I didn’t count her toes.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
I didn’t count her toes, or run my finger against each perfectly smooth miniature nail. I was about to. I was about to breathe her in, to smile down at her and envelope those tiny feet in my trembling new-mama hands.
But then it all went white.
My baby girl, just a few minutes old, was taken from my arms. Faces hovered above me and needles pierced through skin, into my veins. I remember pain. Hot, pulsing pain, as the man who would save my life worked to stop the bleed.
I remember turning my head, only slightly, as my oxygen mask tugged against my cheek. I remember gloved hands repositioning it so that my view became only ceiling once more. But I sneaked a peak. I caught a glimpse of my little girl, held tightly in her daddy’s arms as his ashen-white face stared at the scene before him. But nobody was looking at her.
Nobody was counting her toes.
In those moments, color left my world and only white remained...detail and shading were redundant and sounds were muffled as time slowed down. Sleep invited me, but I clung to the white, to the brightness, because subconsciously I knew that I had some counting to do.
In my head, I must admit that I was thinking about myself. This is a hard sentence to write. My baby was minutes old and I was thinking about myself. About my pain, my dizziness, my confusion, my life. But I understand now, all of these months on, that my heart was bound to my daughter; I realize now that it was my heart holding on...holding onto the hope that I would live to count those perfect toes.
You see, I lost more than blood at half past six on that summer’s evening. I lost what I assumed was my right to claim those first hours of my daughter’s life outside of the womb. I lost what I assumed was my right to enjoy her 10-minute old self, her 11-minute old self, her 12-minute old self and so on. What if she had rooted for milk at minute 14, as the doctors set up yet another IV drip for me across the room? What if she had looked up in search of her mama’s face at minute 16, as the nurses told me to stay with them? What if she was counting on me to count her toes?
It’s taken a while, but I am at peace with the questions above. I have a steady ache that those moments were lost for us, that I didn’t get to live out my fairytale birth, but I am at peace.
Because, in truth, the moments that I am talking about are just that: they are moments. And as life thunders on and as my daughter grows bigger and bigger, those initial moments become surrounded by other moments in our vast fabric of existence. Never superseded or overlaid, because a woman’s birth experience cannot be brushed aside or forgotten, no matter how uplifting or crushing it may have been. No, these ‘lost’ moments are threaded between others, interwoven between first words and knitted against happy gurglings.
You see, these ‘lost’ moments are paid homage to every time that I crouch down and take off her shoes, every time that I catch a wiggle of a big toe beneath grubby socks. These ‘lost’ moments are saluted every time a little foot smacks me square in the nose during a gymnurstics session...or square in the ribs during our sleep dance.
In truth, these moments are with me at every new turn, at every junction of motherhood. They remind me of the gift that I was given: I am still here.
I get to be mama to my wonderful little girl, and for that, I am ever thankful. I don’t know how long it took me to actually count baby bean’s toes; in honesty, I cannot remember much through the overwhelming fog of love and fear and awe that engulfed me in those early weeks. But it simply doesn’t matter, as there was more for us; more time, more life, more chances. And there will be more again tomorrow.
Because it’s never too late to count toes.
This post originally appeared on Mama Bean Parenting.
I suppose, that in a mother’s life there is a time where she feels the need to write down the story that accompanied her child into the world. The moments before, during, and after the life that grew inside her comes to us earth side, into a world that is full of infinite promise - much like the child itself.
I will take a moment to be frank. This is our story. These are the events that I recall and all opinions expressed are my own. They reflect nothing on the other people involved in the process, so please while OUR story may not be what you expect, I will not judge or bare grudge against anyone involved.
If you are easily upset or grieving, please read no further as OUR birth journey may upset some people. And with this in mind I will begin.
Baby Boo’s birth story begins much like any other birth story.
My pregnancy was difficult. I was confined to complete bed rest for 12 weeks after my body went into what was called pre-term labour. When 37.5 weeks came the obstetric physician I was under the care of let the bed rest rule lapse. The baby was safe to come.
