All about the milk

Going back in

The initial euphoria of being discharged from hospital with the Precious Bundle is somewhat shattered when, a week later, Mummy finds herself back in and doing time because the Precious One has shrunk too much.

“Welcome back,” says the nice lady at the desk, “I remember you! Weren’t you the lady with the beautiful…”

Mummy beams with pride. Obviously her baby is so beautiful that she is remembered by all whose presence she has graced, even by those who see hundreds of babies every day! Who could forget the beauty that is Mummy’s baby?

“…stitches?”

Brilliant. Mummy scowls at the doctor as she is shown through to a consultation room.

There is going to be a long wait because the doctors are all very busy with people actually having babies. The midwife who made the referral insisted that Mummy gave The Baby a bottle of formula before she came in so, unusually, The Baby is now sleeping calmly and Mummy and Daddy can wait patiently to be seen.

In fact, what actually happened was that Daddy gave her the bottle of formula which she guzzled down so fast she nearly choked on it, and promptly fell asleep. Obviously this was a Good Thing but Mummy sobbed and sobbed that The Baby preferred formula and preferred Daddy, and hated Mummy and Mummy’s milk, and that Mummy had obviously been starving The Baby and was probably going to prison for child abuse. Mummy has not slept for a week.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” says Daddy.

The time ticks on and no doctors come to see The Baby. Mummy contemplates a nap and Daddy starts making noises about missing lunch. The Baby is still asleep. Every now and then, someone sticks their head round the door and promises they will come and see The Baby soon. They lie, but they are very nice about it.

Mummy falls asleep.

Daddy wakes Mummy up – she assumes because a doctor is coming. But it is just to tell Mummy that he is going to look for snacks. Mummy did not need to know this. She could have stayed asleep.

“Right! What have we got here?” asks a midwife brightly, wheeling a trolley into the room. The Baby is still asleep and it strikes Mummy that she appears to be wasting the doctors’ time, as The Baby now seems absolutely fine and Mummy has stopped crying. Also Daddy is trapped en route to snacks. Not a good start.

The midwife wakes The Baby up, measures her in all sorts of directions and agrees she is a bit small and a bit yellow. She gets out a little Dulux paint chart of skin colours to show Mummy how yellow The Baby is allowed to be, and takes some blood from her heel. This properly wakes The Baby up which is a shame as Mummy was enjoying the peace and quiet.

She asks Mummy about dirty nappies. “Oh,” says Mummy, “my baby is just the best, for she hardly ever wees or poos and she is never sick. She is a clean and lovely baby who is no trouble whatsoever.”

“This is not the best” says the Doctor, “this means there is something wrong.”

“Oh,” says Mummy. It seems a great shame that it is necessary for a baby to have dirty nappies to be well.

The midwife takes Mummy to the ward and puts The Baby in a tank. A doctor is going to come and see Mummy to work out what the problem is and how to fix it. Mummy has already worked out what the problem is: The Baby hates her and only likes formula. Mummy did not need a medical degree to work that out.

The doctor says she will not see Mummy until Mummy has had a sleep. Mummy likes this doctor very much indeed.

A good sleep later

It seems that a medical degree teaches you a good deal of useful information, including the fact that letting your patient sleep enables you to have a rational conversation with a sane and normal person, as opposed to combating the emotional tirade of nonsensical ramblings Mummy was spouting only an hour or two before.

The midwives have gone and now Mummy gets a doctor in pink scrubs with a very nice smile who brings a cup of tea. Yes, Mummy likes her very much indeed.

“What you have is a very simple problem,” explains the doctor. “You are not making enough milk.”

“Oh,” says Mummy, “well, I will do my best to make some more.” Mummy has no idea how to accomplish this. How does one make milk? Eating grass, perhaps?

“Yes,” says the pink doctor, “but it will be hard work. We have measured the milk you are making and it is only a few little drops, you should have more by now.”

“That is bad,” says Mummy.

“The milk you are making should be gold-top milk,” says the pink doctor, “but you are only making red-top milk, so the baby cannot get fat.”

“Nobody likes red-top milk,” agrees Mummy. This very bad indeed. Everyone knows that red-top milk is rubbish milk.

“Also,” says the pink doctor, “you should have boobs like Pamela Anderson by now. And you only have boobs like…”

“Yes, yes,” says Mummy, for she has never been well endowed in this area. “I would very much like Pamela Andersons, please. Do tell me how to accomplish this.”

The pink doctor gets a clipboard and starts to write her instructions down. It seems there are a lot of things Mummy needs to do.

“Firstly,” she explains, “you need to stimulate the milk. The Baby is not doing this so you must use this great milking machine to do it for you. You must firstly feed the baby and then you must feed the machine. And then you must take the milk from the machine and feed it to the baby.” Mummy is struggling to keep up and looks a little scared of the machine which seems unnecessarily large, so the pink doctor shows Mummy how to do it.

