"I made myself a promise"
By Jessica Jordan
My journey to become a Mama was a bit different to most.
I had trained and worked as an early childhood teacher, then trained and now work as a hospital midwife. I purposely chose jobs where I would be surrounded by babies! I had always wanted my own but had never found someone to have a baby with.
I made a promise to myself that when I reached a certain age, I would start the process, find a sperm donor and make babies! So when I was 29, I started the process. Depending on how you look at it, I was either unlucky to have endometriosis and a blocked tube, or incredibly lucky that this meant I was eligible for funded IVF. I did do 6 rounds of home inseminations with donor sperm and completed 4 IVF cycles, during which I suffered an early miscarriage, a biochemical pregnancy that resulted in me needing surgery to remove the non-viable pregnancy.
After my first unsuccessful cycle my Dad got sick with cancer and rapidly spiraled downward. Within 2 months I had lost my precious Dad and my future children's adoring Poppa. 6 weeks later I started my second IVF cycle and in the middle of the daily stimulation cycles we went into our first level 4 lockdown. I caught an Uber to my egg collection as no support people were allowed and the 2 embryos made in that cycle were frozen.
It wasn’t until my 4th transfer that I had an ongoing pregnancy, which was of course blanketed in anxiety. Because I work in women's health as a midwife, I had access to scans and I think I probably averaged a scan a week until about 14 weeks! I was quite nauseous from 5 weeks until 9 weeks. I got off pretty lightly really!
I loved being pregnant, I had waited my whole life for this and I felt as though I was in harmony, finally doing what I know I was born for. I bonded easily with my baby and began to get to know her personality.
I knew she was going to be a good size as I’m 6ft 2, the donor and myself were both big babies as was his daughter. I prepared for a homebirth, with my trusted support team. I longed for and imagined welcoming my baby in her own home, scooping her up out of the water and holding her to my chest “my baby” – I ran through that scenario again and again in my head. Although I was desperate to meet her, I was also happy being pregnant and was adamant that I was staying pregnant till 41 weeks!
The day that I went into labour, I had been to a pregnancy circle, a gathering of a small group of women, specifically focusing on fears around childbirth. I set some powerful affirmations to replace the fears that I had around birthing. I knew I had a big baby and with a big baby (and comes a fear of a baby getting stuck, in any part of the labour but especially at a critical time. I started with “a fear of a shoulder dystocia” and replaced it with:
“My baby's bones are made to fit with my bones, she glides under and out with ease” - this became an instrumental phrase in my birthing time, which I used to affirm the birthing process that I had seen hundreds of times before.
Another fear I had was around having a bad tear and maybe having to transfer to hospital for a repair. I replaced this with
“My tissues are soft and supple, I make space for my girl to transition, slowly and safely”
I was also nervous about how the group of women who I had invited into my birth space would all find a place to support me and fit into the rhythms of my birthing. I was worried about coping with all the people that I knew I wanted at my birth and maybe snapping at them! I replaced this with
“My support people sense the rhythm of my labour and come alongside me, attuned with ease”
I didn’t use this affirmation verbally during the labour and I didn’t need to, my support people were perfectly attuned to my labour and I was in another place! I didn’t care what they were up to!
The final affirmation I made was again around knowing I was growing a good sized baby, who was used to a great supply of nutrients on the inside and would need to survive on colostrum for the first few days. I was nervous about low blood sugar and needing to go to hospital.
I replaced this with “My body has grown my baby, has always had what she needs and will continue to sustain her fully”
This has been a powerful affirmation for me postnatally and one that I will now hold very close to my heart, in affirming my mothering experience.
At 38 weeks + 3 days I was pretty much prepared for my baby and after my evening colostrum harvesting, my waters broke! I was a bit bummed as I was convinced I was staying pregnant til 41 weeks!
I text my mum in case she was awake. I felt a low buzz of adrenalin but I knew it could be long night, so I should get set up and then try and sleep. I text the birth photographer Christel to see if she was awake, she made her way over to touch base.
The tightening's started as just faint niggles, then they built up perfectly, I was subconsciously aware of slowly building rhythm of labour. 1 contraction every 20 minutes, then 10 minutes, then every 5 minutes, stronger and longer. I leaned over the bench a few times, then moved to sitting and leaning over a swiss ball while the pool filled.
By 2am I was having 3 contractions in 10 minutes and I decided to call my Midwife to let her know. She tells me I was quite noisy on the phone but she had no idea I was as far along as I was! I spent most of my time leaning over the swiss ball, with long, loud, low moans!
I was so keen to get into the pool and remember saying “I need that pool to be ready!”
It was 0445 and I asked the Midwife to check me as I didn’t want to get in the pool if I were 1cm dilated! I was 8cm! I was elated, I was doing it! I was almost there! About to meet my baby! My Mum was present, my good friend Kimberly, as well as the birth photographer and we then called my sister in law Emma to join us. I got into the pool, which was awesome, though the contractions were still very painful!
