Womb to move

Obviously, I wasn’t convinced I was going to die.
I just wasn’t convinced I wasn’t going to.
It all began around week 18…

“You have a low-lying placenta,” my obstetrician said, wiping the gel off my belly. “Probably nothing. We’ll get a better look at your big scan.”
That was two weeks away.
It turned out to be the last two weeks of pregnancy I’d ever get to enjoy.
I settled on to the bed at Women’s Imaging for what would turn out to be the most unsettling ultrasound I’d had.
And I wasn’t a stranger to pregnancy drama.
Early bleeds, gestational diabetes, super huge heads.
I’d worried over everything.
I’d worried over nothing.
And my boys were both fine.
“You have complete placenta previa,” the sonographer said. “C-section for you I’m afraid my dear.”
Ugh.
Master Nine’s birth had been less than perfect.
Induction, gas, epidural, ventouse, retained placenta, surgery.
Undeterred, I took pregnancy yoga ahead of Lil Fatty’s big entrance, even convincing myself I could actually ‘laugh’ my way through it.
But he very quickly became an emergency caesarean.
I’d barely begun to experience the disappointment of another c-section when another word popped into the discussion – ‘accreta’.
“I’m not going to Google it,” I declared to Learner Dad on the way home.
But alarm bells had been ringing in my head from the moment I’d heard it.
Accreta.
I knew that word.
And I knew it wasn’t good.
That night, I Googled it.
‘High risk’, ‘heavy bleeding’, ‘haemmhorage’, ‘hysterectomy’, ‘life-threatening’, ‘transfusion’, ‘rupture’, ‘catastrophic’, ‘maternal morbidity’, ‘maternal mortality…’
Maternal mortality maternalmortality maternalmortalitymaternalmortality…
‘Accreta’ is diagnosed when the placenta is too attached to the wall of the uterus.
There were two more serious varieties – ‘Increta’, where it actually penetrates the uterine wall, and ‘Percreta’, where the placenta eats right through the uterus, often invading other organs, such as the bladder and bowel.
Rates of all three have been increasing in conjunction with the rise in c-sections.
My scan had been on the Thursday.
I wasn’t seeing my obstetrician until the following Wednesday.
On Friday I rang his rooms in a panic.
“Ok, let’s see,” the midwife said in a calm, almost patronising tone. “Don’t get all worked up now. I’ll just scan through your report. Here we go. Placenta previa, suspected percreta…”
Her voice faded away.
She knew she’d told me more than she should have.
“Don’t panic. And don’t get on the internet. The doctor can talk you through the results. In the meantime, you must come straight in if you have any bleeding whatsoever…”
But I wasn’t really listening.
‘I’ve got the worst one, I’ve got the worst one,’ was all I could think.
The percreta was, at this stage, only a possibility.
One thing that was still certain was I had placenta previa.
Previa means the placenta is covering the cervix, giving baby no access to the main door.
This condition also put me at risk – of sudden and heavy bleeding.
I researched both conditions exhaustedly.
I joined Facebook support groups dedicated to them.
Overwhelmingly the women with percreta had had hysterectomies.
Women with previa had occasionally lost babies to premature delivery.
Some talked of months on hospital bed rest and then months in neonatal intensive care units.
They wrote about bleeds so big they’d left the bathroom a crime scene, of late night panicked emergency calls, of being flown from rural towns to big city hospitals by helicopter.
But, despite all the near-death drama, I was a little encouraged.
These were all stories of survival.
Although I had a lot of support around me, only these women knew exactly what I was going through.
Like me, they’d pulled down their pants fearfully every time they went to the toilet.
Or dashed in panic to a toilet every time they thought they felt wet.
They’d had insomnia. And steroids.
They’d faced countless ultrasounds and MRI’s and many a grave face.
They’d sat up late in bed writing goodbye letters to their children (yes I really did this) – just in case.
And they’d tried to contemplate their kids’ lives without them in it.
Everyone’s biggest fear – and I was no exception – was of being put to sleep and not waking up.
The mortality rate (which most of us had frantically searched for at some point) seemed to range from 2 to 5 to 7 to 10 per cent.
A lot of the data was dated.
My obstetrician said much of it emanated from the 1970s, when accreta was largely undiagnosed.
When women did often die.
The fact I was diagnosed and being closely monitored put me in great stead.
But I still felt bleak.
I counted the weeks away with relief.
24 weeks – we called it V Day (for viability).
28 weeks, 30 weeks, 32 weeks, 34.
Sometimes, late at night, I wished I’d just have a bleed and be done with it.
It would force my doctor’s hand and the whole damn thing would be over with.
But I made it to my scheduled delivery date of 35 weeks and four days.
Not one bleed.
My baby girl was born at a healthy six-and-a-half pounds.
Along with her, they extracted my poor spent uterus.
The placenta had eaten its way through, coming to rest alongside my bladder.
I’d be making no more babies.
At age 37 and with two boys and a girl that didn’t seem a huge sacrifice.
Regardless, it was no longer my choice.
These days I look back on my pregnancy and Floss’ birth and wonder if I was being dramatic.
Then I read the posts of my poor diagnosed friends on Facebook and I remember.
When you’re the extremely hormonal home to a human life and the walls are starting to crack, nothing is unreasonable or irrational.

