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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 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.

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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 clusterfuck.

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

 

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That’s now how it was supposed to be – my experience of birth trauma

Before my birthing experience, my midwives asked me to draft a ‘birth plan.’ I thought the idea of planning something so unpredictable was completely absurd, so my plan was to take nothing off the table. In my head, I secretly wanted to give birth in a warm bath with nothing but a bra on, but this wasn’t to be.

On the twelfth day of December 2018, I decided I had been pregnant long enough. I was four days past my due date and becoming increasingly anxious about what was to come. The very next day, I went to the hospital. They felt my belly and told me the baby’s head was in an odd position, so an induction would be required straight away.

I hadn’t even brought my hospital bag.

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Nevertheless, they took us upstairs to the ward and inserted a balloon catheter, while I waited for labour to start. Many hours later, it had not commenced. My waters were broken under laughing gas – which was definitely the high point of my birthing experience. After, a hormone drip was injected and my contractions started.

I laboured peacefully for a few hours and dilated on schedule. After awhile, I requested an epidural to numb the intense contractions brought on by the artificial hormones. I drifted in and out of sleep for the next couple of hours, until the epidural wore off. That was when things started to get tricky.

The nurse observed that my dilation had regressed from 8cm to 7cm, his head was still displaced, and I was running a fever of 40 degrees. It turns out I had an infection.

At this point, the doctors called time on my “natural” birth and I hastily signed the consent forms for a c-section. The hormone drip was then removed. As they wheeled me to theatre, I screamed as I experienced a half hour contraction.

When I was on the surgical table, the spinal block would not go in. They explained the need for a general anaesthetic and before they injected the cannula, I yelled, ‘Don’t let my wife find out the sex of the baby until I’m awake!’ Then, it was lights out.

During the surgery, I lost 2.5 litres of blood and needed to be stabilised with tubes down my throat. Fortunately, he was completely fine throughout.

I woke some hours later, with a baby on my chest.

‘He’s perfect!’ I remember saying, as I blacked out again.

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When I woke the next time, his nappy was being pulled down in my face – the closest I came to the ‘it’s a boy’ moment.

In the days following the birth, I couldn’t get out of bed nor care for my baby as I would have liked. I needed a lot of assistance from nurses as I was on an anti-biotic drip and couldn’t get out of bed unassisted. It was awful to feel so helpless.

Being trapped in the house for six weeks also made my life difficult. In the early days, I caught a bus to rhyme time but felt so overwhelmed by the amount of people in the library that I sat outside in the park and sobbed.

Over time, I experienced quite a lot of distress over how it all went down. At first, I felt like less of a woman because people would say to me, ‘Well, I knew someone who laboured for 36 hours with their first baby.’ Or they would talk about how few interventions they’d had with their own births, like all of this is the high watermark of womanhood.

I grieved everything I missed; the ‘it’s a boy’ moment, the cord being cut, seeing the placenta, hearing him cry, and experiencing the first breastfeed. Any time I hear about someone else’s “natural” birth, I get triggered, knowing I will never experience this for myself.

I struggled through the first few weeks of breastfeeding, desperate to hold onto the last lingering shred of connection I had to a natural birth of my son.

It sucked. Knowing I would never give birth again also didn’t help.

But in the months following, I have reflected, contemplated, and grown through all of this. I realise that births happen in many different ways and what was completely unorthodox was still beautiful, in that it brought life into this world.

I am no less a woman because I was induced, used an epidural, or because I had an unconscious c-section birth. Although I am grateful, my birthing experience was devastating, scarring, and isolating. Being able to make sense of it takes away some of its darkness.

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One year anniversary – why write a book?

It’s been a little over a year since I published my book and released it into the wider world.

Writing a book before the age of 30 was a pretty major life achievement for me. It was one of my bucket-list goals.

I never thought my first book would be a childhood sex education resource! But it was such a worthwhile undertaking.

I wanted my son’s story to be filled with pride and openness. Even if he never shares that part of his life with others, I wanted him to know where he came from.

After all – donor conception is nothing to be ashamed of. Nor is infertility, IVF conception, or having two mums. 

I wanted to write a book about my future child’s life and conception, even if it made people uncomfortable. I knew my child would deserve to know his story, whether people liked it or not. So I wrote.

The first draft was terrible. God-awful. Too many words, not enough story. Too much awkwardness.

So I went back to the drawing board and thought about what it was I was trying to do, and why? What would I want from a book like this, if I were purchasing it myself?

I wanted:

  • A narrative – to connect with a child at their level
  • A scientifically accurate explanation – no pet names or silliness around body parts and sex
  • Inclusivity – to see various reproductive situations represented, including insemination, and IVF
  • Cute illustrations…. of course

The thing is, I am not an illustrator – I just like writing. So I contacted Anil Tortop at Tadaa Book who illustrates in a range of styles, and once I had a draft I was happy with, we got started on bringing it to life.

