pregnancy

Guest blog: Breastfeeding

 

This week, my guest post / interview for Milk and Motherhood about the troubles I had with pain while breastfeeding was published. Here’s an excerpt

I hate being bad at things and I was bad at this… Looking back now, and maybe even at the time, I can take the perspective that there are some things you just aren’t good at and, for me, breastfeeding was one of them. Some people are terrible at maths, or they’re tone deaf, or they can’t catch a ball to save their life. I was yet to learn that motherhood is a series of “amateur hours” and I’ve always been scathing of amateurism. However, unlike deciding you’ll quit the basketball team or only do Arts subjects from now on, you can’t walk away from the aspects of motherhood that you suck at.

Read the full story here: http://www.milkandmotherhood.com/2016/11/interview-with-claire-constant-pain.html

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A new vocabulary

Geburt

My parents flew back to Australia on the weekend so I’m left feeling a bit more alone again. I think I’ve mentioned this before but, without mum and dad around, my little English-speaking enclave narrows and the isolation of not knowing the local lingo presses more heavily. I guess it’s time to sort out some more German lessons!

Thinking about words – new, old, unusual and familiar – I wanted to write a list of pregnancy-related words you barely hear at other times of your life. I kinda like the way so many unusual small things have their own term: like the first poo your baby does and the early milk they get. I also realised that while waiting for this baby, I actually really dislike the word “pregnant” – it seems a fat, awkward sort of term. Particularly when people would use it as a verb: How pregnant do you look now? Ugh. The German word for it, Schwanger, is not much better, although it does have a sort of swingin’ appeal.

Here’s some interesting words around pregnancy and childbirth I do like:

  • trimester
  • perenium
  • meconium
  • colostrum
  • lochia
  • letdown
  • Hebamme (German for midwife)
  • Schwangerschaft (German for pregnancy – somehow less blunt than Schwanger)
  • Stillen (German for breastfeeding)
  • Geburtshilfe (German for giving birth / obstetrics)

Got any other good ones? Let me know in the comments below…

Beer and Anxiety

Rhinefelder Beerhalle

I got out of the house on Sunday and went into central Zurich. Hooray! It’s so hard to strike the balance of staying home and resting, and not going stir crazy with cabin fever. It’s been snowing a lot too, which makes going out less attractive. But sometimes you gotta GO!

Anyway, I found a good solution in the form of a trip into Zurich’s old town (Niederdorf) in the snow to eat Cordon Bleu crumbed pork with ham and cheese in the middle) and drink Weissbeer. Did this calm my body or soothe my mind? A bit of both, and well worth it. We went to the Rheinfelder Beerhalle – very old school (we were the youngest people there by a few decades, well, baby S certainly was!) Then we wandered around the cobblestone streets for a bit. None of the shops were open because: Sunday. But it’s actually quite nice to take shopping out of the equation, on occasion.

It’s been good to explore a few more restaurants and cafes with my parents in town. They seem surprised I haven’t been to more local places but who do I have to go with? I’m not much of a one for solo cafe exploration… will that affect my novel writing? I hope not! 🙂

The first two weeks with baby S were just bliss. I felt amazing – so happy and content. I wish I could feel that way always. Why can’t I? Unfortunately anxiety has crept in. I remember this “newborn anxiety” all too well from when P was small – a breathless sort of stressy feeling like I need to get lots of things done quickly before… what? He wakes up? But so what if he does?

I don’t quite know what causes this nasty anxiety, but lately, I’ve been thinking about the Two Factor Theory of Emotion, as you do. I might not be completely undertstanding it correctly but, as I read it, it’s about how sometimes if you experience the physical symptoms of a certain emotion, you feel that emotion mentally. Even though you might not actually be “feeling” that emotion.

So – breastfeeding and early weeks with a new baby. Physically I’m tired, which always makes me cry easily. My chest hurts and my back and shoulders are stiff, which makes me feel kind of stooped and vulnerable. I’m sweaty (a common postpartum thing) and the waterworks are still a bit dodgy (it takes at least six weeks to fully heal –  Sorry if TMI!) And I’m anxious as hell.

But I wonder which came first? Because all these physical manifestations are also symptoms of anxiety. Eg: when you’re anxious, you’re sweaty, stooped and need to wee. Is my brain taking cues from my body or the other way around? Maybe I’m not actually anxious at all, it just feels that way in my body, so my brain is reacting to it!

Or maybe I have a 3-week-old baby and I’m trying to do too much: housework, spending time with a toddler and attempting to crack breastfeeding with a hangover of failure the first time around (bfing is much harder than all the literature says – most things you read seem to say a few days and “no pain”. But when you talk to people in real life it seems as though everyone has issues. Pain can last for more like weeks or even several months, there’s problems with oversupply, undersupply, letdown and engorgement – so many women have these issues that I’m surprised the prevailing attitude seems to be that bfing is no problem. Maybe it’s just that once it goes right, people forget?).

So anyway, perhaps I’m faking myself into anxiety by being a puddle of postpartum and bfing mess. Or perhaps I am just freaking out with a 3-week old. (For the record, I mentioned this physical anxiety theory to my Hebamme/midwife and she said: nah you’re a mass of hormones now and you need more REST!) Either way, the answer is beer. Cheers!

