Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Motherhood Diaries: A Letter to My Very Pregnant Friend

Let's be friends!

The books we're reading, the vibrators we're using, the rants we're having and more in our weekly EDM.

Welcoming a new baby sometime soon? Chances are, you may get some of the best nuggets of advice and info from your friends who have recently been there too. We share some of the best advice we’ve got…

Last year, when I was about 38 weeks pregnant, my dear friend Virginia asked if she could give me a call to chat about some birth/baby stuff, if I was keen to hear it.

I can tell you, I most certainly WAS.

So, in a very non-preachy, non-scary or non-patronising conversation, she ran through some stuff she thought I should know about, just in case I hadn’t already heard about it.

It truly was such a gift. Some of what she said was complete news to me, while other bits I had briefly heard about in antenatal class or in one of the many books/podcasts I’d been consuming, but hadn’t paid nearly enough attention.

Her call was a godsend (as was the fact that based off that conversation, two days later she made a mad dash over to me with a giant bag of things we realised I really needed but hadn’t known I really needed). During this time I also got calls or messages from a few friends who wanted to check I knew to expect one or two things. Thank God for friends.

And now, I’ve had the chance to pay it forward by calling one of my favourite people – Capsule co-founder Emma Clifton, who is about to welcome her own little person into this world.

Emma is already a fantastic mother. Not just to her unborn child, but to those who are lucky enough to be in her sphere. She’s always available for a pep talk, or a late-night call when something upsetting has taken place – and, one of her super-powers is cooking. She often shows her love through food. Delicious food.

When my partner got Covid-19 when I was 38 weeks pregnant and he left to go hole up in an apartment so I didn’t catch it, she brought me over a huge homemade chicken and leek pie, a fruit crumble, plus stacks of containers of cookies (all gluten and dairy-free!). My partner was staying on the other side of town, but Emma drove over there too with a pie, crumble and cookies too. And, just a few weeks ago when I finally did get Covid, she, late in her third trimester herself, drove over with a GIANT pot of her magic healing chicken soup. It did the job. I’m telling you, she’s an angel.

Anyway, Emma is smart and intuitive and wonderful and I love her and her baby a lot already. So, she likely won’t need a lot of info (I know she is a big reader too!), but last week I called her to pay it forward and have one of those conversations.

But we figured, why is it that some of the best info is only stuff you hear from your friends? What happens if you don’t have any friends who have had babies? Or if you have friends who are worried about overstepping by calling?

Our births and babies are all so different, so the things I called Emma about probably won’t be as helpful as things some of her other friends tell her – but, as a start I wanted to share with YOU the things I spoke to her about in case you or someone you know is having a baby soon.

I’d also love it if you had things to add to the list! Email me at [email protected].

So anyway, here goes:  

Even summer babies need warm clothing

This was one of the most useful things Virginia called in to check in with me about. My little dude was due on March 17 – and last year we had a long hot summer (or was that just me imagining it?!?), so it felt still very reasonable to get him some warm merino stuff, but also some lighter cotton stuff for those days.

I’ve written about this before but I still can’t believe I talked to the folks in the Nature Baby stores (I do still love your stuff!) who agreed with this plan of action and rung up pricey little cotton shorts that never saw the light of day.

As Virginia explained, babies need warm clothing. Really, it makes a lot of sense – they’ve been cooking inside you at a balmy 36/37 degrees, so coming out and finding it’s even 24 degrees would feel like a massive plummet in temperature. Make sure you have woolen clothing for them.

My son was born at North Shore Hospital and they straight away put him into some cute woolen outfits the local retirement village made, that had been sitting in a nice little warmer for him. And one of my most vivid memories about when he lay on my chest – besides seeing his amazing little face and ridiculously smooth skin – was the toasty feeling of layers of hot blankets that the nurses put over us.

It’s okay to protect your space

One thing you quickly learn about parenting is that everyone has an opinion and often no one’s views align. You’ve likely already experienced this in pregnancy!

I try to look at it as though if there was a ‘right’ way of doing parenting, there would just be one manual explaining it all. Instead, there are millions of different books written on the subject!

The issue is, when you’ve just had a baby you’re in a pretty vulnerable state (the emotions! the hormones! the healing body!), and having different midwives come in with every new shift with a slightly different way of doing things… well, it can be overwhelming.

SO BE KIND TO YOURSELF. During this time I had some excellent messages between some of my besties who reminded me that it was my first week on the job, and no one expects someone to know everything in week one! And, what a heck of a job, when you’re expected to keep a human alive and work 24/7! As my friends said, if there were any other job like it, you’d be sitting in the HR department’s office immediately. It’s okay to not know everything and feel overwhelmed at times. I loved these messages so much and 100% encourage reaching out to friends during this time for some moral support.

