Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Breastfeeding - my experience

Those that know me know that I am still feeding my almost three year old daughter and those that don't know this about me, may be surprised to know this. I feel passionate about breastfeeding and I know a lot about breastfeeding, positive and negative. Anyway I felt it was time to talk a little bit about my experiences, my opinions and my expectations; and I will say now that some of what I say may surprise you.

My Experience

When I fell pregnant with my first daughter and thought about how I planned to feed her, I merely thought "well I'll give breastfeeding a go but if it doesn't work out then I'm not going to beat myself up over it"....and I don't think that's a rare way to feel at all. I went to my antenatal class about feeding and noticed that there was a distinct drop in numbers attending. I listened dutifully to all the benefits to me and the baby and felt no real difference, and certainly no more prepared. I don't recall them discussing problems at all, though it is possible they did.

When my daughter was born, we did have skin-to-skin but in the immediate time following the birth there was no mention of feeding her. I certainly didn't have a clue what to do, or whether I should be trying to feed her or not. Anyway eventually someone did come to try and help me to breastfeed, I have no idea whether or not she was a midwife or maternity support worker. She certainly did her best, but my boobs would challenge most I think, as they are on the large side. Anyway she did manage to get her latched on but she didn't feed for long, and just wanted to sleep. Overnight she was very unsettled and I did my best to feed her but had no idea whether or not I was doing it right and come the morning I asked the midwives for some support. They did their best but she just didn't want to feed at the time they were able to help me, and when she did feed it was only for about 5 minutes. The midwives in the morning wanted me to stay a bit longer and get some more support with feeding, the afternoon midwives discharged me home. Did I feel confident? No, but having said that, I wanted to go home because I didn't feel that I was getting the support I needed whilst I was there anyway.

Over the next few days I gradually got sorer and my nipples cracked and were bleeding. I dreaded every single feed. However if someone suggested I switch to formula, I was like a stubborn child, I dug my heels in and was determined that it wasn't going to beat me. It was at this time, I actually discovered how much being able to breastfeed, mattered to me. I couldn't tell you why it mattered all I know is that it did. At that moment I certainly didn't give a monkey's about the health benefits, and I certainly wasn't thinking that formula was evil; I just knew that I wanted to breastfeed. Even now I can remember how determined I was whilst at the same time, I sobbed through every feed, and curled my toes.

Before I scare anyone who hasn't had children off breastfeeding for life....I would like to add that it changed very quickly - once I got the right support. I've actually already mentioned the inspirational midwife Annie who corrected my positioning and helped me on the road to pain free feeding. I saw Annie at home on day 5, and attended the breastfeeding group the same day. By the time I returned to the group a week later, the pain was gone. With my eldest daughter I went on to be pain free for the remainder of our breastfeeding journey which was ended by her when she was 13 months 1 week old. I attended the breastfeeding support group every week.....ok I wasn't experiencing pain but I did feel like I needed support. I made a lot of friends at that group, some of whom I consider amongst my closest friends now, one of which is in fact my second daughter's godmother. Having friends that had experienced the growth spurts, the distracted nursing child, the sleepless nights was essential.  Of course some of things are nothing to do with breastfeeding, but neither were the conversations about our husbands or families! The point was, someone had always had the same or similar experience and it meant you didn't feel quite as alone. At the time I was grieving the loss of my brother, who had died when my eldest was 10 weeks old; and whilst many of them may not have known that, they helped me more than they could ever know.

With my second daughter, I didn't anticipate any problems - after all, I had attended the group for well over a year, I'd already breastfed one child, I knew about all the problems to look out for...what could go wrong? Well...my daughter hadn't done all those things and she needed to learn how to feed, even if I didn't. There were no major problems, but boy did she have a strong suck on her and I experienced a couple of days of soreness as a result. When she was weighed on day 5, she'd already gained 13 ounces, so there was nothing wrong with her latch.

Over the coming months we experienced reflux , breast refusal, biting, mastitis and even a fairly long period of time where she would only feed from one side. I still have no idea why she only fed from one side; there seemed to be no real reason to it. She'd refuse to feed completely when she was teething but we invested in an amber teething necklace which seemed to do the trick. I was once a sceptic when it came to these alternative methods but the one and only other time she refused to feed, my husband had forgotten to put her necklace back on after her bath. The group helped support me, in that I knew it was quite common for babies to refuse to feed when they were teething, and that it was normal for different babies to react in different ways. With my first daughter, we'd never known she was teething, we'd just suddenly realise she had a new tooth.

