Birth Story – Olive Part 2

It had been 41 weeks and 1 day. My baby had made itself pretty comfortable. Nourished, sustained, thriving and still not ready to make an entrance despite all the signs and symptoms foretold by my baby app! So it was time, to be hooked up to the monitors, waters artificially broken and a syntocin drip commenced for induction.

The last few years I had been somewhat in control of my life. I liked the schedules, to do lists, my diary, my calendar and organising as much as I could to minimise the unknown! I even had an excel spreadsheet for all our connecting flights, hotels and itinerary for our Europe holiday! But as many would know, raising children can be challenging, tiring, messy, confusing and definitely unpredictable! It was a new way to think, process and feel. It was going to be a new season in life and I had those common worries that I’m sure all new mothers or mothers-to-be think about. But I felt like I couldn’t shake the fear and doubt. It was playing on my mind daily and in the quietness of my home. While Steve was at work and I had started maternity leave. I napped and nested while I waited for the days to pass.

My obstetrician had given me all the details. The play by play. The steps of action to be taken if my artificial labour didn’t progress appropriately. If the baby became distressed. If the labour stalled. All the options for the “choose your own” ending for a birth. For someone that was nervous about the whole baby evacuation process, this was helpful. I liked having information. I liked knowing what was going to happen. But the unknown direction the birth could take terrified me and I couldn’t stop thinking of the what if’s. From the minimal reading that I did, it appeared that inductions were usually fast and intense. My sense of being in control was on rocky ground. At the mercy of the syntocin speeding up a labour which my baby was not ready for.

I took a photo of this poster at my birth preparation class.
The lady’s expressions are so realistic?!

Surprisingly, I didn’t have a birth plan! Which went against my usual organised, “need for control” state! My main hope was to go with the flow and follow what was recommended for the safety of my baby. As much as it scared me, I hoped it would be a drug free, natural birth.

So back to the labour room…It’s a strange feeling, meeting a woman who will help guide and support you through a special moment in your life. A woman who will see you at one of the most vulnerable, raw times of your life. Being pushed physically and emotionally. I didn’t feel at ease with this woman. And upon reflection, I probably should have spoken up. My nurse was an experienced clinician but her matter of fact approach was patronising. I didn’t feel comfortable with her and there’s no other way to put it but “the vibes were off!” So as my anxiety continued to bubble, this nurse checked and told me I was already 3 centimetres dilated and the syntocin was ready to go.

When I reflect back about my first birth experience, I wish I had spoken up and shared my worries. That my pounding heart didn’t stifle my voice to speak up. I remember friend’s telling me once you enter the hospital, “you leave your dignity at the door.” And I left it at the door, and my confidence, courage and voice too. I was attached to an external fetal monitor and was confined to a bed. I wanted to move, rock, pace around like I did while in pre-labour at home. I didn’t realise I could request a mobile monitor and it was never offered as an option. As I waited for the syntocin to kick in I remember feeling bewildered and helpless. Just a pin cushion where procedures were done to me but no explanation given. My nurse reclined on a couch directly in front of me. Kicking back with a bored expression. Staring at me, waiting for the show to begin. I had Steve sitting on a chair beside me. He could see I was anxious and tried to reassure me. Glad to have him by my side, I tried to focus on him and all that was familiar.

An hour or so went by and things started to intensify quickly. Before long, the nurse reported that I would be having my baby by lunch time! The contractions were rolling in repeatedly and I could barely catch my breath. I felt so overwhelmed that I suddenly panicked and knew I needed an epidural. Firstly, they offered me the happy gas, then the pethadine injection. But neither brought relief and my anxiety was spiking. “Get me the epidural! I don’t know how much longer I can do this!” I desperately said to Steve.

I had to sit up and lean forward over my belly for the anaesthesiologist to administer the epidural. It was a relief knowing that strong pain medication was on it’s way. The thought of a huge needle going into my back did not phase me as I hoped that it would take the edge off. I remember my anesthesiologist. I found his calm, clear explanation of what was going to happen helped me feel reassured and informed.

After the epidural and catheter were put in, my ever delightful nurse told me, “You can go to sleep now.” Silently rolling her eyes as she watched me grimace and try to “breathe”. But the relief didn’t really come. I felt a bit numb, but soon things intensified again and it felt like bone pressing against bone near my spine. It was excruciating and surprised me that it was not really a pain I could “just breathe through”. I had dilated to 10 centimeters pretty quickly after the epidural and it was time to push! My nurse tried to show me where to focus my energy, but I was feeling dazed and confused. My back was burning with sharp pain and lying down didn’t help. I felt the panic continue to bubble up my throat and tried my hardest to listen to the instructions she was giving me. But I cringed in fear and felt baby was not budging! I soon explained “I have so much pain in my back and don’t know where to push!” My nurse was clearly annoyed and replied, “How can you feel pain? You have an epidural.” She was so belittling and I felt weak, embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn’t do what a woman’s body was supposedly meant to do. The negative thoughts continued to flood in and I hung my arms around Steve’s neck, telling him “I can’t do this..I don’t think I can endure this anymore.”