Around 0545 I checked myself and felt a bit of cervix anteriorly (at the front). The contractions started to space out. We used a herbal tincture (disgusting!) to try and increase the contractions. I had an occasional urge to push but mostly nothing. The contractions spaced right out to 1:10 and I got out of the pool to have a rest in my bed.
After a wee while I got up to wee and felt inside, there was some caput (a bulge on top of the baby’s head). I felt a bulge of cervix or anterior vaginal wall and asked Fiona to try and push it away. We tried IV fluids first, to give me a burst of energy and hopefully kickstart contractions. We hung them on my great grandfather Harry’s lampstand! He was the husband of my great grandma Hazel, who my baby girl was to be named after, so that was a nice touch!
Around 0830 Fiona checked and I was actually fully dilated but the baby’s head was still high. I got back in the pool, using herbal tinctures and acupressure to increase contractions. They were still infrequent and short (20-30 seconds). I started with some “mighty strong pushes” according to my notes but there really weren't enough contractions and enough time with each contraction to make good progress.
I was frustrated as I was so ready to meet my baby! I could feel her head moving behind the pubic bone with each push and I really felt that she was coming, I just needed more contractions! My niece Eve (6) arrived as Emma felt the baby was close (and so did I!)
At 0900 we started using the breast pump to stimulate more contractions as I had been pushing for an hour but no sign of the baby. Around that time it became difficult to interpret the babies heart rate and I had been fully dilated for some time. Fiona did check me and the head had moved down though there was a but more caput (swelling) on the babies’ head so we decided to make the move to hospital.
We all packed up, lucky I had packed ‘transfer bags’ on the Thursday before and made a list of items to grab at the last minute. Everyone was amazed that I just wandered around the house gathering up the things that we needed., whilst contracting at fully dilated! I looked at the doctors roster online and was absolutely elated when I saw my dear friend Isabel was the consultant on call, Fiona rang and gave her a heads up. We made sure to bring all the colostrum (about 40ml!). We were off ‘up the hill’ to my workplace, the labour thus far had been beautiful, painful yet wonderfully empowering but it was time to meet my long awaited baby!
We drove in the Midwives car and parked up behind delivery suite, I walked in and into the birth room. I really felt that we would just have some oxytocin in the IV/drip and a gentle ventouse in the room.
My beautiful Obstetrician friend Isabel came in and assessed me and felt that the baby was really too high to do an instrumental at that point. We started oxytocin and she wanted to move to theatre after an hour or so for a trial of instrumental delivery. But the oxytocin didn’t really move through the drip, I had had 1 contraction in about 20 mins! After some time Isabel checked me again and we did some pushes, she expressed that I was pushing so well but the baby just wasn’t moving. She told me at that point she felt I needed a caeserean but we would go through to theatre and do some pushing there with the spinal block.
We moved through to theatre and all the while I said to my baby “you know the way Hazel, you know the way” and repeated my affirmation “my baby’s bones are made to fit with my bones, she glides under and out with ease”
I remember saying a few times “Wow, I’m going to meet my baby today, today is my baby’s birthday 15 August!” Mum came into theatre with me and very graciously the team allowed my birth photographer, Christel to join us too.
I lay on the theatre bed and finally felt how hard an uncomfortable it was.
I couldn’t see the rest of my body as I was laid back, people were all around me putting on equipment. Isabel got my legs up but I know I wasn’t far enough down the bed and I couldn’t bear down well.
We did some pushes like that, Isabel felt inside and said “good work” but shook her head. I was a bit confused but she did explain that Hazel wasn’t moving. She said we should have the spinal placed and try again, it may be enough to relax the pelvis. We did a few more pushes with the spinal in. I was in a better position now, with my bum hanging off the bottom of the bed and even though I had an almost total loss of sensation, I felt better equipped to push.
But I felt really funny, my head started buzzing with one of the pushes and I passed out, flubbering my lips. This happened with each contraction and then the anaesthetist said my oxygen saturations were dropping significantly, so to focus on breathing rather than pushing for a while!
Isabel then said she felt the baby wouldn’t come with an instrumental. She could try a forceps but my understanding was it would be brutal, damaging my baby and potentially my pelvic floor and possibly wouldn’t be successful anyway. There was also the risk of shoulder dystocia with a large baby and instrumental.
Isabel said I needed a cesarean section. I said “I would be really bummed if you didn’t just try a ventouse” – Isabel was very obliging, we set up for a ventouse. She had 2 mighty pulls and I pushed. I could feel Hazel inside, her head jamming up against my pelvis. I felt myself being pulled down the bed with the force of the pull. It became apparent that she wasn’t coming. We prepared for cesarean. At some point I let out a wail, I don’t know whether it was before the instrumental or before the C-section.
The Midwives and my Mum and Isabel were all very kind and reminded me that I was going to meet my baby!
