Bronchi Bébés and the bladdy amazing NHS

The last few weeks have been a far cry from our usual pre-Christmas shenanigans. Both Boddler and Bebette were taken ill, and not just poorly with a Christmas cold, they both had collapsed lungs, also known as chest infections, also knows as pneumonia, bronchitis, also known as hospitalisation and – in Bebette’s case – intensive care. It was horrific.

This post is about that experience and – given the nature of the events – probably won’t be as light-hearted as usual. It wasn’t really a funny situation. Actually it was certainement the most terrible thing I have ever experienced. As I write this I will cry as I try to process what happened, which I’ve been politely blocking.

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Northwards we go

The story begins when we optimistically / naively thought we could take our babes on a “quick trip” up North to visit family and friends and do a bit of Yuletide celebrating. I had been fretting about the long car journey (usually 4-5 hours) with Bebette who, up until then, in all her 7 weeks had not managed a car journey *ever* without screaming her head off. I mean the simple sight of the car seat sent her into meltdown. I spent the day packing and prepping a routine to attempt to get her to the North, without our ear drums giving up their day jobs.  Btw the key element of the plan is a bath, which she hates, but exhausts her sufficiently to fall into a deep sleep.

By some miracle my travel baby plan went… to plan, and Bebette slept the whole journey. As did Boddler. Peace. For 3.5 hours (quickest drive ever – thanks Papa FF). We could not believe it. Little did we know that karma was waiting just round the corner. The next days we had some joyous celebrations and visits, until Boddler went to bed and developed a mad temperature. Actual temperature unknown due to my inability to pack a thermometer. We got ourselves so worried, Papa FF went off to borrow Auntie Em’s thermometer at 3am, which obviously confirmed what our hands were telling us – he had a raging temperature and was looking sick as a dog. We cuddled everyone together until daylight and then the next day – a Sunday – we dashed to purchase another thermometer (there were no Braun in the ear ones left, so we got a head scanner – we do not recommend the scanners – Braun in the ear is the way forward). Of course it was Sunday so the doctors was shut, meaning I spent the day frantically scanning Boddler’s head, assessing his behaviour, and consulting friends and family to try to determine what level of panic I should be reaching.  Boddler was coughing a bit, seemed to be wheezy, and breathing quite rapidly, had a gunky eye, was teary and clingy.  And hot. The best advice I got was to “look at the child not the number” i.e. stop freaking out about the temperature and look at how your child is coping with the illness. There wasn’t much I could do about the situation other than wait to see if anything got markedly worse – however every dose of calpol seemed to have a magic effect and Boddler went from lethargic to pelting around the house.  Just to add to the stress, Papa FF had to voyage over to France to say goodbye to his Bonne-Maman.  We had agreed to stay behind in the interests of a peaceful sendoff, but that meant I was left with the two babes and a worried Papa trying to assist from afar.

Out of hours 

Boddler was gradually getting worse and was clearly pretty poorly. A call to 111 confirmed he was indeed unwell, based on all their questions, and ideally should be checked out in person by a medical professional, asap. However I also had 7 week old Bebette, who was very fussy and frankly couldn’t really be left on her own for more than 5 minutes without having a meltdown. I was with my parents, one of whom needed to be in work the next day and the other who has recently had a double knee replacement.  Quandary –  Do I (a) go to the hospital in the middle of the night on a rainy Sunday, with a sick and tired Boddler, tiny un-immunised Bebette, and a tired Grandad, or (b) not sleep a wink, worry all night, fear for the worst until the morning and hope to visit a local doctor asap? Just as I thought I had made my decision, Boddler started to vomit immediately after being given a dose of calpol, and I could not for the life of me understand from the instructions whether I could safely give him another dose or not. I knew then that we had to make the middle of the night doctor trip, even though an appointment at 11pm on the other side of Sheffield was far from ideal. Off we journeyed with Grandad F as my man of the hour, and Boddler did another big vomit upon exiting the car, just to confirm we were doing the right thing.

The initial diagnosis at 11pm was a chest infection, high temperature and some difficulty breathing aka a trip to the Children’s hospital for at least a few days oxygen and antibiotic support. Urgh. Poor Boddler. And poor us as we were not prepared for this. Despite walking around like a bag woman I had not actually packed any useful survival items, particularly not for myself. If you need a glossy scented lip balm or foot massage oil,  I have 5, but clean undies, deodorant and water, negative. By now it was 1am and we were waiting at the Children’s hospital to be seen again. In amongst the drunk teenagers, and sick little people, the triage nurse kindly asked if I had realised that Boddler had a “very high” temperature (oh really? we were actually just passing and thought we would nip in for shits and giggles!) – after a little bit of drama during which Boddler decided calpol was poison, he eventually took it and kept it down, and so perked up no end.  He discovered a whole host of joyous toys to play with (*hospital toys are possibly not the most prudent option if you want to avoid more germs*) – and by the time he was seen by the young doctor on duty, around 2.30am, he was almost back to his normal self. Diagnosis now amended to viral infection with calpolic treatment and basically go home.  I have to say at that point Grandad (who had rocked Bebette into a peaceful sleep on repeat for the past 3 hours with his guns of steel) and I sighed with relief and headed back to the car and home.

