Those damn first few days and COVID

When it was leading up to Charlie’s due date, we were in lock down due to COVID and there were a lot of mums to be out there understandably worried about whether or not we could have a birth partner due to restrictions. I tried to not worry myself into hysterics despite my anxiety about giving birth for the first time and not having a definitive answer as to whether I was giving birth alone or with my husband by my side, but I was a boss bitch and if I could give birth alone, I would be the ultimate boss bitch! Thankfully at the hospital where I was birthing, you were allowed one birth partner to stay for the birth and they had to leave 2 hours after you were transferred to the ward and you were only allowed the same visitor to come for 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening.

After Charlie finally showed her face the last thing I wanted to do was sleep; I was going to try and master breast-feeding, eat something and then watch her breathe. I awkwardly walked to have my first shower (which was the greatest feeling I have even known, despite being seated on a plastic stool with blood streaming out of me) and freshened up and let Charlie have some bonding time with her dad. The midwife on with me was the same midwife I had at the start of my labour and she had insisted for my husband to go home and rest and then come back for the visiting hour. We were still in the birthing suite and hadn’t yet moved to the ward so I asked if Rowan was to leave and come back could we still qualify for him staying with me until we went to the ward; she said no; if he left, he was now under the 2 hourly visits each day. I selfishly just wanted him to stay with me so we could all go up to the ward together and I would have him with me a bit longer, but I knew one rested new parent was better than no rested new parents. He left and I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t; my epidural was wearing off and I was suddenly feeling the pain of pushing a 2.89-kilogram baby out of my vagina and my very nice cut that the doctor left me. Not to mention I just wanted Charlie to wake up so she could give me her autograph because she was this perfect bundle of everything I ever wanted and she was right there! I still didn’t have a bed on the ward when Rowan returned and I thought for sure we had beat the system and he could stay a bit longer, but the midwife was privy to my plan and Rowan had to leave again to come back at 6pm.

When I finally got up to our room, I was trying to rest, but because of the temperature I spiked during labour, I was on 3 different types of antibiotics, so the midwives were in and out a lot. During one of the rounds to check the baby’s vital signs, they noticed that Charlie’s temperature had also spiked. Fearing that I could have given her what I potentially had, they took her to special care nursery for observation. Unaware to what the special care nursery was, I was doing my best to try and pee after my catheter came out and speaking on the phone with loved ones. Rowan called me to tell me he was in special care nursery, as they don’t have regulations down there for parents. I thought that’s so nice of them and waddled my way down stairs to find Charlie with a cannula in her arm and hooked up to constant monitoring. It then dawned on me that special care was an add on for ICU. I was instantly hit with 1000 questions and tears were just coming out of my face at an alarming rate. Once I had calmed down I went back upstairs to try and sleep and left Rowan to be with Charlie. My midwife came in and told me I would have to go down stairs every 3 hours to feed, so I set the alarm, but by the time I finally drifted off, the alarm went off in my ear and it was time to go down stairs and feed. My nipples hurt and it hurt to sit, but I sat down and took Charlie from the nurse and tried to feed. She couldn’t latch properly and she started crying hysterically, so I started crying hysterically and in between fits of tears I kept asking if it was normal to cry when the baby cried. An hour and a half passed of feeding and squeezing in a cuddle and I made my way back to my bed where the over tired thoughts were coming thick and fast and as I finally drifted off to sleep, my alarm went off. Rinse and repeat until morning.

They wheeled Charlie into my room at around 11 in the morning; I still hadn’t managed even an hour of sleep. Wheeled behind them was a big space machine of sorts and they told me that Charlie had become jaundiced, which was normal for babies born early, but her levels were too high and she needed to be in an incubator under the UV light to break up the jaundice from her skin and then flush the jaundice out with increased fluids until her levels were normal again. It all seemed pretty straight forward until they mentioned that due to COVID, they weren’t putting babies in the nursery and my milk supply was too low to flush the jaundice out, so she needed top ups of formula after every feed and she needed to stay in the room with me for the entire process. They put these cute little babies goggles on her to protect her eyes from the UV light, but Charlie kept pulling them over her nose and mouth and the only power outlet was on the other side of the room, so she couldn’t be next to me. Feeding every three hours now went as followed- feed 15 minutes on the left, then 15 minutes on the right, pump for a further 15 minutes to boost my supply and then give a 30ml formula top up, cuddle and straight back in the incubator. I couldn’t get her out to settle her; I had to use the holes in the incubator to pat her. So there I was, alone in my room with my baby on the other side, pulling her goggles onto her face. In the lead up to giving birth I joined a Facebook group on safe sleep and discovered how easy it is for babies to suffocate in their sleep, so having my baby pull something onto her face gave me this new and intense anxiety that I have never in my life experienced. My husband was only allowed in twice a day and the midwives told me they couldn’t come in to check on her if I was sleeping because they were so busy, so I had to stay awake to make sure I could pull the goggles off her face. By the time Rowan had come in for his evening visit I was now an inconsolable mess, collapsed in his arms and hysterically crying and begging for someone to just help me and let me get just an ounce of reassurance. It was no use, they wouldn’t let Rowan stay and they couldn’t offer me any assistance. They sent a doctor in to tell me this was 100% safe and that no baby had ever suffocated in an incubator; it was no use though because my mind had already convinced myself that Charlie was going to be the first. On my notes, they had next to my name “Nurse, New mum and anxiety” which to anyone would read “the worst possible patient to ever have” I was worried about the judgments I was getting from staff and even more concerned about the well being of my baby. I was treated like I was crazy and could sense the midwives frustration every time I pushed my call bell. It was made worse by the time my psych team was on their round with me and they decided it was a good time to introduce me onto anxiety medication, but at a higher dose than they had initially planned and I was to start the next morning. The night was long. After the hour of the feeding fiasco, instead of getting rest, I would sit on the edge of the bed like a hawk and just watch her breathe. During the evening one of my colleagues messaged to congratulate me and instead of thanking her, I unleashed all of my feelings onto her and asked for reassurance. As the night went on Charlie was so restless and I felt so helpless that I just found myself in another fit of tears and unable to settle myself. I felt so alone and so isolated and I had no one to tell me everything was okay and I was normal. It was around 2 am when my midwife was doing her round when she found me sobbing in my bed. She sat down with me and listened to my worries and concerns and made me feel like everything I was feeling was so normal for a new time mum. She explained that she also has anxiety and when her daughter was born with a heart defect, she too was treated like she was crazy by health care professionals, when all she needed was someone to tell her she was okay in her way of thinking and sit with her. She told me that I needed to get some sleep and that she would keep an eye on Charlie during her rounds if I could just rest for a little bit. I was able to get an hour of sleep and in the morning when she was on her way out, she gave me a big hug.  I wish I could tell her how much that hug meant to me.

