#MatExp – The Good, The Bad and The Unacceptable

When I first came across Florence and Gill and the MatExp Campaign, I knew my group would have a lot of maternity experiences to provide to them.  We are always discussing and sharing birth stories, and when I asked them for their feedback it came in abundance.  Their stories, from all round the UK, have been passed on to Florence and Gill, and also to Jeanne, midwifery lecturer at Salford University.  I have permission to share an initial snapshot with you here, to give you a flavour of the ordinary maternity experiences that are happening around the country and which, for the most part, do not get formally discussed once they are over.

The Good

This was the hardest section to find quotes for.  Not, thankfully, because I didn’t have any good birth experiences to work with, but because I was looking for quotations praising the midwives.  But when you read a positive birth story the midwives are rarely mentioned.  They are there, and their actions are noted, but they do not receive praise for their interventions, because a positive birth story is about the mother: her experience, her actions and her achievement.  Rest assured there are plenty of positive stories being shared amongst us, but in terms of positive feedback there is only a little:

“Although I ended up with a c-section after induction, pre eclampsia and gestational diabetes plus a lengthy hospital stay, I only have good things to say about my experience.  At all points I felt they were doing the best for me and my baby.  I loved the fact that, during my stay in hospital, when midwives asked you how you were feeding they always responded ‘bottle feeding, brilliant’ or ‘breastfeeding, brilliant’ – there was no obvious preference amongst the staff but they were very supportive of either.”

“When I got the epidural I had a lovely midwife waiting with me for the drip to work.  I really appreciated her calm, kind attitude – she was so so lovely and I think the fact that it was one to one care made it amazing.  I felt so well cared for.  When I started to push everyone was SO LOVELY and I felt very in control.  It was when they said I needed forceps I started to lose it a bit but they were still lovely even though I was throwing the F-word around a bit by now.  I was transferred to theatre and started to get a bit scared, but again my midwife was very reassuring.  I had a spinal block which sadly went too high and I started to suffocate. I had to have a GA and I was very frightened but seriously, all praise to the staff, they were so calm and kind.  The consultant offered me a debrief appointment and I went to it about twelve weeks later – it helped me process everything.  Whilst it wasn’t a great experience I feel the hospital did everything they could to help me and safeguard my emotional health following a scary time.”

“I had excellent care in my second pregnancy with the same midwife all the way through; wonderful home water birth and excellent postnatal care, including breastfeeding support.  A great example of how important it is having the same person looking after you and building a relationship.”

What we really want in pregnancy!

What we really want in pregnancy!

The Bad

“While being assessed I gave permission to be examined vaginally on arrival to assess my progress.  On finishing the exam the midwife said ‘you’re a good 4-5cm dilated already so I gave you a good stretch whilst I was there to speed it up.’  I had not been asked if I would like a cervical stretch.  I did not give my permission for a cervical stretch.”

“Both myself and a friend progressed very quickly once the induction took and struggled to cope with intense pains that came every minute or less.  Both of us had dismissive midwives who offered no explanation as to why the pain was so intense and why we could have no painkillers other than paracetamol.  We were both told to go to sleep (as if!) and told that if we couldn’t cope now how would we cope when labour was established – which was terrifying!                                                    Both of us coped just fine on gas and air.”

“Breastfeeding support was rubbish.  My husband showed me how to manually express milk after reading the breastfeeding book.  The support workers just shoved my boob in baby’s mouth but I didn’t understand how I was supposed to do it when they weren’t there.”

“…..another midwife was lovely and kind and murmured comforting words as she fixed the belts and monitoring equipment, then left me behind the screen.  Bossy midwife then came along and yanked back the screen, announcing that she ‘liked to see her ladies when there are being monitored.’ So I was sat with my jeans so low that my pubic hair was showing, my whole bump exposed, while a couple of women I didn’t know and their partners tried to look anywhere but at me.  I had very little shame by that point but this upset me.  It felt like punishment.”

Always use your "B.R.A.I.N."

Always use your “B.R.A.I.N.”