Three months ago, Suzanne Mazzola gave birth to her fourth child.
Like me, she had placenta percreta.
Like me, she made it to her scheduled delivery date of 35 weeks.
Like me, she had a healthy baby.
Unlike me, she never woke up.

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Final Delivery

I wasn’t ready to part with the pants.
I’d taken off my top, my bra, shoes and socks, even my jewellery.
But pulling off my black trackies seemed too final.
Like taking off the last part of me.
I had the hospital gown on over them.
To stand naked under it would be to feel like a patient.
Or worse, a corpse.
So I stayed in those trackies as long as I could.
I stayed in them when they came and asked Learner Dad to go upstairs ‘just for a minute’ (were they secretly asking him if I was an organ donor?)
I stayed in them when he came back and silently, wordlessly, enveloped me in a big hug.
It was the wordless part that made it different.
He always had words.
I stayed in them – well sort of – when I went and sat on the toilet and tried to process the enormity of what I was about to do.
But eventually I was told to take them off.
So I did.
I was all theirs now.
It was time.
After months of anxiety and weeks of fear, I felt surprisingly calm.
I slowly got up on the bed.
Was that the last time my feet would touch the floor?
I’d tried to appreciate those precious hours between getting out of bed at home early that morning and on to this one.
Not just appreciate life, but pregnancy.
This was my last one.
I’d soaped my exhausted stretched belly in the shower one final time.
Then stared at it in the mirror as the steam lifted.
There was no final cup of tea.
I was fasting.
I watched our tidy white weatherboard home zoom out as we reversed up the driveway.
And I took a long hard look at the outdoors before entering the hospital.
(But Argyle Street at 6am on a Monday really wasn’t very inspiring.)
Now they were shaving me.
Having been told I was having a vertical incision, I hadn’t bothered.
But apparently it was still necessary.
One of those big burly trolley guys came to wheel me to surgery.
The kind who might have a second job as a nightclub bouncer.
I felt silly being pushed along.
I was perfectly capable of walking.
As we turned a corner I saw the humidicrib being wheeled along behind me.
It was like a punch in my bulging guts.
That’s where my little amigo would go.
Straight from my hot squishy belly into that clinical sauna.
From the dark into the oh-so-bright.
Would he or she need all that stuff, I wondered, staring fearfully at the tiny oxygen masks and tubes.
The image of that tiny trolley being wheeled along behind me is the only thing that still brings tears to my eyes today.
I met my midwife and her student at the lift and we made small talk on the way up.
“Two boys huh? So you’d be hoping for a girl then?”
‘Just to wake up actually,’ was my only hope.
My anaesthetist was first to greet me.
“He’ll be there two hours early,” my obstetrician had joked about him. “He’s always on time.”
I’d met him a few days earlier – an awkward appointment where he either sat staring silently at me or spoke of the potential for things to ‘get hairy’.
‘I’ll give you hairy,’ I thought, staring at his giant moustache.
But he was cheery this morning.
Then I met the urologist.
Also chipper for a Monday morning.
He’d be in an operating theatre next door, he said, and would only be called in if I had a damaged bladder.
I was wheeled into the operating room.
And suddenly people were everywhere.
My obstetrician, who’d spent the latter part of my pregnancy also looking quite frayed, breezed in with a quick hello.
He’d surgically removed a wayward IUD for me a year or two before and had actually spent more time patting my arm on that day than this.
He asked the nurses if the second obstetrician had arrived yet.
I never got to meet that guy, but I’m told he did turn up.
I was introduced to the paediatrician, a pleasant man who was apparently quite the heartbreaker in his day.
While all of this was going on, Learner Dad sat in the corner, his eyes bright with tears.
My rock was liquefying.
He’d been stoic throughout my pregnancy, calming me with cuddles, shouldering and then shrugging away my fears.
But today he actually looked worried and, for the first time, I comforted him.
“It’ll be ok,” I mouthed.
He nodded.
The anaesthetist put a canula in my hand, the nurses hot blankets over my body.
“Ok, come and give your wife a kiss and tell her you love her,” a nurse instructed Learner Dad, like he was about to say goodbye to his mummy at kindy.
(And yes, I was wrong, the moment that followed brings tears to my eyes too.)
“We’re going to put you to sleep now,” a voice behind me said.
The last thing I saw was the worried look on the paediatrician’s face.
And then I was gone.

