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The Best Week of My Life - Part II

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Continuing on...
In the recovery room we were left alone for a while and tried to get some rest without really knowing what to do with ourselves. Tom fell asleep and a midwife came in and helped me dress Elliot... it had slipped my mind that he might need a nappy and some clothes! Then while I slept Tom washed his little head. Some nice ladies came and manhandled my nipples and showed me how to milk myself with tiny syringes... I felt like a cow. (There is hilarious photo evidence of this that will not be seen on the internets.)

Elliot slept like a little angel. He occasionally woke and snuffled a bit with his wonky little face. He looked pretty battered from the forceps. His head was cone shaped with a big bump on one side. The left side of his face was badly bruised and purple with a gash on his forehead where the forceps had pinched him. The right side of his face was paralysed with facial palsy caused by the forceps. The doctor had told us that the facial palsy would 'probably' go away. Annoyingly no one would commit to saying that it would definitely go away. The main thing was that they were pretty sure it had been caused by the forceps and wasn't a symptom of anything more serious. His mouth was quite droopy on one side which made breastfeeding quite difficult as only one side of his mouth could suck.

The sign on the door at Ashton's Interiors
Tom's parents closed their shop for the day and drove up to see us from Brighton so Elliot met his Nanna and Grubby (Grubby is called Grubby because our niece Evie called him such when 'Grampy' was too difficult to pronounce a few years ago and it stuck!). I felt so proud to show him off. We were all feeling so elated and I felt great physically, although I hadn't tried to get our of bed since the epidural had worn off. I had forgotten I hadn't had a proper sleep in four days and only one proper meal ...if you call NHS bangers and mash a proper meal. This was rectified when Steve brought us some tasty take away for dinner, Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes and some cherry cola. YUM!
It's important to match your cupcake to your t-shirt as Tom demonstrates here
A few hours after Elliot was born they took the spinal catheter out of my back where the epidural had gone in. This is when the headaches started. I woke at about 5am absolutely freezing with intense muscle pain. Unfortunately this coincided with the hospital finding me a bed on the post-natal ward which meant they wanted to transfer me out of our private room and Tom would have to go home. Lena the lovely midwife tried to stall them moving us for a few hours but eventually we had to go. When they tried to move me into a wheelchair I noticed the headache.

It's known as a 'Post Dural Puncture Headache' and it is caused when the needle for the epidural goes in too far and punctures the dura which is the area around the spinal column that holds cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid goes all the way up to surround the brain which floats in this fluid. If there is a leak it causes the brain to literally sag in the head and the result is an absolute bastard of a headache. Similar to a migraine with added pressure on the neck muscles ...but only sitting upright, lying down it was absolutely fine which is why I only noticed it in the wheelchair.

Tom had to go home and I was left on the ward with Elliot. I think Tom felt quite strange getting the bus home alone at 6am after everything we'd been through. I certainly felt strange not having him there. There were four other mums in the same room with their babies. The most annoying was a woman called Joy Peach (suprisingly she wasn't a porn star) who had possibly the worst ringtone of all time, it was a version of 'I like big butts' especially remixed with scratching noises to sound horrendous on a mobile phone.

The babies were all screamers except Elliot, they would all break out into a chorus of screeching every ten minutes or so. You could pick each one by the pitch and volume. All the mums were from different countries, not a single English mum on the whole ward (including myself obviously) a true indication that we were in South London. The Colombian baby had a really high pitched squeel, 'Weee wee wee!', the Polish baby had a slow raspy 'Waaa, waaa, waaa' and the Nigerian baby had a long unsettling wail, 'Aaaaaahh aaaaaahhhaaaaaaaaAAA!'. We were in a menagerie.

Mummy's little burrito
I had to lie flat or up to an angle of about 20 degrees, anything above that and my head would ache. This made caring for Elliot near impossible. I could sit up to change a nappy but I had to do it in three installments lying down to rest my head every minute or so. During the day Tom was amazing, he never left my side and did everything Elliot needed. During the night it was more difficult. Visiting hours were only until 10pm, but Tom charmed the midwives into letting him stay until 11 most nights. Every time the staff changed over to the night staff I had to explain my headache situation otherwise they thought I was being lazy by asking them to change his nappy.
Unfortunately one of the neccessities of a forceps delivery is an episiotomy. Don't worry, I won't go into details! Suffice to say I had a bit of 'crazy paving' going on down below. (Andy's description).  So a lot of the time I was quite uncomfortable.

In the next few days I had someone asking me questions every 15 minutes that I had no idea how to answer. Really difficult questions like, 'When did you last go to the toilet?' 'Have you had your medication?' and 'Have you finished eating that?'. I ended up writing a list of everything that happened because as soon as I would complete one task I would promptly forget it and someone would tell me something else to remember, 'Do your pelvic floor exercises 10 times a day' 'Feed your baby 12 times a day' 'Take your pills four times a day, except the orange ones, take them three times a day'. To be honest, I have no idea what went on or where the day went.