“With my 4th baby I was still keen to have a homebirth but requested a growth scan near my due date to monitor baby’s size and check it would be safe [due to previous shoulder dystocia]. This was refused. They ‘didn’t do growth scans’. I could have a homebirth but not a scan. I repeated the request to other midwives but nobody suggested referring me or even seemed to care. I eventually found a midwife who took me seriously and referred me to the consultant. When I eventually got my hospital appointment I saw a registrar who honestly didn’t seem to know what he was doing. He said I couldn’t have a growth scan but refused homebirth in case I had shoulder dystocia again.  After another appointment I insisted I saw the actual consultant. The consultant said I couldn’t have a scan but agreed to do a sweep 1 week before my due date. In the end, I asked about a due date induction to reduce the risk of the baby getting too big as I was so frustrated at this point and nervous of baby getting stuck again. They seemed surprised but agreed, so that’s what we did.”

The Unacceptable

Despite the draw of a catchy title, I refused to refer to any of these experiences as “ugly”.  A new life entering the world is never ugly.  But I feel that “unacceptable” is appropriate for these two experiences, and I hope that you do too:

“My midwife asked, whilst examining me to see how far dilated I was, if I’d like a sweep.  I was in agony so I said no.  She did it anyway.  I screamed and hubby said he had never seen me look so pained before or since.  She only said ‘done now’.”

“All going smoothly until I haemorrhaged.  I was rushed to delivery and the consultants managed to stem the bleeding, with a review scheduled to decide if theatre was necessary.  There was a question mark over retained placenta/products. The placenta was torn and was not confirmed as complete. I had another procedure to stem another heavy bleed with the review still scheduled for later in the day.  A junior consultant came and decided that they weren’t going to take me to theatre that day despite still having heavy bleeding.  I had not been given any food or drink (other than water) since the previous evening.  This was 2pm on Saturday.

After this, I didn’t see a midwife (nor anyone else) for hours.  My room had blood covered surgical instruments left on the side plus the swabs etc from the procedures, my catheter came out and I was left in a soaked bed for what seemed like a long time plus the bleeding was still very bad.  My buzzer was not answered for long periods of time. I was eventually transferred to a ward at around 8pm.  Once on the ward, I continued to bleed and clot heavily.  The midwife said this was normal.  My obs were low but I didn’t want a blood transfusion unless absolutely necessary.  There was no further mention of retained placenta/products and I was allowed home after 3 days.

This resulted in four and a half weeks later being rushed to surgery to have the retained products removed.  This was after 3 separate haemorrhages which again the community midwives said just needed monitoring.  I was lucky that I didn’t get an infection.  The advice in A&E was that I should have called an ambulance.”

I have a lot more #MatExp feedback to share, too much for one blog post.  I will put up more soon.  For now I will leave you with this illustration of the discussions at a recent Families & Midwives Together Conference I attended at Salford University:

Families & Midwives Together

Families & Midwives Together

What could have been better about the care you received?

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Infant Feeding – two very different journeys again!

You will find that whenever I talk about my boys the first thing I tell you is how different they are.  If you have read my #MatExp post you will know that they entered the world in completely different ways.  This theme continued with my feeding journeys.

Edward was born at home in February 2011 and his first feed was in our bed, with me lying down and him latched on lying next to me. I was totally on board with the idea of breastfeeding, I understood it was the “best” nutrition for him and as my Mum had breastfed me for 9 months I thought it would be a breeze. I had been given some great tips on the early days from my midwife, and had read The Baby Whisperer so thought I knew all about feeding routines and what to expect.

That first feed is a blur. I certainly didn’t get a rush of love, or hormones, or bonding or anything. I was exhausted and didn’t know then how important that first colostrum is for baby (some people refer to it as baby’s first immunisation). So I was pleased he was feeding but it wasn’t a momentous occasion. Fortunately for me Edward knew exactly what he was doing, so off we went.

Having swallowed The Baby Whisperer hook, line and sinker it was lucky for me that Edward was a textbook baby. He was happy to feed to a 3 hourly schedule once the first crazy days/weeks were behind us. In fact he was so punctual you could set your watch by him! I had some nipple pain initially and well remember the “toe curling” feeling when he first latched on, especially on my right breast, but I didn’t suffer too much and my nipples soon toughened up. I was proud to be breastfeeding but it still didn’t really “mean” anything to me – I was just glad to be doing something “right”.

