Leading up to birth, each time Baby Bear would be measured at the antenatal appointments, I’d receive the response “Wow, you’re measuring big”. This gave me a false sense of reality where I assumed that, as a result I’d go into labour early. However, the days ticked on, bringing more and more symptoms that birth was ever so near. I have heard many times that the last two weeks of pregnancy can feel like eternity or comparable to the same length of time as the previous 8 months. How accurate this was! Baby bags packed, car seat loaded and tick tock, tick tock.
Since moving to Tasmania in winter, the weather has been hit and miss with the occasional glorious and sometimes miserable days. Two days before my due dates was a Saturday and one of those glorious days. Robin and I had been trying to heed the advice to enjoy sleeping in, and making the most of ‘us’ time before we met out little baby. We packed a picnic and headed down to a remote beach, local for us. Here we collected pebbles for our tiny home’s bathroom floor, enjoyed soaking in the rays, took my last baby bump pic and collected wattle to attempt my first ever drying of flowers for a nature chandelier that I intend to make. It was so pleasant.
By 4:55pm we were home in our cosy house, fire going and settling in to watch a nice movie before dinner. I sat on the toilet and suddenly could not stop the flow. It’s hard when with each new symptom, you get your hopes up that at any moment we would meet Baby Bear and then find out its just another ‘step in the right direction’. So I was trying desperately not to be hopeful. After a while, it subsided and I nestled in, watching the film. During the film though, I went to the bathroom 5 times, being unable to stop the flow. By 7pm I said to Robin, “I think my water really is breaking!” Regardless, I had no other niggles to suggest birth was near, so we had dinner and popped on the electric blankets, intending to get some good hours of sleep in before Baby Bear arrived.
At 8pm the three hour trickle had stopped and I got my first wave of period pain like feelings in my lower back. Now this had been common for 6 weeks up until now, so I was still trying not to get my hopes up. Then three times, 15 minutes a part, I felt the same sensation. I asked Robin to time them. Three at 8 minutes apart, then three at 6 minutes apart.
Our new home in Tasmania is a 46 minute drive from my front door to the hospital. Robin and I decided to ring the hospital just to check at what stage to come in. On the phone I had two contractions. Not painful, I just needed to stop talking and breathe through them. I was told not to rush, but to slowly start packing and making our way to the hospital. I definitely didn’t want to spend too much of the first stage of labour in the hospital, if instead I could have been in the comfort of my own home but by then end of the call, the contractions were closer to three minutes apart. So we headed in, slowly but surely. Both of us wanted the experience to be as relaxed as possible. We were overtaken many times, though we were driving at the speed limit. It was a strange feeling driving in knowing we are about to give birth while we watch the world of others go by, including someone intoxicated, throwing up in a car park. So many different people’s lives, playing out so differently at the same time. And in that moment, we were walking in an unforgettable, life changing journey.
By the time we made it to the delivery suite, I was having some, stop in your tracks contractions, yet making normal conversation in between. We couldn’t have been more blessed because, upon arrival, we discovered that our midwife had started her shift 5 minutes earlier and just read through our birth preference.
My ideal labour was to have a natural (painkiller free), water, home birth. However as we moved interstate at 34 weeks pregnant and there were limited home birthing midwives available, my option was to birth at the hospital. In QLD I struggled with my GP who often tried to impose his ideas and ideals onto me. Rachel, my godsend midwife, accepted with grace, all our requests, despite some being not so common and not according to hospital procedure. And as her shift had just started, it seemed highly likely she would be the one supporting me throughout the whole birth. That was such an answer to prayer!
Also, at the hospital, though they have the facilities to support water births, only a select handful of midwives are comfortable with this style of birth and I knew it would be hit and miss. So again, I resorted to prayer and the hot water was running as we arrived.
Upon arriving at 10:30pm, the intensity of my labour ramped up. The midwife, Rachel, was so respectful and really left us in the room alone for the majority of the labour. We had de-stress aromatherapy going, soothing worship music and an array of homeopathic and natural medicines derived from the earth in case I felt I needed support without having synthetic drugs.
One thing that I did not expect was the level of intensity… no, pain. I did not expect it to hurt as much as it did. Really the only thing I can liken the experience to is torture. I know that may sound dramatic considering so many women in the world have experienced labour. This perhaps added to my impression that labour wouldn’t be as hard as it actually was. I could never imagine birth outside of water. Having its comforting warmth on my body made the pain far more bearable. Though in first stages of labour you cant really work with your body and the contractions, besides trying to slow your breath and intentionally breath into the pain. I found much comfort in being about to roll and toss my body without the hold of gravity.
