What is love? Baby don’t hurt me. A reflection into the complexities that impact our birthing experiences 10 years on

Part one: Seb

I’m Ash, I am (recently) 34, a Doctor of Chiropractic, and have been a mama for coming up to 10 years now to 3 children.

My motherhood journey began in a way that I think most people don’t expect, or experience – with an abortion. I was 23 years old, recently engaged and promoted in my job, opening a new store and seemingly living my best life. It was August 2009, 3 weeks into a new store set-up when I began waking up feeling tired, and generally really fatigued. I figured I probably had low iron, because my own mother had suffered with this through her life. I went to my GP, who did a standard of pre-blood test, tests (who knows if this is a thing) and low and behold I was pregnant. To say I was shocked was an understatement. I had been obsessively on the pill since I was 17, and had always been rigid with it. I mean, yeah, I was having a healthy amount of sex with my then-fiance and so wasn’t using other forms of protection. But the pill was always marketed as the best form of birth control, right? I was also extremely stressed and overworked, and somehow wound up pregnant.

Sonny and I went through a roller-coaster of emotions. We both felt like we were starting our adult-lives, excelling in our jobs at the time, enjoying the next phase of our relationship: how could we possibly be ready for a baby? As people who also had and have a lot of trust in the universe, we thought Ok, maybe this has happened for a reason, and decided to go ahead with the pregnancy. That feeling lasted about a week, we told our families and tried to prepare ourselves for what was to come and got ready for a dating scan. We struggled, we kept trying to convince ourselves this was the right thing to do. The dating scan came and I was already 10 weeks. What the actual fuck? Things got really real at that point, and it became apparent very quickly that we were absolutely not ready to be parents. Not physically, emotionally, or mentally ready at all. To this day, I am so grateful to my GP at GP on Beaufort. She supported our decisions throughout this experience, speaking to both of us, and advising of services, places and helplines both during and afterwards. Having that termination was instrumental in making me the parent I am now. Of course, it was hard, physically and emotionally, no one grows up wanting to have an abortion. I was also a woman who didn’t want to grow up not making choices that firstly made sure I was connected and empowered. And at that time, having a baby was not the right choice for me. Even though making that decision was the right one, it was still a really hard thing to go through.

No one wants to go through having an abortion, regardless of the reason. It was still something we got upset over, that we grieved, that we needed support with.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, I think it’s important to remove the stigma around termination. People who seek this aren’t only or always women who have suffered abuse, or trauma, or had addiction issues and really no one needs a reason or excuse beyond “I’m not ready” when it comes to having a termination.

What this event did do for Sonny and I was make us think, “Well, OK, the universe clearly has plans for us. So what do we really want to do? What do we want to achieve or experience before we choose to start a family?”. It really became a catalyst for us to start living our lives to the fullest capacity as we could as a couple.

We moved over east and focussed on our careers and each other. That year is a story for another time, however around our 3 year anniversary I remember having a moment. We had just gotten home from dinner, were sitting on our gifted-couch and just talking about how much we loved each other, how much we had already gone through and achieved together. I remember thinking our love was just too big now to be contained in the 2 of us. As I was thinking this, Sonny said to me, “I think we should start trying to start our family”. In that moment, something so serendipitous happened that I just knew we were on the right path. I came off the pill and we started trying. What I was not expecting, was that I’d come off the pill, not get a period and get pregnant straight away. Did the universe care that we had already paid for a holiday to Europe the following May, when I would be 7 months pregnant? Nope. Did it care that we were planning to always have a family near our families and that we were planning on returning to Melbourne after that trip? Also no. We put it out there that we were ready, and bang, there we were. All of a sudden our 2 year plan became an 8 month plan and we had to get our butts into gear.

My first pregnancy was pretty cruisy. I had always had a focus on health and made sure I kept that up with eating well and moving well. It was then I also had my first experience with a chiropractor. I had always suffered with migraines and could no longer take the only medication that had worked for me in the past, and on the recommendation of Sonny sought out a chiropractor for the first time. This got rid of my headaches, but also educated me on birth intervention and understanding optimal body positioning for birth. I will forever be grateful to Dr. Peter Warrener for taking such great care of me.

After our holiday and moving back to Perth, I started my maternal health visits with midwives at Joondalup hospital. As our pregnancy journey started a lot sooner than we planned, we hadn’t had hospital cover long enough to be covered and so went into the public system. In hindsight, what a goddamn blessing that was. I was 3 days overdue when I felt what was my first contraction. For me, everything was in my back which I later discovered was due to the posterior positioning of Seb – meaning spine to spine contact, as opposed to spine to belly. I went in and got checked and was 1cm dilated, and told to go home and chill until the pain was more frequent or my water broke. It was a long day; I bounced on an exercise ball, ate lots of high-fat foods to keep my energy sustained and started to feel excited, the level of anticipation was high, especially with Sonny and I being the first on both sides of our families to have a baby. We tried to take everything easy and not put too much pressure on ourselves, and went to bed at a normal time. At about 02:30am, I woke up to pee and as I sat up thought, “fuck, I’ve accidentally wee’d on myself” then, there was the instant realisation that my waters had broken and the movies were 100% wrong in it being like a gush, and absolutely felt like I’d just started a slow leak.

Being a type A personality, I made myself some jam on toast for an instant energy boost for the car ride to the hospital, fully expecting to be 8 or 9cms on arrival. As soon as I was fully awake, those labour pains were coming hard and fast. When we got to the hospital around 03:30am I was shocked to hear that I was still only 1cm dilated, and in for a long night. I’d always had a pretty high pain tolerance, but immediately asked for a c-section because little old 24 year-old me thought there was no way I could last another 9 hours. The midwives said give it a little bit and they’ll come and check on me to see about pain relief.

