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.”
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.
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.


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…

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.

The real midwives of maternity

His name was Chris.
He had grey hair, a beard and kind eyes.
He was my midwife.
Besides Learner Dad, he was the most important person around when Li’l Fatty was born.
I’m not talking about labour.
I went straight from induction to caesarean so the doctor was the only person I really remembered from that experience.
I’m talking about recovery.
Some women can’t get out of hospital fast enough after having a baby.
Others are literally sent packing, dragging their dummies and diapers behind them.
I was kind of in between.
I quite liked being taken care of yet, having been a patient only in the public system (with its shared rooms and average food), I went home a bit sooner than I needed to.
One of my reasons for almost staying was Chris.
You think of midwives, you think of babies.
But, when it comes down to it, the midwife is really there for you.
Baby’s out, baby’s breathing, baby’s fine.
In my experience, the midwife is all about mummy.
When your room is full of visitors, all eyes on bub as he or she is passed around the room, it’s the midwife who is all eyes on you.
He’s the one who can tell you’re in pain.
Or tired.
Or needing to be left alone.
It’s an intimacy unlike any you’ve experienced: not even your own hubby will regularly poke around the pads in your undies checking for blood loss; or help wash your naked, war-torn body in the shower; or regularly remind you you really need to poo.
Then there are the nightingales.
They’re the midwives who glide around your hospital bed at night, gently checking your vital signs while you peek at them through the slits in your eyes.
They lower your bed, slip you painkillers and gently take bub from the crook of your arm to pop back in his crib.
And then, sorry to break the spell here, there’s the early morning midwife bitch.
She’s the one who strolls in and moves the crib (with baby inside) up against the wall, as far away from you as possible.
She’s the one wanting you to get out of bed to get him.
The bitch who’s trying to stop you getting a blood clot.
You’ve heard of the baby blues?
The floods of tears that come three or four days after you’ve delivered your baby?
Mine came the moment I left the hospital.
The moment I stopped being nursed so I could go home and nurse someone else.
Admittedly the tears only lasted the short ride home, whereupon I happily and eagerly re-entered the real world.
A world that now included Li’l Fatty.
But although mine was one of the dozens of tired and teary new mum faces Chris must see every day, I’m not sure I’ll ever forget his.

He scrubs up ok

The moment the forceps came out, he fainted, clean on to the floor.
Waking, he stumbled out of the delivery suite and in to the hospital hallway, desperately seeking an exit.
He pushed through a door, hoping to be hit by a blast of fresh air.
Instead, he found himself in the placenta room, slops of afterbirth dotted around the benches.
Vomiting into his own mouth, he made a quick exit from there too.
Where was I while all this was going on?
I sure as heck wasn’t the one with her legs up in stirrups pushing a baby out.
Nope, I was the tiny baby in question, trying to force her way out of her mother’s body.
The man I’m talking about was my dad.
We’ve all heard stories about men during childbirth.
“He was my rock.”
“He passed out and needed his own bed.”
“He was terrified.”
“He hated seeing me in such pain.”
“He couldn’t stop laughing, hysterically.”
“He had no idea what to do.”
“He knew exactly what to do.”
I had no male anecdote of my own from when Master Seven was born.
The moment he emerged, my two hands were being tightly squeezed by my mother and one of my best friends.
And, besides my friend spending my labour nervously gobbling down the whole box of chocolates she’d bought for me, I have no real stories to tell.
They didn’t faint, didn’t seem frightened.
They just did what I’m sure most expectant fathers do in those last moments – watched and waited.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Learner Dad.
I knew he’d worry about the pain I’d experience but that he’d be there every step of the way.
As it turned out, an induction quickly turned into an emergency caesarean so the visions I’d had of him trying to help me through painful contractions quickly dissipated.
Now neither of us knew what to expect.
I was suddenly flat on my back, being stripped of my clothes, the midwife furiously scrubbing nail polish off my toes as a nurse tried to quickly insert a catheter.
Learner Dad was ushered into a bathroom to put on scrubs.
Terrified tears slid out the corners of my eyes as I stared at the bathroom door, willing him to emerge.
Coming out to a panicked partner, distraught at the prospect of having her tummy cut open, he started making jokes.
He wandered over to me, telling all the ladies in the room he looked like George Clooney from ER.
He didn’t.
He looked better.
In fact I’ve never found Learner Dad to be more handsome than on the night our Li’l Fatty was born.
You see, I don’t think there’s anything sexier than seeing a man become a father.
Women spend so much time being strong and capable, running a family.
Being a single mother had made me particularly independent.
But that night I’d discovered what it was like to just let go and rely on someone.
With Learner Dad sitting next to me in the operating theatre, I knew he’d make sure everything was ok.
And when Li’l Fatty decided to hold his breath in protest at being born, I didn’t hesitate in telling Learner Dad to ‘follow that humidicrib’.
Sure, I needed him.
But our baby did more.
And so, from the very first second of our new son’s life, I was experiencing what it was like to have a co-parent, someone with an equal share in the human being you just created.
I barely saw Li’l Fatty for the first 24 hours of his life, but you know what?
I slept peacefully.
Because he was with his dad.

