My Pregnancy Journey
-Director and Principle Trainer PFI, Suzanne Newby
It is perhaps the simplest and most obvious thing in the world, but it bears repeating: no two pregnancies are the same. Every pregnancy is different. Every woman’s journey is different, and that in itself is a wonderful thing.
Thanks to the constant chatter from social and traditional media channels, not to mention the unsolicited advice pregnant women tend to cop from friends, family and strangers; sometimes this simple fact gets lost in the noise.
I’m a huge supporter of “the sisterhood”. I believe we should boost each other up and not tear each other down; especiallywhen it comes to pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood.
This is what inspired us to develop PFI’s first Pre- and Post-Natal Wellness Event in 2017.
To celebrate, and in the spirit of empowering sisterhood, I shared my pregnancy stories:
Before I start, I like to be clear that when I share my pregnancy and birth stories I’m sharing choices I made for me. I talk about choices that were right for me. They may not be right for you, and that’s ok!
I have had five pregnancies and birthed three children.
This might seem like a simple enough statement of fact, but it is anything but. It took me some time to get here.
My experience with pregnancy is made up of many chapters including: miscarriage, high-risk pregnancy, ante- and post-natal complications, illness, still-, and live birth. Anxiety, depression and healing. Every single one of these chapters is as valuable as the last, because it is my journey, and it has brought me to where I am today.
First pregnancies are naturally romanticised: they’re the ones where we have all these sparkly, glowing ideas of the things we will and won’t do for pregnancy, birth and beyond. It’s a beautiful time of life.
Like many first-time Mums I set my antenatal and birth standards pretty high, to name just a few: I was all about self-advocacy (having a plan and a voice when it comes to health care), pro “natural” birth; I had a preference for the public health system, midwifery and wanted to use a Doula. At this time, I was wary of obstetricians and emergency medicine because (wrong or right) I saw them as a threat to my overall “natural” birth plan.
My first pregnancy progressed normally until 10 weeks when I was sent to King Edward with bleeding. Here we were shocked to find out I had been pregnant with not one, but three babies. From one extreme state of shock to another, we were told the trio had stopped progressing at five weeks and as a result, I needed a dilation and curettage (D&C).
I am fortunate to have no trouble conceiving, so the second time came around just three months later.
My plan was pretty much unchanged, and I went into this pregnancy with a solid crew supporting my pregnancy and birth vision, including my hubby Ray, GP Sally Cook, Doula Kristin Beckedahl, best friend Taylor Vagg, and the midwives at Kaleeya Hospital.
The pregnancy was mostly problem-free: baby Bo was small, but healthy and growing well and I felt great. But, as can happen with a sometimes-overburdened public health system, I ended up going around three weeks in the final trimester without an antenatal check. But, being healthy at the time I had no reason to be concerned.
When I was reviewed at 37 weeks we discovered Bo hadn’t grown since the week 34 check, and I had lost weight too. The early diagnosis was that blood was not passing through the placenta as efficiently as it should be, and knowing little more than this I found myself suddenly in a “high-risk” pregnancy: the thing I feared most (see: wary of Obstetricians and emergency medicine).
Back then, I didn’t believe you could be a high-risk pregnant lady and have options, or a voice: so, I was scared about what this meant for my baby and my hopes of a vaginal, low intervention birth. After all, all you seem to hear from people is horror stories! How was I to know any different?
I was sent home and asked to come back to be induced at 39 weeks. Not part of my plan, but a medical necessity to ensure both of us stayed safe and healthy.
When I look back on my first birth experience I now realise I didn’t use of the phrase “natural birth” correctly, today I realise I actually meant “vaginal birth”.
It might seem like semantics, but it is important. The phrase “natural birth” is thrown around a lot these days and has a lot of powerful connotations that can be harmful depending on how it is used.
“Natural birth” can suggest that if you don’t give birth “a particular way”, it is somehow un-natural. This is not something I believe, at all! What I meant back then and what I wanted for myself, was to birth my child safely, vaginally, with as little medical intervention as possible. This was good for me, perhaps it’s not for you, and that’s ok!
I didn’t get my full, “wish list” birth realised with Bo, but I still came pretty close considering the medical limitations placed on us. I gave birth vaginally, and without pain relief.
My experience with labour has been a joyful one, with no “pain” as such, but more a sensation of sometimes extreme intensity that comes in waves. Like the ocean, the swell starts off small and fairly calm with breaks in-between the sets, with the size of the waves reaching a peak in height and force, until it dies down again. The notion of “pain” and the fear that it inspires in some of us, not just first-time Mums, is a whole topic in and of itself, and one that I think we could probably explore more so we can feel more empowered and less afraid.
