Wednesday, 25 February 2015


I first heard about baby-led weaning (BLW) when my elder daughter was a few months old. My husband's cousin was weaning her baby by this method and suggested that I should the book about it. I watched her nine-month-old daughter confidently navigating a buffet-laden table and decided I'd find out more. I bought the book, read it cover to cover in a week, and waited for my daughter to show signs of readiness. Four years later, I've just started weaning my younger daughter.

When I weaned my elder daughter, BLW was relatively, new. I was the only mother from my antenatal group who did it. Some family members were skeptical but quickly converted. Now, it is the recommended method yet, from conversations with other mums at local baby groups, it still seems to be regarded with some suspicion.

For me, the key is allowing my baby to feed herself. My job is to prepare and offer a range of nutritious and safe foods in a form that she can eat. This currently involves fork-mashing our food and loading it onto a spoon that she can hold and direct towards her mouth, or giving her soft finger foods. Tonight, she ate the filling from a home-made chicken pie, using her fingers to scoop it from the spoon into her mouth and grinning between mouthfuls. Over time, as her ability improves, I will do less mashing and offer trickier finger foods.

I like being able to cook one meal that the whole family can share; I don't have to think about making a separate meal for my baby girl. We enjoy sitting down to dinner together as a family each evening.

Friday, 20 February 2015

The first time ever I saw your face: birth story #3

Baby 3: Another daughter

Mid-morning, I called the Antenatal Ward at the hospital to see if there were any spare beds. I was 38 weeks pregnant, it was late August and the weather was hot. The midwife who answered the phone spoke in a bright and breezy tone. There was room on the ward; I could arrive after lunch.

My in-laws had come to stay to look after our daughter whilst my third labour was induced. My pregnancy had been closely monitored and had planned a 'managed, natural delivery'. They drove us to the hospital and wished us good luck. My daughter, sitting in the back seat, gave me some advice: "Mummy, don't forget to push the baby out like this!" *made a 'straining for a poo' noise*

We were shown to a small room on the antenatal ward and I was officially admitted to the hospital. Over the next few hours, there was lots of monitoring of baby's heartbeat and movements. We knew that we were expecting a baby girl. She kept wriggling around and kicking the foetal monitor, so the readings were inconsistent and had to be repeated several times. When the doctor was happy with the results, we were allowed to begin the induction process. A hormone-laden pessary was inserted; we were told it could take up to 24 hours to take effect. The waiting game had begun.

I walked around to stimulate the induction and, within an hour or two, I could feel a strange set of nervous pulses down the backs of my legs and around my lower back. It was difficult to work out whether or not I was having contractions. Sitting down made some of the sensations subside, so I sat and tried to concentrate on what I was feeling. There was something regular but not very painful. We called the midwife and I was hooked up to another monitor. Yes, there were contractions and they were regular but they weren't doing much and baby was very active.

It took a while for the doctor and midwife to reassure themselves that the baby wasn't distressed - she was very active. I told them that she was often active but since her heart rate kept rising and falling, they wanted to be careful. After a few more hours, they removed the pessary and performed an internal exam. The doctor thought I was probably dilated enough for them to be able to break my waters. "It won't feel very comfortable" she warned "but it will move things along." I went to the loo, my husband gathered my bags and we walked slowly along the corridor to the Delivery Suite.

I was shown into a large, high-tech delivery room. The midwife chatted to us about our birth plan and talked us through the net stage of the induction: breaking my waters. The doctor marvelled at how active the baby still was and gasped when she saw the outline of baby's foot through my bump! My husband got the TENS machine ready and the midwife filled in her paperwork and got her tools. We waited for a big contraction and she broke my waters. I felt a gush of warm fluid and breathed deeply through the pain. I stood up so that the bed sheets could be changed and my husband applied the TENS pads.

Very quickly, the contractions came faster and more intense. I knew things were progressing rapidly. "Does it feel pushy?" the midwife asked. "It can't do!" my husband exclaimed "It hasn't been long enough!" It did feel pushy, though. I climbed back onto the bed and knelt up. The midwife told me to let her know when I wanted more pain relief and my husband got ready - he was going to catch our baby girl as she was born! In just over an hour, she arrived. There hadn't been time for extra pain relief.

Our daughter cried out. I was so relieved to hear her cry! My husband passed her through my legs to rest on the pillow under my tummy. I looked at her face and noticed her dark hair. I requested the hormone injection to speed delivery of the placenta and within another few minutes, that was out too. I turned around to sit down and cradle my baby girl. The midwife weighed her and checked her over, then brought her to me and popped her inside the top of my nightie for some skin-to-skin cuddling. My daughter turned her head and latched on for a feed.

It was nearly midnight.

I was told that, like her brother and sister before, my third baby had been born with her hand by her cheek; this time, I only suffered a small scratch and didn't need stitches. After the feed, I got up to shower and change into clean pyjamas. It was hard to walk or stand up straight - my back and abdominal muscles were incredibly sore and I felt weak. Tea and toast helped. My husband dressed our daughter and we got ready to be transferred to the postnatal ward for the night.

