Peanut’s Birth Story

This is going to be long, but just as it felt important to me to get Little Miss’ birth story out, I feel the need to do it again with Little Mister’s. (Yes, we had a Little Mister! I’ll call him “Peanut” and “It” a fair bit here though, as we didn’t know the sex until birth.) As with Little Miss’ story, this isn’t all sunshine and roses, but about things not going to plan, and dealing with the emotional and physical aspects of such a complex issue as birth.

Again, I don’t want to name the hospitals involved. As with most, some of the staff are incredibly lovely and helpful, some not; some procedures can be helpful and life-saving, others traumatic and unnecessary. I don’t want to publically bad-mouth any hospital or person when my experience could just happen to be an isolated one, and many of the midwives and nurses turned out to actually be pretty great.

Part 1 – The Lead-Up

Little Miss was born in Hospital A, but I had moved to another area and so began going through Hospital B. They generally prefer you to wait 18-24 months before trying birth after a previous C-section, however, accidents happen, such as Peanut – there would be 15 months between births. My GP felt that since I’d healed so well and was healthy and strong, the hospital should be willing to let me start labour naturally, but would be quicker to rush me into theatre if things started going wrong, which sounded reasonable to me at the time. However, Hospital B didn’t agree, and wanted to book me in for a caesar. I did a lot of research and found many women who’d had natural, even home, births after caesarean, much earlier than 15 months. I discovered that the risk of uterine rupture is actually only minimally higher than a woman who hasn’t had a caesarean, however, the hospitals of course have to take any risk into consideration.

But the pressure to book a caesar made me feel miserable. Every time I went into the hospital, I felt tense anyway – I couldn’t explain it. The midwives had all been pretty lovely. I think it was just remembering going through those last weeks of pregnancy when Miss B went overdue, and the constant pressure at Hospital A for procedures and induction, the lectures on stillbirths, guilt trips … I felt unable to cope with that if it were going to happen again. I couldn’t concentrate on anything birth-related. I felt like emotionally, I was running away. And yet Peanut was growing, and was going to come out at the end of nine months (give or take).

The more I researched HBAC’s (home birth after caesarean) and spoke to women who’d had them, the more I wanted the birth I’d planned to have (and didn’t) with Miss B. I wanted the birth pool, the quiet, the candles in the dark, the meditations / music playing. Only I didn’t want that interrupted by midwives coming in and turning lights on and announcing loudly that it was time for a vaginal examination (I heard so many stories of women’s labour coming to a halt because of this), or telling me I hadn’t progressed far enough since they’d last checked, putting me on a clock because of when my waters had broken, pressuring myself and my partner that it was time to have a caesarean. I wasn’t being stupidly stubborn – I knew there was a chance I’d go to theatre again; it wasn’t “home birth at ALL COSTS!” I wasn’t anti-medical system. Just, I wanted the chance to birth the way I wanted to first.

I went on feeling miserable, but with the added stress of being about to move house whilst heavily pregnant and with toddler in tow. (I’d already moved when pregnant the last time!) I spoke to Hospital C – where we’d be moving – on the phone a few times to check what I needed to do to transfer, and each time was assured there was nothing I needed to do except just simply show up once I’d moved.

Once we moved, Hospital C told me I needed to physically come in to make an appointment. When I organised babysitting and duly went in, I was told they couldn’t make an appointment after all as they were so busy that it was likely no-one would be able to see me until after my due date. The impression I got was that it was my own fault for moving when pregnant. I wondered if I was supposed to show up when actually in labour, and hope for the best. Though I since found out that two other hospitals in the area had closed their maternity wards over the recent years, which meant Hospital C was overflowing. So I can understand the stress that the midwives at the desk were under; unfortunately, it doesn’t help when it’s taken out on pregnant women.

Then the hospital rang with an appointment at such short notice that I couldn’t make it, whereupon I was told that since I’d “cancelled”, they didn’t know when they could fit me in again. They did ring with another appointment at short notice, which I was able to make – but as I was walking in, they called to cancel themselves. Since I was already there, they decided to take my history, but I was reminded constantly how much of a favour it was as they were so busy, and that it wouldn’t be thorough. I was also told I’d be expected to test my own urine in future (but not now, as they were so busy) and interpret the results to a nurse, which to me sounded the wrong way around.

I was expected to see a GP, so having just moved, I went to the first one I could get into. I didn’t get past telling her that Little Miss had gone overdue, before she was shuddering dramatically and telling me she didn’t like that at all, and that women shouldn’t be allowed to do that. She also told me that I already had a term fundus, with a baby that was basically ready to come out now (six weeks early). I had to ask a couple of times what the measurement actually was, whereupon she reluctantly admitted I was measuring on target. She also told me that my urine showed I was ketonic and that I needed to eat some sugar immediately – whereas another doctor a few days later, interpreting the same sample, told me there was too much sugar in my urine (I had already been tested three times as negative for gestational diabetes). That second doctor also bombarded me with the risks of bleeding to death during birth, possibly even needing a hysterectomy – that is, if the baby and I didn’t die in childbirth first.

Wow.

It was about that point that my partner agreed to seeing an independent midwife. The hospital was notified, agreed to send the midwife my records, and somehow sent them neither to the midwife nor to me, but to my old address, where I managed to get them before they were thrown out.

It was rather late in the pregnancy to get a private midwife, but it was the best thing we did. It really took the stress out of things. The very personable Rachele (from With Woman) took the place of both hospital and GP visits, being able to come to our home at times that suited everyone and meant I didn’t have to organise a sitter. Instead of being bombarded with doom and gloom statistics, I was reassured calmly of Peanut’s health and growth. I felt able to relax for the first time about the whole thing. Peanut appeared to be in a good position, too – anterior. We thought I’d have to be very unlucky to have two babies that were posterior and deflexed.

I had an emotional moment one night, though. I’d thought I was at peace with the fact that Little Miss’ birth had turned into a caesarean – otherwise we may have both died in childbirth, so why be upset? But my partner was YouTubing a video of a woman giving birth in a pool at home, surrounded by candles, and I surprised myself by bursting into uncontrollable sobs, saying that was the birth I was meant to have given Miss B. I felt heartbroken and in mourning. I was jealous of the woman on the screen – and I had never before, and never since, felt jealous of anyone achieving their ideal birth just because I hadn’t. I was just overwrought from the whole process.

Part 2 – The Birth

Peanut was due roughly a week into September, but since Little Miss had been three weeks over, we told people the baby was coming anywhere between the 1st and the 30th. I had been having back cramps for quite a few weeks, but knew not to put any emphasis on them. With the first pregnancy, you think anything is a sign of impending labour; the second was more, “Meh, teasing me again, are ya, Peanut?”

Miss B had come on a full moon. At the very end of August, there was a big super-moon, and I got the weird feeling that Peanut would be coming in the next few days. The next day, I began losing bits of mucous plug. With Miss B, the mucous plug loss, waters breaking, and labour beginning all happened on the same night – but I knew that wasn’t necessarily the case for every birth.

A few days later, on the 2nd September, early morning, the back pains were so intense they woke me up. They became regular contractions perhaps ten minutes apart. I couldn’t lie down, but had to walk around to ease them.

I had a sleep mid-morning (Miss B had gone to her Nana’s), remembering to conserve energy early on in case of a long labour. When I woke up, the contractions were gone. They came back more strongly in the afternoon, and my waters broke as well.

My partner was caught up in bad traffic, so it seemed an interminable amount of time before he got home. I stayed calm and got in a warm bath. I was happy that these weren’t at all like the “contractions” I’d had with Little Miss – the waves of pain just blending and crashing into each other non-stop as she turned posterior and got wedged, until I was begging for an epidural. I felt confident and was managing. I seemed to keep losing more water in gushes – there must be an incredible amount in there.

Rachele came when the contractions got closer and closer (my partner was home by then). I remembered to do things that I’d forgotten to with Miss B’s birth, such as drink lots of water and keep peeing (so the bladder didn’t get in the way of the baby’s head). I lay on the bed in the dark, listening to meditations, drifting off in between contractions, for some of it. Sometimes I walked around. Other times I was in the birthing pool, again listening to meditations whilst surrounded by candles. (I’ve never been very good at meditations, but somehow in labour I found it helped centre me and take my mind off thoughts of “pain”.) Some contractions were easier to deal with than others. Occasionally I’d get an urge to push, but it would go away again. I drank Endura (magnesium drink) and coconut water and just plain water. I got into a good rhythm sometimes, even when it hurt – managing to drift off in between with the help of the meditations. But sometimes the contractions were so intense I didn’t know how I’d cope, trying to ride them through to the end. I began to wonder how long this was going to take.

We were into the small hours of Thursday 3rd, and the contractions became … well, not quite right. It began to have a bit of a feel of Miss B’s birth about it, where they got irregular. The feeling of wanting to push being only spasmodic bothered me. Then the contractions began coming thick and fast on top of each other, but not in a regular way – it was again like Miss B’s birth – it was agony ripping up my spine relentlessly, sending me out of my mind. I saw dawn breaking through the blinds, and knew it was the next day. I was exhausted and spent; I could feel my body giving up, much as I tried to go within myself and will it to continue. I knew the baby had turned posterior at some stage. None of my partner’s tricks, that had worked earlier in the night, now did – the counter-pressure on the back, the squeezing the top of the hips to open the pelvis. I don’t want to focus on the pain, but I have to, to explain why I gave up on the natural birth I’d wanted so badly. Rachele couldn’t even manage an internal examination until I was able to lie on my back instead of writhing on my side. The baby’s head was now not engaged in my pelvis, when it had been. And I was not as dilated as I’d expected – 5 cm. I couldn’t go through more of this to wait for the other 5 cm.

It’s not actually that hard a call to make, to give up on everything you’ve worked towards, when you’re in so much pain you feel like you’re going to go insane or die. I had to go to hospital, the place I’d been trying to avoid.

But it’s a long process when you can’t even dress yourself, and everything has to wait for rare lulls in the pain. I could barely get to the car and get in. Every bump and bend on the road was agony, feeling like it was grinding Peanut’s spine against mine more. Then it was a long walk from the parking lot to the hospital. I made it up one lift and along a walkway to another, where the pain got too intense again; to try to hide it from the people waiting, including a family with small children, I managed to get into an alcove and lean moaning against the wall. It was right over a rubbish bin, but I was beyond caring. I was aware of a woman asking if I needed a wheelchair. I can’t remember what Rachele or my partner said, or if I yelled “YES!” or that was just in my head, but she went to find someone. It seemed to take ages (probably didn’t), and then I was being sat down and wheeled. We still weren’t inside the hospital yet, so had to cross a section of pavement with non-slip bumps, which made me want to scream at the orderly (I didn’t). Then inside and waiting for another lift. Other people joined the queue. I have no idea why they felt it was so important to get in the lift with the moaning woman instead of waiting for the next one, and I would have liked to have yelled at them, but I didn’t have the energy.

