Gary and I were watching True Lies on Film Four 9pm to 11:30pm, with lots of commercials. It was very funny. I wondered if I would ever be sexy again. I started having irregular contractions, somewhat painful but not unbearable. We decided to go to bed. It must have been around midnight when we both fell asleep. I remember getting into bed in my full clothes, I was cold, and then slowly taking them off and throwing them on the floor.

I woke up at 3:09am. I looked at my mobile watch. I went to the toilet. I woke up as I was dreaming about different levels of pain. There were two kinds of pain in my dream. However, when I woke up I couldn’t feel any pain, not at first. After having a wee and going back to bed, I felt a small leak onto my pad. It was pinkish. I felt my first awoken contraction. I woke Gary up. I knew it was time.

He’s lying on me right now. He’s been awake/alive for more than 12 hours. I put a little ‘Lighthouse’ vest on him. The name James sounds so ‘young boyish’, or ‘teenager’, or ‘adult’. How do you call a baby James? Jamie or Jay? His little hands are cold. There’s a constant beeping sound here at the ward. I write so I remember.

I get myself dressed very quickly, picking up all the clothes from the floor. Gary started calling Dan to come over and look after the boys, no success. I went downstairs. I was by the front door. Sarah! We need to call Sarah. At first an answering machine, but then she calls back, almost immediately. I tell Gary he should go and pick her up. It was 3:20am or so.

I remember being in the house and looking at the kitchen cooker clock moving from 3:28 to 3:31… and contracting, and managing rather well, walking through them. Yoga camel walk helped, deep consistent breathing. I was alone. Gary came back quickly. He had already briefed Sarah on the kids’ school drop off. I know we were in the car towards Liverpool Women’s Hospital at 3:38am.

I am so tired, but I am scared to fall asleep with James sleeping on me. What if he slips off and falls? I am too tired to take care of him properly, unless he’s in his little see-through hospital cot. I wonder how will we survive the night ahead, me in bed number 18 and him in his cot next to me. Children are supposed to arrive in 20 minutes or so.

I remember not being able to walk thought the parking lot of Liverpool Women’s Hospital without stopping. I held onto cold railings of the bus stop. I could only move in between contractions.

Why does breastfeeding hurt me so?

We were in a lift. We arrived to Midwife Led Unit. They didn’t know we were coming. I went onto all fours in the corridor: some woman was being wheeled in. She couldn’t believe my show on all fours in the corridor. Once in the room, I started going for the floor. Midwife moved me onto bed, not to hurt my knees. I took off my trousers and knickers. I could see blood. I felt the urge to poo. I am not sure about time.

Contractions were very strong. It was as if someone was ripping me from inside, stretching me out. Midwife kept saying I will have my baby really soon.

I have this tube in my right hand and it hurts and it’s so impractical and it will probably not be used anymore. If only they could take it out.

tube in my hand

The midwife agreed. I am thrilled!



James is sleeping on me. Tough night last night. It got better from 4am. In between breastfeeding frenzy, crying babies, snoring mothers and beeping machines. Life on maternity ward at Liverpool Women’s Hospital: mat base, room 4, bed 18. Midwife Led Unit is like a luxury hotel.

The crowning is a familiar pain; it’s ripping you open. It’s bearable because it’s familiar. Tear, cut. His head came out at 4:11am. I remember being at the bed and wanting to stand up tall from my ‘on all fours’ position. Instead I had to lie down and they spread out my legs. I had to push. Another shoulder dystocia. He got stuck for four minutes. We pushed/pulled him out at 4:15am. There was no panic. He was placed on my tummy. Lights could have been darkened. I pooed just before crowning. James pooed as he was coming out. Waters broke. It was all bloody, mucasy, shitty, smelly, slippery wet… Midwife was six months pregnant. She wasn’t bothered much about all the mess. The baby was on me, below me slippery mess. We were waiting for afterbirth. My contractions were still present and now I was stuck – no movement allowed. Some large pads below me. Injection for the placenta – waiting for some time. Nothing. They clapped the umbilical cord very near to my vagina. The metal clipping was so uncomfortable. All was out of my control.

He is fast asleep. He prefers to sleep in the morning than night. What generalizations for a newborn. Early this morning he seemed hot to me, now he’s cooler but somewhat yellow. Does he have jaundice? He pooed for Britain – the midwives said. This was as he was coming out. He’s had three or four poo nappies yesterday. One was multicoloured from black green to brown yellowish. I wish they would give the time I can go home. It’s the nights which are dreadful here though. Days are ok. Everyone else seems to need more care and attention than me; they are more delicate, more important. That’s ok. Is he blond or is he ginger? My skin looks so old, yellow and pigmenty right now. Gabriel’s said he’s got my nose. He looks mostly like Gabriel of my three children.

