Support, and the lack of

My husband is away snowboarding in France this week (it’s his number one passion more than sex, probably) so I took this opportunity to take some annual leave and enjoy some me time but of course both my children have picked up some stomach bug from licking the ginger pigs at Hackney Farm (my 4 year olds diagnosis not mine.) Let’s just say that due to the nature of my job I can pretty much tolerate most bodily fluids, as I work in a hospital with wipe clean lino floors, plastic covered delivery beds and an endless supply of stiff, starch linen, I’m shit hot (no pun intended, honest) at cleaning up after whatever falls around me. However my little house has carpet, cream carpet in fact and only a certain amount of sheets and not a pair of sterile gloves in sight. This type of bodily fluid has defeated me, on the plus when my GP asked ‘is there any chance you could supply a sample in a small pot to send to the lab?’ as I was becoming more neurotic that my children had contracted E. coli, I smiled knowing that I could probably supply enough samples to sink the Titanic (when will it become PC to use the phrase Concordia? just asking)

So there I was today in the doctors waiting room clutching my two samples, flicking through a pregnancy/baby/parenting magazine (the choice was poor it was that or Saga) and I came across a page on breastfeeding. I breastfed both my babies, I absolutely believe in everything it stands for and not just because I’m a midwife but I was glad when it came to an end and my boobs belonged me to me again. So, this article on breastfeeding shpealed out the usual advice, recommendations and how to get it right from the start, nothing to fault there. Then at the end it went on the say about getting the right nursing bra, making sure it fits bla bla bla (just for the record I actually hate the term ‘nursing’ I’m just using it to be subjective in this instance.) Before I had babies my boobs were big, 34E I think, I actually hated them but my sister tells me I longed for big boobs from the age of 10 and use to sing whilst doing the arm movements ‘I must I must I must increase my bust’. I cried and screamed at my mother in the Marks and Spencer changing rooms when I couldn’t get decent bras to fit without looking like I was wearing some sort of contraption, ‘Don’t blame me, blame your Great Aunt Kate’ my mother would reply smugly with her B cup pert boobs staring at me, not a very useful comment as Great Aunt Kate had been dead at least 10 years.

Anyway when I had my first baby I went to Marks and Spencer (I’d obviously forgiven them for my previous traumatic experience 10 years earlier) and searched for the perfect nursing bra, ‘Sorry we don’t sell or recommended underwired nursing bras’ it was the same answer everywhere I went, ‘seriously you don’t understand I need underwire I have big boobs which need support, uplift and big wide straps, boulder holders whatever, don’t sell me this shit lady’ as I held up what can only be described as a flimsy piece of cloth that Kate Moss’s titties would fit into. I kind of went off in a hormonal tangent. One bra fitter (I do now feel a little bit bad about my behaviour) said to me in Mothercrap Mothercare ‘it’s not just our advice madam, I think you’ll find if you ask your midwife she will also give the same advice, no underwired feeding bra for your big breasts I’m afraid’ ‘I AM A BLOODY MIDWIFE!’ I made a swift exit before the manager was called, cringe.

By the time I had my second baby 3 and a half years later, things had moved on from this advice and companies saw a niche in the market for good quality feeding bras for the more ample lady. I invested in 2 at the time one black one white and it really did change the way my boobs looked and felt. No more 4 boobs with a cleavage up to my chin spilling out of tops, I felt comfortable, well supported and not embarrassed when I undid the clip and revealed a little bit of lace, yes they’re actually tastefully designed too! The other day my good friend who has just had her second baby and gets almost as excited as me when discussing feeding bras (or the new edition of Living Etc.) whipped out her boob to feed her 6 week old and revealed her new find, another amazing feeding bra! I was so jealous I almost wanted to get pregnant again just to be able to get one (joking of course) it looked so comfy, she said it was divine. So girls don’t be put off when your midwife/bra fitter/mother-in-law says you can’t wear underwired feeding bras because you CAN, I’m certainly going to change my advice when discussing it with pregnant women. Invest in your breasts.

Sleepless in South London

Labour ward never ever closes. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year we are always there providing care to women and their babies, so it’s not unusual to pick up the phone in the middle of your night shift and receive calls like the one I had last week.

‘Hello labour ward, midwife speaking how can I help?’ (maybe less excited more I need another NHS coffee it’s 4am actually make that a vodka and Red Bull)

‘Oh god I hope you can help we’re at our wits end here’ (this wakes me up). My wife gave birth 2 weeks ago and our baby won’t settle, I mean she sleeps all day and cries all evening we just don’t know what to do’.

This is good, I feel very qualified to give all sorts of advice on sleep or lack of issue. I’ve got two small children both who were very different babies when it came down to sleep my brain is almost bursting with knowledge on routines, feeding swaddling blankets and beyond. I search around the office, fellows colleagues scamper off to various delivery rooms like timid mice and shut the doors behind them not wanting to take this what could be very lengthy call. I’m ready all ears listening ‘go on’ I say.

‘She just won’t settle especially between the hours of 7 and midnight my sister calls it witching hour whatever that means my wife is exhausted she’s breastfeeding and every time the baby cries she offers her the breast but it’s like she’s fussing, not really wanting it.’

I really felt for this guy, he was obviously completely sleep deprived and my god anyone who has had a baby knows exactly how hideous this is.

