Those damn first few days and COVID

When it was leading up to Charlie’s due date, we were in lock down due to COVID and there were a lot of mums to be out there understandably worried about whether or not we could have a birth partner due to restrictions. I tried to not worry myself into hysterics despite my anxiety about giving birth for the first time and not having a definitive answer as to whether I was giving birth alone or with my husband by my side, but I was a boss bitch and if I could give birth alone, I would be the ultimate boss bitch! Thankfully at the hospital where I was birthing, you were allowed one birth partner to stay for the birth and they had to leave 2 hours after you were transferred to the ward and you were only allowed the same visitor to come for 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening.

After Charlie finally showed her face the last thing I wanted to do was sleep; I was going to try and master breast-feeding, eat something and then watch her breathe. I awkwardly walked to have my first shower (which was the greatest feeling I have even known, despite being seated on a plastic stool with blood streaming out of me) and freshened up and let Charlie have some bonding time with her dad. The midwife on with me was the same midwife I had at the start of my labour and she had insisted for my husband to go home and rest and then come back for the visiting hour. We were still in the birthing suite and hadn’t yet moved to the ward so I asked if Rowan was to leave and come back could we still qualify for him staying with me until we went to the ward; she said no; if he left, he was now under the 2 hourly visits each day. I selfishly just wanted him to stay with me so we could all go up to the ward together and I would have him with me a bit longer, but I knew one rested new parent was better than no rested new parents. He left and I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t; my epidural was wearing off and I was suddenly feeling the pain of pushing a 2.89-kilogram baby out of my vagina and my very nice cut that the doctor left me. Not to mention I just wanted Charlie to wake up so she could give me her autograph because she was this perfect bundle of everything I ever wanted and she was right there! I still didn’t have a bed on the ward when Rowan returned and I thought for sure we had beat the system and he could stay a bit longer, but the midwife was privy to my plan and Rowan had to leave again to come back at 6pm.

When I finally got up to our room, I was trying to rest, but because of the temperature I spiked during labour, I was on 3 different types of antibiotics, so the midwives were in and out a lot. During one of the rounds to check the baby’s vital signs, they noticed that Charlie’s temperature had also spiked. Fearing that I could have given her what I potentially had, they took her to special care nursery for observation. Unaware to what the special care nursery was, I was doing my best to try and pee after my catheter came out and speaking on the phone with loved ones. Rowan called me to tell me he was in special care nursery, as they don’t have regulations down there for parents. I thought that’s so nice of them and waddled my way down stairs to find Charlie with a cannula in her arm and hooked up to constant monitoring. It then dawned on me that special care was an add on for ICU. I was instantly hit with 1000 questions and tears were just coming out of my face at an alarming rate. Once I had calmed down I went back upstairs to try and sleep and left Rowan to be with Charlie. My midwife came in and told me I would have to go down stairs every 3 hours to feed, so I set the alarm, but by the time I finally drifted off, the alarm went off in my ear and it was time to go down stairs and feed. My nipples hurt and it hurt to sit, but I sat down and took Charlie from the nurse and tried to feed. She couldn’t latch properly and she started crying hysterically, so I started crying hysterically and in between fits of tears I kept asking if it was normal to cry when the baby cried. An hour and a half passed of feeding and squeezing in a cuddle and I made my way back to my bed where the over tired thoughts were coming thick and fast and as I finally drifted off to sleep, my alarm went off. Rinse and repeat until morning.

They wheeled Charlie into my room at around 11 in the morning; I still hadn’t managed even an hour of sleep. Wheeled behind them was a big space machine of sorts and they told me that Charlie had become jaundiced, which was normal for babies born early, but her levels were too high and she needed to be in an incubator under the UV light to break up the jaundice from her skin and then flush the jaundice out with increased fluids until her levels were normal again. It all seemed pretty straight forward until they mentioned that due to COVID, they weren’t putting babies in the nursery and my milk supply was too low to flush the jaundice out, so she needed top ups of formula after every feed and she needed to stay in the room with me for the entire process. They put these cute little babies goggles on her to protect her eyes from the UV light, but Charlie kept pulling them over her nose and mouth and the only power outlet was on the other side of the room, so she couldn’t be next to me. Feeding every three hours now went as followed- feed 15 minutes on the left, then 15 minutes on the right, pump for a further 15 minutes to boost my supply and then give a 30ml formula top up, cuddle and straight back in the incubator. I couldn’t get her out to settle her; I had to use the holes in the incubator to pat her. So there I was, alone in my room with my baby on the other side, pulling her goggles onto her face. In the lead up to giving birth I joined a Facebook group on safe sleep and discovered how easy it is for babies to suffocate in their sleep, so having my baby pull something onto her face gave me this new and intense anxiety that I have never in my life experienced. My husband was only allowed in twice a day and the midwives told me they couldn’t come in to check on her if I was sleeping because they were so busy, so I had to stay awake to make sure I could pull the goggles off her face. By the time Rowan had come in for his evening visit I was now an inconsolable mess, collapsed in his arms and hysterically crying and begging for someone to just help me and let me get just an ounce of reassurance. It was no use, they wouldn’t let Rowan stay and they couldn’t offer me any assistance. They sent a doctor in to tell me this was 100% safe and that no baby had ever suffocated in an incubator; it was no use though because my mind had already convinced myself that Charlie was going to be the first. On my notes, they had next to my name “Nurse, New mum and anxiety” which to anyone would read “the worst possible patient to ever have” I was worried about the judgments I was getting from staff and even more concerned about the well being of my baby. I was treated like I was crazy and could sense the midwives frustration every time I pushed my call bell. It was made worse by the time my psych team was on their round with me and they decided it was a good time to introduce me onto anxiety medication, but at a higher dose than they had initially planned and I was to start the next morning. The night was long. After the hour of the feeding fiasco, instead of getting rest, I would sit on the edge of the bed like a hawk and just watch her breathe. During the evening one of my colleagues messaged to congratulate me and instead of thanking her, I unleashed all of my feelings onto her and asked for reassurance. As the night went on Charlie was so restless and I felt so helpless that I just found myself in another fit of tears and unable to settle myself. I felt so alone and so isolated and I had no one to tell me everything was okay and I was normal. It was around 2 am when my midwife was doing her round when she found me sobbing in my bed. She sat down with me and listened to my worries and concerns and made me feel like everything I was feeling was so normal for a new time mum. She explained that she also has anxiety and when her daughter was born with a heart defect, she too was treated like she was crazy by health care professionals, when all she needed was someone to tell her she was okay in her way of thinking and sit with her. She told me that I needed to get some sleep and that she would keep an eye on Charlie during her rounds if I could just rest for a little bit. I was able to get an hour of sleep and in the morning when she was on her way out, she gave me a big hug.  I wish I could tell her how much that hug meant to me.