Looking back, I made it as hard as possible for myself. I fed him sitting up at night because I thought if I lay down I’d fall asleep and then what would that do for his routine and ability to self settle?! I tried to feed discreetly whilst in public, which meant faffing round with scarves and muslins. I was adamant I wasn’t going to feed him to sleep or use breastfeeding as a comfort (thank you baby books) so many long evenings were spent settling him with songs and patting. Fortunately though he was a “good” sleeper.

Breastfeeding Edward

Breastfeeding Edward

I have no fond memories of breastfeeding Edward. It was just part of the job. And then it became overwhelming. I know now that I was struggling with postnatal anxiety and low mood, and I was obsessed with sleep. I couldn’t cope with the broken sleep at all, and found it so hard that I was the only one who could feed Edward – no matter how many times he woke in the night. Phil was fantastic, doing nappies, winding, settling – everything except feeding – but I found it so hard to cope. At 6 weeks in we started giving Edward a bottle of formula in the evenings so I could get some rest but I didn’t know anything about combi feeding so believed this was as much formula as he could have without messing up my supply.

When Edward was 10 weeks old I sat in the GP’s surgery in tears because I was struggling so much with being a mum. The GP offered me anti depressants and I said I felt it would be ridiculous to start medication when all I needed was a night’s SLEEP! After much soul searching I decided that day to stop breastfeeding and move Edward on to formula. Most people were supportive (with the exception of my Mum who was disappointed) and I remember one friend texting “It’s a bloody relief isn’t it?” It really was! That night I slept over the road in a neighbour’s house, expressing for comfort before bed. After that Phil did a lot of the night’s until I was back on my feet, and fortunately Edward slept through from 18 weeks apart from a dream feed at 11pm.

The first day Edward was fully formula fed

The first day Edward was fully formula fed

By the time I started my Facebook group when Edward was 8 months old I was firmly of the opinion that breastfeeding wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and that no one could be expected to cope with a newborn if they were exclusively breastfeeding. How much I was about to learn……

David was born by c-section in September 2013 and as you know he has a severe congenital heart defect. He spent his first 3½ weeks in hospital, which included open heart surgery. I didn’t hold him until he was two days old and he couldn’t feed orally until he was 2½ weeks. So already a completely different newborn experience, but where feeding was concerned the difference is particularly marked.

Nearly 3 years on Facebook with some fabulous peer supporters had taught me what breastfeeding is really all about. Not just nutrition – it is comfort, infection control, pain relief and the best tool to settle a baby to sleep. Despite knowing all of this, and having learned that most newborns don’t feed to a schedule or have a routine, I was terrified of breastfeeding again. As soon as I fell pregnant I started panicking about how I would cope. Fortunately, I was by now good friends with peer supporter Laura Moore, and between us we hatched a plan for me to combi feed. I was to try to breastfeed exclusively for 6 weeks until my supply was established and I would then introduce bottles so Phil and I could share the nights, which would hopefully mean I would cope better and breastfeed for longer.

Once we learned of David’s health problems breastfeeding became crucial to me. It was the one thing I could do to help my baby, and it was such an important part of his care. Once again, Laura was a key member of the team. She helped me to hand express 5ml of colostrum before my c-section so that it was ready for David on NICU no matter what state I was in post-op. She then encouraged me to keep hand expressing all through that first night when I was in pain and away from my baby. A good job too, because I would have to keep expressing breastmilk for a couple of weeks to come, although once we were at Alder Hey I had the fantastic Medela Symphony breast pumps to help me out. Laura even hired a pump so that I could double pump at home – I would have been lost without her.

Once David was cleared to feed orally the hospital started him on bottles of my expressed milk. They never suggested latching him on and I couldn’t be bothered to get into it with them (they weren’t that well up on breastfeeding information) – I knew my best chance of feeding at the breast would be to have a try once we were relaxed at home. David was discharged at 3½ weeks old, and it soon became clear that pumping, feeding and looking after both him and Edward was going to be too much to contend with once Phil went back to work. So I had words with my boy and told him that if he didn’t latch on by the weekend it would be formula for him.

