“We just wanted to drop a card off for you”. Did you? Did you really? Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there is this new invention called a letterbox? They were invented so that dropping a card off doesn’t need to involve unloading your entire family from your people carrier and hammering on the door until we let you in. They allow you to, you know, drop a card off, just like you said you wanted.
In the first few days home after a birth, you are inundated with people visiting. I understand that people will want to come and view your new-born(s). They are cute, I get it. Well, most are. People who have young children remember these first few days home and will tell you as parents-to-be, in the run up to giving birth, often and at length, to absolutely not accept or tolerate any visitors turning up unannounced. They tell you to allow only family, or incredibly close friends, and by close I mean someone you would happily shit next to in adjacent stalls in a public convenience and conduct a conversation with while doing so, to visit. They tell you to insist that everyone else visit by invite only. And it is these people that will just turn up un-announced. Because they have warned you about it, they are somehow exempt from their own advice. It seems a bit mean, complaining about it, because invariably people will be turning up laden with gifts. Usually they are for the babies, but I’m still hoping someone will turn up with some parts for my project car (a 1992 Ford Sierra, seeing as you ask) or something equally useful to me. I can hope.
On top of the well-wishing visitors there are the authorities, such as community midwives, student midwives, healthcare workers, breast feeding advisors, home helps… At one point I was thinking of just replacing our front door with a revolving one, because it would be easier for people to get in and out. On more than one occasion in the 12 days we have been home, we have been showing one visitor out of the door just as another arrives. At one point, two days out of hospital, spread between the lounge and kitchen we had two family members who had arranged to turn up, two that hadn’t, a friend that turned up unannounced, a midwife and a lovely old lady who lives two streets away and to whom I sometimes speak in passing but whose name I do not even know. She had just slipped into the house behind everyone else coming in. Just as I shut the front door behind them all there was another knock and stood there was another old lady asking me if the lady of the house wanted to buy some lucky heather. I think she was so used to being told to “fuck off” that she seemed somewhat taken aback to be invited in to ask the lady of the house herself and while she was there she could admire my babies. She promptly turned around and walked away. We only needed a Jehovah’s Witness to complete the picture.
Following the birth of Henry and Arthur, Mrs Aitchworld spent five days and nights in hospital. With the exception of the last night, I was in attendance for nearly all of this time other than occasional forays home to collect a couple of things. As such, I spent a fair amount of time in the day room, where the tea and coffee making facilities were and one of my over-riding memories of the whole five days, other than the birth of my offspring of course, is of the state of the sugar bowl. Who are these idiots who can’t use a communal sugar bowl without dropping half of their drink into it and forming sodding great lumps of tea/coffee-stained sugar? I’d love to go round to their houses and see what their own sugar bowls are like. And I’d put money on there being toast crumbs all over their butter dish! I’d like to think I wasn’t obsessive over this, but I was. My time in the day room would have been vastly reduced if the other people on the ward would remember that the rules of communal tea making are 1) put tea/coffee into cup, 2) add sugar to taste with dry spoon, 3) add water and stir, removing tea bag if necessary, 4) place wet beverage-soaked spoon anywhere other than the sugar bowl. It isn’t rocket surgery or brain science. I must have spent hours in that day room, carefully removing lumps of congealed sugar, but avoiding too much wastage of free-flowing granules, because I don’t want to put sugar in my tea and having it end up tasting of someone else’s drink. I’d like to tell you that I didn’t go as far as taking my own sieve into the hospital so that I could separate the differing particle sizes, but I can’t because it’s only because I jumped into the car to go back to the hospital without putting it into my bag, leaving it on the side in the kitchen at home, that stopped me!
Back to the five nights Mrs Aitchworld spent in the hospital following the birth of the twins, I was there for four of those nights, sleeping next to her bed in a reclining chair. I say sleeping, but this isn’t strictly true. The boys were good weights for twins, with Henry at 6lb 5oz and Arthur at 5lb 3oz, but in their first 48 hours they lost more weight than they perhaps otherwise should have. The hospital allow for about 10% but the boys lost about 12%, so they had to be put on a fat badger feeding plan. (I posted this on Facebook and several friends and relatives actually thought this was an official plan and one of them even Googled “Badger Feeding Plan” to find out more. I chortled and guffawed when I discovered this). This involved feeding every three hours, giving the babies 30-35ml of milk via a tiny cup, topping up with feeding on the breast.
