Post-partum joint pain and other pregnancy pleasures

I’ve been feeling like an old woman these last few weeks. My ankles, knees, elbows and, particularly, wrists and knuckles ache. I’m very bad in the mornings, when it’s hard to hobble downstairs. I sometimes find it hard to grip and lift things, especially with my left arm. My concept of time is a bit rubbish at the moment, so I can’t remember what the pain was like before I stopped expressing, but it’s definitely at its worst now.

I’ve been avoiding looking this up, wondering if the steroids have caused osteoporosis (which does happen to some women post-fertility treatment due to long-term use of steroids and other meds). I had a test for this 13 or 14 years ago and was told I was at risk of osteoporosis in later life. I’ve also been wondering if it was rheumatoid arthritis or similar or some immune thing caused by the fertility drugs/pregnancy/my crazy immune system. Last night, my mind was concocting scenarios in which I was no longer able to type and make a living.

So, this morning I googled “joint pain after pregnancy” and it turns out it’s a thing, thank the universe. It may be down to pregnancy hormones depleting or relaxin doing its job, and many of the ladies who posted on various pregnancy sites seemed to notice it around the four-month mark. Lots of GPs don’t seem to recognise what’s going on and girls are sent off for blood tests for arthritis and auto-immune disorders.

I’m going to assume that post-partum arthralgia, as it’s called, is what I’ve got and just wait for it to subside. Another thing they don’t tell you about pregnancy.

I’ve also had a headache for the last couple of weeks, pretty much constantly, but I think that’s down to something else. The blood pressure saga has reared its ugly head again. When I was discharged from the BP clinic at the maternity hospital, the doctor told me to get a full check done in a month’s time, including bloods and a 24-hour BP monitoring. I had the monitoring done last month and, to my surprise, the bottom number (as in the 80 of 120/80, the diastolic measure) was high. The drama previously has been about the upper number, the systolic reading.

So, my GP wants me to go on ACE inhibitors. I was pretty taken aback by this. I’m only 43 and taking drugs for the next 40-odd years wasn’t in my plan. The GP explained that this was probably more about genetics than lifestyle and that her family was the same; her sister had to go on BP meds after a pregnancy.

My Dad’s had a few strokes, so I don’t want to be irresponsible, especially as I’m now the single mother of a new baby. Yet, I’m still a bit reluctant to go on meds for the rest of my life on the basis of one 24-hour analysis (one that missed a few readings for whatever reason). The GP argued that the analysis was done when I was at home, with little activity and stress, and that taking a small pill with very limited side effects was preferable to the damage that might be done.

I suggested making lifestyle changes (which are really more about exercise for me, as my diet is quite good; I don’t smoke and hardly drink now; and I don’t have weight on) and coming back to her in six months to see if there was an improvement. She said no, and no again to three months. We agreed on a month, which would have started around 1 August. But, of course, I’ve been lazy/busy and have done little. I was to get bloods taken at the hospital at the same time as the monitoring but haven’t done that yet either. Plans to go back spinning in the evening have been dashed by my boy’s recent refusal to sleep during the day, meaning I’m having to work at night. Mainly, it’s down to a lack of enthusiasm and organisation, though. The pain in my old joints is not motivating me to get out and exercise, though I see some of the ladies on the forums found exercise helped.

It may not sound like it but I am taking this seriously and suspect the writing is on the wall: meds it’s probably going to be. The only thing up for grabs is whether I humour myself for a month and try to make a difference before caving to the inevitable and getting the drugs.

I have been ticking things off a post-pregnancy to-do list (baby’s passport, child benefit, a new will and so on). This has been a slightly unexpected addition to the list for sure.

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Bye Bye Boobies (Boobies Bye Bye)

I had intended to express for six months, partly out of sheer stubbornness owing to the slightly outrageous €168 price tag on the electric breast bump I got the day I returned from the maternity hospital: I figured the cost per use would be less painful over half a year. (Also because of the health benefits for my baby, of course *cough.)

However, my second bout of mastitis in July (painful right breast, teeth-chattering fever, exhaustion, and back/shoulder/underarm pain) decided me – enough is enough. (Where is my famed immune system when I actually need it?) I suspect the mastitis was caused by my somewhat irregular pumping schedule. I was expressing three times a day but, daily life with a newborn/very young baby being as unpredictable as it is, I sometimes had very large gaps between goes, not exactly conducive to clear ducts.

