against them when you poo will really help. I also recommend prunes, because the less effort you have to put in, the better. As for coughing and sneezing, I can't really comment; it's been a week and I've still done neither for fear of losing my womb. 

4. It feels unclean.

Postpartum bodies bleed. The loss that you'll experience is called lochia, and it's half period, half bloodbath. In the few days after delivery, you're going to ruin every single pair of pants you put on, not to mention any surface on which you sit. Getting out of the shower becomes about applying a pad to your undercarriage before you've even had a chance to locate your towel and you're still going to drip some onto the floor. Eventually, it'll settle down to being 'just' a heavy period, and we all know how delightful those are.

5. The bruising takes a while to come out.

It's a week after delivery and you might be starting to feel a bit better. Your tears will be healing nicely and your stitches might be starting to dissolve. At this point, you can probably even poo in relative comfort. Then, all of a sudden, you wake up one morning feeling like you've been kicked in the fanny by a horse. Your clitoris is swollen and throbbing (and not in a good way) and your insides feel a lot like they're trying to be on the outside. It was only after much frantic googling and a panicky text to my friend who gave birth earlier in the year before I realised that this was just normal bruising, caused by an enormous noggin forcing its way out of my lady garden.

6. Recovery takes longer than you'd expect.

After a Cesarean, I thought that the recovery from a natural birth would be relatively straightforward. In a way, I guess it is compared to major surgery, but don't expect to be walking like anyone other than John Wayne for several weeks afterwards. 

7. It'll go old testament God on you if you try and push your luck.

If you don't give your body sufficient time to recover, it's going to punish you. Your womb will suddenly send forth another river of blood to tell you that you're getting too ambitious and to sit the fuck back down on the sofa. Listen to your body; it knows what it's doing.

8. It adapts to sleep deprivation really quickly.

The early days of parenthood are a heady blur of sleepless nights and mild panic, but it's incredible how quickly your body (and brain) will adjust to this change. There will be days when you're so tired you think you might actually die, but for the most part, you and your baby will slowly find a rhythm that works for both of you, and allows you to continue as a reasonably functional human being. And the days that you can't function? Don't. Stay home and cuddle your baby; this is a time for you to go easy on yourself. 

9. It's glorious in it's state of not being pregnant. 

Being pregnant is shit. Welcome back to a world of sleeping on your back and tequila. You may be wobblier than a blancmange, but your body is finally your own again. Enjoy being the only person living in it.

10. It'll make you feel like a bloody superhero. 

And rightly so. However your baby was delivered, your body grew and nurtured them, and then went through something akin to either being hit by a train or surviving a shark attack to get them here. You've sacrificed everything from your dignity to the ability to hold in the smallest amount of piss to bring this tiny human into the world, and you deserve to feel invincible (you know, once you can walk normally again).

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Final Countdown (Schrodinger's Gestation)

As I write this, I am thirty-eight weeks pregnant. Those in the know will recognise this as Schrodinger's Gestation; the pregnancy both is and isn't classed as full term. Technically, any baby from thirty-seven up until forty-two weeks can be classed as fully cooked, but because all babies and pregnancies are different, which slot you fall into can be a bit of a mystery until it happens.

Recently, I've been doing a fair bit of complaining about the end of my pregnancy on social media. The fact that I'm friends with those who have struggled/are struggling to conceive, as well as those who have suffered pregnancy loss leaves me wanting to explain, and maybe even justify, what probably comes across as incessant, ungrateful whining.

I'm not ungrateful. I'm so, so aware of how precious this life inside me is, I'm just not someone who actually likes being pregnant. I didn't like it with Blake, but I absolutely live for the little lunatic that came from it; not a day goes by that I don't consider how lucky I am to have him. I realise that there are women out there who love everything that pregnancy brings, but frankly, I think these women are probably a little bit unhinged. There are even women who do it for other people. What a noble thing it must be to be a surrogate, but I would honestly have to respond with 'fuck that for a game of soldiers' if I was ever asked to go through this whole shebang and not get a baby at the end of it. I mean, seriously, not even if you paid me. 

