Thursday, 16 June 2016

My Birth Story with Number Two

Shortly after Sienna was born, I blogged about her arrival. It was an emotional post for me to write, and I remember it generating a fair amount of emotional response amongst those who read it. Ironically however, most of the true emotion that I felt at the time didn't make it into that blog post. Reading it back now, I talked a lot about the facts and very little about my feelings.

Writing that I was 'stunned by the enormity of the situation' is about as close as I got to documenting just how damn hard I found things during and after my first delivery.  Why did I not write more candidly? It wasn't because I didn't want to remember the feelings, or even because I didn't want to admit to them - instead it was because I didn't really realise at the time that what I felt wasn't the way it was for everyone - and wasn't the way it always has to be.

So - some bullet point reality checks to set the record straight:
 - My first delivery was quick and traumatic. The pethidine made me hallucinate and feel totally out of control. Things got stressful and my baby was yanked out by forceps. She was beaten about by the trauma of the delivery and I felt little to no emotion when she arrived.
- The day after she was delivered I felt like I'd been hit by an emotional tonne of bricks. The baby blues were immediate and very real.
- The physical impact of delivery on my body was huge. I couldn't sit down without pain for a good few weeks. I swelled up so much with the excess fluid that I was a good couple of dress sizes bigger than normal and could not get my shoes on for several days. I couldn't walk more than a couple of hundred meters without my pelvic floor feeling like it wanted to give in.
- My baby had tremendous difficulty feeding which took weeks of perseverance to solve, as well as a handful of other health issues which were thankfully minor in the grand scheme of things, but none the less very stressful for a first time mum.

Only over time, and through the counsel of some great friends, did I come to understand that my difficult experience first time around was not a reflection on my inability to cope with childbirth and a newborn. I'd genuinely been dealt a tricky hand, and it took quite some time for both the physical and emotional wounds to heal.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it put me off having a second baby. I always joked that the conception of our second child would have to be impulsive and very lucky or I'd get cold feet. Well, it was and before I could change my mind our second bub was on the way. An army of supportive mums assured me that the second time would be different, and despite the fact that I wasn't entirely convinced, they couldn't have been more correct.

And so here begins what this post is all about.. the delivery of my second bub, Joey...

Pregnancy with number two was a very different experience to first time around. Chasing the tail of a toddler with a baby in your tummy is exhausting, although it no doubt kept me fitter than the sedentary office job that occupied me when I was pregnant with Sienna. Tom and I both had a chuckle when a doctor responded to my low blood pressure reading by enquiring if I was an elite athlete... I believe the last time I did intentional exercise was in 2012!

It was otherwise a smooth and uneventful pregnancy. I was well cared for by the NHS midwives, although I will admit it was quite a different experience from the Australian private system. Instead of seeing the same obstetrician month in and month out, I didn't see the same person twice throughout the nine months. Most of my check ups were in a temporary-hut in a school playground and seemed to revolve around taking urine samples - something which was not done once during my Australian pregnancy! Sienna enjoyed coming with me to see the 'dot-dot' (doctor, aka midwife) and watched the blood tests and so-on with great fascination.

By 38 weeks I was desperate for relief and delighted when the grandparents arrived to help me look after Sienna. I'd been having Braxton Hicks contractions for many many weeks, but they started to ramp up by 38-39 weeks and I had a few false starts wondering if this 'was it' or not.
My expectation was for a quick labour. My first delivery was 7 hours all up from the very first twinge to baby's arrival. I knew very well that things are usually quicker second time around, so my main goal was to make it to the hospital in time. I lied and told the midwives it was 5 hours, just in case they didn't let me come in quickly enough!

My birth plan also had a number of changes from first time around - no pethidine this time for obvious reasons, and instead I really wanted to try an epidural. I chickened out of this option first time, afraid it would slow my labour, or leave me with some horrible side effect. I also enlisted the help of a budding-doula and very close friend, Fiona, to help me during labour.

We all know that a birth plan is really just a guide, a shopping list of 'nice to haves' in the lottery that is childbirth. Well I won the jackpot that night, because everything went exactly as I wished it to. For every challenge that I faced first time around, I was rewarded with an entirely different experience with our second baby.