During this time, my partner also went into a new mode, where we ended up dubbing him ‘Hospital Karen’ (sorry Karens!) for a short while. Now, my partner is the least Kareny person I know, so everything he said came from a place of wanting to care for me (and being -mostly – very reasonable about it). Essentially, he was in charge of protecting my space. If I’d just got the hang of a technique for feeding our baby and it was going well, he, politely – but sometimes quite firmly – let the next midwife on duty know what was going on. Or, if I had a good night, and was feeling pretty good about myself and life in general, when a midwife walked in and said, ‘Oh dear, you look so tired! What are we going to do!?!’ he let them know that kind of comment wasn’t helpful and wasn’t welcome in our room.

I’d strongly encourage your birth partner to speak up for you if you can’t muster the energy (or see through the mist of hormones) to say it yourself!

Another thing my partner did that was really useful, was making routines and plans for us. He’d write up on the whiteboard what times the feedings would likely be that day (we were on a three-hour cycle), and then plan what I would do in each break. Some breaks would be for meals or snacks, a shower or a nap etc. He’d go get whatever I needed ready for that break – whether it was going out to get some sushi (YES SALMON SUSHI!), having a tea ready, or whatever it was so I could come back to the room (our baby was in the SCUBU for a while) and be ready to go.

It was really helpful in making sure I stay fed and rested without time just slipping away. There’s not a lot that dudes can do in that time – unless you’re on formula and they’re sharing feeding duties – so putting them in charge of feeding YOU helps everyone. It gives them something to concentrate on and feel useful and it keeps you well-nourished and able to nourish your baby.

Your c-section baby is fine, just phlegmy

Just in case you end up having a c-section (honestly, not a bad thing in my experience!), this advice may help? I wish someone had told me. In the days after my baby was born, I wondered if he had a cold or some sort of malady because he was often making little choking, spluttering, coughing sounds and spitting stuff up. I asked a couple of midwives/nurses about it, but they just shrugged.

It wasn’t until the day after I got home from the hospital and my midwife came to visit me at home that I discovered what was going on, and that it was completely normal! Within minutes of being in the room, she clocked him doing the little cough/spit up and promptly explained what it was.

See, apparently when you have your baby vaginally, their little lungs get all squished and squeezed on their way out. Their lungs have a lot of mucous in them in the womb, but it all quite literally gets wrung out as they’re pushed down and out. This process obviously doesn’t happen when they get whipped out during a c-section, so the little fellas have to expel that mucous all on their own.

But you know what? It’s fine! It takes a few days to a week or two and is totally normal and nothing to worry about. So, if you end up needing/having a c-section, this will likely happen to your babe, but please don’t be alarmed or worried. Their body is working it out!

ALSO: if you do have a c-section get a pack of Tom’s maternity pads and stick one so it cushions your incision inside your granny panties (I actually really enjoyed those disposable mesh ones they give you at the hospital). The Tom’s pads are honestly the cosiest, comfiest ones I tried, and that bit of padding really helps! When you sneeze, cough (ouch), laugh or pee for the first little while, you need to apply a bit of pressure to the area where your incision is, and that bit of cushioning also really helps for that.

Don’t just focus on the birth

When you’re pregnant it seems like the entire focus is on the labour – when in fact that’s normally only a couple of days, maybe even one day of your life if you’re lucky. Plus, while it’s awesome to have an idea of what you want to happen, there’s only so much planning you can do, because in the end your body or baby may have other ideas.

What you can plan for is how to make your 4th trimester as comfortable as possible! I’d recommend reading The First 40 Days! Fill your freezer! Read about breastfeeding and baby sleep! Do an infant first aid class! It’ll likely all be much more useful than knowing 12 different meditation practices and mantras.

You may have an unexpected feeling when you go into labour…

Birth sounds scary, right? After reading books, doing two online antenatal classes and listening to multiple podcasts about birth, I imagined that when I went into labour, I was either:

  1. not going to be 100% sure if it was labour, or Braxton hicks, or
  2. going to feel stressed/nervous/scared/in pain/anxious/horrible.
  3. If it was night-time, I’d be unable to get back to sleep due to those feelings (and pain)

So, for a start I was really surprised when I woke up at 1am and immediately knew I was most definitely in labour. The contractions felt different to Braxton hicks – more like a bad period pain, that lasted for short bursts. They started off really mildly, but I had no doubt in my mind as to what was going on. When it’s happening, you do know!