What I still find so problematic, I guess, is the inference that as a first time mother/birther that you can not possibly understand what your body is feeling. The next couple of hours, Sonny and I became very insular and focussed. All of my pain remained in my back and required almost constant pressure. As I sat on that exercise ball, the OB that came in once decided I needed to progress because my waters had broken and gave me a syntocin drip to increase the frequency (and severity; thanks) of my contractions to get me to progress faster. A cannula was placed on the top of my right hand, and I continued to bounce on that ball.

I remember getting up to pee, and on the way out of the bathroom seeing blood all over my hand – my cannula tube had got stuck on the door handle and been ripped out of my hand. I yelled, “There’s blood all over me!” To which a midwife replied, “Oh that’s ok, it’s all part of the birth process” without even looking, and assuming it was coming from my vagina and not my hand. Next thing I was being guided back to the bed and to my birthing ball, my hand bandaged up and another cannula being inserted at the most awkward angle on my forearm. I was upset, I was scared, and now had 2 puncture wounds followed by the feeling of pushing from my pelvis to the ball beneath me.

When I voiced this, around 07:15am I was met “Oh sweetie, it’s still a bit early for that, but let’s get you onto the bed and check and see what pain relief we can give you” as a response. What happened in the next 22 minutes is a bit of a blur. No sooner had I opened my legs for the midwife to check my progress, was there a yell of “GET A DOCTOR IN HERE, HE’S CROWNING” my legs were lifted into stirrups and Sonny by my side in a bit of a mild panic to begin birthing our first son. I had gone from 1cm to 10cm in around 4 hours which “just didn’t happen” and when I had told the midwife I was ready to push, I was told I couldn’t possibly be ready. It took 3 pushes for Seb to be born. He arrived earth side at 07:37 am, around 4 hours after we had arrived, without any pain relief or complications.

I remember thinking, wow, my body just did that really all on its own. It knew when he was ready, it knew to start pushing, I knew to start, and even though I had never done it before, my body still knew exactly what to do, and that information was so much more powerful that what any midwife, nurse or doctor could have told me at the time. It is only upon reflection that I can see how this experience completely ignored the innate wisdom of the birthing body. The idea that any person birthing needs to fit a particular mould, however common certain experiences are, allows for no duality. There is no allowance for a first time mother to also know when she is ready to birth. There is no room for someone to progress differently from expected. There is, in the hospital system, in this experience of mine, no room for empowerment and encouragement to flow in symbiosis between mother and midwife.

That experience made me want to feel more in control of my voice and be assertive in any future birthing experiences I may have. However, I still left the hospital 2 days later, feeling like I’d ultimately had the birth result I wanted, no intervention with a safe and healthy arrival of my baby boy. What I wasn’t prepared for, perhaps, was just how having this little tiny human, this little person who was the physical representation of the love Sonny and I had for each other, somehow made us love each other more. Love each other so much, in fact, that when Seb was just 9 weeks old, I found out I was pregnant again.

So, there was no “return to pre-baby body” goal. While my body, my mind, my soul was still re-working its new normal, a whole other human was already on their way. I remember going back on the mini pill when Seb was around 4 weeks old. I had gotten pregnant quickly with him and wanted to be careful. A big part of this was that I really didn’t enjoy breastfeeding, which was said to be a ‘natural contraception’. Seb was just shy of 4 kgs at birth, and seemingly wanted nothing more than to eat. Within a few weeks, I was barely sleeping, always feeding and felt like I was a big gaping shell of my former self.

Something I realise now, is that the feeding debate is rooted in patriarchy, in misogyny, and is yet another way society makes mothers feel like they aren’t good enough. I was really fortunate, I didn’t suffer with mastitis or struggle with supply or even the action of feeding. Seb was growing, pooping and sleeping really well, he was doing everything a baby was ‘supposed’ to do. And yet I still felt like I was failing. I didn’t feel at peace or like I could leave him for even 5 minutes to shower for fear that he would be hungry. I began to dread every time he cried, knowing it would be an hour at least of breastfeeding, before a very small reprieve and then back to it. For me, I also just did not enjoy it. I didn’t feel like it made me more connected to Seb, I didn’t feel comfortable. Nothing about it made me feel more or less like the mother I wanted to be.

A friend at the time said to me when she came to visit that she absolutely hated breastfeeding and chose to bottle feed. Honestly, I can not express the sheer relief in hearing someone voice how I was feeling. All the books, blogs and pamphlets I had been inhaling up to that point reiterated how important breastfeeding was not only nutritionally, but for bonding, for immunity, for economics, for every reason known to man. Not once did any of them say fed is best. Not once did they say, “look, formula is there for a reason”. Not once did any of them take into account how the mother felt, or what her needs were, or anything about alternative feeding options being anything other than a last resort. So hearing someone say, “hey, why don’t you try split feeding and see if it helps how you feel” was like an endless weight being lifted off my shoulders. So, we tried. Seb continued to be comfortable, happy, easy going, and I started to feel those things, too.

The relief I felt in feeling a bit more like myself was immense. I remember thinking, as long as I took care of me, that Seb would be fine. If I was at my best, Sonny and I could be at our best. That a happy mum meant a happy baby. It’s something I still remind myself of now. Another unknowing outcome of this was seeing Sonny feed Seb, and see them share that time and create their own special bond. I had always planned on going back to work once my maternity leave was up, and so knowing that anyone could comfortably feed Seb, without any issues or associated guilt on my part only affirmed the decision we had made.It was also a heck of a lot easier, especially once I started my second trimester, with a 5 month old in tow.


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