Btw – side note – exiting an empty car park at 3am on a Monday morning, with a screaming Bebette and whimpering Boddler was bizarrely one of the most excruciating experiences I have had of late. I didn’t know what was still to come, but at that moment, both me and Grandad, who wouldn’t say boo to a ghost, were using expletives I wouldn’t begin to repeat here, in our attempts to try to find the exit, which seemingly was somewhere in the sky and at an angle that no one could reasonably be expected to manoeuvre into unless they were driving one of those tiny smart cars for ants.  RIDIKCULOUS. Then the car park ticket didn’t want to go in the machine, nor be read, having been rained on and squished beyond recognition by my derriere, and I genuinely contemplated glugging the bottle of calpol and throwing myself under the stationary car wheels.

Home, Boddler breathing and Duchess

Anyway, *trying to hide rage problems* we then spent all day Monday taking it easy and waiting for Papa’s return. Calpol continued to work / mask the extent of Boddler’s sickness.  A bit of a fresh air the next day and we were off back down South to the quiet safety of our own home. Alas, as we arrived at home, at 11pm, Boddler suddenly started to gasp for breath and vomited again. This time he was really struggling for breath, and we knew we needed urgent help. We calmed him down, helping him to breathe and cleaned him up, whilst we called 111 and they sent an ambulance.  After a slightly fraught discussion about who should do what, and Boddler intervening with cries of “MUMMY” in a full yorkshire accent, I was loaded into the ambulance with a weepy hot Boddler, my purse and phone and not a lot else. We arrived at our local A&E with a terrified little Boddler who had decided that every piece of equipment posed a threat to his life and even the oxygen finger reader was number 1 worst enemy.  He was just in his nappy (massive error on my part, why I thought a blanket was sufficient is beyond me), and we were sitting in the waiting area trying to catch a urine sample (too bizarre for words).  After another dose of calpol, Boddler was back in action at the hospital toy station, and at around 4am had made a new friend called Duchess, who politely informed him that he shouldn’t throw anything inside (“my mum says throwing is for outside only” – so true Duchess, I entirely agree) and was mildly shocked when Boddler started chasing her around the hospital and his nappy fell down. Ploof. It was the highlight of my night.  The doctor was again erring towards sending us home with a virus assessment, but I insisted they wait to review Boddler once the calpol had worn off.  Papa FF arrived with Bebette who needed milk urgently, and we all watched as Boddler deteriorated and suddenly was in the emergency room requiring oxygen and nebulisers. Giving small children nebulisers is like a form of extreme torture and anyone that has had the horror of being present during the process will confirm it is sickening to witness. Of course there is good reason for administering such things but it is deeply unpleasant holding a mask over your child’s face.

Fast forward to us being admitted to a ward and Boddler getting a hearty dose of antibiotics, more oxygen reading and beeping, and dodging his oxygen mask at any opportunity.  Time for another quandary: Boddler was not well and had defaulted to screams of “MUMMY” for all communication needs. There was no way I could leave him.  Papa did his best but Boddler was having none of it, it was Mummy or meltdown.  Bebette, who by this time was doing little barking coughs of her own, really did not need to be in the hospital full of germs for extended periods of time.  And our fellow ward friends did not need to have a new baby screaming in the middle of the night. Very reluctantly I sent off my tiny 7 week old baby with Papa, with instructions on locating the frozen milk stocks.  I pulled up my bed next to Boddler, along with a mega breast pump, a hearty supply of snacks and water and tears running down my cheeks.  You cannot be in two places at once.

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Activity walls of joy in the hospital

The next morning, Boddler was absolutely on the mend, playing and exploring, but my Bebette was looking decidedly worse for wear.  Papa had brought her in against our original plan, knowing she wasn’t quite right, but not wanting to alarm me before he got to us.  After I took her in my arms and noticed how quiet she was, and one of the nurses confirmed “that bebe doesn’t look well” I panicked and rushed her downstairs to A&E, where we spent the day being observed. Another long day in bright white lights, listening to the hustle and bustle and drama of a busy A&E.  Ultimately the conclusion was yes, she is poorly too, yes she has bronchiolitis, yes she has a temperature, but there’s not a lot that can be done so go home and rest. Boddler was simultaneously released, so we breathed a huge sigh of relief and headed home, to shower and bed.  We are done! What a nightmare.

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Bebette ups the ante

Alas, the relief was short-lived. After a trip to the GP with Bebette the day after A&E, and confirmation that her oxygen levels were fine, Bebette and I had a troubled night, with her feeding very little, doing little barky/ choking type coughs, and seeming again out of sorts, spiking temperatures. By Saturday morning she was visibly working hard for her breath and couldn’t feed comfortably.  (I made a video so if anyone is concerned and wants to see what a baby working for breath looks like, especially around the lungs and chest area, just get in touch and I can share it – it was useful to film to compare with the previous day to see that it was getting worse).

