A year ago today (or this week, by the time I actually got around to finishing this post), me and that handsome chap said our “I do”s in front of our nearest and dearest, had a massive party and finished the night off with my new husband passed out and me stuck in my wedding dress, eating a cold Big Mac in our hotel room.
Eleven months later, we headed back to the same registry office with our babe in arms to make him official. Not being one to miss an opportunity for a comparison shot, we attempted to recreate a couple of our wedding shots in the hope of making it an annual tradition. If nothing else, it’s a good reminder what a difference being two stone lighter, having a tan and wearing some decent make up can make.
I wrote a big long sentimental stream of consciousness about how fit my husband is, how much he makes me laugh, how much I love him and how over the moon I am about the little family we’ve made, but I read it back and even I did a little vom in my mouth. So instead, I’ll tell you that we celebrated our anniversary with our first child free night out, beer, a 30oz steak and a pretty special sticky banoffee cake at Larder. In typical new parent style, we were drunk after 2 pints, got home at 9pm and had the makings of a hangover by midnight.
Neil excelled himself in the gift department and bought a beautiful print from Bold & Noble for our bedroom wall, what with it being our paper wedding anniversary and all. I, not thinking for a million years that Neil would know it was our paper anniversary anyway, gave him a tin robot. Neil 1 – 0 Kate.
So there you have it. 12 months, a ring, a honeymoon, a house move, a baby and a 30oz steak. Here’s to the next one!
There is a lot about this whole ‘having babies’ malarky that is covered in infinite depths by the textbooks and the trash TV I religiously watched on crap channels like ‘Discovery Babies’ or whatever it was. There are other bits that people JUST. DON’T. TALK ABOUT. Unless of course, having been through it yourself, if you mention it to other people, they suddenly go ‘OH YEAH, ISN’T THAT WEIRD/ANNOYING/TERRIBLE/ETC? THE EXACT SAME THING HAPPENED TO ME’. HELLO! Might have been useful to mention this to me BEFORE.
So, in a bid to save someone else hard work and frantic googling at 3am, I’ve got a few blog posts in my head that pick up where ‘One Born Every Minute’ finishes – the first of which covers the Japanese water torture that is…maternity wards.
Despite my best attempts to avoid them, following Billy’s arrival, I ended up with a 24 hour stay on the maternity ward. This bit ended up being far more stressful than the birth was, and a lot of things that happened surprised me.
TMI warning starts…..Now.
1. The heat
I’m now entirely convinced that the NHS budget deficits are due to the heating bills from our local maternity ward. It was as hot as actual hell. At one point, I remembered the thick socks and cardigan packed neatly in to my (abandoned) hospital bag and had a chuckle as I sat there, sweating cobs, wearing a nursing bra and not a lot else, desperately trying to regain enough function in my legs to reach the water jug on the table next to me.
If I had my time again, I would have taken a whole lot less clothes and a couple of 2 litre bottles of water. And a fan.
2. Other people
Remember the bloody woman in the bed next to me at the maternity assessment centre? Guess who was in the bed next to me on the maternity ward? Oh yes. What are the bloody changes? And this time, she had a baby. A baby that she cradled and shushed when it was sound asleep, and largely ignored when it screamed for 3 hours straight from 1-4am as she was far too busy on her bloody phone.
3. Post partum bleeding
Its not something that’s covered in the books, so I was genuinely surprised to find that the most eloquent solution to post-birth blood loss is for a midwife to press an NHS issue sanitary towel between your legs and plonk you on an absorbent bed pad with a sheet over you. This is largely fine when you have no use of your legs, but as soon as you need to change position, pick the baby up out of the crib, change a nappy, sit up to breastfeed etc, this solution quickly becomes problematic.
I begged anyone who came within a 10 meter radius of my bed to take my catheter out and let me have a shower, but it wasn’t until lunchtime the next day that my wish was finally granted. BEST. SHOWER. EVER.
4. The food
Now, I love my food. And I love the NHS. Largely, I think that people that complain needlessly about the NHS need to take a cold, hard look at themselves and think of the bigger picture. THAT said: You’ve got a ward full of women who are likely to have suffered with anaemia throughout their pregnancy, and a lot of women are likely to have recently given birth. Would it not be a good move to serve some greenery or veg to help with the old iron count?