In the birthing suite finally, lying on a bed, a drip in, begging for an epidural, just like last time. My partner trying to convince me to try other pain relief methods first, same as last time. I kept saying, “I can’t go through that again. I just can’t.” Not the stuffing around with trying things that didn’t work, and I didn’t want to load my system up with other drugs first. As it was, I was sucking back on the gas like a leech. I was biting the damn nozzle. I was hyperventilating. I was getting pretty stoned. Again, it didn’t really take the pain away, but it was something to cling onto.

They had to wait for the anaesthetist and to get blood test results, but it was done pretty urgently, so it wasn’t that long until I got my epi, catheter put in, etc. They didn’t manage to get the epidural needle in the first time, but had to do it twice. I went through the déjà vu of Miss B’s birth, sitting on the bed hunched over a pillow, trying to stick my spine out, in between contractions – really not fun when you have no regular contractions and no real break in them. Somehow I managed to stay still, biting the gas nozzle harder and vowing my partner would get a vasectomy if I had to give it to him myself.

An examination before the epi had found I was now 7 cm, which was promising – there was the hope that with pain relief, my body would relax and the baby would come out. Unfortunately, it can also go the other way, where your body stops labouring. The baby was indeed posterior and deflexed (chin up rather than down), just like my first.

I will say that although I hadn’t been impressed with Hospital C up to this point, actually being in the Birthing Unit was different. The vast majority of midwives were amazing and caring, and had worked to get me the epidural as quickly as possible, and to let us know what was going on, and kept optimistic and upbeat. There is always “that one”, though, and we did experience “That Doctor” who was obviously very pro-caesarean and seemed to just want to get me into theatre and out of the way, before properly assessing and giving things a reasonable amount of time. It had to wait, though, as she’d been sending others into theatre before me.

After a few hours, things still hadn’t progressed. By this stage I knew a C-section was likely to happen. The epidural had taken away the pain but not the “pressure” feeling of contractions, and I could feel that they’d almost disappeared. Every now and again they’d make a token effort, but nowhere near enough. And I couldn’t even try to go inside and will them, because I kept drifting off to sleep, exhausted. They couldn’t put me on Syntocinon (artificial oxytocin) to stimulate the contractions, because of the risk of uterine rupture after the previous caesarean.

Now and again I looked at the clock and thought, “Today is the 3rd. Wouldn’t it be funny if Peanut was born at 3.33?” Miss B had had such an impressive birth date and time – Friday the 13th, full moon, at 23.23 – and I kind-of wanted Peanut to have a go at an impressive date and time as well, for fairness’ sake.

Meanwhile, the traces on Peanut showed that bubs was still going strong, seemingly unaffected and not in distress. Tough little bugger. I had the feeling that its head hadn’t been fitting through my pelvis, so it had gone up and turned around to keep trying, but had been unable to find anywhere to fit. That could be totally medically inaccurate, but that’s the way it felt to me.

Strangely, they didn’t want to do an internal examination until I was in theatre to see if things were progressing, which sounded odd because if it turned out I had dilated further and Peanut was going to come out vaginally, they would have to take me back up to the ward again. A surgeon later told me I had been closing up and was down to 4 cm when they checked on the table. I was taken to theatre and prepped, more cannulas put in, and epidural topped up. They warned me that it would give me the shakes, but I remembered that from last time. The shakes started while I was still waiting for my partner to be allowed in, and some nausea, so they put something extra in the drip for that. By the time my partner came in, my arms were shaking so hard and uncontrollably that my muscles ached from the shoulders down.

The caesar itself happens quickly. The screen was up so I couldn’t see anything. Unlike with Miss B’s birth, they didn’t whisk the baby straight off for routine checks while I waited and wondered what it was and what it looked like and when I would finally get to hold it after everyone else in the room had. My partner peered over the screen as it emerged. Funny, with Little Miss he had been kind-of hoping for a boy and then was enraptured with her from the moment he saw her; this time, he had been hoping for another girl, but I could hear the same rapture in his voice when he came back to my head and grinned excitedly, “It’s a boy!” I didn’t know what to think. I think that’s part of the problem with caesareans (for me, anyway – and could also be the result of long labours, epi, etc.) – I’m left feeling drugged and wiped out instead of present in the moment.

They held him up over the screen for me to see before they cut the cord. I remember wanting to say, “Leave the cord pulsing!” but somehow couldn’t get the words out – so a good reminder to bring a Birth Plan with you to the hospital. Miss B had been fairly quiet when she came out and then proved to be loud later, but this one was the opposite. I had an impression of a tiny screaming baby not too happy at being dragged out into the bright lights of a theatre – I don’t blame him.

Apparently he wasn’t so tiny, though to me he looked it. It made me feel better when I was told later that he weighed 4.32 kg (9 pounds 8 ounces) with a head circumference of 37 cm – some people do manage posterior births though it’s rough going, so I’d felt miserable that I couldn’t; but then add a large baby to that, and the deflexion meant that the largest part of the head was trying to push through – kind-of like a battering ram to the pelvis.

“I changed my mind on the name!” I said urgently to my partner, realising for the first time what people meant when they said they had a name picked but it didn’t “suit” when they saw the baby. My partner agreed on the new name on the spot – a name we’d toyed with earlier but discarded.

I asked what time he’d been born. Someone replied from the other side of the room. “Did he say 3.30?” I asked my partner.

“3.33,” he replied.

Ha!!!!!! I started laughing. I couldn’t believe it. A birthdate with lots of numbers divisible by three, born on the 3rd at 3.33. I had actually managed to have two babies with impressive dates and times.

Anyway, unlike with Miss B’s birth at Hospital A, although Hospital C had quickly done Apgar testing – my little man scored nine out of ten both times as well – they left the other tests till after my partner and I had had a hold of him, which I appreciated. Though they didn’t do skin-to-skin – he was all wrapped up already – and then they left with him and my partner in tow to do the other tests, weighing, etc.

After they finished stitching me back up, I was taken to Recovery. That’s where I found the most upsetting difference in hospital policy. Hospital A had allowed my partner and baby to come with me; here, they didn’t. I hadn’t seen either of them since they’d left the theatre, and neither of us had been told that that would happen. We were separated since the hold I’d had of a sleeping Mister A not long after his birth until around 8.00 p.m., so roughly four-and-a-half hours without my newborn. I know that’s nothing compared to olden days, but in this day and age, with knowledge and research around immediate skin-to-skin contact and offering an immediate breastfeed and the importance of bonding, that seemed archaic. And “That Doctor” seemed to find reasons to keep me down in Recovery. At first it was genuine – my blood pressure and oxygen kept dipping and setting off alarms whenever I drifted off to sleep (which was pretty often – I tried to stay awake, but couldn’t – it was like I was just passing out), but they were going to take me back up to the ward at 6.00, which stretched to 6.30, and then kept getting longer and longer. One nurse said I’d lost less than 500 mL of blood during the surgery (anything over that is considered a postpartum haemorrhage), and she in fact thought it was probably no more than 400 mL. But “That Doctor” discovered I had had a small PPH in my previous birth, and then it was all dramatic from there. She kept changing the amount until finally, on my discharge papers, it shows 1,000 mL, which is a big difference to 400 mL. Extra drips were organised, injections to stop clotting (I still have bruising two weeks on), suppositories, all sorts of things I wasn’t in a clear enough mind to question.

One thing I kept asking everyone constantly was about my baby. Why on earth was I separated from him?! What if he got hungry? That was a bloody long time without a feed. I kept asking, but kept being told babies couldn’t come down to recovery unless a midwife was available to come with them, and none were available. I asked why my partner couldn’t come down, but was repeatedly told they couldn’t be responsible for a baby in recovery without a midwife there. I constantly asked about feeding, and was told they had formula upstairs they could give him if he got hungry. I got distressed as I had perfectly good colostrum that I would rather be his first feed, so a midwife finally came down and expressed some from me. I wondered why if a midwife were finally free, they didn’t just bring my baby to the colostrum instead of the colostrum to the baby. I was getting more and more anxious, as visiting hours at the hospital ended at 8.00 p.m. and I had no idea if they would try to send my partner home before I even got back to the ward, leaving my baby alone without either one of us (not that he would have agreed to that).

He was upstairs also anxious, with no news of me, and nobody giving him satisfactory answers or seeming to understand that a partner might want to know why the mother of his newborn had disappeared for hours and whether she was alright!

Luckily, when they brought me back up, it was to the Birthing Unit, so instead of my partner going home, we all stayed in the one room (which we wouldn’t be able to do in the shared rooms of Maternity). I was unhappy to find that Mister A seemed not keen to feed, and also to prefer my partner to me, and wondered if that was because of the separation and being fed his first meal via a syringe – though it may not have been. (Both things improved slowly over the next few days.)

Overall, though, despite that I sound anti-Hospital C, there were many lovely midwives who were just doing their job within the confines of hospital policy. Some even came to check up on me on a personal level when they had other patients waiting and didn’t have to, and were really kind to me despite how busy they were.

As for my feelings about a caesarean again – well, I just tried to be pragmatic, as with last time. It appears I have just grown big babies with a pelvis that can’t accommodate them, and they turn posterior and deflexed. Though there are women out there who have managed natural or home births after two or more caesareans, which shows that no-one necessarily has a “pattern” – just bad luck.

What helped greatly was my partner’s support, assuring me that I’d done my best and that it was okay to end up in hospital even after booking a private midwife. And I felt good overall about how much of the labour I’d managed to get through at home – I felt like I almost made it this time and had experienced more of “real” labour. But I was also grateful that there is intervention available when it becomes necessary, that can help to save women and babies from dying in childbirth. There is no shame to bringing two beautiful babies into the world, however they arrived.

Peanut’s Birth Story

Nursing Aversion

I felt like doing a post on nursing aversion as it seems like no-one really warns you about it, although it’s been four-and-a-half months since I last breastfed, so I have to try to remember the emotions (not that it’s too hard – they were pretty awful). Like antenatal depression, it seems something no-one really warns you about and that can sneak up on a woman. It also seems like something appropriate to write about as I drink my raspberry leaf tea to try to prepare myself for the oncoming labour of the being who brought on my nursing aversion in the first place. (Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Peanut.)

I fell pregnant again accidentally, but a lot of women plan to conceive again whilst still breastfeeding their first, with no idea that nursing aversion (NA) is a thing. It’s funny, but in the breastfeeding wars (or Mummy Guilt stuff), you often hear women speaking of how guilty they’re made to feel for formula feeding, and women speaking of how guilty they’ve been made to feel for not switching to formula. (Go figure – society is weird.) It’s left women a bit all-over-the-place. There are proud breastfeeders who are told to cover up in public, and conversely, shier women who are made to feel guilty for not whipping their boob out in crowded food courts etc.

So talk about NA seems to have kinda slipped through the cracks – instead, women who want another baby hear endless tales of tandem feeding, with gorgeous photos of a toddler and a newborn feeding contentedly side-by-side at the same snack bar, with no clue that that may not be the case at all for them. (But it can be for some, so I wouldn’t want to deter people from trying.)

Like I said, I didn’t plan to fall pregnant, but I’d never heard of NA and assumed I would just continue feeding, and end up doing this tandem feeding thing myself.

