A year ago today I sat on this couch and said goodbye.
The previous couple of days, after we found out, I’d been gung-ho, all action. Rationalizing that it was better to find out now, to spare ourselves the heartbreak of finding out later on in the pregnancy or even at birth. Making arrangements. Speaking to friends and family, reassuring them that everything would be okay. I put on a brave face, smiled for my husband and my son. I oozed bravado.
But somewhere in among all that noise, two wise women in my life shared what they did before terminating their pregnancies, and their words hit home for me. I realized it was time to go within. Time to acknowledge the sadness that was welling up inside of me, even if I couldn’t quite name it yet. Even if I wanted to believe was somehow strong enough to transcend it.
So I sat on this couch, alone.
Alone not because there was no one around me, not because I didn’t have support. Alone because it was time to be alone. Because there was no one who was going to be able to get me through the next day but me. No one else getting wheeled into that operating theater. Alone because I needed to go within.
I sat on this couch with my hands on my tummy and I meditated.
I took deep breaths and grounded myself into the present. I let myself feel what was going on right then. The visceral, emotional experience – not just the words swimming around my head trying in vain to make everything okay. I felt the sadness, the beginnings of grief. The incredulous shock that this was happening to me, to us. I didn’t want to but I did it anyway. And I sat there with those feelings, for a few long, heavy moments.
And when I was ready to say goodbye, the sobs came right up from that place. As I hugged myself I explained why we had to do what we had to do, in my heart. I didn’t know who or what I was explaining to. I’d been trying to convince myself that this was just a pregnancy, a fetus. Not a baby and certainly not my baby. Yet I spoke with the voice of a mother. About how this was the only decision for our family, for GG. How we’d meet again, if that was even something that I believed in, if it was meant to be.
And somehow I felt better, that cathartic calm that comes after a good cry. I didn’t know then that the worst was yet to come, that I’d crash a month later, and then many times during the pregnancy that followed. But for right now – right then – I felt better.
Now I sit here on this couch, a year later. The same couch but in our new home, with our new baby cooing in her cot beside me.
Would a glimpse into the future that night have brought any comfort? The knowledge that this is how everything would look in the not so distant, only a year later?
Could be. All I know is I’m happy to be on the other side of this year.
By the time the big day finally rocked around, I was so done. Done with the anxieties of a pregnancy after two consecutive losses, with being huge and uncomfortable, with mounting pressure to induce. Done with well-meaning but really fucking annoying text messages ranging from thinly veiled “how are you”s to flat-out “any baby yet?”s. Done with agonizing about where GG would be when I finally went into labor, whether we’d have time to get to the hospital where I wanted to give birth, how to plan getting there in enough time to be safe but not too early. Done with the constant and irrational fears that kept arising that there was something wrong with the baby that hadn’t been spotted on the scans.
I was so done.
And after a day-and-a-half of mild but regular contractions at 10 minutes apart I was battling to keep my shit together. I was winning, don’t get me wrong, but it was a struggle. So at 41+1 weeks pregnant, when we went to the hospital for my third round of overdue monitoring, I was extra done. And when the attending doctor recommended I have a c-section because of the baby’s considerable weight and stomach circumference (according to ultrasound assessment), I was almost done enough to just say yes. Almost, but not quite.
My husband and I talked it through and consulted with a doctor friend who I trust, along with my doula, and decided we had more questions. We happened upon a more senior doctor at the hospital who told us that while her official recommendation – according to the numbers – was a c-section, she was pretty sure that this baby wasn’t bigger than 4kg, and that I could successfully birth her naturally. GG was born just under 3.8kg, after all. We left the hospital confident that this was the best choice for us but still nervous – as much as I trust my body and the process of birth, I also trust the staff at this hospital and medical research in general. And after recent experiences… I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.
In any case, through all of these phone calls and conversations, an energy was starting to build in my body. The best way I can describe it is by drawing on my memories of party drugs back in the day – it was like a pill slowly coming on, a kind of low buzz with the promise of peaks to come. The contractions were also starting to take on a different quality, and getting closer together. I guess the threat of major abdominal surgery was just the push I needed to finally let go and bring this baby into the world.
