My Own Story
My Perinatal Journey
My husband and I tried for our daughter for over five years and had almost given up trying to conceive and were considering our other options, when all of a sudden we were blessed with our little girl – to say this was a happy surprise is an understatement and we were faced with having to revise a lot of our life plans at the time.
I have always been into holistic and alternative therapies and care. As such, when I found I was pregnant, I most definitely wanted to have the holistic and natural birth experience and I threw myself into the antenatal preparation with full force.
I decided we needed to attend the parenting classes that were de rigueur (NCT) and utilise hypnobirthing (I’d previously used hypnosis for a phobia, so I was keen to use this for my birth experience) and I signed up to two further antenatal classes. On top of this we decided to get a doula as I did not have any maternal figure nearby and I wanted that mothering support through my pregnancy and the birth of my baby. My husband keen to support me in this and probably too frightened not to, went along with my plans and we met with and interviewed our chosen doula with things moving on from there…
When was I getting a break around my two jobs that I had at that time and then planning for our baby arriving with multiple visits to shops for expectant parents? I suppose that I wasn’t, is really the answer!
I was aware of the need to look after my own wellbeing and that of my baby, but by fixating on all the things I thought I should be doing. I actually didn’t give myself that great a time to implement all the things I was being taught outside of the antenatal classroom as I was exhausted and getting bigger and fatigued, with incredible nausea throughout the day to the point of just lying on the sofa for hours.
You’ve no idea how much heart ache and stress I let myself go through just because my essential oils didn’t turn up in time – this may sound daft, but these really are things as mothers to be that can quite easily rock the birth boat.
I was stressing about whether I was doing enough and worrying about how I would match up all the information I had been given through my different antenatal classes.
If I could give my pregnant self some solid advice, it would be to just relax and trust in your body! Yes, extra bits can be great, but at the end of the day our bodies are built to birth our baby and it’s all the brain stuff that gets in the way (overthinking, procrastination and birth perfectionism get out of my way!).
Following our scan and screening tests, I received a call from the NHS on a Friday afternoon. I had been out at the local shopping centre most likely trying to pick up some baby bits, feeling happy and positively looking forward to the birth of my baby. I picked up my voicemail after 5pm and it was a midwife advising me in a solemn tone that they had news about my baby that they needed to discuss with me. I called back the department immediately, but unfortunately there was no one to answer my call due to the time and then it was the weekend and again no one was about. I felt I went to hell and back that weekend, with the unknown and all sorts of thoughts careering through my head.
We found out the following week that I had very low levels of Pregnancy Associated Plasma Protein A (PAPP-A) a hormone which is produced by the placenta. Low levels of PAPP-A can sometimes be associated with poor pregnancy outcomes to include the placenta not working as well as it otherwise would, as well as an increased chance of miscarriage. Additionally, low PAPP-A can be a risk factor for chromosomal health conditions, including Down's Syndrome. Of course there was stress around this and then having to make decisions regarding tests which led us to pay privately for non-invasive private tests to establish the health of my baby.
After a number of weeks of stress, including having to deal with the opinions of family members whilst trying to work out my own thoughts and feelings, we were lucky to find that our daughter was in good health and though I am so grateful for this, there had been a number of weeks where my stress levels were building and my ability to relax and ramp up the oxytocin was pretty much non-existent.
I was so grateful for the support of my hypnobirthing teacher and in particular my doula. They made me aware of my choices and rights as I started to find that I was being lightly pressured to follow certain hospital policies once I approached 40 weeks and I was insistent upon continuing to wait for baby to arrive on her own terms and to have a non-medicalised birth, without intervention. I remember sitting in the office of the general registrar at my local hospital of choice waving my AIMS (the birth rights charity) book under her nose and telling her that I would not be opening my legs that day for a sweep thank you very much, no matter how “good” she claimed to be!
I am hypermobile which means that my joints can move beyond the normal range of movement, therefore really it is no surprise that I experienced PGP (pelvic girdle pain) and boy was it uncomfortable and at times and often downright painful. I started to feel low in relation to this and was struggling to mobilise fully when at home and when in the office.
I ended up having to take my maternity leave early as I was in too much discomfort lugging my equipment along to workshops that I was delivering, standing in front of a classroom of adults presenting and then being sat at my computer for hours in the office or when attending venues within the community.
After struggling to get the support I needed through the NHS (though it did come in the end), I found some wonderful support through a local chiropractor and I felt that I was starting to take my health into my own hands.