We packed our bags (being a bit more organised after the night with Boddler and nappy-gate) and dashed to A&E where Bebette was promptly put on oxygen and then opti-flow oxygen.  She hadn’t had any food for a good 16 hours.  Papa took Boddler back home for nap time and food, thinking all was under control.  Then the seriousness of Bebette’s situation really hit me. In my arms, she got very worked up with someone fiddling with her mask and then, suddenly, the colour drained from her face, she closed her eyes and passed out.  My heart fell through my stomach – I mustered a scream sufficient to get most of the emergency team into the room rapidly. Bebette’s forehead flashed spots of angry red and I looked around to see if anyone could explain what was happening, and to gauge if this was somehow normal… all I saw were terrified faces and at that moment I lost a piece of myself. Someone grabbed Bebette from my arms and started to rub her and pat her back, until her colour started to come back and she opened her eyes. There was a huge, collective sigh of relief and most people disappeared from the room as quickly as they had appeared, except the core team who continued to fuss around her and confirmed she needed to be admitted to the ward asap (we had been waiting for a bed for a long time).

I didn’t know what to do other than texting Papa to tell him to get in the car straight away.  I didn’t write much more because I couldn’t compute what was happening to our little lady or what we could do.

PICU

Fast forward a few hours, and a botched transfer up to the ward (it would have been perfect comical material if it wasn’t my beautiful daughter being jostled around) and Bebette is not improving. There’s a lot of talk about the “worst” part of bronchiolitis being days 3 – 5 of the illness. But of course it’s hard to determine when the illness officially begun.

Bebette is getting more and more frustrated by the masks and wires, she’s hungry, she’s absolutely knackered and almost certainly feeling like absolute rubbish as well. The lights are bright, the noise is loud and disturbing, she’s telling us she has almost had enough, and we are starting to really panic.  We start mobilising friends and relatives to look after Boddler because we need to be with Bebette.  Together, Because it is really serious.

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The paedeatric consultant, the same woman that discharged Alex two days prior, was brilliant and explained to us that there were two potential routes forward; one presupposing this is the worst day of illness, and that Bebette starts to improve, then more oxygen, more monitoring, antibiotics, lumbar punctures to check for bacteria in the brain (she did explain this in more detail to allay the immediate heart attack reaction – but as I’m clearly not a qualified medical professional I am just giving you the layman’s highlights) and hopefully home soon… the other was more terrifying yet, sedation, intubating, travelling to another hospital where they had paedeatric intensive care, … The consultant clarified that by intubating Bebette and allowing her body to rest, and a machine to breathe for her, we were giving her more chance to fight the virus, whatever it was that was causing her lungs to be infected and one of them partially collapsed.

As the time went by, the doctors multiplied, they came and observed the little lady, frowned, muttered, and eventually decided on the second option. Cue more sobbing from this mama, as I saw my tiny baby girl being wheeled up to theatre to be knocked out and intubated. Then the anaesthetist team pitched up and this is where the experience got even more crazy: we were made to feel very safe, very comfortable, to the point that Papa and the team were cracking jokes.  Terrible jokes, but jokes nonetheless. Everything that was happening was clearly explained to us, we were offered a hot drink whilst they were doing their work, we reviewed the X-rays with the consultant, and the next thing we knew we were in an ambulance, it was 2am, Bebette was safely tucked into a little space rocket, and again we were being offered a biscuit and a drink for the journey.  As a tired and hungry breastfeeding mama, I actually needed that biscuit.  It was just so thoughtful.  The chap leading the team and driving made everything seem normal and explained we were going to have the blue lights and sirens on just because “we will just get there a bit faster – don’t worry about it”.  The South Thames Retrieval Service even gave Bebette a little teddy, which she had with her all through the journey and which is now in her bed.  The service and the team were just fantastic.

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Socks were also critical to keep tiny tootsies warm – we were lucky enough to have a newly knitted selection.

So we arrive with our entourage at Denmark Hill PICU and are greeted by another team of legends who tell us to go and sit in the parents room whilst they get Bebette comfortable. Thirty minutes later we are allowed to see her and she is all wrapped up, with her little teddy, and her special fox blanket from Grandma that I managed to grab on the way out of our house, what felt like days ago.  She has wires and tubes and tape all over and I find that I’m sobbing again, feeling crap and useless, my poor tiny little scraggle and I can do nothing to help her. I’m a waste of space. I’ve had a daughter for a grand total of 8 weeks and I haven’t looked after her well enough.  I haven’t told her how much I love her and how much I want to love her.  I don’t know her yet.  Not being able to take my baby in my arms was heartbreaking.  Seeing her tiny body frozen, rhythmically breathing but, to the uninitiated eye, lifeless, …. I can’t even find the words.  We have not had enough time.  My body aches to hold her and feed her and to comfort her.  I can’t look at Papa FF.  I feel broken.

I knew she was as safe as she could be, but she wasn’t with me, and it felt all wrong.  I was simply not prepared for anything like this to happen.