In the morning I was given my first dose of my medication and about half an hour later I felt like what I can only describe as a low dose of MDMA. My jaw was twitching, my pupils were dilated and I was very twitchy and out of it. Now I don’t know how I did it, because I walked to awkwardly to get Charlie for feeds and darted about the room cleaning and organizing everything and making sure I was set up for the next round of feeding and pumping and feeding and pumping and feeding and pumping. Again I was in tears because how on earth was I going to look after a newborn while feeling like this and just had to kept telling myself it was all temporary. I had gone 4 nights without sleep and was now well and truly cooked. I timed my husband’s visit so that I could rest and he could watch the baby, but I just had my eyes closed and had a party for one inside my brain. I was afraid to fall asleep and by the time I opened my eyes, Rowan was gone and I wouldn’t have him again for another 6 hours. My psych team came in to see me again and saw just how cooked the medication had made me, but they said I needed to keep going because it was going to help me feel better so I could look after both Charlie and I better. They arranged for the night nurse to take Charlie to the nursery for one night, just feeding her formula and prescribed me a sleeping pill and told me to have a good rest and actually sleep. I cannot remember much of the day, but I remember the night nurse coming in with my pill and taking Charlie away and I finally settled in and let myself sleep. I was in such a deep sleep that when the midwife came in and said “Heather wake up, I have her with me” I sat up and said “who?” and if it wasn’t for the sudden pain upon sitting up, I would have no idea who on earth this woman was talking about. There she was. My little yellow angel, safe in my arms.

On the Friday morning we were told we could discharge because Charlie’s jaundice levels were not as high and by evening we were so quick to get her downstairs to the car and home, but made sure I sat in the back with her and we went just under the speed limit to get to our own bed, together. Climbing into bed after 4 nights in hospital and childbirth was the second best feeling I have ever felt. Charlie made a little noise and rowan and I peered into the bassinet to make sure she was okay and we continued to do this for the rest of the night.

The next day my parents were due to come over and meet their first grandchild. I was still feeling like I was at a music festival and probably smelt like it too, the night sweats were something out of this world and I woke up thinking my milk had properly come in and I wash drenched in milk. My parents came inside and within 5 minutes my out patient midwife came to the door and my parents had to go outside with my husband as you weren’t meant to have more than 2 visitors at a time. I had never met her before and she was quick to get me to lay on the lounge and spread my legs for a look. She assessed me by herself until my student midwife Rachael also came to the door to look over everything. I had my newborn, my parents, my dog and my husband all crammed out the back and two women inside with me watching how I pump my breasts. The midwife was cold and made no effort in easing my nerves and had no problem in telling me that I wasn’t doing it right. She then brought Charlie is and assessed her and then watched me breastfeed, again telling me what I was doing wrong with no signs on how to fix them. I then became so overwhelmed by the pressure that I just cried while she stared at me and realised she wasn’t helping. With a few kind words, I was happy to see her to the door as she told me to keep doing what I am doing and to continue mix feeding Charlie until my supply is okay.

Those first 5 days were the most challenging days I have had in my life to date. Some nights I wanted to just give up. I didn’t think I could do it and I wanted to quit and give her to another family even though I loved her so much. I felt so guilty for not being perfect and for thinking so negatively and it wasn’t until I opened up to a friend, that I realised how common it is to feel that way. I share this story because I want to normalise these feelings. I had no idea that I would feel so miserable and so happy all at the same time and at the time I felt like I was the only person in the world to ever give birth and feel like that. In saying that, not everyone feels this way and for someone else, the euphoria of it all might have been enough to pass through those baby blues. It took a village to raise me that week and once that week passed, everything fell into place just as I imagined it. I was now the chilled mum I knew I was meant to be and even a week later my supply for finally good enough to ditch the formula for good!

The birth plan

Despite my anxiety and my random fits of panic that cause second hand panic for anyone in my path, I like to think of myself as quite a chilled person. For every list and to do list I have for myself, I am equally just as cool not ticking anything off those lists. For example, in ONE of my journals alone, I have 3 separate meticulous plans for a trip to Europe and I have never been to Europe. I have a “things to pack in Charlie’s bag for day care” list sitting on my coffee table and she has been to day care 4 times and I haven’t looked at the list since I wrote it. It is a very fool proof system I have in order to keep the anxious mind happy and just my natural chill ‘tude in line. Very sleek, very cool!

