Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Sharing Bad Birth Stories

I recently gave birth to my second child and wrote about the experience on this blog. I wrote about it really as a form of therapy. I needed to process what had happened. When you go through something like that, it’s very hard to make sense of how you feel about it. Even with my first birth which was calm and lovely, I found that my thoughts were muddled afterwards. I had to write it down to really work out what happened when and why. And I needed to do that this time too, but for different reasons.

I guess I wanted to work through why things had been so different this time. With my first birth, I was low-risk and chose to have a home birth. It was lovely. This time, days before the birth I was classified as high-risk and that meant I gave birth in a hospital. I didn’t want to be in hospital, I didn’t feel safe or able to relax there and I feel that impacted on the birth. But, I also know that it was the safest place for my baby and so it had to be that way. I wanted to have a home birth anyway, but I didn’t feel comfortable being so far away from medical help in case things should go wrong.

In hindsight, I might have made different choices, but it’s too late to think about that now. I wrote my birth story down so that I could get it all straight in my head. I had a debrief at the hospital before I discharged myself and I found that really helpful. I would really strongly recommend a debrief if you feel you have unanswered questions about the birth. Having someone go through my notes with me and explain why things were suggested or decisions made was really useful. I also talked a lot to Laurie about what happened. He had a better idea of timings and details than I did so was able to add to the birth story quite considerably.

I spoke to a couple of friends about how I felt, I suppose using them as makeshift counsellors. And I wrote it down because that’s how I process things. And then I posted it to my blog because I know people were interested in knowing what had happened and because I’d gotten a lot of support from readers during those excruciatingly long final days of pregnancy. I think I also shared it because I didn’t really want to have to keep talking about it. If I could write it down and get it out there, people would know what happened and would be less likely to ask me about it and that has worked really well.

But, was it fair of me to share that experience online? Is it ethical to spout raw emotions about a negative birth experience online? When I was pregnant with my first child, I hated hearing horror stories about birth. Every single person you meet knows somebody who has had a bad birth and they seem to almost relish in telling you the details. I just didn’t want to hear about all of the things that can go wrong during birth. I wanted to hear the positive stories. I want to hear about babies born at home, water births and women who didn’t need pain-relief. I needed to hear those stories because I needed to believe that birth was natural and my body was built to do it.

And guess what? It was. I had my first baby in a hot tub in my living room. I only had gas and air for pain relief and only towards the end of the labour. It was the most beautiful love-filled empowering experience of my life and I felt amazing afterwards. My vagina hurt, of course, but apart from that I felt amazing. I wanted to tell everyone I met about just how amazing birth was and I couldn’t wait to do it again. I was looking forward to another idyllic birth and I couldn’t wait to feel superhuman afterwards.

Only, this time it didn’t happen. But not because birth is scary or terrible, but because I wasn’t having a normal, healthy pregnancy. I was diagnosed with severe polyhydramnios and that forced huge changes to my birth plan. And that’s why I didn’t get the birth I wanted, not because birth is difficult or unnatural. It isn’t. I still think of birth as being an amazing thing, I’m just sad my second pregnancy ended up high-risk.

I think when you’ve had a negative birth experience, it’s very easy to chalk that up to all birth being negative. But it’s simply not true. If this had been my first birth, I probably would have thought the same. I’d just have assumed birth was always like that and I’d have thought of the whole thing very differently. But I didn’t, I had the benefit of experiencing normal birth before and knowing just how different it can be. In a way that made it more difficult because I knew what I was missing. But I think it has helped my emotional recovery because I believe my body is capable of normal birth.

I sometimes think now that I shouldn’t have shared Ember’s birth story online. A couple of friends have described it as traumatic and said it put them off having children, and that makes me feel terrible. I didn’t mean to scare people off birth. If anything, you should be put off developing severe polyhydramnios, but not from giving birth. I really hope that my birth story hasn’t scared pregnant women or made people nervous about giving birth. It wasn’t a normal birth because it ended up not being a normal pregnancy. If it had been, I would have had another lovely homebirth and I would have had a much more empowering story to tell.

And though this birth didn’t feel empowering at the time (I hated being in hospital so much), I am pretty proud of how I handled it all. It’s not easy to go from being low-risk to suddenly being high-risk and discovering you aren’t going to get the birth you wanted. I cried a lot, but I still managed to fight my corner and avoid induction and the associated potential cascade of interventions. I wasn’t able to control every aspect of the birth, but I did the best I could at the time. And seven weeks later I have already completely forgotten about the bad bits of the birth. Now, when I look back, I can only think how well I did to push for as natural birth as I could get and how unbelievable it was that I managed to give birth naturally when I felt so worried that might not happen.