I joyously waddled through baby isles of shops and had lunch with family, friends and myself while I could. Eleven days later I went into early labour on a Friday while out shopping with my mum and my sister. Ironically we were joking around saying I needed an ambulance because I was in labour. Turns out I actually was. I went to bed early that night with a sore back but figured it was because I was huge. I had gained a large 20kg by this point. About 1:30am Saturday morning I awoke with the urge to pee, as so often happens in the last stages of pregnancy. I ungainly waddled off to the loo at which point I must have lost my plug - it made a very loud kerplunk noise and I actually had to get up off the loo to look and see what it was. I didn’t get too excited, as I had been informed that it could still be a few days or weeks after the loss of mucus plug that true labour begins, so I went back to bed. After a few hours of irregular contractions 5am rolled around and the contractions became a whole lot stronger and were spaces about 10 minutes apart. Unperturbed I got up so I didn’t disturb my husband. I had breakfast and sat in the lounge on a tarp bouncing on the yoga ball. 8 am comes and the contractions were 5 minutes apart and pretty strong - which I thought was awesome! I was finally convinced that our baby was going to be joining us sooner rather than later. I woke my sleeping husband and told him that he was going be a daddy today. Adorably sleepy, he was flustered and told me we had to go to the hospital right away. Laughing I told him not yet. I would let him know when it was time and he should just go back to sleep cause it was going to be a long day. 11 am passed and the contractions were 2 minutes apart and closing. My husband who had made the most of a last sleep-in, got up out of bed to find me on hands and knees rolling across the yoga ball. He made me a second breakfast and put my hospital bag in the car. He had a shower while I wandered around the house singing and tidying up. I mean what else do you do while in labour? At 2pm the contractions were back-to-back for an hour and I was in tears. I swung wildly between saying “I can’t do this” and “stop being stupid you have no choice at this point just get on with it”. I honestly think that my husband thought I was going mad. I finally told him that we had to go, the baby was most definitely coming today. After a very painful walk across a car park in the grey light and drizzle, across a LONG foyer and sitting/standing/crouching in the labour waiting room, I was checked by the midwife who informed me that I was only 3cm dilated but 40% effaced! She said to go home and that they “will see you tonight.” While I was annoyed because I was in labour and cranky - pain tends to do that to me - we went home for about 20 minutes. At 3pm I said to my darling that we had to go back, upon our return we got shuffled over to the public maternity ward. And again I was checked by a midwife and thanks to all things good in the world I was 6cm and 80% effaced. I was admitted in active labour.
At this point I don’t actually remember much but I will tell you what I actually remember. I was in a mind numbing amount of pain. I asked for an epidural and after hours of waiting I consented to a shot of pethadine and maxalon. Apparently I had a bad reaction to the maxalon and am no longer allowed to take it. The epidural went in fine. I remember DH being told to check if I was still conscious because I was so still. I had gone to my happy place and was concentrating on my yoga breathing - and the nitrous gas that was my lifeline. The midwife who was attending to me had pulled my bra down so it was stuck in my belly and they had to cut it off. I don’t know why I remember that, but it annoyed me very much. Unfortunately the epidural wasn’t working but they kept telling me to push the button so I did. I ran out of the drug in the end. My husband even alerted the anesthesia specialist to the fact one of my legs was red hot and the other completely cold. The epidural was adjusted and still failed to give me any relief. I vaguely remember my charming husband asking if I wanted to have sex to get my mind off the pain. Apparently I told him to "eff off" - which was amusing to the staff in the room. I remember the doctor checking my progress, and me asking what the warm was. Turns out my waters had broken (unaided) as he finished his internal examination.
Next thing I remember is pushing for AGES…I was kept immobile once they administered the epidural and they called it a "failed second stage labour" meaning the baby had disengaged and prepped me for an emergency c-section. I don’t remember much except the strange feeling of a nurse shaving my pubic hair and the thought that it was odd trying to hold a pen and sign papers when everyone was so concerned. I was exhausted and my baby’s heart rate was dropping.
