Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Mother Baby Unit

Okay, my friends, are you ready for more? Here's the next instalment - what happened once we arrived in Hobart. It’s another long one so settle in. After a well-deserved sleep (apart from Sam’s feeds, of course), we awoke to our new life. In my old bedroom in my parents' house. Hmm. Time to start the search for a rental house. Mr PB bade us farewell as he and his father flew up to Sydney to drive our car down to Melbourne, over on the ferry and down to Hobart.
The Bass Strait ferry linking Melbourne and Devonport
I saw our friend, Sue, a lactation consultant, for help in getting rid of the nipple shield when breastfeeding Sam (the things us mothers go through for our babies!). Sue took a close look at Sam, asked how old he was, how much he weighed and how many wet nappies he was having a day. She watched me feed him with the shield. She looked inside his mouth. The next thing I knew, she was taking my hand and saying, “Jane, Sam isn’t putting on weight properly. He has a high palate which is making it hard for him to suck properly so he’s getting weaker. He isn’t getting enough milk so his nappies aren’t wet enough. It’s called a ‘failure to thrive’. We need to get you some help.”

I was dumbstruck. Tears welled in my eyes and spilled down my weary cheeks. Failure to thrive. Failure to thrive. FTT. The words kept repeating in my head, on a tape that kept respooling. They were stuck on my forehead, along with ‘failure as mother’. I wept. After all we had been through in the six weeks since Sam was born, this had happened. In front of my eyes and I hadn’t seen it. I was devastated.

Sweet Sue then arranged for us to see a GP that afternoon who then referred us to the Mother Baby Unit (MBU) at Hobart’s St Helen’s Private Hospital. We hired a breast pump from a pharmacy. We were admitted to the MBU the next day, the Friday. Dad dropped Sam and me off, carrying the clothes we had brought down on the plane. All the rest of our worldly possessions including most of Sam’s clothes and his pram were in transit, due to arrive in a fortnight’s time. A kind nurse went through the admission process with me, asking a myriad of questions. I was on auto-pilot, answering each question methodically. I was also numb. And exhausted. But no tears came.

I was showed around the Unit which was set up with 8 private rooms for mothers with bathrooms and adjacent rooms for their babies. There was a communal dining room with play area, a bath for the mums to use, a bathing area for the babies, a kitchen and a laundry. The bedrooms were well equipped but had a few modifications which I found both confronting and disconcerting. There were no rails or coathangers for clothes in the wardrobes. There were no towel rails in the bathrooms and the shower taps had been modified so they were only little stumps. I suddenly realised I was in a place where mothers might be driven to do desperate things in their distress.

I then started meeting the delightful and caring staff, a combination of registered nurses, midwives, lactation consultants and Mothercraft nurses, led by the vivacious and heart-warmingly kind Sharon. Their compassion was astonishing. They realised I was in a state of extreme distress before I even registered it myself (it took weeks for that realisation to dawn). I was staggered when they told me that was no time limit on my stay. We would stay until our problems were resolved. Even if that meant months.

I spoke to the Unit’s visiting doctor and a plan of action for Sam was devised. It involved feeding him every 3-4 hours around the clock with bottles of expressed breastmilk (EBM) and/or formula until his weight reached the normal range. Then I started the two hourly expressing of breastmilk for my tiny little boy. Hooked up to the electric double pump, I felt like a cow. Any last vestige of privacy was stripped away as people came in and out of my room while I sat there, tethered. Each precious bottle was labelled and stored in the fridge, lined up in a neat row. I had my assigned shelf in the fridge so my EBM wasn’t confused with the other babies’ bottles of EBM and formula.
The trusty Avent bottle
I was brought a cooked dinner in my room, given a set of earplugs and some sleeping tablets and told that the night shift nurses would look after Sam and that they would wake me for his night feeds. I lay there in that strange room, all alone. Mr PB was oblivious to everything. He was shocked when I phoned him up, late at night, and told him what had happened. He was very distressed but knew that I was in good hands and that his job was to return to Hobart with the car as soon as possible.

I didn’t sleep much, the sleeping tablet notwithstanding. My brain was whirling. It wouldn’t stop. The thoughts kept churning over and over in my head. How had I missed that? Why hadn’t the lactation consultants and midwives picked it up in the hospital after he was born? One of them had specifically checked his palate for me as I had had the same problem with Joshua when he was first born and she had assured me that Sam’s palate was normal. The lactation consultant who had visited us at home had also told me everything was normal. The child health nurse we had seen for his six week check the day before we left had said his weight was normal. Why had they all missed it?

The next week passed in a blur. I was numb. I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t think straight. My head felt like cotton wool. Mr PB returned on the Saturday and brought the pixies in to visit. We had a trip to Salamanca Market.
Visiting Salamanca Market with my little family
Mr PB was upset and frustrated at the situation. We hadn’t expected this start to our new life in Hobart. He brought in what little clothing he had found in the car which hadn’t been packed and sent off with the removalists. He then started work at his new job on the Monday. My parents looked after the pixies and tried to find places for a few days a week at childcare for them.

