She has auburn hair. It grows into a mullet at the back. I’d like to cut off a big lump of it and put it in her keepsake box I’ve made. Recently she’s started losing her hair at the front. One day she looked at us and we thought it was her granddad staring back. They both have receding hair lines.
When she sleeps her long eyelashes almost cover her cheeks. I wonder where she got them from. Mine are short and stumpy. Her skin is very pale; it matches her hair tones and there’s no doubt, she’s a celtic girl.
A girl. We were convinced it was a boy. We had our boy’s name decided and we barely discussed what we’d call the baby if it was female. The surgeon took her out and the husband said in a quiet, emotional voice; “It’s a girl.”
And there she was to the left of me. Held high by an Indian doctor. “She’s a good weight,” he said, pumping her up and down like a dumbbell. She looked perfect. I expected a crumpled, purply, red alien. Instead I got a glistening white, BEAUTIFUL baby.
She was wrapped in a tin foil blanket, our hat we’d brought popped on her head, and the husband held her propped close to me. I was strapped like Jesus on the cross to the surgery table. I can’t remember if I touched her; I don’t think I could. She stuck out her tongue at us, like a snake testing the air.
And then it was time for recovery. A porter and a nurse took me on a magical mystery ride. Windows and beds and other hospital staff zoomed by. I was travelling at a hundred miles an hour. I thought about the riverboat scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when Wonka scares the bejasus out of the cast. I itched all over from the morphine. I tried to talk to the recovery nurse but my speech was slurred. I thought about the baby. I longed to get back to her.
Later they wheeled me back. The day passed in a blur. I fed her. I took pictures of her with her Dad. I text my friends. I even called work to tell them. I had some visitors. I felt great. The nurses came round regularly and topped up my pain medication. I wasn’t even tired.
That night, when the visitors left and my husband reluctantly went to work, the crying started. She clung to me and I to her. I fed her over and over again. The hours crept by. Neither of us slept. I was sore. I was worried. I didn’t want to bother the nurses. I thought I was a bad mother.
When the grey morning rolled round, I was relieved at the growing bustle of the hospital. The utter loneliness began to dissipate. I had just spent my first day and night with my newborn. Welcome to motherhood, I thought.
I spent five days in hospital. On the third day a doctor came round and said I could possibly go home the next day. I got my hopes up and the husband cleaned the house. The fourth day passed slowly and by mid-afternoon no senior staff had come to see me. I found a nurse who admitted they had probably forgotten me and I’d have to stay another day. I was disappointed and relieved at the same time.
Then a demi-god appeared. She went by the name ‘Lactation Consultant.’ Everything she said made sense. She showed me how to handle the baby. I was a changed woman when she left.
The morning we were due to leave hospital, I packed carefully and cleaned around what felt like the mini-prison camp I’d been set up in. There was the heel prick test to do, birth forms to be filled out, doctors to be seen, prescriptions to be written and discharge forms to be signed. The last task was to remove our hospital bracelets. The whole process took hours.
Finally it was time to make the call to the husband to come collect his new family. We dressed her in her warm white suit and laid her carefully into the carry chair. Walking away from the ward we were met with smiles from passersby who realised we were taking our newborn home. I felt wobbly, like a snow globe that had just been turned upside down and walking took more energy than I ever knew it could.
Outside it was grey and cloudy – a winter’s day in August. We called her August; August Lily, and drove our summer baby home through the winter’s day; slowly around corners, timid at traffic lights, a first journey at the start of a brand new life.
Top Ten Tips For A Hospital Birth
I approached pregnancy and birth with a fairly relaxed ‘come what may’ attitude. I hoped for a certain experience but fully understood that there were a myriad of factors that would affect this. This was a good approach, because in the end, our little one was an undiagnosed breech and I had no choice but to have an elective c-section. Here are my top ten tips for a hospital birth, having had this experience.
1) Never mind the due date
The due date is a torturous number put in the calendar to taunt heavily pregnant women. I convinced myself that I was going to give birth a week early. Ha. Ha ha ha ha, laugh the birthing gods. Most women actually go over, especially on first babies, and so you should really change this date in your head to a ‘due fortnight’. Don’t listen to any of the old wives tales about getting labour started. None of them work. The baby won’t come out until it’s ready. And even then it might not be ready and will be surgically removed from you. Hey, they like it in there. That’s just the way it is.
