My husband and I had wanted a child for many years. The pregnancy and birth were approached with pure elation and love from both of us, however other factors, mostly out of our control, did not match the positivity of our approach. Before I explain the details, I think it is truly important to tell other mothers, whether expectant or current, that it is very easy to be hard on yourself. Taking a moment to reflect on your journey is an important step towards accepting how you feel and perhaps why you feel a certain way. This is not say that you may have negative feelings; however, I had never felt such a combination of pure joy yet stress, hence why reflection and open conversation has been vital for me.
My husband and I had been married for six years and had been unable to conceive. Eventually, after testing, it was identified that I had a large polyp blocking my fallopian tube, as well as numerous fibroids. I had surgery to remove the polyp; however, the OBGYN did not feel it was necessary to remove the fibroids. Fast forward a year to Mother’s Day 2018; we found out that I was pregnant. We were overjoyed to finally be expecting our first child. This would also be the first grandchild for both my parents and my husband’s parents. The pregnancy had morning sickness (that would continue through to the third trimester), food aversion (bizarre cravings for ice blocks, however pure hatred for hot chips!) and a long bout of the flu for six weeks. This didn’t stop me from being proud of my pregnancy.
At twelve weeks, we had announced to our families that we were expecting. A few weeks later, we received an urgent phone call from our GP requesting that we come in immediately. She explained that the results from the twelve-week scan and blood test had come back with a high possibility of Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome). We were instructed by the doctor to have the Harmony test done over a CVS test in order to confirm if our child was healthy. This understandably made us nervous. On top of this we were sent to three different places that did not offer the Harmony test, and then once it was eventually done, our test results were misplaced and we had to wait for an additional two weeks before receiving the results. Luckily, the results confirmed that our baby was healthy and that we would be having a baby boy.
At thirty-two weeks, I was driving home from a university exam for my nursing degree when another driver pulled out onto the road without looking, and she drove into the side of my car. As I was travelling at 70kms per hour and had to brake suddenly, I was hospitalised overnight in the maternity ward of the local hospital. Luckily, the baby was safe and healthy, and he did not arrive early due to the accident.
Despite these hurdles throughout the pregnancy, I remained healthy and active. We decided to have our baby in a private hospital, as we wanted to choose an obstetrician who was recommended by both friends and family. He was a warm and kind family man who was very pro natural birth, with low intervention. As I still had low line fibroids on my uterus from my previous surgery, I had reservations about being able to deliver naturally and asked if I could have an elective caesarean. This was dismissed as unnecessary by the obstetrician, and he did not see a problem with me being able to deliver naturally. When I was thirty-nine weeks pregnant, I broke down to my husband and admitted that I only wanted a caesarean and wish that I had been stronger in expressing my request to the obstetrician; however, it was then too late. I was scared to deliver naturally, but that was the path that was prescribed.
After trying every wives tale in the book to bring on labour (consumed so much raspberry leaf tea and could not possibly bounce on the yoga ball any longer) at 39 weeks and 2 days my water broke in bed. At 5am after the worst sleep, I suddenly felt a gush of fluid. I very calmly woke my husband and told him. He shot into action mode and asked what he needed to do. The only thing that came to my mind was that the dogs needed to go for a walk before we went anywhere. To be honest, I just wanted a moment to myself to gather my thoughts and curl my hair. Looking back, I can’t believe this felt like a priority, as I was contracting every 5 minutes at that point.
We were admitted to the hospital at 6am, and an hour later, my obstetrician arrived to check my dilation. I had gotten to 4cms at that point. The pain was excruciating, but I was determined to see how far I could get without needing medication. No one ever prepares you for the amount of fluid you lose during each contraction. I was being precious and kept changing my underwear until, eventually, the nurse said we were beyond that. She was kind, and her sense of humour helped me through the pain. I had no sense of time during labour, but 7 more hours had passed, and my OB returned for another examination. Over the course of 7 excruciating hours, I had only progressed one more centimetre. I was hooked up to an IV with oxytocin to speed up the labour. At this point, I had an epidural administered. I wondered why I didn’t have one sooner as I honestly started loving the experience. Perhaps I felt societal pressures of medication being an easy way out, or not as natural. If there is a next time, I won’t hesitate! My OB said he would return around 5pm to examine again. My husband and I then decided to call our anxious mothers and invite them to the delivery. I felt so calm and at peace, having the mothers there for support.