In the morning I was given my first dose of my medication and about half an hour later I felt like what I can only describe as a low dose of MDMA. My jaw was twitching, my pupils were dilated and I was very twitchy and out of it. Now I don’t know how I did it, because I walked to awkwardly to get Charlie for feeds and darted about the room cleaning and organizing everything and making sure I was set up for the next round of feeding and pumping and feeding and pumping and feeding and pumping. Again I was in tears because how on earth was I going to look after a newborn while feeling like this and just had to kept telling myself it was all temporary. I had gone 4 nights without sleep and was now well and truly cooked. I timed my husband’s visit so that I could rest and he could watch the baby, but I just had my eyes closed and had a party for one inside my brain. I was afraid to fall asleep and by the time I opened my eyes, Rowan was gone and I wouldn’t have him again for another 6 hours. My psych team came in to see me again and saw just how cooked the medication had made me, but they said I needed to keep going because it was going to help me feel better so I could look after both Charlie and I better. They arranged for the night nurse to take Charlie to the nursery for one night, just feeding her formula and prescribed me a sleeping pill and told me to have a good rest and actually sleep. I cannot remember much of the day, but I remember the night nurse coming in with my pill and taking Charlie away and I finally settled in and let myself sleep. I was in such a deep sleep that when the midwife came in and said “Heather wake up, I have her with me” I sat up and said “who?” and if it wasn’t for the sudden pain upon sitting up, I would have no idea who on earth this woman was talking about. There she was. My little yellow angel, safe in my arms.

On the Friday morning we were told we could discharge because Charlie’s jaundice levels were not as high and by evening we were so quick to get her downstairs to the car and home, but made sure I sat in the back with her and we went just under the speed limit to get to our own bed, together. Climbing into bed after 4 nights in hospital and childbirth was the second best feeling I have ever felt. Charlie made a little noise and rowan and I peered into the bassinet to make sure she was okay and we continued to do this for the rest of the night.

The next day my parents were due to come over and meet their first grandchild. I was still feeling like I was at a music festival and probably smelt like it too, the night sweats were something out of this world and I woke up thinking my milk had properly come in and I wash drenched in milk. My parents came inside and within 5 minutes my out patient midwife came to the door and my parents had to go outside with my husband as you weren’t meant to have more than 2 visitors at a time. I had never met her before and she was quick to get me to lay on the lounge and spread my legs for a look. She assessed me by herself until my student midwife Rachael also came to the door to look over everything. I had my newborn, my parents, my dog and my husband all crammed out the back and two women inside with me watching how I pump my breasts. The midwife was cold and made no effort in easing my nerves and had no problem in telling me that I wasn’t doing it right. She then brought Charlie is and assessed her and then watched me breastfeed, again telling me what I was doing wrong with no signs on how to fix them. I then became so overwhelmed by the pressure that I just cried while she stared at me and realised she wasn’t helping. With a few kind words, I was happy to see her to the door as she told me to keep doing what I am doing and to continue mix feeding Charlie until my supply is okay.

Those first 5 days were the most challenging days I have had in my life to date. Some nights I wanted to just give up. I didn’t think I could do it and I wanted to quit and give her to another family even though I loved her so much. I felt so guilty for not being perfect and for thinking so negatively and it wasn’t until I opened up to a friend, that I realised how common it is to feel that way. I share this story because I want to normalise these feelings. I had no idea that I would feel so miserable and so happy all at the same time and at the time I felt like I was the only person in the world to ever give birth and feel like that. In saying that, not everyone feels this way and for someone else, the euphoria of it all might have been enough to pass through those baby blues. It took a village to raise me that week and once that week passed, everything fell into place just as I imagined it. I was now the chilled mum I knew I was meant to be and even a week later my supply for finally good enough to ditch the formula for good!

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