Labour

Foreword: I wrote these updates in real time at various points during the labour and in the days afterwards. Posting them all together now following a typo check!

3am 23rd July:

Here I am in Kingston hospital! Currently lying in a bed at 3am supposedly trying to get some sleep, but there is kafuffle around me. A baby’s heart beat being monitored behind a curtain to my right, a delivered baby snuffling behind a curtain to my left, and a fellow preggo snoring the night away in front of me.

The story is my waters broke two days ago but I didn’t notice. It was such a subtle trickle and I was wearing a pad so it was disguised. It was only on a couple of occasions when I went for a wee, and I noticed it was a strange-ish colour, that I thought something might be up. I had been under the impression that once the waters break, contractions follow pretty soon afterwards. I’ve not really felt any contractions, even now. Just a dull ache like a period pain in my abdomen and some fleeting back pains earlier today. I Googled today and found lots of women saying very emphatically that if in doubt, call the hospital. If amniotic fluid leaks for more than 48 hours with no sign of labour the baby and mother can get infected.

I called the 24 hr maternity triage line, feeling silly because nothing significant had really happened to me, but I had an instinct. I explained my hunch, they told me to drive to the hospital and get it checked out. Once we’d arrived at around 12am, they performed something similar to a smear test to analyse the fluid, and low and behold – they confirmed my waters had broken. As a result I need to have my labour expedited with hormones. It also means I can’t go in the pool and have the water birth that I wanted, but I’m not too bothered about that now.

So I’m in some kind of interim ward waiting to go into the proper maternity ward and have my hormone drip put on. I’ve sent Jake home to sleep because tomorrow is the big day when labour will kick off.

This is it!!!!!

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12pm 23rd July:

I’m still waiting to go onto the labour ward. Apparently it has been chocca block with women giving birth. Seems there is somewhat of a baby boom in Kingston at the moment.

I’m currently pumped with nerves and adrenaline because I’ve been told my bed is imminently ready. They tell me my blood pressure is a little high, which doesn’t surprise me at all! I’m listening to my hypnobirthing downloads in a bid to relax. It’s near 30 degrees C in the ward and there are no fans left so I’ve got no chance of sleep.

2:35am 24th July

I am sitting in a bed right now with Wilhelmina Rosalie (Willa) beside me – our healthy, beautiful baby – just over 8lbs and born at 8:23 earlier this evening.

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I am still shell shocked by what I’ve been through.

I sailed through early labour with a TENS machine, which works brilliantly for the early contractions. I was feeling pretty smug up to 2cm dilated at 6:30pm, and thought I had the whole thing down, what with my TENS and breathing technique – I was laughing and joking with Jake and the midwives. Then they gave me a second sweep and whacked up my dose of synthesised oxytocin and things went crazy from there. The contractions came very regularly and fast – causing exquisite pain, the level of which I have never encountered before. They started as a period pain sensation and built into something that shook the very core of me, making my abdomen and torso feel as though they were being torn apart.

I just tried to focus on my breathing and the voices of those around me, encouraging me. I could feel my arms and legs thrashing out as a reflex to the pain and I tried to focus on the textures of what my hands were grabbing at – Jake’s arm, my gas and air mask and the bed sheets. At that point that the pain became almost transcendental and I withdrew into myself. The midwives I’d spent all night with changed shift and some new ones came in – I barely registered it. I had no concept of time, or how many people were in the room – just how many contractions were coming and getting through the intensity of each one.

The new midwives thought I’d been ‘over stimulated’ with the oxytocin drip and turned it down when they came on shift, saying it was battling with what my body wanted to do. I was obsessed with when I was allowed to push and just focused on reaching that point. Nature completely took over with the pushing. The contractions rose up into my upper torso and my muscles just spasmed and took control.

I pushed the baby out using the muscles in my bottom like my life depended on it. Gutteral, animal noises rose up from somewhere within me with each one. I knew pushing was the only way to stop the pain and end the situation. The ‘ring of fire’ I was warned about (crowning), was nothing. I rejoiced when I felt it because it meant it was nearly over. It’s true that once the head is out the rest is easy, the body flopped out with a moderate push and so did the placenta.