It’s easy to feel strong and powerful after a blissful home birth. It’s a whole other thing to feel proud of yourself after a less picturesque birth experience. This time I really feel like I’ve earned that pride.

And if reading Ember’s birth story made you feel worried about birth, I’m really sorry. I was high-risk and that moved the goalposts. I wouldn’t want to go through another high-risk birth because I’m not a fan of hospitals, but I would happily give birth at home every month for the rest of my life because it was amazing. You can read my positive birth story here.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Pumpkin Picking at Kenyon Hall Farm

I had no idea pick your own pumpkin farms existed outside of America. They seem to go crazy for Halloween over there, but it’s not as big a deal over here. I love the tradition of carving pumpkins and we’ve done one every year since Ebony was born. Now we buy two so that we can have one each (because, even though I am 30, I am rubbish at sharing). We don’t go trick or treating or do much else in the way of Halloween celebrations, so carving the pumpkin is as exciting as things get in our house.

This year I stumbled across a place called Kenyon Hall Farm in Warrington. It’s a pick your own fruit place near us and I always plan to go strawberry picking but miss it every single year. I found out they also offer pumpkin picking so we decided to go along. Now that Ebony is in school full time and Laurie is back in work, I’ve been trying to think of fun outings for us each weekend so we’re making the most of our limited time as a family.

It took us about half an hour to get to the farm and Ebony was excited when she found out we’d be buying pumpkins that day. There’s a farm shop on site filled with some beautiful vegetables which we didn’t get to buy. Next time we go, I’m definitely going to do my weekly shop there because it all looked amazing.

You don’t have to pick your own pumpkin, there is a big selection of pre-picked pumpkins to choose from if you prefer. Kenyon Hall Farm put on a pumpkin festival each year so it feels like more of a family day out than a simple trip to buy a pumpkin. Ebony had her face painted before we headed out onto the field. The pumpkin patch was huge and there were loads of pumpkins to choose from. Ebony went for the biggest one she could find and I chose a more modest sized pumpkin. It was fun wandering around the field and trying to find the best pumpkins and we spent quite a long time choosing.

Once we’d found the best ones, we stuck them in the cart and Ebony pushed them back to the shop with Laurie’s help. It’s more expensive than buying a pumpkin from Aldi but it was definitely worth the extra money. My little pumpkin cost £2 and Ebony’s pumpkin was £8 and bigger than her head. There was a playground (complete with tractor) so Ebony played there for a bit and then headed back inside for story time before we went home.

We were there for a couple of hours in total and it was a lovely way to spend half the day. It was busy but not as busy as I expected, but this may have been because we got there in the morning. Ebony really enjoyed choosing her own pumpkin and seeing how they grew. I think this is going to become an annual tradition for us because we all really enjoyed it and it was a nice way of spending time together as a family.

The Kenyon Hall Farm Pumpkin Festival runs from the 15th to the 31st October. It’s free entry but there are charges for some of the activities. Pumpkin prices vary from £1 to £10 depending on size. You can find out more on their website.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Seven Weeks and Counting

Time is a funny thing, isn’t it? You’ve only been here for seven weeks but it feels like you’ve always been a part of this family. I can barely remember life before you arrived. It seems you’ve always been here, snuggled up asleep on my chest. I don’t remember what it was like to sleep without you in my arms. Life before you is a distant memory now.

So much seems to have happened in those seven weeks. Each week of pregnancy seemed to stretch out before me like an eternity, and now that you’re here, a week passes in a heartbeat. Sievenweeks, can it really have been so long?

It doesn’t feel that long ago since you were brand new. That surprisingly big baby staring up at me in the delivery room, taking my breath away with those deep murky blue eyes. I loved you so much straight away, even before I had properly laid eyes on you. It almost physically hurt me when I couldn’t hold you straight away, I just needed you in my arms. A minute later and there you were, where you should always have been, wrapped in my arms so I could breathe you in and make sure you knew where you belonged. That minute away from you felt like a lifetime, time has never passed that slowly before and I hope it never will again.

The early days of rawness are behind us now. The toe-curling pain at the beginning of each feed has been banished to my memory. Everything feels so easy now. I feel healed and brand new and it’s crazy to think that it was just six weeks ago when every inch of me hurt after the birth. How can the body heal so quickly from such a life-changing experience? There is nothing bigger in life than birth and yet just a few weeks later, I feel myself again. At the beginning, I had a bath every morning. I would sit in the bath, looking at my bruised veins from the cannula, and my stretched out tummy slowly trying to shrink back down, and I would wonder if I would ever feel like myself again. And now I do, so much so that I already feel I have forgotten what it feels like when your body feels damaged by birth.

