My Fourth Trimester - by Bridie
So many aspects of pregnancy and birth were easy for me. We had just got married in February and decided to wait until after a friend's wedding in Thailand in the middle of the year before we started trying for a baby so that we could enjoy our last holiday as a couple. I'd been diligently tracking my cycle for a year as the pill made me angry and weepy and after a few people close to me had suffered infertility issues, I wanted to ensure I was on the right track.
I never assumed I'd get pregnant so quickly, based on other people's experiences. We came home from our Thailand trip and I didn't have another period. I weed on a stick and sure enough....pregnant. My heartbeat swirled in my ears and I lost my breath as the realisation sank in.
I had a dream pregnancy. There were no issues, I felt reasonably fit and I continued lifting weights and walking for most of the time. My blood pressure was 120/80 at every appointment and I didn't throw up once. I got a bit of fluid retention in the last fortnight, but still managed to go out and do things (like shop for a footstool to elevate my giant cankles!). I fully subscribe to the theory that pregnancy is not a disease, but acknowledge that I was very lucky and found that my body took it very well compared with others who have a very hard time.
The birth was just as surprising as the pregnancy. I was overdue 40+5 and was scheduled for an induction, which I was terrified of, fearing the so-called 'cascade of intervention' believing it would end in an emergency c-section. As a first time mother, I was prepared that labour would take a while. I read Juju Sundin's Birth Skills, which was a great resource and I expected the 7+ hours of early labour complete with heavy breathing, waiting around and using a TENS machine.
My baby and body had other ideas. I went to bed at midnight on Friday night and woke at 1am with pains, but nothing that felt like the whole torso contractions that the OB had told me about. It felt like period pain. It escalated quickly and with my water breaking in the car, my beautiful daughter was born naturally (delivered by midwives with no drugs or interventions) at 3:05am.
With everything going so smoothly up to that point, I was utterly unprepared for the complexities and fear of baby care. We aren't in a society that teaches mothercraft anymore. Everything you learn is passed on through Google and hospital antenatal classes, which is just not enough to prepare you.
I also never anticipated the heartache, frustration and sadness that would accompany breastfeeding for me. I'd been to a class provided by the Australian Breastfeeding Association, I'd had a natural birth, was fit and healthy and thought it would come as easily as conception, pregnancy and birth had.
Midwives woke me to breastfeed to ensure my daughter gained weight and she didn't seem to be getting much, so they began expressing me by hand and pumping. She screamed so much one night that they offered to take her so I could get a rest. I now assume she was starving hungry due to our terrible latch and my insufficient supply.
My milk didn't come in until around day 5 and my poor babe was so hungry that she was screaming around the clock. My Mum arrived, bearing two giant maternity bras to contain my swollen painful breasts and a dummy to quiet my poor fussing, screaming baby. I'll forever be grateful for her assistance on those first days.
The engorgement got worse and was accompanied by cracked and bleeding nipples (which "aren't the worst I've seen" according to the lactation consultant) My husband ferried me and the baby to the lactation consultant about four times over the first month after we found that the baby had lost weight since discharge. I cried and sobbed my way through every painful feeding session. I told my husband that the pain wasn't the problem, after all, I gave birth with only two Panadol under my belt. The fact that it wasn't working and I couldn't nourish my baby made me feel useless, worthless and empty.
Those feelings compounded and I was in tears every day. The inability to breastfeed when I'd so desperately wanted to, mixed with the complete upheaval of my orderly life where I was so in control and the amount of work (breastfeeding, bottle feeding and expressing) and the sleeplessness was absolutely shattering. On the upside, so many amazing women came out of the woodwork to empathise and let me know that the first six weeks can be hell and when you get through it, you will be ok. I still wish there wasn't a cone of silence around the difficulty of early motherhood.
When I confessed to my Mum that "It feels like I'm looking after someone else's baby", she asked if I had postnatal depression. I took myself off to the doctor who was understanding and empathetic, with a young toddler herself. I said I didn't think I was clinically depressed, just extremely overwhelmed. She agreed, and asked me to come back for further management. I said to myself that if I still felt like this after a month then I'd go on medication.
Week by week though, things got easier as I figured out what I was doing and begun to trust my own instincts and get to know my little girl. I wish I had sought out more support to help me after the baby was born. There are so many resources for pregnancy, but you can be largely left to your own devices with a new baby. My husband was a fantastic support and is a brilliant father. He was strong and capable in the face of my emotional breakdown, supporting and gently encouraging me. Having a baby has had its difficulties, but has ultimately made us a better couple. I couldn't have survived without him and it has deepened my love and respect for him in every way.
My Mum said that the first 12 weeks are the hardest and I truly believe it. My baby girl first tentatively smiled at me at six weeks and has been developing her strong little personality ever since. I was amazed when they placed a screaming little bundle on my stomach as soon as she was born - I felt relief and awe, but not necessarily the intense rush of love that people describe. I think love grows over time as you learn to trust one another. Love is walking the pram and feeling like you'd rather be run over yourself than any harm come to your baby. Love is people questioning why your baby has red eyes (they're stork bites) and you feeling sad and protective and fierce. Love is doing the best you can every day to make the other person happy and I can now say that I feel happy to do that forever.
About The Author:
Bridie is a mum, fitness enthusiast and chocolate connoisseur who blogs about random things that interest her to an audience that includes her Mum and a couple of friends at bridiemarie.com
Would you like to be part of the My Fourth Trimester Project? Your contribution needs to be between 250-1200 words and can include up to 2 pictures and 1 link to your personal website/blog in your bio.
Contact me through my website for submission details or more information.
Prepare for an easier fourth trimester with these 25 Secrets From A Postnatal Doula!
Kelly Harper is the owner of Elemental Beginnings Doula & Placenta Services in Adelaide. She provides sleep consultancy, placenta encapsulation and doula services to families during pregnancy, birth and in their fourth trimester.