In Queensland we had antenatal classes with a beautiful home birther who shared with us that though we have birth preferences, sometimes things can get so intense, that I may even feel delusional and ‘zonked out’. This can be really hard for partners, Robin, to see and experience the one they love go through so much pain, and feel helplessly unable to do anything, yet to also stick to the birth preferences. About three hours into active labour I got to a stage where I felt I could no longer do it. In the past when I have hurt myself seriously I always internalise my reaction. That how you know its serious with me. However, in birthing, I could not help myself from screaming out and I said to the midwife and Robin, “I need something, I can’t do this, and I just can’t do this anymore”. To my great disappointment, she calmly told me I was doing really great. She also said that this response is common for women at that stage and is a sure sign that I am in ‘transition’, about to enter my second stage of labour ~ pushing.
Robin was so comforting, he sat there with his feet in the bath, ready to jump in if I needed him and I was able to squeeze, lean and be absolutely comforted by his presence. Before you go into labour, you don’t know whether you will be loud of quiet, need lots of physical touch or none. For me, a gentle stroke, an “I am here for you honey” was all I needed. Robin did try a few massage techniques we had been shown, but this provided me no comfort. And as I couldn’t have anyone near my head. I felt claustrophobic even at a gentle, comforting kiss. I know that if he could, he would have taken the pain for me. Oh what would I have done without him!
Between contractions, as I felt settled, it was the strangest looking at my belly, which once was wedged as high as it could go under my breasts to suddenly lowering and becoming hollow.
Our birth preference plan stated that we wanted for the midwife not to encourage or tell us to ‘push’. We had educated ourselves enough to know that it isn’t like it is in the movies and that our bodies will naturally tell us when we need to start pushing. I was in the delusion of transition, and then suddenly, I bellowed (yes the screams that came from my body, surely were heard miles away, but they were a foreign, gut wrenching roar/bellow) “I PUSHED!” Again Rachel calmly looked at me and smiled, “good”, she said.
When the pushing began, I found a new sense of energy I did not have before. In my antenatal classes, I had learned how the little body I have been carrying comes through my pelvis and out into the world. I could start to feel and understand where my baby was in my body, and this enabled me to feel like I could work with my body. The pain changed too. Still intense, still close to unbearable, but different, which almost felt like I was running a different race. And I knew the end was near.
Robin saw the change in me, and this changed him too. He became my cheer squad, looking and seeing Baby Bear’s head emerge and then go back, with each push, more of Baby Bear was apparent. I found comfort too in feeling with my hand, Baby Bear’s crown. Not long to go. I can’t remember exactly but I believe it was about half an hour of pushing. A burning sensation overcomes the contraction pain as you stretch for little Bear to make his appearance. He would creep out and retract, until half his head was out and he just chilled there. Not so chilled for me. The midwife did listen to his heartbeat in this final stage and Baby Bears had a consistent, calm rate beating away. Then his head was out. So close! I got this!
The only time that I felt that I made a conscious effort to push was when his shoulders were out and I just needed that contraction to be my last, so I gave all my energy to pushing his little body into the water. Having no energy left, the only intervention Rachel did was scooping Baby Bear up and placing him in my arms.
Since Robin and I had first discussed, we knew we wanted to keep the gender reveal as a surprise for birth. To us, there was something exciting about the hormones of oxytocin, becoming new parents and discovering who will join our growing family all occurring in the same moment. And a surprise it was! I was utterly convinced most of my pregnancy I was having a girl and often referred to Baby Bear as a “she”. When placed in my arms, the way my grip cuddled him made me sure he was a boy. Rachel said to me “find out what gender he is” and I said “I am pretty sure he is a boy”, I did not have the energy or desire in that moment to actually check, but Robin was eager to see and had a peep, revealing that we in fact, had just had a son.
In our birth plan we opted not to have syntocin after birth, as we desired a natural physiological third stage of birth, as I wanted oxytocin, the ‘love drug’, to overcome Baby Bear and myself when placed in my arms in a euphoric bonding state. However, when that precious baby was placed on my chest, I was still too exhausted to feel the impact of the ‘love drug’. All I felt was complete exhaustion. I had to process a little guilt over this, as there is a societal expectation/pressure to have instant love and connection. I did not have that. It took me several days to actually feel that Valley was worth going through the trauma that was still to come.
The midwife wanted to pull the plug on the bath in order to feel more confident with supporting me through the third stage of labour. As soon as the water drained, I felt the uncomfortable weight of gravity taking hold of my body and did not feel so well. I knew skin-to-skin was utterly important for new life entering this unfamiliar world but I knew I couldn’t be that support in that moment. So I asked Rachel if it was good for Baby Bear to have skin-to-skin with his Papa, Robin. She said this is absolutely fine and in fact really great for bubs to bond with dads, so I passed him over.