When people found out that I had breastfed babies with teeth, they would always ask me about biting and doesn't it hurt. I have been bitten, and in all honesty, my second daughter once bit me so hard it drew blood. Not once did it occur to me, to stop breastfeeding because of it. I dealt with it in the same way I dealt with it any time she did something naughty. I told her very firmly no, and put her on the floor. She'd yell and cry, and I'd pick her up, tell her firmly not to bite and we'd continue. I'd like to say I only had to tell her once but it wouldn't be true. However I also learnt the signals for when she was considering biting, and the continued consistent reaction from me, ensured that it was soon a thing of the past; and she certainly never once bit me as hard again.

The couple of times I had mastitis, I was lucky in that I knew the signals and I was able to beat it becoming a more serious issue by feeding, feeding and feeding some more. I'd use a variety of positions to ensure that all the ducts were emptied properly. Again I am grateful to my attendance at the group, for knowing just how to handle it.

If you've learnt anything from this blog post, you should have worked out just how much I value the breastfeeding support group; it should therefore come as no surprise that I went on to become a breastfeeding mother helper and along with a friend, facilitated the group. I was awaiting training to become a peer supporter but I actually got my place at University before that happened. I did however attend the monthly training meetings with other mother helpers and peer supporters so I gained a wealth of knowledge about how to support women.

You might think from this blog post that I believe every woman should breastfeed...well you'd be wrong but I shall save telling you all about my opinion for my next blog post......

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Coping with negativity

I am now 6 months into my first year, have completed my first placement, my first assignment and my first exam and already in this time I have experienced a large degree of negativity.

There can be negativity before you even begin the course, from professionals, from family and friends, from complete strangers....those who wonder why you want to be a midwife as they couldn't imagine anything worse as well as those who know how difficult it is to get a place and wonder why you want to put yourself through it. In all honesty, I partially feel this is like the first test of how much you really want it. If someone can put you off so easily, before you've even tried, then maybe you don't want it enough.  That said, I have been lucky in that the response from my friends and family has been incredibly supportive and I know that I will need them when things are tough, when perhaps I do doubt if I am doing the right thing.

I have talked before about reading on forums about poor placement experiences some students have had at the beginning of my "What Makes a Good Mentor?" post, and I don't want to repeat myself, so you can just go back and re-read it. However in a nutshell, I guess I am talking about the negative attitudes of others towards students. I know that I have said to my fellow students that as first years, we truly are the lowest of the low, and I have heard tales of being treated as a completely different person once qualified. Is it right? No of course it isn't but is it going to stop happening? Not any time soon, I am sorry to say. The only thing I would like to be sure of, is that I won't treat students that way or anyone in fact.

The other kind of negativity you can come across, is the negativity of qualified midwives towards the job, and sadly the women. As a first year, I am at a stage where I feel passionate about childbirth, choice, breastfeeding and supporting women in their choices. I don't want to change how midwifery is practised (I'm not wanting to change the design of the wheel after all), I have no urge to change the world, but I do want to support women to the best of my ability. I don't want to lose that passion that I arrived with, through working with midwives that are jaded about childbirth through the experiences they have had. I certainly don't want to criticise anyone I have worked with; I am hardly in any position to do so with the limited experience and knowledge that I have. So instead I thought I'd write a little bit about how I hope to deal with it and maintain positivity.

By keeping a record of my passion in this blog, I hope that I can always read back on it and remember why I wanted to become a midwife in the first place. That after a difficult shift, or when I am in the midst of assignments and feeling stressed, I can come here and read this and just remind myself why. That I can read about the people that inspired me, the stories that saddened me, the women who I wished had had better experiences to remind me how I don't want to be.

I also have an excellent support network of friends and family who I know will always lend me an ear, and encourage me when I most need it. They are also there to help me take a break, and give me some time out from the pressure. My husband is wonderful and will take the children out so I can have some space, and not only to study, sometimes so I can just have a bath and watch the TV in peace. I think it's valuable to know when to stop and take some time for yourself as this helps you to keep going.

