Postpartum and morphine

Gracious Mummy blog

The thing they don’t tell you about the postpartum hormones is this: They suck. Yes, you are overwhelmed with love for you baby but you also feel like absolute crap. So that is to be expected right? You have just had a major operation. You are not at home right away and you can’t even think about your body functioning normally! Your baby has to be lifted to you. You can’t shower on your own and you are desperately trying to work out the whole booby, milk, breastfeeding thing. (Or formula measurements.) But what I have never once heard anybody speak about is the morphine plus hormone cocktail that creates a six-day high before you crash into a big pile of poo! At the time I didn’t realise it, but looking back I was clearly high for six days straight after birth!

I was being wheeled across the ward to see my baby. I was given three ok-ish meals a day. I had my partner taking such good care of me. I was floating around. Oblivious to the fact that our first night on the ward I was the only mum who didn’t have her baby next to her. I heard one crying in the night and thought nothing of it. The next morning, I woke up and put on make-up! Then I took selfies. I sent one to my best friend. First full day of being a mum. I captioned it. I didn’t even have my baby with me. I was delirious and full of adrenaline probably. I had slept for about an hour. Between still having the catheter in and the pain when the medication wore off, I could not rest. That and there was also a man in a chair next to his partner, snoring his head off in the cubicle next to us. I mean, bless him he must have been so tired. But wow he was loud.

I was wheeled across to see Zach and for some reason, the situation had not sunk in. I was seeing the world in front of me, but I wasn’t seeing reality.

Then day six hit and a tsunami of emotions took me down. I was breastfeeding constantly and I mean constantly. I woke up at 7am and picked up my baby. I put him to the breast. He fed on and off until 10am! A minute on and a minute off. For three straight hours. I did not know this at the time (I was told afterwards by a midwife) but when you breastfeed your hormones surge. Prolactin is one, which releases the milk. But to do this, dopamine has to stop. Dopamine is the happy hormone. So momentarily you feel like crap. But if you are feeding constantly, you feel like crap constantly. Then on top of this, oxytocin goes crazy so that you bond. But that feeling can be a bit too much and well the result was a lot of tears. I cried over Zach so much in those first few days he must have thought it was raining. At 10am I managed to put him down in his cot for long enough to have a shower. When I came back a nurse was rocking his cot as he had woken up and “was a hungry chap.” I could have crumbled down into a heap on the ward floor there and then. How could he be hungry? He had just fed for three hours straight. I smiled at the nurse and thanked her. I lifted my screaming baby and held him in my arms trying to comfort him. The wires and infusion lines came too, of course. I put him to my breast. He latched and the after two minutes fell asleep. I put him back in his cot. He screamed, so I fed him. And so on for thirty minutes until I gave up and just let him sleep and feed on my boobs. I was exhausted. On top of all of this Emmanuel had to sort out some food for us and go about buying some nappies and a few other things we needed. He wasn’t there until later on day six. My mum came to help me. But there wasn’t much she could do other than hand me my water bottle and hold Zach whilst I went to the toilet.

Day six also happened to be the day I was told I had a UTI. I was given antibiotics. No wonder I had been feeling awful.

In the afternoon I was told that my beautiful son, who had been feeding all day, had low blood sugars. It didn’t make any sense! I must be doing something wrong? They came to take his blood every hour from around 2pm onwards. This involved pricking his heel and squeezing the blood out onto a thin strip that goes into a small handheld machine. The number pops up. 1.8. it’s too low. Keep feeding him they tell me. Like I am sat there twiddling my thumbs.

By the time Emmanuel got there around 4pm, I was a state. I was crying constantly. Telling anyone that would listen that I had a UTI and that my baby just wasn’t feeding properly. I had no idea what was going on but this felt like torture.

Did I also mention that I had stopped taking the morphine and the dihydrocodeine? That’s right I was going cold turkey. I had been on these meds for five days, every three to four hours. Then I stopped them just like that. On the same day that your hormones take a dip and you ride the lowest low possible. It was a dark day. The morphine and the codeine had been masking some of the hormonal and emotional surges. I am certain that I was feeling a slow build to this day and yet I was numb around it. The second I stopped the numbing agent everything hit me.

I stood by Zach’s cot with Emmanuel and my mum and cried as they told us they needed to take more bloods. I had no privacy to cry. No bed to go and lay down on for five minutes. I just had a noisy ward, an armchair and two very loving supporters who could do nothing for me. It was uncontrollable. Surprisingly, I felt no embarrassment. I didn’t care that everybody was seeing me at my worst.

I slept on the ward again that night. Or laid down and cried. One kind nurse suggested to me to express and she would give him a bottle so I could get a few hours’ sleep. I did. I expressed just enough for one full bottle of 41ml. He guzzled it down so fast it was like he hadn’t been feeding at all in the last 24 hours. I was so confused. He finally settled and slept. I slept and woke after two hours to see the nurse feeding him. I expressed again. We continued the cycle until the morning. I had managed a few hours’ sleep and felt a little better. Zach had a full tummy and his blood sugar was up slightly. He was clearly not getting enough from the breast.

All of this, the blood sugar, the pain meds, the breastfeeding, The damn hormones. They all came at once. They all hit me like a flood. I have never in my life felt so powerless to what was happening to me. Day six for me was just as the midwives later told me it would be. The worst day. The classic postpartum ‘everything goes wrong’ day. But for me, I did it whilst on display on a ward with nurses flittering around and doctors telling me different bits of information. I had support but all I wanted that day was to crawl into my own bed and sleep.

