From Bump to Birth

Oh, hello! This is my first post to my revamped blog that is not about books. To say I’m incredibly nervous is an understatement. I’ve decided to open up and share some of my thoughts and experiences surrounding pregnancy, labour, and birth. After Ellie’s birth, I found that so many friends and acquaintances opened up to me about their own experiences. It’s not often that we talk about these topics. Be gentle.

Ellie is two and a half months old now, so I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on labour, birth, and our first few months together.  Okay, so she’s actually five months old now, but that’s how long ago I started writing this post… ohhh #momlife.

When I was pregnant I loved reading about other mama’s experiences. Writing is also therapeutic for me, so I’m sharing this with hopes that someone out there will find it helpful, mildly interesting, or regrettably relatable.

I have always wanted children, but have always been TERRIFIED of pregnancy and birth.  I was also one of those people who scoffed at women posting photos of their baby bumps.  Who would want to share a pregnant belly on social media!? HAH… that was me. I became that woman.  And I feel no shame. I didn’t understand how pregnancy itself is such an experience. I mean… the morning all-day sickness is the WORST.  Not to mention that near the end I was so uncomfortable that I resorted to waddling my way to the nearest lake or pool just to feel weightless for awhile.

I need to clarify here that I did NOT have a cute little baby bump. Every time I would see the Instagram ads of women and their adorable, tiny baby bumps and look to see how many weeks pregnant they were, I had to restrain myself from throwing my phone at the wall.  My bump was MASSIVE. I had to restrain myself from whacking a stranger over the head every time I was asked, “are you sure it’s not twins!?” Yes, I am sure. I am also very aware of how large my belly is, BECAUSE IT IS ATTACHED TO ME! By the way, no judgment if you are/were one of those mamas with a cute little bump… I am just insanely jealous.

It’s more than just a belly though — there’s a TINY HUMAN in there, and that’s a freaking miracle! There is nothing like feeling your baby kick, move around, or hiccup inside of you.  Before the rest of the world meets that little munchkin, you are already getting to know them, and that is special! Now I see pregnancy photos or #bumpies and smile. It’s pretty darn amazing what your body can do, so flaunt those baby bumps!

Yeah, it’s no wonder that bump was so big. She was born at a whopping 9lbs 8oz.

I’m a planner. An organizer.  I like to know everything before jumping in.  This is why I knew I needed to prepare myself for labour and birth. I couldn’t just show up at the hospital and “wing it.”  Again… jealous if that’s your jam. I bought WAY too many books on pregnancy and childbirth, and they pretty much contained the same information.  If I were to do it over again, I’d skip most of the pregnancy books and use an app to track my little bean’s development instead. You can pretty much look anything up online anyways. I downloaded three of those baby tracker apps… again, they all had pretty much the same information! I just realized that I am definitely a “Monica” *sigh* who always wished she was a “Rachel.”

The ONE book I would recommend is Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.  If you’re at all interested in natural birth, or just want to be awed by what the female body is capable of, it is an excellent read.  It definitely helped me to develop more positive feelings towards labour and birth.  

Oh, and follow Pregnant Chicken. You won’t regret it!

The Value of a Doula

I desperately wanted a midwife, but I applied and wasn’t able to get one.  I also didn’t have a family doctor, so we went to the maternity clinic at the nearest hospital.  We saw different doctors each time we were in, and they rotated through the labour and delivery ward.  While the doctors were excellent at caring for the medical side of things, I knew that I needed more than that.  One of the best decisions we made was hiring a doula. Suvannah (from Stork to Cradle) is such a kind soul and is AMAZING at what she does.  I don’t have many friends who have been through pregnancy, labour, and birth, so it was nice to have someone to chat with and who has an insane amount of experience and knowledge.  We had two prenatal sessions with her, she was with us for the labour and birth, and she came to check up on us postpartum as well. There are so many choices you have regarding birth, and I didn’t even know about a lot of them until we discussed them with our doula. I know that my husband also really appreciated having her with us, as it took some of the pressure off of him.

The Importance of Mindset

There are so many options out there to help prepare for labour and birth.  Because we live in a rural area it was a hassle to drive into the city for classes; however, even if I lived in the city now I would 100% recommend The Positive Birth Company.  I am positive that my pregnancy, labour, birth, and recovery would have been a lot more challenging if I hadn’t completed their digital pack, which is a series of hypnobirthing videos. Even if you think “hypnobirthing” isn’t something you think you’d be interested in, the videos on the actual science behind labour are fascinating.  It helps to actually know what happens to your body and to have strategies for staying calm and relaxed. After the video series and meetings with our doula, I actually felt excited about labour and birth. I made some positive affirmation cards (available here) and really worked to maintain a positive mindset right up to the end (as uncomfortable and “overdue” as I was).

Discussing Birth Preferences

Deciding our birth preferences together was SO valuable and empowering. Suvannah had a comprehensive worksheet for us to go through, which allowed us to research, discuss, and note our preferences. From that, we created a one-page document which went in my file. I don’t think our personal copy was even taken out of my hospital bag, but the value was in discussing everything beforehand so that when we had to make decisions during labour (when my mind was not functioning), it was a lot easier.  If you want to see what our birth preference sheet looked like, let me know and I can send you a copy.
Our preferences, based on the research we had done, were to have the most natural labour and birth possible. We didn’t want medication or intervention unless deemed necessary, which leads perfectly to…

Going with the Flow

Yeah, I know this one is easier said than done!  Here’s where my “Monica” mind had to just let go.