Placenta wasn’t coming out. An hour has passed. A doctor has come to see me; she’s tried to pull it out. No luck. I will need to go to the theatre. Anaesthetist arrives. She’s explaining the process. I’m out of it. There’s a risk of bleeding, haemorrhaging. No, it won’t be epidural, only spinal, which is less complex.


James doesn’t like his hospital cot. I think it’s cold. He likes to sleep on/near me, in my bed. Why wouldn’t he? We’ve been together for 39 weeks and 5 days. I am counting the time since my last period.



We’re home, I am shattered. Breastfeeding is painful; it hurts. Why are they lying in those happy brochures? Big women with big happy breasts and tiny sweet suckling babies. No, it bloody hurts and your nipples are chewed to bits, it looks like there are parts of it missing. Oh, it must be poor latch on. If I hear or read that once again… No, it’s not poor latch on actually. Midwives and health visitors and Bambies and all internet videos and advice people have checked it – no, it’s not poor latch on. I am making the baby open his mouth as wide as he can and making him eat the nipple, push the nipple down his throat. I’ve been awake for hours on end feeding him and it hurts. It hurts throughout night. Paracetamol takes the edge of the pain. ‘Your nipples will need to harden up’ says the midwife. They are not as militant as they used to be with breastfeeding when I had Sid. Must be reports in the media that women who are choosing not to breastfeed are feeling bullied. I wish I could be one of those women with the power to choose not to breastfeed. I wish I could exercise such agency. But no, I need to be torn by guilt. Yes, I am still persistent. No, we haven’t made a formula bottle yet. We are still doing it, thanks to lanolin cream and some mad determination based performance art and endurance. Give me labour any day instead of excruciating pain of breastfeeding. There are a few women on internet forums who agree with me. I am not unique. I am not the only mad one. There we are, scattered across planet Earth. Truth behind breastfeeding for women with sensitive nipples. Myth about painless breastfeeding exposed!

James is finally asleep on his own, on the couch with his onesie over him He’s been refusing to sleep on his own – no cot, no carrycot, just skin to skin. This is a real success, a sense of independence.

One of the Bambies was gorgeous. I wanted to say: ‘You don’t need to breastfeed.’ I couldn’t help that line coming to my mind. She has a three year old daughter whom she still breastfeeds. ‘Maybe she’s a single Mum.’ I’m doing it again.


I imagined I was Uma Thurman in Kill Bill trying to move my toes after the spinal. The operating theatre was full of women, jokes, laughter, music, only one man. Really competent anaesthetist, really young and trustworthy. She said she did A levels in theatre studies (after I said I was a lecturer in drama). She still managed to get into medical school with no science A level. She had to work hard. The only guy in the theatre joked about me giving up birth control early on, after telling him about James being my fourth boy. I was squeamish at the placenta. They all laughed. I told them I could never be a doctor or a nurse. They were trying to make me comfortable and joked they weren’t complete barbarians in there – we try our best. They moved me from one bed to another. I was completely paralysed. I was worried the feeling in my legs would not return. It did, after two hours, just like they predicted. All went well. Placenta was out. Gary showed up with James in my recovery room. It was around 6:30am. I called Nela around 7am – 8am in Croatia. At this point I couldn’t move my legs.



It’s exactly a year since the miscarriage.’I’d rather have him.’ – says Gary. James is asleep in his carrycot. He’s full of formula. He’s content. The moment when he got his first gulp of formula was magical. It was late last night and Gary brought it to bed. He was transfixed. He couldn’t believe his luck. He became alert and awoken. What is this magic potion? Minutes before I was in the living room breastfeeding and crying in pain. My nipples are cracked. Some bits seem to be missing. After Bambies (the mother is shot in the book) had left, things started to worsen up. Lanolin is only preventing/hiding the inevitable – deep cuts on the nipples. I dread every feed. I am not enjoying the sucking little monster. Giving him formula projected us into blissful painless heaven. Yes, there’s guilt. He’s asleep, about to awake. My full milk hasn’t arrived yet, maybe I am unsure. Oh, you would know. I don’t want to belong. I don’t want to belong. Peer pressure. Is there anyone I know who has given their infant rat poison formula milk? Oh, stand up for yourself, take agency! I texted Bambies: ‘Thanks for your message, but we’ve decided bf is not for us. Very happy on formula now and in total painless bliss. Magdalena x’

lanolin avent

I will still be trying for a bit. Otherwise I feel I don’t deserve this special status. Sitting around loving my baby. To breastfeed is to be a patient, is to be in pain. Otherwise, this is too much bliss. Baby is easy. Where’s the suffering and constant craving from James?