You can imagine when it came to birth plans that I was open to jotting down everything imaginable from what breathing strategy I wanted to use to what colour I wanted my LED fake candles to be. HOWEVER, I decided to not have a birth plan. I didn’t even know what half of the birthing terminology meant and as someone who doesn’t give birth a whole lot; I still knew I would not be able to plan something I had no idea about. I let my super chill Heather take over and just “go with the flow” and the baby would just slide on out while I drank a cup of tea and the time was right. From the get go I wanted an epidural. I know myself well enough to know that pain is not my friend and I can’t handle a mild head ache let a alone a 3kg baby coming out of me. I digress (I like saying that) after talking with one of my fellow pregnant friends (Naomi, you will probably hear a lot about her and from her one day) about how capable we are and how much of a boss bitch (you will hear me say this a lot too) we would be if we birthed without pain relief, I decided “you know what, let’s do it. Let’s go pain free”. So that was the jist of where I wanted to leave my birth plan and wait until the day to worry anymore about it. I went to every appointment with no birth plan, even when asked every single visit. I then became high risk due to my daughter’s lung lesion and my scans and appointments became fortnightly and I still maintained that I did not want a birth plan.

Before falling pregnant my biggest fear next to sharks and wind, was the thought of giving birth. I thought I would worry my entire pregnancy (I know it is also common to worry about this during pregnancy) however; I just let it leave my brain. There was no point me getting myself into a state, when the baby had to come out some how and some way, but it had to come out and it wasn’t going to be pleasant, so why worry myself in the interim?

Pregnancy progressed and I had invested in a TENs machine, fitball, LED candles, a diffuser, essential oils and various creams. I also compiled a lovely and soothing playlist to get me in the mood. I was in the last weeks of pregnancy when my high school pal and student midwife showed me a birth plan one of her other mother’s (names removed) and I thought, “Okay I will do a birth plan”.

My birth plan was as followed: No pain relief except gas, no matter how much I begged, TENs machine on my back, getting in the shower, no episiotomy, no vacuum, no forceps, delayed cord cutting by dad, baby straight on chest and allowing the baby to find the boob on her own. With my increasing anxiety in pregnancy, now came my increasing anxiety about the inevitable birth and my ability to stick to my birth plan.  I had put it in writing and sent it to my student midwife and I looked at it like a contract or a goal to strive for. In my previous post I spoke about how I ended my pregnancy in hospital, full of fluid and booked for an induction. I had heard that inductions can be more painful in terms of contractions as it literally forces your body into doing something it isn’t ready for, but I was so determined to stick to my pain relief free birth plan and thought that maybe because my pregnancy was so horrid, that my birth would some how be a breeze.

The night before my induction, my husband and I spent the night playing a video games and eating our last supper as a duo. We climbed into bed at 8:30 in preparation for the marathon we were about to embark on. Did I sleep? No. I was understandably nervous at the unknown of what the next day would bring and the eagerness of finally meeting my very own person. It was like when you are about to meet a celebrity. I can only explain the feeling and even then it doesn’t come close, but have you ever been eagerly waiting for a loved one to arrive via a plane and you know the date and time they’re meant to arrive, but their flight gets delayed and you have that sense of excitement and longing and love, but you just can’t get to them and you don’t know when they will show their wonderful face? It was a bit like that, so I did not get a wink of sleep. We called the hospital in the morning to get a time to come in and they asked us to come in right away.

We came in and were brought to our room and after a few hours of in and out by medical professionals, we got a game plan. They were going to insert a foley catheter into my cervix and hopefully that would dilate my cervix enough to break my waters- the whole process was meant to least 12 hours, then we would start the Syntocin drip, which would jump-start my body into labour.

With me I had my husband and Rachael (my student midwife) and my midwife from the hospital. The midwife had never put in a foley catheter, so she asked a colleague to put it in and she would watch and learn along with Rachael. I would just like to side note, that up until that point, not a lot of people have seen my vagina. I suddenly had 3 women using me as a telescope and discussing what they were doing, meanwhile the thought of having 3 women staring into my soul had made me freeze up and it was the most painful experience of the whole birth. I was squeezing my husband’s hand until it went white and letting out the worst groans and cries of pain. The woman forced the foley catheter inside my cervix so hard I thought it was going to poke through my stomach. After that ordeal was over, I had the sudden urge to pee. I got up and I felt a warm liquid flowing from my legs and I thought “oh no, it’s too late” and was so embarrassed that I had just peed all over the floor. It was not urine. Popeye the sailor midwife had burst my sack and I was now walking the fluid all over the hospital floor on my way to the toilet.

Now that we had skipped the 12 hour wait for my cervix to open before breaking my waters it was now time to move rooms and get the party started. I set up my room with red candles and strapped the TENs machine to my back and sat on the fitball. I was in for a huge shock when my afternoon shift midwife told me she had to stay in the room the entire time and also had her own student midwife to sit in the room with her. I was in for a further shock when they hooked me up to the CTG machine and was told that too had to stay on me the entire labour, as having an induction meant they needed to keep a close eye on both baby and me. They started the Syntocin drip at 5pm and now that I had an audience I was suddenly feeling the pressure.