From here things became much of a blur until over the two weeks following the birth, I was able to unpack step by step what occurred. The feel of gravity swamping my body made me feel so uncomfortable and ill. I remember saying so and Rachel suggested I come out of the bath. She wrapped a towel underneath me like a big nappy and as soon as I stepped out of the bath a weight within just pulled me down and as I fell into a crouching position, the placenta fell.
I remember looking down at it and said “some people eat that!?” to which the midwife said humorously, “It’s not too late to try some”. This is not said in judgement to women who choose to encapsulate, it certainly something during pregnancy that I contemplated, it’s just something I seriously couldn’t stomach. And in reflection it’s brought me a good laugh that despite the trauma of birthing, I had not lost my humour.
From here the assisting midwife, Geraldine started pressing into my womb. I could not tell you on a scale of one to ten how painful this was compared to a contraction but as I had just experienced the most intense pain I had ever imagined possible, I had absolutely no energy to allow myself to experience anymore. I remember just saying “stop, please stop, I want you to stop”. She explained that we need to get all the clots away from the wall of my uterus. However, this standard hospital medical procedure resulted in me loosing too much blood too quickly. I said to the midwives again, ‘I don’t feel well’. So they sat me up on the edge of the bath. From here my husband filled in the pieces of what occurred. He said that as the midwives were checking my bleeding he saw my eyes start to roll into the back of my head. He told them he thought that I was going to faint and they responded that I was fine. He said, “no seriously, she is about to faint!”, this is right when I did and I was semi caught on the way down, hit my head (only a small bruise) and ended up in a seated position on the floor. Robin said that though I was ‘out’ I was semi-lucid and he was desperately pleading for me to stay with him. I do remember at one point looking into Robin’s eyes and I could see so much fear and intensity in his eyes, and this scared me. Then I really went out, falling floppily to the ground and started breathing raspy and erratically. At this point the midwives hit the emergency button and warned Robin that lots of people will come running. Suddenly there was a large crew of doctors in the room where it took four of them to lift my body into a wheelchair and push me down the corridor to another room. Again four doctors lifted me into a bed.
Robin said later that he found this quite terrifying, as he did not know what was going on. He was trying to stay calm as he held our little man but also not knowing what was wrong with me, and admitted later that he even wondered if he would lose me. It took over 10 minutes for the medical team to bring me back and they did so through a pain response, shoving a catheter into the vein in my arm.
While I was out, I remember having vivid visuals of people around and talking, though since, I cant recall exactly the details. Then everything went bright and white and a women was in my face talking. It took a while before I could hear her say my name and then just like that, I was back and could see and hear the doctor saying my name. I’ve never had a panic attack before but this was my first. I scanned the room and counted the humans. 14 in total, all acting medically, and trying to engage with me and each other in one way or another. I was hyperventilating with an oxygen mask on and I remember searching for Robin. But as there were so many people in the room I could not see him. I just said over and over “where’s my baby?”
Before birth I said to Robin, if anything were to happen, go with our baby, not with me. So where my baby was, he too would be. When they realised what I needed, the crowd moved and there were my boys. Robin calmly said to me “breathe deeply… in… out” and so I did and this began to calm me.
The doctor said to me that again they need to press my uterus to ensure that all the clots were removed from my womb. I said to them that no matter what they need to do, I just couldn’t bare to feel any more pain. So they offered me gas. I was not in a mind frame to be able to decision make so I just looked to Robin. I still was quite out of it and didn’t realise that my incredibly supportive husband asked very informed questions, such as the impact of the gas on breast milk etc. Once he was satisfied with the answers he looked to me and said “ok baby, you can have the gas”. No sooner had they given it to me, again I fainted. This time however, I was totally aware of the increase in panic of the people around me and their attempt to call me back into consciousness, though, I could not respond. I felt like I was trapped in my body and imagined that this was what it could be like to be in a coma. While I was out this time, I heard one of the doctors ask how much gas was being pumped and whatever the response was, it was met with a shock and a command to turn it down. Again a pain response brought me back when one of the doctors drove her hands firmly into my womb. I came back with an absolute gasp, my whole body responded as if I was revived and life was breathed back into my body.
After I came to again, they turned the gas down to repair my body with stitches. I had a lesser amount of gas whilst they administered the anaesthetic. And from here recovery began. They placed Valley on my chest for a couple hours while we were able to share skin on skin in more comfort. I dozed in and out during this time and the midwives kept an eye on me. Robin too was able to doze leaning against the bed. Though I birthed my son at 2:33am on the 20th August 2017, by the time all the drama settled and we had a rest with our son it was close to 7am. Valley was then weighed, measured and checked over.
