This post forms part of my Birth Story The first part is here.
S came out of NICU on a Saturday afternoon, and I believed we’d probably be going home the next day. Maybe, at a push, the day after. She had been starting to try and feed, and I was sure my milk would come in soon.
On the Sunday, the ex didn’t visit. He couldn’t get a baby sitter. I found it really tough. In NICU you’re only supposed to have two people at a time with the babies, and I didn’t want to have to deal with scheduling people or having to turn them away. I couldn’t bear the thought of two people turning up, and perhaps having to leave my baby’s side so that they could gawp at her. Plus I just didn’t want people to see me in that state. I had contacted everyone and told them it was best not to visit. When we came out of NICU, I knew there was no chance of going home before we had established breastfeeding, and I wanted to concentrate on that without feeling self conscious about random visitors turning up half way through. I told people it was best not to come, so that I could concentrate on the breastfeeding and get out of hospital. It was starting to do my head in a bit.
So that Sunday, I saw nobody. All day, it was just me and S and the ward staff, and someone from NICU every 3 hours. By the afternoon it was starting to get to me. I was surrounded by happy couples, men arriving with gifts for their wives and new babies, fawning over them, doing things for them, cuddling up with them. I was sitting on my bed, reading a book, bored out of my mind. S was still very sleepy so she mostly slept on my chest in between feeds. I couldn’t get any phone signal to be able to call or text anyone much, and didn’t really want to any way. I didn’t want to tell people how unhappy I was, how abandoned I felt. And I knew that if people found out the ex wasn’t with us I would be in trouble for making him look bad. So I stuck it out, and just cried quietly to myself.
In the next couple of days, my milk came in. I was sure this was a sign we would be going home soon. S still had her feeding tube, but I thought now my milk was in she would just feed, and it would be fine. I began expressing milk and putting it in the fridge, ready to be fed to her in her tube instead of the formula. I felt a lot better now that we weren’t relying on the formula to feed my baby. One of the NICU nurses was called Naomi. She had looked after us in NICU, and she also came down to the ward to feed S. I remember she was off for a couple of days, and when she came back she came down to feed S. I was holding her, sitting on the bed and said to Naomi, oh, there’s some milk in the fridge I’ll just grab it for you. I started to wander off and she said, “aw, can I have a little hold of S while you’re gone?” So I left S with her, and went to get some of the milk I’d expressed from the fridge. When I returned, I handed it to her and took S, and she began doing her paperwork – they recorded whether S had had a wet nappy since the last feed and a couple of other things. Naomi was busy going through this, and getting the syringe ready to put the milk into S’s tube, when she looked up and said “I’ve just realised you’ve handed me expressed milk, not formula!! Your milk came in! I’m so pleased!” There may have been a little yelp there too. She was genuinely pleased that my milk had come in and that S was now getting breast milk.
One evening, S pulled her feeding tube out. It wasn’t the first time she’d done it; she’d pulled it right out once before, but had also half removed it a few times too. It was almost feed time, so I waited for one of the NICU nurses to come down. It was Naomi again. She said, well since your milk is in and she’s been feeding from you a bit, how about we just don’t put it back in? Instead we can top her up from a feeding cup. I was so excited; now there was no feeding tube, surely we could go home really soon. I fed S, and then we gave her some of my expressed milk from a little feeding cup. It was very messy, but I didn’t care. The next day the doctors reviewed S’s progress, and said that fine, she didn’t have to have the tube put back in – but that she must have X amount of milk supplemented on top of her feeds each time. They were worried about her losing weight.
During that first day of breastfeeding, S put on a ridiculous amount of weight in the space of 24 hours. It was Tuesday, and I remember them bringing the scales round, and saying to her, “think fat, we need a big number so we can go home!” they weighed her and it was a good number. I was hopeful they would let us out. I’d got up that morning and sorted through all our things, packing them into bags ready to go.
