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COMING HOME

Walking through those doors, back home and holding our baby Eve, I couldn't of been more grateful. To get through every bleed and emergency hospital visit and still be able to bring our baby home with us was something to be thankful for. My sister and a good friend both had premature babies and seeing the strength they needed to come home every night with their babies still at the hospital, showed extraordinary courage. They are mothers I look up to, the strongest mothers I know.

Dalton constantly told me during the pregnancy that old Jen would come back after we gave birth. I had become so accustomed to vomiting and feeling nauseous that I believed there was no going back. I had lost all faith, but once our new little family of three had come together, it turns out he was right all along, I was back. I wasn't completely my old self but pregnant Jen was long gone and mother Jen was here and I was ready. Between finding out I was pregnant in the very early stages, finishing work at week 30 and then all of those sleepless nights and sick days, I had read a lot. Baby books, sleep guides, blogs, websites, it was like I was studying for a job or an exam. There was nothing else I could focus on apart from how to be a Mum. I was equipped with an overload of information, I had even contacted a sleep consultant and had her tentatively booked for "just in case." Night after night leading up to Evie's arrival we talked about everything baby. The type of parents we wanted to be, what I expected it to be like, what I expected of a father and vice versa. One thing I knew for sure was that I wanted Dalton to be as much a part of Evie's life as I was and he shared this vision too. He took seven weeks off work, not only so he could help me post caesarean but so that he could share all of the newborn baby experiences and newborn goodness with me too. Parenthood was going to be a new journey for both of us and we wanted to try and find our feet together. Life would eventually change when he went back to work but in the beginning Dalton wanted to be as hands on as he could.

Once we had arrived back home from the hospital, I started expressing my milk that day. I had previously done a lot of research on machines and we decided to buy the Spectra S1 Hospital Grade Double Electric Breast Pump. It’s renowned for its heavy-duty motor and wide range of suction levels and it also stood out to us because of its inbuilt rechargeable battery meaning I could pump anywhere at any time. Breastfeeding is a gift. It's a beautiful way to connect with your baby and something a mother can only do which is magical in itself. Still to this day, when I feed Evie, it's a way for me to connect with her. It's something I do not take for granted, however by expressing, it meant Dalton was able to share these moments with her too. We bought the Pigeon Newborn Starter Kit, which as copied from their website, "has everything a new mum needs to supplement her breastfeeding. The SoftTouch Peristaltic PLUS bottles and teats complement your baby’s natural tongue movements learned in breastfeeding, ensuring you can switch between breast and bottle when necessary without nipple confusion". With my expressed milk, Dalton bottle fed Evie on the first night and she took to it straight away. The plan was always to co-feed and with the perfect pump and bottle this worked seamlessly.

THE FIRST MONTH

Newborns feed, a lot. They also sleep, a lot. When Evie wasn't sleeping, she was feeding and when she wasn't feeding, she was getting her nappy changed. The first month is a complete blur made up of feeding, expressing, sleeping and repeat. Days turned into nights and nights turned into days. We had a lot of family and friends that visited us that first month. They brought food, helped feed, change or nurse Evie, which all helped speed up my recovery. One piece of advice experienced mothers had given me was not to be afraid to ask for help, and I did just that. I pumped my milk and allowed family and friends to give her a bottle or have a nurse, while I rest. I questioned whether it made me a bad mother for not being her sole provider. By receiving so much help though, it allowed me to get back to a healthier body and frame of mind after they were both tortured for nine months straight during the pregnancy. Happy wife, happy life also applies for happy mother, happy baby, happy life. 