When I had my first baby I had only been a midwife for a year and my now husband and I moved to South London where I knew no one (I was the over enthusiastic new mother queuing at the post office smiling like a loon and making small talk to any poor sod who happened to catch my eye ‘hello yes me again more jiffy bags please’.) Any way an amazing health visitor at my local doctor’s surgery once gave me the best advice on settling my new-born daughter through the infamous ‘witching hour’, the three S’s, suck, swaddle and sling. As a midwife I kind of thought I knew what I was doing when it came to babies, well yes in theory for the first few days but a 2 week old fractious baby, I was bloody clueless and to be honest a little afraid to ask. So I googled something like ‘help me my baby won’t stop crying I need an amazing sling’ and bought this I also bit the bullet and bought a dummy which is a bit of a no go area as a midwife as there a lot of research to suggest that introducing a dummy can interfere with breastfeeding. But to be honest I was so knackered I was beyond caring, I then bought a pack of these and my screaming, unsettled, fractious new-born turned into a (very tightly) swaddled settled baby! Really those 3 magic S’s changed my life and not only did I reinforce this rule of thumb when I went onto to have my second baby, I spread the word like it is the gospel to anyone who would listen when I hear of unsettled and disrupted evenings.

So this poor bloke at the end of the phone got to hear of my ramblings (I could hear him scribbling down the name of the sling and swaddling blanket) and I put down the receiver feeling happy and hopeful that his evening will be transformed. What I did forget to mention to the new father was a book which my Aunt gave me for Christmas one year, profane, affectionate and refreshingly honest, it captures the familiar and unspoken tribulations of getting your baby to sleep, but I think I would forget the golden rule of this book stated on the back ‘You should probably not read this to your children’.

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How many is too many?

My shifts are long, 12 hours (well 11.5 to be precise as we don’t get paid for half of our lunch break and that’s if we even get a lunch break I mean who has lunch 5pm?) but it does mean that I work 3 shifts a week and still have 4 days off a to spend being the perfect yummy mummy (I’m joking, for the record I bloody hate that term, its degrading it basically means if you’re remotely good-looking you’re classified as yummy and if you haven’t been blessed in the looks department you’re what, you’re just doing a great job?).

Anyway I was looking after this really sweet young woman the other night having her first baby and she had fantastic support in labour. Her Mum was there, her boyfriend, her sister, her niece, her sister’s best mate ,her granny, I think a pizza delivery boy was there at one point, I mean the list was endless I lost count of the constant flow of people in and out of the room offering their ‘support’. I say this term loosely as I’m not wholly convinced that they were all there in the girls best interest. The hospital policy states that you are only allowed 2 birthing partners in the room at any time, mainly due to security reasons plus the rooms aren’t huge and it makes safety an issue if there was an emergency situation (at a home birth you can have as many people as you like).

So this one girl who I have no idea whether she was a cousin, sister or friend of the woman in labour instinctively grabbed a sick bowl and started fanning the woman’s face. Now I’m not the kind of midwife who just sits in the corner of the room and jots things down in the notes whilst the birth partner does all the support. I will massage backs, mop brows, clear up vomit, wipe away poo (more on that subject in a later post) and I can usually tell if a woman needs fanning and looks too hot. But this friend was amazing, she then took to massaging the woman’s sacrum I mean really doing a fab job almost a professional standard, like she knew exactly where to press and reassure her friend through every contraction.

Well there I was not really needed, it felt shit to be honest sob sob oh I do love to feel like the one person who can help the woman (after all that’s why I love my job) but I did sort of feel like a loose end. So I sat back and observed this amazing birth partner. Eventually the other members of her family got bored as there was no sign of baby and went to Nandos to fill up on hormone and protein enhanced peri peri chicken and soggy chips. But this girl just kept on going, I did offer to take over with the massaging but nope she was not giving up working her thumbs to the nub and the labouring woman was certainly benefitting from all of this.

Anyway the baby was born, a gorgeous 8lb baby boy and all was fine. My inquisitive side of got the better of me and I had to ask the birth partner ‘So where do you learn how to do that, you must be a doula or had at least 10 babies to be that good.’ The girl just smiled and a burst of deep loud hearty laughter erupted around the room ‘From One Born Every Minute you know on the telly, I bloody love that show watch it every week!’ Of course the Bafta awarded Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall documentary, where else?! I honestly think that show is great, not only does it really portray a maternity ward, it shows you pretty much all scenarios you could be faced with when having a baby (NCT take note). I congratulated and thanked the girl on her wonderful techniques and banged on about how she should train to be a midwife oh how we need people like her at all births, you were really amazing for your friend bla bla bla and then the laughter came again,

‘No way babe, you wouldn’t catch me seeing lady bits every day, women screaming in pain, I’ve got a job anyway.’

‘So what do you do?’ I asked,

I’m a beautician, mainly specialise in bikini waxing’.

Before my brain had a chance to register her answer (I blame the hour and lack of break) she was gone, thrusting her business card in my hands on her way out

‘Let me know if you ever need a trim down there’ she said nodding at my nether regions. Shit did she know I was soooo over due my last wax that my husband had given up on the promised Valentines/birthday/Christmas treat? Who knows, but what I do know is that she was an amazing birth partner. The point of the story is readers – ‘its quality, not quantity’, choosing the right person/people to have in the room can make the difference between reliving the pain in your back or being a pain in the neck. And if there’s a free bikini wax at the end of it for the midwife, then everyone comes away satisfied.