I am also a member of forums where I can share opinions and ideas, gain support and have debates over all sorts of topics. I can also speak with my fellow students, in particular those that are based with the same trust as me, as they know the same people as me. It is going to be interesting to see how we all change and grow along our journey to be midwives. I think we will all learn just as much from each other, as we do from our own experiences.

I've recommended to friends who are pregnant, to listen to all the advice, take what you want and leave the rest behind. I hope I can apply this to my learning too, whilst of course maintaining my knowledge for safe practice.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Inspirational Midwives

I have heard it said that along the way in my training it is likely I will see some bad practice, some ways of practising that I won't want to use and hopefully a lot of good practise. So it got me to thinking about putting down in writing what it was about the two midwives that I know, that inspired me so much, so that when I am suffering from a lack of confidence I can look back and read it. Of course it will be hard to convey exactly why they are so inspiring in writing but I shall do my very best. Those that know me and are local to me will know exactly who I am talking about but obviously I need to keep this confidential so I shan't be mentioning their names - I shall call them Jo and Annie for the purpose of this post.

I first met Annie when my eldest daughter was about 5 days old. She visited me at home to perform her heel prick test and she unfortunately had to come back and repeat it when she was 9 days old as she just hadn't bled well enough. I opened the door to her and cried with relief at seeing her. Now I shall talk in more detail about breastfeeding later but on day 9, I was at the end of my tether with breastfeeding. I was sore, my nipples were cracked and bleeding, I was incredibly engorged and I had a baby that wanted to be constantly feeding. Annie helped me to get her latched properly, and encouraged me to attend the breastfeeding support group later on that day. So later on that day I managed, somehow, to get myself out the door and down to the group. I shan't bang on about the group now, as I will cover it in more detail when I talk about breastfeeding, but Annie ran this group so amazingly well. She'd manage to balance supporting women, without ever judging them or pressuring them. She knew when it would help for someone to have a peer supporter provide one on one support and when someone needed more. When Annie ran the group we had a thriving membership, sometimes there weren't enough chairs; yet when government funding was pulled back, it meant she was only able to drop in on the group when she could, and the running of the group fell to the peer supporters themselves. Whilst the peer supporters did a fantastic job, the membership dwindled considerably. It was down to Annie and that group that led me to breastfeed as long as I did, as well as myself of course.

I can't remember when exactly I first met Jo as she'd sometimes come along to the breastfeeding group, though that was more Annie's domain, or whether or not it was at the  Baby Massage class that she ran. Jo has a wealth of knowledge on many many subjects not just midwifery related and I believe she has recently completed her Masters.

Together Jo and Annie ran the antenatal group/drop in. They were much like the antenatal classes run by the hospitals in some ways but far far better. They would cover all the usual topics you'd expect at, such as pain relief, positions in labour, instrumental deliveries, episiotomies etc. However what made this group so fantastic is that there was no limit on how often you attended. When I fell pregnant with my second daughter, I attended early on following some bleeding I had and then more regularly from around 28 weeks. It meant that you got to know the others that attended, some would be further along than you, and some would be earlier in pregnancy. When I attended the hospital classes when I was pregnant with my first daughter, we had one of those awkward get to know each other games and everyone was uncomfortable. At drop-in, as I shall call it, we did always introduce ourselves and although it was always a little bit uncomfortable, it got it over and done with, not to mention once you'd been a few times you found it easy. It also gave you a chance to say what had been going on with you that week, to raise something that might be worrying you, to moan about work or relatives. And it always felt like someone else had been through the same or was currently experiencing the same and that made for a very reassuring environment. So Annie and Jo provided this opportunity to access the information we needed, time to speak to a midwife but also time to speak with our peers. Separately they are both brilliant but together they are the best!

When I fell pregnant with my second daughter it was only natural to me to book with Annie. I saw her every week at the breastfeeding group and I felt so comfortable with her. Throughout my pregnancy I saw either Annie or Jo and got to know them both so much more. They gave me the confidence and the information to choose a home water birth. It was the ultimate joy when it was Annie and Jo that were present for the birth of my 2nd born. My first daughter was delivered by the midwives, my second daughter was delivered by me. Annie and Jo helped that to happen and in the case of a normal birth, this is how it should happen. The best part of this is, it's not only me they have this effect on. Amongst my friends, I can see how many they have empowered in their births....whether they were home births, Cesarean sections, instrumental deliveries or inductions....Annie and Jo inspired them all.

