A couple of weeks ago, almost 10 weeks into bed-rest with baby number 2, I landed myself with another pre-term ‘break away’ to the maternity hospital. Bizarrely, I ended up in the same room in the same bed as almost two and a half years ago, when I had three-and-a-half week pre-birth stay. Thankfully, this latest stay was a whistle-stop tour of just one night.
It did however bring memories of my experiences on the maternity ward the first time around flooding back. The ward where I spent 5-nights after Evie was born, was just a few doors down and I could hear the squawks of the latest little arrivals into the world. I’m a few weeks away from my next stay (and hopefully nothing before), when another c-section is on the cards. I’m feeling slightly terrified, but can’t wait to be off bed-rest and meet tiny human number two.
Those first few days in hospital with your new baby are brilliant and exhausting. I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane and give an insight into some of the things that struck me about those early days.
1. I thought I was super-human and didn’t need sleep
Adrenalin is an amazing friend in those early days. Strong pain-killers are also an ally. Coming back from theatre, I could’ve taken on the world. Baby fed perfectly, nothing was a challenge. My little doll lay perfectly beside me. I texted everyone to announce her arrival, I took photos. I patiently waited until I could have some ice-cubes to suck on. Water and food is off the menu for a little bit post-surgery until they can be sure you won’t lose it all over the floor! No hassle, it was all good. Turns out I was just full of adrenaline and pain meds.
However, as the meds reduced, the postpartum hormones increased and the challenge of caring for a newborn with little to no instruction post major abdominal surgery made itself apparent, so did an emotional crash. It’s a bit like the technical challenge in Great British Bake Off – you’re kind of told what to do, but really you’re winging it. People are there to guide and assist, but you are on your own or feel that burden at least. Pour little to no sleep on top, and what goes up, must come down.
2. It felt like living in a tent for 5 days
For the three and a half weeks prior to Evie’s arrival, I was ensconced in the tranquility of a shared private room. There was the promise of a single private room post-delivery, if available. They were renovating the rooms however and our timing was a little off (another week would’ve done it), so it was off to a ward we went. Fine, no problem. It was actually brilliant at first. There were four of us and our babies, and it was the perfect balance of solidarity in new motherhood and knowing when to give each other space.
Due to the renovations though, our numbers quickly grew to six mamas plus babies and various visitors, in a room designated as a four-bed. When you’re in a room that’s often full of people and trying to figure out new motherhood, which let’s face it involves a lot of time with ‘the girls’ hanging out, you want a bit of privacy. The blue curtains around the bed stayed closed a lot of the time, and my stay became a bit more like a camping trip – albeit a very odd one.
My saving grace? I managed to get the top spot beside the ward sink and window, which alleviated the tent-like feeling somewhat.
3. It was like Heuston/Liverpool St/Grand Central Station
In terms of busyness that is, nothing else that happened was train station like! Hospitals are not places of rest. There’s a reason they have ‘quiet times’ where visiting is off-limits, especially for new mothers. It can all get a bit much when you’re not getting rest at night.
Night hours are you and your baba trying to figure it all out. You will be awake half the night feeding, changing, sterilising, praying for the morning to come. As morning breaks, what sounds like a fleet of trucks starts to rev its engines as it prepares to steamroll through the ward. Turns out it’s just rounds and breakfast. The curtains are whipped back and after a night in the trenches, you and baby are back in the world.
Waking hours are a blur of staring in awe at your child, feeding, expressing, more sterilising, visitors, health checks for the two of you and figuring out who can watch the baby while you shuffle slowly to the loo and maybe, if the stars are aligned, shower. Information pamphlets are thrown your way, your boobs are squeezed by (brilliant) mid-wives trying to get milk out while advising you to attend the breastfeeding class that’s on ‘right now’. What? It’s on now. WTF? What do I do with the baby? I can barely walk. Hmmm…I didn’t go.
4. I felt like a cow
Moo… Poor cows… There is nothing quite like that first time hooking yourself up to a hospital grade double breast pump in front of your husband/partner/significant other and half the visiting public as some of the (very lovely, hard-working and kind) hospital staff keep whipping the curtains back. Top tip: try not to laugh post c-section. It dissolves the tension, but wow, does it hurt?!
You may feel like a cow, but that pump will be your friend in those early days. It extracts that liquid gold like no other, particularly when you have a tired, sleepy little early baby like we did.
Basically, leave your dignity at the door, they have lockers for it on the way in…turns out you’re not really that bothered about it anyway.
5. I couldn’t quite believe that this little person was mine to love and treasure
When your new tiny human arrives, you can’t quite believe it. You stare at them in awe, touch their little limbs, stroke their beautiful face and your mind is generally blown. The protective instinct that develops over your pregnancy kicks up a gear. You can’t imagine them ever not being here. It’s hard to equate the little wonder in front of you with the miniature person that was wriggling around in your belly and pressing down on your bladder.
I think it’s important though to say that although you love your baby unconditionally when they arrive, it may take some time to fall ‘in-love’ with them. We often have ideas of how we should feel. Pregnancy and birth is, without a doubt, wonderful, but it’s also messy, hormone-laden, painful, confusing and overwhelming. Newborns don’t come with instructions. If you don’t feel that rush of love off the bat, don’t worry, it’s totally normal and will eventually come.
Everyone’s experience of those first few days is different. It’s wonderful and overwhelming. My experience involved a premature baby (who thankfully didn’t need additional neo-natal care) and a c-section with a 5-night post-birth hospital stay in a busy ward.
If you are lucky you will be in the trenches with other like-minded new mamas. It’s good to talk and learn from each other. We’re all figuring this out together and although we may be fearful at first, our instincts are strong and we should trust them.
I’m hoping my upcoming post-birth stay will be shorter than 5 nights, but I’m also very thankful that first time around I was allowed the time to get my head around motherhood before being turfed out. That said, when the time came for us to go home, I practically ran (slowly waddled) out the door.
And when we finally got there, the security of home, after a month in maternity hospital, felt like heaven.