Hello Elsie, Hello Motherhood

if one more person tells me to “sleep when the baby sleeps”…
The Cardiff Cwtch

Where do I even start? Because, while there’s been metaphorical tumbleweed blowing across this part of the internet for a good couple of months now I can promise you that it’s been anything but quiet offline. Babies, man. Turns out they screech like hungry pterodactyls – or maybe that’s just the one I made. It’s been two months of late nights and early mornings (I now know the entire late night schedule of ITV2 and Channel 4). Two months of googling “is green baby poop normal?” – among other things; my targeted ads have gone from “pamper yourself with this luxury skincare” to, well, Pampers. Two months of raging internally every time someone tells me to “sleep when the baby sleeps” (because seriously, when does that ever happen?). Two months of tears (from me more than the baby) and laughter. Two whole months of our little Elsie.

It’s been… an education.

A couple of years ago I couldn’t think of anything worse than reading (mostly horror) stories about childbirth online, and yet in the weeks before my due date I couldn’t seem to get enough of them. I’m not sure whether I was hoping to clue myself in or freak myself out to such an extent that I was ready for anything. But, as I’d suspected all along, you can read every hypnobirthing book on the shelf and positive affirmation on the wall of the delivery room that you want but all that “breathe baby down” bollocks goes completely south along with your waters when said baby decides to make their grand entrance. That being said, it was awesome – and I genuinely loved every second.

This story actually begins last Christmas. You see, every year I buy my Mum a copy of Old Moore’s Almanac. If you’ve never heard of it it’s basically a small book full of predictions for the year ahead, from lottery numbers to which star sign can expect a bit of tall, dark and handsome to walk into their lives. It’s just a bit of hocus pocus, but my Mum looks forward to devouring her copy every year. Anyway, at some point last January during said devouring – long before social distancing and loo roll shortages, and long before I even fell pregnant in early March – my Mum took a pen and scribbled “Baby?” on the page of predictions for December 2nd 2020. She went a bit pale when, a few months later, I announced that I was baking a nine month bun and the oven timer was set for November the 29th. We laughed and shrugged it off, “But wouldn’t it be funny if that was her birth date?”

Six months later, I polished off my due date with a massive roast. I’d eaten plenty of spicy food and gone on a couple of long walks with Sunny and Bungle that weekend, hoping to get things moving – but nothing seemed to be happening. Then, in the early hours of the following morning I had what I assumed was some wicked indigestion following an overindulgent Sunday Roast. By breakfast it was clear that I was in early labour. Sunny wrapped up work and started his paternity leave and when my contractions started coming thick and fast not long after, we dropped Bungle off with our lovely neighbours and hightailed it to the hospital (after I’d painted my nails and put on some makeup for some inexplicable reason). Sunny waited in the car (Covid) while I waddled into the MLU to be checked only to emerge twenty minutes later looking very worried.

I was only at 1cm and I was already struggling with the pain. I freaked out. How bad was it going to be by the time I reached 4cm and was actually in active labour? How bad was it going to be at 10cm?! We picked up Bungle and went home realising that I could be labouring at home for days at this rate.

That night Sunny slept on the sofa (a little preview of our first couple of months as parents) whilst I tried to sleep upstairs in bed. But it was impossible with contractions coming in at every 3 minutes and lasting for an excruciating minute. And yet, when we rocked up at the MLU the following morning, unbelievably I’d only progressed half a centimetre and was sent home again to “have a warm bath” and “shoot a couple of paracetamol”. I ended up heading back there by the end of the afternoon – still in pain, still only a couple of measly centimetres. The midwives sighed and offered to give me a shot of pethidine to cope with the pain, but I declined. Clearly I was being a bigger baby than the one kicking me in the ribs; I needed to (wo)man up and wait it out.

I went home and had a bath, took a couple of paracetamol and – with a loaned TENS machine from our other lovely neighbours across the road – I hunkered down on the sofa and tried to brave the pain while Sunny took a turn in the bed. But later that night – as December the 1st ticked over into December the 2nd – I’d cranked the TENS machine up to its highest level and the pain was getting much, much worse. “This isn’t normal” I kept saying to myself as I crawled up the stairs to wake Sunny to drive me yet again to the hospital – and this time, the lovely midwife at the MLU agreed with me. Even though I was bizarrely still only 2cm, I’d given it a good crack but was becoming exhausted. The gas and air came out and Sunny was called in – I was being sent up to Obstetrics for an epidural.

