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A semi-colon means there was a pause, you didn’t come to an end

I had always bitten my nails, but in the months leading up to the birth, I made a new friend who told me not to anymore.

“You don’t want your baby to have a Mum with chewed fingernails!”

That statement was enough to make me stop, and I had nicely shaped nails when I went in to give birth. I had photos of my beautiful, naturally grown nails inside the pulse oximeter they’d attached before they induced me. My wrist had reasonably fresh ink, a little crucifix next to a semicolon. It was a reminder that although my life had had some pauses and sad punctuation, there was more to come before there would be a full stop to finish it.

Three days after the birth, I was lying in bed and stroking that very tattoo while I let my brand-new son drain me of my nutrients. That was the day they had finally gotten me out of bed to walk to the shower, but I didn’t shower myself.

The pain of getting out of bed was nothing on labour, but it hurt just the same.

One of my friends told me that first baby labour could often last thirty-six hours and that I was lucky I had only endured around thirteen.

“It could have been so much worse. You could have torn.” She said as she held my baby for the first time. I had initially felt like an absolute goddess for enduring as much labour as I did, but she reminded me I’d only been able to do it with an epidural. I still maintain that induction hormones make the contractions a thousand times worse.

“Yeah, well, the contractions were unbearable. Remember I was induced.”

I had spent my days since birth tethered to the wall by three cannulas; one with anti-biotics for my infection, one with hydration, and one for something I can’t even remember. It made for a very cumbersome trip out of the bed for every feed, but I had no problem ringing the buzzer.

I had finally relinquished some of my control in the name of doing the best for my son.

He had taken to the breast like an absolute champ. He had an excellent and natural latch and I adored having him nuzzled into my chest as he guzzled intently. Despite my train-wreck of a birth, this was one thing I held onto as a measure of my motherhood. I never got bored as he spent his time snoozing, sucking, and swallowing.

Although it all appeared to be going well, my milk was yet to come in. Not surprising, considering I’d lost almost half of my blood in the birthing process. He was sucking a whole lot of colostrum and air, which was beginning to not be enough for his growing body.

The next time he stirred, I started to thread myself free from the cannulas to get him for his next feed. I struggled to pull the bed rail down and my abdomen sent pain all throughout my body. Up until that point, a nurse had been bringing him to me for feeds night and day because I was simply unable to after the birth. As I crawled out of the bed, half bent over, I became overwhelmed by my desire to pee. I rang the bell anxiously, worried that I may wet myself. The nurses had only just removed my catheter that day, so I was still getting used to the sensations of knowing when I needed to go.

A minute passed and I could feel my anxiety welling up, so I rang again.

“Ooh, someone’s a little needy.” I heard one of the nurses say in the hall.

After all, I was just one of many new Mums who needed help.

I rang the bell again, and a small amount of urine trickled down my leg.

“Please!” I whispered.

I shook and moved in my half-standing position, utterly helpless. Still chained to the wall, I either had to pee my pants or wait patiently, but time was running out. As I tried to regain my composure, I noticed small, brown streak coming out of my son’s nappy.

Maybe he hadn’t been hungry at all, I thought.

A nurse pulled the curtain aside brusquely and asked me why I had rang the bell so many times.

“I’m sorry but I really need to pee and I’m attached to the wall.”

She narrowed her eyes, silently pulling the drip machine out of the wall.

I moved as quickly as I could, relieved myself, and returned to my dirty, crying baby. I struggled to undo his nappy as my hand was thick with cannulas.

“He’s hungry too, you know. You need to feed him.”

I could feel tears welling up. I wasn’t one to cry, but I felt so hopeless and alone.

“I know. But I really needed to pee.”

The nurse noticed my tears but carried on aggressively.

“Why are you crying? This is your life for the next eighteen years. Buckle up, princess.”

I was indignant, but she was right. I sobbed, trying to wipe the tears from my eyes, but it was hard with a hand full of needles.

“Come on. You just have the baby blues, this is normal at day three. Don’t ring the bell unless you really need us.”

I gently removed my son from his swaddle and took him back to bed with me, sobbing at my complete failure to meet his needs. This was day two, and I was already failing him.

As the night wore on, I continued to feed, feed, feed, but the more I did, the less he was seeming to enjoy it. His wails were matching my exhaustion, hour after hour. As the clock ticked past midnight, he started to bash his head against my chest. I tried to reassure myself that it was all normal and I refrained from ringing the bell, the nurse’s ire fresh in my mind.

Even though I felt alone, you’re never really alone in a hospital and I could hear the nurse’s rubber Crocs grating against the floor, irritating me so. I worried that if they caught me on my phone, they’d think I was even more of a failure than before. As soon as I knew they were occupied in other rooms, I whipped out my phone and started Googling frantically.

Baby + headbutting + autism, Baby + headbutting + poor + attachment.

These were all threads of thought I had come across in my studies and I was worried that it wasn’t normal. He cried and cried in my arms, though I had long stopped, now just desperate for answers.

I was still cradling him when out of sheer exhaustion, I nodded off. It was somewhat peaceful, until I started to dream. In the dream, a man stood with his head fallen, cradling his own baby against a brick wall. He was rocking his baby, perhaps a little too hard, with a bottle teetering on the edge of his thumb. The baby was wailing. I felt compelled to help him.

In the dream, I edged slowly forwards to this mysterious stranger.

“Sir! Sir! You can’t feed him like that! The latch isn’t right. The bottle isn’t in his mouth.”

I felt my body melting into the perfectly groomed lawn around us. My forearm detached, then my hand, and then my legs caved in beneath me.

He looked up and scoffed.

“Why would I take advice from you? You can’t even feed your own baby. He keeps headbutting you.”