But what surprised me even more, was the emotion I felt. None of the classes/books/podcasts prepared me for the fact that the number one overwhelming emotion I felt was EXCITEMENT. I was SO excited that the time had come and I would be welcoming my son – I even felt excited about the birth! Maybe not everyone feels like this, but maybe a lot of us secretly do?

The only time I started feeling anything other than excitement was 34 hours later when my obstetrician discovered the baby had somehow become transverse and I was going to need an emergency c-section. Then, I felt a bit of fear creep in. But even then, I felt weirdly calm about everything – and was still, so excited that it was my baby’s birthday.

I wish someone would have told me that this may be the case – not the doom and scary gloom I imagined might be headed my way. The day you give birth is going to be one of the best days of your life – I mean, yes, things may not go to plan, some scary and unpleasant stuff may happen, but also, you may wake up so goddam excited about your kid’s birthday that you have trouble getting back to sleep. I hope this is the case for you!

I did do some meditation leading up to the birth, as well as acupuncture aaaand this weird thing where you hold a piece of ice and take your mind off it, gradually increasing how long you hold the ice for each time. It’s supposed to help in staying calm in discomfort. Heck knows if this worked though!

The Day Three Blues (or day 2 or 4 or whatever your body decides) is a very real thing

Thankfully, just about every friend I have who has had a baby, at some point called me or asked if I knew about the Day Three Blues. A friend’s sister even bailed me up at a birthday to talk me through it to make 100% sure I didn’t get a fright or think the world was ending.

This sounds dramatic, but yes, there will likely be one day when you will be a bit of an emotional mess. Often yes, then you have the two-weeks of blues, but none of it is as bad as that initial day.

Everyone’s day is different (and likely caused by your hormones basically nose diving off of a cliff) and some people just feel heightened emotions rather than sadness.

My day started with getting my hopes up that our baby would be released from the SCUBU (like a baby ICU), because he’d been doing so well at every test overnight – but when he failed the 8am test, I started crying and didn’t stop for…hmm… maybe two or three hours? From then on I cried at the drop of a hat – sometimes because I felt sad, but other times just because someone new had walked in the room, the baby looked cute, someone said I was doing a good job, or my partner made me a cup of tea. It was like I had so much overwhelming emotion – I just had a baby goddammit!! – and nowhere to put it, so it came out my eyes.

When I was about 20 mins into my first crying episode though, I suddenly remembered what my friends had said – and messaged them to say, oh yip, I was in it, and it did make it so much easier to ride out, knowing it was just a temporary state (and to have friends message encouraging, kind things that day – even if their niceness did also make me cry!).

Around that time you will have a night of cluster-feeding (it’s a cluster-f**k)

There will likely come a day or night when you have just fed your baby, put them down, and then hear them crying again. But you’ve just fed/changed/soothed them? Why are they unhappy!? What could it be?! You may very well be in the cluster-feeding zone, where your baby will want to spend the majority of the time feeding.

I’m so glad my friends gave me the heads up on this one, otherwise when he kept crying I don’t know that it would have occurred to me to just try feeding him again, seeing as it had only been 15 mins ago that I last did!

At night it can be pretty overwhelming, but when they do it during the day it’s actually a nice cuddle time and chance to binge watch TV, so on those occasions (yip, it happens every now and then) I wasn’t too mad at it at all.

ALSO – breast feeding gets so much easier and quicker as time goes on, I promise. At the start I was like, how am I going to keep doing this when it takes SO long each time?! Am I even doing this right?!? But every week it becomes quicker and easier!

Babies are noisy sleepers

Your baby may be entirely different and a sweet little sleeper, but my baby made a racket – particularly at night. A few weeks in I assumed he had colic or reflux, because after I put him down in his bassinet, shortly after he’d grunt and groan and make little choking or clicking sounds. Sometimes he’d even writhe around.

I read somewhere that if your baby has reflux you should hold them upright for 20 mins, so after each feed I would stay awake, holding him upright before transferring him. I’d then get about eight minutes sleep before waking up, worrying about the noises he was making, and spend most of the next hour worrying about him, or worrying that I had done something wrong.

HE WAS FINE. He didn’t have colic or reflux or anything, he was FAST ASLEEP.

I didn’t learn this for three months, but babies have a quiet sleep phase and an active sleep phase where they can move around, make barnyard animal noises and even flutter their eyes. It’s a bit off-putting, but they’re happily asleep.

I wish I hadn’t spent so much time fretting (or holding him upright) and had instead got some darn zzzzz’s. I’m very thankful my GP explained this to me, but I wish I had asked about it sooner!

And that’s the list! Do you have anything you’d tell a friend that no one really told you about until you gave birth/had a baby? Email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you!!

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