“My body had failed. I had failed to house and nourish my baby in this body that I prepared to grow my son in, I failed as a mum”. These were the words that travelled my mind during my first days in hospital after Mica arrived in our arms earlier than expected. It took a week after birth before I could say to myself, that my body was amazing and gave me the greatest love I could ever imagine. Mica came into this wonderful crazy world through what I eventually could see as a beautiful smooth natural birth. With no painkillers I felt every painful contraction. I felt like I was in a safe space where Ernie and I would hug and dance in between those intense contractions. No episiotomy and assistance was required during delivery, and no tears; I recovered pretty quickly.
Our wee boy was born at 36 weeks. If he had come one week later it would have been a normal, term birth which would have allowed for the home birth we always imagined. But long story short there was low blood flow to baby Mica, due to the umbilical cord being wrapped around his body, and then twice around his neck. This was realised during birth and explained at least partly why there was low blood flow seen at the scan at 34 weeks and why he wanted and needed out early.
Our overnight stay in hospital at 34 weeks
It all started at 34 weeks and 2 days, with what felt like painful cramps and a bit of watery discharge. Later in the day there was light bleeding. At that point I freaked out and we headed to the hospital and was told that I would likely give birth that night. I was also told that the bleeding was meconium (indicating that baby was in distress) and that what I was experiencing looked like it was placental abruption. In the end, none of that was true and all it did was send me onto a rollercoaster ride of anguish. When I look back I felt bullied, and it was clear that these things were suggested to me so that I would follow the interventions that were ordered. What I have learnt from this experience is, it does not matter if you are with a mid-wife or an obstetrician. Your experience in pregnancy and birth will depend on their values and how you are treated by your LMC and not necessarily whether they are a mid-wife or and obstetrician.
The most difficult thing for me that day was the pressure I felt to take steroids in case Mica was born with lungs that were underdeveloped, since they may not fully develop until 36 weeks. During this stressful time I was still trying to make the best informed decision, and it was not easy going against everyone in the room. I didn’t want to be seen as being difficult for standing up for my rights and questioning the standard protocols. But I know if I didn’t do my due diligence to make an informed decision I would regret it. I had to weigh out the risk of my options. The lovely obstetrician blew me away with her kindness as she sat with me for half an hour discussing the research, side effects and risks for either decision. I will always remember her, how she made me feel and how she made a positive difference in this nightmarish process.
Even with the urge of the midwives and obstetricians to take the steroids I decided that in my case, where I was no longer showing signs of labour in the last hours (no contractions, no discharge, zero cervical dilation) I would decline the drugs and only take them if it looked like labour was progressing. In the end that was the right decision for Mica and I as Mica was not born till 12 days later. Please do not take this as medical advice. This is what I decided after the lovely obstetrician gave me her time to answer all the questions I had about the drug and what was possibly going on with my body. The truth is, doctors don’t look at patients case by case, they don’t have time for that. I imagine that if it were someone else who saw me, I may not have been given the time of the day and made a different decision, one I would have regret. The experience and how I was made to feel could have been a whole other experience, resulting in a traumatising memory.
The next day we were discharged. The obstetrician suggested that we stayed in the hospital to be monitored however I knew I would be able to rest and take care of myself better at home. Being at home meant that I had access to the more nourishing food that I needed. This was important to me because I knew about the low blood flow that was effecting my pregnancy, so I wanted to focus on a diet that would help with that. I started strictly having warming foods, including chicken, goji, red dates and herbs like ginger and the next days I did notice that my belly grew exponentially bigger than previously. I could see the difference this was making and was hoping to see a difference in the blood flow at the next scan… which we didn’t make as that was the day Mica was born.
Mica was born
Is it true that spicy food helps with bringing on labour? From what I have heard, it works for some and not for others. From my own experience I would say that there is definitely at least some truth. The night I started getting contractions in the early hours of the morning was after we had dinner at a friend's - the theme of the night was Indian food and the mild curries were not so mild. It probably was not the wisest food choice considering I was having contractions, a “false alarm” the other week. And I do sometimes wonder if I had not had curry that night, would I have not gone into labour later and made it to term but also at the same time, maybe it was best that what happened did happen since there was restricted blood flow to Mica. I guess he came out early for a good reason! Anyway after the curry, the contractions started that night, coming and going for the next 3 days, until Thursday morning when the contractions started to become closer together and longer. Until that point we were hoping they would stop like last time, and we could make it to 37 weeks and have our home birth. But it didn’t, so we made our way to Auckland City Hospital.