2) Bring a soft baby blanket
This wasn’t on my hospital list and for some reason I thought; sure they’ve loads of blankets in the hospital. They may do, but they’re scratchy and woollen. I got a gift of a blanket in hospital and would have been lost without it – great for swaddling during night feeds.
3) Bring magazines, baby books and a kindle
I didn’t think I’d have any time to myself what with having a newborn, but the truth is babies tend to sleep a lot in hospital. Once the visitors had gone home, I found I was alone with a sleeping baby and no wifi or TV. I read my baby book which offered lots of advice on the first few day, and my kindle. In fact, come to think of it, that was the last time I read my kindle. (Babies don’t sleep so much when they come out of hospital)
4) Multi-Mam breast compresses
Bring them. Bring stacks of them. There is nothing on the hospital list for breast feeding pain relief or preventative balms / shields and other paraphernalia. I’d heard it was painful, but didn’t quite realise how bad it would be. You might also want to bring extra pillows. You’ll need them for comfort and for supporting your arms while feeding.
5) Understand how breast feeding works
The whole breast feeding scenario was something I hoped I could do, but wasn’t really sure if it would work out for me. I’d heard about so many failure stories and nipple horror shows that I thought, hey, there is an easier answer and it wouldn’t be so bad if I put the baby on bottles. Luckily, it did work out for me, but not before I went through TWO NIGHTS OF HORROR with the suck monster. Nobody really told me to expect ‘cluster feeding’ which is where the baby feeds non-stop from you for the first two days after birth. The routine involves the baby screaming, trying to latch on, not really latching on, latching on a little bit, kind of feeding, crying again, followed by more screaming. I thought it would never end, and I didn’t really understand why I couldn’t soothe my baby. On the third day your milk will come in and your baby will be more satisfied and hopefully, happy. You just have to go through the hard bit first.
6) Bring Bridget Jones knickers
The waistband of normal knickers land slap bang on your c-section scar. Worst. Design. Ever. Like it or not, you will need to resort to massive granny pants that come right up to your belly button. Even if you are not planning a c-section, there’s always the possibility that you will end up having one, so best to bring a few pairs just in case. Otherwise, you’ll be sending the hubby down to get lost in the lingerie department of Dunnes Stores Father Ted style, and he won’t be happy.
7) Fashion Focus
There are many temperatures to be experienced on the hospital ward. The mean temperature is stifling hot, particularly when you have visitors. At night though, it can get really cold. Bring cosy bed socks and a warm cardigan for the chill factor. The hospital list tells you to only bring nighties, but I invested in a really good pair of soft and loose pajamas and it was fine to wear these after a day or two. Make sure whatever you bring is easy to get on and off at a moment’s notice. You’ll want to cover up when your hubby’s best mate pops his head round the curtain to shout congratulations.
8) Ask about refreshments
I discovered half way through my hospital stay that tea and coffee facilities (with sambos) were set up on the wards at night. When you have a screaming new born, are sore, tired and feel like the night will never end, that cup of tea is the nicest tea you will ever taste. Just ask where they’re set up on your ward.
9) Be prepared for hospital food
And bring your own. I was shocked at how bad the food was. I had visitors bring me in fresh fruit, drinks and sandwiches so that I could eat when I needed to. The hospital schedule is 7am for breakfast, 12pm for dinner and 4pm for a sandwich. After that, nothing is served and if you’re only coming round from an operation in the afternoon, you’ll go hungry
10) Take the time to bond
The days I spent with my baby in hospital led to an incredible bonding experience. I feel lucky that I got to spend so much time with her alone. I learned so much about her in those first few days, from her character, to her movements to her likes and dislikes. If you do have to stay in hospital longer than expected, look at the extra time as incredibly valuable. The nurses and staff, while overworked and at times stressed, are full of advice and will help as much as they can. They will help guide you. Before you’re turfed out into the real world, a world, changed beyond recognition, but in the best possible way.