adjusting

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Saffron hauls herself onto my lap while I’m breastfeeding Pearl. She grabs each side of my face and forces me to look at her while I’m ushering lots of “careful, careful, careful of the baby.” She looks at the baby. “I love your baby, she’s beautiful. ” (“luff”, “boo-full”) she says. She thinks momentarily. “Now your baby has come out, there’s room for me in your tummy again.”

This has been a common thread of late, Saffron commenting on the appearance of the baby, and the vacant accommodations she has left behind. And how she would dearly like to climb back into said vacant block. Please.

I look at this enormous creature perched precariously on my knee, her gigantic deep brown eyes staring at me, eagerly awaiting a response. I’m confused. Only three weeks ago this huge being was my baby. I would pick her up like a tiny doll and balance her on top of my rounded stomach. I would play with her soft curls and wipe vegemite from her stained baby lips. Now she appears in front of me like a monstrous Japanese cartoon; all eyes and head and face. She reaches out a finger and pokes the side of Pearl’s face. “Can I kiss your baby?” (“tan”, “tiss”) She asks, sick of waiting for a response to her request to climb back inside me.

She kisses the baby then pulls my hand away from where it is rested, cradling Pearl’s back. She holds my hand and makes sure I can’t touch the baby with it.

We are all adjusting to this new way of life, this new being who is suddenly in our family and in our space after an eternity of pregnancy. Adjusting to my constant “shhhhh’s” and “careful’s!!”. Adjusting to the crying, to the constant commands of this tiny person.

And then I see my eldest two daughters playing and hugging and kissing each other. I see them holding hands tonight while we walked to get fish and chips. I see them giggling together and whispering rude secrets (namely about poo). And I remember when Saffron was this tiny thing in my arms and Nell was the giant child poking and prodding. And I know everything and everyone will be just fine.

yoga and birth

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I practised prenatal yoga through all three of my pregnancies. As I lay in bed last Thursday with Pearly, I sent my yoga teacher a text message briefly outlining Pearl’s labour and birth for her to read out to my fellow preggy ladies during class that night. As I typed my eyes welled up with tears as I realised just how big a role yoga has played in my ability to birth, to breathe, and to get me through some of the most challenging moments pregnancy and labour could throw at me.

During our classes we practised breath, and we would hold say a squat or another pose which gradually increased in difficulty and practise breathing through it (in for four and out for four), as though it were a contraction. We used sound; humming, ahhing and more recently the sound “shhhh” which I used when in labour with Pearl.

Each birth I have practised these skills, and I have worked really hard to let go and flow with my body throughout the labour. I used to get really annoyed when KB would compare pregnancy and birth to sport (sport = the language he speaks ;) ) but now I can really see how good birth preparation and hard work are akin to training for a marathon. For some reason when I was pregnant with Saffron, I thought labour would be easy because I had done it once before. (Don’t ask me why… hilariously ridiculous… I can see that now!) With each subsequent birth there have been new challenges – with Saff it was coming to terms with the fact that it was actually going to hurt despite previous experience! And yoga (along with a kick arse support team) is the number one thing I can thank for keeping me calm. This time around I didn’t have any moments of panic, I maintained my breathing most of the time and I drew on what I had learnt to get me through.

Now, post birth, I use yoga breathing when I’m feeling challenged emotionally, when Pearl is crying or when I’m feeling overwhelmed with having three small children (!)

I have tried to imagine what might have happened to me when I reached the peak of the strongest contractions… without yoga and dedication, would my support team have been enough?

newborning // the third time around

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The big girls are at kinder, the baby is asleep. There are vegetables roasting in the oven for a frittata for tonight’s dinner. The washing has been put on and some episodes of Mad Men watched. Papers and pencils have been thrown into drawers and doors to messy bedrooms closed.

Newborning, the third time around… things are chaotic with three, but surprisingly there is an overarching sense of calm that comes with a little bit of knowledge and previous practice.