For what was left of that night, Papa and I curled up on tiny sofa chairs and tried to sleep, between tears.  By this time we had mobilised family support and had anxious relatives waiting to hear what was going on, but we couldn’t really provide much by way of update. Those days were the scariest days of my life so far. I just did not know what could happen.  The team in the PICU were unbelievably fantastic, supportive, reassuring, took the time to talk to us and answer Papa’s 4,590 questions (one of them who was partially deaf had a lucky escape and missed half of the French inquisition) and were generally mesmerising to watch in action. There was beeping coming from all angles, tubes everywhere, and a cleanliness regime so strict that I found myself day dreaming about antibacterial soap and wearing a giant glove.  During this time, I desperately wanted Bebette to keep getting my milk and so was frantically pumping at regular intervals. If you’re breastfeeding and in hospital you get meals to keep you going. At first I was non-plussed by this, but by the end of my stay I was positively salivating at the thought of my steamed fish and chips and chocolate custard pudding.  Any stress-related weight loss that occurred in the early phases of the drama were rapidly recovered thanks to the NHS food supplies, and Costa christmas coffees.

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We were sent home to get a proper nights’ sleep, and whilst we attempted some sleep, Bebette took matters into her own hands and extubated herself. What that means is she ejected her breathing tube, without asking the doctors to help her out. Forgive the lack of technical lingo. This would have been extremely stressful for the poor nurse caring for her that night, who had insisted we go home to rest, and who herself was 36 weeks pregnant, but she so kindly waited until morning to give us a courtesy call just to let us know what had happened and to tell us not to worry.  As Bebette was managing fine without the breathing tube, she didn’t need to have it reinserted (good news) but she had skipped the drug weaning process which required her to have small doses of various drugs until she was ok without them, rather than going from a high dose to nada cold turkey (not so good).  She spent a day or so frantically and silently crying (very bizarre, poor lamb had no voice), wide awake, which in hindsight was her withdrawing from the drugs.  I had convinced myself she was just very grumpy after so much drama and so many nappy changes, which btw she continues to absolutely hate. Her poor bottom was red raw from the antibiotics and she was just fed the fred up.

Anyway, the story is nearing its close now with a joyous happy ending, as the strong little fighter massively improved in the following days. Blood tests confirmed she had RSV virus, strains A AND B.  This had developed into a lung infection aka bronchiolitis. She did not have a bacterial infection and therefore no lumbar puncture required.  She was very much on the mend and fighting fit after her 2 days in ICU and night in high dependency.  We were in hospital for a total of 7 days from the second A&E visit, and I barely left her side or the hospital room for that time. I couldn’t do anything except stare into space, chat to the nurses in awe of their life-saving skills, mutter as I hooked myself up to the milking machine, question my value to society, and eventually get excited for the steamy, starchy, soggy surprise that was coming my way at 8am, 12pm and 5pm every day.  I can still hear the beeping machines.

Taking Bebette home and cuddling up with Boddler last Saturday was the most glorious thing that has happened to us.  These last weeks have been about realising how lucky we are to have our children and each other, how brave and strong those children are, how fantastic our health service is in emergency circumstances, how much support we are lucky to have from people around us, and how much we should REALLY appreciate every day we get, as parents, partners, members of a family and members of society.

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Please always be grateful for your little ones, please keep a close eye on them during the bronchi season (details and symptoms can be found here) and please don’t hesitate to seek help and get advice from the experts if you are in any doubt about the health of your bebe.

For anyone reading this that works for the NHS, thank you. There aren’t words that can really do this justice, but you are all amazing and we are so grateful.

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An extra special family snap (photo credit: the awesome Russ Jackson Photography)

Bebe Bag – hospital essentials

Packing my hospital bag first time round was like a magical, mystical birth preparation ritual. The bag itself, the precise contents, the order in which they were packed… Pretty sure I did it at around 30 weeks pregnant, and it required extensive research and numerous *special* shopping trips, with a fellow preggo, to ensure all the essentials (and the rest) were covered. The bag was by the front door months before Bebe FF arrived – in fact I think it actually gathered some dust.

The second time round and I only got to thinking about the bag around 36 weeks; it was all a bit of a shambles. Like many things in my life at the moment, I started doing “the bag” and before I knew it I was lost in the dark depths of a wardrobe, knee-deep in Bebe FF’s old baby stuff, looking for an old nursing bra I didn’t even like, and listening to Hokey Cokey on repeat. Even locating a suitable bag was a challenge and I almost ended up going to hospital with a Trunki. When I got back to focusing the bag a week or so later, I actually genuinely couldn’t think what to put in it except pants. And PJs. And a snack  – obvs. I quickly realised why: to plan what went in the bag I would actually need to get to grips with what was about to happen. I would be giving birth and no matter how joyous that is, it’s also a little bit scary.  And the “planning process” also reminded me that I had no real clue what would happen on the day we would eventually go to the hospital, no matter how much I wanted to be in control.  I knew that from first time around. You have a theoretical birth “plan” but really what you’re going in to do is have a baby and there isn’t much more of it that you can actually plan….