The whole thing from 2cm dilated to the baby being born happened in under two hours – very, very fast to go 8cm dilated, so I never really had time to consider anything other than gas and air. The ritual of using the gas, holding it and hearing the suction if it going in and out was a rudder for me throughout. My contractions were too close together for me to start using energy articulating and negotiating with the midwives about an epidural or any alternative pain relief. I wanted to use the little time in between contractions to build strength to get through the next one, and although I was wracked with pain I was rational. I knew having an epidural would give me pain relief but that it would also mean the whole ordeal would go on a lot longer and I would lose sensation, probably meaning ventouse, forcepts and more drawn out palava.

The feeling of seeing my grey and slimy baby plopped onto my chest and hearing her screaming was indescribable. She was puffy, hot and loud and I will never forget her smell. A kind of hot flesh, metallic smell that I still recall several times a day and which fills me with overwhelming love.

I had bad trauma to my back passage muscle because she came out with a pointy elbow up by her face and tore me, so I had to go into theatre afterwards and get stitched up. This part was deeply unpleasant because I think the shock of everything hit me and I started having a panic attack. When they anaethetised my legs the feeling of being immobile made me feel really claustrophobic and panicky and I was begging the anaesthetist to give me something for my mind – to relax me, like Valium, but she said she wouldn’t give me anything on top of the anaesthetic. I worried I would have a heart attack from anxiety and I couldn’t find a calming thought to focus on. I kept telling myself to think about Willa and Jake and that Willa was healthy and I would see them both in an hour, but I couldn’t find solace in any thought. I went to a really dark, dark place in the theatre and the midwife and anaesthetist tried to talk to me and occupy my mind. Looking back, it was just a reaction to the trauma I think.

4am 25th July

We are in a recovery ward as Willa needs to be monitored for 24 hours due to her increased risk of infection following my waters breaking two days before labour. She is not taking the boob at all, I’ve spent all day trying to coax my nipples into her mouth and had a bevy of different nurses coming in using various techniques to get her to latch, to no avail. They then try and milk me when she doesn’t latch. No milk has come in yet, which is normal, but there is not much colostrum probably because I’m anaemic and dehydrated due to blood loss. Also, the synthetic hormones I received to speed along the labour has likely meant my natural hormones haven’t caught up with milk production yet.

Emotionally, it’s very difficult to describe how I’m feeling. I feel like I’m betraying Willa and myself if I don’t state how ecstatically happy I am – but it’s not as simple as that. The weight of her arrival and how important she is and how much we love her is substantial. I wouldn’t say I’m floating around on cloud nine. I feel a sense of overwhelming gravity when I think about the future. I feel alone and terrified. I can see Jake feels that as well but we can’t seem to find comfort in each other right now, we are just operating as separate agents working together to get her what she needs.

3:40pm 28th July

We have been home for three days. Breastfeeding is very hard to crack. We have celebrated Willa’s every fart and burp and practically open the champagne when she does a poo.

Sometimes it feels like we have things together and then sometimes I catch myself and it’s 2pm, I’m still partially dressed in only knickers and trying to change Willa’s nappy at her change station while milk drips down from my boobs onto my toes.

We’re still both in shock over the arrival of Willa. We didn’t foresee how much we would love her. She is the centre of our universe and everything that matters.

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Order: prayer requests x 3, Status: dispatched

It is so hot, hot, hot. I can barely eat my Sunday roast, the sweaty preggo that I’ve become.

Not sure how my little pickle will cope with this heat if she comes out now. I pray she hangs on a bit and the temperature drops by ten degrees.

(Prayer number: 1
Prayer name: ‘optimum baby temp’
Status: dispatched to God.
Notes: OK, God. Admittedly I’ve been a bit flakey in my devotion, maybe more of a peripheral friend – but it’s never too late to start mending fences, is it).

Been lying horizontal under a fan watching Netflix, sun bathing on the balcony, listening to music and trying to cook Jake nice dinners this week (flailing a bit at the end in effort and enthusiasm). I’ve been doing a twenty minute walk in the park most days to keep a little bit active and encourage labour and I’ve had a swim. The swimming wasn’t quite as relaxing as it was in the second trimester. Just heaving myself in and out of the pool and getting changed is enough exercise to wear me out. I think my swimming days are done until the baby emerges.

I’ve put on exactly two stone during the pregnancy so far, which seems a reasonable amount to me. It would be a shame if I suddenly ballooned in the last two weeks, which could easily happen if I don’t exercise – considering I did and am currently doing nothing in the way of cutting back sugar consumption – despite my second trimester resolution.

I’ve come to the conclusion that denying yourself sugar and fat when pregnant is cruel and wrong. I don’t care what the ‘nutrionistas’ say. It may be bad for the body but it is good for soul (and the sanity).

