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Ash-8-Months

I promise this isn’t some kind of mummy blog rant. I’ve never had the urge to write publicly on the topic of pregnancy and parenthood, but recently some friends have encouraged me to share my experiences. They said it would be helpful for women “like us” to read, so I’ve jotted down some observations and thoughts – I hope some of you find some of it useful.

Last week Ash turned nine months old, and in exactly a week from today I will be on my way home from my first official day at work in almost a year. Lots of people have been asking me how I feel about it, and while I will undoubtedly miss Ash, I am  looking forward to it (it helps when you enjoy what you do for a living).

It will be great to get back to contributing to positive social change, being inspired by my talented colleagues, and exercising the professional part of my brain. Importantly for me, the work aspect of my life hasn’t been completely on hold while on parental leave. I’ve been chipping away at developing a start-up social enterprise with a good friend of mine who happened to also be on parental leave at the same time.

Over the past nine months we’ve spent many days pushing prams together while brainstorming, feeding our babies while planning, and writing to-do lists while cleaning up vomit. It’s been so much fun!

I also decided to do a bit of tutoring at uni to bring in a few extra dollars, and have a break from full-time parenting duties. Fortunately I was able to teach classes in between Ash’s feed times, and feel relaxed about leaving him, knowing that he was with his wonderful grandmother.

Interestingly, when I tell people about working while on leave, most of the time they respond with something like “How do you manage all that? Aren’t you too exhausted to think about work? I can’t believe you can handle a newborn baby and work at the same time!”.

I guess I could take it as a complement, but these comments are usually promptly followed up by more generalised advice such as “don’t think about work while you’re on leave, enjoy your time with your baby”, or “you should really forget about doing the housework, you need to sleep when the baby sleeps”, and “don’t worry about exercising, your first priority is looking after the baby”. Sigh.

Clearly it never occurs to them that my way of coping, managing, and mothering may be different to theirs, or social norms.

Some days all I want to do is clean while Ash sleeps, so that when he wakes up I can enjoy the environment around us. Sometimes I am physically exhausted, but have lots of ideas that I just have to get out of my head and onto a google doc before Ash wakes up. Other days I sleep when he sleeps.

I think it’s really important to do what makes you happy, especially when you’re sleep deprived, a little isolated, and going through a lot of physical and psychological change.

For me, having professional projects and “work” to focus on has really helped keep me grounded, intellectually challenged, and feeling like I hadn’t had a complete identity change the minute Ash came into the world.

There is no single, better, or right way of spending your time. This clearly isn’t rocket science, but then why hadn’t anyone, any blog, or any book suggested it to me before?

In light of this, I thought I’d share some of the things that I found really helpful when I was pregnant, and in the early days when Ash was born.

But before you read on there is one very large caveat to all this – I am extremely fortunate to have a fantastic husband, an amazing mother, a caring father, a supportive workplace, and good mental and physical health. Without these things, the list below would undoubtedly look very different.

Seeing a kick arse GP

A visit to a GP is typically where your pregnancy journey will begin, so having a good rapport with them is pretty important. They’ll likely influence your decision making and set the tone for your pregnancy early on. One of the most helpful things my GP did was to firmly tell me not to read too many pregnancy or parenting blogs, and under no circumstances play Dr Google when it came to health-related issues. After that appointment I promptly unsubscribed from a bunch of sites that were doing little more than causing me mild anxiety about all the things that could go wrong with me, my baby and my relationship while I was pregnant.

Listening to the experiences of like-minded women

I’m fortunate that most of my closest girlfriends already had babies, or were well on their way by the time I fell pregnant. They have been an invaluable source of information and ideas for me, and a great sounding board.

I should stress though that I chose pretty early on in my pregnancy who I would listen to and who I would politely smile and nod at, while disregarding everything that was coming out of their mouth. There’s no shortage of opinions and views about pregnancy and parenting out there, and most people don’t hold back before telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. That’s why I think it’s really important to stick to a few trusted sources, and ignore the rest!

Writing up my birth preferences

I was hesitant about birth plans, but I really liked the idea of Simon and I both knowing my birth preferences. For me it was about understanding some of the decisions that I might need to make during labour, and discussing them with Simon and our midwife in advance. For example, what pain relief options I would like to try during labour, whether I wanted to have vaginal exams during labour (and whether I wanted to be told how dilated I was), preference for skin-to-skin contact with the baby immediately after birth, how I wanted to birth the placenta (and what to do with it afterwards), the list goes on!

One of the most useful sources of information I found in preparing my birth preferences were the prenatal yoga classes I attended with Vedanta Nicholson. Not only were these classes a fantastic way to relax and learn essential active birth skills, but Vedanta gives you really practical, evidence-based information about labour and birth in each class. I also found the following books incredibly useful – they all helped to inform my birth preferences:

One of the things I learnt about birth preferences, is that they can be helped or hindered by hospital policies. For example, some hospitals in the ACT don’t allow water births, and they all have various standards when it comes to medical intervention during labour.

