The beginning of motherhood – The good, the bad and the scary

During the first few days of Mia’s life I went through many emotions: joy, sadness and fear, to name but a few.

Since making the decision to have a baby in March 2018, I had taken many steps to get to this place and finally able to hold my baby in my arms. Here I was just over a year later and, although I did feel happy and joyful, I was also sad that this tiny little human now had such an ordeal to go through. Within the first couple of days of being born she needed surgery to allow her to be able to swallow.

Here enters the emotion of fear, a feeling that as a strong independent woman I really struggled to deal with. I would not describe myself as being generally fearful. I have thrown myself out of a plane, bungy jumped, trekked to Everest Base Camp and run the London Marathon. I am by no means a shrinking violet. In fact, I am often described as ‘bossy’! So, I really struggled when presented with a situation where, regardless of how much I planned or knew, there was nothing I could do. I could not control the outcome of the operation that was essential for Mia to stay alive, grow and thrive.

When starting this blog, my aim was to share my story. I wanted to share the information and knowledge that I have gathered through my journey of becoming a single parent by choice and a parent of a child with Oesophaegeal Atresia. I have experienced a lot of positives, which I want to share. But there have of course been two sides to this journey. As much as I don’t want to dwell on some of the more negative parts of this story, I do want to be open so that I can help others to learn from the situations that caught me off guard. I hope by sharing these things it might help others to be more prepared than I was.  

The Bad

As a single mother by choice I was aware that I would need additional support during pregnancy, at the birth and after my baby was born. When at 20 weeks I found out that my baby had a rare birth defect, I was able to quickly ensure that the support I had in place would be there for me through this twist in the journey.

What I had not allowed for, however, were ‘the rules’ which would govern our time in hospital and contributed a great deal to the feelings of fear and sadness that I felt.

We are all aware that for rules to be effective they need to be quite black and white, and for the most part this is the correct approach. But, sometimes, rules don’t account for important shades of grey. During my stay in hospital there were two particular rules that by being black and white did not allow for the support that is needed for a woman giving birth to a baby who is then taken immediately into special care.

  1. Only one birth partner is allowed into theatre

As I have talked about previously, I had an amazing birth team. I had specifically selected the other two members of my team based on their talents and skills. I knew that they were 100% working with me to ensure that as much of my birth plan as was safe to carry out would become a reality. Sadly, the first line in my birth plan was completely overlooked:  

First section of my birth plan

By the time I was taken to theatre, Cheryl had been acting as my doula for over 24 hours. She had stood, sat, slept on a mat on the floor and literally propped me up through this time. At any point Cheryl could have made the decision that she needed to hand over to another member of the private midwife team but she decided that she didn’t want to do that. She knew how much I needed her support and wanted to be there for me until Mia was born.

Despite all this, as I was wheeled into theatre Cheryl was forcefully told she could not go any further. That meant that, when Sara left to follow Mia into special care baby unit (SCBU) I was left completely alone with the professionals. Being there without a familiar face left me feeling alone and in distress. On reflection I feel the sensible thing to do in this situation would have been to allow Cheryl into theatre and in her role as a doula she would have been able to keep me calm and also have been there to support me, as a single mother, when Mia was taken to SCBU. Instead, Cheryl was asked to clear our room and take my belongings to the recovery ward – practical but not what I really needed. We weren’t able to complete the journey of support that we both wanted, and in fact Cheryl didn’t get to meet Mia until a few days later.

The learning: Women need support during pregnancy, labour and birth. The fact that at the moment, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, women are having to give birth alone without the support of a friendly face is unthinkable. I was lucky to have my sister by my side, however I feel the birthing mothers wishes should be considered much more than they are. As is often the way, those left to enforce the rules don’t actually make them (or even give birth themselves, guys?!) but I would urge those making the decisions to consider that one size does not fit all. The medical teams should have the ability to try and fulfil the wishes stated on each individual’s birth plan, within reason.

2. In the post-delivery observation ward everyone will be treated the same regardless of their circumstances…

This is something that I hadn’t even thought about, so would not have considered asking about it. Following my experiences, quite frankly, I have not ever wanted to talk about it. However, I believe it is important for me to share my experience of the awful six hours I spent in the post-delivery observation ward alone. I was an emotional and physical mess. It was 36 degrees. There was no air con.

Pretty much straight after Mia was born she was taken away to SCBU. I knew this was the plan for Mia and so the decision was made in advance that Sara would go with her to ensure she was not alone. Despite knowing this was the plan, I could not have predicted how vulnerable, devastated and alone I would end up feeling being left behind.

Looking back, I can only presume that I had imagined that I would be taken to a quiet side room just for me where I could rest, have some food, maybe have a shower before being taken to meet my baby in the SCBU.

The reality was completely different and not at all pleasant…

At around 10am Mia and Sara head off to the SCBU whilst I remain in theatre with the consultant who had delivered Mia stitching me up. From there I was taken to the recovery observation ward where I was left in a bay surrounded by couples with their babies. I felt lost, alone and like everyone was staring at me – I had no baby and no partner, all I could do was cry.

Soon after this, I am joined by Cheryl who has been given permission to come and see me for a short time. Although she is not able to console me, she does offer some valuable support and suggests I try and rest. At this point, an hour after Sara and Mia went to SCBU, I still can’t move my legs or in fact most of my body.

