A Shambolic Birthing

If you had had a blissful pregnancy, a trouble-free birth and slipped easily into the world of yummy mummy step away from the screen there’s nothing for you to see here.

On the other hand if you found the whole pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding thing a bit darn hard then open the wine we’ve got bonding to do.

It’s been 15 years since I first encountered pregnancy, but I still distinctly remember the shock as my body morphed into an unrecognisable shape and my emotions went into free fall. At the time I felt I was being perfectly reasonable, although perhaps in hindsight crying hysterically for 30 minutes because I emitted a rip roaring fart and my husband laughed was a tad of an overreaction.

There were moments of amazement and wonder although most were eclipsed by constant all-day sickness (I refuse to refer to it as morning sickness this was a 24 hour-a-day living hell). I was to become familiar with every toilet facility within a ten kilometre radius of anywhere I went.

By the time the birth rocked around I was more than ready, unfortunately my husband was not, he forgot he was supposed to be timing the length of time BETWEEN contractions and started timing the LENGTH of the contractions. Then he lost the car keys. It was like a bad sketch comedy me arguing, him befuddled and a baby on the way! Somehow the keys were located and we got to hospital.

I wimped out of the pain with an epidural (and no I won’t feel guilty about that) and my baby decided to make an unexpectedly quick appearance, after all Mum was pretty relaxed so she figured she just get on with the job. Unfortunately, the placenta didn’t follow the child’s lead and remained steadfastedly stuck to the uterine wall. Doctor went in for a manual removal and so help me I thought her hand was going to come out of my mouth! There was a couple of stitches required (again I’m feeling no pain) but the amount of threading in and out did give me some concern over just how much was being stitched up! (There’s a number of ‘layers’ to get through apparently at least that’s what I think I was told).

What was my husband’s response after sitting through all of this? “I wouldn’t be a woman for quids”. Remember ladies this is the moment to ask for whatever you want.

If that had been where it ended all would have been good. Unfortunately, we had one more challenge to face, breastfeeding. My underweight baby (I think that placenta was a bid dodgy in the last month) had tiny, tiny lips. I had size F hooters. Somehow the coupling was not a happy romance. We tried and tried. We got help from midwives and a lactation consultant.  But at the end of the day the mastitis did us in.

I was swamped with a burning, ruby red rash and overwhelming tiredness that left me incapable of caring for my baby. On the third bout I threw in the towel. I hired a giant milking machine from the chemist and did my dairy cow duties for another few weeks with expressed milk and a bottle then went on to formula. Baby and I had never been happier. The best piece of advice at this time was from a nurse at the hospital “really look around the room, can you pick who was breastfed?” If you can breastfeed all power to you, if you can’t, and you know you’ve tried as hard as you can, then formula is not the worst thing you could do to your child.

Fast forward three years and I line up again for child number two. Again my friend the all-day sickness arrives. This time I end up on a drip in hospital more than once. I manage to catch the world’s worst flu which develops into chronic asthma.

Then I wake up one morning, almost three months before the baby is due, covered in blood. I’m convinced I’ve lost her. The desperation and fear are overwhelming.

The next few hours are a blur, the ambulance, the hospital, the specialists, the baby’s not dead, there is a heartbeat. But now unfamiliar words “placenta previa”, “high risk pregnancy”, “emergency caesarean” are echoing around the room.

It turns out that yet again the placenta has let me down. This time it has grown in the lowest part of the womb and is covering all or part of the opening to the cervix. There’s no way a baby can come out that exit!

We spend a month on steroids to build up the baby’s lungs, there’s some smaller bleeds, then another big one. It’s time for that caesarean.  There is the certain knowledge that my baby is tiny, she’s seven weeks early, will she be big enough? Will there be complications? You are completely helpless. Reliant on the expertise and judgement calls of a roomful of strangers.

When she arrives she bypasses her parents and is whisked straight to the arms of the paediatrician. There’s a terrifying moment of silence when the world stops moving and then the most wonderful sound in the world – a cry.  She’s sent straight to the neonatal nursery where she needs a few puffs of oxygen but essentially we are very lucky. She weighs in at 1750 grams, not much bigger than a bag of sugar.

It is only later, when I see the look of relief on the obstetrician’s face that I realise just how much guess work was involved on when was the right time to deliver. We are so grateful she picked it perfectly.

There’s three weeks in the nursery and the devastation of having to leave hospital without my daughter but she emerges a strong little individual who now, at 12 years of age, is an intelligent, caring and very capable young lady.

Birth and breastfeeding are unique experiences that I don’t think you can prepare for, some will find them beautiful and wonderful, others will struggle, at the end of the day we all manage to muddle our way through. We must all be confident that we can make the right choices for our circumstances.

Written for and first published by Saturday Morning Ogre Mum for a series on birth and breastfeeding stories.


15 thoughts on “A Shambolic Birthing

  1. Very lovely. We fought the breastfeeding monster in our lives on our first born. After watching my wife weep at 2am while I bottle fed the baby, we turned that corner and didn’t look back. When my daughter was born, I told the nurses at the hospital that lawsuits would be coming if they even once said the word breastfeeding. Funny, there were no problems with either child and both are thriving and fantastic kids. I know that politics will not allow anyone to say that bottle fed kids are just fine, but practice sure proves it. Thanks for writing this.