The first member of our NCT group had her little boy this week, which has made us all excited and jittery. He is a gorgeous fellow and came out fine, albeit with a little medicalised cajoling.

Physically, I still feel very stiff and uncomfortable in the morning, but I’m also savouring the last days/week carrying the baby. It’s dawned on me that she is probably the safest she will ever be in there. It’s quite nerve wracking the thought of ejecting her into the big, wide world with its germs, dogs, smoke, kids on skate boards, weather etc… I keep looking at her Maxi Cosi car seat and I can’t believe they are going to expel us from the hospital and make us drive through town with her in it – what if someone crashes into us? She should be transported home by helicopter, surely?

Jake and I have interpreted her recent movements as her wanting to come out and experience the world now. Her little limbs flex and push like she wants to join the party and make her debut – or perhaps we are just projecting our impatience onto her. I would be happy if she came right now, but I also just read she is still building antibodies whilst she is in utero (until week 42), so I’m not grubbing around like a worm that’s swallowed a golf ball for nothing.

I also pray she starts arriving in the morning, or at least the day, so I’ve got as much energy as possible for labour. I can’t fathom how women summon the strength to go through a labour in the early hours of morning having had no real sleep since the previous night.

(Prayer number: 2
Prayer name: ‘optimum labour time’
Status: dispatched
Notes: not sure if this one will have gone anywhere yet, and is perhaps a tad indulgent. I might withdraw it before it starts getting processed).

Jake is surprised by how strong her legs are now when she kicks and how powerful her hiccup-jerks are. It is quite reassuring to feel her packing a punch in there and working out her diaphragm for her first gulps of air. I pray everything goes smoothly for her on the outside and she deserves it to because she has been diligently practising in there.

(Prayer number: 3
Prayer name: ‘seamless baby transition into world’
Status: dispatched
Notes: please note this is a double prayer that has been dispatched both on behalf of myself and a baby who is not familiar with the concept of ‘the prayer’ but holds a full and untainted record of complete innocence, of which these un-depleted innocence credits should be upheld and taken into account when answering and prioritising aforementioned prayer.)

At this point, there is hardly any cushioning or fluid around her in my belly, so you can really feel the muscle and bone of her limbs and connect more with the reality of her as a real baby.

The thought of her having a voice is freaking me out today. Perhaps the most dramatic change will be her transition from silent passenger to shouty front-seat driver.

Here’s my ‘worm-that’s-eaten- golf ball’ look to finish:

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An alien planet

Still waiting. Still massive.

Over the weekend my friends put on a lovely baby shower for me and bought some beautiful things for the baby:

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Such a lucky girl she is.

I had a long chat with my pregnant little sister in Switzerland. I was struck by how different our pregnancies are. She’s carrying baby boy number three – his eldest sibling just three years old. Sis is in the process of moving onto and renovating a dairy farm in rural Le Noirmont, and says what with that and looking after two lively little boys, she sometimes forgets she’s pregnant with her third.

Cut to me in my flat in Surrey – sitting around Googling the significance of every twinge in my parts and conducting daily analysis of my boobs and bump for evidence of stretch marks (two so far, left breast, relatively minor). I think about nothing other than the pregnancy.

I think about the fact that I get to show someone things for the very first time in their life, and how strange, peculiar and awesome everything will seem to her (awesome in an archaic sense, not in a ‘Bill and Ted’s Totally Bodacious Adventure’ sense).

Our humble flat alone will be a completely alien planet to her. Her mind a blank slate, being emblazoned with the shapes and colours of earth. As her little eyes start to focus and she becomes more alert, I think about her first abstract views of our world.

The faces of her bedfellows:

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Mummy:

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And Daddy:

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And then her world will expand a little further:

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And further still:

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Already a veritable metropolis of the weird and wonderful – and we haven’t even gone out in the pram yet.

We feel so privileged to be her tour guides. We’re ready and waiting to start!

Calmness and serenity (week 38)

Pace of life has slowed dramatically since the beginning of maternity leave on Monday. I started off the week in a flurry of motivation, working up a spreadsheet of meals to cook each day, cleaning the house and ordering all the remaining bits and bobs I need for the baby from Amazon (I am conflicted about this having previously ranted about the pitiful amount of tax they pay in the UK, but you can’t get everything you need on the high street and in truth, costs would go through the roof without them).