If I can be half as good a midwife as either of them, I shall be proud. I feel honoured to have known them, and words can't describe how I lucky I feel to have had them at the birth of my second daughter.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Assessment, Assignments and Exams

I have now had half of my results for the year, thankfully all passed, and it's got me thinking about the different ways in which we are tested. Before even getting into University we all had to pass a Maths and English test and it has felt a bit like we've been constantly tested since then. So I thought I'd tell you all a bit more about the tests that we've had to do and how I have "survived" them.

Academic Skills - 2000 word assignment.
I enjoyed this assignment in some ways and in other ways it frustrated me. The assignment was, depending on our prior experience, teaching/reminding us how to write an essay and how to source references. We also had sessions on how to do Harvard Referencing  and four activities designed to help us so that by the time we came to actually write our assignment we'd done most of the work already. For the assignment itself we had to summarise our chosen article and then write about how we it links to our future role. Finally we had to talk about the academic skills we had learnt in the process. I enjoyed it from the perspective that I actually enjoy writing essays and I enjoy doing further reading. I felt frustrated because I was limited by it in so many ways. I would have enjoyed exploring the focal point of my article some more but it wasn't what the assignment was for. That said I am thoroughly enjoying researching my psycho-social assignment which is my next one due in.

Practice Assessment Document (PAD)
I have made reference to this book before. This is the book we carry everywhere with us on placement. For each placement that we do we have key areas that we have to achieve e.g. supporting women to breastfeed in challenging circumstances, recognise the onset of labour, be the initial port of contact for pregnant women, competently provide information regarding screening etc... You'll have to excuse me a little here as my book is currently with my personal tutor so I have had to rely on my memory and I couldn't recall exactly how they were written. When I first got my book and I looked through everything that we had to get signed off, it felt so overwhelming. Once on placement it almost felt even more overwhelming. The opportunity to get anything looked at let alone signed off, felt very remote. However I soon learnt you had to find the right balance of forceful, respectful and keen. However it is important to note that the balance can be different for everyone that you work with. I certainly found it far easier to get my book signed once I was into the Community part of my placement. Anyway for each section of our PAD we have to have at least one formative assessment before the summative assessment is done and a mark awarded. The mark given definitely depends on who you are working with, not just your ability and it seems that our mentors were every bit as confused as us; however in their defence it is a fairly new way of doing it so they are still learning too.

Exam - Biological Basis of Health.
A 2 hour exam consisting of 25 multiple choice questions, a midwifery specific diagram and 4 midwifery specific short answer questions. Now I am the first to admit that Biology is not my strong point. When I was at school and was choosing my options (is that showing my age or do they still call it that?) I could choose whatever I wanted. I wanted to do a science but knew it wasn't my strong point so I went to my teachers in turn to ask their advice. They each advised me not to take their subject......and this was a grammar school. looking back I think that says more about the teachers than it does me but hey that was then and this is now. So having said that I do sometimes wonder whether I was really that bad or more that I wasn't good enough. Either way it has left me with this feeling that I am no good at science. Having said that I think I have a good enough understanding of where things are in my body, and how the reproductive system works, and there are certain parts of our lectures I have found easier than others. Anyway to cut a long story short, I studied hard for my exam. Of all my assessments, exams are what I dread the most.

Other students have often asked how I revise and I can only tell you what I do and say that it works for me. During lectures I take extensive notes even if they tell me it's going to be put up on our portal system. Following the lectures, I head to the library and type up my notes (not always immediately before anyone thinks I am a complete geek, I actually tend to do big chunks at a time) and when I reach a part that I've written that I don't understand I can reach for a book and read up some more so that I do understand it. I may include flow charts so that I can see that x leads to y and so on and so forth. I won't say it leads to me remembering it all but it does help and it does mean I understand it better.

Drugs Calculation Test
We had two weeks in which we had to log in and answer 20 drugs calculation questions. We were allowed to use a calculator and perform the test wherever we liked, although they did request that we did it on our own. In the two weeks preceding we could access practice tests so that we could get used to the format and the kinds of questions we'd be asked. We did have to get 100% to pass but in all honesty, would you want me to be correct with drugs calculations anything less than 100%? I wasn't nervous about the test; I hadn't had any problems with the practice questions after all. I guess the only thing I was worried about was making a silly mistake or misreading the question. It would be too difficult to misread mg as mcg or similar. Thankfully I passed first time but I was surprised by how nervous I was when I was doing it.

