Now we’ve settled (a little) into new family life, we would officially like to introduce the latest (and possibly last) edition to our family, Henry Robert Francis. Born a healthy and round 8lbs at 14:12 on Monday 16th December, we have been soaking up every little moment as a family of four this holidays and for almost the last two months but I feel now is the time to update you all on the last leg of my pregnancy and my positive birth experience second time around.
Refacing any trauma can be a harrowing experience no matter what that trauma was. For most, it’s unlikely you’ll be faced with the exact same situation again, it may have been a one-off event that caused it but can cause all kinds of after-effects like PTSD, depression or panic attacks. Birth trauma is very different and can be a recurring nightmare for many women. You have to consciously make the decision to revisit events and whether you’ve had a traumatic birth through treatment, events or overall experience, it can seem impossible to even imagine going through it all again. If you are struggling to decide to have another baby, remember you can reach out to other mums or speak to your local hospital to revisit your previous birth notes – this can really help you understand why certain events unfolded. I chose to do this after experiencing PTSD and anxiety and it honestly made a massive difference. So let’s take a step back and look at how I made the journey this time round for baby number two.
As most of you who have been following us for a while will know, my birth story with our firstborn Rory was a traumatic one. 36 hours of labour and an emergency cesarean left us shocked, broken and took me several gruelling months to recover – both physically and emotionally. After that, I was almost adamant I’d never have another child but as time passed, I dreamt of growing our family and giving Rory the gift of a sibling. Before I knew it, I was pregnant and thrust into the carnival hall of mirrors forced to face my fears after neatly tucking them away in a box for a while. We didn’t exactly plan on having Henry but it was on our minds and a second child was something we were actively discussing and, apparently, not exactly actively trying to avoid. Immediately, after finding out we were expecting, I instantly pushed the idea of birth out of my head and gained the ‘it will just happen’ attitude, knowing deep down I would have to face it at some point.
That point came and smacked me in the face after our 12 weeks scan and check-up. After being asked about our previous birth, we were happily referred to the consultant to discuss my birthing options for this time around. Feeling privileged to have any at all, I was still deeply unsettled at the thought of birth. During the appointment, we went through my options fairly briefly: I could either attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) or I could go for an elective cesarean. I was always leaning towards the latter but again, it was nice to know I’d be supported in whatever I chose. Following on from this, I was scheduled an appointment at 36 weeks where I was given another opportunity to decide but this decision had to be the final one. From this appointment I would be offered dates for cesarean, dates for pre-op medication and any other bloods/check-ups required pre-surgery so everything would be set in (almost) stone. This is definitely the point where you can be scared out of making your choice. The realities of surgery are nothing to be sniffed at and a can be rather severe – obviously based on several external factors and your health history. I’m quite fortunate to have a fairly straight forwards health history and with not being able to imagine facing another difficult labour, I took on board the realities of surgery and chose an elective cesarean.
Time flew by and things were all going swimmingly until at my 36-week consultant’s appointment; I had started measuring MUCH larger than I should have. For those non-children folk, for every week pregnant you are you should measure on average around 1cm. So here, I should have been 36cm but I was measuring a whopping 42! They sent me for a scan the following day to investigate and luckily, little Henry was doing fine with no signs of any issues but the scan did show was carrying excess fluid. This sent me into mild panic as Dr. Google was the only one who seemed to be able to provide any form of literature on the subject. Excess fluid in pregnancy can be a sign of conditions like diabetes in pregnancy or can be a result of a series of birth defects; for me, the most worrying side effect was that it can cause early labour. All panic aside, the hospital were good and were able to offer me a glucose test along with a test for any infection to help cross off the list of potential causes and I was given the all-clear for both. This just left a gaping hole brimming with questions that no one seemed to have the answers for… and then there was the biggest question up for debate: When could my section be scheduled for?
Now, we did have a few issues from here regarding dates and getting booked in. It’s typical for straight forwards pregnancies, elective c-sections are carried out during the 39th week. It’s only in special or emergency circumstances that a baby would be delivered before this (things like twins, excess fluid with infection, cholestasis, etc), so at our 36-week appointment, we were given 2 choices: Wednesday 18th or Thursday 19th December. We chose 18th with the view of being home and settled to enjoy Christmas as a family of four. HOWEVER, we ended up in a consultant’s office very late afternoon on Friday 6th debating that this excess fluid malarkey (‘polyhydramnios‘ for those medically inclined) was obviously causing some concern; I was booked in for a section due to previous birth trauma so naturally, the chances of going into spontaneous labour became increasingly terrifying. It actually turned out our appointment had been moved without notice to the 19th which then sent me into a downward spiral of panic – a whole 24 hours extra? No thank you! I begged and begged and luckily one spot remained for Monday 16th December, third in line. I took a deep breath and accepted it. The 10-day countdown was on; On Friday 13th I went to my pre-op appointment, had my iron levels checked, was given my prescription for my anti-sickness and antacid medication and was sent on my way with instructions to arrive at 7:30am Monday morning ready for the big day.
BIRTHDAY SNUGGLES & THE LAST DATE.
We did very mundane things that weekend. Kyle & I went out for a date night (fajitas and enchiladas FTW), we took Rory out to the park and we tried our best to relax. It was here that it dawned on me quite a lot that weekend that our lives were about to change forever. I lay awake wondering if Rory really knew what a baby was, how much I would miss it being just me and him sometimes and how I felt guilty that we were bringing another person into the world and Rory wouldn’t be the only one at the center of our worlds anymore. In case you were wondering, ‘Mom Guilt’ is by far one of the worse, most backward and heart-breaking feelings a mother can feel. It can strike when you least expect, when you’re trying to do a good thing, usually what you believe is best. We always wanted a bigger family, for Rory to have a sibling(s) and to grow up never being alone so this time was going to come, I just never thought about how I would feel when it did. And when I packed our hospital bags for the thousandth time, my nerves began to build. We were about to take the leap and, in all honesty, I was never going to be any readier than I was right now.
It was pitch black out and I had my brave suit on. I was ready to have this baby and nothing and no one was going to move me out of this groove. I had practiced my deep breathing for when the nerves would inevitably kick in, I’d packed enough changes of clothes for me and our wee boy for a week (or two!) and I hadn’t eaten anything since 9pm the night before and I was ravenous. The car journey flew by and before I knew it I was on the delivery ward. I was given a modest, oversized gown and some super sexy stockings to change into before lying down to be hooked up to monitors and briefed – the day had only really just begun.
We had little to no idea when we arrived at 7:30 that we would be waiting for 6+ hours before we would meet our little Henry. We were unfortunately moved out of our room as the next mama arrived that morning. She was scheduled in before us and there was another ahead of her too so naturally, we fell to the end of the queue and took a perch in the waiting room with over spilled bags and a heart-racing faster than the speed of sound. It was in this room I started to lose my sanity. I tried to get some sleep propped up against Kyle’s arm listening to the monotonous TV ads running from the promo TV but it just wasn’t happening and then we were told there was an emergency and we’d be pushed along another slot. I cried (and got over it within the hour) as we spent our last hours taking over the waiting room, holding meetings with our anaesthetist, signing forms and going over our baby name choices; the time quite quickly slipped away and our time had come.
THE SIX HOUR WAIT…
It was 13:40 and we were called to a delivery room for surgery prep. I took the deepest breath as I stood there in nothing but an ill-fitted gown and my favourite slippers, feeling our baby wriggle for the last time. Kyle was handed his scrubs and I was escorted into theatre by the cheeriest anaesthetist assistant; he made me feel so relaxed. As I arrived at the theatre, I was quickly popped onto the bed, told to arch my back and sprayed with THE coldest antibacterial spray ready for my spinal. Again, it all happened so fast and before I knew it Kyle had joined us and my legs started to feel numb. I was gently laid on my back as the feeling rose into my chest as the busy theatre team prepped for Henry’s arrival. My wonderful midwives were ready, the anaesthetists were by my head controlling my drips and helping me choose my music – we went for female powerhouse Pink after my idea for Christmas music was denied as we only had somebody’s iPod. My surgeons arrived and I was ready. An all-female duo came in an introduced themselves – this made me feel in very good hands and I had a small ‘YES, this girl can!’ moment -there was no turning back now.
As the surgery began the body shakes arrived and nausea kicked in. This is a horrible consequence of a drop-in blood pressure but luckily this was rectified immediately and I was able to continue being distracted by mindlessly waffling on about a Pink concert I went to last June (PS it was absolutely insane). Within 15 minutes, the countdown was on – Henry was about to be born! Lifted into the air and born half asleep, he needed a warm rub-a-dub to welcome him earth-side. It took a few painstakingly long seconds for that first cry but it came and it was loud, he was here; it was 14:12 and he was a wonderfully round 8 pounds. We couldn’t wait to snuggle him straight away. In that moment, once again our lives had changed forever and we couldn’t have been happier. In less than an hour, I was in and out of the theatre munching toast in recovery.
It was everything I had hoped for, spent countless sleepless nights wishing for and a fair few hours crying for – my calming birth experience had arrived and I was overwhelmed and overjoyed that I did it. I’d conquered the debilitating fear from Rory’s birth and birthed another cute and chubby little boy. I really do believe having a child is one of the most priceless gifts we can give ourselves, our parents and even our grandparents. Bringing someone new into the world to share our adventure with and create a perfectly imperfect life with, can be just magical. Although adding more babies can alter a family, it really can be one of life’s biggest achievements to be able to share a bit more of ourselves through an ever-expanding family.
HENRY ROBERT FRANCIS – 14:12 – 8LB
Well, it was no surprise that my recovery was a million times better after a planned than with an emergency c-section. My body was prepared, my mind was somewhat in the right place and I could plan and prep for what after-birth could be like (of course no one really knows but previous experience helps). My mental health really benefitted from knowing this and at times where I thought I’d be panicking, I found great comfort in being in control (as much as I could be) of the situation and whole birthing process.