Exhibit A: Beef casserole with vegetables, mash, potato croquette and ‘fresh fruit salad’
Exhibit B: Chicken and vegetable curry
So, if you find yourself lucky enough to stay on the maternity ward, bribe your nearest and dearest to bring you something tasty with nutritional value to get you through. And biscuits. Don’t forget the biscuits.
5. Pooing to order
When you have some pretty serious stitches after you give birth, the midwives want to make sure you can do a number 1 and 2 without problems before they will discharge you. Sensible idea, I hear you say.
It is, until you realise the only thing between you and your own bed is a poo that doesn’t seem to be making an appearance any time soon. If you’ve gone in to labour yourself, you’ll know that the body has its own way of ‘cleansing the system’ to prepare for birth, which for a lot of people, involves sitting on the loo for much of their early labour. That, the fact that I’d not eaten for 24 hours, the stitches and the fact that I had a nurse coming to see me once every 5 minutes to ask if I’d ‘done a poo yet?’ caused me to do something I probably shouldn’t.
I told them I’d pooped and they ordered my drugs so we could go home. Just like that. They didn’t want any proof or anything (thank heavens). Off they sent me with my stool softeners and my laxatives and I trundled off home with our squidgy little baby, with a niggling thought in the back of my mind that I might just have seriously under-estimated how bad this poo was going to be.
The next morning, I found out. You know what? It wasn’t all that bad. And it was a damn sight easier for not having someone in uniform watching my every move and avoiding a second night next to my maternity ward nemesis.
So, there you have it. Five things I wish I’d known about maternity wards. In hindsight, there’s probably a bloody good reason people don’t talk about this stuff, because sweating, bleeding and pooing is not the most glamorous of subjects, but it is very good preparation for the glamour of parenthood.
Back when Billy was still a bump, I did a post about all the things I was packing in my hospital bag. As predicted, I used approximately 5% of the stuff I took, then ended up getting Neil to bring me another bag full of really useful stuff I’d conveniently forgotten. So, here’s what I should have packed, and what I just shouldn’t have bothered with…
Clothes for me:
- I packed nursing tops, bras, yoga trousers, socks, slippers and an array of granny pants in various sizes. What I didn’t consider was how ridiculously tropical the maternity unit would be, rendering all the long sleeved tops completely useless. I also shouldn’t have bothered with the nursing tops – breastfeeding is so flabbergasting at first that I had one, if not two, boobs completely out at any given point, usually with a maternity support worker frantically shoving my boob into Billy’s perplexed face. If I had my time again, I would have packed pants, bras, vests and yoga trousers, and not a lot else.
Other stuff for me:
- Toliletries bag: Was a godsend when you realise you haven’t brushed your teeth in 36 hours and your hair is still wet from being in the birth pool the day before (ewww). Just make sure it’s to hand in case you find yourself in a situation where you have misplaced the use of your legs and you’re so desperate for lipbalm that you’d be willing to do some jail time. Not that I’m speaking from experience or owt.
- Make up bag: Maternity wards are very good at not having any mirrors in, largely because everyone looks like a bag of crap. When I finally got to the bathroom the following day, I was shocked to find a pale, corpse-like figure with dark eyes staring back at me, not the glowy, rosy cheeked thing I was expecting. Blusher and concealer may not have made a difference to how ill I looked, but it made a massive difference to how I felt.
- Hairdryer and straighteners: Didn’t get used, although not for want of trying. It turns out if these aren’t PAT tested by the hospital, they don’t let you plug them in. They do have hairdryers on the wards, but good luck trying to get someone to bring you one.
- Arnica capsules and ointment: I took Arnica capsules in the few days immediately following the birth, and after 48 hours, the swelling and bruising had reduced to a point that I could comfortably sit on a chair again. I felt like the bruising healed quickly, but I really have nothing to compare it to in order to verify my findings, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. The ointment on the other hand is still unused.
- Lanisoh nipple cream: This stuff is the bomb, as is Waleda Hypericum Calendula Ointment. Just be careful if you have any pale nursing bras, otherwise you may end up with grease stains right where your nipples are. It’s a strong look.
