Sunday, 6 February 2011
Sunday January 2nd 2011 – Dreadful Nipples and Kate Winslet’s Feet.
It’s a beautiful day out there, Tree. It’s as if for a moment the sharp brightness has caused you to stir as your branches stretch upwards. I can almost see you yawning.
Maybe it’s me. Hoobiz says I am good at seeing things that aren’t there. Yet sometimes a sensation is so strong that even cold, hard facts can’t change your perception of what’s actually happening.
After The Little Perfect One was born, it was as if I could feel every movement he made. Perhaps it’s a sort of echo reflex. Even during the tiny patches of sleep, we mirrored each other so intensely during the first 48 hours. It was as if we were still physically connected, tied by a phantom cord that gently relaxed over the first few days.
We left the delivery room at about 9:00pm and Hoobiz, The Brand New Little Perfect One and I were taken up to a room on the seventh floor. With its big wooden doors, 30 degree temperature and general pokiness it was all rather sauna-like. In fact, when Hoobiz went home and left me alone with The Little Perfect One, I thought I might have melted, mostly from sheer terror, but partly from the exhausting heat.
It was a rushing, tongue-swallowing sort of a panic that gripped every fibre of my being. It began with, ‘Help! Help! They’ve left me here all alone with a baby. My baby, he’s my baby, but I don’t know anything about babies. Help! Help!’ Then I sat for a moment, perched on the side of the bed, leaning over his cot and watching his Little Perfect breathing. ‘Good,’ I thought, trying to reassure myself before a plague of ‘what if’s’ swarmed over me.
‘What if I don’t hold him properly...what if I fall over when I’m holding him...there aren’t any locks on the kitchen cupboards... what if he drinks bleach....we haven’t got any stair gates... what if... we’re on the seventh floor...what if he doesn’t look when he’s crossing the road...what if he hates me when he’s a teenager...what if he drives too fast...what if I can’t always be there to keep him safe...
It was so hot and my tears were actually a blessing, a release, a cool reminder that I didn’t need to map out every detail of the next 40 years in that first night. That’s when I decided just to focus on the next 20 minutes. I’m not sure why it was 20 and not 5, but it worked. Actually, the 20 minute rule has became a fantastic shield against an army of invading ‘what ifs’, biting doubts and stinging panics.
It’s ironic, but I think that one of the worst pieces of advice you can give to an expectant woman is also one of the most well-meaning. Saying, ’don’t worry, it’s all just instinctive’, to someone who’s pregnant can only cause alarm. How can you prepare for instinct? Maybe they’re right, but as just doing it is only going to make you better how would you ever know if it was instinctive or not? More to the point, what does it matter? Still, we are all different. I have wondered what would happen to a new Mum who had taken comfort in these words whilst patting her bump. What happens when she suddenly discovers that ‘instinctive’ doesn’t mean that you’ll always know exactly what to do?
I suppose that when you are not sure, you can always ask another’s advice, but often too much advice can be just like digging up a nest of angry ‘what ifs’. Very quickly after The Little Perfect One arrived, I learnt that being pig-headed and swatting away all the advice buzzing around you can sometimes be the very best way to stay sane.
There was a steady patrol of mid-wives on that sweltering seventh floor. Their rank was colour-coded, although I am still not actually sure which ones were nurses, students or any other denomination of support staff. I’d like to think that they were all kind-hearted, but they certainly weren’t consistent in their approach. Some were calm and reassuring, whilst others were flustered and blunt.
That first night I was mainly policed by Margaret. She was quite small, severely upright, in gold rimmed half-glasses and a dark blue uniform. She was probably about 50, although I suspect she had looked exactly the same for a good many years and would remain unchanged for a good few more. For a moment I thought that she had just run up to the seventh floor to check that there was no one loitering in the corridor. I was suspicious that if I peeked out of the door, I would see her abandoned hockey stick and whistle.
The Little Perfect One woke up and I rang the bell for help in trying to latch him.
‘Right, I can give you two minutes, but no more,’ boomed Margaret, as she charged through the door.