Isabel asked the lights to be dimmed, the staff knew my wishes for the birth and everyone was quiet and calm. Unfortunately I was bleeding heavily as they got to the uterus. Everyone was still fairly silent as I had asked for my voice to be the first she heard. Someone said “what do you want to see?” “Everything!” I responded. Soon it was time to meet my baby so they lowered the drapes so I could see. Hazel's head was pulled out and I welcomed her.
I said “she’s 6 months old!” as they eased her out., everyone laughed. I had asked Isabel to hold her as she had 2 minutes of delayed cord clamping.
The cord was clamped and cut long, baby Hazel went into the warm cot and was dried and rubbed, Mum trimmed her cord and she came to me but she was dusky blue and very floppy, I rubbed her up and moved her around whilst flat on my back, I hoped she would rouse and pink up but it was obvious that she needed help.
I quickly passed her to the nurse practitioner, Lee. She took her to the resus table and gave her 5 inflation breaths, I told my mum to stay with her and talk to her and keep her hands on her if she could. I could see my girl but it was so bizarre being separated from her. The whole thing felt like an out of body experience
I remember Isabel and the team tallying the blood as it increased, 1500ml, 2000ml, 2600ml. I remember my uterus being rubbed by Isabel and that hurt, my spinal was wearing off and the feeling of fundal massage can’t really be taken away by a spinal anyway! Hazel continued to have help with her breathing.
Everyone reassured me that she was okay, breathing by herself and pinking up nicely. Lee tried to stop the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure, Hazel was breathing by herself but a breathing device is used to help fully inflate the lungs) but it was clear that Hazel needed it. As much as they didn’t want to separate us, Hazel needed ongoing help with her breathing and so they started to get her ready to go to NICU. I shouted “get the colostrum! 5ml!” Mum put a 5ml syringe in her pocket.
They weighed Hazel, 10lb 10oz or 4820gm! No wonder she didn’t fit! I asked “can I kiss my baby before she goes?” – The nurse bought her over to me and she was pink and well oxygenated. We had a fleeting moment together. It was not at all that image I had pictured over and over again.
I was admitted to the High Dependency Unit (HDU) in the delivery suite as I had lost 2.6 litres of blood. It was so awful being separated from Hazel. In that moment I really didn’t mind that my actual birth had ended in a cesarean, I just wanted to be with my long awaited baby!
The NICU separation was really hard, it was challenging watching Hazel attached to monitors and getting frustrated and upset with all the tubes and wires. It was hard negotiating with NICU around all their protocols and what I knew and believed that my baby did and didn’t need. In most ways, I just gave in, in others we compromised. I stayed with her as much as I could, mostly having her skin to skin on my chest.
I don’t for a second think our brief stay compares to the long stays that some extreme pre-termers or very sick babies need to have. And I am grateful for the lifesaving care that NICU provide. It just wasn’t at all in my plan and after the massive physiological shock of the section and huge blood loss, it wasn’t the healing union with my baby that would have got us off to a calm start.
We stayed on the postnatal ward for a night and then headed to River Ridge. That night we went into Level 4 lockdown and so we got the whole family and the donor in to meet Hazel before midnight. It was busy but so good to share her with the family! Thus began 3 weeks of lockdown at home.
I had a lot of time to think about my labour and birth. I had immense guilt about the birth and the NICU separation, wracking my brain about how I could have avoided the impact on Hazel. Isabel (who delivered her) reminded me that I needed to stop the thinking and be the Mama, forget about what ‘might have been’, because that was obviously not what needed to happen.
This was helpful and aided me in being present with Hazel and coping with emotions surrounding the birth. I did cry almost every day about the birth and NICU separation but slowly as we got into a rhythm and I got more sleep, things didn’t feel so raw.
My midwife reminded me that recovering from my birth and the adaptation to motherhood is huge, no matter how wanted and loved a baby is, and there is no mutually agreed process for adapting and adjusting! (wow what a statement so insightful)
The full experience of emotion is normal and acceptable. I now believe that Hazel came the way she was meant to come, we had a beautiful empowering labour at home, she chose her birth date and then she was gently delivered out the sunroof.
My physical recovery was actually a breeze, I kept on top of regular pain relief for 2 weeks and was out and about walking at 1 week postnatal. I’m not a gym bunny, so that hasn’t been a part of my recovery plan but I was back to normal life within 2 weeks, taking long walks a few times a week and shorter walks most days.Although Hazel didn’t glide under and out with ease (as my affirmation stated), I have been able to sustain her fully through our breastfeeding relationship. That’s a whole no other story and though it hasn’t been easy we have managed to donate over 10 litres of breastmilk to friends whose babies needed it.
The obstetrician and my midwife are both supportive of me trying for a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) next time and I am really eager to give things another go! I know I will be disappointed if I don’t get to have a vaginal birth but I know that at least in Hazel's case, we did everything we could to get her out!
I never imagined that I would be a part of the birthmark sisterhood, I am tall and have child-bearing hips! But it wasn’t meant to be, for Hazel's birth and she came into the world the way that SHE was meant to.