I jerked awake, ashamed that not only could I not feed my son, but I had fallen asleep on the job. As I looked around the room, I noticed that there were plumes of smoke emanating from the corner of the curtain.

No. Surely not?

As I grounded myself, the smoke drifted away. I was safe, for now.

At three am, I took a photo of the both of us when he’d finally cried himself into sleep. I figured I’d need a reminder to show myself in the future what I could get through when I tried – and more important, why I needed to get through.

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Of psychiatry and Pinterest

Before I became a parent, everybody was full of advice about how to be a parent. I wish someone had pulled me aside and warned me to be more selective about the company in my life, especially with new friends.

purple and pink plasma ball

Back when I first became a parent, I admittedly invested too much time into toxic friendships. One in particular stands out as this person was what I would call an armchair psychiatrist. Early on in motherhood, I was struggling with certain relationships in my life and so I sought counsel. This friend offered me the view that some people in my life had narcissistic personality disorder and introduced me to Pinterest and Reddit communities that were full of people whose lives were dominated by narcissistic partners, exes, parents, children, colleagues, and dogs.

I became wrapped up in these communities and after awhile, became convinced that the people I was having trouble with were full blown narcissists.

Reading some of the articles, I realised that just about every human tendency could be labelled as narcissistic. Self-centredness, ambitiousness, the desire to speak highly of oneself, or healthy self-esteem. It was all narcissism, apparently.

The deeper I got into Pinterest, the more I started to think that perhaps I was the narcissist. As time went on, the armchair psychiatrist continually posted and sent me articles about narcissism. I started to feel overwhelmed, but I had no idea how to back out of the friendship. In desperation, I sought out the help of a former colleague who had a knack with people. I considered her an empath and a wise counsel. She told me, kindly, to cut and run.

Since becoming more aware of this subculture of individuals I refer to as armchair psychiatrists, I have noticed it everywhere. I quit Pinterest as a result, as my feed was continually being flooded with narcissist articles and boards as a result of conversations I had with this friend. As a true-crime buff, I noticed that narcissistic personality disorder seemed to be the first diagnosis the armchair psychiatrists would jump to when a person had murdered someone or committed an awful crime.

There are books promoted to audiences that talk about how to deal with narcissists and psychopaths. I see them on my Facebook feed all the time. Realistically, these people only make up a very small portion of the population. They are not people you would meet across multiple contexts in your life, if most of the people you spend time with are average.

The most interesting thing I found about the armchair psychologist subculture is that a lot of the people who claim that everyone is a narcissist have multiple broken relationships in their lives, often with their children. I feel that more could be achieved by working on human relationships and promoting articles about that, rather than marinating in half-truths about narcissism. We are all broken but most of us are not narcissists.

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The first coffee after birth

At the very least, I had shed the skin of not wanting to disclose my birthing story by going to the Mum’s group. Before Soren and while we had been saving for IVF and world travels, Natalie and I had been living on a shoestring budget. As an adult, my love for iced takeaway coffee drinks had evolved a full-blown daily caffeine addiction. Because we were saving our pennies, we limited ourselves to two weekend dine-in coffees and one on every Wednesday morning. We often conversed about what our life would be like after having a baby, full of idealism about bringing the babe along for our mid-week dates. We certainly had high expectations.

After spending my teenage life as an outsider, I had become rather deliberate about surrounding our budding family with good and accepting people. We’d set up house in the inner-city and made a lot of equally coffee-addicted friends with whom we’d become quite familiar. Some were friendly acquaintances, baristas, and some we considered our inner-circle. Our coffee people watched my belly grow in anticipation, getting to know us over our coffee orders.

The first coffee morning after the birth, Natalie sent me into our favourite café to get our usual orders. I clammed up in a way that I couldn’t grasp at the time.

“It’s just two lattes. Don’t order yours on skim milk, I don’t want to end up drinking yours.”

“It’s… It’s too much for me to remember, Natalie. You go in.”

Natalie took the hard line with me, which I needed, but hated it at the time.

“Just go in and order it, you look fine, you’ll be fine!”

I wasn’t really afraid of screwing up the order. This was the first time I’d been seen since the birth. What I was really afraid of was being asked how the birth went. I didn’t want to explain it. I didn’t want pity. I just wanted to lick the wound silently with my takeaway coffee cup at home.

But I relented. I ordered the coffees, and nobody asked so I didn’t tell.

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We could have had it all

The sunlight poured onto pallid, blood-deprived face as we left the hospital. Despite losing nearly half of my blood, the doctors had decided against a blood transfusion. The inside of my mouth felt hard and gritty, like sandpaper every time I swallowed.

“Let’s take a photo!” My wife begged.

“You’ll want to remember this!”

I posed next to the pram, tilted on an angle so that the camera didn’t capture my paunch against the inside of my white shirt. CHOOSE LIFE was printed on it in big black letters. Life I had chosen indeed, and I was ready to share my new one with the outside world.

We wheeled our tiny babe into the enclosed carpark, so dark even despite the light of day. He vomited before we got to the car, and we spent about fifteen minutes playing with the seatbelt.

“No, like this! It clips in.” I insisted as my wife fiddled around, growing frustrated.

“It’s been six days! I just want to get out of here!”

“What if the police pull us over? It’s not done up properly!”

We tried and tried, but the seatbelt would not click in.

“Fine, let’s just go.”

I sidled into the backseat and rested my hand on his chest, a futile attempt to contain the impact, should the worst happen. We arrived home without incident, our apartment fresh and clean as it had only had one resident for six days.

“Let’s give him a bath!” Natalie squealed excitedly.

“But you’re not meant to bath them every day, he’s only a newborn. His skin can’t take it.”

I was so obsessed with getting it right, that I forgot my wife was ready to relish in new motherhood. We bathed our baby, under the afternoon light.

