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Tiernan’s birth (Part 1 – the pregnancy)

Posted on: February 19, 2011

After reading some birth stories lately, I realised that I have never taken the time to write about my own birth experiences properly. Mostly I want to record my experiences for my own personal benefit, but I don’t mind sharing them here, for anyone who is interested. I love reading birth stories, but I get that they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. So feel free to skip this post (and subsequent ones!)

Also, I should probably point out that my pregnancies were very complicated, so a high level of intervention was needed for my births. I was completely unprepared for this, especially the first time around, when my late pregnancy suddenly went from ‘normal’ to ‘not good’, and so I ended up feeling quite disappointed with the way events transpired. This left me grieving for my ‘lost’ last month of pregnancy, and the labour experienced I had hoped for. However, once I recognised this grief for what it was, I was able to come to terms with it and move on. I did, after all, have a healthy, happy baby at the end of it all. So, mine is a happy pregnancy/birth story, but one that is complicated (and quite long, sorry), and I haven’t spared too many details (or it wouldn’t be my birth story), so if you plan to give birth one day in the future, maybe you don’t want to read on…

See here for a much more brief account of my pregnancy with Tiernan.

After the initial shock of discovering I was pregnant, I was quite excited about the prospect of becoming a mother, and I spent much of my early pregnancy reading books, searching the internet and watching birth videos, trying to get as much information as I possibly could about the changes that would be happening to my body, and the whole birthing process. In other words, I attacked the problem in my usual style, by getting informed, and making up my mind from there.

Ah, the innocence! I remember being so absorbed by myself and my baby. I had a one-track mind: what will the baby look like? what will birth actually be like? how will I look when I’m all fat and pregnant? I already love this baby. Baby, baby, baby. I also had a few more pressing concerns, like where will we live? how will I finish uni??? But, in general, I was fairly confident that things would work out.

Whilst being distracted with baby thoughts, I was also studying my fourth year of a Bachelor of Education, and working part-time in retail. And, later on, I was also teaching full-time, (on prac). By this stage I was into my third trimester, and was getting pretty big and cumbersome, and not really enjoying it much. I remember liking the look of my body naked, but hating it in the big, frumpy clothes I had to wear. I was totally sick of feeling fat and uncomfortable. I was also getting pretty bad heartburn, and some very annoying groin pain when I walked (or, more accurately, limped).

Apart from these, fairly typical, pregnancy complaints, everything had been progressing well up to this point, and we had no reason to believe that things wouldn’t continue this way. We started to narrow down our list of possible baby names, went to antenatal classes, and purchased some of the many, many, many items that transform one’s home into one-that-looks-like-there’s-a-baby-in-it. Oh, and we also moved house!

I was still on prac, and about 33 weeks pregnant, when the itching started. At first it was only on the palms of my hands, and the soles of my feet. I usually only noticed it at night, or if I got too hot during the day (it was late autumn/winter, so not often). However, after about a week of this, the itching started to spread, and intensified, until it was keeping me awake for significant periods at night. The only, brief, comfort I could find was by putting wet cloths on the affected areas and trying to ignore the burning sensation.

I spoke to my GP about it during my next visit – I had opted for shared-care, with most of my visits being at the GP and only some with the midwifery team at my local hospital. She wasn’t sure what the itching was about, but thought it may just be because my pregnant body was so fat that my skin was stretching and causing the itch. Actually, I experienced very little swelling of my hands and feet, so this theory didn’t make much sense. In any case, she recommended a menthol cream to help soothe the itch, which helped take the edge off, but didn’t really help me sleep any better. So, while the problem was definitely getting me down (my prac was close to finishing, but I still had several assignments to complete, and I was still working), it didn’t seem to be anything vital, so I tried not to worry about it.

However, when I mentioned it to my Mum, over the phone (she was living in Maclean, about a 10-hour drive north), she told me about someone she knew who also had this kind of itching in pregnancy and ended up being really sick. She recommended I try to find out more about itching in pregnancy. And hence my relationship with google began! (Whenever anything happens, I always google it first, to see whether I should be worried – rashes? google. Pain? google. Strange bruising? google. Vomiting? google. Baby eating poo? google).

The problem with google is that it tends to make you freak out, which is what I did when I found all of these sites that told me I might have something called Obstetric Cholestasis (a liver problem that can occur in pregnancy, which, if unmanaged, increases the risk of stillbirth after 37 weeks gestation). I went to the GP the next day, but couldn’t get into my usual one at short notice, so had to settle for another. This doctor basically made me feel like an idiot for even thinking twice about anything I’d found on the internet. He dismissively told me that I couldn’t have OC, as I would have jaundiced eyes if I did (actually, the only reliable symptom of OC is the itch), but he did, grudgingly, agree to write me a referral for a liver function test, just to shut me up. Looking back, this was my first experience of being shut down as a mother (or expectant mother). I was already just a mother. What could I possibly know about anything?