The First Few Days.
Now, just to be super clear, I am in no way saying that this recovery was easy, nope, not one little bit. It was just as hard to be bedbound for 24 hours after, it was incredibly hard to stand/walk/shuffle when I was allowed to get up and YUP, going to the bathroom was pretty much non-existent for A WHOLE WEEK but we made it through one day at a time. I was still starving after almost 24 hours and having only consumed a slice of toast in recovery – I was ready to stuff my face and nothing was better than a good old fashioned Maccy’s! It was devoured in record time and we had a really good first night with two feeds, a fair few bum changes and lots of cuddles.
We stayed in the hospital for two nights in total, leaving on Wednesday evening. This gave us a good bit of peace & quiet before we remembered that Christmas was now less than a week away and we had a toddler at home eagerly awaiting our return. *Cue blind panic* but not so fast! Turns out that pre-birth me had remembered to do all the shopping, present wrapping and festive organising so we didn’t have anything to do before the big day; I didn’t really need to panic at all. We quickly settled into new family life and the hectic period that is Christmas & New Year. After just two weeks, my physical recovery was remarkably better than before; I was walking all over town with ease but this led me into a dangerously false sense of security that I was, in fact, Wonder Woman reincarnated. Disclaimer: This was heartbreakingly FALSE.
Sparkly spandex aside, I still wasn’t anywhere near as superhuman as I felt. My sudden recovery was definitely masking the progress my scar should have been making in healing. It wasn’t bonding despite having been amply stitched and my running around was only making it worse. On New Year’s Eve, I had a stern word with myself and stopped pretending to be Wonder Woman and took myself off to the doctors where I was given antibiotics for infection and extra dressings to keep it dry and clean but this didn’t work. Over a week and a half later, I was still having issues with it and was referred to an out-of-hours clinic late on a Saturday night where I ended up with more antibiotics and now, follow up appointments every few days to check up on it. This was the biggest downer in my recovery and all my post-birth confidence slowly dribbled away. I was back wearing baggy oversized clothes to make sure nothing was rubbing or even touching my scar area, I was changing sticky dressing after sticky dressing which only aggravated my soft stretchy mum-tum and I’m pretty sure I cried enough tears to rehydrate a medium-sized dead plant. I ended up with Silvercel dressings to speed up the healing process which, thank the lord, worked a treat. Even though this still took a good few weeks more to heal, I was still enormously grateful and proud of how well I, in fact, all of us, was coping with it all.
Our New Normal
For my body, I truly lucked in. As I was already still in my new ‘mom-bod’ before conceiving Henry, I grew back into my saggy, stretched skin in just a few weeks or so. Now, growing back into my ‘new skin’ took months last time. My ‘deflation’ period was a good 3-4 months and a painful few at that. This time round I definitely discovered a newfound respect for my body and all it has achieved. To have grown and birthed two babies, recovered from major life-changing surgery twice and still have enough gusto to repair and progress felt like a mini-miracle. My mental health surrounding my body isn’t the healthiest and I’ve always been conscious and critical of it but nonetheless I feel I’ve improved. There is no such thing as ‘snapping back’ for me and in reality, for millions of other women too; these are the ones who are regularly shamed for their stomachs, legs, boobs and every other part of their bodies when in fact we’re all different and there really is no ‘normal’. For me, it’s been a long hard journey into learning that it is ok to look different, it’s ok to be a new you and always remember that this version of you is a superhuman mother! My relationship with my body definitely has a long way to go but I most certainly am not actively looking to lose weight. My plan is just to make sure I’m healthy, happy and somewhat confident – not much to ask right?
MY POSTPARTUM BODY.
For the relationship between Kyle & me, I was terrified that another person in our relationship would cause a certain degree of separation between us but in all honesty, it’s only brought us closer. Turns out being vulnerable, and more aware of birth this time, can help you gain a deeper appreciation for the people you are and what you have created and now share. I always feel brand new things can sometimes put such strain on a relationship (moving house, getting a dog, having a baby – the usual life changes). It can create distance, stress and can put you on a different wavelength for a while but I do believe once you’ve experienced it once, you find your way and, in time, if you come to face it again you’ll have a new way of handling it. As Henry graced us with his presence, it amazed me that all of a sudden, we looked and felt like we knew what we were doing – just like putting on an old pair of shoes. And our little Rory took to big brotherhood like a total pro, wanting to share his toys and kiss Henry on the head from the moment they met. We’re a complete set and maybe, just maybe this might be it for us… but only maybe for now!
So there you have it, our birth beyond trauma something nearly three years ago I’d never had thought was possible. There’s no denying it’s taken all my mental and physical strength to bring Henry into the world but with a superb support system and surrounding myself with so much love, we’ve been able to bring another beautiful boy earth-side to join our crazy clan.
If you want to talk more about birth beyond trauma or about planned c-sections, please do get in touch. Where I obviously can’t give medical advice in any shape or form, I would be honoured to give my emotional support woman to woman!
Love to y’all, OCM .xo