A little thing about me is that I always want people to like me. I have no idea why and there was a while there where I had all of these toxic friends that I could not let go of because, even though they were toxic to me, I did not want them to not like me.  So here I am with these two Midwives just sitting at a desk watching me bounce on this fitball and breathe through the pain of the sudden contractions. I felt like I was on show and I did not want to look weak. I would whimper in pain and then ask if that was normal. I would ask questions and make jokes and put myself down. I turned myself into this comedy show of trying to make the midwives laugh, despite my immense discomfort. I could not get into the right headspace to prepare me for birth. Both of these midwives were at least 5 years younger than me and neither of them had given birth before, but I was still looking to them to tell me everything was normal, but they were making me feel as though I was in over my head trying to do this without pain relief. I kept talking about my fear of pooping and apologising for pooping, even though I hadn’t actually pooped. I apologised for being in pain because I thought I was a burden because of the way they were just sitting there with a blank look on their face. Then came the uncontrollable farts. Every time I tried to laugh it off, I just farted more and then made fun of myself and they loved the fun side of this labour process even though I was so uncomfortable. They told me not to have the gas yet as I probably wasn’t actually feeling that much pain, despite the feeling of my stomach trying to break free and start it’s own family. I tried to push through the contractions that were coming every 2 minutes and lasting for a minute. Then came the sudden urge to poop. I waddled to the toilet and then had to sit on the toilet having a poo while three people were in the room of silence. Have you ever had 3 people just an ear shot from you pooping? It was so uncomfortable. I waddled back to bed and asked if I could go in the shower. Wait hold that thought; I need to poop again. Round two. Again I waddle back to my bed, now hunched over in pain and I ask if it would be difficult for me to get in the shower for some relief. “With all of the attachments on you, it would be difficult to get you in the shower, but we can if you want to?” okay scrap that idea, I don’t want to be a burden. I asked for the gas. They put me on a low setting of the gas and it was like being at a party and doing nangs, except no one else was doing them. (except the quick hit I gave to my husband when no one was watching). The pain did not go, but my brain was fuzzy enough to not notice it as much. I then just started talking absolute nonsense, trying to make everyone laugh and take the mickey out of myself. Oh no. I need to poop again. The pain is now unbearable. It is relentless and as soon as I get over one contraction and get a breath, the next one starts. I’m tired, I have the runs and I am anxious. I almost collapse on the floor on my walk back to the bed when I burst into tears and just stood there sobbing and saying I couldn’t do it and may I please have an epidural. I looked at my husband, who knew I needed to have the epidural despite me telling him not to let me have it. I was an emotional mess and I needed some relief. The midwives called in the anesthetist and when I asked for their approval once again, they made it quite clear that I wasn’t ever going to make through my labour considering I wasn’t in active labour yet according to their monitor. I felt defeated. I tried so hard. Because I had the epidural, it meant that I needed a urinary catheter inserted. Queue 2 more people looking at my vagina.  That brings us to 5 people in 8 hours. I thought for sure I was going to poop everywhere as soon as I was given the epidural because I wouldn’t be able to feel it. I was so embarrassed. I sucked on the gas hard while the Dr put up my epidural and he was so adamant I stay so still, but I was so damn high that I was certain I was going to move and end up with a problem. It was a great success! It was time for my night shift nurse to come on and then I could get some sleep. They brought out a little dog bed for my husband to sleep on and as I tried so hard to sleep, the sound of his snoring and my over tired and anxious brain, I was wide-awake. 3 hours had passed and the only person who seemed to be getting any rest was my midwife. We finally called in my student midwife Rachael to help calm me down and be there with me from midnight as I was starting to dilate pretty quickly. She came, stroked my head and played me white noise so I could relax. I finally felt at home and safe because she knew me and was a seasoned professional.

It is 3am and the midwife checks my cervix (6 people have now seen my vagina) and it is go time. It’s time to push. I start pushing with all of my might for a few minutes before she says that she hasn’t said go yet. I wasted all of that energy pushing for nothing. Then it begins. The real pushing. I can’t feel a damn thing. My legs go into stirrups and I bear down and go for my life. I am squeezing with everything I have. 3 pushes and then I get to rest. I give it everything I have and during my rest my head is flopping and I am falling asleep. I have almost been awake 48 hours and it has been a very hectic 48 hours at that. For an hour and 40 minutes I repeat. 3 pushes, falling asleep and hysterically crying. The doctor comes in now and my vagina is open and facing the door, the only thing separating the public and an eyeful is a thin curtain that no one seems to want to close. The doctor politely asks if she may feel for the baby’s head and I agree (7 people). Her head is sitting in my birth canal (the baby’s not the doctors) the doctor and my midwife are now at the end of my bed openly discussing the risks of where my baby is at in medical terminology as if I wasn’t even in the room. I myself a health professional can understand every god damned thing they are saying and burst into a fit of hysterics at the thought of the worst. They need to get the baby out because her heart rate is dropping and they can’t do a cesarean because she is too far in the birth canal. They call in the troops. One more doctor and one more midwife to do my vitals (9 people). My temperature has hit 39 degrees and now it is time for 2 more troops. 2 more doctors enter the room, but the last doctor doesn’t knock and just walks in to which I screamed “COULD YOU PLEASE JUST FUCKING KNOCK” and then continued to cry and apologise for making her uncomfortable (11 people).

I want you to picture this. My husband is on one arm with a doctor taking bloods to check for infection on the same arm. On the other arm I have my student midwife reassuring me and another midwife giving me antibiotics through my drip on the same arm. I have my nightshift midwife and two doctors at the foot of the bed feeling the baby and deciding what to do and another doctor at the desk looking through my notes and calling another doctor. A few people leave and everything is a blur. One of the doctor’s states that she needs to give me an episiotomy to get the baby out because she is coming in on and angle and can’t figure out how to rotate to get out. That isn’t in my birth plan. They are going to need to vacuum her out because she is stuck. That is not in my birth plan.

It is go time and she cuts me, puts the Dyson in and starts pulling with everything she has and I am pushing with everything I have. In walks the pediatrician (lucky number 12) and then suddenly I hear “she’s here” and I look over and from this vacuum device I see a little slimy alien just wailing about. She is crying but she is taken over to the baby doctor to listen to her lungs. This is not in my birth plan. After a check over they throw her on my chest and she is so warm and smells like guts. I yell for someone to help me move her because how on earth do you hold these things without breaking them? She proceeds to poo on my twice and my husband and I gawk at the size of her tiny little bum. She makes her way to breast feed while my husband and I just look at her in disbelief and say “she doesn’t look like a Chloe” while the doctor is sewing up the wound she inflicted on me. 