 

Sweet Surrender

My new little Australian

“You’ve surrendered,” someone observed of me recently. And it was true. I felt a lot better over the Xmas / New Year period than a month or so back and a big part of it was accepting the inevitable: The new baby is coming. Soon.

The concept of surrender is a good one to practise when you’re about to give birth because, without getting into too many gory details, the whole process of delivering a baby tends to involve giving yourself up to the physical and letting it happen. Of course it doesn’t always go smoothly. But that’s the ideal.

After I wrote about feeling so down with Antenatal Depression and being afraid to give birth, I did some good things. I asked for help from various sources and I received it, for which I am very grateful. One extremely useful thing I did was “reach out” to some of my amazing mum friends, all of whom have given birth more recently and more often than me. I found their advice so useful in pulling myself together and writing up a birth plan that I’d like to share some of their wisdom here. I hope they won’t mind me so.

EMBRACE IT

  • Worry surfacing in late pregnancy is natural and obviously not feeling comfortable (in a foreign country) is going to elevate that.
  • Listen to yourself: your fears first, which lets you get to your strengths.
  • Every birth is different but the principle of surrender and embrace really helped me… I realised that with my [first] birth it was more painful when I was (not always consciously) holding on or fighting the pain but I had a fast transition when I started to give in to it. So with [my second baby’s] birth I did this from the beginning. When I had contractions I stood and circled a bit and said yes yes yes to try and embrace them. Don’t get me wrong there was yes yes NO yes times but I think this made it happen faster and in the end a lot easier than I imagined.
  • It is painful but focus that between contractions you’re not in pain. I was laughing joking apologising for yelling. For me an ipod of music got me through in my own world.
SECOND BIRTHS
  • It is a good idea to get a birth plan together but the whole thing will almost certainly be better second time round.
  • I was DREADING contractions as they were so awful when I was induced with [my first] but I found it much more manageable with [my second] as it built up slowly and only had about 2 puffs of gas and air during the whole thing – mainly cos it all happened so fast!
  •  In the end [my second birth] was very quick and I ended up on the birthing unit with [my husband] and a student midwife. It was intense but gas and air really helped me and I was totally up for considering other pain relief (and had asked for some) but [the baby] was just too fast and arrived after about a minute of pushing.
  • I had a terrible time with [my first] and ended up in theatre in a blind panic and having forceps and an epidural. This time my plan was very simple… try and if it feels awful, have an epidural. And that’s what I did. [My second] was born quickly and I felt enough to know when to push but no pain.

DRUGS

  • If planning pain relief gets you through the worry now then you should plan for that or at least acknowledge it as a possibility that is totally fine and acceptable.
  • A natural birth doesn’t have to mean totally drug free.  I’m totally for it but it’s not about being a bloody hero or a martyr.
  • I wouldn’t rule out anything, you’ve got to do what feels right for you. I hate all this stuff about giving birth a particular way – I think it’s just designed to make women feel rubbish at time when you are particularly vulnerable.
  • “[For my second] I decided that I wanted to go for the same again (water birth) but I was definitely much more open to the idea of drugs both when I was thinking about labour beforehand and during labour itself!
  • I asked for an epidural and no-one was shocked or judgmental (as I had feared). It was incredible. I felt calm and happy because the pain had been taken away and I had mental clarity because it doesn’t affect your head. I chatted to the midwives and [my husband] and he kept asking me when the drama would happen…and it didn’t.
  • In my case the natural birth choice was (imagined) pressure and once I’d realised it wasn’t really the decision for me I felt really liberated to have the epidural if I wanted it. Don’t get me wrong, I totally respect a natural birth, but it wasn’t for me. Who remembers in the long run anyway?
  • The good side of being in Zurich is not only quality chocolate and alpine air – you will also get the best healthcare. No short supply of drugs and no shame in administrating or using them.
  • You know however you decide to do this, I’ve totally got your back.

IT’S AMAZING

  • It sounds mad but I would do it all again (both of my different labours) in a heartbeat, even with the pain – it is so wonderful to hold your new baby in your arms that I would love to go back in time to hold them again when they were so new.
  • [My third] birth was painful but I knew I could do it and in the end I’m so glad I did. Over 4kg with no intervention no stitches… Good for both of us.
  • My birth second time around was brilliant. It was such a happier experience than with [my first] and it some ways it felt quite cathartic to have a good birth.
  • My two goes at giving birth are two of my proudest moments. I love thinking back on them.

 AFTERWARDS

  • It’s brilliant how quickly you can change a nappy from day one, not panic about them crying, know the signs of wind, overtiredness  etc. You haven’t got the chance to obsess over pointless things like the colour of his/her nappy because you have a lovely toddler to hang out with. Your life doesn’t really change because you’re already in a kid routine and they just tag along.
  • I was very anxious throughout my [second] pregnancy. Once [the baby] arrived though I felt loads better, and actually enjoyed it more this time round.

