1. Sleep when the baby sleeps
I know, this is the most commonly given piece of advice and I used to want to slap whoever said it to me. But....it’s true. It is so important for new mums to rest and catch up on sleep.
My first baby, Max, was (and still is) a terrible sleeper and I’d have to hold him for all of his naps or walk him in the pram. I had many people offer to hold/walk him so I could nap and it took me AGES to agree. But once I did, it was heavenly!
My 87 year old Grandma would come over and take Max for a walk so I could nap. She even brought lunch for when I woke up!
Thank you to everyone who offered, and kept offering, until I accepted!
2. Let go of all expectations
As I mentioned in point number 1, I am terrible at accepting help. I am a type A personality who is very independent and ‘can do it all’. However, when you have a baby you don’t have to do it all, and there is nothing wrong or shameful about accepting help.
Please, if someone offers assistance just give them a list of jobs to do!
I found myself getting stressed about cleaning. I couldn’t put Max down long enough to clean anything properly and the house was getting messier, which added to my anxiety. My husband eventually agreed to getting a cleaner and she was the best thing ever!
But you don’t have to wait for someone to offer assistance. Please don’t be afraid to say ‘hey I need some help’. There will be people who have wanted to help but didn’t know how.
You will probably be inundated with friends/family wanting to come and see the baby (and you). This is the perfect time say that they are welcome to visit, but can they please bring some groceries/a hot meal/do some washing for you whilst they are there.
3. Buy a slow cooker
This is one of the best kitchen appliances for a family with a new baby!
One of you can prepare the meal during baby’s first nap - chop meat, vegetables and add the sauce.
You then just need to set it to ‘low’ heat and your dinner will be ready in 6-8 hours!
We had so many slow cooker meals when Max was young. The bonus is that you can fill the slow cooker bowl so it will make dinner for two days, plus some lunches and possibly enough to go in the freezer.
The supermarket has many ‘ready to use’ sauces that you can add straight in, or you can find a variety of receipes online.
I still haven’t done this yet, but I’ve been told that you can also cook porridge and desserts in the slow cooker. Bonus!!
Once in the birthing suite, my obstetrician came to chat and make sure that I was happy with the change in plans. She performed an internal examination (at about 1pm) and made sure that my waters had completely broken. I wanted to walk around for a while before starting the syntocinon infusion, to see whether my surges would increase.
We walked up and down the 5 flights of stairs many times, and also walked around the hospital. Nothing really happened, so at 4pm I agreed to start the syntocinon infusion. This also meant that I needed continuous monitoring. My midwife Liz, who is also my friend, got the waterproof machine for me so that I could still hop in the shower.
Throughout labour I remained calm and relaxed by listening to my birth affirmations, sniffing clary sage oil, sitting on the fit ball, moving around, having a shower, and having my acupressure points massaged by my wonderful birth support team.
Around 9pm, I started feeling more uncomfortable in my pelvis and some slight pressure in my bottom. I was really excited as I thought ‘I must be getting close to birthing’. The pressure started increasing but never enough that I felt the need to do my birth breaths.
My obstetrician asked consent to do an internal examination and when finished, I could tell by the look on her face that my cervix wasn’t open very much. On my birth plan I had requested not to be told the outcome of the examinations, however I now really wanted to know. My cervix had dilated 1cm and my baby was in a posterior and awkward position. I was really shattered and started to cry. Crying helped me to let out all of my emotion and disappointment, and then refocus and move on.
For the next few hours I continued to listen to my affirmations, sit on the ball, go in the shower, and received comforting massages from my midwife, friend and husband.
At around 1am, the pressure in my pelvis was really intense and I was having difficulty keeping my muscles relaxed and focusing on my breathing. After chatting to my husband, and having another good cry, I decided to have an epidural. I knew that I needed more help, but I was petrified of having the epidural, and I was scared that it would increase my chance of having a caesarean section.
The anaesthetist came around 2am and inserted the epidural. It was very hard to sit still so I focused on my affirmations and doing my calm breaths. Once it was in and working well I felt amazing! The pressure on my pelvis was gone and I was able to have a bit of sleep. Sharon, our midwife, took Matt to another room so that he could lie down and sleep as well!
Around 4-4.30am the pressure in my pelvis started to return, and I had a large mucousy show! I started getting excited as I knew that it could mean that my cervix was opening. Sharon performed an internal examination and I could tell by her face that my cervix was fully open and that my baby was ready to be born!!
The energy in the room picked up very quickly and my doctor was called. Kate, my birth photographer, who had been napping in the chair, went and woke Matt up.
I sat up a bit and was feeling an increasing pressure in my bottom when the surges came. I started breathing my baby out. Having the epidural made it harder for me to breathe down but soon I could feel his head starting to emerge. I was determined to ‘push’ him out myself.
At 0602am I gave my final ‘push’ and I lifted our son, Jack, up onto my chest. There is no better feeling on earth! He was really calm and just gazed up at us with his beautiful blue eyes. Just after 7am we phoned my parent’s house and told Max that he had a baby brother. He was so excited that he screamed.
Jack is almost 6 months old now. As I reflect on his birth, I am disappointed that I didn’t have the water birth that I had planned, but also really happy with my birth experience. I believe that I made the right choices for us at the time, and I still feel the same way. One of the key factors in feeling happy with my experience is that I had a wonderful team caring for us, obstetrician and midwives, who stood back and let me make the decisions, without pressure, so that I remained in control of my labour at all times.
Credit for the photos goes to Kate Tyzack from Bump to Birth Photography (www.katetyzack.com)
“I am prepared to meet whatever turn my birthing may take” (Marie Mongan)
The above affirmation was one that I never wanted to use, but I ended up repeating it many times during my labour with Jack.
