Wards 6 and 7

Rachel writes so beautifully. So thoughtfully and evocatively that even if you don’t have experience of what she’s talking about, you can almost feel what it would be like to be in her place.

What I love most about this post from Rachel is the image of her brand new family leaving the hospital, ‘passing the baton’  to the next expectant couple headed into the unknown. It’s such a wonderful way to see things, as is Rachel’s gift.

 We’re the lucky ones, the ones who’ve conceived, made it to full term and our babies are healthy. We’re all together, ante natal and post natal, spending this precious time together, amongst strangers.

 We enter through security doors, buzzed in and out. These corridors that will become our home whilst we’re here. We learn the routines quickly, to wait for the call for breakfast, lunch and dinner where the hatch to collect our food is and the knowledge that it will always be carb heavy. For here this meal maybe our last before we give birth, or maybe the first since we’ve given birth. We know the routines of when, how and which medicines are given out, when the ‘obs’ are done and vitally when and how long the shift changeovers are. Some are in for the shortest of times, others for longer. We get to see many midwives, through their different shifts, and they get to see us at our most intimate and vulnerable.  We know the cleaners and when they come, the time the bathrooms are cleaned, where the spare towels are kept. We all know the visiting hours by heart. We eek them out, our visitors are marked in and if we have too many its one in one out. Those precious hours our partners, our baby’s fathers are allowed, we whisper behind the blue curtains, trying to hide them, trying to prolong the time until they are found out, hoping that they’ll be forgotten and can stay here. Like school children hiding, until we’re found out but hurrah we sneaked an extra five minutes together. Proud grandparents visit, excited sisters and brothers.

We’re a whole mixture of society. The very young mother who has her mother with her, the first time older mother, the mothers for whom this is their second, third or more… These women know more than the midwives and doctors about how their labour will go, they know the questions to ask, what they do or don’t want to happen. There is a certain style in Wards 6&7 – pyjama style. Those ante natal with our large stomachs protruding out, just about squeezing in. PrImark nightwear is in big business. Those post natal fitting a little more and with the regulation white stockings that we all need to wear. Some are accessorised with a catheter all with the markings of plasters or canulars. None of us wear makeup.

 Whilst here we live in our room of ten  foot by ten foot with blue movable walls, curtains. All our possessions for this journey are here. We pack and repack like a bag lady, trying to keep it neat and tidy. We learn that being in a postnatal bay is better, there’s more space as we need to fit in the crib. We all want a window bay so in the hot June weather we can control opening a window for fresh air. Plus we have another shelf for storage, something to look out of, something to lean on in the early stages of labour. This room is so small, especially for us ante natal with perhaps our silver birthing balls as well.  We’ve brought scrabble and spend an evening eating crisps, playing scrabble just like on holiday, but without the gin and sitting on the birthing ball hoping to speed things along. We whisper all the time, so much so that when we arrive home we keep whispering.  If you don’t whisper everyone hears. The conversation about the baby, that’s lying on its mother’s lap, and what its name will be, an intense and personal conversation that all can hear.

It feels like it’s always twilight. We arrive at any time, and are discharged at any time.  It doesn’t matter whether its day or night, babies are born new parents are wheeled back in. Transfusions start at 2am. Mothers are woken at 3am to be told the results of their baby’s jaundice tests are back and they need a light machine, so the machinery gets set up then and there. This happens at whatever time. Whatever time we whisper.

 And then when the time is right we’re lead, or we slowly move, shuffle, ourselves along using the rails, through another set of secret doors to the inner chamber.  Bags all packed up again, wandering  travellers,  in the limbo of an airport. Here we get our own room, and midwife, it’s en suite but we’re not really in a state to appreciate it. Here we realise why we sometimes had to wait what felt like ages to see a doctor, here as soon as you need one one immediately appears. Here the magic really happens, and we meet our baby.  Then we, or rather our new fathers,  pack up again, our babies are dressed and hatted, placed in their regulation clear crib and we’re wheeled back into the real world, back to a different ten foot room. Thankful for those induction days with the chance to observe the new mothers, how they managed with their babies in this space. How do you go to the loo, the shower, to collect food with your new baby?

