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.
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.
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.
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