‘My birth story, speaking the truth’ – Shared by a local Newcastle Mum
(Although this mother wishes to remain anonymous for now, she is choosing to share to help normalise and speak out about Post natal depression and mental health struggles for women).
“My husband and I had been talking about starting a family for some time but struggled to find the ‘right’ time. I had started a new job and was throwing everything into my work. We had also just moved into a rental property and were looking to buy a house. With everything in flux, I was determined to get settled into work and a new house. But my body had been aching for a baby. Everyone seemed to be pregnant or holding small children.
When we found out we were expecting a baby we were in shock as it was our first month of trying. We expected, especially after my complications with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, to have to wait a long time to fall pregnant. We felt so lucky and relieved and nervous. It was the hardest secret to keep. I was very, very lucky to experience a wonderful pregnancy with little sickness or pain.
We decided to make a decision to change our birthing plan at about 22 weeks. Before then I had been seeing an obstetrician through the private hospital but I had been thinking about other options. Another woman I knew had a midwife and a natural birth and I had been reading into Hypnobirthing. I decided one day, just when I was about to book into the private hospital prenatal classes, that I would call a local Hypnobirthing specialist, and ask some questions. Our conversation was everything I was after. Natalie also pointed me in the direction of the Belmont Midwifery Group Practice, where natural, drug-free births take place at their birthing suites or at home. I called them and had a midwife arranged. Within a week or so, we had completely changed our plans and we couldn’t be happier.
I began devouring information on the birthing experience. I read and re-read ‘Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method’ (my husband read this one too, which was helpful). I fell in love with books by Ina May Gaskin and learnt about acupressure for birth (which we completely forgot to use). I watched Ted Talks and read blogs. I learnt all of the hypnobirthing terminology and knew about each phase of labour. I had become a complete birth nerd.
When I got to 38 weeks, I was sure labour would start soon. My mother had wonderful pregnancies and delivered three times at 38 weeks and I am just like her. But for two long weeks I bounced up and down on my yoga ball eating pineapple and curry.
At 40 weeks and 1 day, I started experiencing contractions (or surges, for the hypnobirthing folk out there) at around 10:30pm that came every ten minutes or so. I was able to get a couple of hours of sleep but woke up at about 4am. I drew a bath, diffused Clary Sage and told my sleeping husband that today would be the day.
Dinner time rolled around and I was still experiencing contractions every ten minutes. That night I got very little sleep as I was awoken every ten minutes- just as I’d start to doze off. I also reheated the wheat bag about twenty times! I made sure my husband slept through all of this because I knew I would need him when labour began.
By Sunday I was sick of being housebound and certain that I was never going to have a baby, so we decided to take our mind off things and keep me active with a little Christmas decoration shopping. I rested on seats at the shops and held on to reindeer or Christmas trees when the contractions were too strong. We decorated the tree when we got home and I took another bath.
That night, we went to a family birthday party as it was close to home and I was feeling up to it. When I was at the party, I noticed the contractions were getting closer together and I was struggling to hold conversations. I struggled to get through my lemon meringue pie (a sure indication that something was happening) and we decided to head home early.
Before bed, I had another bath to soothe my aching back. The moment I got into bed my waters broke, which I never expected to happen! My husband called the midwife and told her what had happened. There was no rush at this point- I was to wait until I had four contractions in ten minutes. But contractions started coming hard and fast so we were to head straight into the birthing suite.
When we reached the birthing suite, I got straight under a hot shower and then spent several hours in the bathtub. I found at this point that I could not focus on the meditation tracks but preferred soothing music. The midwives checked me routinely and wiped my forehead with a washer soaked in icy water. It was bliss! They left us to be on our own for most of my labour, which was exactly what we wanted. I was using the hypnobirthing balloon meditation through each contraction, focusing on a variety of colours which ended up following a particular pattern. This technique helped me to focus on my breath and an awareness of expansion rather than contraction.
After several hours and position changes, I got out of the bath. My midwives recommended sitting on the toilet. I took whiffs of Clary Sage and held my husband tightly. I was finding labour incredible intense at this point and was losing energy.
I looked at the bed and knew in my gut that I had to lie down and rest. My contractions had slowed and lost intensity but my baby’s heart rate was strong. My midwives observed that I was dehydrated and would need to drink water or have a saline drip. I tried drinking a fair amount of water followed by a sip of my husband’s orange juice but ended up vomiting. I had the drip and focused on relaxing my body, which wouldn’t stop shaking.
I fell into this strange yet blissful state that lasted hours. I felt contractions coming and going, but also drifted in and out of consciousness. My husband, too, doesn’t know what happened between about 2:30 and 4:30am!