“Check! Check! He’s kicking himself! He’s doing the kicks!”

He looked up into the distance, gently kicking against the water with his long, thin legs. I realised that he trusted us so much and we had to protect him at all costs. It may have been a relatively inconsequential moment, but I felt it deeply.

As I was getting used to being a Mum, my parents were getting used to being grandparents, though it was an awkward process for them. For all intents and purposes, my son was the first proper grandchild, since my brother chose not to talk to them.

“Where’s our little president?” My Mum squealed, opening the door to see us the first time since the birth.

“He’s in his bassinet. He’s sleeping.” I replied, coolly, ready to stamp down a boundary in case they tried to be overbearing. I’d read all the horror stories of new grandparents, and I was determined to hold my ground as a new Mum.

“Not in the cot?” She asked.

“No. He needs to be close to us. We need to check his breathing because of SIDS.”

“Are you going to get family photos done?”

I paused, glad she was so excited.

“Yeah, we’re booked in next week if you want to come along.”

“I’d love to!”

Eleven days after the birth, we had our first Christmas as family. We picked at barbecue chicken and prawns, with Soren sleeping soundly, wrapped freshly in a pastel rainbow swaddle.

It wasn’t everything I’d built up in my mind as a first-Christmas-with-a-child, but we unwrapped a pile of gifts and listened to music together as a family all the same.

“I’m still feeling sore.” I complained.

“Have you been taking your painkillers?” My Mum asked.

“Yeah. I wish the birth didn’t happen the way it did. I hope you’re not angry that I insisted on the whooping cough vaccines. I don’t think I would’ve handled it if Soren got sick.”

“I understand. I know you wish the birth could have been different but look at your son. He’s perfect. I know it’s bad that you nearly died but you are here.”

I felt the pang of post-traumatic stress hit me like an uppercut. I turned away, hiding the tears that were streaming down my face. It was all so sobering to realise the fragility of life with a brand-new infant and I didn’t know what to do, so I kept on pushing my feelings away. 

While I was still unable to drive, I took the 15-minute bus trip to the library for Rhyme Time. Having no access to my best means of transport filled me with dread, but my son didn’t seem to mind. He slept through the whole trip and I was so enthralled by him that I missed my stop. I was now a kilometre from the library. Not willing to be defeated, I trudged the precarious main road, determined to take my baby for a morning of nursery rhymes.

When I arrived, the community room was filled with radiant Mums. I looked down at my lanky body and my infant, then back into the glass door at these buttery, bouncing women and their babies. The door was closed. I didn’t want to knock and draw attention to myself, so I walked back to the courtyard, sat under a tree and sobbed. I pulled out my phone and texted my wife.

I never made it to Rhyme Time. The door was closed when I got there and it had already started.

So much for all the confidence I’d built up during my years as a teacher

Running on my new-motherhood high, I signed up for a Mummy’s group. I had always been a little apprehensive about stepping foot into the Mum space, because I knew how heternonormative it was likely to be. Because Natalie and I had carved out a neat inner-city life, I made sure to sign up for the inner-city Mummy’s group. I felt that even if I was engaging in unknown territory, the littlest favour I could give myself was some familiarity.

The day it started was my first day of freedom to drive again. Although I was physically feeling a lot better from the major abdominal surgery, it had been doctor’s orders to refrain for the six weeks. I followed prudently. Because I had to work up some courage, I spent the morning at the Powerhouse to do an arts session with Soren. Unfortunately, he had fallen asleep before it started, leaving me free with forty-five minutes to study. I left him in his pram and pulled out my laptop.

Some people say you lose some of your intellectual prowess after birth -that the muddle of baby brain causes people to defer their studies and watch Netflix on the couch between feeds – but I wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

When the session was underway, I schlepped my newly-woken babe up to the runway to do tummy time surrounded by costumes, feathers boas, and fancy hats. Amongst the boisterous crowds of terrible twos, I spent the time enamoured by my baby in an octopus hat, taking selfies of a time I knew I would grow sentimental about in the years to come, when my son would become a withdrawn and smelly teenager. At least, that’s what the seasoned Mums had told me.

By the time I drove to the Mummy’s group, I was ready to show the other Mums that I fit, and was as much Mum as they were, even if I was a bit awkward, a bit intellectual, and married to a woman. 

The nurse running the group ushered me to a seat. The other women seemed friendly, though some seemed a little sleep-deprived, yawning through puffy eyes as they chatted amongst themselves.

I didn’t understand this need for sleep. My short catnaps throughout the night were punctuated with night terrors and feeds, yet I felt unstoppable. It wasn’t even midday and I’d punched out another 500 words.

“All right, ladies, let’s establish some rules for our group.”

A peppy blonde girl called Sarah cut right in.

“Well, I think there should be no judgement, Whatever we share in the group, should stay in the group.”

There were affirmative nods all around.

“And I think we should let everyone share their story. Everyone should have a turn to talk.”

I looked around and noticed that ever other Mum in the group had their baby on their lap. I looked over at my son, in his pram, not seeming to be bothered, but it bothered me.

“He’s really heavy and I had a C-section.” I explained, though nobody had asked and in hindsight, I doubt they’d even noticed.

“That’s okay. Now let’s start by going around the circle and sharing about our birth stories.”

I shifted uncomfortably, not wanting to share at all, but the group rules had been established. It would be weird if I took a pass. 

I was the last in the circle, so I heard everybody’s birthing story before mine.

“I went into labour spontaneously. My waters broke over dinner one night. My husband drove me to the hospital and I laboured for twelve hours.”

“I had a planned C-section. I’m a vet, so I have seen what can go wrong.”

“I had a bad birth with my son, so I had a planned C-section. It was better the second time around.”

