“What would Mr Carson say?”
It’s nearly midnight on a sweltering summer’s night at London’s St George’s Hospital. My midwife and my partner Mat burst out laughing. I laugh too. Why am I blabbing about Mr Carson? I’d spent the early hours of labour binge-watching Downton Abbey and it seems the gas and air has now got to me.
The first half of my labour is better than I ever could have hoped. I use the TENS machine and hypnobirthing at home for most of the first day. Years of living with sirens on Tooting High Street have finally paid off. When the contractions are close enough together I walk across the road to the maternity unit, holding Mat for support. When we arrive I’m deemed low enough risk that I have a birthing room (where I can just make out our living room from the window) with pool and the most wonderful Italian midwife, Laura, who I feel totally comfortable with.
But 24 hours after my waters break I’m stuck at 8cms with no change for several hours. Laura gently prepares me that we will need to start thinking about other options. They have their policies. Truth or not, the seed has been planted: I am unable to get my baby out without intervention. I’m gutted. I’m taken down to the delivery suite which is brightly lit and has a frantic energy, moans coming from every direction.
Slightly delirious now, I repeat the hypnobirthing mantra “you’re one step closer to meeting your baby”, only this time the driving force is a medicated dose of oxytocin and an epidural. The epidural takes hold, pain vanishes and all I’m left with are wave-like sensations which I’m told are very strong contractions.
Time keeps coming and still no change. I flick through a National Geographic. Put it back down again. How absurd, I’m in labour not at the dentist. At this point, I mentally and physically check out. I’m no longer an active participant in my labour. Totally lucid, I become self-aware and self-conscious. Physical examinations feel clunky and awkward. I wish I was back in the birthing room – animal instincts, crawling, stretching, pain, blood and guts.
It’s now the afternoon.
I haven’t slept for over 60 hours. They tell us the next step is a C-section. It’s tough going and traumatic, I won’t go into detail. When our baby finally arrives we name her Sadie. I tell her “I love you” but the love hormones are buried under shock, exhaustion and a ton of medication.
After being put back together again, they open my gown and place Sadie on my chest. Reunited and skin to skin we promptly fall asleep.
Cue a few hours later. It’s dark and I’m disorientated. Awoken by staff checking my vitals and demanding to know if I have established breastfeeding. I look over at the side of the bed, a baby, my baby is in a glass cot. She may as well be on a different planet as it’s impossible to move. I’m sweaty and itchy. I feel uncomfortable and not ready to hold her. The night staff are brusque and rude. I feel vulnerable and broken.
The following morning is a little better. I’m finally supported to feed but there is no peace. All manner of checks takes place. Staff enter the room every five minutes. I haven’t even called my parents who are worried sick. Mat and I are desperate to go home.
This is where the sling enters our story.
We could have called a cab or asked friends to drive, but with our flat literally across the road it seemed ridiculous and I wasn’t ready to see people. We had a huge outward facing secondhand buggy, but the thought of putting a newborn in it didn’t sit well with us.
My sister had suggested a sling as a gift a few months earlier and we chose a bright orange stretchy Amawrap. It reminds me of Buddhist monks robes. It goes well with denim and is unisex for Mat and me, and our baby whose sex wasn’t revealed until her birth. I had watched videos and had practiced a basic front carry with a stuffed toy monkey on top of my bump many times.
In the hospital, our discharge papers are finally ready. Mat tries to put the wrap on with my guidance. It looks a mess. We’re desperate to leave. I feel able and want to do this myself.
I take my time following the steps, looking over the instructions just to be sure. Mat helps guide Sadie into place. I’m elated. Not bad for our first proper go.
This is exactly what I want and need right now.
A few hours ago we were told by staff it was against the rules to carry a baby in arms on the ward outside of rooms or bays. “They must be transported in their cots”. Shit, we can’t even be trusted to hold our own babies safely. But once discharged there is no guidance. We’re on our own.
If I look back now at my first carry I would say “she’s too low”, “the wrap needs to go tighter” and “don’t you know you can flip the shoulder and pull the material away from your baby’s face?”. But I know she was safe and monitored the whole time. By the time we arrive home she has started to slip a little and I am giving extra support with my arms. The walk is slow as we check on our precious bundle every few steps and I am conscious of the limitations of my post-surgery body.
Was it the right thing to do less than 48 hours after surgery? It seems a little crazy now, but physically I felt confident to carry. Other maneuvers like getting off a sofa or out of bed without wincing would take weeks. But carrying my baby with the support of the wrap felt natural and empowering. If I went back in time I’d do it all over again.
After the C-section carrying was most practical as the buggy was technically too heavy to lift over the doorstep. After that first initial carry, I left the carrying (and pretty much everything) to Mat while I recovered.
Whenever I tried carrying again I would get frustrated, knowing the tie wasn’t quite right and a few weeks later sought help from Hannah at Wear My Baby for a consultation.
The surgery and hospital experience post labour had left me emotionally fragile. As a new parent there was so much I didn’t know. But each time I held my daughter or wore her close I felt myself repair a little and I fell hard in love with our amazing, beautiful girl.
I carried her for 9 months and I carried her home.
Welcome home baby!