I also went swimming and met up with my NCT girls. We all sat outside a Lebanese restaurant by the river in Kingston with our sizeable bellies – comparing notes, concerns, niggles, cloth nappy strategies, pram options etc…

There was a table of women next to us who all had babies of the same age – maybe six months old. It was strange. Like looking at a future echo of our own group, we observed.

One of them took a picture of us all lined up against a wall, standing sideways with our bumps proudly protruding. We are all laughing. The sun is shining and we look so happy and nervous.

I’m very glad I signed up to NCT as I think I would be lonely and isolated without knowing those girls were close by and experiencing the same emotions as me. I’ve been off work for a meagre week with only my own company and I’m already starting to feel very insular.

Yesterday the only person I spoke to all day was the butcher. She looked at my stomach and said ‘steaks for two?’ and I laughed and said ‘for three’, thinking of myself, the baby and Jake – but then realised she thought I was having twins. I was too awkward and flustered to correct her – so I will now have no choice but to procure another child to wheel in there with my own after she’s born, in order to prevent her thinking I’m some kind of delusional looney.

During the course of the week my productivity has slowed and the hours available in a day seem to have diminished. By 2:30pm this afternoon I felt so tired. I crawled into bed for a cat nap and woke up to the sound of the Amazon delivery man ringing my buzzer. I looked at my phone and it was a quarter to five. I’d had the most intensely deep and dreamless sleep. As I lay trying to muster to energy to lift my bulk, I felt paralysed with other-worldly calmness and serenity. Like how I would imagine a shot of morphine would make me feel. I wonder whether that will ever happen again.

Ready, engage, FIRE!

I saw Dr Taki yesterday and he told me that the baby’s head is ‘engaged’.

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I phoned up Jake excitedly, but after some light Googling, we realised it doesn’t really mean much – labour could still be weeks away.

I’m just relieved her head is locked safely down in my pelvis, because I have indulged the temptation to press down on some of the bumps that have risen up to the surface of my belly recently – and then felt concern that maybe I’d poked her in the eye or something equally unpleasant.

The mornings are achey, painful in the fingers, stiff, sore-throated, trapped-winded and stuffy nosed. By evening I’ve loosened up and my body feels pretty much fine.

I complained to Taki about my horrible Carpal Tunnel issues, and he said:

“The treatment is…” And paused, as I looked on in anticipation.

“Giving birth!” (and then he laughed slightly manically).

Thanks Taki.

The baby’s head seems to be bobbing up and down on my inner ‘poo button’. I can be happily sauntering back from Sainsbury’s with my hands full of shopping bags, and out of nowhere, an urgent requirement to evacuate my bowls will overcome me. 9 out of 10 of these are false alarms and they happen all throughout the day, leaving me flapping back and forth from the kharzi like a demented homing pigeon.

We’re so curious to see what she will look like. We’ve concluded that if she has my nose and Jake’s curly hair she will look like Barbara Streisand.

My dad helpfully reminded me that upon my birth, my face held an uncanny resemblance to 80’s Labour politician Arthur Scargill:

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We made the mistake of Googling a ‘mucus plug’ last night. Truly rank. Like something from the special effects department on the set of Ghostbusters. It put us off our Nandos that’s for sure. You’re tempted to Google it now, I can tell. But don’t. Really, don’t.

From nine to five to twenty four seven

Yesterday was my last day at work. I am now officially on maternity leave for a year (assuming I don’t squander my front-loaded maternity pay and savings in the first few months).

I feel a strange weight of emotions sitting in my stomach. They settled in as I walked away from my work building yesterday and are still with me this morning.

I’ve worked full time since I graduated from uni – and even before that, worked part time from the age of fifteen. I suppose I am aware that I’m embarking on the biggest change my life has seen so far. Bigger than leaving school, bigger than graduating, bigger than marriage. Soon I’m going to be thrust into a world I don’t recognise and have no prior training in. There will be no ‘handover’, no new job spec and no PA to make sure I’ve settled in, know where the coffee machine is and can log into my computer. It’s just me, Jake and the baby – trying, testing and making up our own rules.

At work they gave me a fantastic send off. They adorned one of the meeting rooms with balloons and glittery decorations, cake, biscuits, fizz – and very lovely little presents for the baby. We played ‘guess the celebrity baby’, I had to guess the flavours of jars of unlabelled baby food (which I was fairly bad at, as I’ve been struck down with a head cold and can’t taste or smell) and my colleagues had to try to guess the circumference of my bump with long strips of toilet paper. I was extremely touched by it all.