“I was in a private hospital. I had to be induced, and I had a little bit of pain relief, but my birth was everything I had planned for and expected. And let me just say, I have high expectations!”

I dropped my eyes to the ground.

“Well… I was induced. My baby and I got an infection. He was delivered by C-section under a general anaesthetic where I nearly bled to death. I still feel like I’m recovering.”

There was so much more I could have said, but I really preferred not to. The birthing stories of the other Mums were pretty standard, and I felt like I’d opened a fear-mongering dialogue.

“Oh my God. That’s like 1% of birthing cases. You must be so glad he was all right.”

I dropped my eyes, feeling an almost-sense-of-shame. These women seemed to have had it all planned – either out of experience or privilege – but it had given them an experience I couldn’t help but be envious of.

 “Are you planning on having any more children?”

“Um, no, I wouldn’t take it off the table, but I think we’re done.”

The nurse, obviously not wanting me to feel ostracised, redirected the conversation to safe sleeping and self-care.

I felt remorse. Before the birth had gone down, Natalie had stressed the importance of our private health insurance.

“You know, birth is so barbaric. We don’t want anything to go wrong. Are you sure you don’t want to give birth in a private hospital?”

But I was stubborn.

“My pregnancy has been uncomplicated so far and I don’t want to be talked into having a C-section. That could cost us $10,000.”

“We’ve got the money.”

I insisted. I had heard so many stories of women who were talked into elective C-sections, only to regret it during the recovery period. Although I considered myself to be fairly logical in my thought processes, the Mum in me had wanted to try my hardest for a natural delivery.

“If the public health system is good enough for anyone else, it’s good enough for me.”

And that was how I closed down every conversation.

If only I had listened. I may not have avoided a C-section delivery but going about it electively would have saved me from the many hours of labour which tired out my uterus, leading to a haemorrhage and poor clotting. It would have shielded me somewhat from the loss of control and the infection. Then, I wouldn’t have been waking every night in cold sweats, in a variety of disturbing death scenarios involving my son and I.

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A fertile vessel

Beep. Beep. Beep. I could hear heavy, laboured breathing and the sounds of machines working around me. Then I realised it was my own breath, going in and out. My eyes were too heavy to open and I felt disconnected from myself, like a butterfly outside of its chrysalis.

Was I dead?

My whole abdomen pained, like I’d been slashed through the middle. I suddenly needed to cough, and it felt like I was crushing my whole mid-section with each motion. My throat was filled with phlegm so I needed to keep coughing, but it was painful. I opened one eye. I could see the most perfect looking baby on my chest. No blood, no fluid, just a perfect, smooth head and a peaceful little face.

“Why is my throat so phlegmy?” I asked. I couldn’t stop coughing.

“I’m not sure, I think that’s the anaesthetic.” Natalie said, avoiding my gaze.

I was too far gone to be suspicious, but she was definitely keeping uncomfortable truths from me. I wasn’t ready to hear the whole story yet, but she gave it to me in parts.

“Why are you crying?” I was confused.

“It was just a C-section. They do these all the time.” I assured her.

“You don’t get it, Beci. I almost lost you.”

I raised my eyebrows, still under the heavy weight of the anaesthetic.

“You lost two and a half litres of blood. They had to stabilise you. It took a long time. Soren was delivered by forceps and he was fine, but you nearly died.”

“That’s fine, but how was his APGAR score?”

“He was fine. Crying and alert.”

Then it hit me with an overwhelming sense of numbness. I felt like how a person feels when they have had part of their body locally anaesthetised for a procedure. I could see and hear confronting facts being shared around me, but I couldn’t feel it myself. I felt nothing but I knew I was going to feel this later. Part of my numbness was the exhaustion of many hours of labour followed by an anaesthetic, but part of me put defences up, refusing to believe I had just faced my own mortality with a brand-new infant. We didn’t even have a will in place.

The next time I woke up, I was greeted with the ‘it’s-a-boy’ moment I’d been looking forward to, as his nappy was pulled down in my face. Although he was freshly born, the nurse stood him up and he looked like a little president – a name that would stick through his childhood.

Before they took me off to the ward, they wallpapered my insides with fabric to stop the bleeding. I had never felt womanlier in my life, a fertile vessel of blood and guts. Labour had broken me open, but medical science was putting me back together.

The day I discovered my insides, I thought I had boy bits tucked in there.  It made sense because I’d always had this unusual red crease on my skin that started just below my belly button and finished right where my vulva started. It was the same colour as my mother’s caesarean section scar, which she received when she gave birth to my brother. I never paid it much mind until my cousin was born, in 1995. My aunty had given birth to three daughters in quick succession like gunshots and she had finally gotten her son in baby #4. His arrival was much-awaited and much-wanted.

The day we visited him in hospital for the first time, I spent time carefully curating the best bouquet of flowers a five-year-old could manage. By the time they were all tied together, some of them were drooping, their different stages of decay succumbing to gravity to form an unusual exhibit of childish home garden floristry. When I finally saw him, his skin had been bald, red and patchy in different places, kind of ugly but endearing in a weird sort of way –like a baby mouse, squinting and wrinkly. When we arrived at the hospital, my mother could not stop gushing about how vital it was that my aunty had finally gotten a son.

“I was so lucky, I had a pigeon pair straight away,” my mother said, almost condescendingly, as if no other combination of genders would ever be as good as getting one of each. “But if she’d been born a boy, that would have been it.” She nodded at me. In that moment, I wondered if I had been born a boy, but hastily swapped with a surgical procedure. Why else would I have the scar? It was perfectly reasonable for me to think that I had been reassigned at birth and this was just something people didn’t talk about it, if they did it. Why else would I, like a boy, have those fluttery butterfly feelings every time I saw a pretty woman? What other possible explanation could there be? Girls just didn’t like women. It just wasn’t how things were.