The cup feeding is an incredibly tedious and complicated process; we have two cats and I think it would probably be easier to feed them biscuits via a teacup, but we were told if we were to bottle feed the twins at such an early age, it would be more difficult to teach them how to breast feed subsequently. I thought that it would be three hours from the end of one feed, to the beginning of the next, but no, it was from the middle of the feed to the beginning of the next and as a feed was taking around two hours and sometimes more, the most sleep we were getting between feeds was about an hour and a half, usually less. I was getting out in the afternoons, popping home to attend to cats and do a few chores, but even then I was only getting my head down for a couple of hours. Mrs Aitchworld didn’t even have that luxury. By the end of it I could have slept through anything. I think I may have even slept through an entire feed.
So it is fair to say we were both sleep deprived and memories of what happened during the five days are blurred to say the least. Other than a couple of stand-out events, such as the previously covered black tar poo (which I have since found out has a name, Meconium, which sounds like it should belong on the Periodic Table just next to Kryptonite), the actual birth itself and leaving the hospital with two babies, everything in between is a jumbled up bag of memories. By day three I was having trouble remembering the names of the twins and on more than one occasion I called each of them by one or both of the cat’s names. They say we all turn into our parents and I always thought it was early onset dementia that led my mum to often calling me Smudge when I was growing up, but apparently it was tiredness. In the end I resorted to calling them Dude or Chief.
The only thing that really stands out from all of the rest is the nappy changes. This is an odd thing I know, but I think it is because it is such an achievement to have mastered them. You see, I have a massive aversion to poo. I don’t really like any bodily waste, but poo makes me want to do a lumpy yawn just thinking about it. I can just about deal with cat faeces – to remove a cat egg from either a litter tray or from the garden, I can use an implement such as a scoop or a trowel or spade, which can then be jet-washed. However, if I stand in a dog deposit, I will immediately throw away the pair of shoes I am wearing and carry on the rest of my journey in socks. Once, I trod in a turd just near to my house directly prior to getting in my car, without noticing. Some of it transferred to my trousers, and some to the floor mat of the car. As soon as the smell hit me, I jumped out of the car, took my shoes off and then my trousers and put them directly into the wheelie bin. It was a neighbours bin, because if it had gone in ours, I would probably have never have used it again. I then very carefully extricated the mat from the car and put that in the bin too. And realising that the trousers were part of a suit, I chucked the jacket in for good measure, just because it was associated with the soiled trousers. I was stood on my doorstep in just my socks, pants, shirt and tie. And where were my house keys? Yes, in the shit-covered trousers residing at the bottom of a wheelie bin, which I then had to extract with a stick and dangle upside down until my keys and wallet fell out of them.
This is how much I hate poo. But, strangely, I have become a dab-hand at nappies. Of course there are now certain foods I will never be able to look at again, never mind eat: peanut butter, English mustard, Dijon mustard, to add to the Marmite that has already been thrown in the bin upon arriving home. I am now inclined to wonder if paint manufacturers use the contents of new-born’s nappies as their inspiration for their yellow colour ranges because I certainly recognised the colour scheme of our box-room (no pun intended) in one of the nappies I changed.
Baby wipes are your friend though. I have devised a new severity rating for the nappy fill, similar to the Scoville or Richter scale, determined by the number of wipes employed during the clean-up of the resultant fallout. A one-wipe wipe is therefore an easily cleaned up situation, and the worst we have had, outside of the Meconium incident, is an eight-wipe wipe. That was messy.
I’m sorry to bang on about such an unsavoury subject, but I am amazed by it. The ferocity at which some of the eruptions happen is truly astonishing – if the babies could sit up I swear they would actually partially lift off. It is like a rapid fire machine gun. I was rather reminded of the splat guns employed in the film Bugsy Malone. And the reload speed is staggering. On one particular change, I changed the nappy, walked across the room and by the time I was handing the baby over to Mrs Aitchworld for a feed, the new one had been filled. Back to the changing table, and during change number two, a number one emerged, all over the outside of nappy two. A quick clean up and nappy three was utilised, which was also filled before I had reached Mrs Aitchworld again. At that point, on the edge of a breakdown, I gave up and told Smudge he could wallow in his own shit for a while. Or was it Arthur?