Breastfeeding is a lot about bonding and comfort, neither of which applies when you are sitting in the kitchen alone at 1am after the baby has gone down, waiting for bottles to sterilise before you spend a further 20 minutes pumping. Pumping seemed to take a disproportionate part of the day and was robbing me of vital snooze time when the boy was asleep. And trying to keep a hungry baby amused (singing, playing with mobiles, doing whatever the length of the pump flex allows you to do) while you pump breast milk for him seems really daft.

So, I reduced by a pumping session per week from mid-July and finished on Monday, getting him to four months. Breastfeeding didn’t work out for us but I did my best to give him some of the good stuff.  I thought I might be sad but I’m not at all. I know from reading some of your blogs that giving up nursing is a very emotional and sad time but I’m feeling nothing but relief. I’m happy to be getting my body back and already have tons more time during the day and one less thing to tick off the list. Plus, I won’t be facing the horrors of weaning as many of you are and will probably sleep a good sight better over the next couple of years than I would have done if nursing.

I bought my co-sleeper in the belief that I would be sleepily turning over to give my boy a breast and then settling back into my own bed. That didn’t work out either and he has slept a grand total of ZERO times in his own upstairs bed. It is lovely having him sleep on top of the duvet beside me, though, and there’s plenty of room in my king-size bed to keep him safe. Seeing his little smile beaming in the morning is one of the nicest parts of the day.

I wish I had taken a picture of my pre-pregnancy breasts. I can barely remember what they looked like but I do wistfully recall my once raspberry-like nipples. Even if they return to normal, which looks doubtful (my right nipple even has an extra bit on it now, bizarre), I suspect I will still be left with the crazy dappled pigmentation that developed during pregnancy, a trophy of sorts, I guess.

breat milk in bottle

The last batch: the factory is now closed and the breasts are retired

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Passport – first taste of single motherhood bureaucracy

Brexit is affecting our passport offices here in Ireland, as lots of eligible Brits scramble to get an Irish passport before the UK exits the EU. Handy to have an Irish granny up the sleeve if this entitles you to an EU passport. I’ve no plans to hit an airport with my boy any time soon if I don’t have to, but the passport office situation is such that I’ve been thinking it might be wise to get the little fella’s passport sorted sooner rather than later. I am toying with getting a ferry abroad this summer and would need it then anyway.

When I registered his birth, they simply asked if the father was to be on the birth cert and I said no. I was delighted it was so simple but it did cross my mind that they couldn’t really know I wasn’t just freezing out some poor guy who had every right to be named. Fathers get a raw deal sometimes.

For the passport, however, as I have no father to sign his bit, I’m having to get a solicitor sign an affidavit confirming that I am the sole guardian.This is fair enough, as I could be abducting the child, but it’s my first taste of being a little bit different to most other people. I’m going to get a will done at the same time and then my to-do list of admin things such as getting him a social security number, applying for child benefit and so on will be completed at last. I looked at schools last week and most of them don’t open their registration lists until a couple of years before the child starts attending, so I can relax about that one for the moment.

Rather than go to a pharmacy or photographer to get the boy’s passport mugshot done, I took one at home with him resting on a white pillow, which is apparently acceptable for little people. The rules for babies are a little ridiculous: mouth closed, eyes open, both ears and chin showing. This must be absolutely nightmarish with a very tiny baby. Happily, my boy co-operated brilliantly and we got a decent photo. I did notice when I got it printed yesterday that the background looked slightly brown where the pillow was wrinkled. Here’s hoping the passport people let that pass and don’t go all jobsworth on me.

18-July-Passport_4

I am a name, not a number

 

 

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3.5 months

My little boy is 3.5 months old and I still waver between disbelief that he is here at all and the feeling that he’s been around forever. In the same way, 14 weeks seems a small time but 3.5 months feels a lot more substantial. I guess it’s time to start thinking in terms of months instead of weeks for the first time since my cycle started in June last year.

I’m already a little nostalgic for the tiny newborn he used to be. The magpie-like rattling sound he used to make is gone. So is the gumminess around the eyes and the completely unnerving habit of sleeping with his left eye open, though he does sometimes sleep with tiny slits open as if to monitor what’s going on while he’s out for the count. He still roots around occasionally but the dog-with-a-bone, feral urgency with which he tossed his head from side to side when confronted with a teat is mostly gone too.