I remember one of the male doctors walking past and my nurse quickly asked him what to do for Zach. “She is feeding him too much. It should be every three hours.” He barked at her over his shoulder as he disappeared into his office. The nurse came over to tell me what he had said. So, we tried that and Zach’s blood sugars dropped again. It was the worst advice I was ever given.

It turned out Zach had a tongue tie that nobody did anything about. Because Zach could latch, they all assumed he was fine. This was why he couldn’t get enough milk. His tongue tie wasn’t sorted out until months later. He was too old by then. I expressed and bottle-fed him. Sadly, my breastfeeding journey was a tough one. Maybe I should have just carried on with the morphine for a little longer. 😊

NICU – Meeting my Son

Holding my baby boy for the first time felt surreal and the most natural thing in the world all at once. He was in an open cot on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) ward. It is a clear sided rectangle with a soft gel mattress that was covered with a soft cotton sheet.  On top of the sheet is a rolled-up blanket that looped round him in a ‘u’ shape to form a ‘nest.’ It makes them feel snug and supported in this strange world they have found themselves in. He was wearing his hat and a nappy and nothing else. He was covered in blankets but the room itself was warm as well. He had the three stickers on his chest and stomach that measure his heart. ECG (electrocardiogram) dots that track the beats and rhythm. He also had a cannular in his arm. This was connected to a line that connected to a pump. Inside the pump was a giant syringe that slowly presses and pushes through the drugs. In this case the Prostaglandin E1, Prostin. (Prostin is a hormone that was keeping open the ‘duct’ in his heart to allow oxygenated blood to flow through and avoid the narrowing in the Aorta.) He had another cannula in his foot that was giving him fluids and glucose. He had a red light glowing through a band on his hand and another on his foot. This was to measure his oxygen saturation levels pre and post. Pre – meaning before the blood went via the ‘duct’ into the heart and post meaning after. A significant difference between these two would mean that the duct may have started to close and more Prostin would be needed to keep it open until his operation.

All of this information is new and overwhelming when all you want to do is cuddle your new baby. I had to take in what I was being told and what I was seeing whilst desperately wanting to just stroke his cheeks and rock him in my arms. The machines above his head were all keeping track of everything. We could see the green line creating the rhythmical heartbeat pattern. Another blue one beneath it that showed his oxygen saturation levels. It was like being inside a space ship. We had landed on an alien planet and had no idea what this new language was. Despite having looked around beforehand we still were not prepared for the depth of machinery and wires that would be involved. These were here to keep him alive. That thought does not sit easily on a new mother and father’s minds. What if they stop. What if someone doesn’t notice a change on one of these lines. “What if?” became a huge part of everything. Nothing was certain anymore. All we had was each moment. For me that was difficult. I like to plan things and organize them. Not knowing was horrible.

But back to the room and the cot and looking past all the machines and wires, laying calmly was my baby boy. His dad stood over him, looking proudly into his face. We asked a nurse to help us with the wires so that I could hold him. I had a pillow on my lap to cover my stitches and to help me support him. He was lifted from his cot and placed gently in my arms. I cradled his head in my elbow crease. His tiny body curved against mine. He was warm. He was soft. He nuzzled his head backwards and relaxed into me. He was home. He recognized me. We were one again. I would have stayed there for eternity if they would have let me. But I only had half an hour with him before I started feeling dizzy and needed to go back to my own recovery bed for my blood pressure checks. In those thirty or so minutes we became a family. He relied on us and we fell in love with him. Emmanuel stood next to me, hand on my back. We were all connected. My baby had that soft puffy newborn look to his face. His eyebrows were defiantly Emmanuel’s. His chin was from me. The lips could be either of us and the nose was one thousand per cent my Emmanuel’s side of the gene pool. I loved every tiny section. I stared at him and drank it all in. I cried over his body for the first of many times. The lines and wires attached to him were heavy. We had to hold them to keep them from pulling on his skin. Or worse coming off. It was always a two-person operation. I wouldn’t for a long time be able to hold my son by myself. I would always need someone or something helping me. That stung. I wasn’t going home with my baby to snuggle him in bed and lay him on my chest. I had to look at him lying in his plastic cot being kept here by things that I had no control over. It was going to be the start of a long journey and battle between my instinct to want to take him and hide him and to let the doctors and nurses care for him.

I looked at my Emmanuel and he looked back at me. We were a unit. Our son wrapped in his white dumbo the elephant blanket. His tiny mouth sucking on his dummy. We had a long road ahead of us. The fight harder than we thought and we were only just starting it.

Emmanuel lifted him from my arms and lay him back in his cot. The nurse came and helped him to place the lines and wires back correctly. He settled back down and quickly fell asleep. I left a square of fabric that I had kept with me and had worn in my bra. The fabric was placed next to our son’s head so he knew I was there even when I wasn’t. I cried so hard when I placed that little square next to his head. I felt like all the other mothers in the world have their babies next to them in a bassinet. I had to leave my baby with strangers in a sci-fi world of beeping machines. I could not take in what was happening. All I could see was his beautiful face. By now the Morphine had fully kicked in and I was floating on a drug high. I am glad that during the first week I had the painkillers to numb out reality. I don’t think I would have managed quite so well without them. Mentally and physically.