At 12:39pm on Friday 18th May, 2018, our daughter Tilly Mae Cook entered the world. Weighing 3.98kg and 53cm long, she was perfectly pink and healthy, and our lives changed forever.
But the process of getting her here was just as life-changing for me. Pregnancy and childbirth have been two of the most challenging and forcibly soul-searching experiences I have ever been through- and those who know even a little of my past know I have experienced some extremely challenging times.
As I write this, Tilly is sleeping. She is 15 days old, and I fall in love with her more every time I look at her face. People have said to me to rest, to take it easy- especially while she sleeps- but I have also heard from so many other mamas and mamas-to-be, who have (or are) finding comfort in the sharing of my story, and so I want to take the time to share it properly for you. Because one thing I have discovered, is just HOW important support really is. You can read and listen and watch information and advice on pregnancy and childbirth and the first days postpartum to your heart's content, but nothing- NOTHING- will actually prepare you for what it is. It is a journey each of us takes alone, so any form of support is a great comfort.
I found pregnancy to be really difficult. The pregnancy itself was textbook- conception was quick, baby grew well, all tests were clear, there were never any problems there. Towards the end, we discovered she was definitely going to be a big baby- at 36 weeks we had a growth scan and she was measuring more than 2 weeks ahead in size- but the pregnancy was perfect. My body, on the other hand, seemed to think it had been run over by a semi-trailer. Every. Single. Day. I struggled with physical pain from about halfway along, when my hips and pelvis began to forget themselves. It was debilitating- there were days I would go to get out of bed, and would fall to the floor, because my hips weren't holding anything together, and I couldn't support my weight. Walking became a mission- I had to give up even the gentlest of exercise by the time I hit 30 weeks (although it may have been before then)- and there were days I would just cry copiously because nothing would take away the pain.
Weight gain was a funny one too- at the beginning, our OB said to me, a healthy weight gain is about 11-15kg, and I remember thinking, no way am I putting on 15kg!!! But you know what? Your body is smart. It knows what it needs to do. You can look after yourself (and you should) and you can eat well and exercise as best you can, but know that if your body needs to put on some weight, it will, because it knows best. By birth, I had gained 20kg. But that was a combination of big baby, lots of fluid (which HURTS, by the way- fluid build up is so gross), and whatever else my body needed to do to prepare for baby. And by the end, the number on the scales didn't worry me anymore. Not because I had 'given up', but because I finally had faith that my body was doing what it needed to do.
But in saying all of that, by the end, I was done. I had been sore and tired and puffy for far too long. I wasn't sleeping well, baby was so big my stomach ached with the stretching, and I was simply 100% sick to death of being pregnant. Honestly, women who would tell me they absolutely loved being pregnant and wished they could do it again, I wanted to slap (sorry ladies!). I hated it. I was very much ready to have my body returned to me.
During pregnancy, #thelove and I discussed a birth plan. We called it our 'Best Case Scenario' plan, because we're not stupid, we knew things could change at the drop of a hat. But we knew what we wanted to do, if all went well. And the biggest thing for me was, I wanted to experience what labour was. I was ready and prepared to feel the full force of what my body needed to do to birth a child, and I was nervously excited about discovering how powerful my body could be. Our plan was to avoid pain relief unless I specifically asked for it, to be allowed to labour at my own pace, and in a calm, quiet space with #thelove by my side.
At 3am in the morning, at 39 weeks plus 1 day, I woke to a funny cramping sensation in my lower belly. It seemed different to the pains I had had previously, but I waited to see what was going on. As I noticed more of these funny 'wave' pains, I began to time them, and after a while I realised they were indeed contractions. They weren't consistent though- they flitted from 8 minutes to 15 minutes apart and back again, and no regular rhythm really established. By about 11am that morning, they had petered out to about 1 every hour or so, and I felt such despair! I was so ready to just kick in and get it done, when it stopped, I just burst into tears and cried and cried. I Googled so many variations on 'why are contractions stopping' and 'how to encourage labour' and everything in between, all while #thelove was keeping me going, getting me moving, keeping me focused.