When they said we couldn’t go home I cried. I couldn’t help it; I was sick of being in hospital, on my own. I remember one of the ward staff coming to collect my plate, and asking if I wanted her to leave any of it with me to eat later. I said no, I wasn’t hungry. I think it was the only time I was properly short with any of them, and I felt bad for it. She was lovely about it though, and just told me I needed to keep my strength up. I remember Kit coming down to help with feeding; even though I was breastfeeding S now, they were still coming to support us and make sure it was going well. She told me if I wasn’t getting on well sitting up on the bed with her, perhaps we could try it laying down. I cried and said, if I lay her on the bed with me the ward staff will tell me off, I can’t remember what else I said but I basically just broke down and blubbed for a while. Kit was so supportive. She told me that it might seem like a never-ending nightmare right now, but in reality it was only a few days at the start of S’s life, and soon it would feel like nothing. She put so much effort into helping us to establish breastfeeding, and could see how much I needed to get out of there.
I think it must have been on my notes that I was a high risk for PND. Most mothers have their babies, and have left the ward within a couple of days. I had been there over a week now. They still came round to do obs, check my blood pressure and my temperature, but it was a formality. They would chat to me, ask how I was feeling, explain that I could go back onto my medication if I wanted to. We talked through warning signs for PND, and how important it was that I ask for help if I felt I needed it. I hated being in hospital. I’m normally a fairly solitary person, and to be in a position where I was sharing a large room with several other people, with no door to close behind me for a bit of privacy, using communal toilets and showers, having to walk past strangers in my pyjamas, was really getting to me. Kit had suggested to the ex that I might fare better in a private room, but I knew he would never make such a fuss for me, and I would be in trouble if I requested such a thing myself. After all, S and I were nothing special.
I’d been in hospital over a week now, and had run out of most of the things I’d packed in my hospital bag. I’d had to ask the ex to bring more nappies, more cotton wool, more maternity pads, more clean knickers, more clothes, more shampoo. He brought most of the things I asked for, as if he were doing me a great favour by providing these things. He took his kids to school by 8 each morning, and the bus from his house came straight to the hospital, but he still never got to me before lunch time. He never arranged for someone to pick his kids up from school, so each day it would get to the time he would need to leave to pick the kids up, and he would try and get me to call his neighbour and ask her to pick them up. Apparently, I should ask her because it was me she would be doing the favour for, letting him stay with us. I refused, embarrassed at having to ask at such short notice, and he would text her. Sometimes she answered in time, and he didn’t have to leave. Other days he had to go. I could never understand why he didn’t just ask his neighbour in advance, please would you pick the kids up from school this week so that I can visit Vicky and S in the hospital. He never did though.
He would take away mine and S’s dirty clothes, wash them and bring them back. But he refused to buy non-bio washing powder for S’s clothes. He also refused to sort the washing, so the only babygros I had that did fit S came back dyed dingy brown colours and smelling strongly of the scents used in biological washing powder. I didn’t want to put them back on her in case they irritated her skin. The pile of clothes, blankets and… well, just crap next to my bed got larger and larger, but he would never take more than a bag away with him at a time – despite the fact the bus went straight from the hospital to his house.
He complained that he was tired and stressed, that his house was a mess, that it was really upsetting him to visit us in the hospital, breaking his heart, he wanted us home. If I asked him to stop off in town and get me something, he complained that he was too tired to walk around town. If I asked him to stop off at my house to pick up something I needed, he complained that it was too far to walk to my house, and would delay his getting to me. The bus from his house to the hospital stops in town, and also outside of my house. He would not have needed to walk further than 500 metres for anything. On the one occasion I did manage to persuade him to pick something up from my house on the way, he arrived a full hour later than usual. One day I asked him why his Facebook status mentioned his daughter being in the hospital, but said nothing about me. He told me he didn’t want to tell people I was breaking my heart being stuck in the hospital.
On the Wednesday morning, the shift changed over at 8am and I recognised a friendly face: Joy, who had been with me through most of my labour, was here. She came over to say hello and to see S; she didn’t seem surprised we were still there, but I suppose they have a briefing at changeover, don’t they. I thanked her for everything, and was so glad to have seen her again.
