Mumsnet Postnatal Care Campaign

It’s hard to write this without sounding whinging, or ungrateful, or NHS bashing. And I’m none of those. Well, I’m definitely not ungrateful, and I absolutely think the NHS is one of the most amazing things about our country, although, to be fair, I probably do whinge a bit sometimes!

However, despite my massive gratitude for having had a healthy baby, and my recognition of the NHS as an incredible institution with millions of selfless, hardworking, dedicated staff, I want to write this piece to support the Mumsnet #betterpostnatalcare campaign, because it really, really, really matters.

I suffered, still suffer from to an extent, PTSD after a difficult pregnancy and horrible birth. None of that was anyone’s fault, really, just bad luck. However, I do believe that my sense of trauma and anxiety were massively exacerbated by my experience of post-natal care, or rather the lack of it.

I was due to have a planned c-section for medical reasons, but went into labour before the booked date. I had to wait overnight, in labour, for a theatre to become available. Halfway through the c-section, the epidural failed and I could feel everything. I refused a general anaesthetic because I wanted so much to be able to hold and feed my daughter, and so I was given massive injections of morphine to enable me to cope with the pain while the operation was completed.

Unfortunately the morphine affected my breathing and oxygen levels. I spent the next twelve hours needing continual oxygen, and observations every fifteen minutes.

Despite this, my husband was banished from the ward for two hours when our daughter was about 5 hours old, because it was no longer visiting time.

At 8pm that evening he had to leave us both for the night. I hadn’t slept for 36 hours. I had been in labour for 12 of those. I had had major surgery which had gone fairly traumatically wrong. I was still off my tits on morphine, catheterised and had only just had the drip and oxygen mask removed. Yet I was left for 14 hours to be solely responsible for my newborn baby. When she cried, and I pressed the bell for a nurse to come and help me lift her out of the crib so I could feed her, I was told off. I was told that it is important to mobilise after surgery, and she was my baby and therefore my responsibility.

I was too demoralised and intimidated and exhausted to argue. Instead I co-slept with my daughter in the hospital bed. I say ‘slept’ – she fed and dozed, as newborns do. I lay there, digging my fingernails into my arms to try and keep awake because I was terrified of falling asleep and suffocating her or letting her fall from the high bed. I know that co-sleeping can be perfectly safe, but I also know that co-sleeping whilst exhausted and drugged is not recommended by anyone. However, I was physically incapable of lifting her in and out of her crib, and I couldn’t leave her to cry all night without being cuddled or fed, and no-one would help me, so I had no choice. When I drifted off to sleep periodically I would startle awake 20 minutes later from an excruciatingly vivid nightmare that I had suffocated her. My pulse would be racing and I would be bathed in terrified sweat as I checked she was ok, and then redoubled my efforts to stay awake. These nightmares continued for months afterwards; I still have them occasionally 2.5 years on.

The next morning, my husband still wasn’t allowed back on the ward until 10am. A midwife came in to remove my catheter, and told me to go and have a shower, alone, and remove the dressing from my c-section wound.

It was now 48 hours since I had slept properly. I asked the midwife if someone could keep an eye on my baby while I showered. She looked at me like I was mad, and said “she’s not going anywhere, you know” and left it at that. I asked if I could wait until my husband arrived, and was told the dressing had to be removed within 24 hours of the operation or it would become infected.

I went to the shower. I felt faint. I tried, and failed, to remove the dressing which was stuck to my stitches with dried blood. I felt even fainter. I sat on the floor of the shower, blood pouring out of me, and cried my eyes out. I have never felt so lost, so lonely, so abandoned. For weeks afterwards I was terrified of having showers and touching or seeing my scar, even in the safety of my own home.

When the obstetrician did her ward round I confessed that I hadn’t been able to remove my dressing. She did it for me, and was horrified that I had been told to do it myself. She was also adamant that, 12 hours after a c-section, it was absolutely acceptable to ask for help lifting the baby in and out of the crib.

I begged to go home that day, but wasn’t considered well enough. I didn’t tell my husband or parents when they visited what the night had been like. I just couldn’t talk about it. In fact my daughter was 18 months old before I could speak about it at all. Watching my husband leave that second evening was so bleak. I wanted to be happy; I had my much longed for, long awaited, perfect and adorable baby, but I was so scared and traumatised that I just couldn’t enjoy her.

It is unbelievable to me that, in the 21st century, we see fathers being able to spend the time immediately after birth with their partners and new babies as an optional luxury rather than a necessity. Post-natal care seems to be caught in a cleft stick, with hospitals too short-staffed and under-resourced for nurses and midwives to be able to help and support mothers postnatally, but fathers and other family members not allowed to be there the whole time, especially overnight, leaving mothers and babies totally vulnerable and unsupported.