By this point lunchtime had been and gone and we’d hardly eaten, so we headed off for a nice brunch. But by the time we parked at the cafe I didn’t feel like I could sit still, so we hung out in the car and timed contractions – 5-6 minutes apart! We bought some sandwiches and fruit had a little picnic in nearby park instead. I consulted with my doula again and we decided to slowly start heading back to the hospital. If we were at home we probably would have hung out a little longer, but since we were in the area we figured why not get checked again, and avoid getting stuck in traffic driving home and back. A long drive and strong contractions didn’t sound fun at all.
At some point during all this I was struck with pure excitement, and stopped for a moment to breathe it in and give Uri a big hug. More flashbacks to partying back in the day. But this time the joy was real and unadulterated. The day had finally arrived – we were going to meet our little girl. I burst into tears and let that sink in a bit, and from then on I was calm – I knew she was coming. I didn’t feel rushed or stressed. My body was starting to do its thing and my baby knew what to do.
We ended up at the hospital earlier in the labor than I probably would have planned – I was 4cm dilated by the time I got through the 2 hour ordeal of getting monitored and seeing the doctor – but in hindsight it was perfect. Instead of answering lists of questions and getting poked and prodded while in the throes of intense contractions, I was able to get that bureaucratic part out-of-the-way while still in the latent stage of labor. It felt like I was in some sort of very convenient labor holding pattern – definitely on the way to giving birth but clear-headed and comfortable for the time being. By a stroke of luck the natural birthing suite was available, and after another wait we were in there getting comfortable by about 5pm.
Around that time my midwife and doula both suggested we try a couple of tricks to get things moving. To be honest I was hesitant – I felt like I’d pushed hard to let my body lead the way and I didn’t want to start interfering, even by natural means. And yet on the other hand, I really wanted to meet our baby already. So I took deep breath along with both of their suggestions – my doula rubbed some clary sage oil on my lower back, and the midwife sent us off to walk up and down a nearby flight of stairs.
Something must have worked. I made it up about half a flight of stairs before I was hanging off the railings and moaning like, well, like a woman giving birth. From that moment on everything changed.
Emotionally I did a full 180 – I felt much more serious, totally lost the urge to chat or even to speak at all more than what was necessary. Even giving simple instructions like telling my husband where to massage my back seemed incredibly difficult. And physically – well, pain just messes with everything, right? The hippy hypnobirther in me wants to describe it all as pressure and surges and visuals of flowers opening and whatnot but no – every contraction just fucking hurt. Yes I was picturing each one bringing my baby closer to me, and it did feel like productive pain, but still. Each contraction hurt more than the one before it, and they quickly got so close together that I felt like I was getting no rest in between at all. I became obsessed with finding the perfect position and panicked if a contraction was starting and I wasn’t on all fours or leaning forward, preferably with Uri behind me squeezing my hips. I couldn’t get comfortable in the birthing pool. I was freezing when I got out. Sitting was impossible. I cried that I couldn’t do it, that it was too hard. I fantasized about being one of the ‘normal’ women in the rooms down the hall – hooked up to an epidural and resting through my dilation.
And then suddenly, finally, my waters broke. I was squatting on a stool in the shower at the time, and I felt that pop and everything gushed out. The midwife brought over the wireless monitor – one of the main advantages of the natural birthing room – and checked the baby’s heartbeat as I stood in the shower. She also checked my dilation – 8cm! For the first time in hours I felt encouraged, like I was actually progressing. And then a few minutes later I was already feeling the urge to push. I was so excited – in GG’s birth I never felt that urge, and I think that’s how I managed to do so much damage to my body, by pushing before I was ready.
We moved over to the bed – a nice, comfy double bed with an adjustable head – and I got on all fours. Again, my whole mood shifted – finally there was something I could do! I knew the end was near, and I also felt like I was getting some rest in between contractions. In reality it was only a minute or so but I honestly felt like 20. And with those few rejuvenating breaths my presence of mind returned. I was once again aware that I wanted to push gently to avoid more damage to my pelvic floor. To use the pressure of the contractions to move the baby down the birth canal. That our baby girl was almost here.
The midwife told me to use low humming sounds as I exhaled. On the first push I felt her head come all the way down, and then pull back up a bit. Uri got a glimpse of her full head of hair. On the next push her head was out. And the push after that, her whole body came sliding into the world – all 3.98kg of it. She cried a split second later, and my heart exhaled and I was flooded with relief.
