Mothers and their newborns usually spend on average 1-3 days recovering from the physical and emotional experience of birth on the post natal ward at the Rosie Hospital in Cambridge [part of Addenbrookes]. They enter the unmistakably NHS blue of the disinfectant smelling rooms with shiny floors and beige fittings bearing various signs of the hours that went on before. Some walk, most are wheeled in on beds or chairs, clutching their fragile, hard earned bundles, faces fixed in a dazed cocktail of pain, relief and elation. As I was wheeled in 18 hours after being admitted I hoped for the same. 2 maybe three days tops. No one wnats to stay any longer than they have to. The post natal ward contrary to the beatific primal image of mother and child unions it may conjour – is a kind of hell. It’s instruments cruel and unrelenting- sleeplessness, the constant shrill cries of babies as exhausted mothers struggle to breast feed their new charges for the first time – . However that was not to be the case. My second son Orin was born on Friday 25th April and we didn’t leave until May 11th – 16 days later.
It was a difficult time. Aside from the usual physical challenges of birth recovery [mine encumbered by a traumatic surgical procedure to remove my placenta which refused to self eject following a fairly controlled and according-to-plan birth experience – pool, no pain relief [just a little gas and air towards the end] – their were other difficulties. Firstly we both tested positive for a bacterial infection – Group B Streptococcus harmless to adults but not so for immune-weak new borns. The doctors set to work testing Orin for a number of other possible related infections – tests that included various bloods being taking and 2 attempts to remove spinal fluid via a lumbar puncture. The doctors were serious but reassuring and immediately put him on antibiotics while we waited for the results. A few days later it transpired he had a meningitis infection, they adjusted the prescription and told us we’d have to stay for a further 11 days to complete a 14 day course. My heart sank. I had had no sleep to speak of, I was in considerable pain and going through a fever as my milk came down. after a few teary meltdowns, exhausted and stressed about the prospects of having to spend a further 11 days on the sleepless ward of hell a sympathetic midwife found me a single occupancy side room which turned things around considerably. i was able to sleep albeit in 2-3 hour slots due to Orin’s needs it at least gave me that and quiet and privacy and enabled us to get into a rhythm – something like what we’d be doing at home – 4 hourly observations, 12 hourly antibiotic and pain relief administration interruptions aside.28 doses of antibiotics, 2 lumbar puncture procedures, too many blood tests, nappy changes, breathing/heart/temperature checks to count later, having been given the all clear, we were discharged. Looking back the hardest thing about it all was being apart from Morley. The longest we had been apart before this was 48 hours-ish – 2 nights/2 and a bit days at his Grandparents – at safe and known environment peopled by people we loved. This 16 days absence at the beginning of a huge life change was a challenge for both of us. Anxious he might resent his brother for keeping his Mummy away from home and him I just wanted to get the newness of this situation dealt with and normalised – to reassure him [and me] that all would be well. I missed my husband too. I missed his solid presence and everything he stands for in my life. My anchor and true north. I relied on him for a large measure of my sanity. He came every day sometimes twice to bring Morley after nursery or visits to grandparents. He brought me Marks and Spencer ready meals when I could no longer face another helping of unidentifiable NHS mince dishes. Without him keeping things together at both ends I’m not sure we’d have made it through in such as good shape as we did.
We had it easy. Except for a brief high temperature Orin was never actually ill. They’d identified the bacteria before it had time to do its work. So many parents and their babies have a much harder time. Much harder. At the moment I can barely even hear about a hurt or injured child at the moment without welling up. So raw is my empathy valve for their suffering and that of those who love them. The experience has taught me something of the sense of isolation long term hospital care can make a patient feel. How ill health isolates you and sets you apart from ordinary life. The hospital is a world of its own with its own cycles, patterns and moods. it is the people who work there that kep you sane. Their professionalism filtered through an idiosyncratically British form of good humour and understatement – or ‘chipperness’. Seeing so many women come and go and uncomplainingly travel through such journeys of birth and pain, of physical and emotional challenges is truly inspiring. I don’t expect anyone who I met there will read this post but I will use tis space to say a huge heart felt thank you to all of the staff in the Lady Mary Ward. You made a difficult time less so and I will always remember you.