We had been trying to get Elliot to latch on to the boob for days but he was getting very frustrated. On the Sunday afternoon, after hours of trying, he finally latched on. It was an amazing moment. Tom ran to grab one of the midwives and three of them came in to see and congratulated us. After all the things that had gone wrong, something finally went right and we felt like we'd won the lottery.

I was also booked in to have surgery to fix the epidural headaches on Sunday afternoon. I made it very clear that I wanted the most senior anaesthetist to do it, the woman assured me that that was her, but it was Sunday afternoon on a long weekend, she was about the same age as me, I think she was the most experienced there at the time.

They came to get me for the surgery just as Elliot latched on. There was no way I was going to push him off, it was really important that he stayed on as long as he wanted but they had the operating theatre prepped and I had to go. The midwives stressed the importance of this to the anaesthetists and decided the best thing to do was to keep him on the boob as they wheeled me through the hospital on the bed to the operating theatre which was in a different building. I didn't want Elliot to get distracted so I put the sheet over both of us as they wheeled us through the hospital. Anyone who saw us must have thought we were a dead body! I feel sorry for any patients turning up to the labour ward to give birth it would have really freaked them out!

To fix the headache they needed to do a 'blood patch'. This is where they take about 20ml of blood and inject it into the  sight of the puncture in my spine. The blood fills up the gap that the leaked fluid has left and clots over the site of the puncture. After the procedure I had to lie flat for 2 hours to make sure the blood clotted properly... then I'd be cured!

...and it worked! I finally had a shower! I could get up and change Elliot's nappy, try some new breastfeeding positions, drink without a straw! ...then the next day it came back.
Good morning London

Monday was the worst day, the headache came back and Elliot saw the baby doctor and they weighed him. Most babies lose up to 10% of their body weight in the first three days but Elliot had lost nearly 13% so they were concerned about his feeding. The doctors said he needed to have a lot more than he was getting from the boob but the midwives were saying not to give him a bottle otherwise he'd never get back on the boob. We were getting different advice from everyone we spoke to.

A decision had to be made to persevere with breastfeeding and watch him get more skinny and possibly get jaundice (babies who were delivered by forceps are more likely to get jaundice in the first week) or feed him with a bottle and possibly never get him back on the boob. For Tom it was easy, putting him on the bottle was the best option. For me it was a more emotional decision. I knew this was the best for him now, but I found it hard to let go of the idea of breastfeeding.

Something I didn't realise about being a parent, which is really obvious to me now, is that there are no right answers for anything. At times I wish there was only one way to do something so I don't need to make any decisions. People will tell you what the right thing to do is, but all of them will tell you something different, it's up to you to decide what's right for your baby and you need to live with the decisions you make. I think that day the responsibility really came down on us. Then the headache came back along with the day 3 baby blues and it all seemed a bit much.

Luckily things could only get better from there. We put Elliot onto bottles with breast milk so we weren't completely evil in the eyes of the midwives. I felt even more like a cow when I discovered the joys of 'expressing myself' using the hospital machines in the hilariously named 'Expression Room'.

The next day I had just about every anaesthetist in the building coming to check me out and the head consultant was the one who did the final blood patch procedure. It must have been terribly interesting because there were about 6 people in the operating theatre, all there to watch how he did it.

I had to lie flat for four hours to make sure it worked this time, I lay flat for six just to make sure. The next day was fine except for a bum cramp from lying down for so long! Elliot was back up to a reasonable weight and my boobs had suddenly turned into a Dolly Parton themed dairy. So things were looking up. Plus we saw Stella! She was working on the ward so she finally got to meet Elliot.

All the staff were amazing. We were so impressed with the NHS (perhaps not the catering.. but there was always M&S downstairs to fill the gaps) when you really need looking after, they do it well. 
Jordan ...doesn't live up to the name
It wasn't until Wednesday night that we got home. Ruth came to pick us up and the walk to the carpark really made me realise just how fragile I was. For a whole week I'd only been walking between the bed and the loo, so by the time I got to the car I was pooped! Elliot is also doing really well now. We think the facial palsy is slowly getting better, his eyebrow has started moving, they say it usually takes about a month to clear up but sometimes longer. So we don't really mind when he cries his little heart out because he's exercising his facial muscles.

So that was my life changing week at St Thomas'. I'm sure every mum you meet has a story to tell about giving birth and struggling to figure out parenting at first. The first week is an emotional rollercoaster and I'm glad we're on the other side of it now. Now for the fun bit, getting to know our little man!



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