During the day, Evie would feed at least every two hours and this continued through the night. Dalton was able to do the night feeds while I breastfed her during the day. I still needed to wake every couple of hours to pump but I was able to go straight back to sleep while Dalton fed and nursed her. We demand fed, so if she made a noise, woke up or even opened her mouth, we fed her. I was set on Evie being a routine baby but by demand feeding her meant it was too early to structure a feeding schedule so we simply followed her cues. Although we couldn't start her on a routine yet, we followed the "Little Ones Better Sleep Guide 0-3 Months". In this guide, it states; "Babies are born knowing nothing about sleep; they rely on us to teach them good sleep habits. Babies under the age of 4 months are actually incapable of any form of "sleep training" and so at this age, teaching good sleep habits is the most important thing." Encouraging good sleep habits which would then hopefully carry through to successfully implementing a routine, was very important to me. My relationship with Dalton meant just as much to me as my relationship with Evie. We had only been dating a few months before all hell broke loose and I now wanted to enjoy his company as much as hers. Getting her feeding and sleeping both sorted and into a routine early was at the forefront of my mind. The Little Ones Guide was educational, teaching us about sleep cycles, habits and sleep associations. We didn't use any parent controlled sleep associations (rocking, patting, tapping, shushing, holding) to get Evie to fall asleep, except for her dummy. This said, we had in mind we wanted to get rid of this by four months. From the guide, we created a good sleep environment for her which was a completely dark room and a swaddle. It's recommended to use a white noise but we found this didn't work for us and the sound drove Dalton crazy. We put her in her Bubnest - a small nest for her to lay in, in her cot, in her nursery, at 8:30pm each night. I did the first round of night feeds - 10:30pm and 12:30am and Dalton took over at 2:30am. It was easier to have her in bed with me while I was still recovering, so Dalton brought the Bubnest into bed with us in the morning when I resumed feeding again. We weren't experts, we were first time parents, taking each day as it came and this is what worked for us.

Physically, I was healing well. My caesarean scar was big, red and puffy but I was able to take just paracetamol and nurofen for the pain. I took these both religiously for the entire first month and after that, the pain had gone. Even once the pain had ceased, there was still a lot of blood. I was under the impression that there would be less blood from a caesarean than a natural birth but I bled for 8 weeks straight stopping for only a couple of days in that time.

Mentally, I felt alive. The simple things like being able to eat again, regaining my trust in foods and not vomiting anymore made a massive difference in how I felt overall. Eating healthy and well again gave me energy that I hadn't felt for so long. Energy gave me endorphins and the motivation to get on with it. I went for slow walks and did my pelvic floor exercises but was still careful not to overdo it in that first month. The midwives came by in the first week for an at home visit. Evie had gained weight since we left the hospital and was feeding and sleeping well. Although I had bypassed the "baby blues," I was still getting monitored for postnatal depression. The midwives scheduled to come back the following week to check on me again. As the days went on though, I was becoming more and more positive so they never ended up returning. I was concerned about an oversupply in my breastmilk so I went and saw a lactation consultant. Everyone has different experiences and I was getting a lot of different advice. I was pumping and breastfeeding every two hours so I wanted to make sure I wasn't confusing my body into thinking I had twins or putting myself at risk of mastitis or engorged breasts. I explained my system and the lactation consultant said what I was doing was perfectly ok and a back up supply was always good to have in the freezer. 

We blinked and just like that our baby girl turned one month old. 

THE SECOND MONTH

This was a busy social month for us. Christmas time was fast approaching and we had family coming up to visit and we also had plans to visit family interstate. Evie had her first plane ride on Christmas Day at one month and one day old. The flight went well both up and back to Mackay to visit Dalton's Dad. We had breast, bottle or dummy all on hand and ready to go for the take-off and landing to help with her ears but there didn't seem to be a problem on either flight. The Bubnest was a godsend as it was a home away from home for her. We had no problems with her sleeping in a foreign environment as she was still in the comfort of her own little bed. After a successful first family trip, we were comfortable travelling again with Evie. Whilst Dalton still had time off work, we did a trip down to Adelaide followed by another trip to Mackay and then Cairns. We got our little frequent flyer used to flying and being away from home at such an early age, hoping it helps as she gets older or if we wish to take a longer trip in the future.