By the time we got there and the epidural was put in (they are amazing things, just saying), we got some answers. The baby and I were back to back; the constant and intense contractions I was feeling was my body desperately trying to turn her into a better position. I wasn’t being a wimp after all – backed by the raised eyebrows of the midwife who peeled off the TENS machine and noticed that it was cranked right up to the highest setting and stuck permanently on “boost”. As the epidural got to work I managed to get some sleep and we waited baby out for a while, but when by the late morning it seemed that things had stalled I was hooked me up to a hormone drip to “move things along”. I slowly cranked up to 9cm throughout the day but by late afternoon – as I prepared for a fourth night in labour – the lead doctor on duty suddenly became very interested in the screen monitoring the baby’s heartbeat. After several visits, she decided that it had been raised for too long and that’s when the scary cesarean consent forms were flopped out in front of me.

I was gutted. What, I’d been at this for three days, made it all the way to 9cm and I wasn’t going to be allowed to give the grand finale a go? That sucked. But, as they unhooked the machine and pulled the rails up on the bed, the doctor promised that if I’d reached 10cm by the time I was in theatre then they could hold the cesarean and give suction and forceps a go – which is exactly what happened. “Either way”, she said as we rolled up to theatre, “this baby is coming tonight!” Sunny and I looked at each other; turns out my Mum’s spooky prediction had been spot on.

The moments before Elsie arrived are an intense blur. Weirdly, I don’t remember much up until the moment she was lifted over the screen and plonked onto my chest – from that moment on, I remember everything. I remember laughing at her little chin – an identical copy of my own dimpled chin. I remember rolling my eyes and wondering why on earth I’d decided to throw on my favourite white t shirt to give birth in (so dumb!), but at the same time not caring at all. I remember that amazing post birth cup of tea and slice of toast in the recovery room. I remember saying goodbye to Sunny – he’d managed to be with me all the way through labour but because of Covid he wasn’t allowed to stay. And I remember waking up the next morning alone in a dark hospital room, and rolling over to find that I wasn’t so alone after all.

The fourth trimester is a whole other story – it’s true when they say that it’s both the best and the worst of all the trimesters. Post-partum recovery especially has been by far the worst part of pregnancy, and no one really prepares you for it or talk about it. But, that’s one for another blog post, once I’ve made it through. Aside from that, it’s been an amazing two months of being stuck under a sleeping baby – and totally worth every second of pain. Given the pain that it took for her to arrive (and I’m not just talking about the labour), it’s kind of surreal that she’s actually here, that she’s actually ours. A lot of the time it feels like I’m babysitting someone else’s baby and just waiting for them to turn up on the doorstep and pick her up (and raise their eyebrows at what a horrible job I did of looking after their kid). She’s beautiful and incredible and I can’t believe I get to keep her and call myself her mum.

Oh, and I bought my Mum Old Moore’s Almanac for 2021, but she’s under strict instructions to only predict the winning Euromillions numbers from now on. 😉

Pregnancy during a Pandemic: How New and Expectant Parents are being Left Behind

Pubs are back open, #ButNotMaternity
Pregnancy in a Pandemic: How New and Expectant Parents are being Left Behind - #ButNotMaternity - The Cardiff Cwtch

“Nervous?” I ask my husband as he steers our car off the A470 and makes the turn towards Nelson.

He frowns into the rear-view mirror.  “…I’m having some serious concerns about her nose.”

I take a breath and catch my own reflection in the passenger side mirror. I wrinkle my own nose – the nose that’s made me cringe at every side profile photograph ever taken of me since my teens.  “…Yeah. Between yours and mine, she’s screwed.