That Friday Laura and I were at soft play and I let David have a snuffle around my breasts but he was having none of it. Ever the hero, Laura passed me a supplementary nursing system (SNS) which is a little tube that tapes to your nipple down which you can put formula or expressed milk, so it gets the child used to feeding at the nipple without them having to sort out their latch. Saturday arrived and I was all ready to put the SNS into action, but I thought I’d give David another go on his own. I was sat in the living room with the two boys, Phil was asleep upstairs, and I just held David skin to skin and let him have a root around – and HE LATCHED ON!!

I was so excited but had no one to tell – I tried pointing it out to Edward but at 2½ years old he really didn’t care. So being very careful not to disturb David, I managed to type out a message on Facebook – David was feeding at the breast!!

After that there was no stopping him. We went to bed together for that whole day and that was it. He was a breast fiend! He fed every 1½ to 2 hours, but I knew that was normal especially for a baby who had been through as much as he had – he needed the comfort. I was more than happy to accommodate him, as it meant he piled on the weight like a trooper. Due to his condition he was being weighed twice a week, and every little increase made the broken nights worth it.

As you can imagine, breastfeeding certainly meant something this time around. Yes I was still exhausted, but this time I was happy to feed lying down, bedshare (within the guidelines) and feed him anywhere and everywhere (bugger discretion!). The fact that he needed a second operation at around 5 months made me determined to keep going, as the comfort and pain relief it would offer to him were at the forefront of my mind. I knew this time to take it one day at a time though, and I knew that a bad day was a bad day – it didn’t mean my whole parenting journey was going to be a disaster.

We stuck to our original plan and started to combi feed at about 6 weeks. I knew that realistically this was the only way I was going to keep going – especially considering how often David fed. He was pretty bottle resistant and a few times I felt that his cries meant “what is this crap? Where’s Mummy?!” but Phil was very patient and more often than not he got a bottle down him in the end. It had to be that way – I knew from experience that exclusively breastfeeding would just mean I had a meltdown and stopped feeding altogether.

18 months in and we are still breastfeeding. David hasn’t had any formula for months because he is feeding less now, and past a year old he’s on cow’s milk now if he’s away from me. He still wakes in the night (he’s a high needs baby, that’s just his temperament) but we bedshare and I feed him whilst dozing beside him and it works. He will need another operation when he’s 3 or 4, and I now know that lots of mums breastfeed natural term, so if he is still feeding when it’s surgery time again I’ll be happy. I never thought I’d say this, but I will miss breastfeeding when it’s over.

So thank you to everyone who has taught me and supported me where breastfeeding is concerned. Please remember though that I have been on both sides of the infant feeding experience, and I don’t see anyone’s choices as “failures” or poor parenting. The early days with a baby are bloody hard. And mums have needs as much as babies do.

David and I celebrating one year of breastfeeding

David and I celebrating one year of breastfeeding

My #MatExp – two very different experiences!

As one of two breastfeeding champions for the NHS Change Day MatExp Campaign, I find myself talking a lot about maternity services.  It is strange one for me, as although I speak to mums all the time about their maternity experiences, I actually have very little personal knowledge of giving birth on the NHS.  With my first baby, I knew from the start that I wanted a homebirth.  I had been following a homebirth email forum since before I got pregnant and had gained the impression that the NHS would make my life as difficult as possible if I decided to give birth that way (especially as a first time mum) so we opted to use an independent midwife. This was totally the right decision for me as I suffer from anxiety and have issues around loss of control so needed continuity of care and to be able to do things my way.

Second time around we couldn’t afford another IM, so we started out with the NHS.  We wanted another homebirth and this time I was fairly confident that I could get the birth I wanted, being a lot more knowledgeable and also having already given birth at home.  However, a few weeks in to my pregnancy a friend of mine told me about OnetoOne Midwives. Their service was exactly what I was looking for, and I was lucky that in 2013 I was able to self refer to them from Trafford.  The lovely OnetoOne team looked after me from then on.

Sadly, when I was 38 weeks pregnant a routine check of baby’s heartbeat revealed an anomaly, and a week of scans and tests later gave us the diagnosis that our baby had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.  Not only was homebirth off the cards but it wasn’t certain we would take our baby home at all.  You can read all about our experiences with David here, but in terms of my #MatExp the staff at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester were fantastic.  I had a c-section, and as everyone was focusing on getting David out and into NICU, it was the most medicalised birth you can imagine, but I still felt respected and cared for, with things being explained to me every step of the way.  Special mention goes to midwife Della and anaesthetist Andrew Heck who provided the kind of care that makes any maternity experience a positive one.