When we got to the hospital baby was monitored with a CTG machine intermittently as I requested. I was seen by 2 obstetricians, while cared for by my midwife, her student midwife and the hospital midwife. When my midwife did a vaginal exam I was 100% effaced which meant the cervix was fully thinned out. Everyone sounded surprised as effacement usually happens while the cervix dilates. I however was not surprised at all as I had done some (lots!) of research and suspected that, what explained the cramping and light bleeding that got me admitted into hospital at week 34 was early effacement. Other explanations that my midwife and obstetrician mentioned were placental abruption and cervical cancer; this caused me a lot of stress. But because I could feel the cramping in the cervix area and I had a recent smear test, it made sense to me that it was just my cervical lining thinning, not placental abruption or cervical cancer. Still there was a lot of fear about the scarier possibilities! This is a major reminder of how important it is to stay in tune with your body because no doctor, no naturopath, no-one should know your body as much as you do. So anyway, at that point I was 2 cm dilated, so what that meant was baby was going to come out whether I liked it or not.
My midwife told me that I needed to be prepared for induction and maybe a cesarean section would be the doctors order. At this point I just wanted Mica out and was tired of what felt like me trying to control the situation. My thinking was disproportionate at that moment, I thought, since I already accepted there was going to be no home birth and that my baby was coming early, what more was it if I didn’t have a natural birth. I remember feeling numb and remember thinking, there is nothing I can do so let’s just ride it out, until the obstetrician came in and decided that induction and c-section would not be needed as natural birth was progressing. After 6 hours of active labour, with 20 minutes of pushing Mica squeezed his way out tangled up in his umbilical cord.
Our hospital stay
Since Mica was a wee premature baby, we had to stay in hospital until Mica was gaining weight daily while exclusively breastfeeding. We were told that this meant we would likely be in hospital for 3-4 weeks, which was really difficult for me. He was fed through a nasogastric tube and “topped up” by breastfeeding. Ernie and I were anxious about the tube being inserted, that it would be painful, uncomfortable and traumatising for him. We cried many many tears for our baby boy as I felt like I had not given him the best start and felt bad for what he had to experience in his first days. However, we were relieved when Mica only cried as the tube was quickly inserted through his nose and he settled as soon as I held him. It was reassuring that he wasn’t unhappy, there was no change in his behaviour and he didn’t look any more irritated than before. By day 3 Mica had a strong latch! The mission was to keep this sleepy newborn awake so he could breastfeed more and more, and rely less and less on the feeding tube. We kept him awake for long feeds by tickling him and lightly pulling his hair! Mica was doing so well, by day 4 the doctors were happy for the tube to be removed.
The first days were extremely tiring and demanding while getting use to this feeding regime. When I wasn’t breastfeeding, I was pumping, or washing the preparing equipment for the next feed, or changing nappies! I had never seen Ernie as wasted as he was, he looked like a barely there zombie, which got me worried as we needed to be well to take care of our baby. Thankfully we got the hang of things and we prioritised sleeping over staying up worrying. By day 8 the doctors were happy with the rate Mica was growing as he was putting on 40g per day while mostly breastfeeding; “if he continues growing with the tube out you can go home”… “You mean we can go home tomorrow??”... Thank goodness we didn’t have to stay for 3-4 weeks!
Ernie and I were pleasantly surprised and over the moon, to say the least, it felt like things were normalising! We were so proud of our little Mica with his strong breastfeeding game. And feeling like we were really in tune and knew Mica well enough was all very important to us! This is only the very start but it gives us great confidence that we are going to do ok at raising this little human! As I sit here writing this, remembering our first days with Mica in the hospital that were not ideal, I also remember them as days that made me realise how much I could love someone and how we are the universe to that someone is somehow the most rewarding and beautiful thing.
Is my birth story a perfectly pretty one? Definitely not. A positive one? … In the end, as I reflect and gather my thoughts about it, I believe so, even when things didn’t go to plan and there were situations that were heartbreaking and not ideal, what is most important to me, is that Mica is safe and a healthy happy baby. Secondly, I did what I could to take ownership and feel empowered in a situation where mums often feel they have no choice and decisions are made for them and their baby. During the stressful times I still wanted to make the most informed decisions and ones that I thought was best for baby and I. These are the things that are most important to me and allows me to think positively about Mica's birth.