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ECT – a miracle cure or a controversy?

In June last year, I was failing to deal with my birthing trauma. I was up at 3 o’clock every morning, running 30 kilometres a week, breastfeeding, and dealing with a brand new infant. When I would go for a run, it felt like the shadows were falling around beside me.

One night, I was Googling furiously when my partner asked me what was wrong.

“I think I need to be hospitalised. I think I’m having a psychosis.”

“No. What if they take Soren from us?”

It was a sobering thought but I was too far gone to realise it would never happen.

I was up most nights chatting to a friend who had me convinced I was narcissistic, that my disorder was malignant, and I would never connect with my son. I started believing that I was passing mental illness to him through my breastmilk.

Scared, I saw my GP. I asked for a referral to a psychiatrist.

“No, you can see your psychologist. You just need to deal with your birthing trauma.”

I went to the doctor down the road for a second opinion. He told me to kick the cat when I felt traumatised and to see my psychologist.

I went home, defeated. Later that afternoon, I formed the belief that the police were after me, there was a conspiracy, drugs had been planted in my house, and I was going to jail. I believed that a former friend had planted the drugs the last time she visited me. I deactivated my Facebook account and begged my wife to hospitalise me.

She did.

That was when I ended up in Belmont’s Postnatal Clinic. Fortunately, I got the best psychiatrist, Dr. Lyndall White, who stabilised my medication, gave me sleeping tablets, and suggested Electroconvulsive Therapy.

I swallowed.

“Are you sure? Isn’t that shock treatment, like the old days?”

“Yes, but it’s come a long way. It’s nothing like it used to be. It is performed under general anaesthetic, so you won’t be awake for it. It’s highly effective and considering your graphic night terrors and intrusive thoughts, it is likely to be very helpful.”

I agreed to six treatments and the next day, I was wheeled into theatre.

In the treatment, they put electrodes on my head, and gave me a needle to put me to sleep.

I woke up about ten minutes later, groggy, but okay. Because I was an inpatient and Soren was in the hospital with me, I was able to rest until the afternoon.

Since treatment, I have had no night terrors and I feel generally well. Although this is a treatment shrouded in controversy, it has certainly worked for me.

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How do you plan a birth?

In the lead up to the birth, everyone – friends, my massage therapist, my parents, co-workers, the baker even – would ask me about my birthing plan. I found it absurd to plan something that was so completely and utterly primal.


Plan what, exactly?

I knew that once my waters had broken and the labour pains were in motion, there was little I could do to change the trajectory. The baby had to come out. To me, it was like planning how exactly how you were going to go down a water slide.

It was an odd quirk, because I normally exercised a lot of control in everything I did. But I suppose, in some small way, refusing to think about a plan was one way that I exercised control because quite frankly, birth freaked me out.

If I could’ve had it any way, I would have liked to have given birth in water, managing the pain along the way using any of the relief they could offer me. I imagined being a full Earth mama, with my long hair framing my baby bump, as I grimaced and groaned, breathing my baby gently into the world, as my wife whispered encouragement into my ear.

I knew that there was a chance the bath at the hospital may not be available when I went into labour, so I accepted that this may not be my truth. I remained open minded to a standard vaginal birth, or even a caesarean section, if it was needed to bring my child into the world safely. After all, you still got to see the baby immediately and have it on your chest. I looked forward with anticipation to whichever birthing experience would give me the child I so longed for.

When I got to four days past my due date, though, I was all out of patience.

“This baby needs to come out now.” I spoke assertively down the phone, expecting that the hospital would just fit me in because I was done being pregnant. It was December the 11th – a day past my due date – and I had been having daily and nightly panic attacks.

“No, no. You’ll be fine. Just rest up and come in on the 20th, dear.”

“But this baby is kicking me in the ribs and I’m panicking.” I knocked my ankles together on the couch, nervously.

“We’ll see you on the 20th.”


The very next day, I spoke to my general doctor and demanded that she change their mind. She picked up the phone and told them that I had a history of mental health issues, I was anxious, the baby was getting larger, and my anxiety was not abating.

“Sure. We can see her on the 13th of December.”

The sliding doors at the Royal Brisbane hospital welcomed us. We sauntered down the corridor with giddy excitement, then went up the elevator to the midwife’s consulting area.

The whole place looked like Santa Clause had screwed up his entire village, loaded it into a bazooka and shot it at the walls. Christmas posters and ornaments were slathered all over every conceivable space, and then some. We were welcomed into one of the consulting rooms, where I lay flat on my back, wondering when they would suggest an induction. I had desperately wanted to go into labour spontaneously, but nothing had worked – vigorous sex, running, time in the bath.

The midwife poked and prodded my belly as the baby writhed and kicked in anticipation. She furrowed her brow and avoided my eyes.

“The baby’s head is displaced, and I think he’s quite big. Had they told you that during the ultrasounds?”

I moved uncomfortably.

“Yeah. They said he’s measuring ahead.”

“How would you feel about being induced now?”

I paused, swallowed and gathered my apprehension.

“I guess?”

I looked over at my wife, who had raised her eyebrows.

“We don’t even have our bag packed.”

“That’s okay, we can send your wife home to prepare everything. We can take you up to the ward shortly.”

The nurse explained the various methods of induction. After quiet consideration, we decided upon a balloon catheter, which would be inserted either side of my cervix and then filled with water to induce dilation.

So much for a birthing plan.

“It’s uncomfortable, but sometimes it can bring on labour all by itself.”

I didn’t particularly like my chances.

They took me into a room that was so brightly lit, it nearly burned my retinas. I started to feel anxiety welling up inside me. Not because I was scared of the labour, but because I could feel control was slowly slipping away. I didn’t want my labour to be one artificial intervention after another.

