17 Jun 2015

The Postnatal Survival Kit

I'm now 37 weeks pregnant, and at that point in pregnancy when people start asking if I've packed my hospital bag yet. Yes, yes I have. After seven months of refusing to buy anything for the baby (mainly out of terror), I've bought practically everything in the last 4 weeks, and shoved it in a rucksack.

But nobody ever asks if you've got everything ready for afterwards - nobody wants to remind you of the traumatic week after having a baby when everything seems to be falling out of you. Or they assume you're ready, one or the other.

Anyway, as this is my third baby, I'm READY! SO READY! And here are my postnatal essentials...

1. Painkillers.
It doesn't matter if you have a fast labour, a caesarean, or an instrumental delivery. It doesn't matter if you tear or not. Having a baby hurts like a fucker, particularly afterwards. "But oh", they tell you, "as soon as the baby's out you forget the pain!" Not if you get afterpains you don't. Birth carries a payload of hormones to carry you through the delivery and into the euphoria of YAY! BABY! Then the hormones settle down, and it's bloody sore and crampy and weep-inducing. In addition to this, it's ingrained into you from CONCEPTION that only the weakest paracetamol is safe to take, and even that's a desperate measure. Once that baby is out, embrace the painkillers. I have got DELICIOUS, FORBIDDEN ibuprofen and some co-codamol in.

2. Maternity pads. Lots of maternity pads.
Another thing often neglected to be mentioned in The Joy Of Birth is that you bleed like a stuck pig for some days afterwards. Maternity pads are advised over regular pads partly because of the chemical crap they put in normal pads (floral menses, yum!), partly because no regular pad will stem the postnatal flow. And no, you really can't use tampons. With my last baby, I used 12 pads a day to begin with, despite having had a postnatal haemorrhage. Mothercare, wondrous place, do maternity pads with wings. I cannot praise them enough.

3. Breast pads. Lots of breast pads.
It doesn't matter if you're planning to breastfeed or not, most women will still pour forth milk for some days after the birth (weeks, if you do breastfeed). And it happens at the most irritating and unexpected times, like you smell the baby and you boobs go, or you think about how small the baby's toes are and your boobs go, or you're in Tesco and you see a pregnant woman, and your boobs go. It is annoying. I'm a lucky beast who doesn't tend to pour forth milk after the first four weeks, because my letdown only works during feeding, but I still get through boxes of the things to start with.

4. Lanolin Cream
If you do breastfeed, this cream is a marvel. What nobody tells you before you have a baby, probably to try not to terrify you out of it, is that breastfeeding can give you sore, cracked nipples. It's really quite an obvious thing when you think about it. My first baby had me bleeding all over the shot to begin with, until I got some magic Lansinoh, and within days my nipples were bulletproof. I used it again with baby 2, and will use it again with this one, although I've got Medela Purelan this time because it was much cheaper. Stick it on after every feed, and you should be fine.

5. Anusol and Lactulose or Fybogel
When you push a baby out, you can end up with piles. Piles are enough of a problem when you're pregnant, but after birth they can get really quite annoying. Anusol is your friend. Then there's constipation. I've torn badly with both previous babies and become so terrified of crapping that I've made myself ill. Even with the time honoured advice to hold yourself with a damp flannel while you go has been insufficient to get me through. So this time, I'm not risking getting ill - Lactulose from day 1, thank you.

6. Iron
If you're on prescribed iron when you get close to birth, make sure you've got enough to last a couple of weeks postnatal (yes, you do have to assume you'll go overdue). If you think you'll run out, get an extra prescription. If you're not already on iron, get either supplement tablets or Spatone/Floradix\Feroglobin liquid iron. You lose a lot of blood when you have a baby. It's blood you can afford to lose, because of the extra that's been sustaining your little one for months, but it is a sudden drop and can make you feel much more tired and crap than you necessarily need to.