In the night when Pearl is wide eyed and grizzly, I’m not in a flood of tears wondering what has happened to my life. I cuddle her close and breathe in her milky scent. I close my eyes when I can and go through that mental list – milked? changed? warm? tired? comforted? I remind myself how quickly this phase passes and life moves on.

Before I go to bed at night I quickly line up supplies for my nightly motherly duties – terry cloth towels, a few nappies, wipes, a full water bottle and a snack. I breastfeed in bed and close my eyes when I can. Nowadays nothing gets in the way of precious sleep time – if I can help it.

I’m slowly recovering from the birth and while life does not yet have a new flow, I have a new vision of how things are going to be. I know these sleepy newborn days don’t last, I know this round baby will soon open her eyes fully and begin to see the world around her in a new light. I know things will be busy and full when friends and family slowly move on with their lives and the food arriving on the doorstep and the kinder pickups gradually diminish.

Part of me is nervous, but the other part knows (read: hopes desperately) that I’ve got this.

the pause

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This familiar place. The pause between worlds. This one and that. The old and the new. The end of one, the beginning of another.

Mindless, yet strangely mindful in this lonesome woman’s space. Where sleeping and waking are both foggy and dim.

My baby is guiding the way now.

These final days.

an external cephalic version or ECV

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I don’t know that I posted much about my experience last pregnancy with Pixie. I felt very insular and private during that pregnancy. This time around I have faced many of the same dilemmas and realised that by speaking out about my feelings they become a whole lot easier to manage.

When my little Pixie remained firmly in breech position throughout my pregnancy, I could barely bring myself to utter the word: breech. I felt like if I said it out loud, she might hear me. At the cross roads between a home birth and a caesarean I felt an immense amount of stress. After much agony and research we went ahead with an external cephalic version (ECV). My little Pixie turned south and remained that way to be born, at home, in the water.

When the same thing happened this pregnancy, I couldn’t quite believe it. I felt much better equipped to work with the situation, given I’d had practice, but I still couldn’t help feeling a desperate panic for this baby to turn. Reliving history gives you the chance to reflect on how you might do something differently. I tried really hard to focus on that this time. So I called in all the stops – booked myself in for a few specialised counselling sessions with a very experienced independent midwife, got back on the horse with acupuncture, moxibustion, chiro, spinning babies – you name it, I did it. I also decided at the beginning of the pregnancy that I wanted to go back to the birth centre where I had my first baby Birdie, as one of the difficult things for me about having a home birth was not having easy access to additional support if it was needed – for example in my case, another ECV. My doctor has also semi-retired and is no longer attending home births, so the thought of replacing him on my support team and organising the whole caper just wasn’t what felt right. Turns out my instincts were leading me on the right path.

With my ECV date looming this time around I went through various phases: panic, depression, fear… until finally, the week before my appointment, I allowed myself to give up. I cancelled my last acupuncture appointment and while I continued to do all the spinning babies exercises and yoga and so on, it was without pressure. I resigned myself to the fact that I would be going in for the ECV. I accepted it. In my mind the ECV was the next turning point in this pregnancy. I just had to get myself to that date, and wait and see what would come next.

One mistake I did repeat was searching for other experiences on the internet. Unfortunately there are lots of women who have had difficult ECVs and I didn’t find many positive experiences. (In saying that I know there was apparently a really positive ECV video being passed around on Facebook a few weeks ago but I was too frightened to watch it at the time and now I can’t find it… if anyone has the link please let me know and I’ll add it here.) [*UPDATE – here is the link. I haven’t watched it myself, still can’t bring myself to but perhaps I will after I have had the baby!]

I want to share my ECV experiences for others who might be thinking about choosing this option. This time it was a no brainer, but I remember it being a difficult decision the first time, and as discussed in my last post, there seems to be a lack of positive stories floating around in the birth arena.

For those of you who don’t know, an ECV is a procedure which takes place in hospital by an obstetrician. During an ECV a baby is manually encouraged to turn from breech position to head down by use of the obstetrician’s hands on the woman’s stomach. My father in law asked me afterwards, “So they… use their hands to… go… up… internally and… twist the baby…” UP? NO! I had to stop myself from crying I was trying not to laugh so hard. Rest assured, it is all done from the outside people.

