To say labour was tough is an understatement but nothing can quite prepare you for after labour. The exhaustion, the blood, the hormones, the tears at two in the morning when your baby won't latch on, that first poo (yours and baby), the aches, the pain in your vagina, exhaustion, becoming a milking machine, your post-birth body, the overwhelming feeling that you are failing and you have no idea what the hell you are doing....but then he makes a little gurgling sound when he's feeding and then all is right in the world. Then the cycle repeats itself...
The First Two Weeks – aka: ‘Shock to the system’
The first night 'alone': We ended up back home earlier than I wanted as only could stay one night in Arbroath due to staffing issues. I still hadn't slept and I still hadn't felt much emotion but on the way back home with the little one in his car seat I just felt overcome with emotion and wept. I was terrified. I don't know how to look after a baby. I don't know what I'm doing. I can barely change a nappy; it takes me half an hour to put his vest on. That first night was horrendous. I wanted to sleep but kept listening out for his breathing and I was struggling to get him to feed. When the midwife came the next day she also said he has jaundice (hence why he looks so tanned - I didn't have an affair with a Mediterranean man!) which has just made me worry even more. But - we made it through the first night alone - through blood, sweat and tears.
The blood: Although my friends told me to expect lots of blood - I was unprepared at how much there was - and how long you are bleeding for. Having that first shower in the hospital looked like a murder scene. Blood everywhere. And just when I thought it had stopped - it began leaking all over the floor – and I’m still bleeding now two weeks on. My advice to anyone is to stock up on as many maternity pads as you can. You will bloody need them.
Exhaustion: When I use to say to my friends who have children that I'm exhausted and they use to look at me with what I thought was pity - I now realise they wanted to punch me in the face. This tiredness is nothing like I have ever experienced. I haven't properly slept since I went into labour. It's like I am in a bubble of exhaustion. It's particularly difficult when it's 2am and Rafe decides to do three explosive nappies in a row and then wee all over his clothes. That's a wild night. I'm trying to sleep when the baby sleeps but I'm struggling to do that. Will I ever sleep again?
Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding is by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It's mentally and physically draining. It sounds so dramatic but honestly - it's really fucking hard. I really struggled to get him to latch on to start with - especially my left boob. My breasts are ginormous and my nipple on my left is quite flat so I have to try and hold my ten stone boob, mold my nipple and then try and get the baby to latch on. Some days he seems to be a pro - then other days it's like we've both forgot what to do. Then there are days he is never off my boob (cluster feeding) or the days he has short feeds or does not seem to want to feed as much, or the nights where he has a glorious three hours between feeds and I get some shut eye. There are nights where I am literally crying and praying to God that he latches on. My husband is amazing and if I want help changing through the night he does it for me so I can have a break. But there was one night I wanted to let him sleep so he could let me rest during the day - and I literally had slept for maybe 30 minutes. He came in the bedroom (he's in the spare room as he snores and I can't wear ear plugs anymore…) in the morning and said I looked broken. And I felt it. And I feel like a failure when he doesn't latch on. And I feel like all I am is a milking machine. And it's like a rollercoaster. You have two great days where you think this is it - I've got it. Then the next two days are a struggle and he won't latch on again. And I'm watching his nappies like a crazy woman. (Oooh, it's mustard colour, that's good, oh god it's green, what am I doing wrong?) But when he has a good feed - and when the midwife came on day 10 and weighed him to say he was 90grams over his birth weight (babies lose weight after they're born) I felt like crying tears of joy. It feels like such an achievement and spurs me on to keep going and persevere as everyone has told me it does get easier. (Although the F word has been thrown into the mix a few times. Formula - although the other F word has been thrown around a few times too). The past two nights have been really tough as he has cried and been unsettled from 7pm till around 2am. I think he’s just got trapped wind – hoping it is not colic as that would be absolutely marvellous. My friend who had twins almost a year ago has been amazing. She said to write a note saying "this will not last forever" and pin it up to keep me going. I know this sounds like I'm being so over dramatic - but with the exhaustion, the hormones and just trying to get a hang of breastfeeding it really is so SO hard. So any advice to keep going/make things easier - please let me know.
The first poo: Never in my life have I been so scared to have a poo. Going for the first wee after labour was scary enough and I needed a good ten minutes to brave myself to do it. But thankfully it didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. But the first poo. The fear. Oh the fear. The thought of having to push again - and also the fear of bursting my stitches and the pain was so scary. But the thought of it was worse than it actually was. I was advised to bend forward with my elbows on my knees to help. And I'll leave it at that. I'm sure you don't want to read more about my bowel movements. But to anyone about to do that first poo - you can do it!!
My poor vagina: Don't look at your lady parts in the mirror after birth. James and the giant peach springs to mind. It's swollen and bruised and because I am sitting down most of the day (on a rubber ring) the pain gets worse during the night. I'm told it is healing well and the pain is just tightening but the thought of anyone (my husband obviously) going near me is terrifying.
Muscle pain: It was about day three when I woke up and felt like I had been hit by a bus. My back is in agony and every part of my body aches. I think you don't realise how much of a workout labour is - just a shame I haven't got a sick pack after it.
Hormones: People told me that when my milk comes in (day 3/4) I will be highly emotional. And that's so true. I think I have cried every day - a lot of the time over nothing. I really feel so sad for our not so little puppy who I think feels a bit left out so I keep crying about him. Then I cry because I am so tired. And then I cry when I look at Rafe and think - we made you. That overwhelming feeling of love you're supposed to feel straight after birth, arrived the day after and it's a feeling I can't describe. I love him more than I ever thought I could love anyone. And when he sleeps through the night I will love him even more.
My husband: People say having a child will test your relationship and that is so true. You're tired, you're terrified and you haven't got a clue what you're doing - and I'm crying for no reason and he has to take the brunt of it all. But at the same time, seeing him with Rafe makes me fall in love with him all over again. And he's amazing. He's pretty much doing all the changing and things around the house. It makes me feel so lucky he's home as if things hadn't changed - he would have left me at day 3 and then not be back till next month. I know you do - and I would have got on with it, as I'm doing now but to put it bluntly, it would have been fucking horrendous not having him here for these first six weeks.
Jealousy: This will sound a bit odd but because all I feel at the moment is like a milking machine, I feel like I am not able to enjoy cuddle time as much as other people are. Visitors get to cuddle Rafe when he's all snuggled and sleepy - where as I see him move and stir I instantly get my boob out. And I feel like I'm still taking so long to change a nappy and dress him. It's just all quite overwhelming. But again, I know it will get better (please).
My body: I was so self-conscious when I was pregnant about my weight gain and body but at the moment I don't give a shit – kind of. My body looks like a bag of sand but I've just made a tiny human and I'm not going to look like Cheryl Cole (or never did/will). I weighed myself the other day out of curiosity as I stopped weighing myself quite early on as I was traumatised by how much I had gained. I've put on two stone but I know that it would have been much MUCH more when I had an 8Ib 1oz monster inside me. I also tried to put on pre-pregnancy jeans - you know, just for shits and giggles and they just came over my knees (was hilarious...). It's crazy how much your whole body widens like a fridge. I wasn't going to share these photos as I feel quite embarrassed about how I look but I wanted to be 100% honest. So this is me nine days’ postpartum - and when I was four weeks pregnant. I remember thinking I needed to lose weight before I was pregnant. HAHAHAHA. What a tit. I feel so unattractive but at the same time - my body has just grown a beautiful baby boy and if I look like a bag of sand - well I look like a bag of sand.
Baby blues: This is real. I don’t think you realise how much it will change your life, but I don’t recognise myself. Obviously it’s only early days so I haven’t got into a routine yet (I love routine so this is hard) and I’ve been out for the odd walk but I’m pretty much on the sofa every day waiting for Rafe to wake up to feed. And I don’t mind that but it can feel quite lonely. Even though my husband is here – it’s in the night, at 3am when you’re all alone, with this tiny human sucking on your boob that you feel quite lonely. But again, I know this feeling will not last forever – and I do feel better(ish) every day.
I feel like I've moaned on but I just wanted to be honest. It's a tough old battle these first couple of weeks (and will be for longer) but it's also a joy. And trust me, I feel so beyond lucky that I have been able to fall pregnant, carry my baby to full-term and hold my baby boy in my arms. Seeing those beautiful eyes look up at me and hearing him gurgle when he feeds literally makes my heart stop and I know all the difficult days will be worth it once we get into a routine and I'll look back on these days and think - "we did it son!!"
And finally, I just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who got in touch after I shared my birth story – really was overwhelmed with everyone’s comments. And it was lovely to hear other people’s birth stories too. How would people feel about me collecting their birth story and putting them all together for other expectant mums-to-be? Not to scare them! Just to give an honest account of all the different experiences people have had bringing life into to the world - the good, the bad and the ugly. Let me know what you think!
Royal Marine Wife. Mum to Rafe.