This pregnancy, in particular, has been very difficult. I suffered extreme morning sickness from about week six right up until week twenty, which is a bit like having the worst hangover you've ever experienced every day for fourteen weeks, but without the fun of getting smashed the night before. It's also been incredibly tiring; where my first pregnancy involved an awful lot of self-indulgently sitting on my arse, this time around I've had a toddler to run around and clean up after. I also had some pretty severe prenatal depression and anxiety to battle which, although overshadowed by its more famous cousin - postnatal depression - is every bit as exhausting and, occasionally, terrifying.

Now, here I am at the end and my body is throwing up a whole host of new potential problems. I have a relatively common condition called polyhydramnios, which basically means that I have too much amniotic fluid. The condition itself isn't serious, but it can both cause and indicate problems with labour and the baby. However, because I'm only thirty-eight weeks, it's a wait and watch situation as they don't really know if this baby is cooked yet. The problem is that I'm categorically not allowed to labour at home. As soon as my contractions start, I have to get to hospital to be monitored. Which would be fine if not for the fact that I've been experiencing (painful) false labour every evening for nearly two weeks now. When the real thing does kick in, I'm inevitably going to accidentally ignore it until I'm way further on than the doctors would like. Should my waters break before my contractions start, then I've been instructed to get on all fours with my bottom in the air and call both my midwife and an ambulance, as the excess amniotic fluid means that my risk of cord prolapse is elevated (which would starve my baby of oxygen in no time at all). That's all very well should it happen in my bedroom, but what if I'm halfway around Morrisons?

The baby herself also happens to be rather on the large side. At my last fortnightly growth scan, she was estimated to weigh around 7lb9oz. I'm due another on Tuesday, and if she's following her current growth line, I can take a conservative guess that she's heading towards 8lb6oz. That and the extra fluid mean that my bump is huge - people actually looking at it in horror huge - not to mention really quite difficult to carry around. I also have swelling in the tissue of my abdomen, because why the fuck not?

The point is, I want my baby out of me because I don't feel like my insides are doing a very good job of keeping her safe. Yet the Schrodinger's Gestation issue means that they are loathe to induce me unless it's really medically necessary; by which they mean 'if her life is in danger'. Right now, the issues are all potentially problematic but not extreme enough to warrant interference; I just have to keep trundling up to the hospital every other week for tests.

That said, however much I complain and moan, please never, ever think that I'm taking this pregnancy for granted. I'm really not, but that doesn't mean that I have to actually enjoy it.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

A Letter to My Daughter

I wrote a letter like this about two years ago, only that time it was to your brother. It was a slightly different letter to this one, mostly because it was a different woman writing it. It was just me and your Dad back then, and I was just a wife looking upon parenthood as a new and terrifying chapter, but things are different this time around. You are joining us as a family; an established unit that you will complete.

It's strange, but you've always been with me in some way. Everyone in our family seemed to have girls, and I just assumed that I would be the same. In fact, for the first half of my pregnancy with your brother, I automatically assumed that he was you. When we learnt that he was a boy, however, you didn't go anywhere; I simply accepted that I'd have to wait a little longer to meet you. Your presence has been with me for as long as I can remember; my little girl, floating by side, waiting for me to give you a body to live in.

Unfortunately, my pregnancy with you has been a difficult one, with ongoing sickness and old mental health issues rearing their ugly heads, so I'm sorry if I haven't been very forthcoming with the happy hormones. I'm also sorry if you perhaps haven't been in my thoughts quite as much as Blake was. It's not that I love you any less, or that I'm not as excited to meet you, I just haven't had the time to give you as much in the way of daydreams. With looking after a fairly boisterous toddler and trying not to puke, my mind has been otherwise preoccupied. Not only that, but I haven't had to spend quite as much time worrying this time around. I know what to expect, so I've spent a lot less time obsessing over the details.