To be continued…

Fatty’s False Start

“Lil Fatty’s gone!”
I looked over at my panicked bridesmaid, then at the slightly ajar door where my toddler no longer stood.
“But the music hasn’t even started,” I cried.
The music started.
“Shit,” I muttered, not a word I’d expected to use on my wedding day. “Just stick to the plan. Send in page boy number two.”
I looked down at my three-year-old nephew.
For weeks he’d been told his ‘very important job’ at his Aunty Ali’s wedding was to hold Lil Fatty’s hand while walking down the aisle.
Now he looked at his father, confused and slightly terrified.
Unperturbed, my brother shoved his son through the door, then hurried off out the back so he could slip into the hall and see him arrive from the other end.
I took a deep breath.
Ok so that had happened.
Move on.
It was our turn.
“Um Ali, the door’s locked!”
One of my bridesmaids was desperately pulling at the door through which my nephew had gone.
It had locked behind him.
I looked at my bridesmaids.
Four pairs of beautifully made-up eyes stared back at me.
They had nothin’.
Wasn’t the purpose of bridesmaids to solve problems like this?
I looked at my dad, standing next to me.
He looked back at me anxiously, as if to say ‘Are we up now Ali Cat?’
I’d been to that many weddings and seen the visions in white hovering in distant doorways, ready to make their appearance.
Was this what it was actually like?
Panic and confusion?
I didn’t have my problem-solving hat on.
Just my veil.
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The photographer’s assistant came to my rescue.
“I’ll go around and get them to unlock the door,” she said.
“Please,” I answered, starting to focus. “And let’s bring the boys back and re-start the music.”
‘We’ll just start again,’ I thought to myself.
My son and nephew reappeared, the former screaming, the latter still confused.
“Sssshhhh,” I whispered desperately, for I could hear the faint strains of our song.
It was in full swing.
We’d missed our cues.
We waited an eternity for it to stop – again.
Our guests had heard it twice now.
My nearly hubby knew the song, he knew the cues.
He’s sprung tears when Lil Fatty had made his first appearance but now they’d dried up.
With no bride in sight, Learner Dad had begun to panic.
But we eventually got it right and, by the time my turn came, it was all but forgotten (until we hit Waikiki for our honeymoon and heard the song playing in every second tourist shop we entered).
So that was my wedding day.
Learner Dad did find tears for me.
He also sang me a song.
Master Nine danced solo to Gangnam Style – all five minutes of it – surrounded by dozens of gorgeous women in short floral dresses (a fact I’m sure he’ll appreciate even more watching the video back in later years).
As for Lil Fatty, his premature stroll down the aisle was his unraveling.
The second trip ruined him, left him screaming the Town Hall down until my poor nominated brother-in-law carted his indignant butt right out of there.
But his protests fell on deaf ears.
Because his mum and dad got married anyway.
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Lil Fatter