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We had our final NCT session last week. We practised how to wash the baby from head to toe with dolls and cotton wool. It ended up being all the dads that performed the task, as the ladies couldn’t get off their seats and sit on the floor. Jake got reprimanded for picking the ‘baby’ up by its left ankle, and then again – for lying it on it’s face in order to clean it’s arse crack. Silly though, he wouldn’t do it like that with the real baby.

We populated a 24 hour clock with all the activities we enjoy on a typical Saturday. Ours consisted of a lie in, followed by a two-for-one English breakfast at Browns, a potter around Kingston, lunch, lounging, a late afternoon walk, dinner, a film and bed.

We then proceeded to watch a demonstration of how our current routines would be blown apart by a cycle of feeding, burping / settling, fragmented sleep and then a repetition of the aforementioned.

Despite being warned how hard it is a thousand times by parents, it still hasn’t registered. I’m imaging I’ll just carry on as normal, but carry the baby around with me like some kind of bald chihuahua.

I now have anything from 0 – 5 weeks of unstructured play time ahead of me before the baby comes. I have a few things I want to achieve, but most of the baby stuff is done. I just aimlessly flit in and out of her room, smoothing her sheets, looking in her drawers and making minor adjustments to how her things are laid out. The calm before the storm.

Fear and excitement. Week 36.

It’s week 36 and everything I’ve been experiencing is becoming intensified.

1. Nesting

To put this into context, domestically I am not a motivated person. I have spent many a Saturday in bed watching Netflix and ordering pizza from Hungry House so I don’t have to go into the kitchen to make food or face chores.

Last week I had a surge of crazy nesting activity for about 8 hours. Some kind of force took over my body and I spent the whole day in a maniacal whirlwind, cleaning and what I’m calling ‘effort proofing’ the flat.

It entailed analysing each room and adapting it for minimum effort, sanitation and maintenance. I removed cushions that we had in the living room which shed feathers, I threw away material bath mats (which need to be washed every couple of weeks) to be replaced with wooden ones. I ran around Kingston buying cork boards to pin up the baby’s weekly activities and a ‘Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…’ organisational board to put on the wall. I cleaned out all the kitchen cupboards and organised the contents. I washed all the baby’s clothes and bedding in mild hypoallergenic washing powder, bought new soap dispensers and made a concoction of non paraben, non-perfumed liquid soap mixed with pure coconut oil. I wiped down the inside of the fridge and I cleared all surfaces of objects and clutter so they can be easily polished.

My eye seems to home in on dust and fluff on the floor like an eagle on a field mouse. I’m forever squirting loads of bleach into the toilets and my sense of smell is heightened, based on the fact I now seem to be able to smell everyone’s breath on the train and what the neighbours are cooking for dinner when I walk down the hall.

The next day I was exhausted, my legs and arms ached as though I’d been for a long run.

2. Excitement

A positive development is that, since we went through all the stages of labour at NCT, my fear of it has diminished somewhat and been replaced with sheer excitement. Labour means she’s coming, she’s actually coming. Yes, it will hurt – beyond belief probably, but I’m ready for the pain to come. What even is pain? It isn’t going to kill me.

3. Fear

Fear is frequent and significant. A list of fears is building daily, here are some of the most prevalent:

  • The baby will be placed on the floor somehow and someone will tread on her.
  • The baby will fall asleep and simply never wake up.
  • I will fall asleep holding the baby and when I wake up I will have smothered her.
  • Guests will come round, pass germs onto her and make her ill.
  • She will overheat (we bought a thermometer for her room and it’s currently about 26 degrees C in there, 6 degrees hotter than it should be).
  • She will just degenerate like the spider plant I’ve just chucked in the bin – and like every plant I’ve ever had.
  • And perhaps the most ridiculous: a wild animal like a kestrel or a fox will fly in or jump onto the balcony, snatch her and run/fly away, while I scream in anguish as I watch her move further and further into the distance until she is just a dot on the horizon.

4. Sentimentality and emotional instability

Can’t see anything bad, can’t watch anything bad. Can’t read the paper, can’t hear the news. Can’t acknowledge the horrors in the world because my baby is coming into it.

Physical issues:

I’ve developed Carpal Tunnel syndrome (when you fingers and hands become stiff and painful). This is most horrible in the mornings – my hands become stuck in a position as though they are bandaged up. It eases a bit throughout the day. The midwife says it should go after the baby is born.

