How to survive the labour ward

I don’t have a particularly linear train of thought so this blog will likely jump around different times and subjects. At some point I shall discover how to organise the posts so that the story can be can be read chronologically, but given my ineptitude with most things technological it won’t happen before 2020. On the plus side, trying to follow the blog will give you an insight into what its like to have Attention Deficit Disorder.

I can’t fault the NHS for my overall experience. Indeed, I’d be dead had it not been for the amazing team of staff that oversaw my care. That said, there are some brutal realities to using a state funded healthcare system. Efficiency means rooming with three other women who have also had the shit kicked out of them by birth in the last twelve hours. Regardless of what sort of labour women have had, it’s bound to have been hard work. Sweaty, unshowered, covered in all manner of bodily fluids, tired and physically bruised, all you really want in this moment is a quiet, private sanctuary in which to recover. Instead you get put next to Louisa, who believes in starting the ‘Cry it out’ method from Day 1; Jaz, who has her four older children and their handheld Nintendos visiting throughout the day and Yvonne, who as begun organising visiting rights with her estranged partner over the phone. Loudly.

We spent a total of ten minutes in the postnatal ward before begging the midwife to allow us to upgrade to a private amenity room for £200 a night. Selfishly, they were all required for genuinely ill women (who, I should point out, don’t have to pay £200 a night to use). A few days later I was one of the genuinely ill women, readmitted for three nights with sepsis, who was allocated a private amenity room so I quickly became a huge fan of this policy.

There are ways to make the experience more enjoyable – or at least bearable. I barely packed a hospital bag in preparation for labour, so committed was I to the idea of a home birth. I half-heartedly read lists of suggested contents on various websites and got around to packing about half of them. If I were to do it all again, there are very few things I wouldn’t pack. I’d be one of those women shouting at her baby daddy to hurry up whilst he drags two extra large suitcases behind him. If you’re somewhat more reasonable than me, and want to take only the essentials, these are the five most useful things to pack in your hospital bag (even if you’re planning a home birth – the shock of being admitted will be made worse if you have to grab things as you’re racing our of the front door!)

  1. By the end of my stay on the postnatal ward I knew the intimate details of all three of my roommate’s lives, despite never having seen them. In another scenario, this might have proved entertaining. However I was far too worried about the details of my intimate scenario to want to listen in on Yvonne badmouthing for ex for not attending the birth of their child because he selfishly and unreasonably had not been informed that she was in labour. Item one: earplugs!
  2. The showers of the postnatal ward are reminiscent of the scene from Hostel, the movie. Tens of bleeding women shuffle into them on a daily basis, with limited physical ability to clean up after themselves. It’s not pleasant, but it is more bearable with flip flops.
  3. Don’t get me started on the militancy of the midwives when it comes to breastfeeding. (The rumour I’ve heard is that the ward gets additional funding for every mother who leaves having only breastfed so the midwives refuse to support any formula feeding…) It’s an emotive topic wherever you sit on the spectrum of the ‘how important is BF’ debate, but never more so when you’ve given birth hours earlier and the midwife is violently shoving your sensitive nipple into a newborn. For a whole array of reasons, this might not be desirable. My colostrum wasn’t enough to fill my hungry little baby, who had turned up to this world with a raging appetite. Babies often sleep for the first twenty four hours after birth, which enables the mother to recover, but I wasn’t afforded this privilege so I joined in on his crying and made the other three women on the ward wish they had packed earplugs. In case you have any hiccups feeding the newbie, having a bottle of readymade formula and a sterile bottle packed can be a lifeline.
  4. Whilst on the ward, you’ll be provided with maternity pads. They’re huge wads of cotton wool that even the biggest pants struggle to hold in place. As a result, they shift around and rub all the wrong places (which, given how sensitive your lady parts will be post-birth, is far more irritating than it sounds). The solution? Incontinence pants. Hear me out.. They’re the equivalent of adult nappies, padded to the point that it feels like sitting on a cloud. They don’t rub or leak. It stops you from having to wash blood out of every single pair of pants you own. They give you the illusion of having a juicy butt. I wore them everyday for three weeks until my partner started questioning whether it was a permanent addition to my wardrobe.
  5. Lastly, pack soft things. A pillow (I scoffed at this idea before I gave birth, not realising that NHS pillows are made of nails and straw). Cashmere socks (You just gave birth… you deserve luxury). Soft pyjamas (You’re likely to have a number of visitors that you don’t want seeing your ass poking out of a backless gown). Baby blankets (I completely forgot to pack anything for baby. Thank god for my mother in law rolling in with a hand knitted wool wrap for him else he would have been travelling home wrapped in my tracksuit bottoms).


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