It’s hard to believe that six weeks have passed since I met my beautiful rainbow baby. My last blog post featured Miss I’s arrival into the world after a fast and furious labour. If you missed her birth story you can read it here and here. The moments and hours after her birth were magical. When she was placed on my chest and we lay skin-to-skin, my heart swelled to the point of explosion. I soaked up her newborn smell and gazed in amazement as she slowly but surely made her way over to my breast and began gentle sucking. Isn’t it incredible the way babies instinctively know how to find the breast? We lay together like this for a few hours and I resisted separation. But I was a meconium-covered mess, so eventually I agreed to a shower. And how good that shower felt!…
Having been through labour three times, many people boldly suggested I would be an “expert” at it. But, as any midwife will tell you, every labour is different and this one was certainly unlike my previous three. One might expect, though, that I would have some idea of what I was doing, but I made some rookie mistakes. If you haven’t read the first instalment of my birth story you can read Part 1 here. In order to set the scene for Part 2, I am coming clean with the following errors of judgment:
- I failed to recognise the signs that labour had started, confusing my breaking waters with my mucous plug. ROOKIE error!
- I forgot to pack items that are fairly fundamental in a maternity hospital bag. Hint: you need a lot of them, preferably dark ones, about 4 sizes bigger than normal to fit the “surfboards.” Yep, I neglected to pack knickers. EPIC fail!
- I foolishly assumed that labour couldn’t hurt more than last time. Considering I had given birth to Miss H without pain relief, I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to do it again. WRONG!!!!
OK, so where were we? Part 1 ended with my short and snappy text message to Mr NASD telling him things were HAPPENING!
Naturally Mr NASD left work immediately and arrived an hour later. Things were progressing but my midwife was worried about bubba’s heart rate, which was taking too long to rise after contractions. She consulted the doctor on duty who asked me if she could place a clip on bubba’s head, as the foetal heart monitor wasn’t giving an accurate reading. I was initially reluctant as already I had a drip in one arm, a foetal heart monitor around my tummy and I had wanted to move around freely with little intervention. Also, the internal examination, which I had just had in between intensifying contractions, had hurt. A LOT. But when she explained that bubba was showing signs of distress and our other option might be an emergency c-section, I quickly agreed to the clip.
My contractions were building “nicely”, which meant things were getting serious. When a contraction hit I would stop talking, focus on slow breathing, and then carry on talking once it passed. At this point I was still able to crack a few jokes (humour seems to be my defence strategy in times of pain) and the mood in the room was quiet and calm. Until…..
THE contraction hit. You know the one – it’s the one that signals the jokes are over. It’s the one that declares transitional labour is imminent. It’s the one that winds you with its force. It’s the one that tells you there’s no going back. Can you feel it now as I describe it?
Transitional labour means birth is close
Active labour moved to transitional labour so rapidly and fear set in. My contractions were fast and furious, barely giving me any time to catch my breath in between agonising shots of pain. I couldn’t find my centre, or any control. My midwife, a calm softly spoken Zen-type kept telling me to breathe and focus. But her voice was too soft and was being drowned out by my animalistic moans of terror!
We had planned to deliver on my side (to reduce the risk of tearing – something I was keen to avoid having had a 3rd degree tear in the past) but instinctively I got up on the bed on all fours and once I was there I couldn’t move. I lent over the bed with one arm gripping the back of the bed for dear life, and the other hand squeezing Mr NASD’s hands with a force neither of us knew I possessed. Speaking of possessed, I felt like my body was possessed. I sounded like a wild, tortured animal and I had never made much noise in labour before. It was primal.
The Second Stage of Labour
Childbirth is not a dignified experience. I felt the urge to push and my body took over. Whatever was left of my amniotic sac (or was it my bladder?) was pouring out of me like a gushing tap. No time to care about such things. The pain was BRUTAL. I was vaguely aware of Mr NASD saying something along the lines of “You’re almost there, the baby is coming – keep going”, but I wanted to plead for drugs or be taken to theatre. I felt like I was about to split in two and I wanted it to stop.
And then I heard the words that both terrified and motivated me. My midwife’s tone changed radically. And in a serious voice (far more audible now) she said:
“Michaela, bubba’s heart is dropping. We need to get this baby out!”
It took a second or two to compute. I didn’t want to push. I didn’t think I could. The pain was unbearable.
And then she followed up with:
“We don’t have time to wait for a contraction. You need to push. Now!”
And in that moment I thought that maybe my much-wanted baby might not be safe. Sadly, there are no guarantees of a safe delivery. I had gone through so much to have this baby, enduring three miscarriages, a physical and emotionally bruising year, and a lot of stress. And so I gritted my teeth and “bore down” and I gave it all my might. I pushed like a life depended on it.
I pushed with a determined force and as I did I felt my baby’s head enter the world. And then I pushed some more. I honestly felt myself ripping apart. Whoever said childbirth feels like pushing out a big poo is a big fat liar! It was painful, raw and extraordinary all in one as I felt bubba’s shoulders and body tumble into the bed underneath me.
My baby is born
And then…. silence.
My groans had stopped, but so had the midwife’s voices. And there was no cry. Where was bubba’s cry?
“Is everything OK?” I asked while my legs trembled and my mind caught up with my body.
“We’re just untying the cord from bubba’s neck,” came the response.
One second, two seconds, three seconds….
And then, the cry. The sweet sound of a cry!
And Mr NASD’s voice saying: “You did it, you did it!!”
My body went into shock. The pain was over and in its place was an indescribable joy and tremendous relief.