I am becoming clumsy due to fatigue and the added weight. I tried to tread over my birthing ball last week and ended up treading on it, rolling over it and hitting the floor, which gave Jake and I a fright, but the baby is fine.

Baby brain (which has so far been a little difficult to distinguish from my natural scattiness) is now magnified to an almost Alzheimers degree. I’ve been getting on the wrong buses and tubes, moving things around the flat and leaving them in odd places, throwing valuable things in the bin – and most awfully, blaming poor Jake (initially), because I just couldn’t comprehend how it could have been me.

I’m breathless and need to sit or lie in specific positions in order to be able to breathe properly.

There is an increasing pressure on my pelvic floor, currently feels like there is the weight of a bowling ball bearing down on it. When I sit on the loo I feel a fleeting concern that everything may just drop out in a terrible and gruesome, freak prolapse situation.

Lastly, and most gratefully, the baby (who is getting powerful but sluggish) has turned around from her previously transverse position and is now – according to what the midwife has written in my folder: ‘ceph’, which means she is head down and ready to engage. She is a petite little pixie, measuring a week smaller than her gestational age at the moment – but still within normal range.
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On the boob

Last week my NCT group all met for a three hour introduction to breastfeeding from a lactation expert. Even the gents turned up, which was nice.

I’m burying my head in the sand about the role my nipples will need to play in all of this. I’m really not keen on the idea of having them chowed down on. Thus far, I’ve read nothing on the matter and ended up fleeing from Boots in panic last time I was faced with nipple shielding paraphernalia.

We focused on the very first feed and saw an amazing video of a baby, seconds after it’s birth, being placed on the stomach of its mother and slowly worming it’s way up towards her boobs to feed. The baby ‘roots’ by bobbing it’s head up and down on the mother’s chest in various places until it’s nose hits her nipple, which triggers a reflex for the baby to open it’s mouth wide and latch on. Apparently letting the baby bob it’s own way onto the boob is the best way to get a good and painless latch at first. If babies have a little pethidine in their system after birth, they will be too tired to do this straight away, but that’s fine because they can try once they’ve slept it off.

We learned that in order for it not to hurt the mother, the baby needs to get the nipple so far into its mouth that it hits the soft part of the back of the throat. Any less than that and it rubs against the hard ridges of the roof of the baby’s mouth and then you get the dreaded chafe. If the latch is painful, you need to wedge your little finger into the baby’s mouth and prize it off like a limpet.

We had a demo of different positions to feed a baby in using plastic dolls. It was slightly surreal to glance around the room and see the men practice suckling the dolls, but great that they felt comfortable getting involved.

We were prepped on the slimy appearance of the newborn by being shown a video of a brand new, slippery vernix-covered one – and warned that washing the baby straightaway is no longer recommended (as there are a benefits to letting the baby bask in it’s own vernix for a while). It’s sticky and yellowy white, not so bad really. A couple of the gents looked a bit peaky at the sight, and one mumbled something about probably needing to go and top up the car parking meter at that point. Jake commented that it was similar to keeping the plastic cover on your mobile phone for a little bit after purchase – sensible.

We learned of the benefits of skin-to-skin immediately after the birth – that the mother’s body regulates the baby’s temperature and the physical connection releases the hormonal influxes the mother needs to promote milk production and help her pass the placenta quicker. Truly amazing.

We also saw the different types of milk that we will produce – colostrum initially, the glutinous golden tree-sap-like substance packed full of antibodies for the baby, followed by a watery milk, followed by a thick milk – more like your average blue top, with dense nutrients. The baby needs to try and suckle through these three courses to get everything she needs. She should stop when she’s drained everything, but you have to check in case she’s just tired – if you swap her over to the other boob prematurely she might not get the thick milk at the end of the first boob. This is also why you should never time the baby on one boob before you swap to the other. Babies all feed differently, some are efficient feeders and can drain a tit in as little as ten minutes. Others can take up to 45.

Their stomachs are only the size of a marble when they are first born, so they will only drink a very small amount. Young babies sometimes like to ‘cluster feed’ – small feeds every tens mins or so.

Breastfeeding is tricky. We were advised to keep at it, and if it isn’t going swimmingly but you still want to persevere, it is better to encourage the newborn to suck from a little cup or a tea spoon rather than a bottle – as drinking from a bottle is much easier for them than breastfeeding, and they are clever little creatures who won’t go back to working the teat once they know they can have easier access to grub. Who would?