Six weeks ago, I was busy grieving the birth I didn’t get. I wanted candles, music and strength. Instead I got bright lights, beeping machines and IVs. It wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t the beautiful empowering experience I wanted it to be. Six weeks ago, I thought I’d never come to terms with that. I thought I’d feel upset about the birth forever. I thought I’d never be able to process what had happened. But just six weeks later I feel a lot better. I have talked and talked and talked. I have researched and read and asked questions and now, finally, I can find the positives in my experience. I did what I had to do to keep myself, Ebony and the new baby safe and happy during the birth. I couldn’t really do anymore than that, could I?

I have already forgotten what it felt like to have just one child. I am so used to the chaos and sometimes seemingly impossibleness of having two. The rushed mornings trying to get everybody fed and dressed and out of the door on time. The manic afternoons of trying to cook dinner whilst caring for a baby who doesn’t want to be put down and a four year who is ‘starving to death’. The fun of including you in our games. Your big sister answers for you as we all play schools in the playroom. One of my favourite parts of the day is seeing the huge smile you give your sister when you see her for the first time when she gets home from school. I can tell she is already your favourite person and I’m not ashamed to admit I feel a little jealous of that.

The time we spend just the two of us is so unbelievably precious. Once your sister is dropped off at school, we have six hours ahead of us to spend just the two of us. You sleep for most of the day, snuggled up on my chest as my cuddle under a blanket in front of Gilmore Girls or held close to my chest in the wrap as we walk for miles. Those hours of calm and quiet bonding before we pick your sister up make me feel certain that this was the right age gap for us.

You sleep in my arms, you head propped up against my arm. I breathe you in as you sleep and love nothing more than seeing your face first thing in the morning. I love the huge smiles you give me when you first open your eyes. At some point during the night, your sister usually creeps into my bed as well, and I spend the night sandwiched between the two people I love most in the world.

A lot has happened during these seven weeks, you have already changed so much. You still spend most of the day sleeping, but you are awake for longer stretches now. You are more alert and will happily spend time just taking in your surroundings. You have the most beautiful smile and seem to be a very happy little (big) baby. You chatter away to us when you are awake and I love hearing the sounds you make. I am desperate for you to laugh and know that milestone can only be a few weeks away. These early days feel all the more special this time because I know how soon they will be gone. All those old ladies are right, babies really do grow up quick.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Feeling Raw After the Birth

It's been exactly one month since I felt those early contractions which hinted that the baby might finally be on the way. The physical pain of labour is long gone, I can now sit without wincing and walk down the street without looking like John Wayne. There was a point where I really didn't think I would ever move normally again. But here I am, four weeks after the birth and I feel human again.

Emotionally, however, I'm not quite there yet. After my first birth, I didn't have any emotional healing to do. I felt amazing and powerful and like I had nailed womanhood. I don't feel those things this time. Instead, I feel disappointed, upset and disempowered. I feel like I was robbed of something I really wanted. I know how beautiful birth can be and it hurts me to think of how different this birth looked.

Most days I am ok. Most days I don't spend much time thinking about the birth. And when it crosses my mind, I tell myself that I tried my best and that I did the best I could in a bad situation. I tell myself that I made the best choices I could with the information I had at the time. On those days, I look down at the baby in my arms and know that she is worth anything the world throws at me.

But on darker days, when I haven't slept, when the baby is unsettled, when I find the unused home birth box behind the sofa and have to return it to the midwife so that a more successful woman can make use of it, I still feel hurt. On those days I find myself tearful, wondering why things went so wrong. I replay it all in my mind, wondering what I could have done differently.

I think back to the Friday afternoon. I was sat in the living room with my mum and I was telling her that I'd have to go for monitoring at the hospital on Monday if I was still pregnant. Oh, don't do that, she said, you know your own baby, if you think everything is ok, it is. If only I had listened to her. Sometimes mums just know, don't they?

I wish more than anything that I had delayed monitoring for a couple of days, that I had given myself a little bit longer to go into labour before I let myself end up in hospital. Maybe, if I'd done that, I'd have ended up with another baby born at home.  I'm sure it would still have been a more difficult labour than my first because of the position of the baby, but I know it would have been easier at home. I'd have felt more in control, safer and better supported.

There are so many things I would do differently if I could. And whilst on good days I can think oh well, it is what it is, on bad days, these thoughts go round and round in my head. The things I should have done differently, that feeling of helplessness, the stress of having to keep fighting whilst in labour.

