Why a bit more empathy could have helped after my first birth

Posted in Birth.

After having my first son via C-section, I stayed in the hospital for five days. It was a time mixed with fear, excitement and moments of ‘omg are they really going to let me leave with a baby?’ But what caused me the most stress during that time were the midwives on shift.

Confused and upset

Sure, they fed me and provided me with endless cups of tea, but what they also served up was never ending advice, most of which just stressed me out. The reason? Because they all contradicted each other, and I just ended up confused and upset.

On day one I remember staring lovingly at my son. He was sleeping soundly and had been for hours. He hadn’t woken for a feed or even stirred from his little snuggly cocoon. I’d diligently checked (about a million times) that he was still breathing, but I still didn’t know if the long sleep was right. His instruction manual was yet to arrive! 

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Conflicting advice

I figured that the next best thing to this was a midwife. So, when an older one came in to check on me, I asked her if I should wake him to feed.

“Ohh no love,” she said. “Haven’t you heard the saying, never wake a sleeping baby?” Well, I had of course, but I’d never had a baby before. It was easy enough to tell that to others, right?

Reassured that he wouldn’t starve, I left him be and settled down for a much-needed rest. Shortly after, the midwives changed shift.

A younger girl entered my room and immediately went over to check my son. She asked when he’d last been fed, and I told her that it had been a while.

I remember the look of shock on her face, accompanied by the almost panicked tone. “Ohhh gosh, you must wake him to feed,” she said. “You must never let him pass the three-hour mark.”

That was it. I was convinced that I was the worst mum in the world. One day in and I’d starved him. He was going to be malnourished and in therapy as he grew.

That was just the start of my stress

Over the next five days, I was bombarded with visits from multiple midwives all firing their own advice. For every midwife that came in to tell me that I should use a dummy, another came in on the next shift and adamantly said, “NO”.

Some said I should enjoy the cuddles and not hand him around. Others said he’d get too attached. Some said swaddling was good; others dismissed that idea. And so, it went. On and on.

The final straw, however, came on day three. I’d been struggling with breastfeeding from moment one. Much like everything else, every midwife who helped had a differing technique. My nipples and boobs were manhandled, poked and squeezed to within an inch of their lives. Still, I had no joy.

My milk wasn’t flowing, but my stress hormones were. On seeing my distress, my obstetrician told me to ask for the lactation consultant to help. When the next midwife arrived, that’s exactly what I did.

aromatherapy for baby

‘Why are you struggling?’

The old battleaxe looked at me over the rim of her glasses with impatience. “Why are you struggling?” she questioned. “Have you not read the leaflet?” Yes, indeed she was referring to the breastfeeding leaflet. You know, the ‘one size fits all’ step by step guide? The one that to me was as useful at that moment as the instructions in an Ikea flatpack.

A day later I requested to leave, and my obstetrician said yes. Ironically, taking home a small human to keep alive had never given me so much relief. 

Speaking to friends, I know this experience is common. I appreciate that midwives of varying ages have different approaches. Many are mums, so are using their own experience as well as their training, while those freshly qualified are doing it all by the book.

But my personal advice, which comes from the heart, is that perhaps midwives need more training in empathy to individual parents’ wants and needs. We’re all different and finding our way. Of course, we need guidance and help, but we also need room to make mistakes without judgment and receive support without dictatorship. 

Entering the world of parenting is hard enough. But if the start of the journey is positive and kind, it makes the outlook much brighter for us. Besides, after that, we’re on our own, and that’s a whole other learning.


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