So going back to that first birth with my gorgeous big boy Edward, let me tell you my birth story as I wrote it back in 2011:

Birth Story – Edward Calvert enters the world

On Monday 31st January I was 42+1 and we were at the hospital for monitoring. We had agreed to be monitored to make sure that baby and I were still healthy, but knew that we didn’t want to book an induction just yet. We had a scan to check on the function of the placenta and then had 30 minutes of monitoring to check on baby’s heart rate, his movements and my pulse. Our lovely Independent Midwife Verena was with me the whole time, and confirmed that the monitoring showed no problems for either of us. We then had to wait to see a young obstetrician who outlined the hospital’s policy for women who had gone past 42 weeks. She confirmed that she would like to book me in to be induced, or failing that she would like me to come in for daily monitoring.

We confirmed that we understood the reasons for her requests but said that we would prefer to come back for monitoring on the Wednesday, and not to book an induction just yet. She respected our choices but due to her being fairly junior requested that we wait whilst she speak to a consultant. A lovely consultant then came to speak to us, and was more than happy to accept our choices once he had confirmed with us that we understood the situation.

That evening I made a concerted effort to relax and get myself into a good mental place to give birth. Having done a sweep that morning, Verena confirmed that everything was ready for me to go into labour – we just needed some contractions! So I lay down on the day bed in the nursery, put the lights down low, asked Phil to come and sit quietly with me and focused on putting myself into my relaxed state as taught by the hypnobirthing CD. Phil sat and read whilst I relaxed for half an hour.

At the end of that time, I asked Phil to get me a glass of water. No sooner had he left the room than I felt a pop and was pretty convinced that my waters had broken. I waited until he came back just in case I had lots of fluid, but when he helped me to stand up I only had enough fluid to soak a small patch into my jeans. I went to the loo and confirmed that the waters were not a bad colour, nor did they appear to contain any meconium. Phil phoned Verena and she said that most women go into labour within 24 hours of their waters breaking, so things should start to get going any time. This was 9:30pm.

At 10:00pm I felt what I was pretty sure was my first contraction, so I made a tentative note of it. I continued doing a jigsaw puzzle downstairs and just noted each contraction as it came, as at this early stage they weren’t painful. They were regular though, coming every 5 minutes from the start, and Phil phoned Verena to let her know what was happening. The contractions became painful fairly shortly, to the point where I had to concentrate through each one. Phil started filling the birth pool just before midnight, as he knew he could keep it warm so thought it best to make sure it was ready. He then phoned Verena at 12:30am to tell her that my contractions were getting stronger and were lasting around 40 seconds. She arrived at our house with Sara (second midwife) at 1:30am, by which time I was feeling a bit nauseous with the contractions and my back was aching. I was standing in the nursery, leaning on the day bed through the contractions, with my wave music on and watching a slide show of photos on the laptop that I had put together in advance to keep me cheerful!

Verena put the TENS machine on for me and that was beneficial although it felt strange to begin with. She checked me over, blood pressure etc. and also had a listen to baby’s heart. All fine, and my contractions were now a bit more spaced out (this often happens when the midwives arrive!) so Verena told me that I was definitely in early labour but that I wasn’t in ‘established’ labour as yet. She and Sara left at 3:00am and said they’d be back in the morning, but obviously we should call them if anything changed or if we needed support.

I spent the rest of the night kneeling on pillows, leaning against our bed and breathing through each contraction – they were now pretty painful and I was using the TENS machine through each one. I was only comfortable kneeling up, I couldn’t lie down at all, so I was dozing between contractions with my head on the bed. Phil got some sleep in the bed beside me, and I remember looking at him snoozing comfortably and being fairly resentful of how cosy he looked! I was sick a couple of times in the night, and Phil woke up to play pass the parcel with various bowls and receptacles! I woke him finally around 6:00am as I was fed up with dealing with the contractions by myself and I needed some support. We tried putting me in the shower to run warm water over my back, and Phil braced his arm against the tiles and I hung onto him during each contraction. Phil then phoned Verena at 7:30am to say that my contractions were every 3-4 minutes apart and were more intense – we definitely needed her to come back! Verena said that I could get into the pool if I felt it would help, and I got in as soon as I could! Was still only comfortable kneeling up so knelt in the pool, leaning over the side, and hanging on to the handles during contractions. I didn’t want to be touched at all whilst contracting, so poor Phil didn’t really feel like he could offer any comfort, but of course he was being fantastic and very encouraging.