Evie's six-week checkup and vaccinations went well. She was growing and measuring to size and thankfully didn't have any post vaccination symptoms. As she was breached for some of the pregnancy, we needed to have her hips checked at the hospital but the pediatrician cleared her and there were no issues moving forward. We continued to demand feed. Responding to her cues during the day and feeding her when she needed. By the end of the second month she was only waking once for a feed. We still put her down at 8:30pm and she woke around 2:30am and I would feed her in bed with me. Evie would sleep through in her Bubnest with me till about 6:30am and if we didn't have anything planned for that morning, I would feed her again and we'd both sleep through till late morning. Putting her down this late was what worked for us at the time. We eventually wanted to get her on the ‘Save Our Sleep 7am to 7pm train' but at that particular moment in time, 8:30pm suited us. Demand feeding was working for us during the day and I enjoyed her morning stint in bed with me.

Dalton returned to work around week seven and I was like a headless chook running around loose at home. The downside of having him with us from day one meant I was lost without him when he left. All of a sudden it was just Evie and I but we were quick to get into our own little routine. I tried to get out of the house at least once a day whether it was to exercise or a food catch up with friends. She came with me everywhere and anywhere and was an easy addition to my friendship circles. I have a lot of friends without babies and wondered how life would change once she came along but she moulded into my life well. Whilst I was still demand feeding her and she was still sleeping for the majority of the day, made it easy to get around with her. The first time leaving the house without Dalton was the hardest. Not knowing how to work the pram or capsule made the first trip a big flop but I kept at it, getting out everyday and before long it became like second nature. I was nervous to breastfeed in public at first so I would express before I left home and take the bottle with me. Once I got comfortable using the pram and capsule and having her out with me in cafes then I stopped bringing the bottle.

Physically, I was raring to go. I had my postnatal checkup and after a look and feel of my wound, my doctor cleared me to exercise again. At week six I started The Bod Starter Guide but emitted all core sessions/exercises, plyometric and repetitive moves and planks. Even without these exercises I wasn't confident doing the workouts, so I focused 100% on eating healthy. Ensuring a safe recovery to exercising postpartum was my number one priority and I felt that a quick look of my wound and a feel of my stomach wasn't enough to jump straight back into it. I got in touch with a women’s physio and after a lengthy consultation over the phone I started seeing a physiotherapist at All Sports Physio. Using a Real-Time Ultrasound, we were able to see exactly what was happening with my abdomen and do exercises to suit my current condition. I saw the physio once a week for four weeks, working on strengthening my pelvic floor before moving on to one on one physio Pilates. I did this while still completing what I could of The Bod Starter Guide and going for regular mountain walks with my friends. 

Mentally, I couldn't be happier. My heart had imploded with so much love, not only for Evie but Dalton too. Seeing him excel as a daddy and his love for her just made me love him even more. We were able to "date" again and rewind back to the start of our relationship. Evie was starting to show more personality and smile which made all of the negative feelings I had from the pregnancy slowly start to fade away. 

THE THIRD MONTH

The day Evie turned 2 months old, we started her on swimming lessons at Rackley's Swimming. I've never been a strong swimmer and still to this day cannot dive into a pool. Starting to build her confidence in the water from a young age was very important to us. It was a controversial topic amongst family and friends as to why we were starting her so young but looking back at it now I wouldn't of changed a thing. Not only are the lessons free for babies aged between 2 and 5 months, but they help with mobility, coordination and water familiarization. From 2 months old, we've been doing two lessons a week and her neck strength has improved tenfold. She loves the bath, shower and water over her face making it not only comfortable for her in the water but for me also.

Evie's sleeping kept getting better and better as the weeks went on. The third month saw her sleeping 10 hours straight through the night from 8:30pm to 6:30am. She woke for a feed and as Dalton had already left for work at this time I continued to bring her into bed with me. After feeding her, I'd let her go back to sleep in her Bubnest while I slept through too. Even with Evie almost completely sleeping through, I was still waking every 4-6 hours to express.  We still encouraged good sleeping habits without a structured routine just yet. I knew that bringing her into bed with me was eventually going to have to stop completely, but whilst she was still in that newborn stage, I couldn't resist.

Physically, I was gaining more confidence. I was working closely with my physio doing one on one Pilates, having regularly ultrasounds on my abdomen and strengthening my pelvic floor muscles. After weeks of one on one Pilates, I moved on to clinical group Pilates with the same physiotherapist and continued working through The Bod Starter mainly doing leg and arm static exercises.

