Motherlife interview #4. Part Two.
All mothers in this motherlife interview series are anonymous and so have been given nature names as their super heroine pseudonym. The nature names have been chosen from the list of nature words that have been deleted from a well known children’s dictionary.
This is part two of the three part ‘Motherlife interview #4’. You can read ‘part one, a home birth story’, here.
Bluebell, mama to one little boy, 2.5 years old.
What sort of work did you do before your son was born?
I was working full time in London as a creative director for a philanthropic startup.
Are you working now?
Trying to, I work freelance alongside mumming.
So how did you find being pregnant?
I got really sick so it wasn’t super fun. I think I ended up in hospital a couple of times I had Hyperemesis Graviderium. And I spent maybe seven of nine months on the sofa throwing up and twice in hospital vomiting up blood.
Oh I’m so sorry, you poor thing!
Yeah, I was really sick it was horrible and trying to hold down my job that was trying to get rid of me because I was sick. It was quite stressful.
That sounds really stressful.
So I had to take an anti nausea drug, I just had to take it, I had no choice. I tried lots of different ones and this is the only one that worked. This one reduced the nausea so I stopped vomiting for the middle of the pregnancy and then I felt sick again at the end. But yeah, the first five or six months, I was sick as a dog.
And so did you continue working?
I tried to, it was really hard to do very much. I worked for this crazy CEO who ended up getting fired whilst she was trying to fire me for being sick for being pregnant. And I managed to somehow hold onto my job and just scrape by.
Did you have to go in to work or did you work from home?
So did you go on maternity leave when your son was born or did you resign?
I went on maternity leave. Then we came back here (to Australia) because of sick parents when my son was three months old. I was on maternity leave being paid a basic wage, a couple of hundred pounds a month. I got a token amount which really helped for maybe six months. And then I ended up getting made redundant, so I got a little payout which was a lovely little present because I couldn’t go back anyway. So that helped for another bit of time.
And so how was the birth?
We decided to do hypnobirthing because I had a few friends that had done it and they’d planned to home birth. But only one had not had to transfer to hospital for complications.
Were you planning to home birth?
Well I came to it quite late. I was a home birth baby back in the 70’s. My mum said she was given a lot of flack for deciding to do that then. I think it’s still frowned upon apparently. But I was looking into the statistics and quite late into the pregnancy I thought well, I’ve got a 50/50 chance of giving birth at home for my age and with those stats, I’m all in. And if for some reason something goes wrong, then I’d just have to go to the hospital. Which I’d be doing anyway if I decided to go to the hospital in the first place. So I thought, let’s take that risk, I decided literally a few weeks before he was due. Thankfully we lived in this really great area with a really great hospital being really well set up for home births. There was an amazing home birthing unit and incredible midwives and they came to you, you didn’t have to go to the hospital.
So they would visit you at home for all your prenatal care?
Yes, and postnatal. And so whilst I was really sick thought the pregnancy, it all just kind of came together at the end. I was scared that I couldn’t do it. And because he was really big the doctors were really worried I had prenatal diabetes. But I just had a massive placenta. And he was really big. I was huge! They were like, ‘you’re too old, there’s all these risks!
How old were you?
I was 41. Very late on I said I want to take this opportunity to birth at home. They didn’t want me to. But I knew that if anything went wrong I’d just be at the hospital in half an hour anyway. And so they said yes, and the midwives were up for it. I sort of felt like I trusted my body from the hypnobirthing course. I understood the science behind birth more. And I thought, ‘we’re meant to do this! We’re meant to do this in a dark, quiet, safe place, not at the hospital’. And so the birth was actually really good. I was sick throughout the whole thing. I threw up the whole time! So it was nine hours, and he came at 4.30am in the morning into our little front room into the pool.
He was born in the water?!
Yes! In our tiny front room. The hypnobirthing really helped me to focus. Though I remember saying to my mum ‘apparently your body just knows how to push and people can give birth in a coma so you just let it happen’. She laughed at me! And when I came to push it was really hard!
Were you surprised at how hard the pushing was?
And was that because you though your body would just do it from the training you took?
I suppose it’s because you’ve just never done it before. And it’s internal. I remember people saying it’s like having a poo. But it’s totally not. It’s nothing like that. It’s internal, it’s like connecting with your uterus in a way that you have periods, but that you’ve not pushed a baby out before. A second time round you’d be like ‘ok cool, got it’. But the first time was like ‘huh?!’ So having the ‘J’ visualisation in mind and understanding what my body was doing through the hypnobirthing, which people called ‘info birthing’ which I think is a much better term. Because you get all the information and learn ‘this is what my body’s going to do’. So you can help it. It seemed like all the information that I was so shocked that the hospital wasn’t giving us. Like this is general basic, practical information that everyone should be informed about to take away all the unknown fear and stigma.
So the pushing was quite hard and because I’d been throwing up I was quite tired. And he was really big. The main midwife guided me really well. She’d say ‘push’ and then ‘stop’, so she was fantastic. Then she said I was going to have to stand up to let gravity help him get out. I think I’d been squatting in the water.