When I was going stir crazy at 40 weeks I salvaged the bag packing situation and properly packed a bag for me and one for bebette.  Tip: You’re probably best having two bags. Especially as you will be instructing  your other half to do some of the critical bag-searching when you can’t move / are otherwise occupied pushing a baby out, and you want to make it as easy as possible for them to locate things. If your partner is anything like mine, when asked to locate a particular item in a receptacle containing a number of items, the receptacle suddenly becomes a Mary Poppins style bag and the item requested is some sort of other worldly object the partner has never heard of. “Can I have my lip balm please?” Silence. Blank look. “Leep bolm?” *Monsieur FF plunges into the baby bag, pulls out a tiny nappy, is redirected to the mama bag (should have clearly labelled them…) and rifles around for about 15 minutes, spilling items all around the floor and eventually pulls out giant pants*: “Zis?”

I thought it would be worth a quick blog just to note what I took and used, whether it can help to prepare you or remind you, or make you laugh at the ridiculousness depending on which journey you’re on.  If I were a man looking at this I would probably be guffawing by now: “It is so typical of women to need a special detailed shopping list, and dedicated blog, just for the things they need to go to the bloody hospital! Pants and keys! That’s all tha needs! What a kerfuffle!” (*Yorkshire man, possibly my dad*) Well, men, when you’ve grown a human for nearly 10 months and then eject it from your body in a foreign place with foreign people all around you, and with those people playing with your bits and your bits being totes out of control, THEN you can come back and give us your fantastic opinion. Plus FYI menfolk, you would probably forget your pants and / or keys anyway. The hospital bag is not only essential (no one needs to be unnecessarily nude in the hospital) but may bring you a little bit of relief, even joy, at a very emotional time.

First and foremost: the pantaloons. You need giant comfy pants. Accompanying these are your maternity pads. However your bebe comes into the world you will spend the next 6 weeks or so leaking. The hospital will provide you with some pads whilst you are there but they don’t have any sticky. You need stick. You can get the giant maternity pads from chemists, most supermarkets and you can also try the organic variety available on Amazon.

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Actual size of maternity pad

Second: milk / feeding essentials. If you’re breastfeeding I strongly recommend some sort of nipple cream. You can also apply your own milk to your nipples (I.e. Rub it around your nipple to reduce soreness – this does work) but in the early days you don’t have milk as such, it’s colostrum and not so easy to get out. I used Lansinoh Lanolin religiously both times and have had no issues. You should pack a couple of nursing bras, in case you’re in for a few days, and some nursing pads, although again the leaky boobs don’t really set in until 3-4 days post partum. If you’re bottle feeding the formula producers have some handy mini bottles ready to go. I have taken one of these packs both times to the hospital just in case anything isn’t working with the boobs. They are also handy for short spates of freedom later.

Third: outfits for the Bebe. Your baby needs to be wrapped up warm. They’ve been in a spa for the past nearly 10 months and funnily enough don’t particularly enjoy being cold and naked. You need blankets, muslins and snuggly clothes. The softer and easier to put on the clothes the better. Despite appearances, the little nippers are hard to get into clothes and don’t always love it. They are also often very curled up and in our case, both times it was Papa’s job to get bebe dressed for the first time.  Zip onesies, soft vests (recommend M+S and Next) and a snuggly hat and cardi were winners for us. Also these awesome little “bundlers” – like a tiny baby nightie, they are open at the bottom for easy nappy change, no poppers, and long enough to keep bebe’s legs warm.

Fourth: nappies for the Bebe. And wipes. Or cotton wool. I’m sure the hospital could help you out with nappies, but newborns can go through them relatively rapidly, and the méconium poos are quite something. So come prepared! Enjoy the little tiny bum size as they grow so quickly!

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Such a tiny nappy and yet it looks so massive! Bundler in action – no need to undo poppers. Boom.

Fifth: car seat for the Bebe. You can’t take your baby home without one so it’s kinda critical. We have the Maxi Cosi Pebble+ leftover from last time and bebette rode home just fine in it. Obviously she looks like a tadpole in there, but she was safe and cosy. We are also reusing our fabulous Morrck blanket which keeps her warm but can be opened up to let the air in once she’s in the warm car.

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A very happy Monsieur FF complete with bebette, headphones to block noise and awesome hand sewn bebe bag from a special auntie!

Sixth: PJs for mama. Take two pairs, even three. I had a couple of nighties with a dressing gown, plus some PJ trousers and top. You never know when your waters are going to break or you may be vomited on so have spares. You go from being very naked to being in a room full of new parents so I would recommend sensible PJs and sensible colours. A satin négligée prolly won’t be ideal (although very comfy I’m sure). If your breastfeeding think about accessibility to the boobs.  If you’re organised and thoughtful, at this point pack a Tshirt/pants for your other half.

Seventh: shower essentials. Your first shower after giving birth is quite an experience. You will be shaky and smelly and gross. When you have the shower you will feel human again. Your body feels lighter and thanks to the painkillers you mostly can’t feel anything. Take your favourite shower magic to make the experience even more pleasant. You will probably be showering with a midwife or someone else in tow though, so I don’t recommend bringing your full puff ball and exfoliation equipment.