I continued to itch like mad for the next week while anxiously awaiting the test results. I was becoming quite deranged. I had scraped my way through my prac, by the skin of my teeth, but was now ready to collapse with exhaustion. I finished up work (I had to quit, as I was only casually employed), and tried to concentrate on my assignments, but kept falling asleep instead. When I returned to the GP (my usual GP this time), at 35 weeks, she checked the results of the liver function test, and agreed that my liver was definitely not happy with something. To help her interpret the results, she conferred with someone from pathology, over the phone. The pathologist she spoke to agreed that things were out of whack, but assured my GP that this was to be expected in pregnancy, so there was nothing to worry about (I now know quite a bit about liver function tests, and what the pathologist said is true of some of the levels that are measured by a liver function test, but not all). So, I came home again, quite relieved to have escaped the dreaded OC, but still desperately itchy.

The shit finally hit the fan at my 36-week check. My blood pressure was through the roof (something like 130 over 100). My GP checked it three times, just to make sure, before sending me to the hospital for what she called ‘monitoring.’ Poor, naive me went home to collect my laptop and assignment notes first, imagining I would be there for a few hours (being ‘monitored’) before coming home. I didn’t even know, as I left home, that I would have my baby in my arms when I returned.

In the end, the laptop was fairly useless. My ‘monitoring’ took place in the birthing suite (the ‘monitoring’ department was full), and so I got to listen to the shockingly non-hypothetical bellows of a real, live woman in labour. Luckily, my sister had decided to come for moral support. We both sat there, completely stunned, thinking Gosh that’s me/her in a few more weeks! We were there for hours without learning anything about what I was doing there or when I could go home (I have since learnt that you have to ask, and keep on asking), before, in typical hospital fashion, a midwife burst in and abruptly dropped the bombshell that I was being admitted with Pre-eclampsia and Obstetric Cholestasis. The Ha! I was right! was not so satisfying.

I was shipped upstairs to the antenatal ward. I called all and sundry and let them know of my predicament. My husband came with clothes (for me – we still had no idea that we were going to be parents within days). He kept me company for a couple of hours before being kicked out at 8pm. I felt so frightened and alone after he left. I was completely overwhelmed. Suddenly, everything was so very, very real. I was plied with medications that would hopefully bring my blood pressure down. Interestingly, nobody bothered to start me on any medication for OC until a lovely (male) nurse noticed how much agony I was in, with my constant itching during the night, and brought it to the doctor’s attention first thing in the morning. I was subjected to two-hourly blood pressure checks, around the clock. Two-hourly! The minute I finally drifted off to sleep I was being woken again for yet another check. I was told to collect every drop of pee that issued from my body and tip it into a big plastic bottle with my name on it. When I had to move beds two days later, I also suffered the indignity of having to carry my bottle of piss to my new room, only to be told, Oh, we don’t need that anymore.

It is truly amazing how little information you are told about yourself when you are a patient in a hospital. How little you are to be trusted. How little you are consulted about decisions that directly concern you, and your body.

It is also truly amazing to think of myself as I was back then. It was less than four years ago, but I am looking back at that scared, naive 23-year-old in an almost maternal way. I want to comfort her and tell her that everything will be okay, and that she will grow from this experience in so many, immeasurable ways.

After two days in the antenatal ward, it was decided that the best option was for me to have this baby very soon. Tomorrow, in fact. Oh my God! I was excited (to meet my baby, and end this ordeal) and terrified at the same time. An internal examination declared my cervix to be an already very favourable 3cm dilated (yay me?), so I was booked in for induction first thing in the morning, and told to get a good night’s sleep. Yeah, right. There are many things you take for granted when pregnant, and one of them is that nine months is plenty of time to get your shit together for a baby. We had bought all the stuff but hadn’t built/assembled/installed/washed any of it yet! We hadn’t even got all of the junk out of what was supposed to be the baby’s room. That’s what we had planned to do with our ninth month. I think I really missed out on an important step in preparing for the baby, the ‘nesting’ stage. Instead, Tom, his brother and (future) sister-in-law, and my mum did my nesting for me, while I was still in hospital after the baby was born.

So, on the night before officially becoming a ‘mother’, there I was, worrying about what kind of omen it is when a baby doesn’t even have somewhere to sleep, or clothes to wear. I also remember worrying about the fact that my baby was going to be born prematurely (at 36 weeks and 3 days), and what that would mean for his health. Would he be able to breathe? Feed? Would he have to be in an incubator? Despite the obstetrician’s assurances that my baby would most likely be completely fine, I was still extremely nervous, and was dreading the possibility that he may not be able to stay with me after the birth.

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4 Responses to "Tiernan’s birth (Part 1 – the pregnancy)"

even though we have discussed this several times, my heart was still very anxious at the outcome!!

Better not keep you in suspense for too long then!

[…] About me Tiernan’s birth (Part 1 – the pregnancy) […]

[…] I was nervous! But not about the actual pregnancy part, really. After talking to the doctors when Tiernan was born, I came away believing that of the two conditions I ended up being diagnosed with, […]

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