I still look back at this day 8 months later and think that nothing went to plan, despite my beautiful baby girl being healthy, I can’t help but feel like I wasn’t a boss bitch. I tried so hard to give myself the opportunity to prove to myself that I could birth without pain relief and in doing so I just let myself down. Everything I said I did not want on my birth plan ended up being the outcome. Birth trauma affects 1 in 3 mothers and is not spoken about. Some days I can look back and laugh, but other days it is hard to swallow. Each birth is different however and if you are pregnant reading this, just know to keep an open mind and stick to your gut and find someone to advocate for you if you feel you cannot advocate for yourself. My two best advocates were my husband and Rachael, without them I would not have been able to look back at this story with love.

If this post has effected you in anyway, please go to my “where to get help page” or message me directly and we can have a yarn.


mamamia!

You can also read this post on the Mamamia! website through the link below

Type A and the Uncontrollable Pre-Labour

In my early twenties, I used to avoid making eye contact with the family planning section of the chemist but these days I had pregnancy tests in the second drawer of my bedside table for occasions such as these. The last time I had to do this, I had to drive over to my friend Katie’s apartment to use one from her emergency stash. I’m not even late, my tracker app says my period is due that day, but there’s a gut feeling I had been warned about. I pee on the stick, and there is only one line. With an insouciant shrug I throw the test away. And by four in the afternoon I sit upright on the couch and realised I, the perfectionist and rule follower, hadn’t waited the five or so minutes it says to on the box. I dig through the bin and in my shaking hands is a positive pregnancy test (note: those trying to conceive affectionately refer to this as a BFP). Ever the woman of science, I remind myself that this is probably just an “evap line”. I also know that pregnancy tests are most accurate when it’s the first urine of the day, but there’s no possible way I can wait until the next morning. So I test again, and again, and I race in my car to Victoria Park to my boyfriend of two years with three BFPs sitting in the cup holder. He knows before I even show him just from the look on my face and the harried message I’d sent.

And so begins the uncontrollable for the Type A. In a pandemic, there were already things I couldn’t control. I’d been redeployed to a different unit at my work and could no longer take potential COVID patients. I was anxious, exhausted and most of all – experiencing morning sickness that would turn into hyperemesis. Then, I had to take extended time off work. Despite all of this, holy shit did I love being pregnant. As I do with most things, I jumped straight into the deep end of pregnancy world and obsessively researched. I avoided the foods you’re meant to avoid and I bought all of the pre-baby accoutrements. Birthing ball, new yoga mat (and maternity yoga pants to boot), and the books. I did hypnobirthing classes online, and listened to birthing stories while hiking with my dogs. Being pregnant was simultaneously my new persona and hobby. I honestly still wouldn’t change a thing now in spite of what I know, because despite vomiting for 7/8 months straight I loved being pregnant with all my heart. By the third trimester my partner and I had the hospital bag meticulously packed, nursery ready, and the big waiting game to do. Ready for our little family to be complete.

At my 38 week appointment, our obstetrician informed us that baby wasn’t showing any signs of coming any time soon. I took that as a challenge and so came the sex, the daily 5km walks and bouncing on that godforsaken birthing ball day in day out. I told my partner Jack I was going to take a butcher’s knife to that ball once the baby was born. What the books and the classes didn’t prepare me for was that at 39 weeks, my baby was certainly showing signs of coming. I had my bloody show. And on the Friday, exactly a week before Christmas, the contractions started while we were watching a movie. I coquettishly timed them on my phone. After an hour I turned to Jack with an impish smile and told him I was having contractions that were 8 minutes apart. What would then follow was 9 days of latent, or prodromal, or “pre”, or my least favourite term of all – false – labour. And probably the most sleepless and stressful week of our lives (and we now have a 2 week old, go figure). On the Monday I went to hospital with contractions 3 minutes apart after the paracetamol and the shower they tell you to take. It was there I was told my uterus and cervix “weren’t agreeing”. Baby’s head wasn’t engaging and I wasn’t dilating. To get some relief from the round the clock contractions, over the next week I tried exercises from Spinning Babies hourly to get his head engaged, my partner gave me massages, we went for walks twice a day. I had a glass of red wine and a bath to relax because I’d read that stress and anxiety could cause stop start labour. On Christmas Eve, the contractions were stronger and in the end I couldn’t talk through them. We waited as long as possible, camped out on the fold out bed in the lounge room with the birthing playlist on quiet, lights dimmed and candles burning. I hypnobirthing mantra’d away to myself “relaaaax relaaaax relaaaax” and breathed through each contraction until we called the Family Birthing Unit at 3 in the morning in Christmas Day and it was then that the contractions abruptly stopped. And I cried. And it was a low keening, animalistic cry of hopelessness and desperation. I sobbed and asked my partner what the last 20 hours of contractions had been for. All I wanted was to meet our baby. We both spent Christmas Day feeling so low, and then eventually I crawled into bed with him to start the wailing and sobbing all over again.