Now according to DH on the way to theatre in the lift I sat up and grunted really loud, by the time we got to theatre they could see my baby. So they attached the vacuum and with one more push he was out. A side note - they had removed my failed epidural in preparation of putting me under a general anesthetic for surgery. My baby was born and apparently they put him on me - soon after he was taken for the normal things they do to babies.
What I remember is, a clunk feeling when being loaded into the elevator and a overwhelming desire to push. I remember the shot in the bum cheek to ‘encourage the placenta to come away’. I remember feeling them stitching up my second degree tearing. I remember telling whomever was standing by my head that I was very cold. They got me warm blankets. I remember them pushing on my tummy and commenting on the blood loss - "that is about 600ml……1.5 litres" - someone called out "code blue - get the universal bloods STAT”. The last thing I remember was the sting of the transfusion needle in my arm. I remember thinking how awful for the family of the code called. I woke up in intensive care 18 hours later where my mum was sitting beside my bed holding my hand. My wonderful husband had only just left - to shower and get fresh clothes. He had been able to give our baby his first bottle feed as I was in critical condition. Apparently at 4am Sunday morning they told my husband to ring whomever he needed to say goodbye as they didn’t think I was going to pull through. In total I lost 4.6 litres of blood and had 3 separate blood transfusions. When I woke I was confused and sore as hell.
Staff then brought him over for me to see and I got my first cuddles. I don’t remember anything until the second day in ICU where apparently I refused any pain relief stronger than panadol.
Day three they took me for a shower in a wheelchair connected to a million IV drips and things.
Day four I was moved to high needs maternity, where I demanded that the baby stay with me 24/7 because they had only been bringing him to be for short bursts of time.
On day 8 we were finally allowed to go home.
Three weeks post birth I started to bleed heavily. In the next 5 weeks I went to emergency three times and was told three different things - it’s normal breastfeeding bleeding, it’s a mild uterine infection, and at 8 weeks post, it’s a super heavy period.
During this time, I went through many, many traumatic events that resulted in panic attacks, hallucinations and nightmares for months and years after. I passed clots the size of my baby’s head, I spent hours on the toilet waiting for the blood to stop flowing enough for me to reach the cupboard that held my maternity napkins. I fell asleep and faded in and out of consciousness while waiting for the blood to stop. The worst of all was loosing so much blood in one gush that my bathroom looked like something out of a horror movie, the stench of blood will never leave my mind. In the end I went to my GP and he took my heart rate and blood pressure. He rang the specialist maternity hospital and we were told to go straight up, no stopping or nothing. Drive yourself with the baby or an ambulance will be called. There was no discussion of why or what was going on, but by this stage I was too weak and tired to do much more than follow orders barked at me by this very small man.
I was there in less time than it took to feed baby Boo in the waiting room, and they had me in an emergency ultrasound booth where it was found I had a large amount of retained placenta and lots of very large clots. The blood tests they took showed septicimia and some other nasty things that I don’t pretend to understand. I was given another transfusion while waiting for a bed to be prepared. Later that night I was on the toilet and had such a big bleed that if I hadn’t have had that transfusion I wouldn’t have lived through it. I remember being cold and ever so grateful that I was so close to the call button, so that as I fell I could push it. I was so embarrassed by the blood everywhere, and all over me, I cried while the lovely nurse held me.
I was so beyond frightened waiting for the theatre the next day. I was sure I was not going to wake up if they put me under general anesthesia. Despite both my fears and tears, I had a curette done, during which apparently I had another bleed where I lost another 2 litres and again woke up in ICU. My uterus had gone septic and my kidneys and liver were on their way to failing.
Thankfully I have an amazing husband who took another 3 weeks off work to nurse me back to health once we were allowed to return home.
I was on alot of antibiotics for a good month or more after the surgery.