  All our senses are stimulated. The sounds in here are unlike any heard before, and depend on where you are in the journey. We know who is ante natal from the beep beep of the monitors to monitor their and their baby’s heart beat. The heart piercing, puts a lump in your throat, heart and eyes sound of the alarm bell, followed oh so very swiftly by the hurry of many feet to where they are needed, and then the alarm goes up a notch and we can hear that it’s spread to wider in the hospital and we all think for the woman and or baby. Those in labour the sounds coming from their mouths. Each woman has a different cry, and this also depends on our first languages, or in this case should one say our ‘mother tongue’. We walk, or shuffle, and pace the corridors. The cry of a new born when we return to the ward with our precious bundles. The soft touch of our baby’s skin, the touch of that first cuddle, the feeling of needles, and whatever else happens to us, the caress of tears and the hugs of delight. The scent of new born babies, the scent of ‘oh my goodness what do we do now?’ The senses of love.

 Finally our time to leave arrives. Our baby has been given its NHS number and red book. We’ve seen the paediatrician and the doctor we’ve been given the discharge note to give to security to say we can go. The fathers have made many trips to the car to take back our bags and collect The Car Seat. We gingerly put our newborn baby in this, wrapped in blankets and a hat. Say goodbye and thank you to the staff and walk into the balmy summer evening, one week and one hour after we arrive.

 As we leave we walk past a couple walking, or rather swaying in with a large bump and their hospital bag and we smile, say good luck and pass the baton onto them.

Categories: Any Other Baby, Becoming a Mother
25 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted October 2, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Oh Rachel this is magical! We had our little boy at home so we never experienced the tos and fros of hospital. In our big busy maternity unit the postnatal ward is generally described as the boiling pit of hell so I’m impressed by your description which has even me, the hospital-phobic, bewitched and wondering what it might have been like. Please write a book. Your prose style is so lovely.


    • rachel JHD
      Posted October 2, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      Somehow I think by being ante & post natal altogether it made it better. Friends who were in just post natal wards didn’t seem to have such a good experience.

  2. Caroline
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    This made me well up on the train.
    I read this eagerly as I’m still at the stage of my pregnancy where I am devouring anything to do with giving birth and labour. I’m watching documentaries like one born every minute and midwives with wide eyes as I try and equate the plum sized baby in my tummy to the squawking bundle that will be delivered in just over 5mths time.
    Thank you Rachel this was lovely to read. Xx

    • Posted October 2, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Congratulations! I’m not sure if I missed an announcement already? Sorry if I’m a bit slow on the uptake!

      I remember that stage well, but I found the closer that the time got, the less I wanted to read and know. I figured ‘what will be, will be’ and really didn’t want to watch one born every minute or anything for fear it wasn’t all as straightforward as I wanted my birth to be.

      I was actually induced on a Wednesday night and there was some mad woman watching one born every minute as she was in labour!! At that point I couldn’t get my head around wanting to focus on anyone else’s labour but my own… Clearly we all cope in our own ways!


      • Caroline
        Posted October 2, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Hollie.
        I only mentioned it on twitter last week for the first time. Still a long way to go and I’m terribly nervous but trying to remain hopeful that all is well.
        I bizarrely can’t cope with reading about breast feeding and sleepless nights and nappy changing and everything that comes after leaving the hospital but I love reading and hearing about birth and labour. I’m sure that will change in a few months time!

        • Fran M
          Posted October 3, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

          I’m exactly the same with wanting to devour anything baby/birth related I can get my hands on. But I can see how the novelty or interest would wane further on.

          Having not got that far along yet, the only analogy I can think of is going completely off reading wedding blogs and using Pinterest in the couple of months leading up to my wedding! There comes a point where you just think what will be, will be.

          And watching OBEM while in labour?! Insane.

  3. Joanna
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    This is so beautiful. I’m less than one week from being induced with our first baby – a boy – and whilst I’m excited, I’m terrified of going into hospital. Thank you for reminding me of the miracle that’s about to happen! X

  4. Zan
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Oh this is lovely. It sounds so magical and the details are wonderful. I welled a bit and don’t even have hormones to blame! xx

  5. Posted October 2, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    How you’ve managed to make this sound lovely I haven’t got a bloody clue. Beautiful writing although have to say in my experience these were the most uncomfortable, painful, tiring moments of my life!! Ha!!! I read this and thought “man, I must have been in the wrong place”

  6. Posted October 2, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Oh Rachel this is so, so lovely. Your words have transported me right back to the snowy January days I spent in hospital waiting for our little lady to make her grand entrance into the world.

