Savannah Part two – Tea and Toast angels

Savannah ward became my home for the next six days until Zach would have his first surgery. We had no idea it would take that long before his operation but he was a tricky little critter and so posed a conundrum for the doctors. For six days I stayed on the Savannah ward with Zach day and night.

The first two nights I had the hospital bed that sat upright in the bay next to Zach’s. The nurses pulled the curtains around to make us one giant bay together. The first two nights I managed at least two hours of comfortable sleep. The third night the ward was full so I had to sleep on the pull-down bed next to Zach’s cot. That night I remember so distinctly. I was laying on the bed shivering and shaking from the urinary tract infection I had. I was wrapped up in two hospital blankets, but I was still icy cold. I had an upset stomach and kept getting up to have to go to the toilet as everything was simply passing through me. (TMI.) And Zach was not feeding very well. He was feeding constantly or just sleeping for too long and his blood sugar would then drop. By the time the morning arrived I was a wreck. Then an angel nurse came in and saw me crying over Zach’s cot at the start of her shift. He was sound asleep and I was drowning him in my tears. She promptly pulled the curtains around us and stated ‘I am getting you some tea and toast.’ I nodded unable to speak. I leant back over his cot again and continued to cry. She reappeared later with the tea and toast.

“I’m sorry” I mumbled. Wiping snot from my nose.

“I haven’t slept and I am ill and I have a bad stomach and I can’t help myself I just keep crying.” I blurted out all at once. Angel nurse stood calmly and listened to me as I droned on about my poor self and how much I felt like I couldn’t look after Zach. I thought He was upset all the time. That I didn’t know if we were doing the right things for him. She listened and listened as I cried my way through an onslaught of emotions. I finally managed to pause and drink some tea.

“It’s a really good tea. Thank you” I told her.

“The trick is to use two tea bags.” She smiled at me and somehow, I felt better. Her kindness and the tea had brought back some sense of logic.

“Can you watch him whilst I have a shower?” I asked her. And of course, she did.

The angel nurse that day took care of me just as much as she did Zach. We started talking about many things and somehow my day lifted. It took me away from what was happening in front of me. I will be forever grateful to her.

Some of the nurses on Savannah were the kindest people I have ever met. I honestly don’t know how they did it. How they keep their patience. How they deal with seeing sick babies’ day after day. The Savannah ward is a unique place. A sort of microcosm. An ecosystem all of its own. It became my whole world and the nurses, my friends. Myself and Emmanuel had nick-names for some of them as we couldn’t remember all of their names. One was ‘Team leader.’ As she seemed to be the one that everybody was friends with. She was the Queen bee of the group when she was in. There was ‘Social Media’ who was often on her phone. We overheard her once asking a colleague what emoji she should send to a guy she was talking to. Each nurse had their own way of doing things as well. It was a game during shift changeovers to see which nurse we would get. I loved messaging Emmanuel and saying, ‘Today is going to be a good day, we have one of our favourites again’. At night If I had a nurse that I trusted (which was most of them) I would ask them to do one of Zach’s feeds for me if I was asleep so that I could get at least four hours sleep. They would often sneak into the bay and do just that. Letting me get some much-needed rest. They would say ‘well we have to be awake so we might as well do it. But you need some sleep.’ 

As the days on Savannah wore on, my time there started to get to me. I was going back to Ronald MacDonald House (our accommodation) in the afternoon and getting a two-hour nap. Then about four hours at night if I was lucky. Which sounds great for a new mum, but I wasn’t at home. I couldn’t lounge on the sofa all day, or call my mum or mother in law to come and help me. I had to sit and wait for the doctor’s rounds. I had to try and take in the information they gave. I watched Zach’s machines as they beeped away all day. I kept track in my head the of all the numbers. I was constantly on high alert. I think my cortisol stress hormone levels were probably through the roof! Plus, I was recovering from my own surgery. Every time I lifted Zach out of his cot, I could feel my wound pull. I would wince with pain as I pulled myself up from the low-down beds to stand up. My feet were swollen and puffy. My body ached for a proper bed and I cried constantly. I was a mess. But I looked around and every other parent there was in the same position as me.

All the parents dealt with things differently. Some would keep to themselves and watch their phones all day long. Others would chat to everybody they could. Some started to take it out on each other. I heard one distinctive argument from a couple that I will never forget. I wish I hadn’t have overheard it, but we all deal with things differently and I guess that was their way. One night on a ward together and you know the sound of every body’s snores, their babies cry and each person’s toilet habits during the night. You get very comfortable very quickly. Let’s face it they all saw me wandering around with a bra and maternity pjs on all day. I was constantly breastfeeding and had no care for covering up. So, they probably thought of me as the crazy, breastfeeding, crying woman.

There is a parent’s room at the end of the ward on Savannah. A haven for parents to step away from the bay when needed. To make a cup of tea or to store food. To be honest It wasn’t the nicest room in the world. It did have a lovely big open window that looked across to St Thomas’ Hospital building which is quite beautiful. I stood by that window and cried when Zach had his blood tests done. I stood by that window when I just needed to breathe after another day with no news. I stood by that window listening to hear if Zach had woken up. It was a good window.

The parent’s room also became the place of small talk. ‘How was your night?’ ‘Are the stitches out yet?’ and ‘ah fantastic she had her feeding tube out.’ Were common conversational topics. At first, it was really scary to talk to other parents. I felt as though I wasn’t qualified to be there. But I soon realised nobody was. We were all new to this. Or most of us were. Most babies on this ward were cardiac babies, all under a month old. Some were older. But I only saw one child who was older than five and she was only in for the day. That’s the nature of the ward and the specialism in the hospital. It all happens when babies are firstborn. So, unless someone had an older child then we were all very new to this. The nurses knew more than us. Heck, even the kids knew what was going on more than we did. It is scary being a first-time parent, then being a first-time parent to a cardiac baby.

Soon those small conversations became mood lifters. A little chat about progress during the time the kettle boiled could lift a whole morning. Often, I would feel as though Zach wasn’t like the others and as he hadn’t come in and then gone for surgery. But as I got talking, I realised it was common for babies to take longer, or to come back later. It made me feel better to know it wasn’t just us. The same for when I was feeling as though Zach was doing really well. Another parent would need me to reassure them. I Would tell them that we had been here a week and that it does get easier. We were all in the same boat, floating down the Savanah River.

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. 😊

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.