- 53 cm long
- 6 cm head circumference
- 045 kg
- Over the 90th percentile newborn
Apparently during my dazed snooze I picked up that Valley had irregular breathing. I mentioned this to Robin and while I continued to sleep, the paediatrician came to check it out. She sat there with Valley for over half an hour monitoring his breathing and stated to Robin “it’s hard to tell when babies are sick or not” and she recommended that he be taken to NICU to be monitored closely. I woke up while he was being prepped to be taken. As you can imagine, with all the emotion whirling around from birth, and having not remembered picking up on his breathing, I became quite distressed learning that something may be wrong with me precious little boy. Little did I know it was a blessing in disguise because after 24 hours he was released back to his Mumma and Papa without any medical intervention. Our prayers had been answered. All that had occurred was that because he was such a big baby in my small body, his nose was squished. As his nose self corrected, his breathing did too. He was a strong kid from the start.
The blessing in disguise was that in the NICU we were supported by most amazing nursing staff who closely guided Robin and I in how to parent a newborn from swaddling, breastfeeding, bathing etc. They would patiently sit for hours’ making sure Valley was latching correctly. Also, because my body was so weak and still requiring a wheelchair, when I returned to my bed, I was able to really rest.
When I fainted after, I fainted onto the floor where I had just birthed my placenta. As a result, I was fairly covered in blood. After waking up I just wanting a bath – to get the blood off. I felt so dirty. Every time the nurse came to check on me, I’d just express my desire to be clean. A couple of times I attempted to get out of bed but I was just too weak. This is when the Lord sent an angel of a nurse who offered to give me a bed bath. You would think after birthing, that there isn’t much more dignity to lose, however, there was something psychologically challenging with exposing every crack and crevice of my body in the light of day to someone I did not know. I was humbled by the nurse kindness in bathing me in bed, cleansing every inch of my body with such tenderness. Regardless of my shame, she treated me with honour and made it really ok. And oh, I felt so refreshed after that bath. It took another couple of days before I was able to have a slow shower on my own.
A tip for anyone preparing to go into labour. Buy incontinence underwear from your local supermarket. They were a lifesaver. Despite being unattractive, those big, nappy like undies served awesomely with the following weeks blood loss and reduced washing. Bonus!
One day post birth, my energy had not returned and I was feeling borderline feverish. This is when the doctors advised they’d be giving me an iron transfusion. I was fairly close to needing a blood transfusion, but they thought an iron transfusion may help me improve enough so I wouldn’t need to tap into the oh-so-limited and precious blood supply stores. Luckily this worked, though I didn’t know that iron dyes the skin permanently like a tattoo. The first line they fed it through started to leak and they had to re-do the catheter, leaving the vein under my skin a bruised colour, and quite possibly for the rest of my life. #theunexpectedmarksofchildbirth
The final complication that arose in my recovery was that as they shoved the catheter in my arm to wake me from unconsciousness, it was done rather abruptly. Somehow this caused the insertion to become inflamed and infected. One of my prayers during the whole pregnancy was for Valley to be born and brought home without having antibiotics administered, as I was aware of how this could suppress the natural immune system. When he was in NICU this was mentioned, but I snuck him some of the world top quality probiotics and as his body self corrected, he did not end up needing antibiotics. But when my arm became inflamed, they mentioned they wanted to me have them. I can’t remember the last time I had them but I knew for sure that this was another attack against my prayers for having Valley antibiotic free. I did not want him having these through my breast milk so rather, I pumped my body full of oh-so-good, natural products that I had brought as a precaution – minerals, colostrum, probiotic, Hawaiian noni – and slowly but surely, my body used nature-based goodness to correct itself. I am pleased to say, that other than the gas after birth and the iron transfusion, Valley and I walked away from that hospital 4 days later without any further synthetic treatment.
I am so grateful to the many people who supported us with prayers, to the midwives who tried their hardest with the information they had learned and for their respect where we chose alternate methods of treatment. I am grateful to my darling husband who despite his own anxieties, emotions and sleep deprivation continued to put his family first. Most of all I am grateful to my God who brought me through such a traumatic experience. In the weeks that followed my birth, He sent several women, some who I’d never have expected to reach out, who shared similar birth experiences. Their insight, experience and encouragement have helped me to make sense of some of what had occurred. And it helped me to heal emotionally.
It has taken some time to process the emotion, to write this story and to look at my son and truly mean it when I say, “you’re worth it”. And that’s ok. It’s also ok that at this stage, neither of us can comprehend the thought of having another child, despite our strong will for Valley not to be an only child. Time heals.
John 16 v 21
It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labour. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world.
Pregnancy and birthing really don’t agree with me, as to be perfectly honest were close to the hardest days of my life. Being a mother on the other and is the most wonderful thing. And any day I’d take a hard pregnancy and birth over having a hard baby. Valentine truly is my valentine. He is the most placid, easy, joyful and strong baby I have ever known and I am blessed to be his mother. And at seven weeks old, he just gave me 5.5 hours straight sleep last night. Now that’s something to be grateful for.