I have gone down the ECV road twice now during my last two pregnancies. It is not something I would like to repeat and certainly didn’t imagine myself having to do it again this pregnancy, but I would do it again a million times over before being bullied into a caesarean simply due to breech position, which is sadly what happens at a lot of hospitals in Australia. There are certain risks that go with getting an ECV. If you’re considering getting one I would do some research yourself and ensure that it is the right decision for you. Some people decide not to go ahead after they have read more about them, it is entirely your individual choice.

Onto the ECV. When I arrived at the hospital I was given a very brief ultrasound just to confirm that the hard round ball under my ribs was in fact a head and not a strangely shaped bottom. It was, so I was hooked up to monitoring for about 20 minutes. After that I was met by the consultant obstetrician who would be doing my ECV. She did a more thorough ultrasound to check that there wasn’t any obvious reason for the baby to be in breech position, and measured things like the baby’s estimated weight, checked where the cord and the placenta were, and basically made sure the conditions were optimal to attempt the ECV.

Usually women are given a drip with a medication that helps to relax the uterus during the procedure. Last pregnancy I was told that my stomach was relaxed enough to attempt the ECV without the drip. I’m terrified of drips so I was very thankful to my yoga breathing for getting me out of that one! This time, at a different and more stringent hospital I was really worried they would make me have the drip. I mentioned that I hadn’t had it last time and the consultant had a feel and was happy to attempt without the medication, and all went smoothly. I would definitely ask if this is a possibility if you are going for an ECV. The medication can make your heart race and make you feel a bit anxious, in a situation where you are probably already sweating it out a little. I was also told by the registrar that did my first ECV that he preferred not to use the drip if possible as while your stomach is relaxed under medication it is easier for the baby to flip back around afterwards. I have no idea if this is true so don’t take my word for gospel, but it does seem to make sense.

The consultant then explained that while I was laying on my back she would use both her hands to push underneath the baby’s bottom and try to encourage him/her to do a somersault. If this didn’t work she would attempt to encourage the baby to go the other way. She clearly explained that she would only continue if the baby easily moved. If the baby did not want to move, she would not push it. This was reassuring as I had read some stories on the internet which involved ECVs going on and on and on with a baby who obviously did not want to move.

She placed both her hands on my stomach and located the baby’s bottom. She pushed her hands quite deeply into my stomach in order to get them slightly underneath the baby’s bottom. This is the uncomfortable part. I closed my eyes and breathed in for four and out for four. Within about a minute the whole thing was over. Initially my heart sank and I thought when she removed her hands that it hadn’t worked. A quick ultrasound showed the baby’s head pointing south and a bottom up under my ribs. I couldn’t believe it!

I was a little sore in the days following, a little bit because I had been poked and prodded, but mainly because I could feel the blissfully uncomfortable feeling of a little (wishful thinking?) head nestling and nudging my pelvis.

I am now 38.3 weeks and the baby’s head is engaged.

I couldn’t be more thankful for having the opportunity to get an ECV. I will never know what might have happened if I hadn’t agreed to it both times. Perhaps my babies would have flipped. Maybe once labour began they might have looked for the appropriate exit. I will never know, but I know that for me, the ECV was the right decision. It has allowed me to spend the last month-ish of both my pregnancies relatively worry free. It has allowed me the time and the space to prepare for a natural birth, without the added anxiety of a potential/likely caesarean looming over me. It has allowed me to connect with my baby without the strain of frustration that I felt when they seemingly would not turn around. It was the right decision for us.

Some people believe that a baby remains in breech position (or other) because they want to, and that they might know something that we don’t. I don’t know if this is true. It is usually something I would believe in wholeheartedly. I think the important thing to do is weigh up all your options and go with your gut. For me, both times, it has been to go with the ECV and so far I have not regretted my decision. There are always a lot of variations to each pregnancy – not least of which including your location and whether or not you have facilities and support nearby to deliver a breech baby naturally. This weighed in heavily on my decision to have an ECV as my other options were very limited.

