Part 3: Harper

Sonny’s surprise week home was a few weeks before we were having his 25th birthday party at our house. On the day of his party, I remember thinking that my last 2 periods had been exactly 28 days apart and here I was, day 35. I didn’t, couldn’t, believe I was pregnant again. I said to a friend that night, as I surreptitiously drank champagne, that this might be my last one for a while as I thought I might be pregnant. I took a test the next day, at the beginning of Sonny’s 4 weeks at home and waited. I couldn’t be pregnant. I had just got promoted, the boys were doing so well, we were doing so well as a family, finally feeling OK with some of the decisions we had made. When those 2 lines appeared, I looked at Sonny and we stared back at each other filled with dread. I actually cried. I understand this might be confronting, especially for those who struggled to get pregnant, but it just felt like in that moment that I had just gotten my life back, despite it being a lot of stress, despite it being hard, it felt like I was doing something for me again. I wasn’t ready to give that up for a 3rd time in as many years. We had always thought we would have 3 kids, but maybe over the span of 7 years, not 2.5.

We confirmed with our doctor that yes, another babe was on their way. I was really nervous about telling my family, and Sonny’s grandmothers. I didn’t want the pressure of having to have a girl. I didn’t want Sonny to feel obliged to re-settle his boundaries after finally being a place where we weren’t visibly hurting any more. I didn’t want anyone to see how scared I was about how my life feeling like it was being taken away from me, that I was becoming everything I had worked explicitly hard not to become: a woman whose sole purpose was procreation. I also didn’t want this baby to be an excuse for anything or an inadvertent white flag for the conflicts we were dealing with.

Early on, I had this undeniable feeling that I was going to have a daughter. Her name came to us with ease, and I think on some level I felt ready to have my own mother-daughter relationship. When we did, infact, find out that she was Harper, it was challenging to process people’s relief on our behalf. I really do believe our kids choose us, and come when they’re ready, not when we are, and would have been happy no matter the gender of our 3rd and final child. I was also really, really happy and excited to be having a daughter, so I could be the mother I wished I’d had.

My pregnancy with Harper was definitely my most challenging. I was quite unwell up until about 5 months, on top of dealing with the 9 month sleep regression in Lucas and then Sonny switching to a 4 week on/1 week off leading up to her birth. In conjunction with the physical aspects, our relationships were growing more strained. It became harder to maintain our boundaries, because we were struggling with the prospect of having to move into a bigger house, while pregnant, with a baby and toddler, in the week-at-a-time Sonny was home. The pressure on my family was growing, as we had now gone almost 10 months without speaking to my mother and sister-in-law.

What I did feel, however, was more empowered in the decisions I made during this pregnancy, and feeling more confident to have a voice and set clear intentions for Harper’s birth. By this stage, the midwives at the antenatal clinic at Joondalup knew me pretty well, and at my 20 week visit, I expressed that it was my implicit intention to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section) with Harper. As I had eluded to in previous blogs, I am forever grateful to have birthed 3 times in a public hospital. At the time, in 2015, the recommended wait time between a c-section and VBAC was 18 months, and Harper’s due date was 17 months from Lucas’s birthday. The advantage is, a natural birth is a hell of a lot cheaper and quicker. I also had the advantage of having had a successful, uncomplicated natural birth previously and I was only 26. The midwives made sure that when it came time for me to see an OB at 32 weeks that I was placed with ones who were very pro natural-as-possible birthing. I was consistently at good weights, with normal blood pressure and measuring right on track and was assured that as long as I continued in this way, there was no reason I wouldn’t be able to attempt a VBAC.

Then my due date came and went.

I was a week overdue, feeling very pregnant and starting to get nervous about the possibility of another c-section. I went in at 41 weeks for what would be my final appointment. The midwives looked at me as I walked in and clearly sensed my feelings. As I walked up to check myself in, one said, “Polly is on today. We are putting you in with her, she will look after you”. In the hospital system, it is unlikely that any pregnancy will progress later than 42 weeks (and look, that’s probably changed since I had my kids) and even less likely when you are already pushing the ‘allowed’ boundaries. I was preparing for the worst and started to feel that feeling that had been becoming more frequent: like I was only able to take half a breath, a fog around my eyes and a bit like the word was falling away from me, anxiety.

Dr. Polly is responsible for taking that feeling away. She explained that she really wanted me to have the best outcome possible, and that she wanted to be as supportive of my choices as she could. She suggested a stretch and sweep, and to come back in later that afternoon to be checked in for a balloon induction to bring on labour. The risk of a traditional induction with people who had previously had uterine surgery, she explained, was uterine rupture. That the use of prostaglandin gel increases the contractions of the uterus, and that this could sometimes be contraindicated. Dr. Polly told me we were going to not use the gel, and rely on the body’s innate wisdom to do what it needed to do. I went home with Sonny, and we made arrangements for the boys for the next day, as the induction would likely last overnight and I would head into the birth suite the following morning.

