23 Jan BLOG: The brighter side of pregnancy, birth and a newborn
This post comes with a disclaimer and trigger warning for any mamas out there who may have had a traumatic birth, have experienced or currently in the thick of a difficult newborn phase. This post shares my own personal story with pregnancy, birth and parenting a newborn and I am very sensitive and mindful that it may stir emotions in those mamas who have a very different or even opposite experience of mine. It is not my intention to downplay anyone else’s experience or make out that feelings and experiences aren’t real or valid for some women – they are. You will find this post uses the words ‘can’ or ‘may’ as the main message of my post is that women (and men) are able to be open to a range of experiences when it comes to child birth. I think it is important to use the stories of other women and couples to prepare yourself for a range of possible outcomes both within and out of your control – just be sure to consider both the positive and negative sides of the parenting coin.
I liken the process of parenthood to the weather. There are a number of seasons and no matter what the predictions, things can change from the original forecast. Each day and/or child can be different and they never look or behave the same. In my experience, the outlook around having children always appeared cloudy. You hear and read of stories and experiences that make you think a category 5 hurricane is on it’s way and you better bunker down and say goodbye to the life you had and the person you were. Some people experience the natural disasters of infertility and miscarriage and have to work tediously to find any semblance of the sun. My story began this way, but eventually the rain cleared, the clouds parted and I finally got to welcome my perfect, sunny days. I am pleased to report that I am yet to vacate my tropical weathered bliss. Sure, there have been some afternoon showers and perhaps the odd thunderstorm, but they never last long and I am more grateful once the front passes.
It is my mission to be the rainbow amongst storm clouds. The purpose of this post is to share that there are brighter sides to this journey. That there are some couples who do experience ease in some areas associated with bringing a child into the world. I have found to date that there are blog posts and articles circulating that validate the experiences that are not so blissful. This does not discredit that some parents are challenged, but instead offers couples hope that this can be an enjoyable process in parts! We are all invariably challenged in our lives at some stage and my speedbump was the conception stage, miscarriage and early in pregnancy with a cancer diagnosis – all of which I shared honestly and publically. I told of the sadder chapters of my life and I am very grateful to be now able to share one of the happier ones.
Like life – pregnancy, childbirth and newborn phases can be anything but a walk in the park. From my experience in listening to a range of women’s stories, I heard (or perhaps only listened to) very scary stuff. From the 20kg weight gain, the mammoth amount of tearing, the months of sleepless nights and shear exhaustion that some mums and dads face. Having a child means that many can prepare for the worst. They can prepare to go off the grid and to lose themselves. The threat of postpartum depression and anxiety is frightening. I was, and still am, a candidate, as I manage anxiety daily. My whole life, up until a couple of years ago, I went to the negatives. I was so caught up in the things that could and did go wrong. So following a long and sad time attempting to fall pregnant, I finally conceived Ruben. Heading into the first trimester, I was tipping the scale into panic town. However, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that I had a relatively simple run from the second I peed on that stick to now, where I write this with my baby sleeping soundly and giving me a few hours to myself. Let me tell you… this length of time feeling easy and perfect has never happened to me before and I don’t know if it will ever happen again. It is very important for me to celebrate this in order to face the next inevitable challenge that comes my way.
Following years of thunderstorms, the rain cleared when after my 2nd IVF transfer, 10th assisted conception attempt on hefty doses of hormones and following a devastating miscarriage a few months prior, we finally got our wish. As I rotated the stick upwards following the longest 5 minutes of my life, I saw those beautifully clear double lines. I broke down in tears. From that day forward, I made predictions about what could be ahead of me based on the pregnancy stories and experiences I had heard from others to prepare for the next 9 months and beyond. I knew that what could be headed my way was morning sickness, fatigue, cravings, weight gain, stretch marks, shit sleep and wild hormonal roller coasters. However, for you yet-to-be mamas out there, I want to let you know that I was pleasantly surprised to find that I experienced very little morning sickness (in fact no spews), little weight gain and not one stretch mark. I choose to ignore the cellulite bump or ten on my ass…If that’s the price I pay for a beautiful baby, I would do it all again. Instead of giving in to any symptoms, I was typically very analytical and pragmatic about how to face them. Instead of running with those sugar cravings, I totally overhauled my diet. I made sure I upped my portions of all the good stuff so that I was less likely to crave the crap. I made myself clean treats to reduce the likelihood of me eating a whole box of Cadbury favourites at work (that happened once). When I experienced reflux, I tweaked and changed my diet to eliminate acidic foods. Rest became a priority and I pulled back on activities and tasks to get on top of the fatigue. I did my best to control what I could and then accept the uncontrollable.