    • I think it’s wonderful if you can breastfeed and if you have troubles but manage to get through them that’s also great. But when you’ve given it your best shot and it’s still not working there is no shame in ensuring your child gets nutrition from another safe source. I know that going to bottles and recovering from the mastitis changed my whole relationship with my baby. I wasn’t ill. I was able to care for her. We could have fun together. I think given the rate of PND and the amount of guilt mums put themselves through we don’t need additional judgement. I’m glad you liked the post.

  2. My wife had a difficult experience breast feeding our first child (see: http://www.abc.net.au/health/yourstories/stories/2010/08/12/2980681.htm). Just before our second was born she has fearful of a repeat performance. Thankfully things were a lot different. It’s still upsetting for her though, as she feels she has a closer connection with the youngest because there isn’t the tension between mother and baby that existed with number one. When she feels down about it I give her a hug and a kiss and tell her she’s a great mother to both our boys.

    • Great article. Your value as a mother and your relationship with your children should not be limited to whether you managed to breastfeed or not. I’m sure that every mum has different challenges with each of their children at different times (and don’t worry your wife will find plenty of other things to feel guilty about as the years go by – I’ve got pages of guilt inducing issues – and the children still manage to remind me of stuff – yes Hippie Child was the last child left at kindy one day I swear she can’t still remember that – she’s says the it’s like it happened yesterday – she was FOUR). I reckon you are both doing a great job spindocbob.

  3. Great piece, Nene. Expectant first-time mothers need to know that sometimes birth and breastfeeding isn’t always an out-of-focus joyous perfect experience.

    I struggled to breastfeed the first-born for 6 weeks. I was sleep-deprived due to her habit of crying to be fed 20 minutes after I’d finished the last feed. I can barely remember that month and a half, to be honest, my brain was just so befuddled. And when a particularly nasty doctor told me that I was starving her, I needed to put more effort into breastfeeding, I went straight to Woolies and bought a tin of formula, and the first-born and I were instantly much happier. (And that would be the daughter who, at 13 years old, is taller than me and is in the gifted and talented program at school… I don’t think formula-feeding did her any damage.)

    I only struggled for 2 weeks with the second-born. I’d learned my lesson the hard way.

    I’m kinda envious that you hemorrhaghed at home in bed, though. I managed to have my placenta previa hemorrhage in the checkout queue at Coles. I’d like to apologise to those shoppers waiting behind me. Ick.

    • Oh no that would have been terrible. I don’t know how I managed to always have mine at home, although it could have been because after the first one I barely left the house for the four weeks until the birth. I was too terrified to do anything.

  4. David had told me you had had difficulties but I had no idea the extent and give you much admiration! I’ve always felt awful for women who had difficulties and very fortunate that I was lucky enough to have 4 pregnancies, never sick, minimal weight gain, amazing short (longest labor was 4 hours~last child 2 1/2 hours) deliveries completely natural with no meds and nursed them all without a problem. When my friends tell of their 30 + hours of labor and not being able to nurse I can’t imagine and I am so happy I didn’t have to go thru that…of course, I tied my tubes after 4 because it was all so easy I’d probably have had 10 or more. As for the breastfed child advantages…I don’t know? The main advantage that I could see was breastmilk was free and always available but it did make leaving the little ones difficult. I also remember I wasn’t breastfed and I think I was just fine! :”)

    • That’s why you had four and I just had the two. I think it’s important women hear the positive stories like yours, but know that if things don’t go to plan it’s still OK and you can get through it, and most importantly don’t beat yourself up – there is a very wide range of “normal” in the birthing/breastfeeding experience.

  5. Thank you Janine. I just read this to my step-daughter, who struggled through ill advice, conflicitng advice, no support, a c-section, mastitis and cracked nipples. She has regretted bottle feeding and feels so guilty. I particularly like the midwife’s advice…try and spot the breast fed/bottle fed baby! Gosh you went through a lot with your pregnancies. Your girls are just gorgeous!

    • Tell your step-daughter she mustn’t feel guilty about bottle feeding. The most important thing is her baby is being well fed and loved. When I read the article by spindocbob’s wife (see link above) I was amazed at the amount of guilt described by those who commented on the piece. It’s really, really important that women don’t keep beating themselves up about this – parenting is hard yakka and it’s wrong for women to be made to feel neglectful for simply being unable to breastfeed. I just know that when I was battling the mastitis I was so exhausted I simply couldn’t care for my daughter properly, when I went to bottle feeding everything improved, I actually began to enjoy being a mother. We all know that “breast is best” but I think it is wrong to demonise women who, for whatever reason, are unable to breastfeed and to suggest that formula is in some way harmful etc is just plain wrong.

      • Thank you so much for this Janine. I just read this to her, and even after almost 5 months she is still feeling bad/gulity/sad/regretful. I have been keeping up with your blog, just so busy here x

  6. For a girl who doesn’t have a gosh darn idea what to do around children under the age of 3, I really do love reading birthing stories more than I should – the good and the bad. And I always tear up. (Sense a pattern here?) My first thought as I was reading was, “what does hippie child have to say about this post?”, my final thought was “wow, the first two commenters were men”. And there were a million in between. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hope I haven’t scared you off having children! Hippie Child hasn’t read this post. I’m in trouble at the moment because of the underwear post (which she also hasn’t read) she’s afraid her friends will read her mother talking about underwear and she’s HORRIFIED.

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