Okay, so she’s not really.
Fatter than her brother that is.
But for a premature baby girl, she’s sure giving him a run for his money.
“She’s got bread legs,” Master Nine proudly told his grandparents last week.
What I’d actually said was she had ‘more rolls than a bakery’.
Fairy Floss is my final baby.
‘Fairy Floss’ because she’s soft, sweet and mostly comes in pink.
The pink is a must.
Having had only boys before, I didn’t realise how hard it is for people to pick a girl.
“Oh he’s so cute, I love his little white pants,” a shop assistant gushed recently.
‘Really?’ I thought. ‘You’re seeing the pants but not the floral smock?’
I smiled widely, glanced about casually and wandered out.
Without buying anything.
I never thought I’d be a girly mum.
I didn’t expect to have a girl and I didn’t expect to enjoy one so much.
I prefer footy to fairies, playgrounds to princesses.
But now my life is pink.
The clothes line is littered in all shades of it, as is one entire room in our house.
Pink clothes, pink blankets, pink teddy bears, pink lotions, even pink nappies.
Yes, she even craps in pink (although, according to Learner Dad, the princess doth only ‘poo’).
After nine years of polo shirts and overalls, I believe it was time for a change.
I folded them up and gave them away faster than I could say ‘the top drawer is for tiaras, the bottom for tutus’.
Fairy Floss arrived after a troubling yet ultimately trouble-free pregnancy (more on that later).
We actually thought we were having a Dagwood Dog.
That’s because our obstetrician had referred to a ‘he’ twice during ultrasounds.
Learner Dad called him on it at our last appointment.
“My wife says you keep saying ‘he’,” he challenged him. “Have you given it away?”
I felt my face redden.
This was awkward.
The poor doctor had probably hoped we hadn’t noticed.
“To be honest,” he replied. “I don’t remember what you’re having. I just call them all ‘he’.”
‘Yeah good one,’ I thought.
We already had two boys. He’d surely sought out a vagina on our behalf.
Turns out he hadn’t.
And when he came to visit me the day after Fairy Floss was born, he still referred to her as a ‘he’.
Learner Dad thinks I’m a bit of a know-it-all when it comes to pregnancy and he loves the fact I got it so wrong.
But he’s wasting his time teasing me because, the thing is, I love it too.
I was wrong.
Horribly, beautifully, wonderfully wrong.
I had a little girl.
After I brought her home, after I’d folded all those blue bundles away and found the two little pink T-shirts I’d kept since my first pregnancy, I sat there gazing at her.
“Daughter,” I whispered.
And once I’d said the word, I couldn’t stop.
I texted my friends. “How are you? All good here. Loving my daughter.”
“Just thought I’d give you a buzz while my daughter’s in bed,” I explained when I rang my mum.
But, amid the celebrations, there was a strange undertone.
Some women were smiling too brightly at me.
And I could swear they were humming.
Was it the tune from Jaws?
I soon worked out what they had in common.
They all had daughters.
Now I’m not completely clueless.
I have Facebook.
I’ve heard, seen and read all about little girls.
Tantrums over tutus, hysterics over handbags.
The day after my daughter was born, a friend texted me a picture of a bright pink monstrosity, with: ‘Despite all your coaxing and adorable overalls buying, you will end up at Kmart buying this.’
My boys couldn’t give a toss about clothes – I could put each of them in a tutu and fairy wings and they’d head out the door without even noticing.
And I know daughter dilemmas extend beyond fashion.
There will be Facebook fights.
And selfie ‘situations’.
I am a girl. I know what we’re like.
We bitch, we cry, we gossip, we keep secrets.
Throw in whoever and whatever has replaced Miley Cyrus and Snapchat in 15 years time and oh mama are Learner Dad and I in trouble.
But that’s ok.
For now I’m going to just put it all out of my head.
For now I’m going to just enjoy my Fairy Floss.