Barely two days later, the contractions started up in the small hours of the morning and I shook my partner awake. My instincts were telling me something was wrong. After nine days of labour that wasn’t progressing, I was concerned. I was concerned I would be too tired to push when the time did come. I was worried for my baby. And so we called and went into the hospital to get checked out that morning. They put me on the CTG and I had a contraction. “Whoa!” Said the midwife. “That was a doozy.” Then she checked my cervix. “It’s moved forward a little, and you’re about 1-2cm.” She said she couldn’t see any decelerations on the CTG but hadn’t seen any accelerations – my baby was tired. I don’t blame him. And then I finally got asked the question I should’ve been asked days ago, “What do you want to get out of being in hospital today? Do you want to have a baby?” I nodded, because of course, and she phoned my obstetrician. My obstetrician offered to break my waters, if he could, to get things moving. He couldn’t, I was contracting too much, but he gave me a stretch and sweep. And offered to induce me the next day. My whole birthing plan was so quickly going out the window. They gave me a temazepam to make me sleep and the plan was to crack my bag, as the funky night shift midwife put it, and start the Syntocin drip at 7 in the morning. I didn’t sleep despite the temazepam and panadeine forte, because I was still having contractions, but the next morning we waddled to the birthing suite to start my induction. The midwife handing me over loudly announced to my labour midwife as we came up the corridor that I was having my baby today. After an examination, my obstetrician cracked my bag indeed, with a tool that looked like a crochet hook and with a gush, all that amniotic fluid keeping my baby safe and sound all these months came flooding out. He looked at me and told me it was meconium stained and now the paediatric RN in me was starting to panic but it was all systems go and as I raced from active labour to transition, I could only focus on the contractions. He offered the epidural I’d refused the day before again but I shook my head. Not in the birth plan. Gas and air only, please. Well, I ended up screaming into the entonox mouthpiece every 2 minutes and throwing up all over myself before I made the decision (one I’m proud of) to ask for the epidural. Once it was hooked up, my mum arrived in the hospital and I was finally feeling comfortable. I think the epidural must’ve worked for about fifteen minutes in total before I was a screaming mess again, I felt this intense pressure between my legs constantly and I couldn’t get comfortable. I was insisting to my partner and mother that the epidural wasn’t working. I exhaustedly asked my partner what time it was and it had only been a couple hours since they broke my waters. I remember crying and saying I couldn’t do this. And my mum told me I could, and I was going to. My mum, who on my birth plan was not meant to be in the birthing suite but waiting outside. My midwife told me she would come back at noon to check my cervix. I told my mum I felt like I needed to push and she assured me it was too soon. Just before 12, I made a noise I’m not proud of and reiterated very calmly that I had the urge to push. Before the MW assessed me I steeled myself to be told I was nowhere near, after a week of disappointment and being nowhere near. “Oh. You’re having a baby.” Everything happened so fast from there and there was no amount of hypnobirthing mantras, birthing balls or counter pressure massages from this baby’s father that could help me now. What did help, I will say, was the birthing playlist my boyfriend and I had lovingly compiled. I asked if we had to wait for the doctor when she told me she was calling my OB. No, she laughed, you don’t have to wait. But he arrived within 10 minutes regardless and so did the paediatrician. The paediatrician I had said I would refuse because I’m a paediatric RN and wouldn’t need his input. Oh right, I remembered- the meconium staining in my waters. I focused with everything I had on pushing and it wasn’t until the doctor looked me in the eyes and told me to stop pushing that I had any idea that things weren’t going according to plan. With my knees to my chest, I stopped. Afterwards, my partner would tell me that our beautiful son was getting distressed despite my best efforts to get him out and the OB was pulling back on the cord that was tight around his neck. And my poor tired baby’s heart rate dropped dangerously. I didn’t know these details at the time but I knew something wasn’t right. My doctor and I locked eyes again and I told him I couldn’t do it. He nodded and gave me the episiotomy and used the vacuum I had expressly verboten in my birthing plan in order to deliver my child safely into the world. I was handed a floppy, blood and guts covered baby, who I kissed and subsequently ended up with blood on my face. And he didn’t cry. The midwife took him off my chest and it was the longest 10 seconds of my life before he let out the best scream I’ve ever heard.

My mum looked at me. He’s beautiful, she mouthed. I asked if he was okay. He’s okay, she reassured me. Then my partner and I kissed. He got to cut the cord. Then I was handed my baby again and I don’t think I’ll ever feel anything like that feeling again. Not until the next one, at least. I made a joke about how everything went opposite to the birthing plan and truly everything did. But the most important thing was my baby was born safe and well. I had to let go of control. We went back to our room and nestled into the bubble we’d heard so much about. We excitedly changed his nappies, I breastfed him, and we settled down into the bed to sleep between feeds. The next day was much the same. And on my discharge day came the baby blues and my first exposure to what can only be referred to as mummy shaming. The midwife questioned why we wanted to go home early, told us he was jaundiced and that it would progress quickly and he had lost too much weight since birth (he had actually lost less than 10%). She told me the less selfish thing to do would be to stay in. I called in on my support network of nurse and mum friends and regained the confidence to go home but so began the guilt. I had given him jaundice. If I’d gone to the hospital earlier, if I’d tried harder to push…he wouldn’t have needed the Kiwi delivery and avoided the subsequent haematoma. I was made to feel like a terrible mother by a health professional who should’ve been reassuring me and not feeding my anxiety. Then I was sensitive to any comment my partner made and spent days crying at the drop of a hat. My partner told me he was worried about me. I was worried about me. I did a screening test of the PANDA website and it told me I was at risk of postnatal anxiety. Bloody oath – I was and am still a nervous wreck! My partner and I finally talked through the birth and I admitted the birth had been traumatic. I felt angry that nothing had prepared me for it and that I didn’t get to have the birth I had imagined. I imagined walking around the room, bouncing on the Bloody Ball and certainly not having an epidural, an episiotomy and a vac assisted delivery. Mantra-ing through contractions and breathing my baby out.