“Now, I see you’ve expressed a desire for a water birth. Because we’re inducing you, that option will no longer be available.”

The doctor came in and propped me up on the stirrups, spread legged like a loose woman. He shone a blinding light inside my vagina, and I thought if he leaned a little closer, he might be able to shake my baby’s hand.

After the balloon catheter had been inserted and filled, I lay on the ward, relaxing as my cervix opened – not like a flower, but like the stiffened top of a Milo tin that had lay untouched for months, with a teaspoon being used as a slow but hardy lever. I inhaled and exhaled as my inner self stretched, preparing for the joy of birth.

“So do you know what you’re having?” The midwife asked as she inspected my cervix.

“No idea. Hopefully a baby.” I smiled.

We were both convinced the baby was a girl. We’d taken to calling it a ‘she’ whenever we rubbed the belly. Prior to finishing work, I had spent the last few months on a teaching contract in learning support. I had been working on-on-one with a student on the Autism spectrum who required intensive modifications to his learning program. He only attended school two hours a day, two days a week so I had a lot of time to myself.

On a day off, I had pulled up my ultrasound video. Pausing on one still, I saw a set of testicles. I took a screen shot and showed all of my friends, convinced that maybe I was wrong.

“Nah, that’s three lines. That’s a labia. I think it’s a girl.” My friend offered me her view, because she’d had two babies before me, so she knew. I hung onto that, still believing that our baby was a girl.

The midwife kept popping in and out.

“If labour still hasn’t started by three AM, we’re going to break your waters and give you a hormone drip.”

I lay in a ball, awaiting the next step. I changed positions occasionally and the sensation felt like period cramps, with an added knotting and twisting feeling. Any time my stomach hardened with Braxton Hicks, I became excited that it was finally happening.

“Nope, not yet. Sorry, love.” The midwife shuffled in and out, checking on me, then going to do her rounds.

The Earth inched towards evening as the sky lit up an intense orange. As the darkness of night crept in. I lost a little more control as I became aware labour was not going to start on its own.

My body had let me down.

At that stage, I was still hopeful of a vaginal birth, even though the interventions were starting to pile up. As the night wore on, the midwife changed over. A freckled woman called Janine walked into the room. She felt my belly and noticed the baby was kicking quite vigorously.

“Wow! You’ve got an all night rager in there!” she exclaimed.

As excited as the baby was, it still wasn’t three am. I held feebly onto the hope that labour might kick in, but it never did.

“All right, it’s time to break your waters.”

She leaned towards me and tilted the bed back gently.

“Okay, put your legs up girl. I’m going to get the doctor.”

I took my position and waited.

The doctor came in, and Janine handed me a breathing apparatus.

“All right. You know those cannisters that all the kids are breathing in at the festivals? This is basically the same thing as that. It will enable us to break your waters with minimal discomfort. Don’t think about what we’re doing – just lay back and think of nangs.”

I giggled, assured that I was in good hands.

“Okay, breathe deep!”

I breathed in the cold but pleasant air and it was like breathing in the universe. It hit me instantly and I threw my head back, in fits of laughter.

“No way! She’s a one-pot-screamer!” Janine couldn’t believe what a lightweight I was.

While I was in fits of euphoric laughter, the doctor guided the plastic stick inside of me and I suddenly came back to Earth, with a sobering wash of warm water around my ankles.

“Hooray, you did it!”

I looked at everyone in the room through slitted eyes, still slightly giddy from the gas.

The next step was to give me hormones through an intravenous drip. Within a short while, I was contracting.

“That was a good one. Your littler rager thinks so, too.”

I crinkled my nose and grinned, proud of myself for how well I was handling the contractions.

I laboured on for hours, with the cervix dilating on schedule. As I started to become tired from a lack of sleep, the contractions intensified. It was a consequence of the induction hormones and it became unbearable very quickly. Nonetheless, I stayed strong.

“Hold onto me.” Natalie said, as I stood in the birthing suite, leaning forwards every time I contracted.

“Is it too late for an epidural?” I asked.

“No, I can organise that right away.” Janine replied.

Within a half hour, my spine was being sized up for the injection. It was a painful ordeal, but as soon as the block was injected, the labour became a lot more bearable. I lay back on my bed and peacefully drifted in and out of sweet sleep, being occasionally woken so that my cervix could be checked.

“Well, that’s me done for the day. Such a shame that I didn’t see the baby born. That’s why I do this job.”

I waved Janine off as Jenny the midwife quickly introduced herself, then wasting no time in checking my cervix.

“It’s 8cm. You’ll be pushing soon, and you’ll have a baby in about two hours.”

I beamed! It was finally coming together. Despite the interventions, I felt in control. This could end well after all.

I continued to feel the tightening of my body with each contraction as they became more frequent. Soon, I felt a sharp, choking feeling around my middle. It knocked the breath out of me.

“Hey, I can feel this now. Is this normal?”

“Just turn up the epidural. Here, like this.”

Jenny showed me how to dial up the machine that was controlling my epidural.

“It’s not working.”

I became slightly anxious at the excruciating contractions I was feeling, which were apparently far beyond the intensity of what I would’ve felt in a spontaneous labour.

“Here, keep dialling it up.”

I pressed the button rapidly.

“It’s seriously not working.”

The epidural specialist came in and tried to fix the problem, but nothing was working. Jenny asked me to spread my legs so she could check my cervix once more.

“You should be 10cm. These contractions are stretching you out for birth. I know it’s hard but hang in there.”

She looked inside me, then paused. I knew enough to know that the pause was not good.

“Your dilation has regressed to 7cm…” she trailed off and walked out the door to get another midwife.

“Hi, I’m Cheryl.” Another midwife walked in, speaking in her thick New Zealand accent, accidentally brushing my forehead with her fingers as she turned around.