Being in maternity ward, mat base, room 4, bed 18 was a removed experience. It seemed cold and dark. This is the hospitalized birth everyone wants to avoid. Woman next to me is a nervous wreck, suffers from anxiety and can’t stop talking about it. Her first born is a diabetic, she misses him terribly, he is called Edward. She’s just given birth to a little girl who is in neonatal care. She talks non-stop, she snores throughout night. Beeping machines calling for midwives, who are not coming, all the time. I am kind of forgotten. I don’t seem that important. I am breastfeeding. I am so exhausted in the night. I cry. Food is ok. We never give any ‘thank you’ cards to anyone. That feels weird. I hardly remember the first midwife who delivered James. Sarah? Colette? Babies are constantly delivered there – they come and go. They must have forgotten about us already.

Why didn’t we give out thank you cards? To Sarah and Colette, to the operating theatre team. Yes, we should do that. But when? It’s not going to happen now. We never gave any thank you cards to Keepmoat Joanne either. I really wish we did.

We’ve come full circle from miscarriage to today: new baby, new house. James is asleep. I am writing. Gary is on the computer. Yes, it is possible for it to be easy, but is it allowed?


About Lena Simic

Lena Simic, performance practitioner and pedagogue, born in Dubrovnik, Croatia, living in Liverpool, UK. Co-organizer of The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home, an art activist initiative run from her family home. Lena’s autobiographical performance practice is informed b…Read more

Website: http://www.lenasimic.org

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3 Responses to “Birth Story: James Benjamin Anderson, 10.01.2014, 4:15am”

  1. Helen Sargeant

    Dearest Lena,
    Thanks so much for your generosity in sharing your amazing story of giving birth to James. Your words capture so vividly the complexity, the fast pace, the intensity, pain, excitement, drama, fragility, emotion of birth. It is so challenging caring for a baby after having just given birth. It is all so visceral. It transported me back to giving birth to Naoise. I remember sitting on a birthing stool trying to push him out instead I just did a poo,I didn’t like feeling exposed, I didn’t like pooing in front of others, and when my water’s had broken their was meconium, they worried about Naoise but he was fine. All that poo and blood and water and mess. I remember being shocked at the power of the sucking on my breast. It hurt. I hurt. I spent a week in bed at home, I didn’t come downstairs. Going to the loo was enough activity for me. I remember hardly being able to feel my vagina, it was all numb and sore. Thinking of you and baby James and sending you all my love and hugs. xxxx

  2. Ellen Storm

    Congratulations on birthing your little boy. Breastfeeding hurt like hell – I fed two babies on one breast for ages, because the other one was so cracked and painful I couldn’t bear it. I had one big breast and one little one. The girls had formula for the first two months, as well as breastfeeding, and I was expressing too. On the ward they told me I had to feed them, then express and give formula, every three hours day and night. They made me walk to the room to wash the pump, even though I was bent double in pain (I had a caesarean). Once I got home I didn’t leave the bedroom for two weeks. It was a big deal when I eventually made it downstairs for lunch. I was on lots of painkillers, and my milk didn’t come in until the girls were seven weeks old. It was just at the same time that I finally came off the painkillers, although nobody ever suggested they might be affecting my milk supply. I’ve looked in the books and there’s nothing about it there either. The nipples did harden up eventually though, and I fed them both to 13 months. I wrote a poem about it, which I will post when I can. I’ve sent it out to a magazine, but if/when it gets rejected (which is most likely – I’m not sure most editors like poems about cracked nipples) I’ll share it with you.

  3. Frances Earnshaw

    A wonderful account, Lena. I enjoyed your writing style, the split time sequences, the urgent confessional narrative. It is always a relief to me, to read of these experiences. I enjoy the wry humour too, “a child is supposed to arrive in 20 minutes”, ha ha!

    I had great difficulty in breast feeding, too. It was not so painful for me, but the difficulty we had doing it. I felt I was starving my daughter for the first three weeks. That felt interminable. She could not do it, neither could I. Everyone told me I must sit bolt upright, and I was dead tired. She asked for breast around three times an hour, sipped a little, slept a little, and failed to gain weight. Eventually she was alright, and one night, I rolled her over in the bed, and latched her on perfectly easily laying on my side. I could even give her the upper breast! It was bliss to give up the tyrany of sitting up so many times a night.


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