Over the last few years I've struggled with issues that I'm sure most blog authors have considered, how much to share, what to blog, when to find the time – and more recently – how to stay authentic in a landscape that seems to be getting overtaken by advertising and consumerism. When I deconstruct all of these reasons the bottom line is, it just doesn't feel right anymore. And if there's one thing I always follow, it's my gut
This blog began as a creative project and quickly turned into catharsis – an outlet for those most intense first years of becoming a new parent. I've come a long way since then, and perhaps that's partly why I feel it's run its course and come to a natural conclusion. For the dialogue and support I've received in this space I am forever thankful, and even more so for the friendships that have transcended into the real world.
Anyways, I could (but I won't) rabbit on. I'll finish up with some snaps from the past few weeks of bunkering down as a family of four.
Thank you for reading, thank you for commenting, and a Happy Mother's Day to all the beautiful mama's out there.
All the best,
Thanks for the comments on my last post. It was challenging to write, being mindful that one day Juniper will read it, and I would never want her to think her birth was less than her sisters – despite them being undeniably different. There were many negative details I left out, mainly based around being in hospital, but I know those memories will fade and I don't feel the need to document them.
I've realised this week that making peace with having a caesarean is not the same thing as making peace with having had a caesarean. I've been too immersed in the joy of a newborn to realise that I've been carrying a sadness with me for the past month that I've failed to address. But, having connected to that feeling not only do I feel lighter, I've also noticed my physical pain decrease.
I'm sure Rosie is the only 3 year old with a maternity pad in her doctors kit, which she plays with at least half a dozen times a day. I guess she's coping with it all in her own little way, too.
The birth story of Juniper Valentine begins not with labour, but the incident that would ultimately forbid it from happening, and alter the course of the remainder of my pregnancy.
I was 21 weeks pregnant. Chris had been in Melbourne for the day on business, and returned jubilant after positive steps in a new venture. Our daughter Rosie was asleep and for once we were both awake and relatively operative at the end of the day, so we burrowed under the blankets to make the most of the situation. Afterwards – straight afterwards – a massive gush of warm liquid flooded out of me, and although the room was dark the contrast on white bed sheets was evident. It was unmistakably blood. Seconds later more came streaming out, and moments after that, more again. Chris called the ambulance and went downstairs to let them in, Rosie continued to sleep in the adjacent room and I sat paralised on the bed, diverting my gaze from the blood for fear of seeing the baby amongst it, even though I felt nothing that large pass through me. When the paramedics arrived and switched on the light it was a horrific sight, and the thing I remember the most – so much blood.
Despite not wanting to be separated we decided not to wake Rosie to bare witness to the situation, and I went alone in the ambulance whilst Chris stayed home to clean up, and eventually soothe a distressed little girl who would wake to spend her first ever night away from her mother. Up until this point the baby had been uncharacteristically still but just before the ambulance door slid shut it gave me a nice solid kick. Through sobs and laughter I delivered this news triumphantly to Chris, who was standing, heartbroken, on the footpath.
I was wheeled into the hospital horizontally, watching the cheery face of the paramedic and Christmas decorations flying by overhead. The whole thing was surreal. I felt calm. I knew in my belly the baby was safe. When I arrived at delivery the monitors confirmed this, and an ultrasound reinforced what my scan showed the previous week – the placenta was sitting low. The conclusion was made that the act of sex had irritated my cervix, which is what caused the bleed. I was monitored for 2 days and nights, relentlessly bullied about transferring my care from a private midwife to the hospital program and eventually discharged myself and returned home.
We met with our midwife, Robyn, and discussed the possibility of the placenta – currently sitting about 1.4cm over my cervix – moving enough for a natural birth. It was highly likely, although the increased risk of hemorrhaging after delivery may affect our want for a home birth. The most probable outcome was a natural birth in hospital. No one was saying the C word yet.
In the following weeks I noticed occasional heavy smears of blood, and tried to restrict activities not to irritate my cervix. Yoga was off the cards, and when I finally felt well enough to swim again I did so cautiously, with a pullboy between my legs so as not to move them. My belly was expanding and it was summer, and despite mild frustration at not being able to frolic as I wished, I relished in my pregnant state.
I was 28 weeks when the next bleed occurred, working at the computer late one night. After my previous experience in hospital I was reluctant to rush there again, and as the bleeding stopped quickly and the baby kept moving, Chris and I felt we could manage the situation ourselves. We returned to bed and arranged a private ultrasound the next day. The scan showed the placenta still positioned well over my cervix, and in fact, moving further across it as my uterus expanded. Relief was had in the news that the baby was doing a fantastic job of growing, dodgy placenta or not.