What I discovered was that during delivery CTT was used to “encourage the placenta to detach”. What was suspected to have happened was that this had ruptured the placenta and the placenta had sheared part of one of the main arteries in my uterus. The notes I have are vague and post dated, so I am not sure I will ever really know what happened. All I do know is that most people wouldn’t have lived through what happened and apparently most new mums wouldn’t have been able to breastfeed through a minor post-partum hemorrhage. So me being able to exclusively breast feed for 6 months and breastfeed for two years after that point is an achievement in itself. Yes I fought through supply issues and latch issues, with the help of my husband, mother and midwives who all held baby boo to my chest so that he could nurse when I was too weak to hold him myself.
Mr Boo turns three in June 2014 and is totally worth every second of pain. I have to think that what happened to me is unusual. The only part that makes me sad still is not being able to remember his birth. The redeeming thing is that his father and my husband does, and he was the first person to feed Boo and welcome him to the world - one of us has those memories so I can find peace in that.
Recently, we have been told I am infertile after two years of trying for another baby. I hope that the universe will gift us with another baby, I am not done yet. We will continue to try and wait for more specialist appointments until the very last hope fades into the dusk of day, and we will be joyous in the knowledge that we have created one miracle who is changing the world just by being present.
Thank you for getting through a very long post. That was not easy for me to write and share. I don’t write it to frighten pregnant women, I do not believe that fear mongering is the way forward into motherhood. I share because my story deserves to be heard and recognized, and maybe - just maybe - someone will read this and recognize that something is not right, and will not have to go through the trauma I did.
I do know that if we are granted with another successful pregnancy, I will be approaching birth in a whole new light. Not only am I older and wiser - I am more informed and have better support for the journey we choose.
Be a strong supporter of mothers, new and old. We fight for our own lives as well as the lives of others. We are all children, we are all equal. Build a community where you hold each other up instead of belittling and pulling one another down. Be strong enough to know when you need help. Be strong enough to ask for it.
In the United States, 44% of women who have been raped are under the age of 18, and 80% of women who have been raped are under the age of 30. Every 2 minutes, someone in U.S. is sexually assaulted (http://www.rainn.org/statistics). There is a good chance that you know more than one person that has been affected by rape, molestation, or sexual assault.
I have been a victim of rape, sexual assault and molestation on more than one occasion. Many people know about my story, but what they don't know is the pain and fear that I have experienced. The following is the story of my abuse and eventual recovery.
I fell victim to rape for the first time at the age of 14. I had experienced my first kiss, but I was a virgin. I knew nothing about what was happening to me- it was a very scary experience. It happened in my home with someone I knew. It took me two months to tell my parents what had happened.
Little did I know, that was just the beginning of my hardships. Soon after the rape, I became sexually active. I had no respect for myself, or my body, and everyone knew it. I can't even say how many times I was taken advantage of at parties, even after I said no and tried to walk away. They knew I was damaged, and they knew they could get away with it. Everywhere I went, people were trying to touch me and have sex with me: at work, at school- I could never get away. It was heartbreaking and frustrating. I had such little self-respect that most the time I didn’t even care. Deep down, I knew everything was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it, or how to fix it.
The second time I was raped I was 16. I only remember pieces of that night; something was slipped into my drink. From that point on, I had no caring left. I let people abuse me, and I didn't think twice about it.
It wasn't until I met the man who is now my husband that I was shown a different way to live. He taught me to respect myself, and he treated me how a woman should be treated. He respected me and my body. He was the first person to ever say no to me sexually. He knew I was broken, and he wanted to help. This was something that I was not used to. He helped me overcome something that had become a huge part of me.
I thought I was fixed. I thought I was 100% better, but I wasn't. We got married and soon became pregnant with our first son. The thought of my past and the feelings my past brought never crossed my mind in terms of reappearing during pregnancy and labor.
As a society, we forget that birth can be very sexual, and it can be a very hard thing for the women who have had unpleasant sexual encounters to have to experience.