It’s incredible how very tiny babies can communicate. The ‘lips clamped closed for business’ when they no longer want to feed is hilarious. So are the fleeting micro-expressions, especially when sleeping, that range from rage to disgust to contentment in parts of seconds. I love the way tiny babies’ facial expressions are so pure and undiluted before they learn how to hide their emotions like us adults.

For all that’s gone, we’re gaining so much, of course. He’s developing week by week and I now understand how people describe their very young babies as having personalities. I had wondered if he was going to be relaxed, as I never noticed him startling at sudden noises in the womb. He is indeed very chilled and not easily ruffled at all. Boy is he forceful already, though. Very early on we would get an “Aye!” from him when, say, left in his Moses basket alone (he likes to be among his people). It’s a sound a bit like the one Ali G made. We would respond from wherever we were in the room or house and he would “Aye!” back with escalating force until he was lifted out. This is now well-established as his go-to word for expressing displeasure at being ignored/finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time/realising his mobile has wound down etc etc.

I noticed a smile on the day he turned four weeks. And there was no mistaking this tentative little smile for wind, as is often said, mainly because most of his wind comes out elsewhere – by which I mean the farts, OMGod. (It’s like having a grown man in the bed beside you. I’ve no idea how such a little body makes these sounds. I brought him to baby cinema one morning a couple of weeks ago and I’m sure the couple behind me thought I had some flatulence problem that I was trying to cover with my “Well done! Better out than in!” protesting too much.) He graduated to laughing at around 10 weeks, when my mother got some guffaws out of him (completely by accident – she unknowingly tickled his chest and he exploded into the most mental guttural laughs).

I’ve never been sure what tiny babies can see, just light and shade I think. They still have an amazing capacity, equal parts unnerving and heart-warming, to stare and stare and stare directly into your eyes. Early on, the only thing he seemed to notice in the distance was lights but I’ve noticed lately that he’s focusing more on far-off objects like the TV: he likes when football is on (handy, what with the Euros and all) and the same with tennis (ditto Wimbledon), because of the green screen I guess. I turned on CBeebie’s “In The Night Garden” out of curiosity during the week and he was fixated (they know what they’re doing with these programmes, even if they’re creepy as hell for adults). He recognises the people closest to him for sure and does seem to notice if he’s in a place he hasn’t seen before – his head is all over the place trying to take things in. The big thing of the last few weeks has been his discovery of his hands – stuck in his mouth, trying to pick things up and guide them into his mouth, splayed possessively onto his bottle, very cute. Not so cute is the Godzilla-like swipe when he no longer wants the same bottle and the girlish shriek when he realises it’s gone.

We’ve also noticed he’s using his feet as a rudder to turn around 90 degrees. No more leaving him on the changing mat on the kitchen table very soon, methinks. His core is super-strong judging by the way he can thrusts his hip into the air. It’s very endearing the way babies kick and kick those legs for minutes at a time as if they’re trying to get somewhere. And I also love the dinosaur-like pose of sleeping with his lower arms poking straight up.

He is totally keeping us guessing with the hair colour. It’s like a mangy fox up there at the moment, patchwork galore. The gorgeous little whorl of hair you get on babies’ heads is brown, as is the little monk’s tonsure he currently has at the back – I’m not sure if this is old hair or new growth. His temples seem very blond and the small bit of growth on the soft part of his head could be brown but sometimes looks ginger, which may be just because of cradle cap. His eyelashes were blond when he was born but are now dark, yet his eyebrows are still very pale. The donor is blond and I have brown hair, and my money is on the latter.

I haven’t given the donor much thought since choosing him but once my boy was born it was obvious he looked like him. My mother commented on the baby’s unusual nose and he also has a distinctive chin, causing me to revisit the donor’s baby photos. The resemblance was startling, particularly in one photo, which I found quite nice. There may be something to the belief that first babies look like their fathers so that the cavemen didn’t think they had been cuckolded and bash the child and/or mother over the head with a rock.

I don’t recall one single dream about the baby when I was pregnant and I’m still not dreaming about him, bar one this week in which two men drove off with him in their van, not nice. This may because I haven’t slept more than two or three hours straight since late March and maybe I’m just not remembering my dreams but part of me wonders if my subconscious is still in some kind of denial that this has actually happened. Maybe a reflection of the disbelief I still feel that I could be so lucky. The little rush to the heart I feel when I look at my little man across from me in the bed certainly makes me feel pretty blessed.

baby in sunhat

Keeping that hair under wraps until he’s ready to go public

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Feeling grateful

We had our six-week appointment at the children’s hospital near the end of May to see how my boy’s heart was holding up after the valvuloplasty (every time I hear this, it sounds more like a vaginal rejuvenation job than a heart procedure).