Speaking the same language

“So what do you do if there’s an emergency?” the policeman asked, squatting down in front of the little boy.
“You call 9-1-1?” the boy answered uncertainly.
In his classroom.
In Australia.
I was at the school as a reporter, not a mother, on this occasion.
We were working on a feel-good story involving a bunch of police officers visiting a primary school.
After an awkward pause, the officer said: “Er, no that’s not right mate, it’s triple-0 remember?”
The boy looked startled.
I was startled too.
I’m not sure I’d have answered the same but ‘9-1-1’ didn’t sound altogether wrong and so I’d just gone with it, smiling and nodding.
But, that’s right, 9-1-1 was the American emergency number.
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The increasing Americanisation of our next generation isn’t really new.
But it’s something I notice every day as a mother.
“When can we go on a vacation?” Master Eight asked me recently.
“Can I get some candy?” he asks often.
“Or a cookie?”
He brings his toys to life with an American accent.
And it’s not helped by Learner Dad, who insists he’s changing Li’l Fatty’s ‘diaper’ every day.
Which is ‘full of poop’, according to Master Eight.
Direct from Li’l Fatty’s ‘butt’.
Which is also called ‘the A word’, he says, meaning ‘arse’ but spelling it out ‘a-s-s’.
I know what you’re probably thinking: don’t let him watch so much TV then.
Master Eight watches up to an hour of TV a day.
In winter holidays it might be a bit more.
But television isn’t the only culprit.
I always take him to see the latest animated flick.
And you’ll find American voices on arcade games, DS’s, and, of course, the internet.
We gave Learner Dad homemade vouchers for Father’s Day.
I suggested one of them say: ‘Master Eight will take out the rubbish.’
He wrote ‘trash’.
And complained about the prospect of having to drag it up the ‘sidewalk’.
Fortunately school has a slightly combative affect, drumming our kids with Australian history, culture and language.
Master Eight might not say ‘G’day’ but he sure knows the national anthem.
“And thaaaaaat’s… Austraaaaaalia’s… faaaaaaaair…,” he sang triumphantly one day on the way home from school.
That was just after we’d been to the petrol station, where he leaned over and explained to Li’l Fatty that we were just stopping for gas.