“Holy smokes, you’re hot!” she exclaimed. She swiftly pulled the thermometer out of its device and took my temperature.

“Forty degrees!”

All the nurses in the room shuffled around and then left the room, leaving me anxious about what was going on.

About five minutes later, a doctor stepped into the room.

“You have an infection, which is why you have a fever and regressed dilation. Your baby’s head is still displaced. We need to call time on this labour for everybody’s safety.”

The idea of a natural birth slid completely out of my reach.

“Just sign this consent form and we will take you off to the theatre.”

I signed very quickly and a midwife came to remove my hormone drip.

“Your contractions should stop now. Don’t worry about the epidural.”

As soon as she said that, my contractions seemed to intensify. They went from lasting around thirty seconds, to being a continuous sensation that wasn’t going away. I rolled over and curled up in a ball, unable to straighten my body out.

“Ahhhh!!! It won’t stop!” I screamed.

They started to wheel me down to the theatre, ready to prepare me for a caesarean section. When we got there, the doctor started to explain the spinal block.

“We’re going to insert some fluid between the spaces in your spine. Then we’ll put some water on your belly to see if you feel it. Then we’re going to cut just below your bikini line to deliver the baby. Do you want your wife to say if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“Oh my God, stop talking and just insert the epidural!” I writhed in excruciating pain. The contraction that started when they took out the hormone drip hadn’t stopped.

“Okay, I’m sorry.”

The doctor stabbed my spine and I remained curled into a ball with an oxygen mask on.

“Oh my God, I’m going to vomit!”

I leaned towards Natalie and the doctor leaned into her ear.

“You have to stay strong, for her.”

My forehead was sweating and I couldn’t move.

“Can you straighten out, please?”

I tried my hardest but I couldn’t move my back at all. The doctor rolled me onto my back and patted just below my bikini line. The nurse poured a few drops of water on the area.

“Oh my God, I still feel the water! Don’t operate!” I yelled.

“Okay, we’re going to have to do a general.”

The anaesthesiologist leaned in and inserted a needle, which I couldn’t feel above the contractions. Even on my back, I was still curled up. As I started to lose consciousness, I felt myself losing all control. I had to let go. I inhaled sharply and expressed my only wish.

“Don’t tell her the sex of the baby before I wake up!”

That was the last thing I remember as the curtain of unconsciousness fell down around me.

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Of Love and IVF

It’s always funny when you hear people trying to quantify motherhood. Everyone always knows who would make the best kind of parent, and who definitely should not procreate. Most people agreed that abusive, negligent people shouldn’t be parents, but a lot of people also feel that some women just weren’t maternal enough.

Despite all the progression that has been made by feminists, there still exists a certain mould that would-be Mums need to fit into.

For instance, if you’re career-driven and well-travelled with a lot of care for your financial status, then you’re considered to be far less maternal than the barefoot-and-pregnant girls who grew up playing house with Barbie dolls – the type of women who married their high-school sweethearts and spent all of their child’s formative years at home, making perfect crafts and perfect home recycling systems for their Instagram feeds. Such people also often seemed to be born with the perfect body for childbearing, bringing their infants into the world effortlessly in expensive private hospitals without a ton of interventions.

If you’re a gay parent, you are definitely seen to be further outside of the Mummy-mould because you have to create a family in a way that some would consider to be scientific and clinical, rather than as an act of physical love, which has been built up as the high-watermark of “normal” motherhood. It’s all about love, after all.

I was definitely never the Barbie-child, and I put off having children in my early 20s because I chased career goals and stability. As an intellectual who didn’t much like hugs, I often feared that people would see me as some kind of rigid, refrigerator parent who couldn’t put my textbooks down long enough to attend to my child.

With all that being said, my son, Soren Harry Forrester Miles, is my entire world. I know that everyone thinks their progeny is the most beautiful thing to ever grace the Earth, but I honestly believe it’s true. He is perfect. Although he is an IVF baby, I didn’t spend years trying or squander tens of thousands to get him. He was a first-time fluke.

“This first cycle is purely diagnostic,” the nurse had explained.

“It’ll give us a better picture of your hormones so we can get closer to success. After all, the embryo grade is BC – it didn’t divide quickly, so it’s unlikely to implant. This is all par for the course.”

I remember asking if that meant it was a poor-quality baby. I meant a baby born with sickness or challenges, but it came out in poor taste.

“Oh, no!” She laughed.

“It just means you won’t get pregnant first go. Your baby will be as bright as any other.”

Thank God.

Like any parent, I wanted my child to have the best chance of a full life. Because I was a worrier by nature, I ruminated about all the things that could go wrong. Even though my child didn’t exist then, I still wanted them to have the best start I could give.

With our low chances in mind, we planned a wedding, I wrote a children’s book, and we both signed up for masters degrees. The night of the embryo transfer, I released my book and sat up all night with pizza and my laptop, filling over a hundred book orders when I was really supposed to be feet up with Valium and a nice, cold glass of water.

The next day, we took a flight to Cairns for a much-needed holiday and to keep our mind off the two week wait. We stayed in a cheap Air BnB and I lay in the backseat of one of my best friend’s 4X4s, inserting vaginal pessaries and taking in the rainforest surroundings.

Ah, the serenity.

Just a few years prior, we had started the whole IVF process. Full of artificial hormones, laid back and had my eggs extracted. Six, in total.

Making an IVF baby was hardly an experience in love.

In the week following this process, my six eggs sat in dishes with donor sperm. I had to call the clinic every day to ask how many embryos were still dividing.

Six…. Then five… then four…. Then three… then two.


Three thousand nine hundred dollars and we got two embryos, one of which barely made it to freeze. I couldn’t believe it. I was despondent.