Whilst Chris remained positive that we still had ample time for the placenta to move, I had lost some of that spirit. A couple of days later we met with Robyn, who gently told us we should be preparing for a caesarean birth.
The days following this news coincided with excessive rain and leaking ceilings, and saw us bunkering down on the living room floor. It was strange week, sombre and heavy. I cried a lot, and woke each morning to a split second of respite before reality came slamming down for the remainder of the day. In retrospect I conceive these feelings as grief and their related actions as mourning – for the awesomely intense experience of natural birth, and everything it entails.
It took about three weeks to begin to come to terms with the caesarean. I tried meditating to calm my mind but the noises of the street only amplified, piercing my ears and suffocating my breath. One afternoon I had an inspired visit from an artist friend who creates from her subconscious, and that evening I attempted the same. The drawings were terrible, but the act of moving my hand across paper calmed me. I practiced this meditative state every night for an hour or so, always stopping before I became judgmental of the images I was producing. Initially I drew shapes and lines and eventually they became big-bellied women. Through them I manifested my fear and pain.
By the time our first meeting with the Obstetrician came, at 32 weeks, I was much more at ease with the direction this birth was taking. I had another scan, and with the placenta now covering 3.5cm of my cervix – medically referred to as Grade 4 Major Placenta Praevia – any last scrap of hope I secretly held for natural birth was abolished. Our doctor – recommended by Robyn – was a kind and gentle man and through his subtle gestures we felt comfortable. He was open to the notion of a natural caesarean and supported our requests; of which formed a modest list to ensure the experience was kept sacred. Chris and I left the hospital feeling positive and confident in our birth team, with an appointment to see our doctor again in a fortnight.
Ironically, I woke that night bleeding. This one was heavier than the last, and continued longer than what was in our range of comfort. As we now had a cohort at the hospital, we didn’t hesitate in going there. It was a short drive and this time we woke Rosie to come with us so we could all stay together. The bleeding stopped shortly after we arrived and my doctor visited me first thing the next morning. Despite everything we were both able to have a quiet laugh about meeting again so soon. I remained in hospital convalescing for two more days and after an iron infusion returned home.
I had completely let go of a natural birth, the thought of not having one no longer stung my eyes. I surrendered to the caesarean, embraced it and visualised the moment I would meet my baby. But, I was nervous about further hemorrhaging, especially as the last one happened in my sleep. No activity was safe. My greatest fear was a bleed which didn’t stop, and eventually ended in an emergency situation. It’s a given that the main objective is that the baby and I are safe, but the thought of having a general anaesthetic and not being present during the moment in which my child would take its first breath out of my body, filled me with dread.
On March 14th, Chris turned 33. He commemorated the occasion with a day of hard work and a small store bought cake adorned with Smarties. Rosie celebrated her third birthday nine days earlier (albeit with a much more elaborate cake) and our baby’s birthday was scheduled in three weeks. I realised we were just missing out on welcoming the third Piscies into our family. Or so I thought.
It was almost 1am that night when bleeding disengaged me from my sleep. I was 35 weeks pregnant. Quietly I made trips from the bed to the shower for thirty minutes before worry set in. I gently woke Chris, who was up in a flash and ready to go to the hospital, Rosie in tow. We arrived to the familiar routine of drips, monitors and on this occasion a group of night staff gravely lacking in bedside manners. One midwife, annoyed at having to assist me and my entourage of monitoring equipment to the toilet every half hour, chided me for poor bladder control. The night registrar appeared and reappeared with unhelpful comments about major medical catastrophes and grave outcomes of placenta praevia in third world countries. His readiness to take the baby out was clear and the thought of him delivering my child brought me to a state of despair. I feared not for our safety, but an unnecessary early delivery by a man who lacked compassion towards a birthing woman and her family. Luckily for us, as quickly as the drama arose it subsided, and eventually everyone left us in peace.
Over the next hour or so I noticed an increasingly strong correlation between the bleeding and my Braxton Hicks contractions, which had intensified over the last week and had now moved even lower and deeper into my cervix. Although the monitors weren’t picking it up, instinctively I knew this was the beginning of labour. I was grateful to be receiving some of the birthing hormones, but also knew it could result in a large amount of blood loss at any moment. We had accepted that we wouldn’t be making it to full-term, and excited to be meeting our baby soon. But first, we had to make it to the morning safely, when the staff changed over and our own doctor would arrive.