I started having contractions at about 6.30pm. Having had a few false starts in the previous days I wasn't too excited, but an hour later they were getting steadily closer together. The hospital surprised me by encouraging me to come straight in, and we left home just after 8pm on a Saturday night for a relatively pleasant traffic-free drive into Kingston. Being a Saturday night also meant parking was easy at the hospital, and I wasn't so far along in my labour that being in a car was too difficult.
I was 3cm on arrival, not quite enough to be admitted. So they sent me for a walk around. During this time we established a great system between Tom and Fiona to help me with each contraction - Tom was my physical support - squeezing my hand, letting me lean on him etc. Fiona was my emotional crutch - talking me through each contraction and lending me words of encouragement. After just 45 minutes I was the required 4cm, and could be admitted to the labour ward. I called for the epidural immediately and it was all set up and effective about another hour later, 11.15pm.

I had a lovely Scottish midwife called Miranda and the anaesthetist was very professional and calming. Having previously thought I'd be terrified of the needle in my spine, it was actually a piece of cake - probably helped by the fact that I was on the gas and air by this point!

Whilst the epidural took away all of my contraction pain, I still felt incredible pressure from the baby moving down. I was under the impression that an epidural would mean I couldn't even tell when I was having a contraction, but for me I needed gas and air and a heck of a lot of cheerleading to get through the pressure of every single contraction. In hindsight, this was probably because the speed of my delivery meant it was all happening extremely fast.

Within an hour of getting the epidural, my waters broke, the contractions got really close together, and our baby was born in a way I could never have imagined possible. Fiona guided me to breathe slowly and listen to my body - it felt so unbelievably natural to slowly breathe him out.  Before my final push I felt absolutely euphoric - such a contrast from my previous delivery - and I specifically remember thinking, 'I'm actually going to do this!'. The emotion as I was handed our baby boy was immediate and real and full of love. There were tears all around. I finally felt the emotion that I was denied with my first delivery. It felt like the most wonderful reward for surviving the first time around and being brave enough to give it a second go.

The contrasts don't stop there - my recovery has been so much quicker this time around. Barely a stitch and no bruising has meant much less discomfort, I am not the size of a blue whale (perhaps just a humpback), breastfeeding has been much easier, no major or minor health concerns with baby - and so on. A tonne of bricks has not come thundering down (yet!) and the blues have only been momentary, perhaps a very pale shade of turquoise, and more likely related to a toddler meltdown than a newborn-induced depression...

My message here is two-fold and very simple. For all those women who've had a tough time having a baby - (1) it's not a reflection on your abilities to birth or be a good mother, and (2) there is hope for a better experience. Have confidence in your body and the fact that it knows what to do. Take comfort that your previous experiences will stand you in good stead for the future. Believe that even if you don't feel instant love for your baby, it will grow each day until your heart is fuller than you ever thought possible.

So why was I blessed with such a positive experience this time? I believe a good amount of luck, some careful mental preparation, the unwavering support of Tom, and also the instrumental role of friend and doula - Fiona.

Fiona has become somewhat instrumental in my life. She introduced me to my husband, was the maid of honour at my wedding, and has now helped me deliver one of my precious babies in the most wonderful of ways. Everybody questioned my decision to have her present at my birth - most could not fathom opening up such an intimate moment to someone other than your husband or the medics. I think my differing outlook was a result of a few things - firstly Fiona has had two wonderful deliveries of her own, and I was willing to try anything to influence my second delivery to be more positive than the first. She is also training to be a doula and I knew that experiencing her first birth as a 'third party' would be critical in her training. And finally, I myself had the honour of accompanying a close friend whilst she give birth several years ago, and that had only served to make our friendship stronger. If there was ever a reservation from either Tom or myself, it quickly disappeared and we both agreed her contribution to our experience was key. I'm not planning a third baby, but if I was - I'd want her to be there, and I think Tom would too.

So baby Joey has safely arrived. Eight minutes past midnight on the 5th June 2016, weighing a tiny 6lb and 3oz (2.8kg). He's a delight and Sienna adores her little brother. My heart is full :)

CAVEAT: throughout this post I have tried to referr to my 'first pregnancy / delivery / baby'  and 'second pregnancy / delivery / baby' rather than to 'Sienna' and 'Joey' - because in no way does my differing experience reflect on who my children are and how much I love them. If Sienna or Joey were ever to read this (let's face it, Sienna might, Joey probably won't!) I would not want them to think that the positive/negative experiences I had was in any way a result of who they are as little people.

Sienna vs Joey at the same age!

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