A couple of my girlfriends had gone through the Birth Centre at Calvary, and highly recommended it. After chatting with them I thought it would probably suit me, because I was keen to have a vaginal birth with little or no intervention if possible. I must say that I received amazing care from the midwives, nurses and doctors at Calvary – and I saw quite a few after a 30 hour labour that ended in an emergency cesarean section!

Even though my labour didn’t end as I would’ve liked, I found the entire experience absolutely empowering and mind-blowing! Anyway, that’s another blog post

Once Ash was finally born, there were a few key things that I found helpful, particularly in the early days:

Focusing on the positives – there are lots!

While I spent the first few months post-partum feeling frustrated about being so physically inactive while my body recovered from the Cesarean Section, and adjusted to keeping another human alive (outside my body this time), I kept focusing on the fact that we had a gorgeous and healthy little boy in our lives. This simple mantra gave me a clear reference point when I was thoroughly sleep deprived, full of raging hormones, feeling fat and lethargic, and at times, completely unsure if Simon and I were “doing it right”.

Forming a parental brains trust

Simon and I are really lucky that the group of parents we did our hospital classes with started a really supportive and candid closed Facebook group so we could stay in touch. While I’ve never been big on the concept of “mother’s groups” or discussing difficult and personal issues with perfect strangers, this crew was (and still is) a great support for Simon and I. It’s been so interesting to chat with other parents about everything from sleep, to teething, nappy options, health issues, weaning, first foods, childcare experiences, and everything in between.

Finding my new training routine

Having gone from doing functional fitness, Capoeira, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu regularly pre-pregnancy, to being restricted to “just walking” for 6 months post-partum, I had to rethink and reimagine my ideal training routine. It went something like this:

When Ash was about four months, I started to do some one-on-one personal training sessions with my man Simon. My focus for these sessions is mobility and light strength work. When I am super tired we run through a series of stretches, focusing on unlocking all my tight and tangled spots (there were lots).

At six months I felt I could add some more dynamic, whole body movements into my training. So I was super excited when I returned to FuncFitness to train once a week, it’s one of the friendliest gym communities in Canberra. The culture of where you train is always important, but even moreso when you’re getting back to training after a break, and are feeling super unfit.

Most recently I’ve started doing some one-on-one Muay Thai sessions with my friend Mitch Langman. Some days we work on the psychological aspects of my training, sometimes we spar, sometimes we run drills on the focus pads. One of the things I love about training with Mitch is that regardless of what we’ve done during that hour, I always leave with a smile on my face, feeling a billion times better than when I first walked in.

So what’s next? I’m absolutely itching to get back into some Capoeira and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Elements – I’ll find some time somehow!

Ash-first-bedtime-nap-1

Ash James Le was born on 22 September at 6am, after a 30 hour labour.

Yeah it was hard, like, the hardest workout I’ve ever done by any stretch of the imagination. And yeah it hurt, like, a lot – even for a tough girl with a background in contact sports. But, it was the most incredible experience of my life!

Like many women I know, I hoped to have an active labour and vaginal birth with no medical intervention. I had my birth preferences written up as a “best case scenario” where I laboured at home for as long as possible, received little or no artificial pain relief, and just had my husband and midwife at my side when our baby would be born in the birth centre.

For the most part, this is certainly how it went.

I was 6 days overdue, feeling a little anxious and frustrated (I was huge and really wanted to just have the baby), when my waters broke at home at midnight.

I was really excited, but knew I should go back to bed to conserve my energy. I told Simmo what had happened, but urged him to go back to sleep – which he did without too much protest!

After about 10 minutes of lying in bed I had my first contraction, which was followed by another one about 15 minutes later. They continued to come every 15 minutes, and were quite uncomfortable, so I started doing some light yogic breathing during the contractions (I could hear my pre-natal yoga teacher’s voice as I counted).

After an hour or so, the strength of the contractions had increased, so I opted to sit on the floor of our bedroom, wrapped in a blanket, just breathing gently and staying calm. I did this until 5am, by which time the contractions were 5-7 minutes apart.

I woke Simmo and told him to pack his hospital bag and call my dad so he could come and pick up our cat, just in case we were kept in hospital for a while.

I called my midwife to let her know what was happening. She talked to me on the phone for a while, I knew she wanted to listen to me having contractions, so she knew whether I should be going in to the birth centre or staying at home.

After about 15 minutes she said that we should head to the birth centre at 7am, so we did.

The next 25-ish hours went by really quickly for me (not so much for Simmo though), because I was “in the zone”, and just going with the whole experience. I tried not to predict what would happen next, or dwell on how much each contraction hurt, I just kept reminding myself that we would soon be meeting our little guy!

As the contractions became stronger, I really used the full ujjayi breathing that I’d learnt in yoga class. It gradually became louder as the pain increased, until I started to use my voice to match the sensation of the toughest contractions.

I briefly felt a bit weird about making lots of noise, I thought of the people on the other side of the door who could probably (no, definitely) hear me, but that thought quickly went away when the next contraction came!

I remember being in the bath, and thinking how strange it was to feel such intense sensations during contractions, but being so relaxed in between that I was literally falling asleep (again, I heard my yoga teacher’s voice saying “it’s important to completely let go and relax during contractions”, so that’s what I did!).