I am not pretending or preaching that the whole pregnancy was rainbows and butterflies. I worked very hard to overcome the challenges and less desirable parts of pregnancy. I experienced pelvic pain where I couldn’t walk for 2 weeks, I could no longer exercise like I used to, and my ankles swelled up to the size of tree trunks. However, I was just so grateful to get the thing I had worked so hard for so it helped push through that time. The hardest part of my pregnancy was my anxiety that I would lose the baby. Relief only came for me when I could start to feel Ruben moving at around 22 weeks. Coupled with the fact that I was diagnosed with melanoma (the same cancer my mum died from 11 years ago) when I was 7 weeks pregnant was quite frankly all kinds of fucked up. To survive not only the anxiety around miscarriage, I had to navigate treatment and removal of the mole smack bam on my forehead. I had to apply every strategy in my toolkit. I visited my psychologist regularly, I reached out to women who had battled infertility and miscarriage, I journalled, manifested, meditated, did yoga – everything!!! Eventually, I knew I had to make an effort to trust the process. I surrendered to the experience and allowed myself to enjoy it and believe he would make it to full term and I would eventually hold him in my arms for the first time.
When it came to the birth, many women will share their birth stories. As do I! What I have now discovered is that we don’t often hear about the regular old run of the mill birth stories or the good, smooth experiences. When I started telling women about how positive my experience was, was the only time I heard other mums tell me that they too had a quick birth or no complications I have thought about this a lot and concluded that a) women don’t share their easier stories in an attempt to be mindful of other women who may not have had a pleasant experience, or b) they do and they just aren’t as memorable for the mum-to-be. Maybe we get so scared because the scarier or more traumatic birth stories stick in our brains? While I am considerate and mindful of women who didn’t have a great experience, I am very passionate about sharing the positive stories to balance out the scale. There are great birth stories out there, just as there are some that are very scary for a mum, their partner and the baby. It is important to use a range of stories as a guide and be aware and prepared that either or any could be your reality.
Everyone talks about a birth plan and I definitely knew early on that birth is mostly out of our control so I would not be sitting down to write one! There are responses and strategies we can apply to manage certain aspects of the birth, but at the end of the day, it can all change so quickly. I worked hard to not have any expectations as very often I get wedded to them! I “preferred” the absence of any drugs or interventions. I soon learned I was to be induced, and I begun to hear every horror story on the block. The majority of women I spoke to warned me how awful it was. What bothered me was that many did not word their experience in terms of just that – theirs. They projected how bad and painful inductions are and how they lost control of their body. I worked very hard to listen more intently to those women who had a good experience with an induction or even those who didn’t, but still ended their story on a positive “but really it was all fine in the end.” I had to do this to remove my focus on the fear that it would be horrific and traumatic for me and Ruben. I heard stories of emergency C-sections, epidurals gone wrong, tearing from front to back, people giving birth on the side of the road – all scary stuff. This is reality and I know this happens every day, but again, I worked tediously to not attach their story to my future. Women need to share their story – it is important to heal from a traumatic event and/or celebrate the hard work and achievement of a baby. What we as future mums can do is: listen, empathise and support but not take this on as a projection of what will happen to us.
For me, I was incredibly lucky to have a mostly simple and manageable birth. Ruben was out 4 hours after my water was broken. For 3.5 of those 4 hours, I navigated the contractions by walking a lap of the room, with my husband a few steps behind me singing words of encouragement. It wasn’t until the last 30 minutes that things ramped up. I got to the point where my no drug preference went ass up and I begged for the epidural if this devil baby wasn’t looking to be out anytime soon. My midwife checked my dilation and informed me that I was only 5-6cm so likely had another 3-4 hours of hell ahead of me. I was NOT about to do that for another few hours so she took herself off to organise my epidural. Matt and I were left alone in the room. On the next contraction, my whole body shook. I felt a huge need to push and all of a sudden I was screaming like a wild woman and the only thing I could think to do with such intense pain was to bite Matt on the shoulder. When the midwives ran back in they quickly checked and discovered that I had dilated 5cm in 4 minutes (usually 1cm an hour). There was no need for an epidural or any drugs – my baby was on it’s way, and fast! Back on the bed I went and in 4 pushes and a few minutes there was Ruben, beautiful and brilliant. The moment he was plonked up on my chest was all that I had imagined. He was so incredible and all Matt and I could do was cry. My midwife wiped her brow and said that never in her career had she experienced a birth like that. She put her hand on my arm, let out a chuckle and asked, “Are you usually a bit of a high achiever?!?” Matt and I laughed. If there is one thing I am, it’s efficient, and that didn’t stop with the delivery of my baby.