Do what is right for you and your baby.

My husband and my midwife accompanied me through the whole ECV procedure and I have to give them both special thanks for being there for me on the day (and during the lead up in which I was a bundle of nerves and tears – sorry to you both!). I was so nervous, and their talk of coffees, vampires and zombies made for some excitement on my baseline monitoring record as well as helped to distract me from the whole process. So thank you xxx

And I hope this ridiculously long post has helped give another perspective on the experience of an ECV. Good luck with your decision making!

I’d like a natural birth… but…

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I had prenatal yoga last night. I feel like a bit of an old mother goose in my class at times – the majority of the women are having their first babies. Then I lug myself in all third-pregnancy like: usually late, bags under the eyes and kinder dutied out, ligaments stretching from here to who knows where, happy to do virtually anything in that quiet room if only to have an hour away from the crazy two hour long bed time shenanigans going on down the road at my house.

Sometimes I want to skip the pre-yoga chat and just get on with stretching my tired body. But last night’s discussion had me really engaged, and reminded me of the unfortunate birth culture within which we reside. Some of the first time preggy ladies were talking about things people were saying to them in response to their planning and hoping for a natural birth without intervention and it reminded me of how cruel people can be (granted, mostly unintentionally). And not only that, but how much birth-related baggage women (and men) are carrying about with them each day, making numerous attempts to palm it off to unsuspecting victims – or anyone who will listen.

When I was planning the Pixie’s home birth, I was surprised at the number of people who obviously thought a home birth was a selfish choice – in which the mother’s desire for a “nice” or “spiritual” experience comes before the health and wellbeing of her unborn baby. I was shaken by this as it couldn’t be further from the truth. However the vast ignorance of western culture when it comes to birthing and motherhood should really come as no surprise. Luckily for me it was my second pregnancy: I had given birth before, naturally, without any drugs or intervention. I knew what it was like to be pregnant. I was already a mother. While I still struggled with people’s opinions, I can’t imagine having to deal with the onslaught of everyone’s freely spoken negative and misinformed thoughts had it been my first pregnancy.

So last night when one lovely lady said that her friend had rolled her eyes when she said she was hoping to have an intervention free birth I just felt mad! Another woman had a friend who laughed and mocked at her writing a birth plan. All of the negative comments were coming from women who had given birth previously. How any woman who has gone through the pregnancy and birth process can then be so cruel and spiteful to an unsuspecting first timer is beyond me. One of my sisters is also currently pregnant for the first time (soooooo exciting – I am going to be an Aunty!!). She received an email the other day from a friend encouraging her to head straight for the epidural.

It seems widely acceptable to offer this type of unwanted advice willy-nilly (and doesn’t seem to stop once the baby is born either…) But then when you have had a normal experience of birth and consider sharing it, you often become the woman who is boasting about her good fortune and rubbing it in everyone’s face. You can’t win!

I admire people who plan for the birth that will be optimal for their baby and themselves. Women should take it upon themselves to be educated and make informed decisions about what type of environment and situation will be most optimal given their own individual situation – pre and post baby. For example I know someone with extreme anxiety who after much research opted for an elective caesarean in order to keep their stress hormones down and remain as relaxed as possible. For her, that was the most optimal choice which would therefore likely bring about a more positive outcome for her baby too. Good on her!

I think birth stories (and intentions) should be shared freely and without judgement amongst women – without spite or nastiness or fear mongering. That is the last thing anyone needs. So read ladies, read, research, get informed, ask questions to those you trust, build a support network around you and make choices that suit you and your family. Not your mother-in-law or the woman who sits next to you at work or the lady in the queue behind you in the chemist.

P.S. On another note I realise I haven’t updated the blog post-ECV. Long story short – I have a head down baby! Update currently in draft stages behind the scenes :)