‘No, you can’t do it like that,’ she continued whilst manoeuvring TLPO under my arm.
‘No, with great big heavy breasts like these, your best bet is to rugby-ball him.’
I was horrified. I mean boob bashing aside, what was next? Cricket-bat him to make sure he was properly winded?
Anyway, it didn’t work and TLPO became increasingly distressed. Margaret tutted, checked her watch and handed me one of those hideously evil purple syringes.
‘There, see how you get on with that and I’ll be back to check on you in 5 minutes,’ she said, before thundering off.
I hadn’t imagined that I would be viciously squeezing my insulted boobs all night, whilst trying to catch little beads of colostrums in a demonic purple syringe. Not to mention trying to stay focused and sooth a crying newborn. Instinct? Well, I really wasn’t any good at it. I could get the stuff out with one hand, but trying to trap it with the other was impossible. It was so disheartening to see every hard earned drop blasted away by that nasty purple bubble blower.
Fortunately, Margaret came back and managed to stress-ball my boobs into producing 0.7ml of the precious goo. Being aggressively milked by a wandering games mistress was particularly painful, but I was just so grateful that TLPO was at least going to get something. Also, she was far more brutal with that syringe and it was some consolation that the demonic purple one was getting more of a battering than me.
About 3 hours later, the cycle was repeated: trying to latch, failing to latch, boobs being squashed until either mine or Margaret’s face had turned plum from exertion. The only difference this time, was that Margaret was in less of a hurry. At first I thought she was trying to stifle a cough, but then it got louder and more prolonged. In my sleep deprived state it took me about 15 seconds to realise that this noise, part bark, part bray, was actually laughter.
‘They...are..massive’, Margaret blurted out, as if she were trying to fight back against the scary Lassie-Eeyore hybrid that had possessed her. She didn’t win.
Here we go, I thought. It’s well known that people can say anything to you when you’re pregnant, but I thought it stopped when you had the baby.
‘Don’t you think? They are colossal,’ Margaret rattled, ‘She’s only little and she’s got size 9 feet. It’s absurd.’
Please tell me she’s not talking about a baby?
It’s strange how missing a bit of sleep can turn you into Alice from the Vicar of Dibley.
‘Poor Kate Winslet, she should have been a swimmer!’ announced Margaret, before giving in completely to the dog-donkey monster within.
Poor Kate Winslet indeed, I bet she’s kicking herself that she didn’t come to you for careers advice!
TLPO and I spent 5 days in that hot, little room and every night we watched Margaret wrestle with the uncontrollable hilarity of Kate Winslet’s ‘wasted flippers’. I’m sure that right now she’s still doubled up with delight at the very thought of ‘Titanic Toes.’
Perhaps it’s just a consequence of working nights. The morning shift arrived with a fresh touch of sanity. Dark blue Jo and light blue Penny helped me to achieve the impossible by getting The Little Perfect One to latch on. It lasted less than 2 minutes, but it was a huge breakthrough. This triumph was accomplished by getting me to lie down beside TLPO.
A couple of hours later I tried again, but resorted to ringing the bell, as TLPO and I were just not getting the hang of it. The longer we struggled the more we both shook and cried. Hoobiz tried to help, but initially I pushed him aside, in favour of the professionals.
The bell was answered by beige Susan.
‘Why are you lying down? Are you tired?’, Susan demanded.
‘Well, it’s the only way I’ve had success and...’
‘Why have you got that pillow underneath you?’, Susan continued, apparently without any expectation of a response.
‘I don’t use pillows... come along... that’s it,’ said Susan, grabbing me and latching TLPO in one swift movement.
Her bedside manner might have needed a bit of tweaking, but Susan was certainly efficient. Right then, she was my hero. TLPO kept feeding for 6 whole minutes.
Unfortunately, the next 48 brought mixed success and the 6 minute record remained unbroken. However, I only went one more round with the purple brute, as by now my milk had started to come in.