And then the vasospasms started. (Sorry for the T.M.I., but if you’ve already read this far, you’ll have figured NA has to do with boobs and nipples and stuff anyway.) Blood vessels suddenly constrict in the nipples, leaving them white and screamingly painful. It’s kind-of like a relentless nipple cripple. I’d suffered this later in my first pregnancy (not helped by winter cold), but now got it early in the second one, as breastfeeding seemed to trigger it. I did the “good mummy” thing and kept feeding, gritting my teeth, and afterwards would put heat packs down my bra.

Luckily the vasospasms disappeared one day as suddenly as they’d started. I didn’t question why – I was just relieved. But I didn’t realise that that wasn’t nursing aversion – nursing aversion was a whole different thing which also came on suddenly.

I ended up joining a support group online and reading stories from other sufferers of NA. I almost cried with relief to see my emotions mirrored. They had felt so dramatic, I didn’t think anyone would possibly understand. It sounds crazy and weird for women who had been pro-breastfeeding to suddenly be using words like “gross”, “icky”, “chills up my spine”, “want to rip the baby off my breast and start running down the street and never stop” – even, “feels like being sexually molested by my baby”. Who on earth would use that last sentence in particular if they weren’t completely insane?! And yet – it feels that way.

And the women in the support groups all had one thing in common – we tried to be martyrs. We wanted to do the “best” for our babies and keep feeding. We tried hard to find strategies (that didn’t work much) to get us through.

I fell pregnant when Little Miss was six months old, and although I can’t remember when the NA started and how long it lasted, I know I ended up being forced to drop feeds and resort to mix feeding (we chose goat milk as being the closest thing to breastmilk). That in itself was sad for me.

Little Miss seemed to take to the goat’s milk pretty well, though. I think she probably knew on some level that things were a-changin’. From what I’d read, for most women their milk had dried up halfway through pregnancy, about the four-to-five-month mark, as their body reverted to making colostrum. The milk starts to taste less nice. So even an avid boob guzzler starts to wrinkle their nose at you after a while and think, “What is this shite? Maybe a bottle’s not so bad after all.”

At first, though, it was hard. Little Miss seemed to want boob more often. She was getting less milk and becoming fretful and demanding. She would suddenly start tugging at my top and crying in public places when she’d only had a feed not long before. I was feeling guilty. That’s probably about when I realised I needed to introduce mixed feeding – she just simply wasn’t getting enough. Along with that came the feeling of failure that women are so good at.

The failure thing is hard. With society’s increasing pressure of “breast is best”, women with NA were struggling. We agreed breast was best – it just clearly wasn’t best for us at the time. We were only keeping on for the sake of our babies. I saw one lactation consultant and was told dismissively that of course women can keep feeding during pregnancy with no issues at all. (Thousands of women would disagree.) This is nothing against lactation consultants, by-the-way – another one was wonderful and assured me there was no shame in switching to mixed feeding.

I ended up cutting out more feeds until finally I was down to one a day. But even for that one, I’d sit there gritting my teeth, feeling an overwhelming urge to pull her off while an internal scream built up in my head. Sometimes it got so bad I couldn’t bear it anymore and had to take her off – whereupon she’d cry, and I’d feel horrible and pop her back on, fighting back tears as it felt like I couldn’t win. I took Blessed Thistle to try to keep up my supply (I’ve heard wonderful things about Fenugreek, but apparently that’s not recommended in pregnancy, so Blessed Thistle it was) and ate lots of oats. It worked for a time.

I began to run out of Blessed Thistle capsules. I was coming up to around four months pregnant. I bleakly considered not getting any more capsules.

I thought about instinct, and how we tend to fight it all the time, when animals don’t. Mother dogs get sick of their puppies and wean them, growling and snapping at them when they try to feed. (Not that I’m saying you should growl or snap at your baby, but you do get those urges with NA, okay?) Also, if breastfeeding whilst pregnant felt so goddamn wrong, was there a reason for it that we shouldn’t be ignoring? Like, does it take nutrients from the growing baby? Nipple stimulation can cause uterine contractions – could it be your body’s way of saying, “Hey, ease up – contractions in early pregnancy are not a good idea”? There didn’t seem to be any research I could find on this.

NA definitely needs to be talked about more.

In any case, Little Miss took her last breastfeed at ten months. One morning I put her on the boob as usual. She instantly bit me, pulled off, looked at me, and cried. And that was that. She never asked for boob since.

I have mixed feelings. I’m pro-breastfeeding, pro women being able to do it in public, pro extended feeding into toddlerhood, whatever works for woman and child. Yet sometimes I wonder if that creates a guilt complex for those of us who “fail”. What’s the balance? I don’t know. But I know that I’d seen talk about “medals” (not literal ones) – you get your “bronze boobies” (three months), “silver boobies” (six months), “gold boobies” (one year), and “platinum boobies” (two years). I’d been aiming for platinum boobies, and yet I didn’t even make gold. That made me feel like a failure – until I realised what a relief it was to not be feeding through the nursing aversion anymore. I felt guilty about the relief, too. Until I got sick of guilt altogether and just enjoyed having my boobs back for the next few months.

I always feel that I need to qualify statements like, “I stopped breastfeeding at ten months,” with, “But I would have gone for longer if my milk hadn’t run out.” I guess that’s kinda sad that I can’t just be proud of how long I went.

On another note, I had a lot of people tell me how proud I should be. Even when I first started with the NA, I had people urge me to quit, telling me how well I’d done so-far. I know I would have said the same thing to someone else, but somehow, when you’re the one in the position, it falls flat. It can sort-of feel a bit dismissive of your actual feelings on the issue. Yes, you’ve done well so-far, but … you wanted to go further. What’s wrong with that?

In any case, getting closer to No. 2’s birth, I’m starting to see Little Miss eyeing off my boobs again. I don’t know if she can smell what’s in them or see them getting larger, or both. She’s taken to pulling my top down and poking at them curiously. Not asking for them – just poking them. And now this opens up a whole other question about whether she will want to take up tandem feeding, or even if I actually want her to. Maybe I should just buy a goat.

Nursing Aversion

What I Wish I’d Known About Having a Newborn

Coming up to the birth of my second child has been reminding me again of all the things you forget later about newborns (kind-of like school, you tend to keep the good memories). Then I came across some points I’d written down when Little Miss was tiny, when having a newborn was a complete culture shock to me.

Okay, sure, I’d figured there would be some sleepless nights, and that the baby would cry sometimes. But really, deep down I had some image of a mother in complete tune with her baby. I’d keep up with working from home during my baby’s predictable and serene naptimes; I’d still go for occasional nights out as long as I left some expressed milk with my partner; I’d happily let my partner have nights out in turn; I’d take the baby with me when I went shopping or visiting friends, no problem.

I don’t want to sound negative about having a newborn. It just took adjusting to – and not everyone has the same experience. But I wish I’d known some things that might have made it less of a shock beforehand.

Such as, that you don’t necessarily bond with your baby the moment it’s placed in your arms, especially after a stressful labour; everyone else can tell you how beautiful she is, but you may be too tired and wiped and drugged to see what they’re seeing. Even when bonding comes, you don’t immediately understand every cry and what it means – in fact, it can take weeks, and even then some cries can blend together and be confusing.

I wish I’d known not to take it personally when everyone else was able to hold my baby without her crying, except me. “She’s just smelling your milk,” everyone said. I wish I’d also known not to take it personally when my partner, who had more experience with babies, seemed better with her than I did. I wish I’d known that the “baby blues”, that hit about day three and lasted for a few weeks, could be more debilitating than just feeling a little down. I wish I’d known that I would wake up with panic attacks some mornings, overwhelmed with responsibility, and feeling like perhaps she was better off with just her father, that I would only damage her inadvertently somehow, physically or emotionally. I also wish I’d known I only had to ride the feelings out, and that they would pass (with the help of placental pills).

I wish I’d taken advice to spread visitors out, so that I wasn’t overwhelmed all day, every day, from right after the birth until a few weeks, when it suddenly tapers off and you feel alone. I wasn’t prepared for the feeling of a roomful of people watching avidly as I learnt to breastfeed, until I came to dread it, fumbling awkwardly and botching latch-ons and exposing nipples. The two weeks my partner took off work after the birth, instead of being spent on us bonding as a family, were spent with a full house. Some visitors were a pleasure to be around and were helpful; others needed entertaining that I just wasn’t up to. I discovered that too many visitors in the early days affects bonding, as it can start to feel that everyone wants to hold your baby when it’s happy or sleeping, and the only time you actually get to is when the baby is crying or hungry, leaving you feeling like a resentful milk bar. I wish I’d known that sometimes the friends and family you expect to be helpful, aren’t, and the ones you least expect to are the ones that step up.

I wish I’d known that breastfeeding classes beforehand would have been a good idea. I wish I’d known that midwives are often too rushed and harried to show you the correct way, which leads to poor latch-ons and hurt and a feeling that you’ll need to quit. I learnt that lactation consultants and breastfeeding clinics are a godsend. I learnt that pure lanolin on sore, damaged nipples works wonders, more so than any other ointments. I learnt that a good breastfeeding cushion can be amazing for your back.

I wish I’d known how much my social life would be impacted. I wish I hadn’t waited the recommended 6-8 weeks before expressing (supposedly to avoid nipple confusion), by which time Little Miss was too used to the boob and refused a bottle, meaning that I could never go out at night for months. I learnt that accepting this and other life changes rather than despairing over them was hard but worth it. I learnt to live by the mantra, “One day at a time,” and realise that although those early days can seem to last forever, they are in fact actually short. I learnt to let go of any expectations.

I wish I’d known that sleep deprivation wasn’t just the case of an odd sleepless night, but getting up for feeds every couple of hours. That even when Little Miss started to go longer between feeds and appeared to be sleeping almost through the night (yay), she would regress during periods of physical and mental development and become a howling banshee several times a night (boo). I learnt that with a baby, progression is not linear, but can feel like two steps back to every three forward. And during the day, advice like “sleep when the baby sleeps” only works when you haven’t got a million things running through your mind, and you can let go of the guilt of undone housework. That plate didn’t need cleaning anyway, you only used it once. Or twice. Per day. For a week.

I wish I’d known that not every baby will sleep contentedly in the pram, in the car, or on your friend’s couch. They can get excited by new places, get overstimulated and overtired, and fight sleep like they’re afraid there’ll be no tomorrow if they close their eyes. I discovered that babies trying to sleep in the car don’t understand why you stop at red lights. I discovered that driving on sleep deprivation really can be worse than driving drunk.

I wish I’d known how to handle advice from people sooner. That some advice is asked-for, delivered kindly, and followed with, “But do what works for you.” But other advice is very strong and in-your-face, sometimes even dangerous to the physical or emotional health of your baby, and that you don’t have to feel obliged to take it just because the person is sitting right there, staring at you expectantly. I learnt that too much advice stops you feeling your own way. I learnt to do what felt right for me rather than listen to “making a rod for your own back” type statements. I learnt that nothing is worth distressing my baby for a second just because someone else thought it was “good advice”.

I also wish I’d known how to handle complete strangers coming up and telling me what I was doing wrong. (I finally discovered that cultivating an “eff-off, I’ve got this, okay” face works wonders.)