Nonetheless, my two ice-ice babies went into the freezer for later, until such a time when I was happier in my job.

While I waited and looked for other jobs, the baby’s nursery was set up in our home, taunting me through the closed door. We moved to a neat new apartment and set it up again in our humble abode, and it became a bleak and constant reminder of our social infertility – the fact that we were being forced to put family life on hold because of our circumstances.

When the day of transfer finally came, I was so ready to be a Mum. The compounded misery of what was realistically only a few short years was finally going to extinguish.

I couldn’t wait.

As I leaned back, floating high on Valium and with my feet in stirrups, I was still somewhat hopeful that it could just work the first time. After all, we had employed the help of a fertility gun who had been in the game since the first IVF babies were being born in Brisbane, in a time when doctors still smoked around tables while they discussed baby-making.

In the days before the transfer, I had been indulging in weekly massages and nightly meditations in the bath. Our chances may have been low, but before the two-week wait was up, I had peed on more than fourteen sticks. The lines got darker with every passing day. They’d told us at the clinic to never pee on a stick because the injectable hormones could give a false positive, but we were clinging to any positives we could.

We’d given it our best shot, and it had worked.

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We’re all going to die.

Before I gave birth, people often asked me about my birthing plan. I thought it was the most absurd, idealistic thing ever.

The only plan I had was that I wasn’t taking anything off the table – including inductions, pain relief, drugs, and epidurals.

The only outcomes I absolutely wanted to avoid were forceps and c-section.

When my waters were broken under gas after a lengthy induction, I had a hunch that it wouldn’t be smooth sailing. After hours of labour, I received an epidural due to the intensity of contractions brought about by induction hormones.

When I developed an infection, the whole thing went tits-up and I almost bled to death under general anaesthetic. I had a c-section and my son was delivered with forceps. As I spent the next week in hospital, I had a lot of time to ponder my own mortality through a somewhat traumatised lens.

There is something about waking up with the after-effects of having breathing tubes down your throat that is incredibly sobering.


After two days in hospital, I was sleep deprived. I was dealing with the physical effects of a significant blood loss and trying to persevere with breastfeeding. At one stage, I had a bad dream that I couldn’t feed my baby and my limbs were falling off as I melted into the lawn. When I woke up, I felt like the whole room was filling with smoke.

This was the beginning of C-PTSD which was brought about by my birthing process.

Although the birth in and of itself was physically and psychologically traumatic, the part that disturbed me the most was that when our son was born, I had no will in place. So if I had died, nobody would have known what my wishes were.

It had always been on our list of things to do, we had just never done it. Part of the reason was that we felt fit and healthy, but the other part was a sense of dread about considering the end of our lives. As I spoke to more people about this, I realised I wasn’t the only one.

And why is that?

Despite all of our best efforts with our health and personal safety, the human mortality rate stands at 100%.

In other words, we are all going to die.

My son’s birth made me acutely aware of my need to do something about my end-of-life-plan. Although people celebrate birth and my son’s birth was no different, I spent those first few weeks of his life organising my will, making sure my address was up to date with the university that will receive my body for science when I’m done, and deciding who would fulfil my wishes in my absence.

It was depressing – but it was completely necessary.

If you are reading this, I want to encourage you to act now if you haven’t already. Speak to the people who you think should raise your child in the unfortunate event that your child loses both their parents. Organise your will. Get plans in place.

If you need to, get a folder and label it ‘My End-of-life Plan.’ Add your will and instructions to it, and make sure people know where it is.

It would be the worst thing ever if the world lost you – but it would be harder for the people you leave behind, in their grief, to deal with a logistical and organisational mess.

Sometimes it pays to have a plan, even if it seems absurd.

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The only boy in ballet class

When I was pregnant, everybody asked me if we knew what we were having.

Um… a baby?

In all seriousness, for the longest time, I thought Soren was a girl. Even right up until the delivery. Even after seeing clear testicles on an ultrasound still.

A lot of people would say to me, ‘Aw, if you get a girl, you can do ballet lessons! SO cute!”

I loved the idea of baby ballet. The calming music, the listening skills, the flexibility, and the gorgeous outfits.

But – I felt that I could enjoy that with a little boy, too. So when I realised I could sign him up at Queensland Ballet from the ripe old age of one year, I did exactly that. I thought it would just be an easy class with some sing-alongs and a bit of “dancing”, facilitated by the parents.

I thought there’d be time to chat and relax with the other Mums.

When I turned up, the class was full of two-year-olds who could already jump, spin, turn, and follow instructions.

So here I was with my 13kg chunk, jumping like a kangaroo, twirling like a jellyfish, sleeping like a dingle dangle scarecrow… definitely not relaxing or chatting.

It turned out to be a workout for me as much as him! Which was fine, because he absolutely loved every second of it… until he was asked to sit still on his dot.

Because the rest of the students in the class had proper leotards and shoes, I decided to go shopping to get him the outfit so he could look the part. I had to research quite a few shops to find shoes small enough, and when I got there, I noticed that there was floor-to-ceiling displays of everything dance – and everything hyper-girly.

Shoes, bags, outfits, hair accessories… the lot. Then I looked over to the corner. The boys’ section had been relegated to one tiny place in the store.

Unlike the girls’ section, which offered hundreds of products, the boys’ section had just a small offering.

Not one to be discouraged, I dressed Soren up and he started shaking his bum as soon as he was in the outfit.

His joy did plant a thought in my head, though. It is so challenging to be the only one doing something. He is likely to always be the only boy in ballet class. It would be a shame if he ever gave it up, just because it’s not popular with boys.

I wish I had the answers. I just hope and pray that as he gets older, he sees his uniqueness as a strength rather than a weakness. I can only keep on encouraging him and hope he remains true to what he enjoys doing.

That’s all we can hope for our children.