We went to bed that night, unsure of when it may finally begin, but by just before midnight, the contractions began again, and this time, they stuck around. And they were real. Long and strong from the get-go, I put my breathing techniques into full gear and focused my energy on preparing my uterus and birth canal for bringing baby girl out safely. Preferring to stay at home as long as possible, #thelove was quick to setup our lounge room to assist me, with gentle music, massage oil, and anything else I needed (water, cushions to kneel on, heat packs etc). For the record, he was the most supportive and caring birth partner- I couldn't have asked any more of him, he was truly my rock.
Contractions are indescribable. I read a birth affirmation while I was pregnant, which stuck with me through labour- it said: "THE POWER AND INTENSITY OF MY CONTRACTIONS CANNOT BE STRONGER THAN ME, BECAUSE THEY COME FROM ME", and I promise you, in the height of those pains, that was the only thing that pushed me through. I laboured all of that day, slowly counting down the gap between contractions until they were 5 minutes apart, and we were able to call the hospital. Finally, just after 8pm that day, we called the hospital, and they told us to come in. It was the only moment in the whole process where #thelove went into a mild panic, and started to rush around- I had to remind him to be calm! And off we went. Contracting while sitting in a car seat is not fun, in case you were wondering.
Upon reaching the hospital (and having a mega contraction at the front entrance to the hospital, lucky passers-by) we set up in our room quickly- #thelove dimmed the lights, put our gentle music on, and added oils to the oil burner. By this time, my contractions were so incredibly intense, they were rolling into and over each other. I used a combination of standing and kneeling positions to work through each contraction, sometimes leaning on #thelove for support, and concentrated on my breathing as best I could. I used the shower, but only once, and hot wet cloth nappies on my back to ease the pain as well. At one point, whilst kneeling on the floor with my top half sprawled across the bed, I did ask to try the gas, but I found it heightened the intensity of my contractions, and after only a couple of tries, I threw it away from me and went back to doing it alone.
By the time I reached 24 hours of active early labour, however, the story changed. Our wonderful midwife performed an internal examination, and discovered that, despite the power and frequency of my contractions, I was only 1cm dilated, and my cervix had not yet properly moved forward. I was utterly devastated. All of that time, all of that concentration and pain and will power, and my body was not moving anywhere near as fast as it should have been. I was medically advised to have an epidural, because my body was not responding, and whilst I had been adamant all along about not having an epidural, #thelove and I looked at each other, and we knew it was the only way to go. Baby girl couldn't withstand too much longer, and we knew we had to let go of our 'Best Case Scenario' plan.
So I was given an epidural (also not fun whilst contracting), an internal was done to pull my cervix forward and a stretch and sweep (which brought my dilation up to 2cm), but two hours later, I had only dilated a further 1cm, and so it was time for a bit of hormonal assistance to get dilation going properly. And then, the epidural stopped working. It wore off on my right side, so I began to experience the contractions again, but just on one side. It led to me needing to lie on my right side, having multiple top ups on the epidural, and me basically living on the self-dosing button, because it just wasn't holding strong.
At this point, we were in the early hours of the 18th May. I was 39+3 days pregnant, and had been in labour basically two days. At some point (and I don't even know what time it was or how long it had been) the drugs had worked their magic, and I reached 7cm dilated. Our OB showed up, and we realised the time was nearly upon us- that baby girl was going to join us that day. I was dozing as best I could, exhausted and sore and emotional. The midwife performed an internal and told us she could feel a head, and that it was time to have a baby. And you know what? My first thought was, I'd rather just go back to sleep, please! The whole process had been so long, so draining, so incredibly overwhelming, that the actual birthing part became an anti-climax.
And it kinda was! Our OB popped in, cool as anything, he and the midwife chatted away, and I had to twiddle my thumbs waiting for contractions to show up (which, by the way, once I'd been rolled over to a position I could push in, I could no longer feel, so I had to ask them to tell me when the monitor was picking up on the contractions!). It was surreal- and absolutely nothing like what they show in the movies. I opted for a left-side-lying position for pushing, holding onto the rail of the bed, and my leg for leverage. Baby was sitting in a slightly posterior position though, so after 45 minutes of actively pushing, without enough progress towards the exit, and as baby started to show signs of distress, our OB suggested it was time to use the suction cap to get her out. And again, in that moment, I responded in myself in a way I hadn't expected- after planning and expecting to not need or want any help, I was utterly relieved that someone was going to help me get her out.