I wish I’d known that no matter how exhausted and time-poor you are, taking the time each day to have a shower (even if you have to switch from morning to night showers) and to get out of PJ’s into clothes when the day starts can make a massive difference to your mental state. Even though baby brain continues after pregnancy and you may find yourself perfectly dressed out somewhere, but with bunny slippers on. Or continually leaving either your wallet or purchase behind in shops, unable to remember both at the same time.

I wish I’d known to wait till after the baby was born to buy or ask for certain items. I learnt that some things you think will be essential, aren’t. I wish I’d known that no amount of cute clothes are worth the struggle of trying to get them on a screaming newborn, and that it’s zip-up suits all the way.

I wish I’d known that you can plan on being a certain type of mother and have to completely change ideals. You might want to be an “earth mother” type who wears baby in a sling and co-sleeps, only to have a baby that prefers the pram and its own space at night.

But I was also surprised by other emotions. The joy of discovery and imitation – when your newborn first discovers they can make sounds if they try to imitate your mouth movements, or that they can touch things with their hands, and how delighted you feel along with them.

I learnt that you can sometimes secretly wonder if you should have become a mother at all, only to realise that without hesitation you would give your life for your baby’s, and wonder how something so small can inspire such a powerfully primal response.

I also wish I’d known the power of a smile, that there is no defence against it. When after a broken night’s sleep, your baby wakes to see your face, and smiles, and all is forgiven. When after mauling your nipples, your baby looks up and smiles, and all is forgiven. When they won’t fall asleep in their bassinette, but you have to rock them for well over an hour, exhibiting patience when all you want to do is scream, and just before they drift off, they look at you and smile as if to say, “I know you’re keeping me safe. I trust you. I love you.” And all is forgiven. And even though you have been waiting for the moment they drop off to sleep so that you can get some shut-eye too, you stay awake for ages, gazing at their suddenly-angelic and peaceful slumber face in awe.

(And one day you will forget the exhaustion and tears of the newborn stage and be one of those people that aggravates new mothers by saying, “Oh, newborns are easy! All they do is eat and sleep.”)

What I Wish I’d Known About Having a Newborn

The Importance of the GTT

Now, if you read my birth story, you’ll know I’m not always into every test and medical procedure that is recommended. I question things and say no, which can be very annoying for doctors, nurses, and midwives.

But.

There is one test I have actually asked for early on in both my pregnancies, when it’s usually not routine until third trimester: The Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT) for Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM).

The reason I’m writing about it now is that I see, in pregnancy forums, the same question over and over – “Why do I need to do the GTT?” Statements such as, “I’m not at risk, and I’ll just eat healthily.” “I don’t think the GTT is good for the baby.” “Once upon a time, nobody had those tests, and babies still came out fine.” “There must be another way they can test.” And for those that do get diagnosed, “I’ll just go on insulin, because I want to be able to eat what I’d like.”

I can understand women’s reluctance. I didn’t enjoy the GTT. Like pap smears, nobody ever talks positively about it, so women who haven’t had one yet start to feel nervous and dread it – but although it can be a not-nice experience for a minority, for the majority it’s not really that bad once they do it.

I’ve done the GTT four times so-far – early in last pregnancy (when I was diagnosed), post-pregnancy to make sure it had gone, early in this pregnancy due to risk factors, then a fourth one later to check (also negative).

The reasons why I personally do this annoying little test that only takes a couple of hours out of a whole pregnancy are these:

Anyone can get GDM, regardless of risk factors. Hormones affect different women in different ways. And insulin is yet another hormone floating around, and your particular pregnancy hormones can compete with it. You may have no family history, eat well, exercise daily, and still get it. And not all pregnancies are equal – you might have had one without GDM, and then suddenly have one with it.

GDM is on the rise. It may not have been tested once upon a time, but our diets are so much higher in sugar and carbs, our portions larger. Very possibly many women have had undiagnosed GDM in the past, but it was less of an issue due to home-cooked meals where ingredients were known, there were smaller portions, and people generally had a less sedentary lifestyle.

A “healthy diet” is different to a “diabetic diet”. “Healthy” means different things for different people. Even for the uber-aware label-checkers who know what words like “reconstituted cane juice” really mean, what may be “healthy” for them could be dicey for a diabetic. You wouldn’t tell a coeliac to “just eat healthier”. Diabetes is about more than just avoiding sugar – you also need to be aware of carbs and GI ratings. For instance, that chopped-up banana on your cereal or watermelon for dessert sounds good, but could be enough to tip blood glucose levels (BGL’s) over the limit.

BGL’s need regular monitoring. A GDM diet is not actually one-size-fits-all. Additionally, BGL’s can change throughout a pregnancy – what you might have been able to eat after an early diagnosis is not necessarily what you can still eat later on. It isn’t sufficient to just Google “GDM diet” and follow a rough guideline.

Other factors can make BGL’s fluctuate. Things like stress or illness can impact BGL’s. I noticed if I got so much as a sore throat or had a depressed day, my levels would skyrocket.

The test is safer than the consequences of not being tested. Admittedly, it seems kinda ridiculous – if you have an issue with sugar, which is not healthy for your baby, then why would you then have to drink a super-sugary drink?! But the risks to the baby affected by unregulated GDM are worse than that one occasion of undergoing the test.

The test is currently the best way to discover GDM. Things always change in the medical system, and one day they may come up with an easier way (I hope so!). But the GTT currently is the best way to do a controlled test – everyone does the same fast; everyone drinks the same drink; everyone waits the same two hours without food, water, or exercise.

Uncontrolled GDM is a very real risk to your baby. I’m not a fan of fear-inducing statements generally, but this is pretty important. A lot of people aren’t aware of the risks of diabetes as it is – every time your BGL’s spike, you do a little damage to major organs. Essentially, an uncontrolled diabetic is killing themselves. And when you have a baby on board, that risk extends to them.

When your BGL’s spike and your body’s insulin just isn’t doing its thing, your baby then has to produce its own. Insulin acts as a growth hormone, and the baby’s shoulders can grow disproportionately large, as well as its body producing more fat cells. Fluctuating BGL’s can also put the foetus at risk of its own blood sugar levels not just spiking, but plummeting. In addition, the overworking of a baby’s pancreas whilst still in the womb can lead to later development of Type II diabetes in its own life. (A woman with GDM is also at increased risk of this. Understanding diabetes and learning how to control diet early on can go a long way to avoiding the onset.)

Uncontrolled GDM isn’t that much fun for the mother, either. A lot of women already experience pregnancy symptoms such as excessive thirst, constant peeing, increased risk of infections like UTI’s, and increased risk of thrush. Well, it gets worse with high BGL’s.

It can lead to complicated births and interventions. Speak to anyone about GDM, and you’ll be regaled with stories of, “Oh, I knew someone who had that. Their baby had to be induced early and they ended up with a caesarean.” The large shoulders of a baby who’s had to produce too much of its own insulin can get stuck during birth, let alone the rest of them. This leads to women being induced before the baby’s time would have naturally occurred, possibly needing a caesarean as well, usually at 37 weeks. (Since my baby went naturally to 43 weeks, if she had had to be induced, that would have been six weeks early.)

Also, if a baby has been used to regularly high BGL’s, birth suddenly disconnects it from its source of glucose. Its own BGL’s may plummet, necessitating being whisked away to Intensive Care and put on a drip. (Women with GDM are encouraged to start expressing and freezing colostrum sometime in the third trimester in case of this very reason.)

Controlling with diet if possible is better. It is sooooo hard for a chocoholic to rein themselves in. Believe me, I know. When I had GDM, I ended up avoiding grocery shopping a lot of the time because it’s just so in-your-face. But going on insulin wasn’t something I felt comfortable with, as it is medication, and it does mean you’ll automatically end up under doctor’s care rather than midwives’ and with more risk of birth interventions. A water birth will also be difficult or impossible if you are hooked up to monitoring equipment.

And don’t blame yourself. GDM just simply happens. The stress of feeling you’ve “failed” can make your BGL’s worse. Sometimes some women cannot control GDM by diet alone, no matter how hard they try – and that’s not a failing either. All you can do is try to do your best, but not berate yourself for things you can’t change.

A positive thing is, most people (including myself) say that GDM was actually the best thing that could have happened to them. It forced us to eat healthy, and we lost weight. We felt better and more alert, and felt our babies did too when they came out. We managed to turn a negative into a positive. And we wouldn’t have done that without first doing the test and getting a diagnosis.

The Importance of the GTT

Kids’ TV Will Mess With Your Head

I was going to be the parent that didn’t let their kid watch TV till they were at least two years old, but whatevs. I got pregnant and tired, and though I try to take Little Miss out every morning, there are times I can’t do anything but sit on the couch for a spell and let her run wild. At least the TV kind-of anchors her to my vicinity.

I’ve noticed something about kids’ TV. It seems more addictive to adults. In my family doctor’s surgery, which is usually chockas with small children, a TV is constantly tuned to ABC Kids. The kids play on the floor or generally muck up. The adults’ eyes are all glued to the muted screen. Maybe we’re actually secretly the ones that respond to bright, shiny objects.

I remember being disturbed as a child when I heard Fat Cat was axed because of being “non-educational”. I had long stopped watching it by then, but when Teletubbies took over TV’s and brain cells about five years later, you have to wonder.

I try to limit Little Miss to shows like Sesame Street and Play School, and never turn the telly on after morning, but sometimes other shows have snuck in, depending on when we go out and what time I’m most tired. And I have to say I … am … disturbed. I can’t speak for a lot of the shows as I never get to see them, or don’t pay much attention when they’re on, but …

Why are the Hairy Fairies never punished for making Hairyland so hairy? A huge magic “accident” that affects a whole world and should bring the fashion police down in force, but that’s okay because nobody apparently minds. Not even a slap on the wrist, the fairies get to go on spying and reporting on the very people whose lives they’ve changed forever without permission, without actually helping in any way.

The Bananas teach us that it’s okay to stay in PJ’s all day. Just the lesson you want your kids to learn. And like the Hairy Fairies, Rat’s manipulative, conniving, self-interested, greedy, psychopathically criminal tendencies earn him a laugh and a regular, “Oh, you rat in a hat!” instead of any actual consequences.

Jimmy Giggle should have wildlife protection authorities down on him for keeping nocturnal creatures up past their bedtime. Actually, he could have an Adam’s apple transplant at the same time for the constantly ear-bleedingly high pitch of his voice. Perhaps that’s why Hoot and Hootabelle can’t sleep, and their cheerfulness is actually a disturbing effect of months of sleep deprivation.

Fireman Sam should organise for Norman to be sent to juvy instead of his crew always having to waste valuable time and resources on the little delinquent that could be spent, y’know, rescuing other children from burning buildings or something. Norman gives a bad name to redheads – kudos for perpetuating a stereotype!

The Night Garden is clearly up for false advertising. I’ve only ever seen a few seconds at a time before afraid of the inevitable massive brain fart this show must cause, but it … is never … night! At least not when I’ve seen it. So – what’s with that?

Peg I haven’t seen much of either, but she seems a precocious child who prematurely boasts about solving a problem instead of singing, “Oops, I created an even larger problem. Maybe I should put this ukulele away and go seek some adult supervision.”