Bo weighed only 2.2kg and was delivered with a severely calcified placenta, less than half the size it should have been. Even though born at full-term, he was a sick baby and cared for like a premmie, with nasal feeding and lots of close monitoring for two weeks.
As a result of placenta issues, Bo has what is known as Global Developmental Delay, and Dyspraxia, which is a developmental coordination disorder. At five years old, today Bo is one of the happiest, spunkiest, vibrant and healthy little boys you’ll ever come across; he’s just a bit behind other kids his age.
Another pregnancy followed pretty hot on the heels of Bo’s birth; but resulted in miscarriage. Not too long after this, I fell pregnant again, with Mika.
Mika is an incredibly special and important part of my story. I went into this pregnancy with much the same mindset and expectations as I had with Bo. But this time was very different: at 19 weeks I started to bleed and knew intuitively something was not right.
After failing to get the urgent care I needed at one hospital, we rushed to King Edward Memoria Hospital and were quickly taken into emergency care. Our daughter Mika was stillborn on 14 April 2015, after a 12-hour induced labour with my husband and the amazing King Eddy midwives by my side.
I am so grateful for the kindness shown to us by the many doctors, midwives, counsellors and volunteers at King Edward. They stood with us in our grief and helped us navigate the rites of mourning our daughter.
The hospital is where we started our healing, and we got a lot of comfort from their grief support systems, particularly being able to see Mika, hold her, and put together some mementos: photos, foot and hand prints; and preparation of her ashes for us to keep.
I have not been ready to share this until recently. Mika isn’t just my story, she is a member of our family: she is a sister, a granddaughter and a niece.
We don’t talk about stillbirth; what happens, what it feels like, what it does to your mind and body, or the profound grief. We don’t talk about it because it is sad, and that’s ok. But I can talk about it now.
I don’t feel alone in this part of my pregnancy story, because today I continue to discover an amazing sisterhood of women (and men!) who have a similar story to tell. There’s so much comfort to be found when you’re ready and open to it.
Mika and Bo’s placental histology show they were affected by the same condition. While it hasn’t been officially diagnosed, my Obstetrician believes I have what is known as “Hughes Syndrome”: an autoimmune response to pregnancy where the blood turns sticky and struggles to pass through the placenta.
At this point in my pregnancy journey I had learned a whole lot and my pregnancy and birth plans were quickly adapting to my experience. When my fifth pregnancy came around, things were different but also in some ways they were the same. This time I wanted to deliver at King Edward, but as a private patient under the care of an Obstetrician.
I had the same wants when it came to birthing my child, but I wanted to find a way to incorporate these wants under the care of an OB who would keep us safe. I call it finding a place for “me” in medical. This is something I wouldn’t have thought was possible back in the very beginning, but I’m here to tell you – it is!
It’s about finding the “right” Obstetrician for you, your baby and your medical history. I found mine in Dr Craig Pennell: a maternal foetal medicine specialist with extensive high risk experience and a reputation for being pro-vaginal birth. Craig and I also had an instant bond, he just got me, and respected my need to feel heard. I felt immediate trust in him.
During the course of the pregnancy he kept a careful eye on the baby, and prescribed Disprin and later injectable blood thinners to ensure we kept blood moving through the placenta.
On 12 March, 2016 our third baby, Zuma was born: healthy and without the complications that affected his brother and sister. The labour progressed at record speed, all done in under two hours, and done “my way” with my birthing team: Ray, Taylor, a midwife, and OB Craig by my side.
Craig was fantastic and respectful of my wish for minimal intervention, he only checked in to make sure everyone was safe, and was there to help Zuma into the world. I got the perfect marriage of medical and “me”.
I have three children: Bo, Mika and Zuma. They have taught me a lot about myself, and made me a better wife, sister, daughter and friend; but most powerfully of all, they made me a mother.
What do I want you to take away from my story?
Be wary of people or content (media) that tries to tell you how pregnancy/childbirth should be/look like, or how you should feel about it. Don’t buy into judgement, or guilt or competition: it’s your journey! Just do you!
Textbook smooth sailing, or high risk and fraught with complications; no drugs, some drugs or all of the drugs; in a bathtub, your lounge room or a hospital bed; midwife or OB; vaginal delivery or C-section; breast or bottle fed (it goes on and on…): there’s so much beauty in difference!
Don’t forget there’s room for “you” in all these scenarios. Often all you have to do is ask!