Pregnancy and Birth

Sophie’s conception, pregnancy and birth weren’t exactly what I had hoped or planned for.

Sophie was conceived via IVF. I was lucky enough to fall pregnant on our second attempt (after only one full cycle, and one frozen embryo transplant). I had a small bleed at about six weeks, but didn’t miscarry. At 12 weeks, when we had our first “proper” ultrasound I remember Frank and I laughing because Sophie seemed to turn around and wave at the camera. It was a lovely moment in what was otherwise a fairly stressful pregnancy.

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I had a feeling in my gut that things were not as they should be. But I have a tendency to be pessimistic and overly anxious at times, and we were dealing with other stressful life events at the time…so I did my best to ignore that feeling. We did however decide to have an amniocentesis at about 18 weeks. The lab had trouble growing a decent cell line, which concerned me. They made a second attempt and were able to culture “just enough” cells to give us the news that we could expect a “normal” baby. That was long before I had the understanding of genetic testing that I have now. If I were to fall pregnant again I would not have an amniocentesis. There is a risk of loss, and amnios don’t actually give you much information at all. But I digress. The amnio was at least able to give us a definitive answer as to the sex of our baby. And I was absolutely delighted to discover that I was pregnant with a little girl. I know it’s politically incorrect to say this, and the correct thing to say is “I don’t mind what sex the baby is”…but in honesty, I wanted a little girl, and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

Unfortunately, at 26 weeks I contracted what was suspected to be swine flu. I was bedridden for about ten days.. I never really recovered from that flu, and went on to develop a terrible cough that lasted through all of my last trimester. Most days I coughed so much and so hard that I would end up vomiting several times just from the coughing. Whooping cough was suspected, but not proven. I had terrible reflux so had to “sleep” sitting up (supported by about six pillows) for the last three months of the pregnancy. For those last three months I was lucky to get four or five hours of sleep a night.

I was taken to hospital by ambulance twice in the week before I went into labour, in “respiratory distress”. One doctor stated that they would have to perform an emergency c-section to “get the baby out”. Another countered that I was too unwell to undergo surgery. Given the baby was showing no signs of distress, it was decided that the best course of action would be to attempt to get me “well enough” to undergo labour. I was given a plethora of drugs, including antibiotics and steroids, to try to clear my lungs and assist my breathing. All this after I’d studiously avoided taking any pharmaceuticals throughout my pregnancy, in an attempt to give my baby the best start in life. I was exhausted already and my darling daughter wasn’t even born yet!

With my ill health, I suppose it is no surprise that I only put on 6.5 kilos throughout the pregnancy (and I wasn’t overweight to begin with – I am 163cms tall and weighed 58 kilos when I fell pregnant, and 64.5 kilos when Sophie was born). At 38 weeks I was sent for an ultrasound as the baby seemed “small for dates”. The ultrasound showed no abnormalities, and a “normal” baby, just a little on the small side.

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My health was marginally improved by the time I went into labour at 39 weeks. The birth itself was far from the birth I had envisaged. I had hired a doula, gone through the alternative birthing centre (rather than the mainstream hospital), had my own midwife, drunk the raspberry leaf tea, attended the yoga classes, read the books on how to avoid the “cascade of interventions”, participated in hydrotherapy during pregnancy and had a labour plan and an active labour…. all in the quest to achieve a much longed for natural birth. Hah! Instead I ended up with a long and horrific labour, every intervention imaginable, and an emergency cesarean section once Sophie’s heart rate plummeted to 50BPM and failed to recover between contractions. I suppose it was no real surprise, given that I went into a long labour already exhausted and unwell. And as it turns out Sophie’s head was caught on my pelvis and failed to enter the birth canal. None of which was my “fault”. But regardless, I felt dis-empowered, and I felt like a failure. I felt like I wasn’t a real woman, and somehow not a “real” mother.