Don’t cry over milk guilt…

“You have to open your mouth wider to attach yourself properly to the breast,” Learner Dad said to Li’l Fatty in his best imitation of a posh English woman.
He was channelling one of the lactation ladies from the hospital.
While it was a joke to him now, those in the Breast is Best Brigade almost copped their own mouthful from Learner Dad in the days after Li’l Fatty was born.
His relationship with them started out fine.
I mean, they told him to help me begin expressing before Li’l Fatty’s arrival, as they suspected there could be feeding complications.
This task Learner Dad took on with great gusto, more than willing to be involved in anything to do with the breast, even if for purely practical purposes.
He was relieved of his role though, when he began telling people about it at the dinner table.
Expressing in hospital was a far more arduous task.
Despite a vault full of my colostrum, the lactation lady came after me about 10 hours after Li’l Fatty was born.
I’d just been to see him at the neonatal unit and a combination of strong drugs and strong emotions saw me hyperventilating on the way back to my room.
When the lactation lady found me, I was literally in transit and unable to breathe.
“You need to start expressing dear,” she said.
Clearly I was in her schedule for this exact moment and she wasn’t going to change it.
While Learner Dad and the midwife each grabbed one of my arms to put me back to bed, she grabbed one of my nipples.
“It’s ok, it’s ok,” I gasped, as a mortified Learner Dad opened his mouth to give her a piece of his mind.
I didn’t want to ostracise anyone who was caring for our baby.
And if Li’l Fatty had somehow torn through all the colostrum I’d provided then damn it, I’d provide more!
It wasn’t my first stressful encounter with the lactation ladies.
My milk didn’t come in as expected on Master Seven’s arrival in 2005 and the midwives had grown increasingly concerned about jaundice.
Despite this, the lactation lady insisted we wait, a decision I didn’t necessarily disagree with.
But hostilities between her and the midwives came to a head when, after she went home, they had me agree to a formula feed via a tube.
She whipped it out of little Master Zero’s nose in disgust first thing next morning, right in front of my confused eyes.
I’ve seen many friends battle through sore boobs and broken nipples, long nights on hand pumps and electric pumps, uncooperative babies and, ultimately, mastitis in a bid to give their babies the ‘best’ start in life.
Sometimes the pressure comes from within, sometimes it comes from others.
I can’t help but wonder, if we were told the most important thing is simply to make sure our babies are fed, be it by breast or by bottle, whether nature might just have a better shot at taking its course.

Li’l Brother – Eviction Night

“So how much gel do they rub on to your tummy?” Learner Dad asked, staring at my belly.
We were sitting on the couch at home the night before I was to be induced.
I frowned.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “They won’t give us another ultrasound.”
“No when they induce you with the gel,” Learner Dad said. “How much do they put on?”
I stared at him.
“They don’t put it on your tummy,” I said incredulously.
“They insert it up your vagina and on to your cervix.”
“Oh… right…” he said, frowning as his gaze travelled lower.
I suddenly realised how new this all was for Learner Dad.
I mean, not only do I know how my own body works (sort of) but I’ve also been pregnant and given birth before.
And I’ve been induced too.
Master Seven was 10 days late and either the landlord didn’t want to evict or the tenant didn’t want to vacate because there was NOTHING happening when I finally went into hospital that cold winter’s night.
While common in first pregnancies, induction rates usually drop with subsequent children.
This was good news to me because I really wanted to ‘go natural’ this time.
I had visions of my waters breaking at work and everyone excitedly bustling me into Learner Dad’s waiting car, with little pain or mess involved, and us whizzing off to hospital for a quick delivery.
Or I had romantic notions of waking in the middle of the night and, with a big grin, whispering into Learner Dad’s ear: ‘Honey, it’s time”.
But no, after I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and an incredibly large fetus, the ‘i’ word was brought into play.
Li’l Fatty was going to be given his marching orders a week before his due date.
Maybe I could refuse?
But then you’re playing a game of Faith in Mother Nature v Faith in Doctor.
Mother Nature had fewer guarantees than the bloke in the coat so there was never a question really as to whose side I was going to take.
D Day began edging closer.
I had the stretch and sweep – anyone who’s had one of those knows from here on in every trip to the toilet means a detailed inspection of the undies and a game of ‘O Mucus Plug Where Art Thou?’
I made super hot curries, drank raspberry leaf tea and power walked across every track Hobart had to offer.
As the days crept by, the tears of inevitability crept in.
I was going to be induced.
Four hours after it began, Li’l Fatty had arrived.
All 4.2kg of him.
So maybe it was for the best.