Peppa Pig and her family should all have severe concussions or spinal issues from the way they keep falling flat on their backs laughing maniacally. Actually, perhaps that’s why they laugh maniacally – too many knocks to the back of the head induced by laughing at things that aren’t that funny.

And WotWots – c’mon, they are advanced enough to build and fly a spaceship, but can’t speak more than one word over and over?

And how did a Tyrannosaurus Rex get into a pteranodon nest? Buddy asks this, but instead of an answer, or an offer to help him find his mum and dad, who after all weren’t cuckoos and couldn’t have flown up there, Mrs Pteranodon quickly hushes him up by saying she’s his mum. Something foul is afoot. He was clearly eggnapped. And why don’t Mr and Mrs Pteranodon put safety rails up or move to a lower spot so the baby without wings isn’t going to come to some harm? What happens when he gets too big to carry? What happens when he starts to ask questions about his parentage? What happens when the T Rex realises he’s a freakin’ T Rex and that his family is edible?

But the worst saved till last. Dorothy the Dinosaur.

“What on earth can you find offensive about Dorothy?!” you ask. EVERYTHING. I might be some kind of reverse dinosaurist / sexist, but I can’t make her uber-feminine ways gel with what we know of dinosaurs. Everything about her is sooooo oestrogen-fuelled, from the trilling voice, the petite dancing, the ballet fairies everywhere, the rosy tea obsession, the décor inside and out, and even a pirate that just doesn’t convince as a pirate, that I immediately want to dump my daughter in a sandpit full of trucks. Big shiny trucks with tippers and loud sirens. And how is Dorothy able to travel the world or have a new adventure every day, and why does such a lady have a pirate friend? How come a dinosaur and an octopus would travel in a plane to Germany just to purportedly try apple strudel before going home again? SUSS!!! I think the fact that she sees fairies is testament that she’s not just selling whatever it is, but smoking it too (or slipping it into that damn rosy tea, more likely).

Pity that my Little Miss likes the Wiggles. If they were responsible adults, they would have a stern word to Dorothy, and stop allowing her to use them as a front.

Dinosaurs. There’s a reason they went extinct.

Kids’ TV Will Mess With Your Head

Bean’s Birth Story

I haven’t really told anyone my birth story in-depth. At first it seemed too lengthy and kinda private. And when I did tell a small group of expectant parents, I copped a little flak for some of my decisions that bucked against medical pressure (though I have high respect for doctors and nurses). But now that I’m due to give birth again in about four months, the story feels like it’s hammering against my brain, screaming to be let out (even if no-one is very interested, because there are stacks of birth stories out there, after all!). And it may be rather long, because too much of it feels important to me.

Though this is perhaps a different kind of story, as it’s very much about what happens when your Birth Plan doesn’t go to plan. It’s also a story about balancing medical intervention with your own gut instincts.

Our baby girl chose her impressive birthdate of Friday the 13th, under a full moon, at 23:23, though via caesarean. She was close to three weeks overdue if you went by the original date, or two weeks and two days by the revised date. (Dates seem to change all the time with pregnancies.) At this point, most people raise their eyebrows and ask, “The doctors let you go that far overdue?! They didn’t induce you?!”

Actually, it was a real struggle to get to that point, as we did meet the customary pressure to induce once the ten-day mark was reached. Actually, I’d been told earlier in my pregnancy that it was likely I’d be induced at around 37 weeks due to gestational diabetes (as the babies can grow too large), may need a C-section, and that our baby could well end up on a drip afterwards and need expressed colostrum; however, I’d kept the diabetes well-controlled with diet, and my baby (nicknamed “Bean”, as we didn’t know the gender) kept measuring on target, so the hospital didn’t mention this again and said I should be able to have a normal birth and even go overdue.

At the ten-day mark, though, when we resisted pressure to induce and instead opted to come in for daily monitoring, an obstetrician that had never seen me before daily came and told me the statistics of stillbirths for going over, and the added rate for gestational diabetics going over. I felt I wasn’t being viewed as an individual case; nobody once checked my sugar levels or asked to see the records of the four-times-daily blood monitoring that I’d been performing for months (I’d been diagnosed early). But the statistics threw me into fear and confusion, which ironically I think could even put labour backwards, because I spent so much time stressing instead of relaxing. The obstetrician even said that the revised due date (which the hospital itself had changed) was wrong, and that we should be going by the original one, making our baby sound even more overdue. (Even though it may not sound it, I actually did respect this obstetrician. I understand the fear they must have that they may be responsible for a stillbirth, and the fear of being sued.)

We were also given statistics of placental decay, reduced umbilical cord function, and decreased amniotic fluid, and were requested to go for an ultrasound. This showed that everything was functioning perfectly well, with the Amniotic Fluid Index at 8 (5 being the minimum level required). The obstetrician reluctantly said he would wait till the two-week mark – Wednesday 11th – and in the meantime, we had to come in for daily monitoring. This was a bit of a hike as the hospital wasn’t close (since we’d moved), but we would rather be safe than sorry. I had the feeling they were disappointed when the monitoring showed Bean was healthy and active and showing no signs of distress; they reminded us that this trace was only for 20 minutes or so out of a whole day. We were pressured to book in on Thursday 12th for a Friday 13th delivery, and actually it was kind-of tempting to agree, just to have a Friday 13th baby! – but every time I went inside myself to check my gut instincts, I strongly felt that Bean just wasn’t ready to come out and should be given till the end of the weekend. I researched as much as I could, and discovered that 40 weeks plus two was really just a number – pregnancies around the world can go up to four weeks over (except in cases where medical intervention really is necessary).

Meanwhile, we were trying every natural way we could to bring on labour – baths with clary sage oil, acupressure and acupuncture, curries and chilli, long walks on uneven surfaces, raspberry leaf tea, even expressing colostrum (the midwives were all very surprised later on, when they saw how much I’d expressed over the past month, that I hadn’t gone into labour well before I did!). I also agreed on Tuesday 10th to have a stretch and sweep of the membranes performed, in hopes that it would bring on labour if Bean was ready; however, the midwife couldn’t do this as it turned out my cervix was “unfavourable”, with a Bishop score of 3 (you need at least a 7). But at least I was starting to dilate, so that gave me hope that an induction would be unnecessary. Then on the Wednesday I lost my mucous plug (I’d never been so excited about mucous before!), and my Bishop score also increased to 5, giving me further hope that Bean was on track and that I was right to wait for a natural start.

We also discovered that without our agreement, we’d been booked in for induction the next day, which caused further arguments and stress and another discussion full of statistics. I eventually agreed to be booked in for Sunday 15th. Whether it was the relief of finally having the staff off my back and my subsequent relaxing, or whether it was going to happen anyway, I don’t know, but my waters broke that night, the Wednesday. We weren’t sure if it was a “proper” break or if Bean had just stuck a toenail through it, and it was clear with no sign of meconium, so we didn’t contact the hospital yet, so as not to be put on a clock with further pressure to give birth within a set timeframe. I also started having contractions, though it was hard to tell as there was lots of lower back pain that just seemed to hang around.

The next day, Thursday, the back pain eased up, and we went to monitoring as usual. My Bishop score was now 6, and although it wasn’t the magical number of 7, the midwife did a stretch and sweep. I thought she might notice that my waters were leaking, but she said nothing about it.

That evening the contractions came back, and extraordinarily painfully. Even though I had no previous experience to compare with, I had the feeling that the pain levels weren’t normal; the contractions weren’t at the front, but in my back; it felt like my spine was being split in half, up the middle. There was no regularity or definition, just waves of pain that blended into each other and went on interminably. It was the hallmark of a posterior labour – I now understood what women meant when they spoke about “back labour”, and why the vast majority of women with it end up with epidurals. Bean had actually been anterior but towards my right side, so instead of being on the left and turning just a little to get into the birth canal, it had decided to go the long way round, via my spine! I had never felt such pain in my life, and despite having a high pain threshold, wasn’t coping with it, feeling I was going to go literally insane.

It was when I kept threatening to call an ambulance that my partner called our doula, Lu, in (I’ll link to her at the end), as we needed more help. Poor Lu had to travel a while to get to us, and after midnight too, but she and my partner supported me through the night; both were invaluable. Lu being there was incredibly reassuring and stopped me feeling so out of control, and my partner also stayed calm and was incredibly helpful – I didn’t even get the urge to swear at him once, despite my pain; he just kept providing heat pack after heat pack, massaging my back, remaining calm and soothing, never complaining. The counter-pressure on my back did help with the worst of the pain, and at one stage he said he could feel the baby actually turning. But it seemed to be happening so slowly, and was such a long night. I couldn’t lie down, but stayed half-up on the couch, drifting in and out of exhausted sleep and waking up with each new contraction.

Finally it was the morning of Friday the 13th, and I was past what I could manage pain-wise. We waited until after peak hour, which seemed interminable, and arrived at the hospital mid-morning after about an hour’s slow drive. I had barely been able to walk to the car, but went inside myself during the trip to try to manage the contractions. My waters broke or leaked even more on the way there, so the staff officially put that as the time of breaking. I could barely walk into the Birthing Unit, which was unfortunately in full view of all the pregnant women in the Antenatal Clinic’s waiting room, who got to sit there with their mouths open as they watched the woman in labour inching along bit by bit, stopping frequently to moan and lean on the walls whilst her partner put pressure on her back. There was just no way of hurrying me out of sight; I could barely move.

Finally in one of the birth suites, I was asked to pee into a cup to check hydration (I’d barely been drinking – I’d had the importance of keeping fluids up impressed on me, but just couldn’t take anything in), and I couldn’t even manage to do that because the contractions were so bad and I was so dehydrated. My partner and Lu even turned the sink taps on full to try to help me go, but no dice.

I had to wait for pain relief until after monitoring and examinations were performed to see where things were at. One of the items on my Birth Plan had been no pain relief and definitely no epidural unless necessary, but I hadn’t figured on a posterior birth, and was now asking repeatedly for an epidural straight-up! It seemed an interminable amount of time before I was hooked up to monitors – hampered by my seeming inability to move or do anything but make lots of noise – and was then given a range of different methods of pain relief, as Lu and my partner both knew I’d desperately wanted a natural birth and were trying to make that happen. We tried Panadeine Forte, and then gas. Lu ran me a bath, but even being in warm water didn’t seem to help. The gas in the bathroom was turned on full, which basically just made me feel really stoned, but didn’t actually stop the pain – though it felt great between contractions! Then a midwife came in and turned it down as it actually wasn’t supposed to be on full, so the feeling-great-between-contractions thing stopped. My partner kept putting pressure on my back, but even that was starting to not work as well. I then got sterile water injections in my back – they sting like hell going in and for 30 seconds afterwards, and have to be done during a contraction, but are meant to kind-of confuse the pain receptors for a couple of hours. That also didn’t work, except for maybe five minutes, during which time Lu got me walking to try to move Bean around. I was so exhausted, and nearly slipping on leaking bits of amniotic fluid (somebody should really put “Caution: Wet Floor” signs in birthing suites). Then the pain came back intensely and I was done; I just wanted an epidural, or to pass out, whichever came first. The welts raised by the sterile water injections also meant my partner could no longer put pressure on my back – even though the massage wasn’t working anymore, it had been something familiar to cling to.