I’ve been back and forth to the GP with my blood pressure (finally discharged from the maternity hospital at the start of June and, thank the universe, off all bp meds since then) and at one of my visits the GP showed me a letter they’d received from the children’s hospital about the heart problem. It opened by explaining that my boy had “severe” aortic valve stenosis. I suppose the speed at which everything moved once it was diagnosed indicated that it was quite bad but seeing it in black and white was a little shocking. My sister believes there would have been no point in them alarming us by divulging the seriousness of the situation and she’s probably right. I’m not sure in my sleep-deprived, c-sectioned state five days post-partum that I would have been able for that information.

At the six-week appointment, I made the rookie mistake of going straight up to the Cardiac Outpatients on the fourth floor with the little fella in my arms while my mother parked the car. The waiting room looked like a bomb had hit it: parents and children sardined along the corridor with few places to sit waiting for their appointments. It turned out the proper waiting room was being renovated, meaning the brilliant staff were having to manage a crazy situation, with good humour and efficiency as usual. I tried to check in and was told I needed to register at Outpatients back on the ground floor. So, down I traipsed and had to wait for my ticket number to be called, miraculously making it back to the fourth floor in time for my 10am appointment. I won’t make that mistake again.

When we were called in, we had to strip the poor little fella down to be weighed (not happy) and they did his ECG. His oxygen levels were at 100 per cent, which was reassuring. Then, out into the corridor to wait to be calle­­­­­­­d for his echocardiogram. It was a fluke that we had his warmest, fleeciest blanket with us, as we were told to wait with him stripped down to his little nappy, presumably to speed things up once you are summonsed. Beside us was a couple up from the country who had had to leave their house at 6am. Their five-year-old girl has Down Syndrome and a heart condition that has required them to travel up and down to the children’s hospital over the years. They were in that day to find out whether she would need to undergo an operation. A lot of the kids in the Cardiac unit seem to have Down Syndrome and heart problems of varying degrees of severity.

We had our echo and my boy was noticeably livelier and more unsettled than the last time we did this, back when he was only four days old and too oblivious and/or exhausted by his heart problem to be upset. I had brought a soother, which we don’t usually use, and it came in handy for calming him down, though in a cute novice way he kept letting it drop out of his mouth.

Out again into the crazy corridor and then into an ante-room to wait for the consultant. I could hear him debriefing some student doctors in the next room and I think, though I’m not 100 per cent certain, I heard him say ours was one of the worst cases he had seen (after which I stopped eavesdropping). However, when we were finally called in, the news was great: if he had asked for the best result possible, this would have surpassed even those expectations. There was no backflow, which was remarkable; the pump was performing much better; and the gradient (pressure) was down to 25-30, which was brilliant. It isn’t possible to completely remove the narrowing, as this would cause leakage. In his opinion, we wouldn’t need the valve replaced for a long time and there was a chance that we wouldn’t have to replace it at all. I asked about the severity and the consultant said that really the only question in his mind the day we first visited the hospital was whether they should do it that day or wait until the following Tuesday. Gulp.

I asked if we could expect my boy to lead a normal life and he said yes. There was nothing to watch out for except “girls”. We were to come back in four months and after that, assuming all was still okay, every six months.

On our way out, we met the couple up from the country, who were over the moon. They had been told their daughter wouldn’t need the operation and had been discharged from the hospital. They were going to the zoo to celebrate before the long drive home. One little victory and one fewer problem for them to worry about in what is doubtless a tough life despite their daughter’s cuteness.

It’s a cliché but it really feels like a miracle to have a healthy child, even if mine has needed a little help.

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Pregnancy bump 13 to 39 weeks

I thought I’d miss my bump but I’m glad to (nearly) have my old body back. I had a great pregnancy but the swollen feet/legs, breathlessness on any exertion and lack of flexibility (who would have thought that cutting your toenails with ease would be something to appreciate) of the last weeks became a little tedious.

A video of the developing bump below. Not every week is accounted for, as there was little change some weeks, and I had some problems with my phone towards the end, resulting in a few grainy pics. Nice to have the memories (if not the mammaries – I’m down to a small B-cup) nonetheless.

(Chris de Burgh gets a bad press, mainly because of THAT BALLAD, but he has written some really beautiful songs. I applaud the Follicles’ choice in this case.)