From the start things weren’t quite right. The tiny mewling kitten sound Sophie made when she was born was far from the healthy indignant cry I had expected. That was the first warning. Despite my sense of unease at the unusual sound of her cry, I remember the overwhelming sense of relief that she was born alive. Despite being covered in meconium, she hadn’t aspirated any. And her Apgars were 8 and then 9, so all seemed okay. I tried not to wonder why she sounded so different to other newborns. And why she felt so ‘floppy”. And thankfully, I have one beautiful and crystal clear memory of being overcome for a moment by a sense of complete and overwhelming love for her. I thank god for that moment, because that loving feeling disappeared pretty quickly and was not to return until she was about 9 or 10 months old.

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The attending midwife came to visit me the day after Sophie’s birth, and claimed that she had never seen such a gruelling labour in her whole thirty years of practice. She claimed that if we were in Africa it would have gone on for another three days, and both Sophie and I would have died. My doula also said she had never seen anything like it in the hundred plus births she had attended. But for some reason I found no comfort in this – in my addled and exhausted brain I decided they had told me these things in an attempt to make me feel better. I was devastated by the way the birth had gone and felt like a failure. As it turns out, the birth itself was going to be the least of our problems. But we didn’t know that yet.

NEXT POST…HOSPITAL STAY AND DISCHARGE

 

5 thoughts on “Pregnancy and Birth

  1. This is so interesting and honest. I remember the 1st time you met my son, I think he was 2 weeks old and you were telling me about this. I knew I could not handle a lengthy labour then an emergency c-section because it’s the worst of both worlds. I always feel sad when women feel like failures after a c-section.

    Sophie was such a gorgeous new born.

    And she is very lucky to have you as her parent. xxx

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  2. Oh my goodness, I totally forgot about Romy’s meow sounding cry until I read this!! I wonder if this is a ‘kabuki’ thing?!

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    • I think lots of Kabuki babies have a very high pitched cry. Interestingly, one of the first genetic conditions that was ever mentioned in relation to Sophie was Cri du Chat (French for Cry of the Cat, or Cat’s Cry), because all children with Cri du Chat make that high pitched kitten mewling sound. When we were hospitalised when Sophie was four months old an intern heard her cry and thought she might have Cri du Chat. She was the first doctor to acknowledge my concerns that Sophie might have a genetic disorder. Cri du Chat was ruled out and it wasn’t until months later that any other doctor took my concerns seriously.

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      • I had a very similar prenatal story with Bailey. I desperately wanted all-natural home birth for my last child. I still feel sad about the c-section but she was born needing immediate resuscitation, ventilation, and heart surgery, so it really wasn’t an option. Know that you’ve always done the very best for your Sophie! I also share some of your hospital experience. I kept telling doctors, nurses, anyone with 2 ears that Bailey was in pain, something was wrong! No one listened. I didn’t want to give her the formula that was being pushed on me to supplement her breast milk (it made her scream like a poltergeist all night and I was by her side 24hrs/day without sleep!) but the fellows were all concerned about their “trajectories.” Full-blown allergic colitis wasn’t diagnosed until many agonizing months later, although there were a million opportunities in her one-month admission. Bailey was aspirating and put on thickener which turns out to be charged in the death of several healthy newborns due to NEC so I took her off it cold turkey at home and luckily after about a week she learned to suck-swallow better and the next two swallow studies were normal (not advising this, by the way, just what we did out of desperation that happened to work well for us). I swear Bailey screamed that high-pitched shriek nearly every moment for a year!! I wish I had discovered Kabuki in the early days. Not that anyone was listening lol! But finding you other mom as could’ve saved my sanity! So validating to hear that we were so not alone in our journey!!

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      • I’m sorry to hear you had such a hard time. Something that still shocks me is how often I hear the story of doctors not listening to mothers. Other than that one intern, it took us more than a year before anyone took my concerns seriously, and twenty months to get a diagnosis. At the time I just thought we were exceptionally unlucky with the doctors we had had. After becoming active in the special needs community I have learnt just how common a story it is. I’d like to say I’ve come to terms with it, but the way some doctors treat mothers still makes my blood boil!!!

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