It was a very long day, though time meant little to me. It was only when I looked at photos later and saw the times on them that I realised it was moving, as always, linearly. We had to wait for the anaesthetist to come out of theatre. More sucking on gas (not that it really helped, but the tube was something to cling to). Although my Birth Plan had been for a water birth, the midwife explained that an epidural meant being hooked up to constant monitoring for the baby’s heartbeat and my contractions, so with that and the loss of use of my legs, I’d have to stay in bed, but they’d coach me through pushing when the time came (since the epi meant I also wouldn’t feel the urge to push myself). Although it wasn’t ideal, I consoled myself that at least I’d still be able to give birth vaginally, even if on the bed.

The anaesthetist finally came and explained the risks of an epidural, though I was so out of it that I wanted to say, “Yeah, yeah, just get on with it.” Then when she found it was a posterior presentation, she said that epidurals don’t work for those. I didn’t understand how that was possible, as an epi should dull you from the waist down no matter what, but she insisted. At that point, I just felt such defeat and despair, especially as the pain was growing stronger and still felt like my spine was being torn up the middle over and over. My partner, seeing my face, said ominously that we were given certain information before and were now being told something different; Lu and the midwives hastily assured us that epidurals did work especially on posterior presentations. Luckily, they were right. It took almost no time from the epi going in to all sensations below the waist ending. Although having the needle put in meant I had to sit hunched over a pillow and wait till there were no contractions – a hairy proposition considering my contractions were still irregular and with little warning. And then I got to lie back on the bed in a raised position, and finally relax.

The midwives did an examination once I was numb, and discovered that I was not dilating very much. Which is not unusual with posterior labours, apparently, because you’re so tense from pain. So they put me on Syntocinon to try to force the labour to progress – another deviation from the Birth Plan. (By this stage, though, I was kinda out of it, and just wanted to sleep, and to bloody dilate so I could have this baby.) They also put a drip in for hydration, but had trouble with it because I was that dehydrated they couldn’t get a vein at first, so I got some lovely bruises. And they put a catheter in my bladder as well, which luckily I couldn’t feel due to the epidural.

Then I relaxed and tried to drift off to regain some of my energy, but it was difficult because there was always someone coming in or out of the room. Apparently my contractions (as shown on the trace – I couldn’t feel them now) were too irregular still (another hallmark of posterior births), so they kept jacking up the Synto regularly. I had been worried the whole time of the effect of all these drugs on our baby – even the Panadeine and gas, let alone the Synto – but was assured it was all okay (though who really knows).

Later another examination was done, and there the midwives discovered that on top of my contractions not doing what they were meant to, my cervix was actually thickening again, going backwards instead of dilating; it was as though my body had just given up. And as well as being posterior, the baby’s head was deflexed – instead of being chin to chest, its chin was up, being forced further and further back with each contraction. It also meant that a wider circumference was being presented and would be virtually impossible to push out. The bubbly young female obstetrician that they called in called it a cheeky baby, saying that it wanted to look out before it came out. (After Little Miss was born, this proved true. She was determined not to be a floppy-necked newborn, trying to hold her own head up until she managed it within ten days, and always trying to look up and behind her. She was – still is – a very curious baby.)

I was told that there was also a little meconium now in the amniotic fluid, and that monitoring wasn’t reassuring. Although it can’t have been too bad, because we were given the option of pushing on with more Synto and seeing if my body kicked into regular contractions (but likely ending in a caesarean anyway), or just going for a caesarean now.

It had been a bloody long day (or two nights and two days), and I was ready to just say, “Go the caesarean.” Again, completely away from the Birth Plan – but I was worried about the baby, too. I didn’t like the thought of more Synto pushing its head further backwards, I didn’t like that it was starting to show some signs of distress, I didn’t want to wait around hours and then have the same outcome anyway. I looked at my partner, though, afraid he’d be disappointed if I called it, but he actually jumped in and said, “Let’s get this show on the road.” He knew a caesar was inevitable by this stage, it was getting late, and we may as well get this baby born on Friday the 13th! (Which ironically was the date it would have been born had we had an induction.)

So I was wheeled down to theatre. My partner was gowned up, but had to wait outside while they prepped me, although he propped the door open a crack and watched. Prepping seemed to take ages – setting up, putting antiseptic on my stomach, shaving the area, raising a screen between my head and my torso. Then my partner came in and stayed by my head to support me, although I was calm by this stage. The only problem was upper body muscle shakes from the epidural, a rather annoying side-effect. I’d rather that than the pain, but they were getting worse.

They cut me open behind the screen, but I didn’t get to see my baby for what felt like ages. Apparently it was so wedged that they took four goes to get its head out, not even able to with forceps. Once finally out, it was taken off to the side for assessment. One of the side-effects of birth for babies is engorged genitalia due to the hormone rush (a lot of people aren’t aware of this beforehand and get a shock), so with that and the umbilical cord, apparently my partner got confused and announced it was a boy – however, although I apparently responded to it, in my out-of-it state I don’t remember that at all. All I remember is him turning to me with a big smile on his face and telling me it was a girl.

The adorable part was how mushy he went. Gushing statements such as, “I’m so glad you got a girl, you deserve a girl,” and, “I thought I wanted a boy, but I didn’t know how much I wanted a girl till I had one.” My partner had officially gone to goop.

Unexpectedly, the hard part about the caesarean emotionally for me was actually not so much the deviation from the Birth Plan, but the wait afterwards to see the baby I’d been carrying for over nine months. It hurt that she was whisked away by other hands than my own, and that I missed things like my partner cutting the cord. When she was put on my chest, it also hurt that I couldn’t hold her properly and reassure her due to my epidural-induced muscle shakes – which were by now surprisingly so intense that my shoulders and upper arms were actually aching – and that the shakes also meant the monitor clamped on my index finger clattered against her head when I tried to stroke her, so I couldn’t do that. I also had the insane desire to fall asleep – not really the reaction you’d expect after all that, but I guess it was after all that adrenaline.

My little one, by comparison, was wide awake – I had an impression of big blue eyes looking at me with uncanny alertness, along with one tear rolling out of an eye, which broke my heart. She pooped quite a few times, including all over my exposed chest. So much for skin-to-skin.

I’m not saying this just because I’m her mother, but her condition was great, vindicating our gut instincts to wait for labour to start naturally. She didn’t have an “overcooked” look, but her skin was beautiful – not dry, cracked, wrinkly, or discoloured. She got an Apgar score of 9 on both testings (I was told by a midwife that no-one ever gets a 10, so 9’s pretty damn perfect). My placenta was also extraordinarily healthy – no signs of decay or calcification, no signs that it wasn’t going to keep going overdue. My baby was fairly large at 4.21 kg, but no-one suggested it was due to the gestational diabetes, as she was in proportion (G.D.M. babies tend to have broad shoulders), and her sugars were also perfect on testing through the night, with no need for her to go on a drip or use the expressed colostrum.

I did find out I’d had a postpartum haemorrhage, though not badly (lost 700 mL of blood, with under 500 mL being the aim); however, since I’d gotten my iron levels up high (after having been anaemic earlier on), they weren’t worried. I did read in an article later that Syntocinon can cause postpartum haemorrhages, and was annoyed that nobody had told me that; but I haven’t gone on to research that further and confirm if that’s true.

I would recommend against electing for a caesarean if not necessary, because recovery is a bit of a bitch – despite my exhaustion, I was woken hourly that first night (apart from my baby’s feeds) for midwives to perform observations (blood pressure, oxygen, etc.) or to check Little Miss’ sugar levels. I still had the catheter in, as well as another drip, and cuffs on my legs that mechanically compressed them at intervals to ensure no blood clots formed. Morphine was put in my drip, which meant that having gotten over the epidural shakes, I then suffered morphine itch, and I’m sure visitors left thinking I had fleas. Then recovery at home takes four to six weeks (though I did recover pretty quickly), and you’re not supposed to pick up anything heavier than your newborn (which is hard when that newborn isn’t tiny), let alone drive – none of which is easy to follow if you’re home alone (luckily I had my partner’s help for the first couple of weeks). It also hurts to go to the toilet for a while, or even walk, though you’re supposed to do some walking to reduce the risk of blood clots (but too much can set you back!).

I also don’t know if a caesarean affected my ability to bond at first. I was very out-of-it after such a long time in pain and having had all those drugs. When my baby girl was placed in my arms, there was a feeling of unreality, almost like it was happening to someone else. I very often heartily wish I could go back to that moment and have it over again, but with a clear mind, to fully appreciate the wonder of the little miracle I held.

But overall, having a non-elective caesarean didn’t affect me as badly as I’d thought it would. I’d privately never really accepted the thought of having one beforehand, and thought I’d be shattered if I had to. But afterwards, I found I was strangely accepting of it. All I could do was be grateful that there are medical interventions for times of emergency, whereas a century ago I may have died in childbirth and my baby with me. That sobering thought bothered me for quite a while, and still does when I think about it, but having a C-section itself didn’t. I think the important thing was that I had a partner that educated himself in the birth process, was supportive, and actively worked with me to welcome our baby girl into the world.

I also very much recommend using a doula – their help can be invaluable during a stressful time; they can also give your partner a much-needed break, and keep a clear head when both of you are too wired and tired to think properly, and be your spokesperson. There is research currently being done into whether women in labour are really capable of making decisions, and it’s possible to agree to something that afterwards she has no memory of and can feel resentful over. A good doula with thorough knowledge of your birth vision and ideals can help there. I very much would recommend Lu (Birth InSight – website and Facebook) if you’re in the Sydney area, and take advantage of her placental encapsulation skills whilst you’re at it, which can help to build up the nutrients you’ve lost and prevent postnatal depression. My partner could definitely tell the days on which I’d taken my pills and those I hadn’t.

And above all, go to birth classes. (We chose calm birth classes with Birthing Rites Australia, also on Facebook, with the fantastic Marie who has been a pioneer in natural birthing education – her first child’s birth being part of an ABC documentary in 1976! The classes were intimate, relaxed, and fun, as well as educational.).If you don’t like the ones you’re at, find another class. The midwives told me that people educated about birth beforehand are likely to have quicker and easier births, which is better for everyone involved. And even when things go wrong, such as in my case, knowledge beforehand of possibilities such as posterior labour (with the back pain, incredibly slow dilation, irregularity of contractions, and sliding possibility of interventions such as epi and caesarean) can help you to understand what’s happening.

Thank-you if you have managed to read through my long story, and if you are pregnant, remember: My story does not have to be yours. Not all labours are painful and long. There are many tales of amazing labours that will touch your soul. I hope yours is one of them!

Bean’s Birth Story

The Hormones Oh The Hormones

I’ve noticed something about the women who have their babies as opposed to those who are still pregnant. I’m in both categories, you see. The women who have had their babies are significantly more helpful and less snarky to others, less quick to take offence.

I’m so over pregnancy hormones.

