HDU and Breastfeeding

This was it, the moment I was waiting for. Zach was three days old and my milk was starting to appear. A small screen was placed around a chair area next to Zach’s cot. With the help of nurse Emma, Zach was lifted out of his cot and placed on me and a giant pillow. I put him to my breast and he started to latch and suck quite easily. This is it! I thought we are doing it! Then He pulled away and started to scream. I mean really scream like there was poison coming out or something. I rocked him and soothed him and tried again. The same thing happened. He started ok and then he pulled away and screamed. The nurse came back over to see how it was going. She could clearly hear him screaming. I showed her what he was doing and she sat down beside me to help.

“Let’s calm him down and get him nice and relaxed. An angry baby won’t latch.” She informed me.

So I rocked him and patted him until he was calm again. We tried again, but he just yelled at me. He got so upset that red patches appeared across his whole body.

“Maybe he can’t get any out. Let’s express a little first and see if that helps.” Emma suggested. She disappeared off and came back with the hospital breast pump machine and the attachments. The machine was on wheels and reached around a meter tall. She opened two packets of sterile equipment and handed them to me.

She explained how the plastic tube section can’t get wet. If it does the suction would stop working, but the rest can be sterilised. She showed me the suction part of the equipment and gave me a sterilising bag that goes into the microwave with some water in it to be able to steam sterilise it. I had no idea how any of this worked! It was staring at some very strange objects. She sat with me and explained how to connect it all and how to use the machine. I didn’t get much out at first but it was a start. The start of a very long expressing relationship.

I tried Zach on my breast again and he latched for a short period but still wasn’t happy. Emma said she would arrange for a lactation consultant to come over and help me later. I was so thankful that I had all of these professionals around me to help me. I let Zach rest. We would try again later that day.

In the early evening, myself and my mum went over to see Zach and to try breastfeeding again. This was the experience I will never forget. I had the small screen offered to me again, but I wasn’t fussed and it took a while to set it up. We didn’t bother in the end. My mum sat with me, the lactation consultant appeared, Emma was there and so was another nurse. I had an army and we were ready to do this.

Zach was placed on me and our giant cushion. I unhooked my bra and placed him on me just as I had done before. His suck reflex kicked in and he started to suck, but not for long. He started to cry just as he had before. The lactation consultant stepped in to assess his suck. She put a glove on her hand and her finger in his mouth. Zach sucked on her finger reflexively.

“He has a slight tongue tie but he should be ok.” She informed me. I took her word on it and didn’t think much of it.

“Let’s try this” and she gave me lots of things to try. A sandwich hold for my breast. A ‘rugby hold’ for Zach. Expressing a bit of milk first. Many, many things, but Zach just screamed. We had to stop after a while as he was so worked up. I felt deflated. I so badly wanted him to be able to feed that I felt I was failing him already.

We tried one last time before the lactation consultant left. We got everything in position and then she very quickly grabbed me and Zach and pushed his head onto me so fast Zach had no option but to latch and suck and he did. He was finally feeding. I was so happy. What I didn’t know at the time was that forceful action that she had just performed would only have very short-lived success. Zach was feeding, for now. Every time I fed him, I now copied what she had done, as soon as his mouth was open, I quickly shoved his head on my breast. I would later learn that this just isn’t best practise.

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.

Alone To Recover

The nurses checked on me every half an hour after my C-section surgery. I was in a private room with a view across London. Emmanuel was with our baby. I was so alone at that moment. Yet I still felt full and happy, not sad. I felt like I had accomplished something. Something with a nine-month build up.

Emmanuel came to my room and gave me my phone. He had kept hold of it for me after Bethany (the Anaesthetist) had taken our wonderful birth photos for us. I had been alone with no phone for almost thirty minutes. I think that feeling was more bizarre than the numb legs were. He bowled into the room with the biggest grin on his face. He was a father. No matter what, from this point onwards he was a Daddy. I had had nine months to get used to the idea of having a baby every time I felt him kick. Emmanuel had this moment. It was written all over his face and his navy-blue scrubs. I am a Daddy. He looked like he might burst.

“How is he?” I asked.

“He’s good. The doctors are just sorting him out now.” He beamed at me with such joy, I couldn’t help but feel the same way.

“Go. Go be with him.” I would have pushed him out of the door if I could have.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

“I’m fine. Just go.” I was again left alone.

I looked through the pictures on my phone. Seeing it all captured made me so happy. I zoomed in on Zach’s face, his wide-open screaming mouth. That beautiful squashy nose. In one picture his face was next to mine and his hand was reaching for me. I couldn’t stop staring at it. Then my phone pinged and Emmanuel sent through pictures of him now. His bottom half was tightly wrapped up in a hospital blanket. He was wearing a hat with a white and grey star print on it that I had picked out as his first outfit, He didn’t need the baby-grow that matched as he was on a heated bed. His chest had three little wires attached to it with different coloured sticky pads, a red, a green and a yellow. These were to measure his heart. But I didn’t know that at the time. I barely saw them. I just saw his face. His beautiful fluffy new-born face. My son.

My parents had booked a hotel room in London near to the hospital. As soon as we gave the go-ahead for them to visit, they appeared in my room in a nanosecond. Armed with a gorgeous teddy and a card. It was so surreal to see them there. I had just briefly met my son and now my parents were about to as well. They came to me at my bedside, because of course I couldn’t move, and gave me hugs. I told them right away to go and meet their grandson. It didn’t take much convincing before they left to go and find him.

Again, I was alone. A nurse came in and took my blood pressure and observed my bleeding. Which involves lifting the sheet to peek at you and see if you are bleeding on to the giant pad sheets.  At the time I did not care a dot. Looking back, it was really humiliating. I asked when I could go and see my baby. As soon as you can get into a wheelchair was the answer. Over the next hour and a half, I sat there trying to wiggle my toes and get my legs to move enough to be able to get into a wheelchair. They offered me morphine and I accepted. Anything to make it easier to get off this bed and into that chair. By 3.30pm just over two hours after I had been stitched up, I was calling the nurse.

“I can do it. I can get in the chair.” I was so determined that I didn’t care if I actually felt ready or not. She wheeled in a chair with a humiliation pad on it. And a big sheet to wrap around me so that I wasn’t flashing my butt to everybody through the back of the chair.

I used every piece of strength I had to heave myself into that seat. I could move my legs but not properly. I was using my arms to get off the bed and closer to the wheel chair, closer to him. I stood one foot on the ground and lifted, exposing my naked back to the nurses. I did not care. I swung around and placed my butt down into the seat.  Leaving my remaining leg to drag behind me, with some effort I managed to pull it across and into the footrest. The nurses wrapped the sheet around the chair. I was so happy with myself that I ignored the pain in my abdominal region. I pushed it away like a leaf down a sticky stream of mud. It was not going to stop me seeing my son.

My dad came to wheel me over to the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I gleefully joked with him about Mario Kart driving as we whizzed past the rooms and receptions of each ward. We passed the lifts that separated the mothers from their babies. A wall between us. Soon, so soon, I was outside the room where he was. Emmanuel came out to meet me and to wheel me in. My wound was throbbing now. The morphine hardly touching the edges of the pain, but it was certainly making me high. I didn’t realise at the time but the morphine and the dihydrocodeine were making me feel giddy. I was a little bit ‘away with the fairies.’

I was ready. A nurse held the door open for us and I was pushed inside a softly lit room filled with four baby beds. I was about to meet my son, properly. To hold him in my arms for the first time. To look into his face, to hold his hand and whisper his name.