Pregnancy was very scary to me, and I couldn't even think about the birth. I saw a male OB-GYN early in my pregnancy, until it came time for weekly visits and vaginal checks at 32 weeks. I can't even describe how uncomfortable and wrong it felt, even though he didn't do anything wrong. This wasn't my first encounter with a male OB-GYN, and while I had felt the same way with the others, I was pregnant now, and it just sent me over the top. I cried in the car on the way home, and left my OB-GYN to found a group of midwives for the remainder of my pregnancy, labor and birth. At this time in my life I had no idea why I felt that way. I couldn't put two and two together, so I blamed it on other things. Inside, I felt dirty and violated.
Giving birth to my oldest son was the most terrifying thing I have ever done. Having a room full of people staring at my vagina for 4 hours, I felt like an object, not a mother. I never told anyone how I really felt about everything- I put on a happy face and said that it was the best thing that I had ever done. Inside, I was dying, but couldn’t ever put into words or feelings as to why I felt this way. So I pushed it back behind my exterior wall, and went on with life.
Sixteen months later, I got pregnant with our daughter. I saw the same midwives for this pregnancy that I had seen with my son. The feelings and emotions that I had been through seemed to surface again this pregnancy. The vaginal checks, my body changing, hormones running though my body, emotions high, flashbacks of my past- everything was so different, but I had those same feelings. I hated being propped up on the bed like just another pregnant woman. I wasn't just another pregnant woman. I am me. I have been abused, and doing something that is supposed to be natural and no big deal, felt sexual in a bad way to me. Her birth came and it was better than my son, but again, I told everyone it was amazing and the best thing. Inside, I was being to be overwhelmed with all of the feeling and emotions that I wasn’t ready to tackle.
I still hadn’t put everything together. I began to tell myself that everything was normal and that everyone felt this way, even though I never talked to anyone about it. I couldn’t even put into words exactly how I felt. I still can’t.
Another 16 months went by, and I got another positive pregnancy test. I don’t know if it was because we had moved across the country, or if I was finally ready to face my dark demons, but I lost it. I pulled away from everyone and everything, even my husband. The thought of him touching me was repulsive, and I would shutter and shut down. I wouldn’t let him see me undressed and or even kiss me. I became deeply depressed, unlike anything I had been through before.
I had some very scary thoughts during my pregnancy, and I knew I was in trouble. I finally got up the courage to mention it to my midwife. I was about 6 ½ months pregnant at this point. I was terrified to bring it up and I started bawling before I could even mutter the words “I need help”.She listened to every word I said.
After this, I started to work on things. I told my husband what was going on. I finally figured it out- the puzzle clicked in my head that my feelings were from my past. Everything was because of what happened when I was younger. It felt good to finally figure out that I was different. That not everyone goes through this, but that I AM NOT ALONE! I began to read things online and find different people that had gone through what I was going through. Life started to make just a little bit more sense.
For me, the relief and recovery didn’t come right away. I still felt like I did, but I was excited to finally know and understand what was going on with me. I didn’t know when it would go away, if ever. I went on with my day-to-day life, and just had to remind myself every now and again: “I can do this; I figured it out, and I am getting help. It will get easier.”
The day came where I went into labor, and I felt the fear starting to creep up on me. (Birth story) I was determined to make it through, though. I ended up having an accidental unassisted home water birth, and it completely healed me. Being by myself, not on display, focusing 100% on ME and MY BABY. Not having that worry in the back of my mind “Do I look okay down there; are they going to think I am gross?” All of the sexual thoughts that I had with my first two births were gone. I got to feel my little man’s head as it crowned and got to pull him up to my chest and comfort him. It freed me from those negative thoughts, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was a very intimate moment that my husband and I cherish every day.
This is something I have dealt with for the past 11 years, and I was excited to finally feel free and light. I wish I would have figured it out sooner, and I hope that no one has to go through this. Despite my hopes, it will still happen. For those of you that have been or are going through this, please know that you are not alone; there are people here to help. It is hard to talk about, and it is painful, but being healed is the most important thing.
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