Heading into the newborn phase, again, there are a number of stories you hear. Most of them are that being a newborn mum is all a bit of a blur. This of course is so true for many women. Sleep deprivation is real and the change can be so drastic and some babies are unsettled and make the days very difficult for some families. For me, I was so high on adrenaline and love for my new baby that I didn’t care that I had to tend to him at all hours. Maybe that time was easy for me to navigate because having Ruben was the end of a very long and sad chapter of my life. Having lost my mother, became estranged from my father and navigated infertility and miscarriage, I was emotionally drained and thought that ease in life was a myth. Now having him in the picture meant that none of that was impacting me any longer. I had moved past the grief and anxiety of intense loss and now had what I couldn’t attain for so long. I honestly feel like there is no residual sadness left inside me anymore. This was ultimate healing for me and this all seemed to override the predicted ravaging newborn phase and quite frankly still does. Breastfeeding was something I had considered could be difficult and to expect my supply may not be optimal as not all women are blessed with a good supply. Some of my baby shower cards warned me of cracked nipples and friends told me that breastfeeding HURTS. I was so surprised when once I got the hang of it found it simple to do and experienced no pain and nips are still in tact. While I waited days and days, I thankfully didn’t experience baby blues and honestly have spent the past 9 weeks on cloud nine. I will continue to remain in that space until something changes and relish every single day that I feel this amazing.
To protect one another, many women warn others of the possible tornado or tsunami that is potentially about to hit. I heard many women talk of losing their identity and feeling like all they do is tend to the baby. These were great forecasts for me and I am grateful that I heard them, as they prepared me and I could take reasonable action to avoid those feelings. I took Dolly Partons advice and remind myself that “storms make trees take deeper roots.” To root down and keep my identity, I know I have to retain a sense of purpose in my day and keep “me-time”, routine, schedules and some semblance of predictability. All of these things are essential for managing my anxiety and to protect my mental health. Once I got used to Ruben and got to know him more (although he always changes), I worked out how to still do the things I wanted and needed. This meant tweaking and getting creative regularly. Each day is the opportunity to build the tomorrow you want. For me, going to bed not long after Ruben does means I still get up at the crack of dawn a few hours before him and journal, practice my yoga and/or head to the gym to workout. I can achieve this with the added benefit of a number of factors (and acknowledge that that not all parents can achieve this), but this is what has worked for me. Having my business gives me an outlet for creativity, writing, interacting with people and working on projects. This has kept life very structured, like it was pre-Ruben.
Everyday may not be good, but there is something good in every day. Some days it storms and some days it shines, this is how flowers grow. I don’t want to sugarcoat anything by skipping over some of the less ideal aspects of parenting a newborn. In all honesty, I am challenged daily worrying. Some of my worries are legitimate but others are self-created. I get very focused and anxious about his sleep and can watch the baby monitor like a hawk and feel a sense of dread leading up to his bed time as to whether he will go down with ease. I work very hard to interrupt anxiety with gratitude and continue moving forward. I aim to find the lessons, learnings and beauty in all of this. I work hard to focus on the positives and “wins” of the day and learn from the things that didn’t go well. Forever learning, I read books, blogs and seek the advice and support of other mums around me about parenting and sleep – my friends have said I could be an honorary sleep consultant!
Everyone loves to be a weather man or lady when it comes to reporting on the weather that is children. I can’t help but get frustrated at some of the comments people make to me. Things along the line of, “Oh he sleeps now…you just wait” or “you think this one is easy, wait til the next one!” and “wait til you can’t get a minute to yourself.” You know what… you have to learn to dance in the rain. All I can say is I have had many years, hours and minutes all by myself where I wished, prayed and begged for this experience. I don’t care that Ruben could eventually spend nights in my bed because for so long there was a hole in my life and my heart where he wasn’t… I can’t ever remember my life being easy, so why would having children be any different? I once spent many nights awake, unable to sleep, riddled with anxiety or worry that I might never have a child. Now I sit up on my own in the middle of the night staring at my little creation and would do it night after night, over and over again. If you stay positive in a negative situation, ultimately, you win. Nothing is negative when you have this much love in your heart.
Not all storms form to disrupt your life, some come to clear your path. This is how I see my whole infertility journey. Having Ruben has complimented the beautiful life that I have worked so ridiculously hard to build for myself. Many people said to me that being a mum is the most challenging thing they have ever done but the most rewarding. For me, having him has been the simplest and enjoyable experience I have ever had. I feel whole. I feel like this is my time and I feel complete. Even the darkest of nights will end and the sun will rise again. I have never loved Matt more or felt proud of everything we have overcome and created to get here to have all that we want. Ruben is our rainbow baby and has created so much love, respect, positivity and hope between us. I chose not to take on other people’s scary or more negatively focused stories or warnings and sought to pave my own path. I hope that you can do the same.