- Boppy breastfeeding pillow: This was on my list of things to take, but in the rush to get in the ambulance, it got left at home. Breastfeeding is HARD to start with, and it would have been mega useful to have this with me on the ward that first night.
- Breast pads: …Were a complete waste of time. My milk didn’t come in ’til day 3, and I’m still waiting for the kind of milk supply that would warrant needing a breast pad in the first place. One of the big draws to breastfeeding was that I was promised you would be able to use your boobs as impromptu waterpistols for situations like…I dunno… your husband pissing you off a bit. You could be all like BAM! Milk squirt, right in the chops. it would have been amazing. I feel a bit robbed of this superpower, TBH.
- Maternity pads: The hospital will give you these (hell, for the first few hours, they just plonk one between your legs sans undercrackers and let you get on with it), but the ones you buy are marginally more comfortable despite being the size of a breezeblock. For the first few days, the breezeblock-ness of the pads came in handy as a bit of extra padding, but after a week or so, I switched to normal sanitary towels.
- Eye Mask and Earplugs: I think it was very sweet that the pre-baby me didn’t see any problem with taking earplugs with me, despite the fact that this would mean I wasn’t able to hear my own baby. An eye mask, had I remembered it, would have been a blessing, especially after the woman in the bed next door kept her light on ALL NIGHT LONG.
- iPhone and charger: my ability to catch up on 48 hours worth of tweets at 4am probably saved the life of the stupid woman in the bed next to me as her BBM thing beeped for the 5,000th time that hour.
- Clothes: I put on my list ‘vest and babygrows in a range of sizes’. What I did not anticipate, however was that my offspring would be too large for any of the sizes I’d packed – cue a panicked call to my mum from the delivery room to ask her for some 0-3 month clothes.
- Scratchmitts: Since discovering that the extra flap on the cuff of baby grows is, in fact, a built in scratchmitt, I have no idea what separate scratch mitts are for. However, it’s worth checking your babygrows DO have this magic flap as babies (and especially overdue babies) are born with TALONS, and considering they don’t know they’ve got hands, they do a very good job at scratching their faces, making them look even more blotchy and puffy for their newborn photos.
- Hat: This was used for the drive home only and wasn’t needed on the ward due to the ward being hotter than actual hell.
- Blanket: this John Lewis blanket was a present from my friend Stef. It’s warm, cuddly and I wish they made them in grown-up sizes. We used it for the car journey home, and that was about it.
- Muslin cloths x2: These were good for using as a lightweight blanket, or just to keep you/baby from getting too sweaty through all the boob shoving (see above).
- Swaddle blanket: Some babies love it. Ours is not one of them.
- Nappies and baby wipes: They told me that I should be using cotton wool balls and water which perplexes me greatly. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of a meconium poo knows full well that cotton wool balls and water is about as much use as a chocolate teapot when it comes to scary baby Marmite. I used the cotton wool balls they gave me until they walked out of the room, then went back to using Huggies Pure wipes. Guess what? Baby wipes didn’t melt his skin off, and they’re a damn sight more effective.
- Change of clothes, contact lenses, glasses, camera, Kindle, emergency Pot Noodle: None of these got used, but if I’d have had a different birth, or at a different time of day, they might.
- Chocolate muesli bars and chocolate hobnobs: got consumed (by me) in the loudest possible way at 3am. This was a little bit to piss off the woman in the next bed who, it seemed, was put on this planet to annoy me. It was also due to the fact that when my body got over giving birth, it realised it had about 24 hours worth of food to catch up on. In pregnant-lady-food-consumption terms, this probably equates to around four million calories.
What I should have packed:
- My own pillow
- 2ltr bottle of water – 40′C maternity wards and all that gas and air makes Kate a thirsty girl
- Snacks, snacks and more snacks.
I have a million and one things I want to write down about the last 10 days. Mostly about how bafflingly incredible and bloody hard they’ve been all at the same time. Every day I say I’m going to fire up the laptop and write down the story of Billy’s arrival before it gets lost in a cloud of baby brain, and every day, I have been prioritizing napping and staring at our adorable newborn over blogging. Quite rightly so.
So, whilst I get in to the swing of things, I’ll leave you with my very last bump photo. 41 weeks on the left, and on the right, one week on with the adorable fruits of my labour.