We're coming to the end of this pregnancy now and a big part of me regrets that I haven't been able to enjoy it. Partly because this will be the last time I do it, but mostly because it's the final piece of the journey that brings me my much loved, much longed for little girl.

You are the missing piece of my puzzle, little one. I can't wait to finally meet you.


P.S. Please don't come out a boy; I've decorated your bedroom with unicorns.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Two Brothers

The boy held onto his brother's hand as tightly as he could without hurting him, and made his way forward towards the man at the gate. It was a strange thing; the two of them looked no different to the other people milling around, yet everyone kept turning to them and smiling. He could see their mother following a short distance behind with a proud smile on her face as the crowds parted before them. A few children pointed and whispered wide eyed questions to nearby adults, yet no one seemed willing to speak to the brothers themselves. 

They had lost their father at some point and the boy felt a tinge of sadness as he tried to remember the last time he had seen him. There had been darkness, cold and fear, but the memory of any horror was quickly evaporating with every step that they took closer to the man at the gate. He, too, was smiling at the brothers now. There were still many people ahead of them in the line; waiting to be seen and processed, yet the man with the clipboard kept looking past them, at the two little boys stood in a clearing within the crowd. 

The boy looked over his shoulder to his mother, who nodded her reassurance that they should go on; her face still set into that strange and peaceful smile. 

The boy wasn't frightened, but that didn't mean that he wasn't confused. Their father had explained to him that they were going to live somewhere kinder, and he certainly remembered a few of the children in the crowd from the beginning of the journey, but he couldn't quite recall it ending. He supposed he must have fallen asleep at some point towards the end. 

They were almost at the gate now, the man with the clipboard was smiling so broadly that it looked as though his face might split in two, but still the boy faltered. He was worried that his father hadn't made it and he knew that if he walked through that gate, he might never see him again. Suddenly, his mother was behind him and put her hands on his shoulders, urging him forward.

"Be brave," she whispered and her warm voice next to his ear relaxed him. He stepped forward, still clinging to the hand of his little brother.

The boys had watched countless others walk through the gate without fuss and yet, as they approached him, the man with the clipboard stepped forward and embraced them both warmly.

"My boys," he said in a choked voice, "do you see how happy you have made everyone?"

The boy looked around; people were still staring and smiling at them.

"You and your brother have saved so many," the man continued, "your father included. You will see him again; don't worry."

He turned to the boy's younger brother and ruffled his short, dark hair.

"And you, little one, you have played a bigger part in the lives of others than you could possibly imagine. You're on the minds of many this evening and will be for countless years to come. You have changed things."

Nervous, the younger boy tried to step behind his brother, putting his thumb in his mouth and looking down at his feet.

"Be brave," their mother repeated behind them. This time she wasn't whispering, and seemed to be speaking to herself as much as she was her young sons.

"Yes, be brave," agreed the smiling man with the clipboard, "for you have nothing to fear any more."

Galip tightened his grip on his little brother's hand and took a deep breath as he tried to see what lay beyond the gate.

"Come on, Aylan. It's time to go."

Together, they walked.

* * *
Like many parents, the story of Aylan and his brother broke my heart when it hit the headlines this week. I cried a lot of useless tears, as I'm sure many did.

However, it occurred to me that while it was too late to help the brothers, there was something I could do. I could at the very least give them a happier ending.

Sleep well, sweethearts. 

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Beginnings and Ends

Today is the day that I leave the job I've been doing (on and off) for eleven years of my life. That's over a third of my thirty years spent in various levels of service to the carpet and furniture industry, and I do consider myself to be quite the veteran. It was never a calling of mine; it was a job that I fell into by accident, but I was drawn to the sales side of things, and it's that which has kept me hooked. I get a genuine buzz from helping people to spend large amounts of their money, but however much I enjoy it, sales is a job; it isn't my dream.