5pm came, and the midwife did an examination and did not think I was progressing. She called my OB and told him not to rush in. Hours past and he returned at 8pm. At this stage, I was still in good spirits. During his examination, it was apparent that the baby had turned, and his head was stuck in my pelvis. Having now been in labour for 20 hours, my body was exhausted, and as my cervix had swollen up, there was no way I could deliver him naturally. Within a quick 30 minutes, I was on the operating table with my husband in scrubs beside me. During the c-section, I remember shaking uncontrollably and vomiting from the drugs. This was terrifying, as I knew that my stomach was cut wide open.
At 9:09pm, we heard the most beautiful sound in the world; our son Emmett Benjamin entered the world. Immediately the 20 hours in labour were irrelevant, and all I wanted was to hold our son whom we longed to meet for so many months.
Some time passed, and we were still in theatre, and we noted that the surgical staff were quieter than expected. All I could see was the anesthesiologist who kept standing to look over the curtain. I knew something was wrong when they removed my husband and son from the room. He was asked to leave without being given an explanation; however, could see that the theatre team were standing in my blood. I went into a state of disbelief and shock, continuing to shake and vomit while lying there and still cut open. One of the last things I remember was my OB telling the staff to call a doctor in from home and that he only lived 20 minutes away. I was terrified, and no one would tell me what was wrong. I understood as I knew it was serious enough that there was simply no time to talk. I felt weak but remember telling myself to stay awake by counting the lights above me. I eventually passed out and woke up 3 hours later in the recovery. Throughout that 3 hours, my husband was waiting with Emmett and our mothers and did not receive an update regarding why he was removed, and if I had survived. He struggled to celebrate the arrival of Emmett without me there.
I had a 2 litre PPH due to uterine atony (failure for the uterus to contract) and a surgeon had also accidentally cut a vein during the procedure. The fibroids in my uterus also flared up and caused issues with closing my uterus. Basically, everything that could have gone wrong did. I was lucky that eventually, my uterus did contract because I would have ended up with an emergency hysterectomy as well (although we didn’t receive the confirmation that I should be able to have another baby in the future until a couple of months after the birth). I had lost so much blood that I needed an infusion, and it was close to a week before the colour returned to face, and my lips weren’t purple. I had a drain inserted into my wound, which continued to remove excess blood. I was in no state to be reunited with my son the night of the birth and did not get to properly meet him and hold him until the next day. This was heartbreaking as maternally I longed to hold him and bond with him. I was the fourth person in my family to hold my son, which has become something that still hurts me to this day. I am so grateful to my husband, who in my absence, gave our son the love, nature and skin on skin he needed while I was still in surgery. However, I know that this was a very bittersweet and terrifying moment for him.
While recovering in the hospital, breastfeeding was our next challenge. Even though we tried everything we could (lactation consultants, medication), my body would not produce any breast milk. I felt like my body had failed me, and literally every midwife on the ward had tried to milk me like a cow. Our paediatrician encouraged us to formula feed. It felt like a relief for me, and it allowed me to focus on healing physically and mentally. It also allowed my husband to have that connection and time with Emmett. That is one thing I have truly loved about formula feeding. Over the past 7 months our journey with formula feeding has not come without judgements or assumptions, but everyone’s journey is different. This was the best outcome for our family. Honestly, fed is best. Please remind yourself of that if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Before we were discharged, we faced a few more hurdles (go figure). I had an allergic reaction to one of the drugs I had been given and broke out in hives. Also, my c-section wound was not closed properly when the drain was removed and was seeping for days before it was eventually noticed and re-dressed.
We are now 7 months deep into parenthood, and we love raising our son. He continues to bring us endless joy. I still mourn my delivery experience, but I have come to understand that you can be abundantly happy but still feel sad at the same time. My husband and I both sought trauma counselling to deal with our experience. I have found it difficult being away from my son or not being the person who comforts him if he is unsettled. For the first few months, I suffered PTSD and could not sleep laying flat on my back as it brought me back to the moment in surgery where I was trying to count the lights and not pass out, as I feared that I was dying. When we eventually try for another baby, I will be assertive in expressing my wishes. I feel that being confident in my decisions, and pursuing a planned c-section may have avoided these circumstances. In hindsight, it is important that first-time mothers do not underestimate their gut instinct. It’s likely that you know more than you think you do! You should still be open to professional guidance, however, don’t be afraid to ask questions more than once, or seek further conversation around some topics.
Despite my difficult experience, I am extremely grateful to live in a country where causes of maternal death can mostly be identified and prevented, in comparison to some other countries. While the potential loss of my life still impacts my husband and me emotionally, we are determined to learn, grow and help others.