Mentally, the pregnancy pain was well and truly becoming a distant memory.

The fourth month

Evie was no longer a newborn and boy did I notice it. As we entered her fourth month, there was definite shift in her behaviour. In the previous three months, I could take her anywhere at any time without a worry. She would feed whenever and sleep wherever and she never cried. On the odd occasion that she did cry and she wasn't hungry, tired or had a wet nappy, then her dummy did the job. She was a perfect, easy baby that slept 10 hours straight through the night. As we approached her four-month milestone, there was a considerable change. She was harder to put down at night, was more irritable during the day and had cranky tantrums where I was unable to identify what the problem was. Close family members that saw her often, said that this was just normal baby behaviour, but as someone that spent 24 hours a day with her, I knew she needed routine and that the dummy had to go. Before making any drastic changes, I watched what we were doing over the course of the week. One night Dalton spent 20 minutes rocking her to sleep. The following night I was going in and out of her room replacing the dummy. The third night I fed her to sleep and the next night she fell asleep straight away in her tight swaddle. The last night we were both too tired for anything so had her straight in bed with us. Every time she woke in the middle of the night, I brought her into bed with us until all of sudden her 6:30am wake up became 4:30am then 2:30am and then midnight. Next thing we know we had a baby in our bed, our good sleep habits were out the window and we had not taught Evie how to self-settle. This all happened over a short period of two weeks and whilst the end result was that she still fell asleep, it was inconsistent and with the four-month regression fast approaching I needed to implement change.

I re-read Baby Love, Save Our Sleep and The Little One's Sleep Program. Studying all three methods of sleep training, I gauged what I thought would be the best option to fit into our lives and what I thought both Dalton and I would be able to follow. With Dalton's support and understanding of the method we decided to stick to our original plan and follow Save Our Sleep. Whether it was because we had already initiated those good sleep habits to begin with or because she was still young, it only took three nights for her to get the hang of the new routine. I strictly followed the timing during the day for her feeds, sleeps and naps and come night time, she was ready for bed. Evie slept from 7pm to 7am with me even having to wake her some mornings. The only thing I didn't follow was the 10:30pm night feeds. I had never done one before and the thought of picking up a sleeping baby and trying to feed her without waking her up seemed trivial to me. Night after night I stood outside her bedroom door too scared to go in there. She was already sleeping through the night so I didn't feel the need to wake her.

Originally, Dalton and I discussed just taking away her dummy when it was used as a sleep aid and letting her have it during the day. After monitoring her use of it during the day, I noticed that she hadn't found her voice yet compared to other babies. As much as you shouldn't compare babies and knowing that each one is individual and different I couldn't help myself. In my clinical Pilates group classes with babies that didn't have dummies at the same age as Evie, I found them a lot more vocal. I took it away during Pilates classes and all of a sudden Evie was goo-ing and ga-ing more. Give the dummy to her and she used it, take it away and she didn't. She really was too young to understand it or miss it when it was gone so we went cold turkey on it the night we started Save Our Sleep. For the first couple of weeks I felt anxious leaving the house. The dummy was more of a security blanket for me than it was for her. The thought of being out and about and Evie crying and not having the dummy made me nervous to do anything. By following the routine, I knew when she was due for a feed and when her sleep times were. Her awake times weren't irritable and cranky like before. She was a happy, chatty and content little baby except for when it was nearing her nap times. Life changed and I started revolving my day around her day naps but by getting those sleeps done correctly meant the rest of the day went well, resulting in a perfect 12-hour overnight sleep. It wasn't happy mother, happy baby, happy life anymore. It was happy baby, happy mother, happy life.

Physically, my pelvic floor was well and truly on the mend. By the end of the fourth month, after weeks of working closely with a physiotherapist, I received medical clearance to resume normal exercise. I finished up at All Sports Physio with recommendations to have once a month checkups and scans done until I was 12 months postpartum. I had almost finished The Bod Starter but was unsure of what to do once I finished that exercise program. I was 4 months postpartum, had seen a women's physiotherapist, obtained medical clearance and yet still wasn't confident to get back into high intensity training. My instincts were telling me to still take it slow and as much as I wanted to rejoin F45 Training or a gym, I felt I wasn't quite ready yet. The Mummy Trainer and I found each other. Sarah, a postnatal fitness trainer based on the Gold Coast was an ex Virgin Flight Attendant that I used to work with. Offering Mums an at home studio that was baby friendly, Sarah’s main training objective was providing safe and effective training and exercise for Mums. I consulted with her and booked in some sessions with her once I finished The Bod Starter Guide.