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Pus in Boob

I can’t wait to see what weird internet searches that title brings to my blog.

I ended up with mastitis despite, or maybe because of, our erratic breastfeeding. I knew something was up but, not having breastfed before, wasn’t sure if I had blocked ducts or mastitis in my right breast. An internet search showed I wasn’t the first to ask this question. Handily, I had received a load of bumph from the maternity hospital, none of which I had read, and their breastfeeding booklet said that mastitis results in “pain, swelling, warmth and redness of the breast” and “may be associated with flu like symptoms and fever”. I had back, neck and shoulder pain; a right breast that was rock-hard, hot and bright red; and a sore underarm, and was really, really tired. I was so warm in bed that I was covered in droplets of sweat at times; I swear that the cabbage leaf I inserted in my bra (old wives’ tale, not sure if it ever works) was a slightly lighter shade of green after I fell into my bed one afternoon. Overall I was feeling like an old woman, particularly as I had pulled my c-section scar after the first week in the hospital and had what they thought was a little bleed behind it, adding undercarriage tenderness and pain to the overall mix.

My GP prescribed antibiotics, which hadn’t done much two days later, so I ended up in my third hospital of the month at the Breast Clinic. They sent me off for an ultrasound to rule out an abscess and, quite disgustingly and a bit painfully, took some pus samples from my breast. They confirmed I had mastitis, which was also in my lymph nodes, explaining the underarm and neck pain. I was prescribed a big dose of penicillin to go with the antibiotics for the following two weeks and told not to feed the baby the milk expressed from the right for that fortnight.

Coupled with my blood pressure meds, I was positively rattling with tablets but they had the desired effect. I got the all-clear on Thursday and am back expressing properly from both breasts.

I had thought mastitis was just a bit of breast inflammation but it’s nasty. What must it be like when you don’t have access to drugs.

We need to talk about breastfeeding
The admirable Jamie Oliver got into trouble recently for referring to breastfeeding as ‘easy’. It opened up a valuable discussion on the topic that I would have found useful before I attempted it myself.

Just as I didn’t have a birth plan, assuming things would take their course, I had an open mind about nursing, figuring it doesn’t suit everyone and not wanting to put pressure on myself if it didn’t work. Knowing what I now know, I’m not sure if I would try again. (Having said that, I probably would have felt guilty if I hadn’t tried and, as they say, any breastfeeding is better than none.)

I found the first week of feeding so, so stressful and upsetting. As I’ve said already, my only meltdowns in the maternity hospital were about nursing, and this was despite the fact my little boy had been diagnosed with a heart problem. I wouldn’t like to repeat the dark nights in the maternity hospital trying to feed my boy. I still don’t know if his lack of stamina for feeding was due to his heart problem but, either way, I can’t believe that I allowed my little baby to lose half a kilo in a few days because of our problems. There were signs that he was dehydrated – in case you are wondering, his skin was dry and his voice a little shrill when he cried, and he actually had an orange crust on his little penis a few days in, mortifying (though I had no idea what that meant and neither did the student midwife I asked). Plus, of course, the very scary tremors caused by the low blood sugar.

I have since been surprised on talking to friends that they too had problems nursing. One friend I later saw effortlessly feeding both of her babies had been on the brink of throwing in the towel two days in with her first child only to be encouraged/guilted by a hospital lactation consultant (who took away her bottles of formula) into continuing. Another friend whom I thought hadn’t ever tried just found it too distressing and gave up. Another talked about how exhausting the cluster feeding of the early days was.

As it is, I’ve ended up expressing a few times a day and filling the gap with formula. I’m glad to be able to give my son breastmilk but would rather he bypassed the bottle middleman, especially at those ridiculous times when I’m expressing with one hand and trying to bottle-feed him with the other. I’ve tried a few times recently to get him latched again but he seems to have lost the knack and gets frustrated and agitated with the whole thing. For whatever reason, I just don’t think he has the stamina to feed from the breast. Despite the slight inconvenience of sterilising bottles for breastmilk and preparing formula, I’m happy that I know with the bottles how much he’s taking in. Particularly with his heart problem, I don’t want to risk not giving him enough.

I’m not saying we should all be whinging about how hard breastfeeding can be in the early days, and I know that many worthwhile things take effort and commitment, but I think we could be a little more open about what to expect when starting to nurse. While I was battling with the fact that something ‘natural’ was so hard, I would have been relieved to know so many others have found the same and got through the other side.

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