It was an extraordinarily intense time. Expressing every two hours was exhausting both physically and mentally and after a week, I found I couldn’t bring myself to do it so regularly. My milk supply started dropping. I was given medication to try to boost my supply. Sam was unsettled and colicky, screaming and making his body stiff as a board. The pixies came and went, confused as to why Mummy and Sammy were in hospital. Ian tried to settle into his new job, make flying visits to see us and then return home to my parents’ house to help look after the pixies. Everyone was under a great deal of strain. We inspected several rental properties but couldn’t find anywhere suitable.

Then I saw the resident psychiatrist, a kindly man who listened responsively to my story of what had happened in the seven weeks since Sam was born. It didn’t take long for him to diagnose that I had severe post-natal depression (PND). The diagnosis hit me between the eyes. Or like the proverbial truck. I hadn’t seen that one coming. I was filled with grief but the tears still wouldn’t fall. He prescribed a mild anti-depressant which could be taken when breastfeeding. We agreed that we would see how the feeding went before trying anything further.

Later that week, after 9 days of expressing around the clock and several unsuccessful attempts at feeding Sam both with and without the shield, I met with Sue, the lactation consultant, again. We had a lengthy discussion as I attempted yet again to feed Sam, without success. She took my hand gently and looked into my eyes. I knew what she was going to say so I pre-empted her. “It’s not going to work this time, is it? If I can’t sustain the regular expressing with around the clock care and only one child to look after, I’m not going to be able to manage it at home with three children under four, am I?” She shook her head. A tear slid down my cheek. I looked down at my darling boy and kissed him. That was our last feed together.

Time for a break, I think. That's probably a lot for you to digest! Next time, I’ll tell you about my stay at the MBU. I’d love to know if any of you have stayed there or at a similar place. It is such a haven for mothers.



  1. Wow Jane what an emotional roller coaster ride you went on. I've heard the MBU is excellent, sounds like it was where you needed to be at the time. It's great that there are so many supportive people out there who know when to take over & help out, when we ourselves don't realise we need the help. I was lucky enough to breastfeed both girls and it came easy, I can't imagine not being able to do it, especially when you've successfully breastfed your other 2. I remember a lovely lactation consultant named Sue (can't think of her surname), she was very good, I wouldn't be surprised if it was the same person. Thanks for sharing Jane. xo

  2. My pleasure, Sonia. Yes, it was a bit full-on. Sue Cox is the angel who helped me. I think she's the kindest person I know. Such compassion when you need it most. J x

  3. Heavens Jane, what a time. You've made me tear up before breakfast!

  4. Oh Jane, I'm crying like Ann too!

    What an amazing strong mother you are

  5. Hi Jane. I have just been catching up on your last few posts and have to admit I had to come back to comment, as I too was in tears...It is so devastating when things such as this don't go to plan and things seem to be so far out of our control. As a first-time Mum of a premmie baby, I spent many years feeling all kinds of things and wish there had been more help for me back then. I am so heartened to read that you had some wonderful help and it sounds like you came across some wonderful and beautiful people on your journey. I am looking forward to hearing more of your incredible story. Wishing you a wonderful Wednesday ~ Tina xx

  6. Why, thankyou, ladies. I'm sorry to have made you cry! I was a bit worried I might scare off the horses by 'over-emoting'. I wasn't sure I should put my thoughts out there in cyberspace but your comments are so kind and empathetic, I think I made the right decision. After having three children so close together, I've realised honesty is the best policy for me. Life's complicated enough without being artificial and pretending all is rosy as well.

    My goodness, Tina, it sounds like you have an extraordinary tale to tell. There was a premmie in the MBU and I could only admire his parents. J x

  7. Jane, I thought it might just be my hormones making me so weepy at your story, but clearly I'm not alone! My goodness, what a traumatic and difficult time you went through... my heart goes out to you so much. There is so much about motherhood that is challenging don't you think... the fact that so many other women go through it and do the same things every day doesn't detract from how hard it can be on an individual level. I have nothing but admiration for you. Thanks for sharing - I believe honesty is the most wonderful way of connecting with others and creating a world in which we can truly be ourselves.

    Ang xx

  8. Why, thanks, Ange. You are very sweet. I must admit to getting a bit emotional as I was writing it. It's the first time in a year that I've been able to think about it, let alone use words to describe my feelings. Yes, everyone handles depression differently but once you have post-natal depression, the whole ball game changes. It becomes public as you have a child/children to care for and that causes all sorts of consequences. J x

  9. ~*~Oh Jane!! Im all the way over here in Seattle..and have never met you in person..but all I want to do is give you a big hug!:)Im so sorry to hear what has been going on in your life with you and your precious little Sam.I nursed both of my boys (now almost 14 and 11..how time flies!) for a year each and really cherished every moment~I just feel awful that you had to stop for now~Have you noticed any improvement within the last day or so?My heart just breaks for you because I know how important and meaningful breastfeeding is.If you dont mind, your little Sam and you will be in my prayers~Blessings, Your friend from afar, Rachel~*~*