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Ode to my big belly

I will miss you, big belly, when you’re gone.

My precious egg
With your rumbling song.

My silent companion
I watched as you grew,
Holding a seedling, shining and new.

Slowly, you swelled
Happy and strange
Clutching our treasure,
Together we changed.

Watching your surface, the lake of Loch Ness
Stroking your roundness
Easing your stress.

Shirking the throng

Taking our time

Climbing the stairs

Waiting in line.

We never rush

Our goal isn’t speed

But slowly to nurture, coddle and feed.

We first shared our secret,
But now we can’t hide

We walk through the world
With our cargo, our pride.

Month after month, we’ve carried our freight,
Nothing to do but be

And wait.

Sleeping around you,
Siamese twins

You soak up your lotion,
Shadow my shins.

You’re noticed at parties
Patted, admired,
I’m grateful you’re there
holding court when I’m tired.

You anchor my day
And buoy me at night
Together we trundle, the end in our sight.

Soon we will part, my cumbersome friend.
Our time as companions must come to an end.

A wriggling, bouncing Kinder Surprise,

Breathless, we wait for the present inside.

Jessica Dearlove, 17.6.14

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NCT – session one

We’ve just got back from our first NCT session. You may remember me moaning about the price a while ago. Now I’m a couple of pay cheques down the line and the sting of the transfer is over, I can report that it has already been 100% worth the money for a first time fretter such as myself – and we’re only one session down with two to go.

We bumbled into a room with seven other couples – all the ladies with matching bumps, smiling mouths and tired eyes and all the men making lighthearted wise cracks with a detectable note of fear hidden beneath their jubilance.

We paired up with someone other than our partner at the start and had to learn their name, due date and the hospital they are due to give birth at – and report it back to the wider group. Over the course of the day we progressed from gleaning these fundamentals at the beginning, to sitting around freely talking about massaging perineums at the end, whilst studying laminated images of a dilated cervix.

I was previously preoccupied with whether the people at NCT would be my ‘type’, viewing the cost as a down payment on some kind of mummy-friend speed dating event – but once you get there you realise you already have the biggest thing in common with them all, and you really don’t need anything else binding you together to feel the comfort of companionship and camaraderie.

The highlight of the session was the woman running it – Rebecca. She was so very wise and knowledgeable on the subject of birth. You can’t underestimate how reassuring it is to have access to someone like that, who is available for six hours straight to answer your every idiotic question (and the idiotic questions of others that you never even thought of). A busy midwife would never have the time to indulge you in such a way.

We did a couple of exercises with the men and women in separate groups. It was nice to get people away from the partner dynamic. The women could then freely talk about some of the gorier aspects that they may have shielded their parter from, and it made sense to have the men together as naturally their knowledge base on birth matters was sparser than the women’s and their fears and worries were different. We had to write down what we expected from the course and the areas we were keen to explore. Then the men’s group had to basically create a birth plan, structured around them working through a series of decisions that may need to be made once labour kicks off, while the women created an image of their perfect birthing environment – an exercise which helps you to focus on what’s important to you.

The second half of the session entailed Rebecca talking us through each stage of labour in detail, running through the approximate timings of dilation from one to ten centimetres and all the physical changes inside the body i.e. what is actually going on in there during all the pain. Also covered were optimum positions to get into to help the baby come out, ways to breath to manage pain, things to think about wearing, packing, eating and such an abundance of other advice.

I’d heard some negative comments about NCT counsellors before I booked the course, in that they push for women to do everything naturally without drugs and are staunchly anti bottle feeding. I didn’t find this to be the case with ours. She was very human and very neutral. She seemed keen just to impart knowledge so we could use it as we liked, to help prepare us to make the right decisions for ourselves as individuals, both ante and postnatally. I was pleasantly surprised that she wasn’t a wafty hippie with Crocs on, but had extensive knowledge on the medical aspects. We were also really lucky to have an anaesthetist in the group who gave us a twenty minute comprehensive explanation of the ins, outs, pros, cons and risks of pethidine and epidurals.

I learned a substantial amount over the session today which I didn’t think was possible as I’ve been Googling for England. Internet research isn’t a substitute for receiving tailored information from a professional that’s relevant to your specific circumstance. I’ve also met some really nice people and have been left with a residual positive and excited feeling about the birth. Money well spent.