Relief that the pain was over. That the pregnancy was over. That the birth was over. Relief that she was finally here. Our rainbow. Arya.
The minutes and hours that followed brought more of the same. Within a few minutes she latched on and nursed for well over an hour. After that I got up and had a shower. Of course no birth is the same but this was a difference of night and day from my previous birth, after which GG needed to have his stomach pumped and I lost a lot of blood.
This was a totally different experience for all three of us. Uri took the baby to get some routine tests while I cleaned up, joked around with the midwife and tidied up our stuff. I got a few stitches – but again, nothing like the first time round. And then we rested, with big smiles. Albeit in a packed room in a packed ward of a public hospital, but we had our baby and it was magic nonetheless.
This beautiful birth reminded me of the strength in flexibility – the flow that comes with being open to any outcome, any deviation from my plans and preferences. It reminded me that my man and I can support each other through anything. And it taught me that it’s okay to pick and choose tools from different schools of thought, that I don’t have to be any one thing. That my strength lies in being able to deal with whatever life throws at us – rather than being able to control or predict it in any way.
The last few weeks of pregnancy are such a weird time for me.
My hospital bag was packed weeks ago. Baby clothes are washed and folded. Supplies purchased and tucked away. We’ve met with our doula, planned a route to the hospital. My husband’s mother is on 24/7 alert to take care of GG when I go into labor. The house is clean and the pantry is stocked.
I’ve researched pushing techniques to prevent my pelvic prolapses getting worse, teas to strengthen my blood in case I lose a lot again. I take my prenatal vitamins every day like clockwork. I go to yoga classes and I feel relatively healthy. I’m resting as much as possible.
There’s literally nothing left to do but wait.
Now it’s all up to our little rainbow; whenever she’s ready.
The mindful mama in me knows exactly what to do now. It’s time to surrender. To ground myself, meditate, keep coming back to this moment. To practice patience and trust, reassured in the knowledge that every day snuggled up inside me is doing her good.
But I am not all mindful mama, not quite yet. I’m also a doer, a planner. A control freak. I like to research and organize. To know what’s going to happen when. And this limbo before labor is very tough for that side of me.
Every little twinge – whether it’s a Braxton Hicks contraction, a hunger pang or just that I need to pee – sparks off a spiral of “oo, maybe this is it!” thoughts in my mind. Who do I need to call? Should I start timing contractions? What’s traffic like on the freeway right now?
I’m so excited I can hardly sit still, and yet wrapped up in that excitement is also a whole stack of nerves that I’m only just starting to meet and name. The fear of feeling like crap like I did after GG was born. Of giving birth in the car on the way to the hospital. Of something going wrong. It’s all wrapped in joy and anticipation, but it’s fucking intense and fucking exhausting at the same time. As if schlepping around this massive baby wedged under my rib cage wasn’t enough to tire me out right now.
But still, there’s nothing to do. Nothing but coming back to the present moment, over and over again. Acknowledging the fears as they come up and the excitement as it bubbles around in there, too. To rest and enjoy our last few moments as a family of three.
To breathe as much as my poor squished up lungs will let me.
Granted, I’ve been kind of off all day. The afternoon probably never stood a fighting chance. I woke up feeling weird, with shooting round ligament pain up my sides and a general blurgh feeling. The heat has been getting to me this pregnancy and last night was particularly humid.
I kept it together okay at work, with only minimal breaks in concentration to neurotically Google things like “stitch-like pain in right side 27 weeks pregnant” and to brush up on the signs of preterm labor. And then it was time to be a good mama for the afternoon.
I knew there was no way I could deal with taking GG to the park in the 34 degree heat. I also knew that the chances of my mood not eliciting a reaction from him were slim to none. I braced myself.
The first part of the afternoon was fine. We walked to the car slowly, stopped to get petrol on the way home (one of GG’s favorite activities), then made fruit ice blocks on the kitchen floor. I started to relax and we seemed to be in sync.
But something changed in the energy a few minutes later, and he started to lash out at me. Hitting and kicking and pulling my hair. Grabbing at my stomach and trying to bite me. Seriously this shit is hard to handle at the best of times but I’m fucking pregnant and hormonal and in pain and yet I so badly do not want to yell at him. I actually never have, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt closer to it than I did this afternoon.