I manage to doze for a couple of hours, thanks to the heat and the cocktail of drugs still in my system. I talk briefly to my parents on the phone, who will be allowed to visit between 2pm and 4pm. I can still only move my toes and I have been informed, in no uncertain terms by an angry-looking nurse, that until I can stand up I am not allowed to go and see Mia. She stalks off and I am crying again.

Shortly after 1pm I am visited by one of the doctors from SCBU who has come to update me on how Mia is doing. He is positive about her progress and explains there is no major rush to operate although it might be as soon as tomorrow. Whilst I, sort of, manage to hold it together whilst he is talking to me, once he has gone and I am again alone, I return to being a sobbing mess.

It’s 2pm and visiting time has started. As a result there seem to be even more people walking past me. I have managed to finally eat something, having discovered I can manoeuvre myself into a seated position. In fact, I now have feeling back in my left leg. My parents are on their way to see me and should hopefully be with me in just over an hour.

The same angry-looking nurse is back at my bedside and this time she is on a mission to get me to hand-express some milk for Mia. Much as I want to be able to do this, I am completely clueless about what I am meant to actually do. The good news is that I now have feeling back in both my legs, so hopefully I will be able to be taken to spend time with Mia soon.

Just before 3.30pm the nurse is back again. This time I have managed to gather myself together enough to ask when I can go and see my daughter. She explains that there is no one available to take me, so I will need to be patient and wait! I also mention that my parents are on their way and will be in Oxford just before 4pm. On hearing this she explains to me that visitors will not be allowed in after 4pm as only birth partners are permitted. I explain that I understand that this is the case, but my baby is in SCBU and my birthing partner is with her and so could there perhaps be some flexibility? She informs me that she is aware of the ‘situation’ and that ‘rules have already been bent’ by allowing both my birth partners to visit me.

It is at this point my saviour Anthony, the partner of the lady opposite me, steps in! Having overheard, and seen, all that I’ve been through today he has decided, on my behalf, that enough is enough. Someone needs to help me. He manages to get the attention of a different senior nurse and suggests that she might like to come and talk with me.

As I continue to bawl my eyes out, I manage to explain to this nurse everything I have been through and that at this stage I just want to see my baby.

At quarter-to-four my parents arrive and are both allowed to come and see me on the ward. Before too long we have a wheelchair and my Dad is wheeling me off to see Mia.

The learning: Women need support immediately after they have given birth. If they happen to have no partner and no baby with them on the post-delivery observation ward, the chances are they are going to need to be treated with some extra special care and attention. Again, one size does not fit all. I understand that wards can’t be overrun with hundreds of different visitors, but circumstances need to be considered and practical allowances made.

The good

After sharing what initially went ‘not so well’ I would now like to share with you, what went well…

First on the list of ‘The good’ is an unflappable, considerate lady called Emma

Emma and Mia together in NICU

I had first met Emma while I was pregnant, in one of my many trips to the John Radcliffe hospital for one of the scan days. This particular scan day was a surgical team meeting day, where about 10 people came to view my ultrasound scan so that they could identify, analyse and plan for the surgery they thought would be needed once Mia was born.

Emma, as the Nurse Sister in charge of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), was then given the emotionally charged task of showing me, my sister, mum and dad around the part of the hospital which Mia would be brought so soon after she was born. I think I will always remember the first time I stepped through the doors of NICU, scrubbed my hands up to my elbows and walked into the dimly lit room filled with incubators and so many beeping machines.

Emma took us straight through the room to a freshly cleaned area where there were two empty incubators being set up for some new arrivals, premature twins. She explained and showed us how the incubators worked, she pointed out various pieces of the equipment including the monitors which gently pinged away until one of the baby nurses glided over to tend to the babies’ requirements. Standing around the empty incubator as a family we were all suddenly overcome by emotion. Even though we all knew this was obviously the best place for Mia to come to when she was born, the thought that this would be her ‘home’ when she was first born was scary.

Having the opportunity to see NICU prior to Mia being in there definitely helped us all feel more at home and relaxed in this alien environment. We were also very lucky that on the day that Mia was born, Emma was working. Having observed how close we are as a family on our initial visit, Emma recognised that the first time we visited NICU we needed the opportunity to spend that time together. She bent the rules and allowed us this very special moment with Mia.

First time visiting Mia in NICU

Second on the list of ‘The good’ is one of the kindest, warmest, most generous ladies I think I have ever met; Holly the amazing baby nurse

Holly arrived into our lives in NICU at the exact moment when kindness was what we needed. I have never before or since felt immediately so protected and safe in a hospital environment than I did within minutes of meeting her. As a single mother herself she just ‘gets it’, she talks to and cares for both the babies and the mummies. In the time we spent together she recognised what would make me feel special and at ease and went above and beyond to care for our little family.

Mia relaxing in Holly’s arms before we left hospital

The learning: Both these women came to know Mia and me well during our time at the John Radcliffe and without them, and many of the other people I will mention as I continue to tell our story, we would not have got to where we are now. Showing compassion, understanding and kindness to others was what made these ladies stand out to me. I will remember the time we spent together fondly despite meeting them on what were some of my darkest days.

Next time the scary…

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