A New Arrival – And What I Learnt

Well, a week has passed since the birth of our daughter and it’s gone in the blink of an eye! Sadly, due to a fever, mother and baby were kept in the postnatal ward of the hospital for five days after birth. So between the initial checkups, getting booked in, induction, labour, post-labour recovery and antibiotic treatments for mother and baby, there were nine hospital days in total. Everyone’s home now, and we’re trying to figure out feeding and sleep and life. But before I get on to any of those things, here’s what I learnt from our nine days:

  • Induction: It can take ages, there are several stages/attempt, any of which might or might not work. We went the whole course, ending with the drop feed of syntocinon. That one worked, which is just as well as it’d been three days by that point.
  • Hospital Bag: All of those things were needed. Just don’t expect to get any reading done. Also, definitely bring a pillow, those chairs are uncomfortable to sleep in.
  • TENS machines: They sound great! By the power of electricity, early labour pains will be lessened! It seems their effectiveness is anecdotal at absolute best. We made sure it was properly applied by the midwife, it was a well-recommended brandname product, and it did bugger all.
  • Hypnobirthing: Might have been more successful if started very much earlier. Contractions tend to take you out of your mindfulness.
  • Epidural: As it happened the birthing centre wasn’t an option for us anyway, the induction forestalled that. But as a birth partner let me tell you, the relief you feel when mum’s pain vanishes is beyond palpable. It’s like a tension leaving the room and everyone in it.
  • Hospital Food: Everyone jokes about how gross it is. It’s not a joke, it’s bland, disgusting, barely edible. It’ll do in a pinch if absolutely necessary, but be prepared to buy sandwiches, bring food from home, or order pizza. And yes, postnatal wards especially are generally willing to let you order food in, and it was such a godsend.
  • Wards vs Rooms: If you have a long postnatal stay, try and get a private room. Some hospitals have them on a first come, first served basis, some have private, paid-for options. But it’s going to make quite a difference. You’ll have someone checking in on mum and/or baby roughly every 20 minutes, and they don’t knock. Constant in and out, endless interruptions, no matter what state of undress or distress anyone is in. Now multiply that by four, for a typical post-natal ward, and add in everyone’s guests and partners. Nightmare.
  • Breastfeeding: It’s tough. So much tougher than all the NCT and antenatal classes really tell you. We struggle immensely and even with five days of midwives at our beck and call to help, we’ve still not cracked it.
  • Skin to skin: Forget the apparent benefits. It’s amazing. Why wouldn’t you want to do this all the time?!

There’s so much more, those days went by slowly at the time, but now hindsight has compressed that to a mere blink of an eye. And all the difficulties seem so diminished when I look at my daughter, whimpering in her sleep and making little hoglet sounds.

Epidural vs Birthing Room

Ah, when we first discussed this, shortly after meeting the anaesthesiologist, this was largely cut and dried. Then came endless antenatal classes with all their talk of ‘normal births’, which are those of no medical interventions, vs the dreaded ‘medical births’, which are either the worst thing ever or perfectly normal, depending on whether you believe the midwives or doctors. So, the pendulum swung towards as natural and calm a birth as possible, one with hypnotherapy, scented candles, a birthing pool, light music and nothing stronger than gas an air, all from the comfort of the calming and medical equipment free birthing room. Epidurals aren’t available at all in the birthing room, and moving from one room to another at the peak of labour might be complicated.

Well you know what? It turns out there’s a middle ground. Maternity wards were already making provision for more natural births, with water baths and other facilities, before birthing rooms became a thing. Which means many labour wards have such facilities on site, as well as a separate birthing room. That, to us, and the advising midwives, seemed the best of both worlds. Provision for a calm, drug free labour, but if it’s required, all the facilities of the labour ward, including the epidural should it be required. So, we can try the water bath, we can utilise the hypnobirthing, but my anxiety levels can be mitigated by the knowledge that medical professionals have everything they need, should it be required.

Science, bitches! The epidural and you

A visit to the anaesthesiologist has been quite a contrast to a lot of the hippy, all-natural message we’ve been getting about labour pain relief. I get it, I have nothing against the all-natural childbirth and child rearing mindset. But it always bothered me that ‘it’s natural, and therefore better’ never seemed to be backed up with anything more concrete. It’s different to preferring breastmilk over formula, there’s proper peer reviewed science out there for that recommendation. But avoiding the epidural? None whatsoever. In fact, if the epidural is avoided and mum ends up needing general anaesthetic, it’s actually a bigger risk for the baby. While there are some potential, rare side effects from the epidural, none of them affect the baby. Gas and air, the common fallback, has the potential to affect the baby.

So, unless someone can give me a scientific, peer reviewed benefit to a ‘natural’ childbirth, it looks like science and a medical professional are likely to have the upper hand over anecdotes and the magical power of ‘surely it must be better, right?’.