As I approached my 42nd week of pregnancy I was big, tired and downright fed up. I started to panic – would baby ever come out. I started to Google topics such as how big was the biggest baby ever, and how long was the longest pregnancy ever. Of course, doing this did not help me one teensy bit!
I then started to let the voices of my not so distant pregnancy past haunt me, my colleague telling me on repeat about her birth in a cinematic style; my own worries regarding my antenatal preparation choices and whether I would be doing it all “right”. I also let the voices of family and friends affect me regarding my due date and family booking a hotel to stay over on the weekend of my due date – something that I most definitely did not want (sorry to the in-laws, I know you were just wanting to welcome baby) and the fact that I did not have my mother to support me.
I started to worry about former mental health that I had experienced through my life and whether I would be a good-enough mother and whether I deserved to be a parent, I thought about the baby that I had lost almost 17 years ago and I worried about my career that I had planned and that this may now never happen.
Despite not wanting to touch any form of induction with a barge pole – I suddenly jumped on the natural induction train. I gulped down gallons of raspberry leaf tea, ate 10+ dates daily, took fenugreek tablets, squatted, told baby that I wanted her to arrive, got out my humidifier and filled it to the brim with essential oils known for their ability to induce labour and sprinkled my pillow with these on a night. Is it any wonder along with the stress that I’d been experiencing that my birth kicked off super intense and after over 40 hours ended up with me being wheeled into the operating room for an emergency C-section? Maybe, maybe not.
I was however, extremely grateful for having learned the hypnobirthing techniques as I utilised these to see me past 20 hours of intense contractions without any pain relief other than my TENS machine and my husband used the breathing techniques within the operating theatre.
Again, if I were to advise my past self of something, it would be to block out the voices of others and listen to baby – baby knows best!
Following the birth of my baby I was in hospital for a week and I was not happy, I wanted to be home with my baby. The hospital staff were for the most part amazing and I had the honour to meet some very dedicated and wonderfully caring staff. If I were to have another baby and needed to go back to the same hospital, I would absolutely be happy to do so.
Once home amidst the restless nights, colic and difficulty healing from my C-section I started to experience postnatal anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Unfortunately as I was not already within the system, I fell through the net regarding this and faced a long two years battling this on my own.
As a qualified Occupational Therapist, my interests lie in the primary occupations of our lives, this being the things that are important to us and the roles that make up who we are (including being a mother). I was therefore extremely surprised following the birth of my baby when in hospital and upon my return home that there was no support offered by the hospital in relation to my discharge and rehabilitation at home.
When I had a car crash in 2012, I was set up with physio and occupational therapy, yet being unable to get up off the sofa and pick my baby up without being in extreme agony and being too scared to carry my baby up or down the stairs was something that was unaddressed.
I had no prior knowledge about perinatal mental health, other than knowing people can experience post-natal depression. I never understood the complexities of maternal and paternal mental health, both during pregnancy and following birth. I never understood just how life changing becoming a parent would be – yes I knew it would change our lives, but I didn’t understand what that meant.
Once I was experiencing perinatal mental health difficulties of my own, I had no idea about how the system worked and whether my baby would be taken from me or if I would be forced straight away into the mother and baby unit against my will. I was scared and I felt alone for a very long time.
Within the UK and many other countries, our health service focuses primarily upon the baby, the mothers physical health is considered somewhat and her mental health may be given a fleeting glance in most cases, considering the most commonplace difficulties. If mother (or father) say they are ok, the conversation about mental health and wellbeing is often left there and may not be picked up again.
My training as an Occupational Therapist and my own experience throughout my perinatal journey, has inspired me to set up a company where you as the parent (mothers and fathers) are given the support that you need from conception all the way through to following the birth of your child with your wellbeing at the centre of everything I do. You are not left in the dark. You are not left feeling uncertain. You are never alone.
I understand the importance of prevention through education and support systems in the early days rather than reacting when things get really tough (though of course, I am here for you then too if you find yourself struggling). I am here to offer you all the things I wish I had had and had known, the things that would have truly made a difference.
As such, I would like to welcome you to Birthscapes, a perinatal and postpartum support service that helps guide you on your journey as you make the huge transition into parenthood and start your wonderful adventure as family.
This is an amazing time to be celebrated and indeed it is a time to celebrate you!
I am here to ensure that you allow yourself moments of calm and reflection and that you do not have to search in multiple locations to find what you’re after.
I am here for you!