Having suffered for many years from anxiety related mental health issues, it was always at the back of my mind how I would cope with labour. I have spent a lot of time with therapists either training or for my own personal sessions and along the way have learned many fabulous things. Life-changing strategies that allowed me to manage my emotions and give birth with no expectations. No prior worries about what was going to happen and not allowing other people's experiences to haunt me. When my waters broke and contractions started, instead of feeling panic about the unknown, I felt excited that it wouldn't be long until we got to meet our wee bundle of perfection. The added bonus, we were still due a surprise... Boy 💙 or girl 💖.
With my daughter being my first child I had no idea what to expect. On arrival to the maternity ward we were met at the glass doors by a nurse in all her PPE. The most surreal part of the experience, she could see I was in pain with my contractions yet we had to communicate through the glass door so she could check we were 'meant to be there'. Luckily it didn't take long and we were allowed in. Into the silent corridors, with limited people and barely a sound. It was evening time and in a strange way it felt normal. It felt like this is maybe what the ward is always like because it's night time and places are less busy at night, right? Not that babies know what time of day to arrive!
Continuing through the empty hallways and arriving at the 'green zone' we were again met by more glass doors and a buzzer system to speak though. It felt like I was entering MI-6, having all my credentials checked! Once through the doors and into our room where we would spend the next 20 hours or so, we met Sarah our first midwife. Now being in the hospital I felt safe, a sense of relief that I was where I needed to be. Although still finding the contractions pretty painful I was put at ease and supported. It wasn't too long until I met the midwives, Emma and Kerry,who were going to be on the next part of our journey, the longest, most painful however the most rewarding. I have to say although fully dressed in PPE and constant hand washing and hygiene checks, to me, the whole experience seemed like it was the norm. I guess, I am kind of grateful that this was my first experience of labour and being a new mummy as I had no expectations. I had kept any anxieties down to a minimum and managed to stay as in control as my body would let me.
Words cannot describe how grateful I am for every member of staff that was with me on my labour journey. Their supportive manner and calmness was reassuring during a time that could have been detrimental to my mental health if some things had been different. Knowing it was just Michael and I ( and our daughter once she had arrived) made me feel safe and at ease. I didn't need to worry about attempting to look acceptable for visitors coming in and I knew the next few hours ( at that point not knowing we were staying a couple of days ) it was just us. Our little family, in our little bubble. A bubble so filled with love words cannot explain.
We spent the next two days in hospital as our gorgeous wee girl, even though extremely content, was struggling to feed. Emotions running high, which is to be expected as a new mummy, I did experience the odd sense of panic that I was doing something wrong. Was it my fault she couldn't feed? Did I have the wrong technique, maybe I wasn't helping her enough? The old me ( pre therapy me ) would have allowed these thoughts to fester, to eat away and start to take control. Although, knowing how supportive all the midwives were, I spoke up. I voiced my concerns and was totally reasurred that what I was experiencing was the norm. Knowing this I was able to use strategies to continually remind myself that both of us were still learning. This whole experience was like no other I had ever had and my daughter, she had spent 9 months feeling safe and cosy and was now facing the task of survival. She too has to learn and it is vital I remain calm and in control to enable her to do so. To give her the best possible learning environment so she to can thrive.
I had the option of coming home after the first full night and don't get me wrong, there were many times I considered it. Just so I could be at home, surrounded by my own comforts and in my own space. I knew Michael wanted that too. But there was a voice inside me telling me I wasn't ready. Telling me I needed to speak up and put how I was feeling first. I was anxious, I was feeling panicked and I needed to make sure these feelings were minimised before even considering going home. I am so proud of myself for not holding my emotions in. Those of you who suffer mental health will fully understand how difficult it is to sometimes say how you feel, let alone voice what you know is best for you. What was best for me at this point, was to stay another night until I felt I had cracked the feeding. Looking back, this was by far the best decision as I felt like I at least kind of knew what I was doing for my daughter. After all, a girl's gotta eat!
Having shared with the midwives how I was feeling, things started to improve. My beautiful wee girl was managing to feed, although she was more successful if I was walking about at the same time! This was extremely draining not long after birth, however if that's what helped her, that's exactly what I was going to do. The final night we were in, through to the morning, I managed to help her feed without calling for back up support! I felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and joy. "I think we're ready to go home".
Last checks completed and gratitude expressed, our little family was ready to go home. Ready for the next chapter to begin. A bag of mixed emotions, we organised ourselves and made the short drive home. The true effects of lockdown were now beginning to take shape. We were heading home to greet our dogs, who had a wonderful mini holiday with the in-laws. The strange thing being, all the adults needed to social distance. There was to be no hugging, no contact and distance to be kept at all times. Feeling so overwhelmed and emotional, being extremely grateful for our dogs ( and the rest of the zoo )being cared for and the support we'd received all I wanted to do was to share my thanks and exchange hugs, however, the dreaded Covid-19 put a stop to this. At those times where compassion is needed the most, we have all had to adapt and alter the things we needed to ensure our own well-being. As much as cuddles and closeness was needed right now, the safety of our family had to come first. We used the space in the garden and although a very surreal experience, we were still able to share our 'coming home' journey with those close to us.
For us, the next few days were actually an amazing experience. Although confined to our house to ensure we were following guidelines and keeping safe, we got to spend time just as a family. I strongly believe this has brought us all closer together. It has allowed myself and Michael time to figure out the whole 'parenting' game. We have had the opportunity to spend every second with each other and personally I feel we are stronger than ever. We have been able to take each day as at comes and use the time available, 'sleeping time', to do the odd jobs. Although we are totally aware for others it has been extremely hard and will continue to be for quite some time. Our first week and a half of being parents has been a blessing, even with the stress and uncertainty of Covid-19. In the mornings we have got ourselves organised, fit in extra naps as well as expressing, without having the worry of visitors knocking at the door. We have been very lucky to have a few people 'drive by' and have managed to catch up and socialise outwith our bubble but we have not had the added stress of keeping our house clean and making sure we are dressed! Lots of time has been spent in PJ'S and house work has been left till a time that suited our routine. A routine that changes every single day. Going with the flow has been the way forward, we have adapted to each day and learned as we go. Facetime has helped those close to us. It has given them the opportunity to see our beautiful girl and although through a screen, they have managed to have much better experience of how content she actually is ( from two meters away you can't really get a full sense of how amazing our wee bundle is ).
As things progress we are hoping that restrictions will soon be lifted allowing us all to lead a much more 'normal life'. Although tough for those closest to us, I hope that when the time comes they are able to make the moment the most special time possible. Unfortunately we cannot predict what happens in life and we cannot change what is happening. We have to make the most of the situation we are in and the challenges life throws at us. What I would give for an extra hour in bed is not worth putting anyone at risk. Adapting is all we can do. From such a traumatic way of living for the entire world, we have to find the positives. It's the only way we can come out of this stronger. As a family we will continue to grow as a unit, supporting each other and becoming even stronger. We will cherish every moment we have together and make the most of this precious time. Along the way, it is important to support those around us and we will continue to share photos and video chats to keep spirits up. I just know at the end of this, there is going to be a big celebration when families and friends can finally come together. That is the moment we have to look towards. We must continue to stay at home, stay safe in order to protect the people we love. This journey is going to be one for the history books!