7. Pajamas and Slippers
This may seem a bit of an anomaly in this litany of postnatal woe, but I always treat myself to nice, new pajamas for after I've given birth. I don't believe in getting dressed for the first week postnatal - anyone coming round is going to find me boobs akimbo, hair everywhere, stinking of lochia, covered in children and possibly weeping, so whether I'm fully dressed or not makes little difference to their perception of me. Mothercare do really lovely nursing pajamas (with button down fronts). I'm still wearing the pajamas I got from them in 2011, so well worth the investment.

8. A Nursing Pillow or Extra Pillows/Cushions
A boomerang shaped pillow is amazing when you've just had a baby, regardless of how you feed them. It gives you a way to support their useless neck without actually having to hold them up too much. Extra pillows will also do the job, but I find a boomerang useful for all sorts of things, not least propping me up to eat in bed.

9. Canned Drinks
I get bloody thirsty feeding a baby. This time, I have a husband to make me endless tea and drinks, but I assume he will also want to sleep occasionally, so canned drinks are the way forward. Unhealthy, yes, but this is about survival.

10. FOOD
You have to eat when you've had a baby, and yet it seems to be something easily forgotten among the chaos of screaming, poo and a baby who has no idea how to tell the time. Nothing will help your recovery quite like loving support, sleep and food, and if you can't get enough sleep, food will do. Fuck your postnatal diet. Fuck any pressure to fit back into pre-preg clothes. That can wait at least a month (or forever, if you're me). Eat what you fancy, when you fancy it, moreso if you're breastfeeding - you really do need a LOT of calories to get the milk factory going. If you've got other people in the house to feed, make some meals in bulk for the freezer before your due date. You can find recipes on the BBC Good Food website, including cook-from-frozen instructions. Write these instructions down on the frozen food container, so anyone can reheat them. If people are coming to see the baby and have the courtesy to ask if there's anything you need - food. I think baby cuddles for cake are a fair exchange ;-) If family offer to bring you round meals, accept gratefully. It's been months since you could eat normally, so take advantage.

For a less miserable postnatal view, you may also like my post on things to look forward to.

15 Jun 2015

Magna Carta

Today marks 800 years since the signing of the first iteration of Magna Carta. This event is being celebrated by the Queen and the government David Cameron has promised that our British Bill of Rights (proposed to replace the European Convention on Human Rights, for some insane reason) will safeguard the legacy of Magna Carta. Let us hope he means it will safeguard the legacy of statute law and human rights, rather than Magna Carta, because a very brief overview of the MC's content shows that it's hardly the sterling and quintessentially English work of freedom we are being led to believe.

So, 1215, Bad King John has pissed off his barons. Bad King John was always pissing off someone, but the barons had come to expect certain privilege and honour over the last century or so of Norman rule. So, the barons insisted on having a charter to maintain their baronly rights. King John, needing the support of his barons to properly run the country, gave them their historic charter at Runnymede.
It lasted literally two months.
We are celebrating a charter that meant so much to the people that made it that they all ignored their side of the bargain, and went to war two months later. We may as well celebrate the 2011 riots in several hundred years time, for all the difference it made to anything. Only King John's death, from dysentry caught in King's Lynn, just over a year later put an end to this vicious civil war.
Magna Carta was reissued in 1216, and again in revised form in 1217. In 1225, it was issued as a propaganda exercise by Henry II to get some taxation approved, and finally in 1297, it became part of statute law. We are a bit premature with the celebrations, to be honest.

Now, society in 13th century England was not exactly hot on fairness or equality. Individuals were either owned in a type of indentured slavery called serfdom, or beholden to their immediate superiors for food, land and work. At the top of the hierarchy was the king, and just underneath him were the barons. The barons held an enormous amount of power. And Magna Carta was all about THEIR rights. If David Cameron's Bill of British Rights only gives rights to those sitting in the Houses of Parliament, then it will be very similar to the original Magna Carta.