I felt really calm, in control, and so well supported by the lovely midwives (there were a few of them as they changed shifts throughout my labour) and Simmo, who was by my side, breathing with me, making noises with me, giving me sips of water and mouthfuls of crushed ice.

He used the shower head to spray warm water over my back, and refill the bath when it got a bit cold. I was really particular about how full the bath needed to be – too much water and I felt like I was floating, too little water and I felt like my body weighed 100kg!

I soon had the urge to push, and the midwives thought I had transitioned. After a while though, they became doubtful that I actually had transitioned and were worried that I might not be fully dilated.

They suggested that they have a look at my cervix to see what it was up to. I got out of the bath, up onto the bed. They could see that I was 7cm dilated, and they told me not to push anymore. It was hard because I felt like my body continued to push during the contractions, even though I was just breathing through them.

They kept tracking the progress of my cervix opening, but it hit a plateau after they had monitored for six hours, only increasing 1cm in the subsequent three hours.

At this stage I had been labouring for about 25 hours, and they suggested I have an epidural so I could relax for a couple of hours and let my cervix fully open. They said that because I had already laboured for a long time, that this would give me the best chance at having a vaginal birth.

I agreed, albeit reluctantly. I had the epidural, the midwives told Simmo to go and get an hour’s sleep in the birth centre.

A couple of hours later I had the opportunity to try and push my baby out. At this stage I felt a little tired, but I was so excited about seeing our little boy!

They checked my cervix and I was fully dilated – yey!

I pushed for the next two hours, in almost every position imaginable. For some reason, each time I pushed I got really painful cramps in both of my hip flexors, and felt immense pressure in my pelvis – this was the most uncomfortable part of the labour for sure.

Soon a surgeon appeared at the door (Simmo says he looked like Billy Dee Williams), introduced himself, and said that he felt they should try to assist my pushing with the vacuum. He did also say that Ash was still quite high up in the pelvis, and he was doubtful that it would work!

I was a bit annoyed with that comment, and wanted to prove him wrong, but unfortunately after two attempts, Ash wasn’t shifting down.

He then spoke to my midwife, and they agreed that given how long I had been in labour for, and the fact that Ash was still quite high up, that I should have a Cesarean. While I really didn’t want to have surgery, I knew deep down that it was very unlikely that it would happen any other way. Oh, and I was pretty tired by this stage!

I soon arrived in the theatre, and they topped up my epidural. The sheet went up and Simon was at my side. They did some “test cuts” and unfortunately I could feel them, and move my feet, which meant I had to have a general anaesthetic, and they asked Simon to leave.

I was pretty emotional at this point, mainly because I wanted to see the baby when he was born, and I wanted Simmo to be by my side. The surgeon and paediatrician were really lovely though, and they spoke to me kindly as I drifted off to sleep.

Next thing I knew I was in a room with Simmo, who was standing there looking very handsome in blue scrubs, holding our little Ash! My feelings of disappointment (and nausea) quickly vanished when I saw the two of them – I couldn’t believe he was finally here. Our 4.5kg, 54cm long bundle of cuteness was the most extraordinary thing I had ever seen!

Simon had already changed his nappy, fed him some of my colostrum that I expressed when pregnant, and wrapped him tightly in a swaddle, ready to meet me.

We spent the next two days in hospital, receiving the most wonderful care from all the midwives and nurses. Thankfully, Ash breastfed well from the beginning, and slept like a champion.

While Ash’s birth didn’t turn out how I had hoped, I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to utilise all my active birth skills, and labour for as long as I did. I also couldn’t wish for anything more than a healthy, robust little boy who is thriving and growing every day.

I wanted to publish this post because I know lots of women who are afraid that their future birth experience will not go according to plan (I know I was). This is despite the fact that they have no medical reason to worry, and no prior health or fertility issues.

Maybe it’s all the horror stories we’re told when pregnant by our well-meaning (but stupid) friends, family and colleagues? Maybe it’s the Dr Googling we all do when we feel a bit anxious? Maybe it’s the parenting blogs that publish click bait rather than balanced perspectives?

I’m not saying that terrible things don’t happen during childbirth. But if you don’t have reason to be afraid or worried, then try to stay in the moment, and enjoy it (in between contractions).

I’m still surprised at people’s reactions to this story when I tell them. Nine times out of 10 its “oh my god, you must be so traumatised, you poor thing” or words to that effect.

Thing is, both Ashie and I were fine throughout the labour, nothing was going wrong, it was just taking a long time.

I never expected childbirth to be quick or easy either – makes sense that getting another human out of your own body is going to be pretty intense. But intense doesn’t have to mean horrible.

If there’s no medical issues, you don’t need to be afraid – just go with the flow (good pre natal yoga classes will help with this). In the end you’ll see your gorgeous little person, and your new life will begin!

Oh, and sleep deprivation is way harder than labour 😉

One of Her Canberra’s 15 Women to Watch in 2015

Her Canberra - 15 Women to Watch

Nominated for Mamamia’s Most Clickable Women of 2013

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