Verena and Sara arrived back at 9:00am and put a warm, wet towel across my back to help with the backache. In my labour notes it says that I looked very relaxed but said that I didn’t feel it – I think I looked relaxed coz I was exhausted and was only awake coz I was contracting! Verena had a listen to baby’s heart – thankfully her equipment was waterproof so she could just pop the device into the pool and have a listen between contractions.

At 9:30am Verena told me that I was in or close to transition, i.e. the change between the first stage of labour and the second stage where you can start to get the baby out! I remember being delighted at hearing that, but am surprised reading the notes that it was 9:30am – I would have thought it was later in the morning that she told me that. You lose all sense of time in labour! Verena gave me a homeopathic remedy to help cope with the backache and exhaustion, and they all encouraged me to drink plenty of water. Unfortunately I couldn’t face much food, which was a shame as I desperately needed the energy.

Just before 11:00am I started to feel the urge to push, and got a bit more vocal during my contractions! Phil and Sara had been doing excellent work keeping the pool water warm and the midwives continued to monitor baby, but all this was background to me as my life was all about the contractions. I had a cup of sweet tea as everyone kept encouraging me to get in anything that could give me some energy. Verena has put down in my labour notes that Cleo the cat turned up outside the nursery door at this point to have a concerned yowl, but she wasn’t allowed in the room. I do remember hearing her make her presence felt! It was around this point that I began to push a little during contractions – not a choice, just something my body felt it was time to do. By 11:30am I was getting a strong urge to push with every contraction.

Ten minutes later, Phil lit some candles and Verena noted they were all getting ready to meet baby. I am of course taking all of these timings from my labour notes – I had very little idea of what was going on and certainly no clue of time! It was all about getting through the contractions and resting as much as possible in between. Verena thought a change of position might help with the pushing, so I stood up in the pool supported by Phil. All the signs were good that baby was ready to come, and everyone was encouraging me to push and telling me how well I was doing. I went back to kneeling in the pool and Verena has put in my notes that I was pushing very effectively. I remember it was bloody hard work!

At 12:30pm Verena gave me another homeopathic remedy to help with the pushing and I continued to use all of my efforts. At 12:50pm Verena has made a note to say that when she was listening to baby’s heart “baby trying to kickbox my hand away as if to say go away, I am coming out!!”. I changed position again so that I was lying on my side in the pool, still with my head on the side – change of position suggested by the midwives as all the efforts at pushing were not getting baby “round the u-bend” as they put it! I then tried squatting in the pool, but complained that the contractions were not long enough to give me enough time to push effectively – I was getting in perhaps three good pushes and then the contraction subsided when I felt I could do with just one more push to make it effective! Verena gave me a homeopathic remedy to assist with this (all of these remedies were with my consent of course).

It was becoming clear that a change was needed as we weren’t progressing despite my best efforts at pushing. I therefore got out of the pool just after 1:30pm – this was incredibly hard as moving during a contraction was impossible so it was finding the time between them to get me out and moving! Phil and Verena half carried me into the bathroom and sat me on the loo, as this is a natural place to push and this is often an option used in homebirth. I told them “he is coming” and I think I must have felt him crowning (i.e. the head pushing its way out) at this point. Unfortunately, although the head started to emerge it then retreated back again (not unusual) which was of course discouraging each time it happened as each time I knew I had to get it back again! The midwives moved me onto all fours on the floor of the bathroom and got some towels ready to catch the baby.

At 1:50pm baby’s head was born – I remember Verena saying “we have eyes, we have a nose, we have a mouth” and I just felt so relieved as I knew his head was finally out and couldn’t go back in again! Verena has noted down that baby was “blowing bubbles” and he looked just like Phil! What I remember very clearly is thinking, okay I have a moment’s respite now before I need to push out his shoulders, and at that point baby decided to have a look around the bathroom. The sensation of him moving his head is indescribable – I think I asked him to stop, or maybe I just thought it, but I didn’t appreciate his enthusiasm at that point!