As it is, three clauses of Magna Carta remain in statute law. One of them is the freedom of the English church. Another is the freedom of London. Then there is the law of due process and forbidding the sale, delay or denial of justice. I would argue the erosion of legal aid under the last government has pretty much broken that particular statute, but I'm no lawyer.
Some of the clauses of Magna Carta simply make no sense in the modern world. I don't think any knights need a knight's fief in this day and age, or that Jewish moneylenders need to be regulated more than other moneylenders. I don't think it would be fair for barons to set the level of fine placed on another baron for law breaking, and I'm fairly sure castle guards are now employed through the army rather than from a pool of knights. We don't generally have horses and carts to relinquish to royal officials when demanded, or timber.
Some clauses were repealed bizarrely recently, like the clause forbidding fish weirs, repealed in 1969. Barons were permitted to take responsibility for monastries in the absence of an abbot until 1847. Men could not be arrested or tried on the testimony of a woman until 1863 (unless her husband had been murdered).

In short, Magna Carta is no template for fair society or law, unless you're a 13th century baron. Compare it to the tenets of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to life (including preventing forseeable death), and the right to equality,  prohibits torture, prohibits slavery, protects individual liberty and security, provides the right to free trial, protects individuals from being tried for offences that have become illegal since committed, protects the individual right to privacy and family life, and protects freedom of thought and expression. It also protects the right to form trade unions, to marry freely, and for countries to derogate these rights in times of war. Magna Carta promises none of this, the vast majority of it is no longer statute law, and as a document, was never legally enforceable. Hence, war.

I can see why we're making a big deal out of Magna Carta. It's a form of living history and tradition that British people thrive upon. However, to act like it has any bearing whatsoever on modern law or living ignores the centuries of change that have fallen since, in favour of a sycophantic romanticised daydream.

We all like to think we would have been lords, ladies, knights and barons in the olden days of chivalric lore, but if you're reading this, believe me you would have been little more than a serf. And Magna Carta was not written for the likes of us.

8 Jun 2015

University Year 4: Complete

Another year of uni is over. I have time, at last, to focus on my special summer project. It's a little more intensive than the usual voluntary census transcription...

How did it go? Well...I WANTED to be pregnant this academic year, so I only have myself to blame for the difficulty of it all. I thought I knew how difficult it would be, reasoning that doing the previous three years with an autistic preschooler/child and a baby/toddler/preschooler was quite hard as well. I did not know how hard it would be. It was...fucking hard. I got pregnant pretty much the week the course started, and was plagued by anxiety, exhaustion, nausea, sciatica, pelvic pain, anaemia, ligament pains, oedema (thank you, summer) and the mental treacle of baby brain. I am never doing it again.
These are my OCAS marks. Not bad for such a crap eight months:

The EMA for K311 was a huge challenge, which I perversely rather enjoyed, but it's not exaggerating to say that module was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
I did the exam for SDK125 this morning. I couldn't start revising (well, in any meaningful way) until I'd got the EMA submitted, which gave me a little over a week. I revised like someone of brittle sanity until about 10:30 last night, when I figured if I don't know it now, I'm not gonna know it. I think I probably passed, although I probably should have checked I had a calculator that could cope with numbers like 0.4x1014. I got the exam done in 70 minutes (the hit and run method, my favourite) and escaped in a rush of joy...without my cardigan. I have to say, the OU are brilliant if you're very pregnant and doing an exam. I could have done it at home (being 36 weeks today), but instead was permitted to take a cushion in to sit on and have half an hour rest if I needed it.

I find out if I pass about a week after the baby's due. I cannot imagine I will care ALL that much by that point, but I would prefer NOT to resit anything.
I am a glutton for punishment, however, and start again in October doing my FINAL MODULE. The end is in sight. I've signed up for K319: Adulthood, Ageing and the Lifecourse, a 60 credit level 3 course. We just have to hope the baby likes sleep, and doesn't object to mummy being on the laptop for the duration of the school day.  I'm quite prepared to defer if I have to, but I do like a challenge. Masochism runs strong in my blood.

And after that? A masters, perhaps, but more on that if I ever finish this bloody BSc.

1 Jun 2015

Things To Look Forward To

I've reached the "fucking fed up" stage of pregnancy now. Not QUITE at the "so fucking fed up I just want him out" stage (let's not get ahead of ourselves), but almost. I have begun to dwell on all the things I will be able to do in a few weeks...

Like... SLEEP ON MY FRONT. In fact, sleeping in any position that doesn't cause pain will be a novelty. Such is the state of my pelvis that I cannot sleep on either side, or my back, without waking up in pain and walking like a newborn fawn. A really bloody fat newborn fawn. Oh to wake up without backache, without feeling like someone's crowbarred my pelvis open at the sides, without my thighs hurting for NO GOOD REASON. It will be beautiful.
And DRINK WITHOUT IMMEDIATELY PEEING. Oh the joy of an unburdened bladder. You know not your fortune in being able to sleep all night without waking up from your unborn gently headbutting you in the bladder.
No more MORNING SICKNESS. It is a universally accepted myth that morning sickness only lasts for the first trimester. It does not. Well, I suppose for some lucky beasts it does, but I'm not among them. No more will I vomit into the kitchen sink while my other children shriek "MUMMY! DON'T BE SICK IN MY BREAKFAST".

While we're on the subject of food, EATING PROPERLY will be amazing (and relatively guiltless on the breastfeeding diet). I can't eat a full meal. I'm too full of child. He's quite a big baby (on course to be at least 9lb at birth) and I have his head in my bladder, and his arse in my stomach. I throw up if I eat too late, or too early. I miss food. I'm almost never hungry, because of the pressure, but sometimes I will get very hungry for very specific things I cannot have, like...Mr Kipling apple pies at 11pm. Or mustard. Or I'll really fancy something at 4pm, but by the time my husband brings it proudly home from work, won't be able to abide the sight of it.
And eating ALL THE FORBIDDEN THINGS will be amazing as well. It wasn't too bad when it was colder (except Christmas) but this time of year, all I really want is stinky cheese, wine and paté. I know, I should have been French.
AND not getting INDIGESTION. Of all the hateful pregnancy afflictions, not being able to drink my permitted cups of builder's tea without getting fearful indigestion is probably the cruellest.

Then there's the physical bonuses of not lugging a huge bump around 24/7, like BEING ABLE TO BEND. Currently, I have to get on my knees to pick up the countless toys and clothes scattered about the house, and to load and unload the washing machine.
Not to mention BEING ABLE TO WALK UP THE STAIRS WITHOUT DYING. This is not wholly the child's fault; I'm quite anaemic and breathless fatigue is an annoying side effect.
And I'll be able to SEE WHERE I'M GOING. I can't see my feet. I can't see anything below my midline, including my younger son who is short. I am forever stepping on lego and have to scan the kitchen floor for slugs if I go in there at night, lest I have a terrible,  labour-inducing horror shock. 
And I won't be BEATEN FROM WITHIN anymore. This baby is lying on his side. His brothers preferred to lie on their front and beat the shit out of my placenta, which I couldn't feel. This baby is all limbs (hence his nickname: Squid), and gets his feet under my ribs while he puts his hands under my pelvis and then PUSHES AS HARD AS HE CAN, which is pretty fucking hard considering how tiny he is. 

I'm well enough versed in motherhood to know this exhaustion isn't going anywhere when the baby's born. BUT I will at least be ABLE TO SLEEP. Currently, my body gets really tired around 2-4pm, and then again around 8:30pm and if I don't go to bed, it wakes up and goes on the alert until around midnight. This appears to roughly coincide with the baby's sleep pattern. In my experience, I will be able to fall asleep standing up once the kid is out. Hurrah! I may even be able to CONCENTRATE. You try revising for an exam at this stage of pregnancy. Tisn't easy. I can't even read a magazine without getting distracted and staring into space for five minutes.

Oh, there will be all the negatives of birth as well. Stitches, arse pain, constipation, aching, bleeding half to death, Lola Ferrari boobs, milk spurting everywhere, HATING THE WORLD, being so tired I might die, getting peed on, shit on, sicked on (and that's just my husband...lolz), getting cried at every 20 minutes for five hours. But ... FOOD. AND BENDING!
Five more weeks til I'm due. Nearly there.