And then, after all that, in two pushes, with a bit of help, she was out. She had passed and swallowed a little meconium, which meant that we couldn't do delayed cord clamping, as the paediatrician had been called in, and she needed to be checked and given a touch of oxygen- and I could hear my baby crying on the other side of the room, and was instantly so anxious and Mama Bear about it- I needed my baby! But she was brought back to me, and placed on my chest, and I held my daughter in my arms, with #thelove beside me.
I don't remember the placenta being birthed- and I was surprised when I saw the OB stitching me up too. I sustained a second degree tear, plus a bit of a graze, so received a few stitches to put it all back together. I had my placenta encapsulated, although I had some not-so-fab reactions to them, so the verdict on that is yet to be finalised.
Post birth. If pregnancy and childbirth can't be prepared for, the aftermath of childbirth is a whole different ball game. I'll be brutally honest- to me, it's been like a war zone. I couldn't believe the destruction I felt in my body. My downstairs was a massacre, painful and heavy. I couldn't sit down (a cruel irony, especially when you need to sit down to feed a baby multiple times a day and night). I suffered a large separation in my abdominal muscles (approx 8cm), so I was hunched over and couldn't stand up straight. I was beyond exhausted, emotionally drained, and overwhelmed by the enormity of what had just happened.
When my milk came in, the incredible pain of engorgement was off the richter. They talk about getting 'Playboy boobs' which is totally true, but they don't tell you how much it HURTS to have your breasts swell so much, so fast. They were harder than bowling balls. And so HOT! The heat radiating from them was incredible, you could have cooked something on them. My nipples suffered an onslaught- while she fed (and feeds) well, her attachment is not perfect, and it's taken nearly two weeks for my nipples to heal from the blisters and pain of a bad latch. I suffered severe constipation by about day 3 or 4- on my second last night, I was sat on the toilet in the nude, bleeding from downstairs, leaking from my breasts and my eyes, unable to go to the toilet- just a weepy, leaky mess. And I did something I never thought I'd ever do- I called the nurse in. There, in my most vulnerable of states, I sat, and I have to take a moment to credit the incredible nature of those midwives, because I was a broken woman, and they took such gentle care of me. They saved me in a moment when I felt my body had forsaken me.
Oh, and fluid. Turns out that shit shows up post-birth too. I swelled like a balloon! What's with that?! Thankfully, it's now mostly gone, but I weighed myself when I came home from hospital (yeah, bad idea, I know) and from being 80kg pre-birth, having birthed a 4kg baby plus placenta and amniotic fluid etc, I was somehow still 78kg, so I'd put a lot of fluid on! Now at two weeks postpartum, I'm down 10kg, so yeah, that was a lot of fluid....
Being home, I was emotional for a number of days. Crying at random moments, discovering sleep deprivation truly is the worst form of torture, in constant pain, and so utterly overwhelmed, I never felt so alone- even though I had #thelove and the support of my family. My world had been so utterly shaken up, and there's no recovery time when you're the mama. You go from pregnant to birth to mother without blinking, and then you have a tiny person who needs you at all hours of every day. I struggled a lot in those first days. I wanted to crawl into my own Mother's lap, and forget the world.
But the sun shines again. Every day, I get a little better physically. Every day, it gets a little easier to understand and work with baby. Every day, I get a little more used to not sleeping (it's NEVER fun, but I'm adjusting as best I can). And I've even been brave enough to venture out of the house with her a few times! And I know it will continue to improve every day. My body is learning how to adjust to now carrying a baby on the outside (note to self: do strengthening exercises to prepare for holding and feeding a baby BEFORE having it- my neck and shoulders have been in spasm for two weeks, OMG). And I'm learning her noises and her little wiggles every day.
I am- we are- so utterly blessed to have our Tilly Mae. I love her more and more every time I look at her face. She is calm, collected, poised, and completely perfect. Her eyes are soulful, her mouth a perfect little upside down loveheart. Her smell is divine, her snuggles are warm and fulfilling. Her banshee cries are hectic (although who can blame here, I'd hate to have my nappy changed too), but her snuffles and snorts are giggle-worthy. She is utterly perfect in her own way, and while I have no intention of going through pregnancy or childbirth again for a LONG time, she's worth everything.