Later that morning, Kit came down from NICU. She looked at S and said she was worried about her jaundice levels again. My stomach lurched. They did another blood test. Kit came back with the graph from before, and showed us how S’s levels had gone dangerously high again. She said we’d need to use the lights again. I was horrified. I didn’t want them to take her away from me to NICU again, I couldn’t bear the thought of it. Kit went to speak to the consultant about it, and came back saying that we would have the lights on the ward, so that I didn’t have to be separated from S. I was glad they weren’t taking her, but still miserable. I had hoped they would be letting us out today. Seeing how distressed I was, Kit told me to take my shirt off. We stripped S down to her nappy, and she lay on my chest with the lamp over both of us. It was the perfect compromise. I lay like that all afternoon, stopped for some tea and a brief visit from my sister and sister in law, and then spent the evening like it too. I moved only to feed her every 3 hours. At midnight they came and turned the lights off, and took S up to NICU for a hearing test. When they brought her back, I fed her and put her down to sleep in her crib. I fell asleep as far down the bed as I could get, with the crib right next to the bed so that I could see her. Because she was premature, and jaundiced, she didn’t wake to feed. So I had to set an alarm to wake me every three hours through the night to make sure she was fed on time.
On the Thursday morning some doctors turned up. One was the lady I’d met the previous Thursday, who had told us they were taking S to NICU. She was with another lady, who wasn’t in scrubs; I suppose she must have been a consultant or something. I don’t recall her introducing herself to me, but to be fair I wasn’t entirely with it. She checked S over and asked some questions and made a comment that if everything stayed ok we should be able to go home in the morning. My heart sank, and I blurted out “why do we have to wait until tomorrow? Why not today?” The lady looked at me in surprise and said, we’ll see. A couple of hours later, the ex turned up and I told him I was determined we would be going home today. At lunch time someone came and took blood from S’s heel again to test her jaundice levels; they have to leave it for 12 hours after the lights are switched off, to get a true result of how effective the treatment has been. They found some scales and weighed S as well, and it looked good.
Finally, the word came that we could be discharged. Naomi came down from NICU with S’s discharge paperwork and said S would need to have vitamins and iron supplements, but that she didn’t want to hold us up by waiting for the pharmacy to dispense them, so she would have them ready for us when we came back in a couple of days for the infant first aid class they had offered us. We packed up almost 2 weeks’ worth of stuff and waited for them to bring my discharge paperwork. It was a very long wait, but eventually someone came along with some paperwork. It was a lady I was Facebook friends with, and had known when I was younger. It was so good to see a familiar face. She gave me some infinitely useful advice about breastfeeding (buy Lansinoh!) and told us we were free to go.
My sister came to pick us up, and we packed up our bags. S was dressed in one of the outfits her father had bought on that first day, and it was miles too big for her. I hated it, but it was important to him that she left hospital wearing an outfit he had bought. He had me wrap her in about four blankets to stop her getting cold, and off we went. All the way up the corridor, he told me I was holding her all wrong, I looked awkward, was I about to drop her? I was doing it all wrong, I looked like I didn’t know what I was doing, I shouldn’t hold her like that. When we got to the door, it was raining. We waited under an awning while my sister went and got the car ready. Again, I was told off for not having S wrapped up enough, the rain was going to get on her, I looked so awkward holding her. Eventually we put her in the car seat, and I sat in the back of the car next to her while we made our slow, cautious way home. Freedom at last!
At the time, I hated being in hospital, resented the constant interruptions from ward staff wanting to take my temperature and blood pressure and ask how I was. I must have had latching and positioning advice from every person who worked on the ward, and everyone saw my breasts in the end, as I gave up caring whether the curtain was pulled shut or people were wandering in and out. By the time we left I was so glad to be leaving. Looking back though, I am so incredibly grateful to the people who looked after both S and I. The NICU nurses I have mentioned in this post were truly amazing, and I believe they went well above and beyond what anyone would expect of someone coming in to do a 12-hour shift in a hospital.
Although my pregnancy, labour, birth and first few days of motherhood were far from perfect, and fairly traumatic in places, I can happily say that, except for the situation with the ex, I would not have had it any other way. I could not have asked for anyone to have treated me any differently, and were I to have another baby, I would have no worries at all about being treated in my local hospital, by the same staff.