    I find it fascinating reading about other people’s birth experiences, and I’m impressed that you speak so fondly of your time in hospital given that you were in there a week! After 4 days (and being threatened with a 5th) I was a crying mess just desperate to get home with my little family – and I was lucky enough to be given a private room once Olive was born.

    I always wonder about the different experiences people have in different hospitals. In some ways they are all exactly the same, but in others they sound worlds apart. You make it all sound so serene and calm (and even kind of make me want to do it again!)


    • rachel JHD
      Posted October 2, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      By the end I was referring to being ‘released’ rather than discharged, a lot of the time was ante as induction took a long time so at least I knew I couldn’t be home then.

  7. Posted October 2, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    This is beautiful. Made me well up at my desk (and also get a bit apprehensive, am week 30 so this is hoving into view now). I am sure at the time it didn’t feel as serene but it has actually made me feel better about my impending trip to the maternity ward (one of the ones on Midwives, which is simultaneously reassuring and scary!).

    Thank you!

    K x

  8. Posted October 2, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    This is lovely, Rachel you have such a lovely way of writing I feel like I was right there with you.

    Having had an elective section I feel strangely like I was robbed of the ‘geniune’ birthing experience. I can’t join in the conversations about how long labour was, what the pains felt like, being on the labour ward, getting to know my midwife or how useless/amazing Gav was when I was having contractions. I came in (straight to the postnatal ward) at 7:45, was in theatre by 8, the girls arrived at 9:18 & 9:20 and we were back to the same bed in the postnatal ward by 10am. Clinical. Precise. Predictable. But, at the end of the day, I still got healthy babies and that’s what we all hope for no matter how they make their entrance.

    Thank you for sharing xx

    • rachel JHD
      Posted October 2, 2013 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      Being induced meant there wasn’t the contractions at home part that I’d imagined, but as you say the most important part is the healthy babies.

    • Posted October 2, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      I’m kind of thinking I’d have preferred that, to be honest Steff, I’m still mulling over whether I’d go for an elective section if there was a next time. Maybe it’s all still too fresh for me.

      • Posted October 3, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        I’d recommend it in a heart beat to be honest and I really think it was the right option for me despite missing out on labour.

  9. Posted October 2, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    This is just lovely. It makes it so imaginable even for those of us who aren’t at this stage yet – you write so beautifully.

  10. AJS
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Like Caroline says above so much better than I ever could, I too am at the stage of pregnancy (my first) where I devour anything and everything labour/birth related and this is by far the nicest I have read. Your writing style is just beautiful. Lovely post xxx

  11. Liz
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Rachel, your writing is so beautiful. I spent a grand total of 10 hours in hospital when I had T; I had a private room the whole time and didn’t see any other new families. This is a lovely insight into what might have been going on around me!

  12. Frankie
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    This is beautiful x

  13. rachel JHD
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your kind words. There were many tears, especially by the end when desperate to go home, some things did take a very long time to happen, starting labour by myself in the middle of the night without my husband wasn’t what I’d imagined, or that enjoyable & the mixed messages about breast feeding by all the different midwives was confusing but everybody was kind & thoughtful & in the end that and the safe arrival of Alice is all that matters.

    • Posted October 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

      Rachel, this is a beautiful piece of writing and on reflection it strikes a cord with me because I too was induced (although it was a short process for me) and stayed a little longer than I wanted so I got to know the ins and outs of the ward. What funny places. You describe it so well. Hospitals, to me, are places where time is suspended, things happen when they happen and there is no point in trying to fight that. Ordinary life outside ticks along whilst extraordinary things happen inside them. I wasn’t prepared for the mixed messages about breast feeding from the midwives either, that was the most stressful part of my recovery period when it should have been (in my mind) the most wonderful part. I think the staff in my hospital need further training on that but I doubt they will get it. I’d be better prepared if there was a next time. As one senior midwife told me, many staff are also mothers and they mix up official advice with personal tips but it’s hard for new mums to separate the two. I am glad all is well with you and Alice x

  14. Fran M
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed reading with the focus on processes, routines and the mini-world of a hospital. Fascinating to see a birth story from a different angle and your description of sounds, sights and sensations bring it all to life.

    Kudos for staying in for a week without going stir crazy too!

  15. Posted October 6, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Oh I cried at this – so perfect x

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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