We’ve driven half an hour to see the tiny, terrible schnoz we’ve joked about for years – ever since Sunny and I first got together and wondered quietly what a much smaller version of the two of us would look like. The drive’s been relatively quick but the journey’s been much, much longer; I definitely didn’t expect to go through two miscarriages along the way, and I definitely didn’t expect the one that stuck to happen in the middle of a global pandemic. Since piddling on that stick back in March – on one of those final days of blissfully ignorant freedom before the whole world locked down – it’s been a strange, frustrating and lonely few months to be pregnant. So far I’ve attended all my NHS scans and check ups alone – from the terrifying 12 week scan that brought back painful memories of last year’s empty, silent screen, to the 20 week anomaly scan, where I fizzled with excitement alone when I found out I was having a girl. Of course Sunny came to every single appointment and scan but he had to wait outside with all the other hopeful soon to be dads in their cars at the curb, nervously shuffling their feet waiting for updates via Whatsapp – good or bad. Now I’m 28 weeks, and the only way Sunny can actually see his baby before she arrives is to fork out for a private scan – a luxury not every couple can afford.

And there are so, so many out there just like us. It’s only now, 6 months after the Covid-19 Pandemic interrupted all our lives that the struggle new parents have been through during this time are being reported in the media, with questions finally being raised at PMQs, and NHS Trusts beginning to consider relaxing the strict rules that were slapped on antenatal and maternity services way back in March. Rules that have forced women to attend important screenings, scans and appointments alone. Rules that have relegated important face to face appointments to phone calls. Rules that have suspended longed for IVF cycles. Rules that have left women to be induced, prepped for caesarians and labouring in hospital all alone – separated from their support network and chosen birthing partner until they reach established labour. Rules that have kept parents away from their newborn babies during those precious first few days – treating partners as the lesser parent. Rules that have seen vital postnatal services and health visits vanish into thin air.

Pregnancy in a Pandemic: How New and Expectant Parents are being Left Behind - #ButNotMaternity - The Cardiff Cwtch - Cardiff Bloggers

Worse still, it’s because of these rules that some women have been forced to go through the anguish of miscarriages and still births completely on their own. I remember my own miscarriages in vivid detail – the long and painful wait in A&E the first time clutching my belly in one hand and my husband’s in the other, and the weird crack in the ceiling of the scanning room I chose to stare at as I went through a third uncomfortable internal scan to confirm my second. The thought of having to go through all those moments without Sunny by my side holding me together when I was ready to crumble and listening to the important advice and instructions on medicinal management when I simply couldn’t is difficult to imagine, and yet so many women have been forced to do just exactly that over this strange and surreal summer.

Rules are easing, but sadly it’s an inconsistent story across the country as it’s down to individual NHS Trusts to decide how they manage their Covid Restrictions. So, while a new Mum in Bristol might have to labour in full PPE while her partner waits outside in the car, her counterpart over the bridge in Newport may find that she’s actually able to hold her partner’s hand from that very first contraction right through to the last. And that’s all without considering the threat of a second wave taking us straight back to where we started (in fact, not five days after my private scan up in Nelson, Caerphilly became the first county in Wales to go back into Lockdown). It’s utterly baffling that while we’re being encouraged to eat out in pubs and restaurants alongside total strangers, a couple from the same household can’t be together during some of the most terrifying and challenging moments of their life together. When I’m asked in the next few weeks where I’d like to give birth, I’m seriously considering putting “Local Pub” down on my birth plan with a request for an ice cold lager shandy and curry half and half on standby for when I finally pop. At least my husband would actually stand a chance of being there, and I reckon that pint would go down a treat.

In the scanning room up in Nelson, our daughter’s nose finally appears on screen. It’s absolutely massive, but lovely all the same; it’s ours. And even though I know Sunny’s laughing just like I am, I don’t get to see it because of the mask he’s been forced to wear. As moments go, I’ll take it – even though the truth is that I’ve been dying to watch his reaction to seeing his daughter for the first time for months, years even. And while I’ve been really lucky so far compared to most – during a time where people have lost so much – for me and for many other mums to be it’s the loss of those first special moments that are going to stick in my throat, as well as the thought of what other less fortunate parents to be are going through – the loss of an experience shared for better or worse.

Head to ButNotMaternity.org to find out more on how you can help get NHS Trusts to update their rules and allow partners to attend scans, appointments and births, and tweet your own experiences of pregnancy and birth during Covid using #ButNotMaternity. If you’re in Wales, sign the Senedd Petition here.