My husband wasn't allowed to stay. We said goodbye and he promised to return in the morning with our elder daughter. I spent the rest of the night dozing next to my beautiful new baby, watching her chest rise and fall as she slept in her crib.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The first time ever I saw your face: birth story #2

Baby 2: A son

It was a bright, sunny yet cold Winter's day. After lunch, my husband and I drove to the hospital. My overnight bag was on the back seat of the car. I clutched my V-shaped pillow and cried. We were on our way to the maternity unit to start the induction process and meet our second baby but I wanted to turn the car around and go home. I was not looking forward to what was to come: we were going to have a child that we would never raise.

I was 34 weeks pregnant and my son was dead. Two days earlier, I had seen the community midwife, who referred me to the hospital for a growth scan. By the time I got to the Assessment Unit, his heart had stopped beating. We had spent a night at home, trying to come to terms with how my second pregnancy was going to end and waiting for grandparents to come to look after our daughter.

On this November afternoon, we settled into the bereavement suite and talked through the induction procedure with the midwife. I was given medication to soften my cervix and sent home for 24 hours.

The next day, I returned to the hospital with my husband and my Mum. This time, I knew that, when I went home, it would be without my baby. We had a birth plan but I told the midwife that I was scared. I gave her a tiny vest and a fleecy blanket and asked that she dress the baby in them when it was born, to keep warm. I felt helpless.

The induction was started with a pill. The dosage was to be repeated every four hours until labour was established. We watched TV and waited.

Within two hours, I felt contractions and took some paracetamol. After four hours, a second pill was given. My labour then accelerated rapidly. I changed into an old nightie and asked to borrow a TENS machine. We moved to the room next door to the bereavement suite, the TENS pads were applied and I was given some gas and air. I knelt on the hospital bed. My husband held my hand and gave me sips of water. My mother mopped my forehead and the back of my neck with a cool, damp flannel. When I felt a dropping sensation inside, the midwife said the baby was coming. With a few short pushes, it was all over and my baby came silently into the world. "Let me look after this little angel for you" the midwife said. She put it in a crib and came back to help me deliver the placenta. She administered a hormone injection and within a few minutes, the placenta was out too.

I felt relieved that the pain was gone and empty that my baby was no longer a part of me. The midwife told us we had a son and we named him Monty. Like his sister, he had been born with his hand by his face but because he was so small I suffered only a small graze and didn't need stitches.

My mother went with the midwife to bathe and dress Monty. My husband made me a cup of tea. I drank it, then vomited and passed out on the bed through exhaustion.

When I woke up, a kind doctor was asking for permission to perform a post mortem and take samples for testing. I nodded consent and asked if I could take a bath. I washed and put on clean pyjamas. I asked the hospital porter to remove the clothes I had laboured in - I didn't want them back.

The midwife brought Monty to us. He looked as though he was sleeping. He was wearing his vest, wrapped in his blanket and was laid in a Moses basket. The midwife had given him a blue knitted hat. His hand was by his cheek, as it was when he was born. He looked tiny and frail but otherwise perfect. We stared into the basket and cried. My husband took some photographs and held his hand.

Eventually, we decided to let him go. The midwife took Monty away, to be transferred to the Chapel of Rest. We went back to the bereavement suite and had some tea and toast. I crawled into bed sometime around midnight but couldn't really sleep. Each time I woke up, I cried.

The next morning, it snowed. The midwife gave me a memory card with Monty's handprints and footprints on it and a lock of his hair. The doctor returned with consent forms for me to sign to give permission for the post mortem and disposal of tissue samples. The midwife read through my notes with me because the birth had happened so fast and gave me a pill to stop my milk from coming in.

I was discharged after lunch and we went home. I didn't want to leave my son behind - I thought he would be lonely and frightened without his mummy. The rightful place for a newborn was with his mother. I hoped the mortuary staff would take good care of him.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Time To Talk

Today is Time to Talk Day. People are taking five minutes to talk about mental health. Here is my story:

I have blogged about my bereavement following Monty's stillbirth but found it difficult to describe how much bereavement has felt like a mental illness. When I first went to see a bereavement counsellor, I was given a questionnaire to fill in to determine whether or not I was depressed. Not surprisingly, I ticked most of the boxes.

In the first few months after losing Monty, I found it difficult to sleep. I couldn't concentrate or make decisions, not even on watching TV or choosing what to cook for dinner. I lost interest in things that I had previously enjoyed: singing, knitting, socialising. I just wanted to shut myself away at home but I hated being by myself. I went through the motions of daily life. People who visited thought I was 'doing well'. From the outside I appeared to function normally. Inside I was hollow. My self-esteem and self-confidence plummeted. I could no longer identify myself as the person I had been before my son died. My life had been derailed and I felt like I was in free-fall.

Relationships and friendships were put under strain. My world shrank. The only people important to me were my husband and my daughter. I tried to concentrate on getting myself better but I didn't know how and I needed a lot of help. At my lowest ebb, I told my husband I was broken and could never be fixed.

It took five months for me to feel ready to return to work but even that was too soon. It took longer for me to be able to get back to my hobbies. Even now, I struggle to learn new songs and to concentrate on anything other than the simplest knitting patterns. I continued to attend bereavement counselling until after Monty's anniversary and still regularly meet my counsellor for coffee.

I often wonder which box to tick when I have to complete equality monitoring forms. Do I have a disability? Should I declare my bereavement stress? I don't know. I don't consider myself to be ill but I'm not sure that I will ever be fully recovered. Many of my symptoms have gone but they have left a mark. Losing Monty has changed me forever. I am not and will never again be the person I was before. I have been taken on a journey to the depths of my soul and learned a lot about my mental health - something I previously took for granted.

Monday, 2 February 2015

The first time ever I saw your face: birth story #1

Baby 1: A daughter

I spent the day of my due date at home doing a jigsaw puzzle. There was no sign of baby coming. My husband came home from work and cooked dinner. My Dad phoned; I said nothing was happening. Since it was a nice May evening, we decided to go for a stroll. We got home at around 8pm and sat down to watch NCIS.

At some point during the programme, I noticed some cramping sensations. Nothing painful but over the course of about an hour, I realised that they were regular. I quietly started to time them: every 6 minutes or so and for about 30 seconds. My husband continued to watch TV - his favourite show Justified was reaching its conclusion. By half-way through, I was pacing the room. I told my husband about the cramps, which were more intense but still not very painful, and he started to time them.

At around 11pm, I decided to phone the hospital. We had been told at antenatal class to stay at home for as long as possible and only to go in if the pain was unbearable. I could talk through contractions and just wanted reassurance that it was OK to go to bed and try to get some sleep! The midwife who answered the phone was lovely. She asked when I had last felt baby's movements and when I said it had been a few hours earlier, she suggested that I should go to the Assessment Unit for monitoring. I pointed out that baby normally got active when I went to bed and that I was still up but she insisted that I go in for a check. "Just bring your maternity notes and a spare pair of knickers" she said "as we'll probably send you home again in an hour or two."

I slipped on a pair of shoes and a cardigan and grabbed my notes. We put my overnight bag in the car just in case. It felt uncomfortable sitting in the passenger seat but, at midnight, it only took 20-minutes to drive to the hospital.

I was hooked up to a foetal monitor and was relieved to see baby's heartbeat. When I was reclining on the bed, the baby started moving around too. The contractions got stronger and longer and the pain more intense. After an internal exam, I was told I was only 2-3cm dilated, so not in labour and couldn't be admitted to the Delivery Suite. I could go home if I wanted. I didn't. I was given two paracetamol, which I promptly puked back up. The doctor said it was very quiet on the neighbouring ward and kindly ran me a bath to help ease the discomfort.

I think I stayed in the bath for a couple of hours, until the water went cold and we could get no more hot from the tap. When I got out and put my clothes back on, the pain was much worse. I shuffled back to the Assessment Unit and they offered another internal exam. I was 7cm dilated! Hurrah! I could go to the Delivery Suite. They wheeled me up in a wheelchair, notes in one hand, spare pants in the other.

I don't remember much about the room I was taken to. By now, the contractions were every couple of minutes and so intense I couldn't speak. I accepted the offer of gas and air and my husband applied the TENS machine. I deployed my best 7-11 breathing - a technique learned through my singing hobby - and focused on the job in hand. I noticed the light begin to change as the dawn broke and I heard the birds wake up and start singing.

I wondered how much longer I would wait before asking for more pain relief but then it became time to push. The *short* journey down the birth canal seemed to take forever! At 7.30am, my daughter arrived. She was quiet and blue but they revived her with some oxygen and tested her responses. She was OK. I delivered the placenta whilst they checked her over and we decided on her name.

I had given birth kneeling on a floor-mat and cushions. The midwives asked I if could get up onto the bed so that they could check if I needed stitches. I said 'yes' but I couldn't - the rapid loss of weight had changed my centre of gravity and my stomach muscles were floppy; I couldn't find my balance! They helped me up and checked me over. One of the midwives told me that they had found two true knots in the umbilical cord, which could have had catastrophic consequences if they had pulled tight. The other told me that my daughter had been born with one hand by her head and that I had a third-degree tear. A Registrar was called and I was taken off to theatre for a spinal block and a proper suturing.

When I got back to the delivery room, my husband was there cuddling our baby girl. Everything was peaceful. He had popped out to the car whilst I was in surgery and collected my overnight bag. The midwife had helped him to dress our daughter and wrap her in a blanket.

I spent the whole day waiting for the effects of the anaesthetic to wear off. In the early evening, my catheter was removed. I had to stay overnight. I ended up staying another day and night after that too, in order to establish breast-feeding. My daughter was very sleepy and reluctant to feed. Kind midwives helped me to express colostrum. On the second morning, after an almighty effort, my daughter took two good feeds and we were discharged.

Outside, the sun shone strong and warm and we drove home very slowly with our tiny, precious bundle in her car seat, to begin life as a family.