So what's left for this year? My next task is my Psycho-Social assignment, then my Values assignment and then my PAD for my second placement this year. Oh and I almost forgot, we have a poster presentation as part of our Psycho-Social this Friday; although it's not graded.

My advice to current students and future students is plan early! For us, we were given all our assignment details early, so I started to think about them early. I have had to plan my study time around my children and family commitments. When we had only one lecture in a day, I didn't go home, I went to the library. This gave me time to rewrite parts I wasn't happy with. It also gave me time to look through the assessment criteria and see if I had covered all I needed to. With my revision notes for the Biology exam, starting early meant I was re-covering things rather than learning things for the first time.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

An unexpected pain

Anyone who has lost someone they love will know what I mean when I talk about the occasions where it hits you smack in the chest with a reminder of who you have lost, completely unexpectedly. There are of course the days that you know will be more difficult; the anniversaries, the birthdays, special occasions. You also know sometimes from the moment you wake up, that today is going to be a bad day, where the ache of missing them is as bad as the day you lost them. People tell you it gets better with time and that is both true and a lie. It's true that the fog lifts, and you are more able to function with every day that passes. However it's a lie that the pain lessens....at least that is the case for me.

I feel like I've started this post a little back to front as I am sure I have readers that don't know my history. My brother died in May 2006. He had a brain tumour that he just couldn't beat, despite his very best efforts. In spite of the fact that he'd been ill for some time, and we'd been told there was no more they could do, it still hit like a sledge hammer when he died. His wife had given birth to their son just two days previously, whom he sadly never met and it felt incredibly unfair. At the time, my eldest daughter was just 10 weeks old, and my sister's youngest son was just 8 months old so I don't know whether or not that made it feel worse to us, that he never got to meet his son. I have a very treasured photo of my brother holding my daughter but at the same time I almost feel guilty about having it at all. I could talk on and on about my brother - about his qualities and his faults but suffice to say I miss him just as much today as I did on the day he died.

Today at Uni I had one of those sledgehammer moments where the pain hit me hard in the chest completely unexpectedly. We were sat in our Ethics seminar talking about ethical decisions and one of the topics under debate was the case of Diane Blood who went to court to fight for the right to use her deceased husband's frozen sperm in order to conceive. The issue of consent was discussed and the fact that her late husband had not given consent for his sperm to be used if he should die but he also hasn't specified that he wouldn't want it to be used. When my brother was first diagnosed with a brain tumour and he and his wife knew that he was going to have chemotherapy, they made the decision to freeze some of his sperm knowing that they were planning to have a family. It is now an automatic part of the "service" to ask whether or not consent is given for the sperm to be used in the event that they pass away. My brother has given permission for it to be used so my sister-in-law will never have to fight for her rights there. However there are still a number of issues surrounding her actually using it so I know that it will never be an easy nor straightforward decision for her.

Anyway sitting in class today and listening to these debates going on around me on this topic; the rights of the deceased husband's parents, the rights of the children, the rights of Diane Blood. It hit me bang in the chest, that it could easily have been a conversation about my brother and his wife. Due to the fact that I didn't know my fellow students before beginning the course, they of course had no idea about my brother. Actually come to think of it, I don't think many people know about his frozen sperm....and why would they? Is it anything to do with anyone else?

It's made me think about my brother obviously but it's also made me think about the fact that we all bring our own histories and it isn't always obvious what someone has experienced. I believe that no-one should be taken at face value and that our experiences shape us and our opinions on things. Sometimes it is good to challenge yourself and think about why you think what you do? Where has it come from? If you explore it more deeply, is it what you truly think? Just to put this into perspective; I grew up believing that all terminations were wrong. I had never really thought about why I felt like this - was it my upbringing, my religion, how I really felt? Ultimately of course, I can only make a decision about what is right for me, and as a midwife, I need to be able to support women in their decisions without judgement. Therefore how I feel is somewhat irrelevant, providing it doesn't affect the care that I give. And that goes for anything not just terminations.

I feel a little like I have rambled my way through this post but I would like to share this very precious photo of my brother David, holding my daughter.