It took us a while to conceive, and in the end we needed IVF assistance. Because of this, I already had negative thoughts that I needed to overcome before labour – mainly that my body had failed me when trying to conceive, so I’m sure my body will fail me during labour.
I had such an amazing and ‘easy’ birth experience with our eldest son, Max, that I didn’t prepare as diligently for Jack’s labour. However I did listen to my affirmations most days and practised my breathing techniques.
I wrote my birth preferences and discussed them with my Obstetrician, so that I knew she was on the same page as me. I chose this doctor as I trusted her and was confident that she would listen to me, and not pressure me into doing anything I didn’t want to.
On Saturday July 22nd (39+5 weeks) I woke up at 6am and went to tell Max to play quietly as we were trying to sleep. Whilst standing in his room I felt a trickle of water running down my leg, and knew that my waters had broken. Such a weird feeling! After getting myself sorted I went back to bed and told my husband what was happening. I was not having any surges at this time.
I then started to cry. As a midwife, I knew that my ideal birth was potentially out of reach. I cried for ages, letting it all out of my system. I called mum at 8am and asked her to come and look after Max whilst we went to the hospital for a check-up.
All was good at the hospital, so I decided to come home and wait for labour to begin. We booked an ‘induction’ date for 4 days’ time – as at my hospital this is considered the maximum safe time to wait for labour when the waters are broken, and I was happy with this.
After picking Max up we went to the shops. I wanted to have a reflexology foot massage to hopefully encourage labour to begin. After the massage we walked around for ages, did the grocery shopping and then went home. I had started having irregular, mild surges but nothing to get excited about.
Throughout the afternoon I locked myself away in the bedroom – no lights, blinds closed, oil diffusor with clary sage, sitting on the fit ball, listening to birthing affirmations, dozing on and off. At times the surges took my breath away, other times I couldn't really feel them.
We had already arranged for my sister in law to babysit so we could go out for dinner to celebrate my birthday. We decided to keep these plans as not much was happening. We enjoyed our last child free dinner for what I’m guessing will be a long time. Every time I had a surge my husband wanted to rush home, but they were still mild so we stayed to finish our dinner (and wine)!
I had difficulty sleeping that night, and just when I started ‘timing’ the surges they eased off completely. I tried to lie in bed and rest as much as possible, but also wanted to be upright on the fit ball to try and encourage them to get stronger.
The next morning we headed back to the hospital for a check-up. Everything was fine with me and baby, however I was starting to feel that something was wrong and that’s why I hadn’t gotten into labour yet. After emailing my obstetrician, chatting to the midwife, and a long discussion with my husband, I decided to stay at the hospital and have my labour augmented.
This decision led me to having another big cry. Once again I knew that my ideal birth was slipping out of my fingers; but I also felt deep down that this was the right decision for me. If we went home to continuing waiting for labour, I knew that I’d be anxious and worry and that wouldn’t help anything! I was a bit embarrassed about crying, given that I was in my workplace, but everyone was very respectful and gave me time alone to ‘grieve’.
My husband left to take Max to my parent’s house, so whilst he was gone I called my friend Emma who was coming to be support us, and Kate my birth photographer.
*Stay tuned for part two!*
Since it is Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Awareness Week, I’ve decided to share why my 3.5 month old son and I recently went to sleep school. I am a very private person, so I feel very vulnerable in writing this blog. Many of you reading this will know me personally. But I hope that by being honest, I will encourage someone else to ask for help.
My eldest son is 4 years old and I cannot remember much of the first few months of his life. I was so sleep deprived. In all honesty, I think I had postnatal depression or anxiety that was not formally diagnosed. I would have trouble sleeping even when he was asleep, and was constantly irritable, teary and very on edge. It took a lot for me to accept help, and I would never ask for it. I decided to go to sleep school when he was 5.5 months old, and this helped us both get more rest and helped me start to feel like myself again.
Second time around we had trouble conceiving Jack, and ending up needing IVF. I was very anxious during pregnancy and sought support from a psychologist.
Jack is now 3.5 months old and for the past 4-6 weeks we were co-sleeping as he would scream every time he was put in his cot. This led to me sleeping less, and even when he was fast asleep I would be wide awake for hours. My mind would never stop. I was irritable, short tempered, teary and shouted at Max all the time. I even had a minor car accident and I couldn’t tell you who was at fault.
I knew this had to stop. I could feel myself going downhill. Again, I sort help from my psychologist, and decided to go to sleep school again.
It was tough. I cried on 3 out of 4 of the nights; worried that Jack would hate me or start to reject me. I cannot handle hearing my children cry, so I always picked them up immediately and held, breastfed or co-slept so that they didn’t cry. But these things were no longer working for me.
At sleep school, they teach you to listen to the different cries, and to identify what each one means. I learned not to rush in immediately, to give Jack a chance to help himself fall asleep. I comforted him when distressed, but left him alone when he was grizzling. He started falling asleep in his cot!
As I mentioned at the start, I am worried about writing this. There are strong opinions on this type of ‘sleep training’. I myself used to be quick to judge. What I have learned, and what I want people to be aware of is that if a mother is not feeling ‘right’, she cannot be the sort of mother that she wants to be.
For me, sleep deprivation is a major problem. I knew that once I was getting more restful sleep at night my mood would improve, my mind would be clearer, and I would stop shouting at my older son all the time.
I am happy to say that both Jack and I have been sleeping better since sleep school. He goes to sleep fairly easily, wakes for his breastfeeds and then settles quickly back to sleep. I am more alert, more clear headed and much more patient and tolerant.
So to finish up, I just want to say two things:
1 – Before you judge someone for ‘sleep training’, please consider that they might be really struggling, and it could be their last resort
2 – If you identify with my story, or feel like you are drowning, please reach out and ask for help.
Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA)