Sadly I spent three days in hospital this week. Happily everything is absolutely fine with our baby and I am slowly but surely on the road to recovery after a rather nasty kidney infection. As any infection for Mummy can increase risk for baby, I was on the maternity ward. And the one thing I was struck with is how much of an equaliser hospitals are. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from or what sort of life you lead, you will all be in the same place when you have your baby. Of course excepting those with private healthcare or those perhaps rich enough to have a designated baby ward in the West wing of their mansion daaahling…
Over the three days I met many different types of Mum. On the first morning, I went into the breakfast room unable to eat anything but desperate for a change of scene from the hospital bed and spoke to Bethany (all names changed or made up to save from using Mum 1, Mum 2 etc etc) Bethany was 16, had her baby the previous day and was anxious to get out of hospital because it is her 17th birthday this Friday and she REALLY didn’t want to miss it, especially as Jack was going to be there and he’s by far the hottest boy from her year. Her baby boy was (in her words) “totes gorge but mental times.” After conversing for a little while I discovered that in teen speak, this meant that her, ‘baby boy was beautiful although she was quite overwhelmed by the new baby.’ Her baby boy was indeed gorgeous, although it was obviously starting to sink in that this 17th birthday party (for which Nanny was looking after baby) would be her last big social event for a while. You couldn’t quite see any regret in her eyes as she was obviously head over heels with her child but Motherhood had hit her quite strongly in the past 24 hours.
That afternoon a lady in the adjacent ward started shouting at the receptionists. F***ing this and f***ing that and get him the f*** away from her baby. I won’t go into details but essentially, someone she had decided to make a Godfather in her childs life, had been discovered to have a rather more colourful background than she would have liked, to say the least; and she now wanted him nowhere near her child or her and wanted to hear nothing else about the matter. She was reprimanded by the nurses for the language she was using and my first thought, I have to admit was, “oh for Gods sake, someone shut her up.” Later on I nearly turned away from the day room when I saw she was in there but decided as she’d been quite vocal to anyone else who had shown any distaste, that actually the best course of action was to continue and act as neutral as possible and hope she stayed in deep conversation with her friend. It turned out this girl (lets say Samantha) had a drug use history and had therefore been kept in for the past week since having her baby until social workers cleared her to go home. She’d kicked the habit but it had left her with quite a few anger problems but she just wanted to go home with her newborn baby girl who was ‘f***ing stunning.’ Social workers would be involved for quite some time until she had proved she was capable of taking care of the child which she understood but she hated the way they spoke to her and about her just outside her room. Her boyfriend had taken off a couple of months back and her parents didn’t have much to do with her.
On the third day I met Janet, who could barely speak any English and spent a lot of her time (including 2.30am, lucky for me being in the next bed…!) loudly talking on her mobile phone. Her waters had been broken ready for a C-section and they were now just checking her regularly to see when she was ready to be taken down to the delivery suite. A lot of this doctor-patient communication was done via a rather frustrating game of charades and the rest of us in the ward got to know very clearly, concisely and repeatedly, what the course of action was. What is it about miming actions that makes everyone say the words slower and louder even in the middle of the night? The birth was obviously not coming anytime soon and she was told to get some sleep around 3am. Fabulous I thought…until I discovered that she was a very loud snorer (I have to admit, a real bug bear of mine as I’m not a great sleeper at the best of times) and I started to miss the foreign language phone conversations which, as it turned out, had a much more relaxing rhythm than the snoring.
I also met Linda, a bit older than me but with pretty much exactly the same problem, kidney infection, ensuring it wasn’t affecting the baby, on antibiotics for the infections, pain killers for the pain and anti sickness meds for the sickness caused by the first two. Our other similarity is that we both headed to the toilet with a measuring jug in hand for the rather dignified monitoring of input vs output. She spent a lot of the day in tears, the pain causing her to worry that the baby was on its way or in pain or otherwise affected, a similar fear to myself. The one major difference was that between 9am and 9pm when partners were able to be there, hers couldn’t be, so she had to settle for the strict visiting hours of 2-3pm and 6-7pm for a friend to come and keep her company.
These are the ladies that stuck out in my head or intruded my thoughts based on varying different factors, there were of course then several more women who kept themselves to themselves and I didn’t know enough about to warrant a paragraph. You overheard tears, laughs, baby cries and beeping monitors which now I’m back home I can almost still hear (72 hours with very little sleep will do that to a brain though!) My main point is this; every single woman there had a completely different story and was from a completely different walk of life to me. Please let me make it clear that I’m not about to build any hierachy graphs based on the loudest examples from my stay because that is almost the exact opposite of what I’m trying to achieve.
What did strike me was how, in each instance, they were all trying to do their best and they were all new or expectant Mothers and actually that made us all similar in ways I’d never really understood before. If you’d have told me their stories on paper, I would, I will admit, probably have judged the above women, with no right to. Too young, irresponsible troubled youth, disregard for others (and needs snoring medication!), and what a cryer. But having spent three days there, feeling pretty much every emotion shown by these women, it only highlighted to me how much every Mother does the best they know how to do and how Motherhood takes us all as amateurs, pours a huge bucket of water over our head whilst expecting us to get on with it straight away.
We’ve all seen the TV show and film versions of Motherhood, we all have an idea in our head that it’s more difficult than that but the outcome is obviously worth it or else no-one would have children. Bethany was young and maybe a bit more naive (certainly not a sweeping statement of all young Mothers but for this one in particular) and was now facing up to a new lifestyle but was obviously determined to be a great Mum. Samantha had made mistakes due to a difficult upbringing and knew no other life but drugs but for the sake of her child was doing everything possible to kick them. In the meantime she had trusted someone to be part of the baby’s life and then discovered that the person she trusted, wasn’t at all trustworthy; which for a Mum who’d spent a whole week being scrutinised with no sleep (trust me, even if her baby was the best slept baby on the planet, there was no way she’d had a decent night sleep in the wards with everyone else going on) and was doing it all on her own. I’d have been screaming too. Yes the language is uncalled for, but if you’d spent your life being screamed at using that language, what other vocabulary would you know to communicate with? She wasn’t a violent unfit Mother, she was a terrified, under slept, new Mum just wanting the best for her baby. Janet kept me awake on her phone and with her snoring, but she didn’t know what was happening with her baby and didn’t understand the midwife that was explaining it to her. In the middle of the night when all you know for sure is that people are taking lots of medical observations and you’re in a lot of pain, I’d imagine I’d want to talk to someone i could understand and who could maybe make me feel better or explain what was happening. And then when she finally got some sleep, she’s over 40 weeks pregnant, with that pressure on her internal organs, of course she’s snoring! The poor woman finally gets enough peace of mind to sleep and I’m secretly staring at her curtain with daggers in my eyes because she was snoring! But she’s just scared for her baby and obviously trying her best to understand what’s going on. As for Linda; she’s in the same position as me, so surely I can happily judge her for being a cry baby…? Except of course that for 12 hours of the three days I was in hospital, I had my husband by my side, holding my hand, listening to what the midwife and nurses were saying and going over it with me when I wasn’t sure. She had two friends for one hour asking her more questions than she could answer, of COURSE she was crying. It’s terrifying. Looking out for your unborn child when any flinch of pain could mean a contraction, could mean a problem, could mean you’ve accidentally rolled over onto your phone charger in the night (give me a break, it was only that once I had to admit to the nurse I’d pressed the emergency button for a middle of the night ‘charger in the back’ related incident…) it’s near impossible to stay calm and ten times harder when you’ve had no sleep and don’t understand half of what’s going on in your own body anyway. Five minutes after my husband had to go home in the evening and I was imagining all kinds of worse case scenarios. Internally, I was a mess, times I wanted to scream, times I wanted to break down and cry, times I wanted to just go home and forget anything was happening and times I wanted to pick up the phone at 3am and have someone talk to me without any medical jargon. I was just lucky that I had enough support during each day, could understand what the midwives were telling me (to a point) and could communicate my worries without worrying a social worker would take what I said the wrong way, because I wasn’t under any scrutiny.
Take all those outside factors away, strip it right down to being a woman and having a baby and we were all the same. We were all scared, we were all overwhelmed, none of us had enough sleep and all of us were doing the absolute best we could for our unborn children.
Everyone uses the hospital, no-one wants to but everyone has to. In Britain we are lucky to be able to turn up and be treated without worrying about extensive medical bills. The medical staff were all doing 12 and a half hour shifts so had enough problems of their own without having to play charades, get screamed at; and come in after an emergency button was pressed to find that actually the normally quiet one in the corner had mistaken her phone charger for an internal organ somehow trying to become an external one. But they do it because they know we’re scared, they know we have no idea what we’re doing.
It’s been a horrible three days, but a massive insight into the realities of a maternity ward. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still terrified, in fact I’m starting to think anyone having a baby who isn’t significantly nervous about the birth part is the idiot. Im now on a strict one weeks bed rest with antibiotics and I’ll be damn sure to stick to it to try and avoid going back into hospital; but not because I want to avoid the people, which in all honesty, was something that crossed my mind before going in. But we really are all in it together, not just those of us with the time and resources to read and write blogs in our spare time, from every class, background, living area. We are all absolutely in it together, and it’s the scariest, most amazing thing we’ll ever do.