Mentally, my mind was buzzing. The transition from newborn Evie to infant Evie was huge, causing big changes in her routine and our lives. Not all relatives agreed with the changes we made. This wore me down emotionally having to explain my reasoning in implementing a strict routine and taking away her dummy. At the end of the day the changes we made were for her best interests. There was no right or wrong way to bring up a baby and we just had to stick to what we felt was right for our little one even if some people we were close too didn’t agree with it.

It was a big month for everyone.

 

THE FIFTH MONTH

Routine changed everything. After following Save Our Sleep for over a month, life became easy again. My anxiety over the dummy was gone and working around Evie's nap times flowed in with my day to day living. I understood her needs and we coexisted around each other. We had more flexibility during the day again as she got used to having her day sleeps either in the cot, car or pram and was easy to transfer between these. With her sleeping and feeding well and truly established I was confident and ready to start her on solids. We did this right on 4 months old. The more I read about solids the more confused I got. Some say to start at 6 months and some say you can start as early as 4 months. She had been following our spoon and watching us eat for a few weeks leading up to her 4-month milestone, so I believed she was ready for it. Following the schedule from Save Our Sleep we began her on solids. I made my own baby porridge by grounding brown rice in the NutriBullet and cooking it in half breastmilk and half water. I later changed to just cooking it in water as I learnt that by boiling the breastmilk, I was cooking off all of the good nutrients. She took to solids better than I expected. I introduced a different food every three days to allow room for any intolerances or allergic reactions. After the initial brown rice meals, we tried apple, pear, carrot, pumpkin, zucchini and then potato. I started off puréeing it to a very smooth consistency to then mashing it. Once she had tried all of the different foods that were recommended for 4 month olds, I then started mixing up the combinations. Brown rice and apple porridge, pumpkin and zucchini, sweet potato and potato, potato and carrot and apple and pear. We played around with different flavour combinations, always serving two courses, savoury then sweet.

Physically, I had finished The Bod Starter Guide. It ended up taking me almost 14 weeks to finish the 12-week guide but I was really happy with my end results. I was now ready to train with The Mummy Trainer down on the Gold Coast. I booked in to do 3 one on one sessions a week with her but was worried about how Evie would go on the one hour drive down and back from Brisbane. We timed it in with her morning nap and it worked perfectly. Every workout I did at home by myself I was worried about how hard I could actually push myself. I wasn't sure of my boundaries and had zero confidence to do any core work. Training with Sarah, who is also a mother of two herself, specialising in postnatal training was exactly what I needed. We spent the first part of each session doing pelvic floor work then moving on to intense weight training or cardio before finishing off with core work. Sarah was experienced and made me feel comfortable to do exercises that I thought I was a long way off doing. I saw myself getting stronger and fitter every session, regaining faith in my abilities and strength again. I was taking a very slow route to simply just train again but I had to remember that I did just have a baby. My body had gone through an immense amount of change which then ended in abdominal surgery. A slow return was better than putting myself at risk of injury in the long run and if we were to have another baby, I knew I would be in the best shape for it.

Mentally, I was happy. Life was busy but I was having an absolute ball. Evie was changing every day and I found myself having little proud Mum moments when she did the simplest things. Her smile, her laugh, her first tummy to back roll over, taking to solids, falling asleep at night, her excitement when I got her in the morning, putting her head under water at swimming lessons. She wowed me every day and I felt my heart have moments where it burst with excitement and love. At times, I missed the newborn baby. The little koala that would lay on me all day and night. I would look through old photos and make myself feel clucky and want to do it all over again but then a flash of 2016 would wave over me and I would suddenly feel anxious.

Evie was everything we needed.