Three minutes after his head was born the rest of baby emerged – he had his hand up by his face which could explain why pushing him out had been such hard work. He lay on the floor looking up at me, I was on all fours looking down at him and both of us were a little stunned! He needed a bit of a rub with the towels to get him going, and then he cried and was clearly fine and healthy. Verena asked if I wanted to hold him, and I realized that yes I did – it hadn’t occurred to me, I was too stunned!

Baby and I had some skin-to-skin time and the midwives helped me to sit up on the toilet, as I had been kneeling up almost continuously since the night before and my legs were shaking and exhausted. Unfortunately, as I moved to sit up there was a gush of blood – nothing to cause concern, but it did make a pretty effective mess of the bathroom. Thank goodness we were in a room that was easy to clean! Verena took some photos of me and baby, and of Phil with the two of us – these pics will never see the light of day as I look unbelievably awful – but I also look pretty happy!

The cord stopped pulsating but I felt a bit dizzy so they helped me to lie down on some towels and pillows on the landing, still with baby cuddled up with me, and they then tied the cord with our homemade cord ties. Phil cut the cord and said “I declare this baby open” – he was in very high spirits! Sara had made tea and brought up some biscuits so we all had a snack – she hadn’t been able to get in the bathroom as Phil and Verena were in there with me so she missed the actual birth, but could hear it all happening from outside the door! Whilst I had a nibble of something to eat Phil had his first cuddle with baby… and we agreed to call him Edward.

Phil had taken off his T-shirt so he could have skin-to-skin with Edward, and Verena was attending to me as I still needed to birth the placenta. I was contracting slightly and Verena was asking me if I could push out the placenta, but bizarrely I had completely lost the notion of how to push! I just couldn’t work out how to do it! Verena moved me into a couple of different positions again, but by 2:45pm the placenta still hadn’t arrived, so I agreed to the syntometrine injection to encourage the process. Verena gave me the injection and then the placenta arrived about a minute later, so it would have come of its own accord anyway but there you go. I didn’t suffer any nausea with the syntometrine so no harm done.

Verena then helped me to have a quick shower, followed by me being helped into bed – bliss! Verena examined me and said that I had a small tear but that I didn’t need any stitches. By 3:30pm Verena had helped me to latch on Edward for his first feed, whilst lying together in the bed. Very special moment. Phil was making sure everyone had refreshments and they were all encouraging me to have orange juice and things rich in iron due to my blood loss. Verena asked if I wanted to eat a little of the placenta, which I know sounds gross, but I had considered it prior to labour. I agreed as it is a very iron-rich product, and Verena gave me three or four tiny pieces that I washed down with water.

Edward was weighed and checked over – he came in at 8lbs 13oz. Verena and Sara made sure we were all happy and healthy, gave us some advice for the first night, reassured us they would be back tomorrow then they left the house just before 5:00pm. The Calvert family were left together and couldn’t have been happier.

Edward with our midwife Verena Burns

Edward with our midwife Verena Burns

Pssst….. this is a secret so don’t mention it okay?

So in addition to all the various projects outlined on the front of my blog, I also have another little thing that I do, which came before all of that.  It was started in October 2011 when my eldest was 8 months old, and it’s a Facebook group for mums.

It’s like Fight Club.  The first rule of [name of group] is you don’t talk about [name of group]. Which makes this blog post feel very weird.  But I have had to reveal on Twitter at least the existence of the group to explain why I have so many opinions about maternity experiences, PND, breastfeeding support, health visiting and all the other favourite topics of 21st Century parents.

You see, although it started as a way to swap tips with 20 or so of my Mummy friends, it grew.  And grew.  People kept adding their friends.  And then they added their friends.  It got so big I had to add on a couple of deputy admins to help me to run it.

That was in February 2014.  There are 11 of us on the admin team now.  And just shy of 1,600 members.  We are currently (and temporarily) closed to new members whilst we all draw breath!

There will be plenty of times on this blog when I talk about other mums’ experiences and my take on the challenges of modern parenting.  More often than not I will be drawing on the experiences of over a thousand women who have been kind enough to join me on social media as I navigate the ups and downs of motherhood.  I love them all.

So don’t let on that I told you about them!