Eight: snacks.  Now it depends how long you’re in hospital and what stage you’re at but these are critical for both your and your partner’s survival. Hospital shops, despite having a captive market (or perhaps because of that??) have a fairly grim and limited selection of goodies. Think easy to eat, energy boosters that won’t irritate your stomach, like M+M peanuts, cereal bars, haribos, candy kittens (yum!) Pom bear crisps, nuts, fruit, lots of water and energy drinks if you can handle them.

Nine: music, films and reading materials – if you’re in for induction you’re likely going to be there a while, especially if it’s your first, so pop your kindle or some trashy mags in for light relief as you start to experience your contractions. If you’re organised, you should download some series / films onto your portable devices and sit back and relax. You won’t have the same level of calm for a little while after all this…

Ten: pillow – both times I’ve taken my own pillow, just because there aren’t hundreds available in the hospital and it feels safe and smells of my bed.

Eleven: cooling off equipment and lip balm – water spray and flannels, lip balms galore (take a BIG one so your partner can find it in the bag…).  I personally didn’t get round to using these much as things went too rapidly but I often see OBEM ladies enjoying a nice cool flannel and your lips will get dry, especially if your sucking on that gas and air.  Also the maternity ward can get very snuggly, so if you’re in there any period of time, the cool spray will likely come in handy.  I also packed a Spacemask but that was a little optimistic. I could have used it during the induction, but I enjoyed it more in a short nap I was permitted in the first days post arrival of Bebette – interstellar relaxation indeed!

Twelve: change for the car park. Hopefully your partner will be on top of this but again, best to be prepared. You don’t know how long you will be there for and the last thing you want is a congratulations fine from the car park warden (btw I think it’s outrageous that the wardens even do the rounds but that’s a separate battle to be had another time).

Last but not least: your hospital notes!

So there we have the essentials in my humble opinion. Good luck with your packing and the journey that lies ahead – wishing you a beautiful squidge of a bebe!

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Bises from us 4 x x

 

Birthing: the real deal (I’ve done it twice)

Warning: graphic content!

Last week, in the early hours of Thursday morning, Bebette FF came flying out of me and into the world. Our second baby in as many years. It was an experience I won’t forget (unsurprisingly) but what was surprising was that a mere few hours after the birth, I found myself describing it in a way I never imagined I would: it was empowering. Exhilarating. Bordering on joyous. I can’t quite go so far as to say pure joy as it was bloody painful but it was dangerously close.

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I want to document the birth, and compare with my first. I want to be terribly honest. I hope for anyone preparing for birth this won’t scare you, but it should prepare you for a couple of scenarios out of the many, many permutations that labour can present. Like an episode of OBEM. You can stop reading at any time. If you’re not yet having a baby but contemplating it, I hope this gives you something to look forward to, as it truly is an unbelievable adventure. And if you will not give birth or have a penis and so avoid the whole birthing process then I hope it makes interesting reading nonetheless.

Giving birth is scary. It is gory. It is risky. There is no guarantee you will come out with what you went in with. That’s the terrible truth. Even more scary when you’ve done it once and you know what’s coming.  I remember my sister telling me her second birth experience was “amazing” – I couldn’t understand how she could possibly say that – the result is amazing, sure, but actually going through a labour I couldn’t quite fathom how the intense pain and effect on your body could be described as ‘amazing’  … but now I understand; she was right.

Number un

In summary, I had Bebe FF (#1) at 39+5 after labouring for 2 days. That sounds like a long time but it really wasn’t. The first 24-36h was perfectly manageable, but towards the end quite uncomfortable and there was *some* moaning.  As many people will confess, we went to the hospital too early the first time. It’s all new and a bit daunting and you genuinely can’t tell if you’re barely started or (you hope) if you’re in full blown labour and are just really hardcore. I was the former: I was 2cm dilated, and encouraged to go home to labour some more in peace – this was not welcomed at the time, especially with a 30 minute drive each way, but in hindsight very much appreciated. I had my bouncy ball, my Tens machine, my mum, and The Devil Wears Prada at home and in the end the day went quickly. I even had a bacon sarnie before we headed off for the second entry attempt. By that time I was uncomfortable and the drive was painful. Once I got to the hospital the second time they admitted me (I was 4-5 cm and my waters went when they were checking me so I was safe! This is established labour.) I immediately asked for the epidural. You should know I have no qualms about taking the drugs. All the drugs. Except pethidine. I don’t like the sound of it and I’ve heard stories of floppy babies, so I simply said no to that. I don’t feel the need to prove my tenacity in these circumstances: I’ve made a baby, I’ve carried it around for months, now let’s get it out as quickly and safely as possible. The epidural seemed to be a good call and as I went into active labour and started moooing I felt very self-conscious and needed to be muted. The epidural came relatively soon thereafter, mildly daunting having it put in between contractions but the medical staff obviously know what they are doing – and then followed a strange period of calm. Hours of calm. Just lying back and waiting for someone to tell me I was fully dilated. The epidural didn’t work entirely and one area of my body was less numb, but it was still doing the job. Once you have it you can’t move around so I was literally a beached whale. Or fluffball fat cat.