While it’s valuable to know your birth preferences, there are so many things that are completely out of our control when it comes to labour and birth. I had to work hard (with many reminders from my husband) to remain calm and recognize that fact.

I tested positive for Group B Strep, which meant that I would need IV antibiotics every few hours after my waters broke.  I was hoping that my labour would start and progress without my waters breaking so that I wouldn’t have to go to the hospital until I was in active labour.  Of course, my waters breaking was the first thing to happen and we had to head to the hospital right away. There was also meconium in the fluid— EW, that little baby pooped inside me!  My desire to labour mostly at home (well, my best friend’s home) flew out the window.

After I was admitted to the maternity ward, we went for hours with surges barely intensifying and no dilation.  The doctors were worried about infection and recommended induction. I was so conflicted about what to do, but we discussed it and agreed that it was the best decision for us.  So much for no intervention… haha.

Labour without any pain medication was the one thing that did go to “plan,” and I am still so proud of myself for sticking to my preferences. It honestly wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  I managed to stay calm and relaxed by focusing on my breathing and visualizations. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like more of a warrior!

As a side note: I should mention that I am incredibly squeamish and have low pain tolerance. Allow me to illustrate: when I was eight, I passed out after getting my ears pierced; I can’t even watch the “surgical” parts in Grey’s Anatomy, and I’ve passed out on many occasions from seeing blood or getting my blood taken.

After three hours of pushing in every position imaginable, our little munchkin was not budging.  Apparently, she was head down but facing my side — not surprising considering she had been sunny-side-up before I went into labour.  I was exhausted at this point, and we were worried about infection or baby becoming distressed if we continued with no progress. At the doctor’s recommendation, we opted for a cesarean.

To be honest, the next few hours were a complete blur. I still don’t have very clear memories — only snippets. I was just relieved to have our baby earthside.

This was taken on our second or third day (?) in the hospital after I finally was catheter-free and “able” to have a shower — by which I mean my husband rinsed me off and washed my hair with the removable showerhead. It felt luxurious though!

Acknowledging ALL the Thoughts & Emotions

My labour and birth ended up being entirely different from what I had anticipated, which is probably the case with many women’s experiences. For the first few days, I was so wrapped up in everything that I had little time to mentally or emotionally process it.  I was in the hospital for three days after birth, and the recovery was brutal.  

Breastfeeding was a huge challenge from the beginning.  Ellie struggled to latch, and I was in pain. She would just scream inconsolably whenever we tried.  I kept wondering: if we’d had immediate skin-to-skin after birth would that have made a difference? Was this my fault? If I had kept pushing, and not opted for a cesarean, would she have come on her own? I also felt incredibly guilty that I didn’t really feel “present” at her birth or for the hours following.

She lost more than 10% of her birth weight and we had to start feeding her formula with a syringe.  This made me feel even more guilty. Wasn’t breastfeeding supposed to be natural and easy? Why wasn’t it working? What was I doing wrong? I felt incredibly discouraged, and I hadn’t anticipated it being so difficult to feed my baby.

It was a bittersweet feeling when we were finally able to leave the hospital. How could we take this precious and fragile little bundle out of this safety bubble and on the road!?  I started tearing up as soon as we walked out of the hospital doors. How were we supposed to care for this small being on our own? How would we know what to do?  The hour-and-a-half drive home was both painful and terrifying.

For weeks afterwards, I had flashbacks of birth and recovery and had to ask my husband to fill in a lot of the blank spots.  I still felt so much guilt about not giving birth to my baby “naturally,” and not being successful with breastfeeding right away.   
I was feeling guilty, scared, disappointed, and overwhelmed. On top of that, I was recovering from major surgery. Along with those emotional lows were complete highs. I was awed and amazed that we created such a perfect little human. My heart fluttered when she opened her eyes, and I cried a river of happy tears with her in my arms. I constantly found myself thinking: I shouldn’t feel guilty, disappointed, or scared. I should just be happy and grateful that we’re both fine. But I soon realized and had to mentally remind myself on so many occasions, that I was completely justified in feeling guilty, disappointed, overwhelmed, etc. Yes, I tried to focus on the positive, but I also needed to acknowledge and work through the negative.

Invaluable Support Network

I honestly don’t know what I would have done without the huge amount of support that I had at home in those first few weeks. My husband is an absolute rock star! We were also lucky to have my parents staying with us. They helped to make meals, clean, do laundry, and be there for both physical and emotional support.  This was crucial for me, as it was certainly not a quick or easy recovery, and caring for a newborn is incredibly demanding.

I also spent a lot of time on the Positive Birth Company Facebook Group, which you have access to with both the Hypnobirthing and Postpartum video courses. When I was up at night with a screaming newborn, I could interact with other women around the world who were going through the same struggles; we could share our experiences and knowledge with one another conveniently. 

We took advantage of the free breastfeeding clinic offered nearby, and I’m so happy that we did, as we’re still going strong five months in! I had friends and relatives from near and far checking in on me and asking not only how Ellie was doing, but how I was doing. My mental and physical recovery was a lot easier thanks to an amazing support network — so thank you to all of you!

It’s hard to be vulnerable and open up about things that aren’t often talked about. I still feel pangs of guilt and jealousy when I see other mama’s “natural” birth photos or stories. I constantly have to remind myself that my experience and story isn’t something to be ashamed of. Looking into Ellie’s eyes reassures me that I’d go through it all over again if I had to. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but it’s our story.

I’d love to know your thoughts, questions, and comments below. Let me know if there is anything you’d like to hear more about.

Stay tuned for a creative “c-section” piece I’m working on—which is going to take a lot of courage to share with you…

Thanks for reading!