Summoning up my best self, the mother that I want to be, felt almost impossible. Oh – and did I mention he was laughing hysterically this whole time, more and more when I told him sternly that he was hurting me? My words were doing nothing. At least I had enough awareness to realize that. And I had no emotional energy to tap into how he was feeling, either.
So I used my hands. I sat next to him on the floor and I held him down, physically restraining him from hurting me. I told him I wouldn’t let him touch me like that. He tried again a few times nonetheless, and then gradually his cackles started to die down, his breathing calmed, and he asked me, “are you happy Mama?” This is what he asks whenever he can sense that I’m not.
“Not really,” I told him. “I’m annoyed that you hurt me just now and I don’t feel so great.”
After that he got up, tried to run off, tripped and hit his cheek on the carpet. He burst into tears, sprung up and melted into me. I was his mama again and he was my baby. We were no longer adversaries in some strange, uneven battle. We hugged it out. I thought all was solved.
But this cycle continued over and over the next couple of hours, right up until bedtime. Everything would be fine and then he’d start testing me again. He threw my phone across the room, watching me with an expectant grin to see how I would react. He tipped a glass of water on the floor during dinner with the same glint in his eye. Lobbed pasta in my shoes. Tried to pinch my nipple once or twice. I dealt with each incident as calmly as I could. I willed myself to stay in the moment, to react to each outburst as though it was the first of its kind today. Because I knew that GG was just reacting to my low energy, and I honestly didn’t know how I was going to be able to take care of him if I strung this series of events into a horrible story and started feeling sorry for myself.
So I did the best I could, for today.
Ultimately, I just had a hard day, and it continued into a hard afternoon – no surprises there. GG reacted to my vibe, on top of just being a two-year-old. Nothing to do but accept it and move on. To make sure I get a good night’s sleep and hopefully feel better tomorrow. To wake up a stronger, more energized mama, so my little son doesn’t have to test the boundaries quite so much tomorrow.
A few weeks ago I heard some feedback from an old friend of my husband that kind of stopped me in my tracks. “Elana has a great blog,” he said, “but it makes me so sad.”
So not what I’m trying to do here.
Since then I’ve felt this pressure to keep things light. I mention miscarriage and pregnancy loss in my posts, but I’ve shied away from really going into my grief. Pushed myself to write about other topics. Given a stronger voice to my optimistic side.
But there’s a darker voice that wants to be heard every now and then, too. An internal struggle. Even if it’s hard for others to hear.
The grief from those two pregnancies didn’t go away once I got pregnant again. It stayed and brought with it an old familiar friend – anxiety. And I know every pregnant woman has her worries, but those based on trauma seem to hold a little more clout.
Every time I go in for an ultrasound I’m half-expecting to get bad news, even though I feel her moving around all the time now and there’s really no reason that anything should go wrong. The odds are solidly in our favor. But those statistics don’t mean shit once you’ve been on the other side of them. One in 1500 doesn’t sound so comforting when you know what it’s like to be the one.
I went to the doctor earlier this week and he was making small talk. Asked when we’d be taking the baby to Australia to visit, and I was suddenly like – holy shit! He actually thinks there’s gonna be a baby! Maybe this time it’s gonna be for real. I keep getting surprised anew at how I’m still holding myself back from getting excited, at the mechanisms of denial at work in my head.
Talking about the pregnancy is hardly ever fun. I find myself looking blankly at gushing faces, wondering how weird they think I am for failing to make the proper high-pitched noises about having a baby girl. Trying and failing to explain why I feel no urge to make a stop motion film of my blooming belly this time. Mentioning the past pregnancies and watching people screw up their faces uncomfortably, with this “shouldn’t you be over this by now” look.
It’s not just the anxiety that something will go wrong and the hesitance to let myself get hopeful. That’s fading. It’s this weight of expectation on me to get excited. To let go of the past losses. To let this pregnancy replace them.
But I don’t want this baby to be a replacement. I want to properly grieve the pregnancies that didn’t work out, so I can separate this one out and experience it in its own right. And the reality right now is that there are moments when this pregnancy is just fucking hard. Full of mixed emotions and baggage and hopes and fears.