It doesn’t help that I can’t get a decent chai latté. I used to be able to get them. Somehow, when I fell pregnant this time, baristas changed. I didn’t notice it last pregnancy – perhaps because I had gestational diabetes then and had cut out chais. (Let’s face it, there’s not much traditional “chai” in a latté – it’s glorified sugary milk with spices. I would say “Hot and spicey, oh so nicey” but that would just highlight how many times I’ve heard my partner reading Wombat Stew to my 10.5 month old.)

On four separate occasions close together recently, I could not get a chai latté. I asked for one. In proper cafés. And got coffee. I do not like coffee, and I’m pregnant. I want a damn chai. Pointing out politely that I asked for chai, I was met with blank stares and, “You said latté.” Enunciated as though I’m rather slow … by baristas that, if they want the fancy-shmancy title their job entails, should understand that “latté” has to do with the milk, not the caffeine. Four. Separate. Occasions.

I guess there’s not much point to this side-rant, except to say I like chai lattés. A lot. I don’t want coffee. I don’t care that a “chai latté” is a glorified milk drink with a wanky title. It’s what I want.

Anyway. Last week, with the wild weather in Sydney, I’d been stuck indoors. With a baby that likes to be very active. We went down the south coast that weekend to stay with someone, only to be stuck indoors in more rainy, cold, windy weather. Pre-baby, it would be a nice excuse to curl up on the couch, read a book or something, and … drink chai lattés, I guess. Post-baby, it’s more like, “Oh, crap. Cabin fever.” If she were a toddler, I’d whack a raincoat and some wellies on and teach her to jump in puddles. But she’s not. Yet.

Anyway, she went down for a sleep, and I was starting to feel like a caged beast. The hormones were beginning to rage. It’s like having PMS for nine months. Everything everyone does is suddenly immensely irritating. And I’m not paranoid, they really are out to get me – turning my chais into coffees, for example. (No, I won’t get over it.) But truly. Maybe it is a form of PMS – after all, it’s got several months to build up. I read more into things than I should. Every innocuous, innocent comment seems like a barb. I become jealous. I snap. I suddenly rage. I don’t act like myself. I realise that of the two years my partner and I have been together, approximately 14 months have been with me pregnant, and the six months in between pregnancies have been me overtired. He probably assumes crabby and oversensitive is my norm. Maybe he thinks he’s imagined those first few honeymoon months of late nights, vodka, and weekend adventures.

So, I was down the coast, and could feel myself getting more and more hormonal and irritable, especially when caged up. I had to get out.

My partner tells me that when I go for a walk, I come back a different person. So I walked. Actually, first I drove into town to get a chai latté. The first two coffee shops – two – did not do chai lattés. I know, I know, I couldn’t believe it either. The third did chai lattés, and brownies as well. I think I deserved a brownie after a chai hunt in such weather. No-one else was walking the streets in that weather except me, because I wanted a damn chai.

I went to a headland jutting into the ocean, which I’d always wanted to explore, but as I drew into the parking lot, it started to spit with rain. On top of the wind and the cold. Ah, bugger it. I got out of the car anyway.

I caught sight of some dude lurking behind the toilet shed. No-one else was around. My heart immediately jolted. It’s not fair, that women always have to fear. And I didn’t realise how much I now considered my own safety, now that I had a baby and was pregnant. Your world changes. Then I realised the guy was in a wetsuit. Obviously, someone was as crazy as me that day. I shook my head at mad surfers, and as I set off, he shook his head at pregnant women in thin clothes that go heading into the wind, rain, and cold (did I mention it was windy, rainy, and cold?).

The walk was pretty deserted, apart from the odd dog-walker, or mad rock fisherman. At least I was moving around to keep warm. I discovered the headland was bigger than I thought, with lots of criss-crossing paths. It looked wild and remote. Most times, I saw no-one. The jagged rock formations caused by mining, the nooks and crannies where the surf came booming in to splash impossibly high – it was all enhanced by the lack of people and the menacing dark clouds threatening to drench me any minute. I still couldn’t leave. I wandered around for ages, feeling all alone, but deliciously so. I wished I could have taken my girl with me, but I wouldn’t expose her to that weather. Another day, if I wasn’t pregnant and the weather was fine, I would have popped her in the baby backpack and gone traipsing all around. She loves nature; she loves being in the backpack up high. Our baby has seen all sorts of things.

The walk did the trick. By the time I got back to the car, my cheeks were red from the cold and wind, my eyes bloodshot. But I had a massive grin on my face. Me 1, hormones 0.

The Hormones Oh The Hormones

Things Pregnant Women Secretly Want to Hear

I’ve been doing some lurking in forums and, cobbled with my own experience, I think I’ve come up with a pretty decent list of things you should really say to pregnant women.

First of all, offer all the unsolicited advice you can think of. Especially if you haven’t had a baby, but have maybe seen one sometimes, or if you have had a baby (because really all babies are the same), or if you had a baby thirty years ago, or if your neighbour had a baby. And make sure to use the term “making a rod for your own back” lots of times, if the pregnant woman even thinks of doing something you don’t agree with.

Share your horror birthing stories. A woman shouldn’t have gotten pregnant if she can’t handle what she’ll be in for. Sure, making her more stressed out about her birth could lead to a longer, more painful labour, but just think what a favour you’re actually doing her – she can now join the ranks of people with a horror birthing story! Just make sure never to mention the people you know who had a quick, easy, drug-free birth – that’s nowhere near as mentally stimulating.

Let her know whatever she’s going through in pregnancy is nothing. She might complain about being tired now, but that’s just ridiculous. Offer no sympathy. She needs to understand, multiple times, that pregnancy insomnia is just preparation for a sleepless baby, which of course every woman has. Any stories of babies sleeping through the night before they’re, like, two years old is a myth. Comments like, “HAH! Wait till you have the baby!” should be repeated often.

Be sure to let her know how you really feel. If you are upset because she is pregnant and you’re not, that is totally her fault for being so insensitive. She should have waited for you to fall pregnant first. It is okay to write snide obscure comments on Facebook that may or may not be directed at her and her working womb. Goddamit, she should have known better anyway.

Announce her pregnancy for her. Truthfully, she is probably wondering the best way to do it and working herself up into a tizz, so do her a favour and let everyone know before she has to (social media is a good way to reach all of her friends, family, and acquaintances at once!). If she doesn’t thank you, don’t worry, she’s probably too overwhelmed with gratitude.

Start some rumours. Everyone loves to be the centre of attention. She will secretly delight in knowing people are discussing how she probably just wanted government money for staying at home. It may be a pittance compared to what she was earning, and a baby may be a 24/7 job, but come on, don’t let truth get in the way of a good story! In fact, throw in there how she probably deliberately trapped her man into a relationship by getting pregnant. Because everyone knows it’s the woman’s fault anyway. Look, she may not show it, but even negative attention is attention, and she’ll love it.

If she’s struggling, let her know your pregnancy was worse. If she has had to take some days off work or even quit entirely because she can’t get her head out of the toilet bowl, the self-centred cow needs to understand that you managed to work all the way through your pregnancy, as well as studying, running an international charity, and training for Iron Woman.

Don’t invite her to social events in the daytime. If she can’t go out drinking at night like she used to, that’s her problem. In fact, she should probably go out with you more often at night, because now she can be your designated driver. It’s perfect, really. So if she says she’s “tired” or asks to meet up during the day instead, just fob her off and find some new friends that actually care about your social life.

Remind her that she needs a sense of humour. Okay, she may claim pregnancy hormones, but seriously, nothing is funnier than asking her, “Are you sure that’s not twins in there?” If met with a blank look, it may be just baby brain making it slower for her to understand, so repeat it again, and again, until she gets it.

Let her know abortion is an option. Especially if she hasn’t mentioned it herself. But if you feel she is financially, mentally, or emotionally unstable, or if you feel she will regret this baby later and should be following career and travel plans, or even if the baby may have something wrong with it and she has decided to go ahead with the pregnancy, please let her know she is actually being pretty selfish. She has obviously come to the decision to keep the baby very lightly, and needs your guidance. If she starts avoiding your calls, send e-mails. In fact, send her links to reputable clinics.

Ask to be present at the birth. Especially if you are her partner’s relatives. Go on – she really would love to share the moment with everyone! If she says otherwise, she’s just being shy. Too many people at the birth could make her tense up and have a long and painful labour, but afterwards I’m sure she’d love the relaxation of sitting back while everyone else handles her baby before her and gets their smell all over it and makes the moment about them. She shouldn’t keep such a precious time to herself.

If this is her third plus time she is pregnant, ask if it’s an accident. No-one would willingly want more than two children. After all, these days we have contraception. (Also, see this as an opportunity to start some more rumours, and call her a “breeder”.)

Let her know how grateful she should be. If she’s unsure about her pregnancy, bang on repeatedly about how at least her ovaries work, and how so many people want to conceive.

Dissect her baby names. Let her know how you, personally, really don’t like the names she’s chosen. After all, you represent society. In fact, suggest some of your own. Just not the ones you want for your own baby. If she comes up with a name that you wanted to use when you possibly have a kid ten years in the future, let her know you bagsed it first and she can’t use it.

Put her in her place. Everyone knows that when someone gets pregnant, their mammary glands are automatically open for discussion. If she chooses to exclusively breastfeed, let her know she is being incredibly selfish for keeping that bonding to herself. She needs to learn that this baby isn’t about her.

If her house is messy, she would appreciate knowing it. She may be “tired”, but that’s all the more reason to gently let her know her place has gotten out of control. She may have simply mistaken all the fluff on the floor as the dots from lack of sleep dancing in front of her eyes. Don’t offer to help her clean up, though – remember, women want to be independent. Just make your comments, leave the cup of tea she made you sitting on the coffee table in its little ring where you accidentally sloshed some, and go, so she can think about how embarrassed she must have made you for having to mention anything.

In summary, pregnant women do not make very good decisions. All those hormones floating around mean our baby brain makes us incapable of thinking about anything but what colour we want the nursery. We need as much guidance and advice as possible. Really.

(*Any sarcasm is directly in proportion to the seriousness of the reader. If in doubt, print out and iron to show the secret messages, then wash on a cold cycle and dry under the light of a half-moon.)

Things Pregnant Women Secretly Want to Hear

The Black Dog in Pregnancy

I really wanted to write a positive post, but I seem to be being guided from some things I’ve seen and heard lately to write about this instead.

Pretty-much everyone has heard about post-natal depression. It even has its own initials – PND. There are websites and support services geared towards helping women through this after the birth of their child. But although antenatal depression is a real thing, it seems not many people have heard about it, and thus don’t understand what’s happening.

Depressing during pregnancy is not selective. It doesn’t just go for women who accidentally find themselves pregnant and are unsure about it. Your hormones are running wild, and so it can even happen to women who have dreamed of motherhood for years. They might have an image ingrained in their minds of how they will feel when they first see a positive line, how fulfilled and happy they’ll be going nursery shopping. But if that dream finally happens, and those little hormones kick in and turn everything upside-down, they feel confused and start to wonder, are they a horrible person? Other pregnant women are beside themselves with joy, picking baby names already, talking about what prams to buy, saying they are too excited to wait to announce but have to do it now. The woman with antenatal depression feels unnatural for feeling the opposite way or for not feeling an instant bond; she retreats into herself, fakes excitement, spirals further down. She worries she will be a bad mother, that she is even now damaging her baby psychologically with these feelings. She may even feel the baby will be better off without her.