I felt like a failure. What I know now from calling on my network of amazing women is that this type of birth experience is ridiculously common and I did nothing wrong. This was out of my control and is just the beginning of a lifetime of the tiny human I created holding the reins. I’m still learning every day from him and second-guess myself a lot. But we all got him here safe. And he is beautiful, and well worth the wait.


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How pregnancy helped my recovery: the sequel

How pregnancy helped my recovery and then scrunched it into a ball and threw it in a fire! I’m not dramatic.

When I wrote my previous post, I was in my second trimester (“the good one”). I had about a four-week window of feeling myself, finally awake, I could eat again and doing any activity did not require a pep talk to myself before hand. I had this lovely round belly and I still fit all of my regular clothes.

My short-lived love for my pregnancy and body turned sour when I noticeably started to become a little bit swollen. One day I went into work and one of my colleagues noticed my fingers and said “good god girl, your fingers are swollen, you need to sit down and we need to check your urine and your blood pressure”; lucky I work in a facility that allows me to check both of these things promptly, so I did a dip stick urine test and we checked my blood pressure and both were completely normal and there were no issues. My colleague was checking to see if I had early signs of preeclampsia. What followed was something out of Willy Wonka, when Violet eats the gum and turns into a giant blueberry; minus being blue. I blew up full of fluid EVERYWHERE! My hands, my feet, my face! Most of my mother friends and nurse friends questioned whether or not I was okay or if I had preeclampsia, because I looked like a walking, oh sorry, waddling medical emergency. I was so puffy; my legs were like giant sausages and you would only be able to tell what you were looking at was a foot, because of the little toes that popped out of the stump. I tired everything to relieve it, exercise, not exercising, foot spas, compression socks, getting my husband to rub my feet (he said he could feel the fluid moving around), elevation, osmosis and smaller shoes; nothing worked. Every fortnight when I had my scans for baby’s lung, I had to be weighed and for someone who does not weigh myself, seeing the number increase 5 kilograms each fortnight was my worst nightmare. By the end of my pregnancy I was limited to staying home on the lounge with my feet up as being on my feet for more than 2 minutes caused me to swell even further. I couldn’t fit into pants and if I did manage to squeeze into anything, my poor feet would cop all of the swelling and I looked like I had elephantitis of the feet. I was forced onto maternity leave early due to my high risk and the unknown effect of COVID and pregnant people. Every time I saw a medical professional they weren’t worried at all and all of my blood levels kept coming back normal. “Please call the ward if anything changes or your legs get any bigger” they would say and within two days I was on the phone to them saying my legs had gotten bigger. I ended up in hospital every fortnight, getting tests, tests and more tests. I was high risk for preeclampsia and showing almost every symptom except for my liver levels being perfectly normal. Even after googling multiple times, I still don’t exactly know what preeclampsia is, all I know is it can be deadly to mummy and baby if not treated and is a medical emergency.

One week in particular my right leg was bigger than my left leg and one night at around 10pm I started to develop a pain in the right leg. I called the hospital and they told me to go to my nearest emergency department because they thought I might have a DVT (blood clot in my leg). It was in the middle of COVID and my husband had to stay outside of the hospital in his car. I had more blood tests, an ultrasound and a blood thinning injection in my tummy that wasn’t pleasant and after all of that, everything was negative and I was discharged. I waddled my way to where my husband was in the car park and he had bad news. The car battery had died because he was playing the radio in his car for four hours and we didn’t have roadside assistance. After signing up with a new insurance company and getting a jumpstart, we finally made our way home by 5am. After weeks of back and forth. Soon my blood pressure started to increase and eventually I was in hospital every second day getting hooked up to machines, monitoring my blood pressure and getting blood tests. To top it off, I only have one good vein, so it was beginning to look like I had track marks with the amount of times they stabbed me or put cannulas in.

One day in particular I was feeling really run down and my gut feeling was that something wasn’t right. I checked my blood pressure and it was really high, so after calling the hospital and going in they decided to keep me over night and start me on blood pressure medication. My blood pressure stayed elevated and one night turned into 5. My high-risk team came in to see me everyday and they were so shocked at the size of my legs, the swelling was all the way up to my hips and when you pushed your finger in, the finger imprint stayed there. I could no longer wear compression stockings as they didn’t make the stockings large enough and all they did was push all the fluid up further, rather than improving the circulation. On the last day of my being in hospital, they decided it was probably a good idea to induce my labour in a few days and to go home and sort everything at home out in the meantime.

I felt relieved at the thought of giving birth and finally being able to move and live like a normal human being again and not like a Labrador, but what I didn’t take into account was the sudden deadline to sort my life out while being a Labrador and the anxiety that came with it.  

My mental health was almost the worst it has ever been in terms of anxiety and the uncontrollable thoughts I had towards my body. Everything around me was out of my control and I wasn’t in a position to start controlling my weight. Trying to stay level headed about my body image felt like an impossible task. I couldn’t partake in any healthy habits to help myself because I was limited to my couch. I was awake every morning at 4am and unable to go back to sleep because of the horrible thoughts coming into my head. I was catastrophising the most ridiculous scenarios for hours and my husband would wake up for work and I would be lying there hysterical because I thought he was going to take my baby away from me once she was born. I was the biggest I had ever been and had gained over 30 kilograms, but it wasn’t on my pregnant belly, it was everywhere. I could hardly walk, my shoes did not fit and I had 1 pair of pants that only just fit and because I was forced onto maternity leave early, I did not have the money to buy any new clothes. During my hospital stay, the midwives used a questionnaire to determine your risk for postnatal depression or anxiety, and because I already had perinatal anxiety, I scored extremely high risk for postnatal depression and anxiety. I was put under the mental health team and was seen by a psychiatrist (via Zoom as this was the peak of COVID). The plan was to commence anti anxiety medication once my daughter was born because they thought sleep deprivation and a life adjustment would almost certainly affect my anxiety more.