So, today I'm parting ways with an industry, and indeed a family, that has been a huge part of my adult life. Living in a fairly small seaside town, most businesses tend to be family run and this one is no exception. The staff turnover is basically non-existent and even those who do leave eventually end up coming back at some point. The people I work with are more than colleagues; they're friends and family and I'll miss them. But the time has come to take my dreams off hold. My life isn't supposed to be spent sat behind a desk or telling people about the benefits of a wool twist over a polypropelene saxony. 

Of course, I'm actually leaving to have a baby, but that's not all. I have made the conscious decision to take some time out from doing a job to make space for a career; a career that matters and that follows the path of a long held dream whilst forging the way for some new ones. Obviously there will be writing. In some ways, there has always been writing, only now that I have small people in my life, this faraway fantasy has taken on a different urgency and meaning. I've made the move from writing 'boohoo' short stories about tortured souls and wronged individuals to writing far-fetched and fantastical stories for children. Children have become my new dream. Suddenly I'm aware of just how important the education and nurture of the next generation really is, and I want to play my part in developing their imaginations and love for stories.

It might be that I'm unsuccessful, although I largely refuse to acknowledge that as a a possibility, but should it become the case then I will finish my English degree and work towards teaching young children in some other way; perhaps sharing my stories in a classroom instead of via print. What was once a vague notion of something I wanted to do has suddenly become an intense hunger and I'm powerless to try and ignore it.

So I'm taking a leap of faith in myself, helped of course by my incredible husband who is having to go out and earn actual money while I indulge in what is seen by many to be little more than a whim. I, of course, know otherwise and I'm so, so, so frightened and excited. I'm also a little sad, because I will miss the laughter I've shared in this building. All I can do is think of the laughter my words might inspire in those who really matter, in our next generation, and keep on pushing on. 

I'm so ready.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

How to Raise a Well Behaved Toddler

Ha! I'm kidding. Obviously I have no idea how to get your toddler to behave, but did you know that there is an abundance of articles out there that claim to be able to? All nonsense, of course. I'm inherently sceptical of advice pieces like that. For one thing, I believe that toddlers do exactly what they want one hundred per cent of the time,  but also I hate that they're not given credit as individual people; as though some formula will work on them all.

Doesn't make it any easier when your child hits the age at which they stop being able to see or hear you, though. Blake has reached that age. He spends the majority of the day refusing to acknowledge my existence, breaking from character only when he senses that my bottom has touched the toilet seat or that I might be secretly eating chocolate in the kitchen. Naturally, at those moments, he can't bear to be apart from me. The rest of the time, however, I'm invisible and my voice apparently functions on a frequency not detected by toddler ears.

Blake isn't naughty... as such. He doesn't throw enormous tantrums, nor does he get spiteful with me or other children. In fact, most of the scenarios you would automatically picture when told of 'bad behaviour' are alien in our house. What he does is ignorance, and he does it very well. In the course of an average day, I can say 'no' about six million times. The problem is: it doesn't mean anything. I know that he knows what the word means, because he used to react to it exactly as you'd expect, but somewhere down the line he has decided that it simply doesn't apply to him. 

There are a few simple rules in our house that I try to enforce. One of those rules is that if the child is outside playing and I'm in the house, then the screen door stays open. That's so that I can both hear him and access him quickly in the inevitable event that he trips over his own feet and hurts himself. Blake has decided that he'd prefer the screen door shut. I have tried everything to try and get him to see my point - from a calm explanation as to why the door needs to be open to basically yelling 'NO' at him as I carry him back into the house, right through basic bribery; when chocolate stops working, you know you've got issues. The fact is, he literally doesn't give a shit that I've said no. Somewhere in his head, a little switch has been flipped. He has gone from revering everything I say and do to thinking 'that one with the boobs? You can ignore her. She talks bollocks'.

Don't even get me started on bedtime. We have never been able to defeat that monster.