And then there's always the feeling that I'm being ridiculous. That yes, my birth didn't go to plan, but it's hardly a traumatic story, is it? I have friends who have had emergency sections, forceps deliveries and large tears. I have friends who thought they were going to die. And here I am crying because I didn't get to give birth at home.

But I can't help how I feel. All I can do is try to process it and move on. And for the first two weeks after the birth I talked about it endlessly. I asked Laurie a million questions about what happened, I wrote it down, I talked to friends. And that helped, I felt better, I do feel better, it's just the occasional bad day now. The days when I'm overtired and over emotional, on those days it's hard to ignore the disappointment I feel inside.

On those days, it all still feels very raw. After all, I might never do any of this again. That might be the final chapter of my story. Those feelings of strength and pride after my first birth feel like a distant memory. Now when I think about birth I remember feeling scared and helpless and weak. I am trying hard to focus on my first birth, to remember those feelings and how amazing birth can be. I want to be able to feel excited for other people planning home births instead of just feeling jealous that mine didn't work out. There's nothing I hate more than feeling jealous of other people.

This morning I took my unused home birth box and dropped it off at the doctors so my midwife can use it again. She can pass it along to another woman planning her home birth. I really hope she gets to use it. That she gets to meet her baby for the first time in the comfort of her own home, away from the bright lights of the delivery ward. I hope she gets to take a bath, put on clean pyjamas and snuggle up in bed with her brand new family. I hope she gets the birth she wants so badly, because all women deserve that, don't they?

Now I've gotten rid of the big pile of home birth things from the corner of my living room, I hope I won't be reminded about the birth quite so much. I hope I will go back to thinking that I did ok. I hope I can believe that I did the best I could and I hope I can feel proud of myself for the birth I did have.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The Day You Doubled in Size

The day your baby sister was born, you doubled in size. When you came to the hospital to meet her, you were taller and more grown up than ever before. You had dressed in your favourite clothes, a too small bright red dress that highlighted just how much you’d grown. A glittery headband was lost in the unruly mess of your hair. You looked tired and excited and in love. I asked if you could guess whether you had a baby brother or sister and you looked excitedly at the baby in pink before announcing that you had a sister. You said she was cute and you immediately whispered in her ear that you loved her.

You held her, that hours old little baby lay safe in your arms as you stared at her in amazement. You sat so still, you looked scared to move in case any harm should come to your baby sister. You looked so proud of her and so proud of yourself for finally becoming a big sister. She looked so small in your arms and suddenly you looked ever so big.

Now, when we walk to school, your hand feels big in mine. It’s no longer the little toddler hand that used to grip mine as we walked across busy roads. You are growing taller every day it seems, reaching up towards the sky. When I put you to bed at night, your head feels heavy against my arm. Only a month ago, you still felt so little to me, but becoming a big sister has changed all of that.

All of a sudden, you’re my big girl. You’re the big sister. The protector. The teacher. The leader. The entertainer. You long to play with your little sister, to teach her all the things you know, to keep her safe. You look after her when I leave the room and I hear you telling her you’re here when she cries. When I leave the changing table to grab more wipes, I come back to find you playing peekaboo with her over the side of the table. You sing to her and tell her about your day.

You miss her when you’re at school, and me, I hope. And your face lights up when you see her as you walk out of school. You come running over and stroke her back or tickle her feet, telling her you’ve missed her. You’ve been gone all day and we’ve missed you. You are a schoolgirl now and that means we spend the day missing you and wondering what you’re doing.

So much has changed recently. We were separated for a week when I was in hospital and that was hard for both of us. We’re not used to spending time apart, kid. We’re always together, me and you against the world. Every time you came to the hospital, it made my heart hurt because I so badly wanted to go home with you. And then, finally, your sister arrived. A little sister for you, someone you can play with, share secrets with and have blazing arguments with. You are so lucky, my biggest girl.

And then you started school and suddenly you were gone all day. Now your day is a mystery to me. I only know what you tell me. Very little. I know you eat sweetcorn for lunch. I’m hoping that’s not all they give you but finding out from you is impossible. You speak fast and traffic whizzes by on our way home and I don’t always hear what you say. Sometimes I catch it later when you tell your baby sister. You tell her that one day she’ll go to school too, and that makes me heart hurt again because I know you will both keep getting bigger and bigger until one day you are ready to make it on your own.

Though that will never happen, you tell me, you’re going to live with me forever. You’re going to marry your sister and we’re all going to live here forever and ever. And if you have babies, I will get to babysit them while you go to the pub with your friends. Because you always have your eyes set on the future. You’re already counting down to your birthday because you can’t wait to be five. And the days pass so quickly now that you’re in school, I know you’ll be fully grown in no time.


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