“Look between your legs,” my midwife said.
I looked and could see a baby hanging from the umbilical cord.
“Look between buba’s legs” she said, coaxing me to announce the gender.
And in that moment, I couldn’t have cared what I had given birth to – boy, girl, alien, it didn’t matter. But I looked and what I saw completely confused me. Where was his penis? I was dazed for a few seconds while everyone awaited my announcement. I couldn’t see swollen testicles, just a neat little labia like my other girls. And then it hit me; I had another girl. I was now the mother of four daughters.
The third stage of labour
My birthing team helped me onto my back so she could lie on my chest. They focussed on delivering my placenta, which had to be thorough in order to reduce the risk of another post-partum haemorrhage. As they helped reposition me, bubba continued her meconium explosion and pooed all over herself and me.
For the next two hours I watched her little chest rise and fall as she slowly but consciously made her way over to my breast. She had arrived, finally. A healthy, safe baby – the result of much love, anguish, grief, fear, and hope. We lay together, skin-to skin, and in our glorious mess, love and gratitude met in exquisite harmony.
I set a couple of records too:
- My placenta was most unusual. My midwife told me she had never seen one like mine aside from photos on the Internet. It had two lobes and is referred to as a bipartite placenta. Apparently this occurs in less than 2% of pregnancies. I didn’t ask to view the record-breaking placenta!
- I was told, in good humour, that we were the messiest new mum and bub they had ever seen in the birthing suite. I do have photos to prove it, but there’s no need to go there….
So there you have it! On the 29th November, 2016, at 5.55pm, little Miss I was born, and my family became complete. Let me just repeat that for emphasis. My family is now complete. We are done, DONE! Mr NASD now has it in writing. He can officially, with my blessing, book in for the the snip!
I love birth stories so please hit me with yours. Were your labours different? How did you manage the pain? Were there any complications?
It’s the moment that should bring exquisite joy. Seeing two blue lines emerge as your pregnancy is confirmed. Only it didn’t. Instead of joy, it brought fear. And as I watched the second line form I began to cry. Pregnancy after miscarriage is a completely different experience. It is a whole new game, with new rules to navigate and a fear, which lies just beneath the surface, robbing you of the joy that is supposed to come with pregnancy. What should be one of the happiest times in your life can be filled with trepidation. For the first 20 weeks I lived in fear every single day.
I spent most of last year conceiving, losing pregnancies and recovering from the losses. After three consecutive miscarriages, I had become known as a “recurrent miscarrier”. Each loss was painful, but my third miscarriage almost broke me. After two miscarriages I was equal parts delighted and terrified to be pregnant again. On International Pregnancy Loss Awareness Day, people worldwide were encouraged to light a candle in honour of all the babies lost during pregnancy. As I prepared to light a candle, I stroked my tummy and that’s when it happened. I felt the first drops of blood escape my body. I went cold. Panic set in.
On a day where lost pregnancies are recognised all over the world, I lost my third baby. I can’t say which emotion was stronger in the days that followed, grief or anger. I felt the full magnitude of both emotions and believed my dream to have another baby was over. I was wrecked.
Losing a pregnancy
Losing a pregnancy introduces you to an entirely different world. It thrusts you into a “club” that you never expected to join. And it’s a lifetime membership. I turned to online groups for support and hope, becoming fluent in the language of fertility and miscarriage. The physical recovery took time but the emotional recovery took longer. I felt my wound would never heal. But slowly it did.
Pregnancy after loss
About six months later I fell pregnant again; making me a mother of what parents in the child-loss community call a “rainbow baby” bringing beauty after the storm of child loss. With a pregnancy after the loss of a child, you have two choices — live in fear or live in hope. And miscarriage provides fertile ground for fear. In the early weeks I over-analysed every twinge, pain, cramp and ache. Early spotting and cramping echoed my previous pregnancies and I felt certain that it was only a matter of time before this baby was taken away from me as well. I was gripped by a panic so strong; the residue of grief too powerful to shake.
I counted the days until I was able to get an early ultrasound and make sure that there was, in fact, a baby growing. It was the longest seven weeks of my life. As I lay down on the technician’s table, I murmured an apology for my trembling legs and let silent tears fall. I prepared to hear those haunting words again, “I am sorry but this pregnancy is not viable.”
Only I didn’t hear them. The doctor assured me the tiny blob on the screen was an embryo and he dated my pregnancy. I was supposed to be happy. Only I wasn’t. I thought the dates were wrong, and the baby was measuring too small for the expected date. My second pregnancy had been an agonizing 11-week wait of weekly scans until the baby’s heart stopped. I thought this pregnancy would follow the same script.
The next five weeks were torturous. I felt terribly sick, but my body had tricked me last time by continuing to pump the pregnancy hormone until I had undergone a D&C. At my next scan I was certain I would be told the baby hadn’t grown. Only it had. My little rainbow embryo showed perfect growth and my doctor told me I could be “officially” happy. As I clutched my 12-week ultrasound photo, I resolved to look forward, not back.
I told my girls and allowed myself to be swept up in their excitement. And their elation was off the charts. Buoyed by their love and enthusiasm, I have been able to embrace and enjoy the remainder of this pregnancy.
Pregnancy after loss feels nothing like pregnancy before loss. Love and loss have become interwoven but hope has outlasted fear. In just a few weeks I will meet my precious rainbow baby, a living symbol of healing and hope. When he or she is placed onto my chest, I will remember my lost babies too. And in that exquisite moment, grief and gratitude will likely meet and I will swaddle my baby in love.