My new baby S arrived a week ago after a relatively quick labour with a natural birth. We are both doing well 🙂

This sux, baby

Grumpy mum/to-be

After my recent moan about motherhood, I thought I may as well have a pop at pregnancy too – go for broke.

I’m totally bummed this whole second baby has got off to such a horrible start. I’ve been unwell, unhappy and uncomfortable for most of the pregnancy. I had all these rosy tinted dreams about having baby no. 2. I don’t know why I assumed it would be so wonderful but I guess I felt like the first time around, while it was all new and (relatively) exciting, it was more about getting through, moving to the next stage, wondering and worrying about what would happen next. And I think I was a bit thrown by it. Maybe even slightly… embarrassed? So, this second and final time, I was keen to embrace it, and even enjoy the pregnancy.

The first fly in the ointment of this plan came with trimester one’s fairly ick morning sickness. I wasn’t spewing but just felt rotten most of the time, physically and mentally. Unfortunately this also created a perfect storm/vicious cycle of not wanting to go out much, which meant my feelings of loneliness, isolation and lack of friends/support here were compounded. I did, however, have the slight comfort of assuming the baby would be a girl, purely by dint of the fact that I was so unwell. But I was wrong about that too.

The second trimester was all right. I felt a bit physically uncomfortable but I was mostly in Australia, so I was enjoying myself and managing to block out a lot of the negative feelings I’d been having. Also I had friends and family to talk through stuff with. Plus all the grandparental support made it easy to take it easy.

Since being back in Zurich, I’m pretty depressed again. It’s cold and dark and – surprise – since I’ve done nothing about it, nothing has magically changed about my life here to suddenly make it great! I’m feeling achey, tired and heavy and my 3.5-year-old son is annoying me just by being a 3.5-year-old (I read this article about how Time-Outs are damaging your child, oh how I laughed… don’t the authors realise that time-outs are so the parents can calm down and regain their composure?!)

I’ve read up a bit on antenatal depression. Unfortunately there’s not that much info – there’s more on PND (postnatal depression). I don’t know if this is because AND is less common, less talked about or purely the fact that there’s a time limit to it. So, for what it’s worth here’s what antenatal depression feels like to me:

It feels like: a big ball of regret and failure – physically and mentally.

It feels like: I can’t have this baby.

It feels like: I wish I wasn’t pregnant.

It feels like: is it too late for an abortion?

It feels like: knowing things are going to get worse before they get better – because how could this situation possibly be improved by adding a squalling, boob-sucking, sleep-deprivation machine?

It feels like: hating my body. I look disgusting.

It feels like: no one has touched me for months except my little boy. No one’s felt the baby move except me.

It feels like: drinking an extra glass or two of wine because you’re unhappy and alcohol has been your crutch for the past 20-odd years and it’s really hard to break that habit now, even though you know it’s doing untold damage to the unborn baby. (However, the stuff I’ve read on AND says it’s advisable to keep taking your anti-depressants. I am not on any SSRIs.)

It feels like: over-eating because I’m depressed. Then feeling sick and overfull – oof!

It feels like: I haven’t talked to the baby or “bonded” with it like I did with my first pregnancy. I can hardly bear thinking about this one.

It feels like: being angry a lot of the time with my beautiful, wonderful 3.5 year old because he won’t walk, or won’t come and get ready NOW, and insists on wearing a nappy even though he’s fine to use the potty.

It feels like: being terrified of PND – and not knowing how to prevent that.

It feels like: being scared of completely cracking up and/or doing something really dangerous to myself and/or others.

It feels like: being trapped. I really don’t know how to get out of this.

It feels like: there’s a sort of primal need to find a “safe” place to give birth and a part of me is frantic that I don’t have it.

It feels like: I should have stayed in Australia but I let convention and la-la-la-not-thinking-about-it guide me back here.

It feels like: I should just shut up with my #firstworldproblems because women are giving birth in refugee camps and other horrible places all the time.

It feels like: I’m afraid of the pain of giving birth. If I don’t even want the child, how can I endure labour? Should I be planning for an epidural? C-section? Would that make it worse?

It feels like: what if I don’t love the kid once he arrives? Everyone says “oh you will” but what if they’re wrong?

It feels like: not being sure if my marriage can survive this.

It feels like: smiling awkwardly when people say – you must be so excited about the baby!! Being envious but slightly appalled that other mums-to-be are thrilled to bits.

It feels like: wincing when people say: wow you’re getting big/ looking really pregnant / walking like a pregnant lady.

It feels like: No one wants to hear it. I should just get over it.

It feels like: when bad things happen to other people, it doesn’t put it all into perspective. I just feel worse, like the world is a bad place.

It feels like: I’m wasting all these amazing opportunities but I just can’t seem to find contentment, let alone happiness.

It feels like: I must just be a cold, nasty, unfeeling person.

It feels like: I’ve made a huge mistake.

It feels like: I’ve made my bed and now I have to lie in it.

It feels like: a life sentence (ok: bad pun). But if motherhood is not really doing it for me already, how’s it going to be in six months, 3 years, 10 years… 😦

It feels like: being really, really tired.

It feels like: being bored.

It feels like: I hate myself and baby, you suck too.