By 5am we were all exhausted. Chris had awkwardly fallen asleep on the small sofa in the birthing suite we were in and Rosie, having spent the majority of the night adventuring in the hallway entertaining passing staff members, was nestled in next to me on the bed. I tried to sleep but adrenalin kept me from it, and I lay on the bed silently and secretly labouring, watching the clock above my head and willing it to go faster.
Robyn arrived at 7am and less than an hour later we were gifted with Amanda, the most beautiful, kind and considerate hospital midwife we could have hoped for. My own Obstetrician came shortly after and the three of them combined assuaged my fears. I was tired and ready to birth, but it would still be some hours before I could get into theatre. Despite bleeding consistently since my arrival I was stable and the baby was happy, and we would remain in the care of these two amazing women until it was time. I had said my goodbyes to Rosie who was now with her uncle and a family friend, and between short bouts of almost unconsciousness I contracted and bled through early labour. Amanda had rallied strongly to get me moved up the list, and finally, it was our turn for theatre. We had made it to our conscious birth.
I had visited the operating theatre previously and was aware of the procedure, but nothing could have really prepared me for the inhuman velocity at which the staff around me moved. Chris and Robyn waited outside the door whilst I was taken in for my spinal. I felt no pain from the injection, but the coldness of the room made me shiver violently and my doctor held my hands as it was administered. I tried to oppose the numbness as it enveloped my lower body, but found it too distressing. I let go and surrendered every muscle I didn’t need and knew I couldn’t move. Watching what was happening in the reflection of the giant operating light above me, I waited, and when I was prepped and ready, Chris and Robyn entered the room.
Chris stood above my head, crying. We spoke of love and pride and birth, but mostly he just held me tight as we looked at each other. I felt intense tugging and pulling in my belly, and within minutes heard a newborn cry. As I saw the red screaming bundle get lifted over the screen I also heard the anaesthetist announce, very matter-of-factly, it was a girl. At the time I was too elated to care, but I’ve since had mixed feelings about it. Nevertheless, when she was placed on my chest, tiny and perfect, nothing mattered, and I loved her with all my heart.
In recovery the mood was joyous and elated. The whole team was thrilled with such a positive outcome. We carefully examined the poor, sad-looking placenta and discussed the incredibly healthy and enormous umbilical cord. I nestled in with my beautiful new baby, who took to the breast immediately.
Juniper Valentine was born on a Friday and we took her home the following Monday. I had lost 2 litres of blood during the birth and needed a transfusion. Although in hospital, we tried to keep those first few days of Juniper’s life sacred, holding off on visitors and enjoying the new dynamic we had as four. Robyn would call on me every morning and for her dedicated continuity of care we will be forever thankful. Despite everything Juniper’s birth was as sacred and beautiful as it could have been, and Chris and I will never forget the people that made that possible.
One of the things I was often consoled with whilst pregnant – in regards to having a caesarean – was that I would get to choose the baby's birthday. Know would have been a more appropriate term, as there really wasn't much choice, it was a matter of correlation between appropriate gestation and my doctors surgery day. In either case, knowing or choosing the day was not something we rejoiced in, we couldn't imagine what it would feel like to go to bed knowing we would be meeting our babe the next morning.
As it happens she chose her own birthday, the day after her daddy's. But had she not, tonight would have been my last night of pregnancy, and tomorrow morning we'd be driving to the hospital to welcome the newest member of our family.
She's already been with us for nearly 3 weeks.
I absolutely intend to write up her full birth story soon, but for now we're all immersed in the pure joy of a teeny (2.5kgs!) newborn.
(If I'm at home I'm half clad – always. It's hot and although I don't mind the heat, it's more comfortable with less on. Sorry for another rudie-nudie shot.)
But wouldn't you know it – that night I woke up at about 1am with another hefty bleed. I tried keeping calm but as it wasn't stopping we drove to the hospital. BB was a champ, getting roused from her sleep with no fuss ready to help mama – her only request being we listened to The Yellow Submarine in the car.
A few night's stay and a 5-hour iron infusion and I'm home again on bed-rest, feeling fine but a little anxious of when the next bleed may be and what it will entail.
So for now I'm signing off and will continue with this story after the birth of this little babe, hopefully in no less than 6 weeks.
Top: Drawing by me. It's one of the ways I've been helping myself cope in the last few weeks.