"Are we seriously back on that?"

I finish most days feeling guilty that I've spent the entire day berating the poor boy, but I don't know any other way of instilling some sort of discipline into him. My sister babysat recently and acknowledged (with some frustration) that getting his attention was a lot like saying 'Blake' over and over again into an empty flowerpot and hoping for some kind of response. 

As I say, he's not really a naughty kid, so it's difficult to establish any serious discipline routines and I sincerely doubt that any of them would work on a child that refuses to allow any negative communication. Plus, the rest of the time, he is genuinely the cutest little snuggle bunny I have ever laid eyes on. Not to mention the fact that his somewhat defiant nature has spawned some cracking personality traits that I really don't want to discourage. 

I don't know what the point of this post is. I think I just wanted to put it out there; to perhaps reassure myself that I'm not just fucking terrible at this parenting lark. I don't think it's me. Perhaps he just is what he is. After all, haven't I said myself that we ought to treat small people as individuals? Perhaps Blake is just individually as deaf as a post when it comes to being told what to do... I think I'll blame that one on his father.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Fingers (Not Legs) Crossed for VBAC Victory

I can't quite believe I'm already in my third trimester of this pregnancy. It's gone so much quicker than my first, when every week seemed to drag along at a snail's pace as I laboriously approached my due date. Obviously, I've been giving a fair bit of thought to the birth itself and I am pleased to announce that I am officially a candidate for a vaginal birth after c-section (or a VBAC for those in the know).

Well, 90% pleased; the other 10% is fucking terrified. 

Mostly, I feel really positive about the whole thing. I laboured with Blake and got to 7cm without pain relief before my little womb monster decided that he'd had enough, so I think that I can cope with labour without too much trouble. What really scares me is the prospect of something going wrong.

In reality, the chances of that happening are pretty slim. There is such a thing as scar rupture in which the walls of the uterus are put under so much strain by the contractions that the old caesarean wound opens. This puts the life of both the mother and baby at incredible risk, so naturally I'll have a consultant on stand-by, ready to whisk me into surgery at the first sign of any rupture happening. For my part, I have to be super alert to any pain that lasts between contractions because what I feel will be the ultimate indicator to something going wrong. Well, bugger me, that's a lot of pressure. When I was in labour with Blake, I could have barely told you my name, let alone felt a deeply in-tune connection with what was happening in my nether regions.

 The obvious solution to anything going wrong will be to immediately take me in for another section, and therein lies my second biggest fear. The truth is, I just really don't want one. Any of you that might be thinking that a caesarean is the easy childbirth option would be wrong; they're horrible. The surgery is scary (especially under emergency circumstances when you've not had a chance to work out which way is up), and the recovery is long and painful. There are also these awesome anaesthetic shakes that no one tells you about beforehand, but that last ages after the operation itself. It's only when you're lying there, practically shaking yourself off the table and wondering if you're dying, that someone bothers to tell you it's normal. For the first hour of my son's life, I was too scared to hold him in case my violent shuddering threw him from the hospital bed. Not only that, but I had all manner of trouble once they took my catheter out.

Plot twist! I'm also scared of giving birth naturally because, well, ouch. My lady bits have largely remained unchanged in the long term by the birth of my son, but a VBAC will soon put paid to all of that. A day or two out from having Blake, I could go about my toilet business without too much thought; not like my poor episiotomy inflicted sistren. Sex was tricky at first, but eventually returned to normal after a few months; those who have had vaginal births complain of a permanent change in sensation. Also, how the hell do you go to the toilet when you have stitches in your bits? The whole thing sounds bloody brutal.

So, I'm a bit of a contradiction really; I'm thrilled to be given the chance to give a VBAC a go, but I'm basically terrified of every option I have. I know that when the day comes, I'll just deal with whatever happens, but that doesn't stop me from obsessing about it a bit in the meantime.

Isn't childbirth fun?