My contractions strengthened and a wave of energy came over me. After about 54 hours of regular contractions, I was on my last legs. I moved to the birthing seat and found the handles to be life savers. One of the midwives took some incredible, raw photos at this point, which I look back on sometimes to remind myself of my strength.
I definitely didn’t employ the gentle birth breathing I’d prepared for – I was pushing with all my might! The midwives were great at helping me channel my remaining energy into birthing. At 6:43am, our darling little boy made his way into the world and into the hands of his father. He was put up on my chest and made his first cries. I truly couldn’t believe what was happening and joined him in the crying!
He stayed on my chest for some time after that. I had learnt that newborns go searching for the nipple when they’re born and I wanted to see if he would too. He did, and with a little help we were breastfeeding.
After our first breastfeed, we phoned our parents and our midwives did all of their measuring and weighing. I also needed to have a few stitches. We were going to have our parents visit us at the birthing suite, but after a quick shower and another breastfeed we were ready to head off and decided to meet them at our house. They brought around morning tea and we settled in for a cuppa.
My mum stayed for the whole day (and came over on many days after that!), allowing my husband and I to catch up on some sleep in the afternoon. Our midwives visited daily for a week or so to check in on all of us. And from then on, we were parents!
While I was very fortunate to experience such positive pregnancy and birthing experiences, I was one of the many women who struggled with mental illness following the birth of their first child.
I had always assumed that if I had a wonderful pregnancy and birth, the postpartum period would be wonderful too. If only life were that clear-cut!
What I haven’t included in my birth story is my mental health struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and anxiety that re-emerged a week before my baby was born.
OCD is an anxiety condition that affects about 3% of people. A common, well-known form is contamination OCD, such as the fear of germs or diseases, but OCD encapsulates any obsession that causes thoughts, images or doubts to loop in your mind, along with the resulting physical or mental compulsions (such as hand-washing or rumination).
I had previously dealt with what I believe now was OCD a few years prior. I had been travelling overseas on holidays with my husband during a frantic time in my career. A doubt that I would never sleep again came into my head somewhere between the jetlag and the work stress and I couldn’t let it go. I spent much of my ‘holiday’ awake, crying to my exhausted husband in bed, or on the phone to my mother, or avoiding caffeine and late nights and alcohol and anything that could interfere with sleep, fearing it from morning until night.
It ebbed and flowed for months after out return home. I didn’t seek treatment other than the standard sleeping pills and vitamins. Eventually, life came back into the picture and the fear was buried.
This experience set the stage for what occurred before my son’s birth. A week or so before my son was born I woke up at 2am. I was used to waking up throughout pregnancy and my sleep had been overall excellent. But this time the doubt struck again. What if I can’t sleep when my baby arrives? This then spiralled into many other doubts- what if I can’t sleep well enough before the birth and I’m too exhausted to deliver? What if this causes postnatal depression? What if I can’t take care of my baby? What if I blame my baby for this? What if I then don’t love him/her?
I struggled with these doubts and with sleep for several months. Even when I’d have a good night of sleep (carefully added up first thing the following morning), I’d still spend the day gripped by anxiety and fear. Unfortunately you can’t rationalise with OCD! I sought therapy at this point, which helped a great deal. My anxiety decreased and sleep improved, but I still hadn’t addressed it to the extent I needed to and as such, a new obsession emerged. It was at this point that I was diagnosed with OCD.
My obsessions have changed several times in the past year and I am still tackling this condition one day at a time. Therapy, medication, exercise, meditation, yoga and supplementation have helped a great deal, as has sharing my struggles with friends and family and letting go of my perfectionist tendencies.
For baby number two, I’ll make use of the techniques I’ve learnt through Natalie and her private Birth Education and hypnobirthing. I’ll also apply Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) strategies that I’ve developed in my mental health journey this year. While two differing practices, I believe they both have wonderful insights to offer and that it’s important to personalise your approach to birth, just as you do to your life.
If there’s anything I’ve learnt through my pregnancy, birthing and postpartum experience, it’s that life – just like birth – is often that bit messier than we expect it to be.
Although this author wishes to remain anonymous, she shares her very personal story to help normalise and speak out about mental illness struggles for mums.
NOTE: If you are experiencing mental and/or emotional struggles, call PANDA, free phone counselling for pregnancy and beyond: PANDA National Helpline (Mon to Fri, 9am – 7.30pm AEST) Call 1300 726 306 https://www.panda.org.au/info-support/support/calling-panda-national-helpline
and read more here: https://www.panda.org.au/info-support/postnatal-psychosis