Bottom: The view. I'm grateful we have lots of windows and high ceilings, otherwise I'd be going (more) bonkers.
A very sincere and heartfelt thank you for all the comments, well wishes and stories shared on my last post. It's been an emotionally challenging few weeks here but I've finally reached a place where I've accepted the situation. This week I have another scan and meet with my Obstetrician for the first time, and intend to elaborate more on the process of arriving at this point after these events occur.
In the meantime I wanted to document these snaps PB took during our 31st week of this pregnancy. I always imagined that if I were to do another series of belly shots more consideration would be put into the mise en scène, however neither party – photographer nor subject – seems interested in pursuing that course. The few images that exist – and in particular these two – have materialised from ordinary moments in our day-to-day, and for that reason I love them as much, or even more, than anything we could have set up. I am grateful that PB whipped his phone out of his pocket and ordered me not to move – he's captured a peace and stillness I wasn't sure I'd reach. And for that truth, I'm ignoring all the things that make me a little uncomfortable with posting them up (lack of clothing, make-up, shampoo) and doing it anyway.
Me: How was pre-school?
BB: It was so fun. Olivia and Lauren were there.
Me: Did you play with them?
BB: No, I just played by me-self.
Since my pregnancy with that little sprog up there, PB and I have been quiet advocates for natural birth. We've never pushed our ideas onto anyone, but have gently encouraged pregnant friends to empower themselves with knowledge rather than getting lost in the medical system for healthy, natural pregnancies. We have also always said that hospitals and surgery have their place too, for the small percentage of women who genuinely do fall into a high risk category.
Sadly, this time around that includes us.
I've had a few more bleeds since the shocker last year, mostly minor – until last week. Thankfully nothing like the initial one, but substantial enough for concern. As the bleeding stopped quickly and baby kept moving we felt we could manage it ourselves, choosing to stay away from the hospital this time and opting for a private scan the following day. Unfortunately my placenta is still well over the cervix, and actually appears to be getting pulled further across as my uterus expands. (The baby however, is doing a fantastic jobs of growing and being in the healthy range it needs to be).
Even after the scan we were still hopeful, until a meeting with our dear trusted midwife confirmed that sadly, it is unlikely to move away – making homebirth and natural birth no longer a safe option. I've also been ordered strict rest to avoid any more bleeds, as at this stage it would mean hospitilasation for the remainder of the pregnancy – or at worst a pre-term delivery. Every bleed is the result of the placenta coming away a little, not good news for anyone. Previous visualisations consisted of the placenta moving upwards and away. Current visualisations are of it staying firmly stuck down.
The emotions I'm feeling right now aren't even cohesive enough to put down into words, a mix of sadness, loss, anger, confusion and fear. I keep asking myself what I did to deserve this beautiful event being taken away from my family and I, even though logically I know things don't work like that.
I loved my first pregnancy so much that since then it has always saddened me to hear women say that they can't wait for it to be over. Despite this birth having to be a surgical one, and my restrictions on movement which prevent me frolicking around like a pregnant summer fish, I'm determined to find a calm place in the near future where I can enjoy the remainder of this magical time growing a human in my belly, and be at peace with and surrender to our situation.
Here are some snaps from our annual road trip down to Melbourne. This time instead of doing it in one hideous overnight haul PB mapped out the coastal drive with planned rest and overnight stops, meaning we never had to drive more than three hours in one hit. Timing 90% of the driving with BB's sleeps also meant uninterrupted conversation for us – more than we've had all year!
We had a super Christmas I'm sure not dissimilar to everyone else's –family, food, beach, books and naps. One thing I really noticed from this trip was how much more space I had in my head to create being away from the computer and the abundance of so called inspiration. I felt more inspired surrounded by nature with one new craft book and a mind clear of too many images. For me, 2013 is the time to stop putting stuff in and start seeing what comes out.
(For a few months anyways, until the new baby arrives and it's back to the newborn haze!)
1. Rest stop in Eden 2. Finished holiday project 3. BB testing out her present from Santa 4-7. Cranbourne Royal Botanical Gardens 8. Pom-pom dance on Port Phillip Bay, I forgot how bloody cold that wind can get! 9. Loot from Gardenworld 10. Books and naps 11. Rest stop at Lake Tuross.
We've also decided (last minute) to take our annual road-trip down to Melbourne, and have been busy bees trying to prepare. I didn't get around to making Christmas cards this year, but I did dust off the ol' sewing machine last week to re-purpose some vintage tea towels into Christmas stockings.
Here they are hung on our messy mantle: