It wasn’t so long ago that I was in your exact shoes; brand new baby and no idea what to expect or do. I had a network of people helping me then, which is what I aim to be for you now, but it was still a trying time.
One gorgeous February Tuesday Charlie came into the world and changed our lives forever. We, or rather I, was fortunate in that it was an uncomplicated birth and a relatively short labour. We stayed overnight in the hospital because of some minimal thing, and the very next day, or Day 1 as they taught me to refer to it, saw us going home.
The next 9 days were a little of what you’d expect; exhaustion, surprise and delight and the changes this little man bought to our family and the usual struggles with adapting to our new roles, and particularly breastfeeding. I had wanted so desperately to do it, to be good at it, but I found it hard, and painful.
They also included problems that I didn’t expect. I was experiencing sharp pain in my abdomen when breastfeeding – which was all the time – this was explained away as ‘after pains’ – something more common when feeding second children, apparently. Also I suffered with shivering which turned into violent shaking so bad I couldn’t trust myself to drive or sometimes even pick up the baby. I only really sought medical attention when one day my family visited and despite wearing 2 jumpers, a blanket over my knees and a radiator on full whack right next to me I was shivering so hard my dad had to take my tea off of me because I was spilling it all over my hands. My doctor – the second one, because the first said ‘you’ve just had a baby, this is normal’ and I knew it couldn’t be – told me I might have some residual placenta that was causing an infection, and I should go to A&E for an x-ray.
Yet still I didn’t, because far more pressing was the baby himself. Every midwife and health visitor I encountered told me he was a beautiful, healthy baby boy, but that he was losing weight. Not the normal up to 10% you’d expect in the week after birth but 12-15% in the first 3 days. It was a problem and the remedy I was told time and time again was to feed him more, which of course I did. Which lead to more pain, and more shivering, and more weight loss for Charlie.
Eventually, as very scared new parents, we took me to hospital to be examined, and were told I was ill. My infection markers were in excess of 350. Well that meant precisely nothing to me, what did infection markers usually read? 5 or less, apparently. Oh.
So that night, 9 days after coming home with my newborn son, I was admitted to hospital, with Charlie, to be tested for whatever infection I had. It transpired to be e-coli. Very unpleasant. But at least, I was reassured, there’s definitely nothing wrong with the baby. He’d even managed to maintain his weight for a few days.
The next day it felt like we’d turned a corner. Breastfeeding was still excruciating but I persevered. I had round the clock midwife support to ask all the questions I could think of and despite being anxious I at least felt that I was in the right place. And when Charlie didn't seem like himself I had doctors on hand to talk to about it. They all promised me he was fine.
By Sunday, I was adamant, someone needed to look at the baby. Just get better, they said, your baby is fine, they said. Then I got one of them to take his temperature. Oh. Not so fine after all.
That night, possibly one of the worst in my life, they took him away from me. Gave him a lumbar puncture, which is apparently very distressing for parents to bear witness to so they are not allowed to be present for. To this day I don’t know the full extent of what that entails because I refuse to google it. I do know it is to test for meningitis which mercifully they were able to rule out. The end result, however, was that Charlie had the same infection as me; e-coli.
Nobody knows if I gave it to him during pregnancy, or birth or afterwards. They can’t even tell if I gave it to him or if he gave it to me. Either way it was his turn to get antibiotics now, too.
The pair of us spent the next 2 weeks in hospital being looked after by doctors, nurses, midwives and baby specialists. I didn’t enjoy myself but in truth I have no complaints, they were amazing and I was just relieved to be in the right place to get well and to get Charlie well. And eventually we came home fighting fit and ready to enjoy maternity leave (as, I might add, an exclusively bottle-feeding mum). The experience was tough but what I took away from it all was that the NHS is a formidable institution which we are enormously lucky to have, and more importantly that a mother – even a new one, that knows nothing at all about how to be a parent – can rely on her own instincts when it comes to her baby.
Nobody, even the trained professionals, know her better than you do.
Trust yourself, it’ll make you a stronger person and give you the confidence to get through the tough stuff. Promise. x