I will spare you the experience of looking at any of my drafts, but understand that by the time the book went to publication, it was on version 18. Thank goodness for patient publishers.

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When I looked back and stared at my creation for the very first time, I realised that I had achieved what I needed to.

It represents my child’s experience. Children benefit when they see themselves or people like them in books and other forms of media. Knowing their life is important enough to be represented bridges that divide between child and world – through that, they know they are not alone. The research in this area is preliminary, but ask any teacher to give you an anecdotal experience and I almost guarantee you they will have more than one. Children can’t relate with what they can’t see.

It normalises the idea of IVF, donor conception, and living in a same-sex family. If you try to teach a child about sex education but their conception has to be explained as an add-end, it sends a message that their differences can’t be talked about, or that it makes people uncomfortable. If it is seen as ‘just another method’ or ‘just another way to bring children into loving families’, this creates a sense of normal. Which is great, because I feel our lives are pretty standard, even with all the differences.

It casts my wife as a main character in the story of our child’s life. I want my wife to experience equality in all ways as a parent and if she is not a main character in the story of our child’s conception, then she becomes less important – she is as capable of raising our son as I am and gets the same sense of joy and challenge from him as I do.

It works towards making us ‘just another Australian family.’ I know we’ve got a long way to go with this one, but casting our life stories on the periphery (which they have been for a long time), makes us seem vastly different to other families. The more we are seen on the bookshelf, the more conversations we can start and the more we will become ‘just another character in the story of Australian public life in 2019.’

When I introduce the fact that I am in a same-sex relationship in conversations with new people, that part of my identity can sometimes take over. So I am no longer the friend, the colleague, the parent, the new acquaintance. Once I’ve dropped ‘wife’ into the conversation, I then get to field silly questions like, ‘Who is the man? How did you make a child? When did you tell your parents you were gay? How’s that weather…. etc.’

My vision is that when I introduce this part of my life, it doesn’t become my persona.

Yeah, we have a long way to go, but when I look at how far we’ve come, I have great hope. In order to get there, we need to start more conversations, write more stories, and send it all into the world!

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Active birthing classes with Mummy and Co – they’re pretty awesome

When I first became pregnant, the most immediate thing I noticed (after the initial celebration) was the amount of advice I was given. People who know me well, gave me incredibly pragmatic advice – which kinds of baby outfits are best for nappy changes, how to sterilise and soak a cloth nappy, where to go to get a car seat fitted, among many other practical strategies. These were useful and I took note of all of them.

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The next most frequent topic was antenatal classes. Advice was clearly divided into two very firm positions; some people had left these classes in tears, and others told me that they were an absolute must. So I did some research, and many of the hospital-provided programs didn’t appeal to us.

The most concerning thing for us as a same-sex couple was the discussion of sex and contraception, which I felt was irrelevant to us. I also worried about this being a safe space for our family. Although most people are quite inclusive, particularly around where we live, I had heard about same-sex couples feeling very uncomfortable in some of these spaces. So I let it go. We didn’t sign up.

My pregnancy massage therapist, Blossoms and Honeybees suggested that we should opt for an active birthing class with Liz Lush (Mummy & Co), a physiotherapist in Brisbane. It seemed to focus more on the labour and empowering the support person with a toolbox of skills to use in pain management.

Far from being an uncomfortable space, Liz took us through exactly what labour would be like – how it starts, how it progresses, and what can be done at each stage. She also spoke about the various interventions, when they are used, and how to advocate for or against certain procedures when there is an opportunity for choice.

After this, Liz took us through specific strategies that could help distract us from pain. We practised these while tightly holding cubes of ice (because although it’s nothing on labour, it gives you an idea of what your tolerance levels are for certain kinds of contact during feeling of pain.)

Through this process, I was able to establish that I really do not like close contact when pain or discomfort is at a peak, but I do like heavy pressure on my back and stomach in between. Liz showed us specific ways of achieving this and which massage strategies would provide me with comfort. My wife was then able to attempt it and receive feedback on her technique. Overall, I highly recommend receiving pregnancy massage from a specialised therapist, which I plan to blog about next time, as well as shopping around for birth preparation classes. Everyone does it differently and gets different results, but we were very happy with the care we have received from both Blossoms and Honeybees and Mummy and Co.

Now…. along with all the useful strategies we learned… we also had the opportunity to learn some Pinterest-worthy mantras for birth. Normally, I dismiss a lot of #inspo as platitudes and fluff, but you’d be amazed at how powerful words of affirmation are when you’re about to embark on such a primal journey! It is pretty miraculous, what we are capable of… 

 

Image sourced from 10 Things Yoga Mama