It takes a very long time to feed The Baby, then the machine, then feed The Baby from the machine. There is a lot of equipment that has to be assembled, dissembled and sterilised, and things have to be refrigerated. “Finally,” says the doctor, “you must feed the baby some formula to fill her up.” This whole process takes nearly an hour, but the doctor assures Mummy she will get quicker at it. It all seems fairly logical and sensible, except that the doctor insists Mummy perform the whole procedure completely naked. And The Baby should be naked too.

“Is this completely necessary?” asks Mummy, doubtful. She is not sure if the doctor is being serious, or just messing with her for kicks. Daddy is nodding enthusiastically.

“Oh yes,” says the doctor, “skin to skin is very important. It encourages milk production.” Mummy cannot see how the milk knows she is naked, nor why the milk is encouraged by her nakedness. She does know that there is a heat wave on and the hospital air conditioning is broken, so the advice is not entirely unwelcome. However The Baby is sweaty and the two of them are sticking together. It is an odd experience.

“Next,” says the pink doctor, “you must eat a lot more food. And drink water. Lots of water.” This is something Mummy can get on board with. The doctor produces biscuits and Mummy devours them enthusiastically.

“You should have started with that bit,” says Mummy. Daddy is sulking as he never got snacks, while Mummy is grinning at him through mouthfuls of custard cream.

“Lastly,” says the pink doctor, “you should massage the breast area to encourage and stimulate milk flow.” Daddy practically falls off his chair to volunteer, earning him a death-stare from Mummy that just about keeps him in his seat.

“Would you like me to show you how?” Mummy cannot think of anything she would like less than a perfect stranger massaging her sweaty boobs while Daddy and The Baby watch.

“Sure,” she says.

Mummy does not want to talk about what happened next.

“Right,” says the pink doctor, “that should just about do it. Now, you just need to repeat this every two hours and you should find things improve.”

Every two hours?! The whole performance has taken about two hours to get through! The doctor looks at her watch.

“So we started at… so we need to add… so, looks like… you need to start again in about ten minutes.”

It was all going so well. Mummy is horrified.

“What about at night time?” she asks.

“Probably best to set an alarm,” says the pink doctor. “Come and find me if you need anything. I’ll be at the front desk.”

That night

It seems the lovely sleep Mummy was allowed when she arrived at the hospital was just a sweetener rather than a taste of things to come. The ward Mummy is on is the ward for babies who don’t feed properly… and babies who don’t feed properly cry. A lot. So do their mothers.

Determined, however, Mummy duly sets her alarm every two hours despite not falling asleep, and begins to execute the plan she has been given. But it seems there is a game at play which Mummy must learn the rules for.

No doubt due to NHS cuts, there are only three milking machines, and lots of wards with people who need to use them. The nurses have asked people to return them to the centre when they are not in use, but this is not what happens. What happens is a complex strategy game in which alliances are formed and trades are made, and only the winners will triumph.

Mummy watches through a chink in her curtain as women in slippers and hospital gowns slink from one bed to another, wheeling milk-machines under the cover of darkness. The alarm goes off, and Mummy must venture out in search of one. She takes a deep breath…

“Have you finished with this machine?” whispers Mummy to a blonde lady, asleep in her bed. The woman feigns sleep. “Erm…. excuse me…” Mummy tries again, but the woman rolls over, snoring. Very gingerly, Mummy starts to wheel the machine away from her bedside.

“I need that,” barks the woman, suddenly awake, “find a different machine.”

Mummy backs off and tiptoes down the ward in search of an alternative.

Ah ha! She spies a lady finishing up and unplugging herself from a machine in the far corner.

“Erm, excuse me,” ventures Mummy, “have you finished with this milking machine?”

“Yes,” says the lady, “but it’s going to the woman in bed 45 and then 39 after that.”

Oh, thinks Mummy, I need to find a machine before that.

Mummy spends a good deal of time wandering round different wards looking for a milking machine. She goes to find the doctor at the front desk to ask for help, but there is nobody there. It takes a long time because Mummy is paranoid about leaving The Baby unattended, which the hospital don’t allow. However they also don’t allow you to carry babies about, so Mummy is forced to wheel the tank around with her everywhere she goes like a rag and bone man pedalling his cart.  She is still bent double, hobbling in pain and dripping blood from the beautiful stitches, so cuts a haunting silhouette as she passes across the flickering sliver of electric light from the hallway.

“Pssssst! Do you need a milking machine?” hisses a voice from the semi-darkness. Mummy turns to see a shadowy figure lurking behind a curtain, clutching a machine on a trolley.

“Yes, yes please,” says Mummy, squinting into the blackness.

“I need it back in twenty minutes,” says the voice. Mummy feels very dirty for making this promise, as she was told to return it to the centre and Mummy does like to follow rules. But she is desperate and it seems there are things one has to do to survive this place.

“Understood,” she replies with a nod.

When The Baby grows up, Mummy will tell of the lengths she had to go to, to ensure her precious darling was fed that night. But for now, Mummy just has to survive until morning…

TO BE CONTINUED

That creepy magazine they leave under the baby bed – breastfeeding propaganda of the highest degree, lest you should be inclined to quit.

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