Light blue Penny, smiled and said she was off to get her ‘little friend’. She returned wheeling a trolley loaded with a steel machine, encased in a glass cover. It looked like something from a Victorian catalogue, probably delivered with free rhubarb pills and guaranteed to cure the Vapors. However, a big white name tag on the side made her seem altogether more agricultural.
‘This is the lovely Clover,’ announced Penny.
It was true, for despite her dubious appearance, she was exceptionally lovely. I’ll never forget Clover and her deep mechanical lowing. She mooed and the milk flowed. It was brilliant. When TLPO couldn’t latch, he could still be fed. As it happened, he had to spend about a day and a half under a UVB light and it was all thanks to Clover that I was able to feed him at all.
It’s funny, but Margaret was really sweet to me when TLPO lay under that 60’s style orange lamp. She put her arm around me and told me it was all going to be alright. She also told me I was doing really well and should be proud of myself. Of course I cried, but I also cried when the blanket moved.
Of course it wasn’t all tears and most of the tears were the good ones. Hoobiz, TLPO and I spent so many blissful hours in that lofty, hot-box. The window was open an inch and the curtains were drawn, but with a gap that let in the winter sun. Feeling the warmth of the heaters mixed with the breeze from outside it seemed like a perfect summer afternoon. With ‘Baby needs lullaby’ playing on the iPod and looking at my boys, it felt like a summer afternoon in heaven.
After the lamp, TLPO had to spend another day attached to a Biliblanket. I’m not sure ‘blanket’ gives the right image, as to me this was a green florescent paddle that sat inside the sleep-suit and underneath a glowing TLPO. It was attached to a machine by an articulated plastic-pipe, like that on most vacuum cleaners. We have a picture of Hoobiz holding an illuminated TLPO and with the tube hanging down from his back, he looks like The Little Perfect Space Baby.
It was during the Biliblanket phase that I was reminded by Penny, ‘You can’t express forever, Mum’. Actual breastfeeding was to be attempted again every couple of hours. There were parts of it that were so agonisingly awful, that I felt almost destroyed. Yet they were also so fleeting and drowned out by the hours of pure elation. However, when you are following the twenty-minute rule, at the time every single second resonates.
Why wasn’t it straight forward? It a natural thing after all... surely if you do it the right way, it will work. Right, so who knows the right way then?
Penny had been one of the people to show me how to feed lying down, but she was also the one to laugh and say, ’let’s hope Mum, that you don’t have to feed him on a bus. Come on, let’s get you sitting up like a pro.’
Susan was a firm believer in a firm hand, ‘hold tightly just above the areola, and he’ll latch with his eyes closed.’
Jo was obsessed with pillows, ‘If you get the right angle, you’ll be able to feed him swinging on a trapeze.’
Honestly! On a bus, in the dark, with a trapeze, it sounds like a kinky version of Cluedo! I wasn’t looking to bust out into extreme breastfeeding. Whatever next? On an ironing board, down a ski-slope, whilst juggling blazing rugby balls?
Still, I know that they were only trying to help. Perhaps, even Margaret was being supportive when she sighed and tutted at me.
‘Thank God you had a big baby. We would never have got a 6lb little one on those nipples.’
I was completely silent, churning inside with guilt that in the end it was all my fault. It was one of those moments you look back on and wish you had been able to say something clever. Or at the very least ask her what exactly she meant by it.
Probably best that I didn’t say anything, as she did manage to latch TLPO that time and the 6 minute record was trounced by a 23 minute marathon.
Anyway, I fed TLPO tonight before I put him to bed. I’ve managed it for a whole year. Yes, it was traumatic for the first few weeks and it was over a month before I could feed him sitting up. Yet with the constant patience of Hoobiz, 2010’s lactation consultant of the year, I did it. I know millions of women have breastfed their babies for millions of years, but for all of her quirks Margaret was right about one thing.
To be fair I haven’t ever been able to ‘rugby ball’ TLPO, but I really am quite proud of myself.
Now, I suppose I’d best get my size 9s off to bed...