A bit of background before we begin
I’m Laura, a 38-year-old love refugee. We made the move in June 2014 and, excepting the inevitable hiccups, I’m happy here. I have passable Swedish, a fabulous career and a solid circle of both ex-pat and Swedish pals. Life is good.
I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries in my early twenties. “Don’t leave it too late to get pregnant,” warned my GP. Starting a family seemed such a distant concept, I paid little heed. Indeed, a combination of ‘the one’ proving to be anything but and a hectic London lifestyle meant children weren’t on the agenda until my mid thirties. That well-meaning doctor’s words began to haunt me.
It was, therefore, with a hefty dose of disbelief and trepidation that I watched that test turn blue in our tiny Södermalm bathroom. At the age of 37 I couldn’t believe this was finally happening. But two scans later and there it was. Our baby.
Barnmörskas and pre baby blues
Our barnmörska appointments at Lidingö vardcentral were underwhelming. I often cried in these sessions – I think the nerves and emotion used to get the better of me – but our midwife offered little comfort or reassurance. I was starting to notice I wasn’t enjoying this ‘magical’ time. I had no sickness, no cravings, no real tiredness – just a feeling of emptiness and fear. It was only at a pre-natal yoga class run by a teacher I know and love I felt safe enough to say I wasn’t excited about the baby. I didn’t want to test-drive prams, decorate the nursery or go mad in PoP. I was utterly confused. How could I not be delighted about this thing I had yearned for for so long?
Positive thinking (and a whole lot of pelvic pain)
At about six months, two things happened. I fell in love with my baby. Each wriggle, kick and hiccup filled me with awe and adoration. At the same time, my pelvis felt like it was splitting in two. I’d mentioned an increasing amount of pain to my midwife, who seemed relatively unconcerned.
With the delivery approaching, I started listening to hypnobirthing preparation meditations. These really re-framed my concerns about labour as I began anticipating the big day.
Or, as it turned out, the big 3 and a half days.
Stuck at 3cm
At sixteen days overdue, I eventually went into labour. My contractions were intensifying but I wasn’t dilating. Eight hours after being admitted to Danderyd I was no further along than when we’d arrived. The midwives suggested oxytocin to speed things up – but that I would need an epidural to manage the extra associated pain. I was disappointed to be ‘giving in’ to an epidural so soon, but saw no option.
I have no concept of how long the next stage took. We went through four shift changes of midwives, put it that way.
Eventually I was at 9cm and the nurses decided we could start to push. Except of course, I couldn’t feel when to push. I had one attempt before a doctor decided to use the suction cup – but I would have one attempt and one attempt only. I remember hearing her say ‘You’re not trying hard enough’. At the same time, I felt an incredible pressure in my abdomen – which I later learned was my uterus rupturing under the strain. Suddenly the room was full of doctors and the words ‘emergency c-section’.
“My baby, my baby”
Minutes later, I was handed my baby. A girl. We hadn’t found out the sex, but I had secretly yearned for a daughter.
What happened next is a blur. I remember vomiting and fitting on the operating table, my partner and baby being whisked away.
I awoke in a recovery room where I stayed for about five hours. I kept asking for Daniel and the baby, but they didn’t come.
Eventually I was taken to them.
Daniel was holding her.
Against his chest.
As I should have been doing.
I felt like an outsider.
This feeling continued for the days and nights that followed. I couldn’t even sit up in bed without help, so changing nappies, cuddles and dressing fell to Daniel while I watched.
Even writing this fills me with the heaviest sadness, nine months on.
A rather un-Merry Christmas
We eventually came home in time for Christmas. Tiredness, frayed tempers and new parent ineptness isn’t conducive for celebrations. In addition, that doctor’s scathing words rang in my ears from morning to night. She was right. I hadn’t tried hard enough. I had failed at the one thing women are designed to do. I had my chance and I blew it.
These feelings of failure were compounded by a lack of breastmilk. Just as I had never considered having a c-section, the notion of not being able to breastfeed had never crossed my mind. Our baby latched perfectly, there was simply very little milk. I never leaked, nothing ‘came in’, if I squeezed a nipple I’d get maybe two or three drops, nothing more. I drank endlessly, I pumped religiously, I saw feeding consultants. Yet baby simply wasn’t getting enough. We supplemented with formula from day one, at the direction of the hospital nurses. I hated doing this. It was yet another example of me giving in too easily and not fighting hard enough.
(In hindsight, I can almost laugh at myself. I actually breastfed our baby six times a day until she was five months. Yes, we topped up with formula at each feed, but I was so determined not to give up I fought on with the breast despite there being virtually no milk.)
A much needed reality check
When Wren was about 4 months, I decided to stop punishing myself with such destructive thinking. I asked for help at BVC (I had scored a ‘all is fine’ on their post-natal checklist, so despite crying at most of our sessions I was ‘ok’ in their eyes) and was referred to see a family counsellor. When we attended, I realised this was not the support we needed: this was care for mums struggling to bond with their babies. That wasn’t my ‘problem’.
It was then I remembered something a nurse at Danderyd had said: there was the opportunity to come and talk through the delivery at any time. I called the hospital and had barely blubbed “I’m struggling to let go of my feelings about my birth” before I was invited in for a chat with the consultant who’d overseen my c-section.
I walked into that appointment shaking, full of mixed emotions at being back on the delivery ward.
I came out feeling like a hero.
Those twenty minutes with my consultant changed everything. When I explained I was racked with guilt for not trying hard enough, he looked at me as if I had two heads. “You tried so hard you burst your own uterus” was his response. Was this a common thing I wondered? Well, he had seen it twice before, he explained. But then again, he had only been delivering babies daily for over 30 years. We burst out laughing.
There was, in his opinion, no way I could have had a vaginal delivery due to the shape and size of my pelvis. I should never have been allowed to even attempt it.
The relief was enormous. Any feelings of failure ebbed away, to be replaced with elation, pride and self-respect. I hadn’t realised the severity of my complications (he had less than 2 minutes to get the baby out post rupture) or the rarity (to rupture without a previous c-section is relatively unheard of, at 1 in 360,000 chances).
Like a wedding day isn’t a marriage, a delivery isn’t a baby. Once I accepted that, I relaxed into motherhood. And I adore it. I could not be happier.
If there’s a learning from my experience, it’s to let things go. Expectations, guilt, emotions, could haves, should haves – let them go. They serve absolutely no purpose but to drain you. And being a mum is exhausting. We need every ounce of energy we’ve got. Why waste a drop?