We know that breastfeeding rates are poor in the UK. We know that rates of postnatal mental illness are high. It seems self-evident that poor post-natal care in hospitals is a huge factor in both of these, and I very much hope that the Mumsnet campaign leads to some dramatic improvements. Because there are many excellent reasons why my husband and I now consider our family to be complete, but the fact that I am too scared ever to contemplate another stay on a postnatal ward really shouldn’t be one of them.

 

This post is entirely my experience of giving birth at the end of 2014, but it was written to support the Mumsnet Campaign to improve postnatal care for all mothers and babies. Click on the link if you would like to get involved.

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Six Months of Nothing New

We’re half way through 2017, and as I am also half way through my buying nothing new challenge, I thought it was probably time for another update.

So, how has it been going?

First of all, I should ‘fess up to my tumble off the wagon. I bought a new tablecloth. I am weak. A local friend runs a wonderful textile business, Etoile Home, and sadly she is closing it down. That meant piles upon piles of delicious bargains popping up in my Facebook and Instagram feeds, and in the end it turns out that, like Oscar Wilde, I can resist everything except temptation. Oscar-leaf-Tablecloth__yellow_WThe tablecloth I bought is yellow, which always gets a massive tick from me, and stain-resistant (another tick), and was reduced to £10. And I’m not even remotely sorry, because I love it so much!

In other new purchases, both children have had (yet more) new shoes, and I also acquired a bright red Ariel wig as Anna was jointly playing the lead role (not-so-stealth boast) in her school’s production of The Little Mermaid. And then last week, when the thermometer in Sophia’s bedroom was reading 28 degrees, but she was still refusing to go to bed without her sleeping bag, there was an emergency purchase of a JoJo Maman Bebe muslin sleeping bag. I even forked out for next day delivery. I’m pretty sure anyone parenting a toddler during a heatwave would agree that your night’s sleep being (further) compromised is an emergency, and anything which mitigates this is totally justified.

Luckily, it was the Walthamstow Village Jumble Trail – one of the highlights of my calendar – the weekend the heatwave descended, and I managed to get a really good quality John Lewis fan for Anna’s bedroom there. Along with a barely worn Joules skirt for me for 50p, a beach ball for the paddling pool for 50p, a pop-up fairy castle tent for £2, a Zara dress for Anna for 50p and 4 pairs of pyjamas for the children (3 of them brand-new with tags) for £5.

This was the same weekend that husband and I had managed a sneaky night away together in Amersham, and I hit charity shop gold.
Amersham is a very well-heeled, well-to-do little town on the edge of the Chilterns, and I bagged a duck-egg blue Hobbs cashmere sweater for £7, some ultra-comfy animal print trousers for £7, and the star of the show, a brand-new-with-tags Toast dress, for just £25. I know this adds up to nearly £40 of spend, but the items would come to almost £300 new. vintage alphabetAnd whereas I’m not averse to the odd Primark bargain, I do think that one thing this year has taught me is that it is better value to scour charity shops or jumble sales, or stalk eBay, for really amazing clothes from more expensive brands you love, rather than spend the equivalent money on cheap treats.

We’ve had a few Sell or Swap delights as well – a lovely framed vintage-style alphabet poster for Sophia’s room, and a pile of gorgeous age 3-4 Mini Boden clothing for me to stash away for next year. mini boden clothes

Seeing everyone’s sales bargains on Instagram is tough at the moment, not to mention the emails continually popping up offering discounts of 40%/50%/60%. We won’t even get started on the fact that I’m missing out on the Boden sale! However, I can’t really complain. Thanks to charity shopping and jumble trailing we have all enjoyed plenty of treats recently, spent a lot less money, and had the satisfaction of supporting good causes or making a little extra money for friends and neighbours with the purchases we have made.

Crazy summer days

It’s that time of the year again. The paddling pool is out, we risk being late for school every day as I attempt to apply suncream to one small octopus-eel hybrid masquerading as my youngest daughter and conduct a ten-minute search for both children’s sunhats, and husband was hosing Anna down in the garden at 9.30pm last night as she was hot, sticky, fractious and totally unable to sleep. I love the idea of summer – salads in the garden, ice-creams in the park, floaty dresses, and trips to the seaside – but the sad reality is that I think I’m just a bit too pasty and British to be able to cope with temperatures over about 22 degrees celsius.

Not to mention the fact that as soon as school is back after May half-term, Anna’s social calendar, and therefore my to-do list, goes stratospheric. Now she’s at pre-school, Sophia is in on the act too. This is what we have in the diary, so far, for this week and next:

  • Paddling pool playdate here with Anna’s friend
  • Arranging to meet a woman who lives on the other side of Walthamstow so that we can exchange Lego cards on behalf of our children
  • School trip to museum, Anna to be dressed in Victorian schoolgirl costume (that will be fun for her on the Tube in this weather!)
  • Wear Yellow to School to support Cystic Fibrosis research (remember to take money, and lend a yellow t-shirt to Anna’s friend)
  • Cake sale at school to raise money for World Wildlife Fund (need to bake a cake)
  • Hospital check-up for Sophia
  • Leafletting to advertise Pre-school Summer Fete
  • Pre-school Summer Fete (need to bake a cake for the cake stall, and provide an example of our family’s ethnic cuisine for the International stall. Umm, fish fingers?)
  • Merton College Family Garden Party (alright, to be fair, this is actually mine and husband’s social activity. The theory is that we get to catch up with some of our oldest and closest friends while our respective offspring play contentedly together in the ancient and beautiful garden, continuing our wonderful friendships into a second generation. The reality is probably that we manage to exchange no more than three interrupted sentences over the course of as many hours because our time is occupied with attempting to prevent our respective offspring demolishing said ancient and beautiful garden and/or each other. However, there will be Pimms.)
  • Trip to opticians to have Anna’s new glasses fitted
  • Another playdate
  • Anna’s friend’s Eid party
  • Primary School Summer Fayre (need to bake a cake for the cake stall, take in a bottle for the bottle tombola, a chocolate item for the chocolate tombola and sort out some books and bric-a-brac for, yes you’ve guessed it, the book and bric-a-brac stalls).

I’m also being ceaselessly badgered to arrange a time for another of Anna’s friends to come round so that they can hold the Fairy Queen tea party they’ve been planning in minute detail. And, on top of all this, those pesky children still insist on being fedEvery single day. At least three times.

However, there are also advantages to summer. We are eating every meal outside, which greatly reduces the hoovering. The laundry dries really quickly. If you ignore the plethora of primary coloured plastic with which it is littered, the garden looks lovely. And yesterday, in Mega Mummy Win of the Week, I got Sophia engaged in water play which involved her repeatedly filling a beaker with water and then pouring it over my feet and legs. Sheer bliss.

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Vote positive

Much as I would like to believe that this general election could result in a change of government, it sadly looks fairly unlikely. However, I truly believe that actually voting has never been more important. vote pic 2

Even if we can’t change the government, let’s go out and cast votes for candidates who want things to be different. Candidates who believe in diversity and co-operation rather than division and hate. Candidates who believe in fair and progressive taxation used to ensure that everyone has access to the help and support they need. Candidates who are passionate about opposing cuts to, and privatisation of, education, the NHS, social care and benefits. Candidates who know that doing everything possible to halt climate change is the only way to ensure a future for our children and grandchildren.

Vote for positivity and hope rather than negativity and fear. But, most of all, vote.

 

 

Beside the seaside

It’s an appropriately grey, rainy and blustery day for the first day back at school, preschool and work after a (mainly!) sunshiny half term at the seaside.

We rented a cottage in Hastings for the week, and had the most idyllic time imaginable. I’m surprised Hastings isn’t better known as a holiday destination, because it is perfect in every way, from the narrow, higgledy-piggledy streets of the Old Town lined with independent cafes and delightful antique shops, to the dramatic cliffs rising up straight from the town, their tops a lush carpet of wildflowers leading to the South Downs beyond, to the waves crashing on the beach and the fishermen pulling in their catch, to the traditional family holiday amusements of fairground and crazy golf it has everything you could want.

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We spent hours on the beach, paddling, wave jumping, hunting in rock pools, searching for pretty pebbles and shells, burying each other’s legs and damming streams. The children were both in their element. The miraculous thing about a seaside holiday is that, even though we took practically no toys (Anna had her Kindle and her favourite soft toy, Sophia had a handful of picture books as well as Mouse and Bunny, who are indispensable sleep aids), and we bought a couple buckets and spades, and they were both totally content with these for the whole week.

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We had a morning at the fair, and an afternoon playing crazy golf (which by some fluke I won, managing no less than two holes in one!), and then a couple of day trips out to National Trust properties in Sussex. Bodiam Castle is the ultimate child’s storybook medieval castle, complete with moat, and we got there by steam train! Bateman’s is  Rudyard Kipling’s old home, and dreamily beautiful. June must be one of the best months to see an English country garden, and this one was spectacular.

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I was feeling totally fed up with cooking and housework at the beginning of the holiday, and really needed a break. I was a bit worried that self-catering meant that I wouldn’t get one, but I needn’t have worried. We had fresh sourdough bread and pastries from the local organic bakery for breakfast each day, picnics for lunch – either humous and oatcakes or sausage rolls from the same bakery and a bit of cucumber and some cherry tomatoes to keep scurvy at bay, and then dinner was either fish and chips, a Waitrose ready meal courtesy of the Ocado delivery I booked for the first day, or something really simple like locally smoked mackerel and salad which was well within husband’s limited culinary capability. All delicious, no-one starved, and I have come home with a renewed enthusiasm for cooking. As for housework, well, we were out pretty much all day every day, so things didn’t really have a chance to get messed up.

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I find being by the sea so therapeutic that I have come home refreshed, calmed and energised. Oh, and determined to start a fund to buy a second home in Hastings Old Town. Maybe if I start saving £2 coins…?