There is a lack of conversation around antenatal depression that makes things so much harder. The stigma around depression in general has lessened a lot over the years, due to a greater understanding and more openness. However, antenatal depression is still a different ballgame. Why?

I’d never even heard of it when I fell pregnant with my first, and when it hit, I had no idea what was happening. I was probably a fairly good candidate – I was already prone to depression; I was helping one family member who was recovering from cancer and another from a stroke; I’d had plans to move overseas which had already been put on hold, and were now totally impractical; I succumbed to such extreme vomiting and tiredness that I had to quit work, volunteering, and my social life; I was in a new relationship that was now rocketed into a whole new sphere, and then moved further away from friends and family to an area that was the complete opposite of what I’d wanted. Actually, I don’t regret any of this – my little girl means everything to me; I love her and my partner, and wouldn’t change the way things turned out. But it was a lot of life changes at once. And then crippling depression hit on top.

It was the kind of depression where you stay in bed all day, not wanting to move, knowing you’re just making it worse really, but seem unable to help yourself. (Actually, the vomiting and tiredness meant I really couldn’t move some days.) I had no idea what was happening with me emotionally. I felt awful for not feeling a bond with the baby. At the five-week dating ultrasound, I hoped and hoped for a feeling of reality, but it was like the little dark blob on the screen that was the gestational sac belonged to someone else. I then secretly hoped the 11-week ultrasound would be It – the moment I looked at the forming baby on the screen, and realised this was mine. But again, I felt nothing; it was like just watching a movie on the screen.

I felt pretty low. What kind of woman doesn’t bond with their unborn child?!

I tried to speak to others about it, but realised that for most people, it was like a big taboo. Even people that are okay with speaking about general depression seem to feel incredibly uncomfortable when faced with antenatal depression. They really just want to be able to squee over your tummy and say, “Congratulations!” and move onto what you’ll call it and if you’re going to find out the gender and will you have a baby shower. If you don’t participate with enthusiasm, you can kinda hear the crickets. There’s a feeling that you’re actually pretty ungrateful for not giving thanks for your functioning ovaries. Even some medical professionals can sort-of be douches about it, which is just fantastic for women who already feel they have nobody to talk to about their feelings.

Finally I Googled depression in pregnancy, and was surprised to find it is actually a thing. I actually burst into hysterical sobs, because I was so incredibly relieved to know I wasn’t the only one.

And you know, the feelings passed. It happened suddenly, somewhere towards the end of four months. One day, I was vomiting and tired and depressed, and the next day I wasn’t. I still didn’t quite feel a sense of reality about the pregnancy until I felt my girl moving, but I realised that actually I’d loved her all along, just hadn’t known it because of those damn hormones. But every decision I’d made since falling pregnant had been to protect her.

Even with this second pregnancy, although I didn’t have the same severe depression, I did have moments of sheer terror. Personally, I thought that was understandable – I hadn’t wanted any more children, but now found I was going to have two babies fairly close together. It’s pretty daunting. But again, I discovered it was taboo to share my fears. Apparently I should have been grateful that my ovaries functioned not once, but twice.

Regarding gratitude, there’s a blog post I adore, from Boganette (“I Am Grateful, Now Fuck Off“), which expresses my feelings in a much more eloquent way than I possibly can. Boganette points out that telling people to be grateful can actually be dangerous. Yes, dangerous. It “leads to those parents shutting down and never sharing how they truly feel. It leads to parents not having support networks. It leads to parents walking into parenthood without any idea of how hard some moments, some days, can be. It leads to such unfair expectations on parents – enjoy every minute or you’re a fucking monster. It leads to feeling like you’re doing it all wrong.

We need to allow pregnant women to talk about how they feel. We need to not assume every pregnancy announcement is a joy-filled moment, that every woman is only thinking about whether the nursery should be pink, blue, or unisex. Would you tell a paraplegic, “Be grateful you’ve still got use of your arms”? Would you tell a blind person, “Be grateful you’re not deaf”? Would you tell someone who lost their home, “Be grateful you’re not in a third-world country”? Okay, growing a life is a different issue. But how come it’s okay to defend a woman’s right to a termination, yet when she opts to keep her baby despite misgivings, she gets no kudos for that? Why do women struggling with antenatal depression have to ask questions anonymously online, even creating separate profiles?

To those struggling with antenatal depression, be kind on yourselves. Your body is doing one of the toughest jobs it will ever do. Women raising a baby these days are taking on the job of what used to belong to a whole village, sometimes also working and even studying at the same time. You’re not alone and you’re definitely amazing. I just wish more people would say it to you.

The Black Dog in Pregnancy

The Commercial Bandwagon of the Firsts

There’s something pretty amazing about your baby’s firsts. Like, the first time they smile at you and you nearly drop them in surprise and delight. The first time they try to imitate your laugh. The first time they experiment with sounds (and then never shut up). The first time they realise they can use their hands, or move about. Even their first solids poop is kinda cute (though that grows old fast). You want to gush about it all like your baby is the first in history to ever do these things. You feel a bit gooey inside, like a Cadbury crème egg, which happily for most is out this time of year.

Actually, this time of year is part of the problem. Because along with the firsts come things like baby’s first Christmas, baby’s first Easter, baby’s first birthday.

I’m not so bah-humbug that I have an issue with people making a big deal of their baby’s first events, if that’s what they want. The photos can end up really gorgeous, of babies in outfits that make you just want to eat them. (Not a sentiment I ever expressed until I actually had a baby and realised how yummy they can be and that I do have a maternal bone in my body.) But it seems to me as though the Commercial Bandwagon strikes harder than usual with mothers. It’s another form of mummy guilt – if you don’t spend an exorbitant amount of money, buy costumes they will only wear once, and hire professional photographers for each occasion, your baby will be forever scarred by the fact that they don’t have memories (of being under one?), or at least photographic evidence of it (even if it’s one cajoled smiling moment in a day of tears).

Okay, I am a bit bah-humbug. But I have always been concerned at the Commercial Bandwagon, how it sinks its claws in and creates worry and stress, sucking the joy out of what should be a happy occasion for those who are guilted into succumbing. I just didn’t realise until now how much it applied to mothers of babies in their first year.

First event for Little Miss and those around her age was Christmas. I started to feel guilty because other mothers talked about buying not just a walker, or a jolly jumper, or an activity centre, but the lot. The cost of Christmas presents for some was starting to run easily into the hundreds, for babies that weren’t even yet crawling. And here we were, telling everyone that we weren’t fussed and that Little Miss had plenty of toys already. I started to feel as though our baby was Harry Potter in the broom cupboard, watching while Dudley got only 36 presents. I was surprised no-one called DoCS, what with that and my lack of a Santa photo. We had foolishly thought waiting in a queue and then paying for a pic of her crying with separation anxiety in a stranger’s arms would not be “cute”, but apparently, as I was informed in shock many times when I stated my decision, “A Santa photo is how you get to see how much they’ve grown each year!” I guess the other daily photos of LM didn’t count.

As if our behaviour already wasn’t bad enough, whilst other mothers tried frantically to appease both parents and in-laws or thought they should hold two Christmases, my partner and I decided last-minute to bugger the whole thing and go away, just us three (and Peanut, who we didn’t know about yet thanks to a faulty pregnancy test), staying near a quiet beach. I kept an eye out to see if LM showed any signs of missing pine trees or tinsel, or distress at her lack of reindeer antlers, but she persisted in practicing her rolling, ignoring the presents others had given her to make merry with the wrapping, grinning her head off. On New Year’s Eve, she even somehow fortuitously decided to fight sleep and got to see the town’s nine o’clock fireworks from the balcony, a “first” we didn’t expect but which turned into a nice surprise, shared by just her immediate family.

Then Easter hits straight after Christmas these days. Frankly, I never gave it a thought. When asked what we were going to do for Easter, I blinked and said surely a baby that’s still commando crawling and not eating chocolate wouldn’t be going on any egg hunts? But again, the Commercial Bandwagon through its mouthpieces told me everyone else was buying bunny toys and bunny books, and look it wouldn’t hurt to also pop her in a basket in a bunny costume in hopes that a professional photographer could capture a smiling moment without her trying to eat the bunny ears and crawl out. I ended up feeling like Petunia Dursley again for saying, “Well, we don’t really celebrate Easter, and actually, she has more things than she knows what to do with, and I don’t want her thinking the year is an endless parade of presents.” I felt too guilty to explain that she would probably throw any gifts aside to play with the mobile phone, TV remote, laptop mouse, well anything she shouldn’t, really. As for books, she ignores the hundreds she already has to pick the same one every night for Daddy to read. (Apparently she loves his silly Wombat Stew voices. Me, I just get handed the same five-page counting book over and over – “Oh, look, one puppy. Two puppies. Three puppies. Four … oh, you want the beginning again? One puppy.” Sometimes I vary it by saying, “That puppy’s brown,” but I’m running out of options.)

And then comes … The First Birthday. The Event To End All Events.

I naïvely thought this was all about the baby and what would be least stressful for her. Maybe an informal little backyard gathering, a few friends and rellies, organised a couple of weeks in advance, everyone brings a plate. She can have a nap in peace and quiet when she needs it, and not be poked and prodded and overstimulated till she cries. Because it is for the baby, right? OH, HA HA HA.

The amount of talk about first birthdays has actually had me confused as to whether we are, indeed, talking about birthdays or weddings. I think some parents are taking out a second mortgage for it. They are planned months in advance. You need to pick a theme, complete with themed custom-made invitations, and hire a theme-decorated hall for hundreds of friends, relatives, and acquaintances, and organise activities to keep their own children occupied. (I have no idea what theme Little Miss would prefer, considering a highlight of her day is being cheered when she does a poop in the potty – yes she’s only 9.5 months, but we’re trying elimination communication, okay.) You again need a professional photographer to dog your baby’s every move. And you need to order, not just one cake insanely expensively decorated, but two. I had never even heard of a “cake smash” before I had a baby, but apparently the major thing is for them to be photographed bashing their way through one. Even mothers who originally hadn’t been going for it have been guilted that “everyone’s doing it”. Anyone who dares to suggest that it might be wasteful, or possibly even unfair as the baby can’t eat the cake (unless it’s made sugar-free), gets lambasted severely for being “negative” and wanting to ruin the memories of babies everywhere, and just for good measure, they probably drown kittens and tie the ears of bloodhounds together as well.

I’m really glad for the few mothers that have secretly confessed to me that they actually just wanted a backyard BBQ with a handful of people. It makes me feel less like the ruiner of my baby’s psyche. I did make it to my mid-thirties before it occurred to me, with all this happening, that there are no photos of my first Easter, Christmas, or birthday – although I’m not sure if that can be tied into any of my life problems. Maybe I should ask my therapist. Then again, it’ll be nice to explain to Little Miss that her bank account remains open and intact, as she sucks on the laptop mouse whilst banging the phone and remote together.

The Commercial Bandwagon of the Firsts