The good news is – thanks to good friends and therapy and even this blog – I’m working through it all and I know that when it comes time to push this baby out, I’ll be well and truly ready. There will be a rainbow after the storm – she’s just not quite here yet.
Okay that’s not entirely true. When my mouth is full of food I’m okay, as well as directly after (most) meals. A few minutes later I have a short window during which I’m just peckish, and then BAM! Starving again.
So what’s a girl to do, right? I’m pregnant, gotta eat. Especially after the first trimester – then if I let the peckish feeling go on for more than about 5 seconds I’d be rewarded with instant nausea. Gotta eat.
But I just realized – I’ve been eating crap, basically all the time. Somewhere during this emotional rollercoaster of the postpartum period, going back to work full-time, getting pregnant then miscarrying, getting pregnant again and having to terminate that one, and then this current pregnancy, I got stuck in the comfort food zone. And understandably so. I was just so focused on “taking care” of myself – being kind and giving myself a break – that I forgot about other way to take care of myself with food.
Nourishing my body.
My decision a couple of weeks ago to put my vegetarianism on hold for health reasons was the trigger. As I went through ways to get the most out of a few servings of meat a week – not eating meat with dairy and upping my veggie intake for example – I finally brought some awareness to how I’d really been eating. For longer than I’d care to admit. And as soon I had the thought, it was a done deal. There’s no point eating meat to feel better now and prepare my body for birth if I’m gonna keep downing pastries every second day and subsisting on a predominantly carb-and-cheese diet. Delicious as it may be.
Just like that, my diet changed.
I got back to eating nutritional snacks like nuts and veggies and fruit in between meals, and while my appetite is still mammoth it feel does like I have a bit longer between the crashes. I’m also craving healthier foods more often, and happy for a bit of dark chocolate here and there (ok every day but come on! It’s a superfood) rather than fatty, sugary desserts all the freaking time.
But what I’m eating isn’t the point. It’s not about diet and it’s certainly not about weight loss. It’s just about how when we open our eyes – and really look – everything changes.
I’m 19 weeks now, and I’ve realized that the only way to get through this pregnancy without feeling like absolute crap all the time is to prioritize. If I want to get 8 hours sleep every night – which I do – I basically have no option but to give my family, my job and my health top priority. Everything else has to take a back seat.
The truth is, I learnt this lesson a while ago. That if I wanted to live a conscious, intentional life – which I do – I can’t do everything. I can’t even attempt it. I learnt that in order to make space for quality time with my son and my husband, there needs to be blank spaces in my schedule. Time to listen to each other, to prepare healthy food, to do what we feel like at a given time. Time to be.
This way of living doesn’t come naturally to me. My gut tells me to go go go, all the time. To fit in catching up with friends and seeing family and chatting on the phone and going out and making it to three yoga classes a week and however many hours my job demands. My motto was always “I can sleep when I’m dead.” And it was a lot of fun for a time there – but that time has passed. Maybe it’ll return one day, who knows, but this life we’re building now requires a calmer pace.
Back to now. To be honest, my life right now is pretty repetitive. Wake up around 6am, spend a couple of hours with my boys, head to work. Come home, couple of hours with GG, get him to bed. An hour with the husband before I crash if we’re lucky. Repeat until the weekend.
On the weekend there’s a bit more room to breathe. I can generally make it to a yoga class, maybe catch up with a friend, and fit in plenty of slow family time. I do everything I can to take afternoon naps, in the hopes that they’ll fuel me through that urge I have at 2pm every other day to curl up under my desk and take a long snooze.
I also started eating a bit of meat (for the first time in over 10 years), which has made a big difference to how I feel overall. As an ideological vegetarian I still struggle with this decision, but it’s the right one for me for now. I was totally exhausted and suffering from two-day long headaches before I tried out the meat and now I’m feeling so much better. Again, it’s a matter of conscious priorities.
There are things that I miss. Time with friends, relaxing with my husband at night and jogging to name a few. But there’s a special feeling building at the same time, an excitement, anticipation. And slowing things down a bit gives us a few extra moments to really be in it. To honor this in between time before the addition of the next member of our family.
Even if I’m passed out on the couch for a good chunk of it.