Waiting for the epidural like

I couldn’t sleep so I just sat and waited whilst various midwives came in and out, writing notes and checking we were ok. Monsieur FF took the opportunity to snooze and was happily snoring away in the chair next to me, along with the Mothership, who came along for the ride and was dutifully working her way through the snack supplies because the waiting was long (compared to when she was the one in action (X4) I can quite imagine!). Finally after what felt like many hours someone confirmed I was fully dilated, but that we had to wait another hour or so for the epidural to wear off. I should note that whilst all this was happening my good friend was over in another nearby hospital in the process of giving birth to her first daughter. Not that we were racing or anything…  but this delay was not ideal. In fact during the wait and push phase she pipped us to the post. Anyway we waited and waited some more and eventually I was told it was time to push. HURRAH! I started to compute I was about to have a baby. Alas, I hadn’t envisaged what the “push phase” would be like and 1hr of hard pushing later things were getting frustrating. I couldn’t feel a thing, despite waiting the extra time for the epidural to wear off. As such I was being told when my contractions were (on the screen) but could not work with them as I had no clue when they were actually coming. Also I genuinely didn’t understand how to push. Sounds stupid, but the more the midwives talked me through, considering I had no sensation (and seemingly no brain), the more confused I became: so am I doing a poo here or is it something else? Why am I pushing my (triple) chin to my neck? What does “push” actually mean? Where am I?! They told me to breathe down and then in and then take a quick breath out and do some other funky thing, and you know when you actually think about breathing it suddenly seems very complicated? well I pretty much started hyperventilating…

More medical staff were coming into the room and, thankfully, Bebe FF was remaining remarkably calm considering where he was trapped. They started talking about other options (scary) as I ramped up the pushing efforts. Everyone was observing me and kindly commenting: “she really is pushing hard look at her face” … but seemingly to no avail. Eventually I got the “push” right and then the midwife uttered the words you never want to hear … but equally do… “the baby is not going to come out, it’s too tight“. Cheers! But wait…. that’s when the knife comes out and the midwife asks me “are you happy for me to cut you?”. Erm no not really. Strangely I would rather you didn’t cut my vagina. Do I have any other options? The truth is as that point you don’t really, you are going to get sliced somewhere or other. With the medical staff staring at me I say “Ok”. Close eyes, push for my life, Bebe FF emerges, slightly shocked and with a major cone head. Try to open eyes, I have pushed so hard my eyes feel like they’ve popped out of the sockets. “I can’t see!” I squeal and then see a blurry, bloody little human with a curl of blonde hair being handed up to me. Unbelievable emotion. Shock. Legs akimbo, everyone sighing with relief, little yelps from the new Bebe. A wave of relief washes over me. Monsieur FF and the Mothership are taking pictures, preparing nappies and clothes and we are all cooing over the little miracle that just made it out of my belly.

Then the horrible part. The stitches. Actually my experience of this was truly horrible so much so I can barely bring myself to write about it. Suffice it to say the slice wasn’t the only injury suffered and the woman that was given the delightful task of repairing me was not in a great mood, and was not being particularly gentle. You’re probably clenching your teeth right now – rightly so. The epidural, which up until now had proved overly-powerful, suddenly wore off and I was acutely aware of what was happening to my nether region. Even the local anastethic jab was not pleasant. In the following weeks recovering from those stitches was the hardest part of my post partum recovery / new motherhood experience by far. I found the instruction to keep them dry just ridiculous. How can you possibly do that? I was not sufficiently gentle with myself and didn’t take it easy enough, and I absolutely should have. Your body goes through so much, you need to force yourself to take it easy those first days (ideally 10-15 days). Do not throw yourself down into chairs with stitches. Do not run up and down the stairs. Do not march around with tight trousers. Try not to cough. Be gentle. They need time to heal. Take comfort that the fact it does heal. But go easy…

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Numéro 2

So that was #1. Longer than I thought but might as well get into the details. #2 was remarkably different. First, she was overdue. Having spent all of week 39 waiting for any sign, teeing up support in case of emergency, largely led by the mothership, and preparing to hospital dash at any moment, no signs came. Having being told repeatedly second babies come sooner and quicker, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Bump was feeling bigger and bigger and my fear of The Stitches Part 2 was getting greater with every growing day in my belly. As you may have noticed I got a bit restless. But I tried to remind myself to enjoy the calm, enjoy my bebe #1 and enjoy sleep. And that was sensible. I was worried about leaving Bebe FF and when the mothership had to go home for a short period between week 39 and 40 I was slightly on edge. Unnecessarily it turned out as the little bebette had not made an appearance.