The doctor who would be doing my induction was a charming Indian-english doctor by the name of Winston. As I was laying in the birth suite ready to have a balloon inserted (and yes, it is exactly as it sounds) Winston walked in. He had a look at my file and proceeded to say, “Well, I didn’t realise we were inducing super-mum this evening” and I instantly felt like I was going to be fine. As he checked me out, he found that the stretch and sweep of that morning had worked! I was 1cm dilated already. What happened next, was in all my birthing experiences, the most understanding I had witnessed. Winston said, “You’re 1cm, and already a mum of 2. So how about instead of rushing you we give you an uninterrupted night’s sleep. If your body decides the sooner the better we will deal with that then, no need to rush” and with the balloon in, I headed back to my unoccupied room and waited to meet my daughter.

The next morning, I got up to go to the toilet and as I sat down I heard a distinct ‘plop’. The balloon had fallen out, meaning it had done its job and opened up my cervix. Sonny arrived at around 8am, with the OB and midwives due to do their rounds at around 10. I had a shower, ate some breakfast and started to feel little hints at the contractions that were to come. When it was our turn to head over to the birth suite, I was led into a wheelchair while Sonny wheeled me around with a robust Scottish midwife and her student.

I got up onto the bed, ready to be checked and told it wouldn’t be long. “3cms dilated, hen” the Scot announced. I smiled. Unlike my first birth, I knew that I wasn’t going to take long to get to the magical 10cms and ready to push. I said to the women that I go from 1cm to 10cm real quick, and my last births were done and dusted in a few hours. The experienced midwife did not look impressed at this announcement, and the student looked stunned. At this point, my waters hadn’t broken and both midwives thought that might get things moving along a bit faster. She donned the sewing needle glove, ready to just poke a hole in the membranes so I could feel that familiar leak, but hopefully this time at least prepared for it.

Let me tell you: this was more painful than any aspect of any of my 3 births. Apparently my cervix was sitting quite far back and angled towards my sacrum, and holy mother of all things sacred it felt like her whole arm had gone past my vagina and was sitting somewhere around my belly button. Graphic scenes, I know, but this is truly how it felt. I had my head turned towards Sonny, who’s hand was being squeezed tighter than the tears escaping my clenched eyes and tried not to tense every muscle in my body to protect me. The lovely student midwife was on my other side patting my head with a cold cloth and telling me I would be ok. Honestly, that midwifery team was to this day, absolutely brilliant. After retracting what was surely the entirety of her upper limb from my vaginal canal, she said “Right pet, sorry abou’ tha’. Let’s see about an epidural, yes?”

I was going easy on myself this time. Would I like an epidural? You fucking bet. Why go through yet another posterior labour with intense pain if I didn’t need to? Especially after the onslaught my vagina had already taken that day. The needle didn’t seem so scary without the whole- body contractions I’d had with Lucas. It went in, and I lay back down, ready to while away the hours left before completing my family. About 20 minutes later, I felt contractions in my back. The student midwife looked at me, perplexed. “You’re feeling that?” she said. “Yes, but it’s ok, I’m comfortable, still” I replied. I didn’t really know I wasn’t supposed to feel anything at all. She called in The Scot, who called in the anaesthetist, who told me it hadn’t ‘taken’ and would need to be removed. Back to a drug free birth, I bemused.

By this stage it was around midday and with the prospect of no epidural, The Scot thought it would be good to check my progress again. 7cms, she announced surprised, with a hint of being impressed. The 4 of us then began to guess when Harper would be arriving. My guess was 1245pm and at the latest by 1pm. Sonny thought similar and the midwives looked at us like, wouldn’t that be nice but not bloody likely. As the minutes ticked over, the intensity and frequency of my contractions built like the crescendo at the 3rd stanza in Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter: deep, dark and consuming. I went very quiet, laying on my left side and gripping Sonny’s hand like I was trying to remove it. I felt that familiar sensation of my body beginning to push. This birth was going to be on my terms. I wasn’t going to move positions, I simply held my leg up and got ready. I felt this deep sense of connection as I began the birthing process with Harper. I had such confidence and faith in my body, in myself and in my support system, that I just knew I would be able to do this. It took about 10 minutes to get her out. No tears, no complications, no drugs with an official birth time of 1254pm weighing it at 4.005kgs.

The minute they placed her on my chest I knew she had been around before. Harper had and has this sense of knowing that told me her soul and mine had been together in lives past, and there was and still is an inherent sisterhood in our relationship. Did I know this girl would change and challenge me in many ways? I think so. I knew, then and there, our family was complete. That with the addition of what already felt like a powerhouse woman, Sonny and I had welcomed the children we were supposed to have in this life. It was just the 3 of us there in the hospital, feeling calm, centered and ready to start our journey as a family of 5.

The transition to a family of 5 was relatively seamless, what made things challenging was the 4 week on/1 week off roster that we now had to work around. This was compounded by the singular support we were receiving and the comprehension that I was officially done being pregnant. I was finally having to confront my new body, and decide how and why I was going to care for it. I felt different about myself since having a daughter and wanted the way I treated and looked at my body to reflect a healthy mindset. I already wanted a relationship with my daughter to be vastly different from the one I had with my own mother, and as a consequence of that started to unpack and unravel my own learned beliefs, behaviours and instincts that had been perpetually influencing me unconsciously.

It felt like, finally I was finished the birthing part, and could consciously start figuring out the mothering part. This might seem like a redundant statement, given Seb was 2.5 and Lucas 1.5 when Harper was born, but up until that moment everything had been on autopilot, unconscious, and finally I had room to breathe knowing that I wouldn’t be having any more children. The work was really about to begin, as I examined my relationships with my own mother and mother-in-law to figure out what kind of parent I wanted to be, and what kind of example I wanted to set for my sons and my daughter. It wasn’t until Harper was around 8 months old that things had settled enough for a reconciliation between Sonny and his mum, and inadvertently myself and our family. Nothing fixed overnight, and is still a work in progress but we both started to acutely understand how our own mental headspaces impacted our ability to parent, and given some of what his mum had gone through, attempted to lead with compassion first. It meant we had to let a lot go, in order to move forward and forgive each other: a process that required time and effort, ongoing, on both parts. I didn’t know that when Harper was born, when I started to examine the mother-daughter relationship that it would be such an eye-opening process. Not that one is better or worse, but I personally felt it was very different getting to know my sons, compared to my daughter. Perhaps it was more to do with the relationship dynamics I had experienced as a daughter and daughter-in-law, as opposed to not having a lived experience to go on from mother-to-son, but I found myself becoming more aware of what was, and wasn’t ok and I guess nothing had prepared me to open the wounds I had just learned to live with. No one had told me that becoming a parent was so much more than opening another part of yourself to be something, or someone different; no one had told me it involved opening up your whole self, especially the parts that had hurt you, the stories that had broken you, or even understanding it would lead you to examine every part of your own relationship with your parents and in-laws in a way you were never given permission to before.

Now, more than 10 years since finding out I was going to be a mama, I am still learning. I am still peeling back layers and asking questions of myself, for myself. What I have realised, over many years of getting it wrong, of making decisions based on a fear-mindset, of being emotionally reactive, of figuring out my triggers is that the learning and questioning and figuring it out never stops. Sometimes, I get it right. Sometimes, I marvel at myself in how I was able to get through the last 10 years of parenting with a FIFO husband, studying full time, dealing with the childhood trauma I had learned to live with, and be able to do the same for my husband, while not completely fucking my kids up. What I know to be true, is the moment I decide I know it all, I’ve failed. The moment I stop allowing myself to get it wrong, and say sorry: I’ve failed. What I know to be the best thing I can do with and for my not-so-tiny humans, is show I am human. To let them see it’s OK to make mistakes, to cry, to fight and make up, to get it wrong and figure it out, to set boundaries and expectations and see them through. What I want for my children to see is a mother who is flawed, a woman who is still trying, and a person who will never give up. I want them to know we are all just doing our best and that when we know better we do better. I was someone who grew up not understanding or comprehending that parents were more than who they showed up as when they were Mum and Dad, and I think that rings true for a lot of us. We protect the people we love by only showing them what we want them to see, instead of the whole picture. The reality is, the beauty in life, in parenting, in mothering, lies in the contrast. That in our learning and unlearning we are going to fuck up sometimes, and that’s ok.

What I understand now, is that you don’t change when you become a mother: you allow your true self to come out in all its glory. We don’t go back to who we were before; not in looks, not in anything. We start a phase of our lives that is truly beautiful. It is only now that I fully understand that for me, becoming a mother was the gateway to being the best version of myself. What I’ve been able to achieve professionally, emotionally and personally is only possible because of the 3 people that chose me to be their mum. And even on my hard days, I will forever be grateful for that.


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