Baby’s head was stuck. Every time I pushed, she would tuck her chin in and return back to her safe place! The nurses had their staff changeover and my tired, grumpy nurse was replaced by a beautiful, encouraging soul who made me feel less ridiculous and more supported. Before their hand over, both nurses held one of my legs each as I tried to push baby out. I was trying so hard, I nearly kicked them across the room! Due to baby’s posterior position and prolonged second stage, the nurses realised that I would need an emergency c-section. The next few moments are hard to remember as the room suddenly filled with many people. Steve quickly changed into scrubs and a hairnet. I remember seeing his wide eyes, confused by what was happening and the lack of information given to us. We didn’t even know why I needed to be prepped for a caesarian!

I was wheeled into a room with about 12 other staff members present. They gave me a spinal block so that I was numb from belly to toes. It was surreal. What was happening?! Thankfully, the reassuring anaesthesiologist was back again and calmly spoke next to my ear. He explained what was happening with the spinal block, how my legs would feel and not to worry. I look back and learnt so much about patient client interaction, informed consent and clear communication from this positive example. My obstetrician started to prepare for surgery and I lay there in shock. Still unsure what was going on. Thankfully, my obstetrician knew how much it meant to me to try for a natural birth. She wanted me to try pushing one last time to see if the baby could be assisted with a vacuum cup. The anesthesiologist was by my head, Steve by my side holding my hand, nurses and a paediatrician surrounded the bed. All in unison, they said “PUSH!!!!” Despite having no sensation in half my body, I tried to push and after 2 pushes, my baby was born!

She was here. What a relief!

Relief washed over me and all I could do was exclaim, “Thank you God, thank you Jesus!” Steve cut the umbilical cord, they quickly checked her over and then passed her to me. It was a baby girl! My eyes were clouded with tears from relief, shock and disbelief. I couldn’t believe she was real. She looked familiar, but I didn’t know her. I didn’t feel the overwhelming love that I had heard of. But I was so glad that the birth was over. That she was out and she was safe, healthy and here. Steve was over the moon and turned to me and said, “We will name her Olive, yeah?” and that was her name Olive Mary.

After Olive’s birth, I lay there waiting for my obstetrician to repair the effects of a fast, posterior labour. No one had explained what had happened and why I had been rushed to the theatre room. So in the silence, my mind started to fill with negative conclusions. The main one being that I was so incompetent, they had to pull Olive out of me. That I had failed and my hope for an empowered, calm birth did not come to fruition. I was so hard on myself, and in hindsight I feel the exhaustion, my personality, fast labour, trauma, poor communication and lack of birthing debrief was part of my misinterpretation. It was a scary first experience and not as empowered as I had hoped. The joy of meeting my child was soon clouded with irrational thoughts, confusion and anxiety. The silent bubbling had started to overflow and in the quiet night on Day 2 of Olive’s life, I had my first panic attack.

My sweet girl was so placid and a dream baby!
But I look at this picture and see I’m not really myself. My eyes say it all.

My darling Olive, born on the 26th of March in 5 hours and 53 minutes! Our precious daughter and blessing we received with gratitude. I love her so much and know my mental instability did not reduce how much I love her. But the story of my illness and recovery is where I learnt more about myself, mental illness and God’s faithfulness through it all. Read more about this next part of my journey soon.

If this story raised any concerns for you or you notice someone close to you may be needing help, please reach out to someone you trust. For anyone needing assistance, you can visit the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) website or call their National Helpline on 1300 726 306.

Birth Story – Olive Part 1

I can see the fear in my eyes. The uneasy, wide eyed look you get when something is coming towards you but it hasn’t hit you yet. That feeling you get when you anticipate something challenging is just around the corner. You are bracing yourself, but the hard part is, you don’t know when it will happen. You don’t know how you will cope. You don’t even really know how it will feel. Because you have never done it before. It’s the unknown. It’s intense. It’s child birth.

I remember my Mum telling me that it took her 4 years after she was married to face her fear of child birth. She wanted to have a child, but the thought of intense pain, blood and all the fun stuff involved with labour stopped her from starting her motherhood journey. But, in the end, her experience was so positive she exclaimed “I want another one!” the moment she gave birth to me.