Finally, at 40+5 I went in to the hospital hoping to be induced (which was possible because of my blood condition (can’t remember if I mentioned already but I have a blood issue that makes me high risk and requires me to jab myself every day during pregnancy and for weeks after)). Our midwife was lovely and she explained the process – you start with a pessary, if it’s not working you have another after 24 hours and then if necessary you move on to the drip. If you’re already dilated they can break your waters. I was having mild contractions but wasn’t sufficiently dilated for a water break start, so I started with the pessary, sincerely hoping that was all the help I would need. We were told the next check would be 24 hours later, cue our jaws dropping, – We do not have enough food supplies!! –  and Monsieur FF checking his watch as this was not part of the plan. I suspect he thought we could turnaround in an hour and save on car parking … luckily after about 3 hours of patient waiting, eating and wandering the hospital halls, including some crab walking action on the stairs (think it works!) the real contractions began. We were in a rather grim labour ward, complete with a couple that considered it acceptable to fart and burp ad infinitum and make comments such as “if a baby is born with teeth will they be removed?” And “you should get them to break your waters as that lubricates the way for the baby”… Headphones on I started to have regular contractions quickly and thanks to the Tens machine, candy kittens and some awesome Spotify work, powered through happily until late evening. By that time all our roommates had gone and we had a very peaceful space to hang out. It was actually quite pleasant. We knew Bebe FF was safe and tucked up with the Mothership. Monsieur FF even took a little snooze (common theme) and this time we both enjoyed all the snacks. Eventually I called the midwife and asked to find out where I was, as I was starting to get uncomfortable. When she checked she said I was 2-4 cm dilated which was rather confusing. One much closer to the epidural than the other. Ok, I’ll keep going but I need some paracetamol. And the epidural soon please. Paracetamol arrived and took the edge off.

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Fast forward 2 hours later, more music, reading and a lot of leaning against the wall and rotating hips on the birthing ball and it’s really starting to hurt. I’m moaning a bit and starting to feel grumpy and nervous, as I still don’t have any real  pain relief. The midwife then appears to monitor the bebette and whilst the monitor is on my waters break. Monsieur FF and I both heard a loud “pop” and then I felt a little stream of warmth. The midwife came back and we both exclaimed my waters had gone. Hurrah! Labour ward here we come! She looked at me like she didn’t believe me and asked me to show her. Maybe it was because she was covering her colleague who was on a break, and wanted some peace, but she was not amused. I was trying to prove that water had just leaked out of my body… Suddenly I feel more leaking and the pressure in my pelvis ramps up. Bebettes head is now pushing on my cervix and everything is going very quickly. “I want the epidural please” I remind the midwife, in between whimpers. “You just need to get to the labour ward first”. A small journey down a corridor but in practice it felt like a marathon distance. I had to stop twice to moan against a wall and when I eventually climbed onto the bed in my new room, back to my more friendly and believing midwife, I almost cried. “IT HURTS!” “Please can I have the EPIDURAL!!”. My midwife starts to prepare the various bits for the epidural and then, hearing my yelps, decides to check my status just in case… “Ok, I’m really sorry Rebecca, but you can’t have the epidural”. “WHAT THA F….” I start to scream and then the brain kicks in (rare at this time) and I realise that means I must be nearly there. “You’re 10 cm and ready to push. Try this gas and air” she says, grinning. Somehow I KNEW I wouldn’t get the epidural despite asking a zillion times. I’m glad I didnt. As I started to reply that the gas and air made me feel sick last time, a massive wave crashed over me and I snatched the mouthpiece and took the deepest breath ever in the history of life. I felt drunk. “Oh M G this is actually amazing! Everyone was right!” Turns out I probably didn’t breathe it right last time. Another brain fail. You have to go whole heartedly into that gas and air.

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Then followed an almost out of body experience; around 8 contractions, each with about four waves of energy. I could feel bebette moving down the birth canal and with each contraction I could help her get further. By this time I wasn’t moaning I was absolutely Pavarotti- style bringing the house down. When she got to the exit, I screamed the loudest I will likely scream in my life. “I’m so sorry!” I whimpered as the contraction passed. It’s embarrassing to think about how much noise I was making but I needed to do it, animal instincts were taking over. “Don’t worry, her head is out!”. For Monsieur FF this was the most captivating part; our daughter had her head outside of me, but was just patiently waiting for the rest to be ejected. The image has stuck with him and each time I wear the bebette in the sling, with just her head showing he tells me it reminds him of the birth. Poor guy. Anyway the next contraction the little crevette was born and the pain immediately subsided. She was passed up to me, this little pink thing with a dark mop of hair and Monsieur FF and I looked at her, and each other and smiled. And then started searching for the source of the dark hair. He checked his watch again – it seems we didn’t keep him waiting too long in the end. You can see from our faces we were equally shocked and delighted.

So for the final hurdle, What’s the damage? I had to have stitches, but this time the midwife was very gentle and the damage was minimal. A mere 3 hours later I was showered and on the maternity ward and Monsieur FF was again checking the time – how long until we can go home? We wanted to get home and relieve the Mothership, share these momentous moments, and congratulate Bebe FF on becoming a big brother.

So. There we go. The full monty. (Great Sheffield film btw.) good luck on your journeys 💓