So I stood up and eventually he came out and somehow, though I don’t remember who or how, somehow the next thing we were in the water and he was on my chest and there was a little flapping fish going blink, blink, blink. I think one of the first things I said was ‘I did it!’ And my voice was so loud in the room and sort of broke the spell. And instantly I didn’t feel sick. And he had big black eyes that were blinking and a lot of black hair and we were like ‘crikey! This just came out of me! Here’s a little person!’ He was super calm and super chilled. And I didn’t tear. I only had a tiny graze which I put down to doing the perineal massage. Which I did three or four times a week, only in the last three or four weeks. I did it myself, I’d put one foot up on the toilet and reach around. I think I just used olive oil. Also I think I was lucky not to tear because the midwife was so excellent and experienced and guided me exactly through that critical part – as well as the perineal massaging I mean.
Did your midwives suggest it?
No the hypnobirthing teacher suggested it.
So there was no complications, he didn’t need to go to the hospital, I was walking the next day in the park with him.
So is there anything else you’d like to say about the birth?
It was a horrible hard pregnancy and even though I was sick through the birth, it was nine hours and we were in our own little safe space and completely lucky, there was no complications – for somebody considered old as well!
Amazing, it sounds so amazing! What a special experience for all of you!
Yes, and he’s had no hospital trauma no kind of trauma or anything like that. Except kind of slightly crazy parents. There were no complications and I just think it was a really good beginning. I remember feeling afterwards, ‘why isn’t this what everyone is encouraged to do?’ Imagine taking all of that birth trauma out of people’s lives. I was quite passionate about it and then I ran out of energy for putting anything into it.
Well it’s a very big task.
The system is really, really broken. I have this friend who was telling me her sister in law just gave birth last weekend. The baby was small, and the mum had some health things, nothing major but that meant she was being monitored more than normal. And they wanted to induce her right on 40 days. But come on, what about 40 weeks and 8 days? Just give the baby a chance if it’s small because it’s not ready to come out. She got induced, ended up having all these complications and of course ended up having a cesarean. And then apparently the baby was just a couple of hours old and the nurses are in there going ‘all right little man, come on chin up, cheer up’. And this is a fresh born baby. And it’s in fluorescent lights it’s really upset, this is sickly wrong. That is not how mums should be birthing and not how babies should be brought into the world. It’s wrong. It’s like all the things that are wrong with the world start there. At birth. It doesn’t need to be like that.
How would you change it? How would you help women self advocate when they don’t necessarily know until afterwards how things could have been different?
There’s a huge educational piece. Systemic change within the hospitals. Educational piece for the people who work in this area and of course any new mothers. So there’s a massive change of education, dialogue and facilities that’s required. But the costs would be just huge. But the cost benefit ratio outweighs what it is now. And removing trauma from millions of peoples lives and beginnings in the world makes me wonder why isn’t this being done?
So what do I think needs to happen? Well, first and foremost is the educational aspect for women and professionals. You have to empower people that they’ve got choice, but it has to come from the hospital people as well, from the doctors and the nurses.
Yes. Because there is a lot of this information around. It’s not as if this information doesn’t exist. But how do you close the gap between expectations and reality. People think they’ll go to the hospital and they’ll give birth and everything will be OK and the big gap is actually the physiology of birth, the education about how the body gives birth and the care needed for birth. So how do you close the gap?
Well actually I changed hospitals really, really late. I was at a different hospital that didn’t offer a homebirth program. So I changed hospitals really late, at eight months.
Wow, eight months you changed providers?!
Well I’d been thinking about it for a while because of the information in the hypnobirthing course. I’d had a confidential sense of feeling that I can do this. Like from the course ‘I got it’. I understood what my body could do. Also having people who were enthusiastic for it at the new hospital was important.
I feel that there’s no conversation between women who are pregnant and women who’ve had babies and so there’s a big gap between what they expect and what their experience is. I’m doing these interviews partly because I want to open up the conversation around birth. So that women who are pregnant aren’t going into birth blind. Because we don’t have these conversations. I feel like when I was pregnant I didn’t have friends around me who would converse with me around their birth experiences and my female relatives didn’t talk about it. You know this stuff is considered ‘women’s business’ and it’s all sort of laughed off and a bit embarrassing and no one talks about it. And I feel like it’s such a profound experience for women.
There was a group in Hackney for any new mums considering home birthing specifically, and they always ask one or two mums who’d done it to come and talk about it to the mums who were about to do it. So it was just this sharing of information.
Did dads go as well?
Occasionally they did. But mostly the mums.
Because I feel like there’s another big gap there. The dads can easily escape responsibility by either not getting involved at all, or saying ‘its your choice, I support you’. But they’re actually not getting involved in the process of understanding and decision making.
I’d say make it good for the women and then men can come or not. Choose your battles on that one!
But I feel like during pregnancy, when women are quite vulnerable, they do need community support and number one community is often the partner.
Yes and this is the missing gap in everything. We’ve all been separated and atomised. We all need community.
Part 3 of Motherlife #4 will be available soon. You can read ‘part one, A home birth story, here.