First the Weetbix, Second the Breast

I hoisted Li’l Fatty out of his cot and popped him on the ground.
“Here we go,” I thought, waiting for the ‘I want titty’ tantrum.
But he just turned and plodded out of the nursery.
I followed him in to the kitchen, where he yanked open a cupboard door, pulled out a plastic bowl and threw it at my feet.
“Geh,” he said, looking at me questioningly.
“You want Weetbix? You want Weetbix now?” I asked.
“Geh,” he said, picking the bowl up and throwing it at my feet again.
“Too bad,” I muttered and heaved him over to the couch, popping him on the boob for his morning feed.
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Li’l Fatty is about to hit 15-months-old.
I’d always planned to breastfeed him for 12 months.
When that time came, it just seemed easier to keep going.
He’d have food and a bottle during the day, but first thing in the morning and last thing at night was a breastfeed.
Cheap, nutritious and bonding, plus it kept baby plump and mummy not so plump.
But I’d felt weaning time approaching.
I wasn’t planning on taking Li’l Fatty on our honeymoon and a breast pump wasn’t exactly a sexy item to pack.
Breastfeeding had also become mildly inconvenient and a bit embarrassing.
“I’m only doing it morning and night, I’m going to stop soon,” I’d mutter apologetically to anyone in earshot as I hoisted my toddler on to my lap, wondering why we feel guilty if we feed for anything less than six months and anything more than 12.
A week after he demanded Weetbix for brekky, Li’l Fatty, his father, brother and I came home from a birthday dinner, full and exhausted.
I lay him out on my lap.
He smiled lazily, nestled his nose into my nipple, and fell asleep.
There it was.
I’d been made redundant again.
With a full weekend of work coming up, I decided it was a good time to stop permanently.
I’d start a few days earlier by cutting his night feed completely.
I put him to bed that first one, came back into the loungeroom, sat down and began to cry.
“What’s up?” Learner Dad asked, moving over to hug me.
I’d told him I was weaning Li’l Fatty but, as is a man’s way, he hadn’t really noticed.
I’d denied him so much bottle-bonding time with his son, yet he’d never uttered a word, either for or against it.
That night he assured me Li’l Fatty was happy and healthy either way, that we could afford plenty of milk, and that I’d still squeeze into my wedding dress despite losing my little calorie vacuum.
But, as I lay in bed that night, none of that mattered.
All I could think of was Li’l Fatty’s smiley blue eyes looking up at me, his chubby little fingers running through my hair, or exploring my mouth, as he fed.
The little ‘gorr’ (‘gone’) he’d eventually murmur in his husky, tired voice, milk running down his cheek, as he drunkenly passed out.
Now my milk is almost gone.
I don’t think being upset meant weaning was the wrong decision.
Apparently the hormonal shift largely accounts for a mummy’s sadness in letting go.
It’s just the end of another stage.
Like wraps and rolling.
Next it’ll be bye-bye to spoon feeds and sippy cups.
Prams and dummies.
Then dirty nappies.
I’m not sure I’ll lay in bed at night fondly remembering that end of him though.

Am I a bad mother if…

• I stick my finger up at a smartarse Master Eight when he’s not looking?
• I let him sleep on a towel when he’s had an accident at 3am?
• I steal money from his piggy bank to ‘loan’ to the Tooth Fairy?
• I dress Master Eight as the same book character every single year (even though his size 4 Superman outfit is now ridiculously tight [and Superman isn’t really a book character])?
• I occasionally make him wear shorts in winter because I haven’t learned to patch trousers?
• I eat most of the lollies from his party bag after he’s gone to bed?
• I offer to read every second page of his book so I can get back to doing nothing on the couch?
• I hide Li’l Fatty’s favourite book because I’ve simply had enough of ‘green sheep’?
• I often give him finger food, forgetting he had his fingers in his own poo earlier that day?
• I once pretended not to notice when he weed on the floor and rubbed his hand in it?
• I give my children fruit buns, convincing myself the word ‘fruit’ means it’s healthy?
• I am almost out the driveway before Master Eight has his seatbelt on?
• He occasionally goes to school with a sandwich that has nothing in it?
• I tell him Santa’s elves are watching even though it’s only April?
• I ‘accidentally’ vacuum up the teeny tiny Lego pieces that plague his bedroom floor?
• Wine o’clock sometimes starts well before their bedtime?
• I had the occasional wine during pregnancy?
• I tell Master Eight I’ll tape the rest of Big Brother – but don’t?
• I let him watch Big Brother in the first place?
• I time him to run and fetch the newspaper of a morning?
• I tell him he can barrack for whichever team he likes but keep buying him Collingwood pyjamas?
• I give Li’l Fatty Baby Panadol after convincing myself his bad mood is definitely ‘teething’?
• I let him play with the DVD player when his dad’s not home?
• I sometimes serve Master Eight two minute noodles for lunch AND dinner on a Saturday?
• I sometimes serve Li’l Fatty a tub of yoghurt for lunch AND dinner on any day?
• I consistently throw their ‘lost tooth’ and ‘new tooth’ photos up on Facebook? And still have Master Eight’s bloody first tooth hidden in my cupboard?
• I stalk them at night, sitting in the dark by their beds, listening to them breathe?
• I’d kill, steal or starve for them if absolutely necessary?

Nope, I have a feeling I’m pretty much the norm… 