  10. Oh thanks, Rachel! You're lovely to think of me from so far away like that. All this happened a year ago this week. I'll do some more posts to fill in the gaps! Thanks so much for your kind thoughts. J x

  11. Hi Jane

    Sorry it has taken me a while to respond, I only just found your comment. It was lovely to meet you in the shop, but I have just been reading your story and am completely blown away. What a stressful time you have been having and your feet have hardly touched the ground. Hopefully things are getting a little more sane. Springtime in Tassie is so lovely and Summer is just around the corner (hopefully) so may be your days will begin to find a rhythm of their own. Do stop into the shop again when you have time. I am usually there on Thursdays and Fridays.



  12. Thanks, Edwina! Yes, even though it happened a year ago, the memories are still fresh. Thank goodness the MBU was there to help. You're right about springtime in Hobart - it really does lift one's spirits. I'll do that - thanks. J x

  13. Jane, what a time you have had! I had goosebumps reading your story. What an emotional rollercoaster. Hugs to you my friend xx

  14. Oh sweet Jane! What a brilliant, committed and loving Mumma you are! All that for your little man. I can only imagine your heartache. And a huge bravo to you for being open about your issues...there may be some Mumma out there going through exactly the same thing and you might be a shining light for her. Sending oodles of sunshine and smiles your way :)

  15. Thanks, lovely girls. You are both so caring. I am really touched by your comments. They were dark days but the sunshine is now starting to filter in. I'm just so grateful I had that support at the MBU. My doctors have been amazing as well, thank goodness. J x

  16. I clicked onto this entry somehow when I put the iPad down to help the Captain clean his teeth... now tears are streaming down my face! What a dreadful time for all of you. The important thing is that the baby gets fed and in the end I don't think it matters so much how they are fed. Making that decision though to stop nursing and start bottles is always fraught with guilt and heartbreak. xx

  17. Oh, you darling girl! Fancy your finding this old post! I totally agree with you. First time around with Joshua when the same thing happened, I was absolutely devastated. Then I had 14 months of BF India. So by the time this happened with Sammy, it was horrible but it didn't hurt quite as much as with Joshie. Thanks so much for your gorgeous compassion, you sweet thing. So sorry to make you cry. I did that when I read about your honeymoon. I'm so pleased we have found each other. J x

  18. Ah, we blame ourselves for so much. I'm with Emma. It's the feeding that's important. The thriving. We can only do what we can do. I see from your above comment that time has past and you've come to terms with it. I'm so glad.

  19. Why, thanks, Allison. Yes, accepting it with Sam this time was so different to the grief I felt with Joshua the first time around. My, the things we mums put ourselves through! J x

  20. The things we do for those tiny creatures we love so unconditionally! Great post...thanks for giving us a 2nd chance to read it. xxx

  21. Thanks, Cate! You're so right. And he'll never remember it, either. I've just started following your sweet blog. Allison's linky was such a great idea. J x

  22. Love the MBU and love Sue, the guru when it comes to breastfeeding.
    Both have been a saviour for me in the past.
    I am so pleased you had the support of both of those in such a hard time.
    You poor thing, what a rollercoaster ride.
    Have just discovered your blog, as a fellow Mum living in Hobart :)
    I was in the MBU last year with #4 who was then 13 months and still waking many times a night.
    I thought I was going in to solve her sleep problems, but realised once I got in there how burnt out I was!
    It was a wonderful break for me and I made some lovely friends.
    Unfortunately though #4 will be two tomorrow and is still not sleeping through the night!!
    Hm, wonder if they would take me back at the MBU on my own for a good night sleep, lol ;)
    Will keep reading your blog. Like your style.

  23. Well hello, fellow Hobart mum you! It's great to find another local. I'm so pleased you also found support at the MBU and through Sue. She is a treasure. I hear you - although Mr PB is my guardian angel who gets up every night to the pixies. Yes, if only the MBU would let us mums do that! J x

  24. Sounds like you have a wonderful hubby like I do. Mine also gets up many times a night to our little cherubs.
    I think we are very lucky, as I don't know of any other Dad's who do this. Yay for you and I!
    Got the best present this morning for my baby girl's b'day, when she slept through until 5.15am. (yes not ideal, but still...she can occasionally do a sleep through, just never more than two nights in a row.)

  25. Agreed. They are very rare, such men. Eek, those early starts are foul! I hope you're enjoying her birthday. J x

  26. I just wanted to say that I googled the Mother Baby Unit after I was told I should go in for a stay to treat my post natal depression. Reading your entry about the place is what convinced me to go have a look and I have just returned home a different person.

    Thank you so much for this - the Mother Baby Unit saved my life (literally).

  27. Oh Lisa, you gorgeous girl. I am so very pleased for you. That is just wonderful. J x

  28. Some truly wonderful work on behalf of the owner of this internet site , perfectly great articles .
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Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, you gorgeous soul. You've just made my day! J x

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