My Mama and I

“Just breathe” she told me. “Focus and breathe through the contractions when you are in labour.” I had inherited my mother’s fear of childbirth. I was so anxious at the thought of labour. I wasn’t a sporty kind of girl, I didn’t like the feeling of my heart pounding after a run. I didn’t like to push myself to the physical limits that I knew so many of my friends enjoyed at the gym. The moment I felt any indication of stress or exertion on my body, I wanted to stop! I told myself I wasn’t built for labour! I just wasn’t fit enough for that kind of marathon! What if I don’t know what to do? I have never even changed a nappy before. What if I fail as a Mother? I could just imagine my child raising their eyebrows at me with a look saying, “do you even know what you are doing!?” These were a few of my thoughts prior to falling pregnant with Olive.

We had walked through hard journeys with some of our close friends. Their hearts desiring a child, but their hopes not fulfilled. It was heartbreaking and we grieved with them and for their losses. Steve and I had been married for over 3 years and just returned from our first ever trip to Europe. We hoped to have a baby and start a new season together. And thank God, I soon fell pregnant. We were so nervous. Praying that this glimmer of life on the ultrasound screen would thrive. I remember feeling scared to accept the miracle as I didn’t want to have to say goodbye. I would carefully protect my belly, only eat a pregnancy appropriate diet, I even felt like I walked a different way! But thankfully, the little bean grew, changing into the size of an apple, orange and finally a watermelon! My pregnancy was smooth and I felt overjoyed, more stable in my mood than ever before.

Hello Child. These are your parents!

Not only was a new life growing within me, but I also grew a stronger backbone. My confidence and assertiveness increased at work as I felt the urge to protect my health, energy and outlook for the sake of my baby. I started to feel more sure of my boundaries, saying more “no’s” and putting the wellbeing of my unborn child first. I had always looked out for our friend’s children, my nieces and nephews. I had loved working with kids in our kid’s program at church, babysitting, creche, playgroups… So what happened next really hit me and made me question what sort of woman I was.

My baby was overdue. Multiple stretch and sweeps (if you don’t know what that is, I don’t know whether you should look it up…! But do if you dare!) but this little bub was not budging. I had twinges and false labour for about 3 weeks in the lead up. Waking in the night, pacing next to my side of the bed. Not waking Steve as it was “early labour”, only to be disappointed by morning because nothing had happened. I felt on edge. I was worried my waters would break, so I sat on a towel on my long commute to work. I overanalysed every niggle, every rolling movement, every kick down in the pelvis. I anxiously wondered if this was it, was it time to face my fear of having a baby? I was scared.

I look back on photos from that time in my life, I see the fear in my eyes. Tired lines circle them and highlight the anxiety I felt. But I didn’t say anything. I kept it to myself because surely that’s what all pregnant women feel. Now I know it’s not uncommon to feel this way. It’s normal to be anxious about uncertainties and there are so many support systems available. I didn’t have to go it alone. I was extremely scared and kept telling myself “Suck it up! You are on this train, and you can’t get off. So just get on with it.” My self talk was so encouraging!

38 weeks pregnant. Silent anxiety in my eyes.

On the 26th March, Steve and I woke up early. The sun hadn’t risen yet. We took a photo in our baby’s nursery before we left. I was going in for an induction. The air was crisp, sky was clear, the sun was just coming up as we slid into the car. This was so weird! Today was the day we would meet our baby. We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl. We had names for both. As we drove to the hospital, I thought of all the times I had imagined the car ride. Of course I imagined a high speed, pedal to the floor kinda ride, me screaming in agony and Steve driving on the tram tracks to bypass traffic! It would be peak hour and I would almost give birth in the car. Given Steve comes from a farming background, (tells me all the time he knows how to deliver calves!), he would be catching the baby as we rolled into the hospital carpark. But my imagination was a bit more dramatic than real life! We parked at the hospital, wandered in and announced at the desk “Um, we are here to have a…. baby?”

Morning of the induction – Nursery Selfies

We went to our birth suite. It was surreal going in there now, heavily pregnant. The last time we had been in the room was with a group of couples on a tour of the hospital. Giggling and making sarcastic remarks about whether our husbands can use the “happy gas” on D-day. I changed into a hospital gown and a monitor was wrapped around my belly. As we waited for my water’s to be artificially broken, a food service staff member came in and asked me to fill out a menu for breakfast and dinner… It threw me. I couldn’t think about food! It seemed so casual and insensitive at the time. I think I’ll order a Valium thanks! I sarcastically thought to myself. I hastily ticked a couple of boxes and then tried to get back into the zone. This little one was coming out today and my heart was pounding with fear and excitement!

Part 2 will be up next week. Thank you for reading. Feel free to subscribe to read the 2nd part of Olive’s journey earthside!