Thursday, 9 September 2010

Living in the Mother Baby Unit: Part 1

Okay. How are we travelling, my friends, all 49 of you? My past few posts have been a bit full-on, I know. And longish. They have been hard to write. Thanks so much for your kind comments and support. They have been heart-warming to read. And sorry for making some of you cry – that was not my intention! Anyway, let’s wrap this little MBU episode up.

So, the decision was made to wean Sam. I coped with that relatively okay, knowing that I had tried my hardest to feed him for 9 weeks but that his palate had prevented us being able to continue. I had experienced the same thing with Joshua. I had breastfed India for 14 months so at least I had experienced that joy. I knew that the bottom line was that Sam needed nutrition. Full stop. If that had to come from formula, then so be it. The nurses kindly suggested I try Bellamy’s formula, an organic Tasmanian product as it was “the closest alternative to breastmilk you can give him”. Sam liked it so I was relieved. And that made me feel a tiny bit better. I then concentrated really hard on trying to bond with him while feeding him his bottle, letting his tiny fingers curl around my little finger so we had some tactile, loving contact.
Sam's formula
My psychiatrist visited me every few days and proved an invaluable listener as I tried to make sense of what was going on in my head. And the numbness I felt. The only emotions I could feel were negative. She witnessed the tension felt by those close to me about my staying in the MBU and was able to provide reassurance that I was doing the right thing by trying to get better. I tried to focus on that – it was my job to get well again so I could care for my family. I had to shut out all of the background noise and focus on that. Easier said than done, mind you.

Gradually, I started to notice the other mothers and babies around me. We all were there for different reasons but it soon became apparent that there were three types of mums there – those who were there a. because of their babies, b. themselves and their babies and c. themselves only.

The first group stayed for shorter periods, sometimes only for a few days. Often they needed help with settling and resettling their babies. Some babies had colic and/or reflux. A lot of them were cat nappers, sleeping only for 20 minute snatches or hardly sleeping at all. Around the clock. So many were first-time mums and really appreciated the support the staff so caringly provided. People from all different ages, marital situations and backgrounds were there but we all had our incredible love for our babies in common. Motherhood breaks down so many barriers, doesn’t it?

The second group tended to stay for weeks, if not months. We soon realised which of us were patients as we had to wear identity bracelets. As soon as I spotted one, I tentatively mentioned that I was a patient with severe PND and most of the time, we were able to chat about our situations pretty easily. Given we were living together in a dormitory-style setting, it was hard to keep such things secret from each other in any event, especially as the nurses would bring us our medication when we were sitting down together eating. Our doctors also visited us regularly so we were very aware of each other’s needs.

The third group was a very small one and those mums had an even more difficult time. They beat themselves up more than the rest of us as they were frustrated that they were depressed when their babies were fine, health wise. It was as if it didn’t make sense or as if there wasn’t a ‘proper reason’ for their PND.
Precious bath time
Together, we all muddled through. Some of the babies responded well to the routine and settling techniques provided by the staff. Some didn’t. There’s no magic solution for such things – each baby is so different. What worked for one baby didn’t work for another. We all discovered our babies’ peculiarities – which babies had to be rocked to sleep, left to self-settle, needed a dummy (and what type), bounced on a fit ball, pushed backwards and forwards in their bassinets, wrapped, left unwrapped, left with one arm poking out or both, which formula they preferred and so on. The babies all developed at different rates and it was hard for some mums, the first-timers in particular, not to compare the babies and worry that theirs was falling behind. That’s common for most parents, of course, but in that setting, the focus and concentration on such matters was heightened.
One of our trusty settling aids, a fit ball
We learnt to recognise the cries of each baby, even from 50 metres away. We witnessed each baby’s peculiar characteristics and used their nicknames. We forged firm friendships. We met each other’s families and discovered the complexities in our relationships, not to mention the impact of the babies’ and our problems on those dearest to us. It was a time of heightened emotion when the slightest raised inflection by a staff member could result in something being misconstrued and a mum bursting into tears. There were mothers with the whole gamut of manifestations of PND, from mild to severe. The mild sufferers responded quickly to medication. Some poor souls afflicted by the severe version found it hard to even get out of bed in the morning, let alone open the curtains or interact with the other mothers.

We soon worked out who were our favourite staff members and who was working which shift. It really was like being part of a huge, complex family. With each handover between shifts, the staff had lengthy briefings in an effort to maintain continuity of care. We mums had to assist the staff around the clock by recording every milk feed (breast, EBM or formula), solid feed, nappy changed (and the contents thereof, in detail!), bath, medication taken, settling method, unsettled period (we soon grew to detest the red parallel lines which formed blocks on the 24 hour grid chart) and sleep period (marked by solid blocks). Can you imagine doing that? It fairly did our heads in, having to document everything so carefully. Around the clock.

As for us, if we left the premises, we had to give a written estimate of the time we would be away, sign out and then sign back in when we returned. There were legal reasons for this, of course, and also the practical concern of ensuring that mothers did not simply go walkabout, leaving their babies behind. Often if we went out, leaving our babies in the Unit while they were asleep, we would receive calls on our mobiles asking us to return to help if they had woken early or were unsettled.
"Where are you? You need to come back now!"
That meant our trips ‘outside the bubble’ were hurried and anxious, with much watch- checking as we raced to complete our errands before our babies woke. We were encouraged to take our babies out in their prams for walks. Some mums took advantage of the rare opportunity to have massages or their hair done. It was precious time for ourselves, a time for much-needed self-care.

And on that topic, I really should put my feet up and read a magazine. Ian has today off so I’m ‘off duty’ – I’d better make the most of it! I’ll finish this tale tomorrow.



  1. Hi Jane

    Correction: all 50 of us... just noticed that for you.

    I just wanted to let you know that I've been reading every word of your posts. I haven't commented because I'm gathering my thoughts on what to say. Which isn't like me, but I don't want to say the wrong thing as PND is such an emotional topic. But I wanted to let you know that I really, really feel for you and I'm sad that you had to experience such great upheaval and uncertainty. The fact that you can write about this so cleanly suggests to me that you have your head on straight and life is good. Which makes me happy.

    Back to solving the Israeli-Palestian conflict via advertising... hmmmm...


  2. Thanks so much, Bron (and yes, another lovely follower joined after I posted that!). You sweet, thoughtful woman. Oh, please don't worry about saying the 'wrong thing'. The more comment there is, the more people learn about it. I didn't set out to make this an authoritative discussion about PND, just an insight into how I'm finding it. And yes, life is improving - this is the first time in a year I have been able to think about that period clearly so I must be getting somewhere. Best of luck with that pesky assignment - I look forward to hearing how you pulled it off! J x

  3. Hi Jane, my name is also, and I am about to embark on this journey for myself.

    You have inspired me to write my own blog and I have started it today:

    I would be most honoured if you would have look.

    I wanted to also thankyou for your. Blog as I really struggled to find any helpful information out there about what it would be like "in here" !

    X x x


Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, you gorgeous soul. You've just made my day! J x

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