Pregnancy for me wasn’t the greatest. It was hard and took such a toll on my mental and physical health and I find I still am coming to terms with it all almost 8 months later. I am still so grateful for the ability to fall pregnant and grow a little person inside of me. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to be able to go on leave early, as I know it wouldn’t have been feasible for some. I am grateful for having an able body and although I struggled in the end, I know there are others out there that are debilitated. I am grateful for the support I had during my pregnancy and the people who made me feel so normal despite everything going on with me and what was going on inside my head, I have no idea how I could have got through it all without my circle.

This was my pregnancy journey and each pregnant person will have a different story to tell and despite all of this, I would be happy to do it all again.

I hope there are some people reading this who have a foot fetish.

One of those days

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone enjoyed themselves in the chaotic holiday season at the end of a chaotic time. I hope you got also got some well-deserved rest.  My holidays are already a blur and I still can’t remember what day it is or what I did yesterday, but that is standard.

I was in the middle of writing a follow up piece from my “how pregnancy helped my recovery” post, but I just felt so over whelmed and defeated yesterday, that I thought I would continue with these feelings and write about that, I will post the follow up piece at a later date, when I can get back in the right head space.

On Monday I went back to work after having 9 months off for maternity leave. I had been dreading Monday since before I even left work and I really wanted to extend my leave, but COVID (as it does) put a bit of a dampener on that. I digress, I went back to work and Charlie stayed with my mother in law, who is over from Sydney, which was super handy and work actually was better than I expected. I gave myself time and was patient with myself trying to figure out how to time manage again and I was impressed with my ability to work after 5 hours sleep, which is something I would have called in sick for usually (thank you motherhood). I took my portable tommee tippee breast pump to pump on my lunch break, not as good as my Spectra pump, but it did the job just fine and I was able to get a good amount of milk for next week AND help with my anxiety regarding losing my milk supply. I came home around 4pm and Charlie was not the least bit interested in the fact that I was home- job well done.

On Tuesday it was my second year wedding anniversary and I had work again in the morning. I had a new uniform set out for the day and when I tried to put it on, it didn’t fit. I was surprised because my uniform from the day before, although a bit tighter, fit me so I reluctantly got back into my uniform from the day before. I had realised that the uniform that still fit me, was my maternity uniform from when I was 30 weeks pregnant at work. The waist band on my pants was so tight around my belly that after 4 hours of work and bloating, I had a big red mark around my midline; something that hadn’t happened when I wore them when I was pregnant. It was hard to accept that not only did I not fit into my old uniforms, but I barely fit into my maternity uniforms either. I just tried to push past those old feelings of unworthiness and remind myself why they didn’t fit and that seemed to help.

I came home from work and wanted to get some of my wedding photos off my computer to put on my phone (so I could post them on instagram) (such a millennial). Going through all the old photos I kept comparing myself to myself and kept thinking how much thinner and better I looked just two years ago.

I got ready to go to dinner with my husband. I wore my hair in a messy bun, but not a cute messy bun, a “I just got home from work, breast fed the baby, fed the baby dinner, pumped, had a 2 minute shower and find clean underwear from the floor” messy bun, just a hint of mascara and the only one of two dresses that fit me. I looked in the mirror and I just did not like what I saw- so I refused to look.

I think back to the headspace I was in before my wedding day and my goal was weight loss. I was the healthiest I had ever been physically, but it came at a small cost to my mental health. My husband and I decided to elope, but I still wanted “the dress” so I just went to a little boutique near our home in Victoria and told the lady working in the boutique that I had a smaller top half and a large bottom and thicker thighs, she had the perfect dress. It was a two-piece lace dress with the top half and bottom half in two different sizes! It was amazing, but along with the perfect dress, I then had the anxiety that came with wearing a wedding dress with my mid drift showing. I now had 4 months to “slim down”. I went to boxing three times a week, ate eggs for breakfast, salad for lunch and a some form of meat and veg for dinner- every damn day.  It was hard. I love food. I love food so damn much, so it was difficult to be so regimented and stay away from “bad food”. At the end of the day, I was my goal weight that I had aimed for, but I still did not feel good enough and there was still room for improvement in my head. I decided to let go a little bit and just enjoy myself and by the time we were on our way to our wedding venue, I had had enough of restricting myself and got a big fat whopper meal from Hungry Jacks as my last meal before I came a wife and I enjoyed it so much. I made a pact to myself to just eat whatever I wanted after my wedding day as a “good-bye” so to speak to restricting myself. Looking back now, I can see that this form of extreme dieting is just another form of eating disorder behaviour.

On the day I felt like a goddess and truly let go. It was a magical day and the evening was even better. We were in our Pj’s by 9pm and asleep shortly after.

I felt so awful yesterday. It’s confronting and uncomfortable when transitioning from such a toxic mind frame to a healthier one. I just gave myself time, I did not like the way I looked yesterday, but that is okay. Today I felt better and on the weekend I had a day where I was loving what I saw in the mirror. Body dismorphia is a thing and it is hard to look at yourself and realise everything you’ve created with your body and appreciate it when your mind takes you to that place of unworthiness. I gave myself time and waited until I was in a better mind frame before I could come and write this. It is hard and I feel vulnerable putting it out there, but I want to show that I talk a big game of recovery and hating the diet industry, but I have days where it truly is hard to accept myself. And that is okay. Accepting yourself is not linear and neither is being a parent. Some days I am on a roll with being a mum and the next day I am trying hard to stay awake and playing with Charlie on the lounge all day. And THAT is okay.

We do what we can.