I’m blaming ‘baby brain’ on my warped expectations of pregnancy and the birth. I’d already been through it all when I had my son, Maxwell, 8, so God only knows how such delusions set in.
To top things off, I was the editor of Cosmopolitan Pregnancy magazine for more than 10 years, so I was well researched on the subject.
So what was I expecting? Oh you know, a five star babymoon at Banyan Tree Phuket with mocktails by our private pool; a calm, planned c-section with cheese and sparkling wine to celebrate baby’s arrival – in the delivery room! – and instant ‘love’ when I met my baby.
And what did I get? Not that. Not that at all.
Here’s how it played out…
Delusion #1 Chilling out before baby arrives
It’s almost a pregnancy prerequisite to take a #babymoon these days – then splash those poolside bikini bump pics across social media!
I realised when I hit 27 weeks and exited the second trimester – when doctors encourage you to take a break – that I wasn’t going to reap that five-star babymoon in Phuket or Bali I had my heart set on. But hey, I wasn’t totally delusional thinking I could get a little R&R, feet-up relaxation and beauty treats in before baby arrived, was I? A pedicure, pregnancy massage, haircut and colour, short back and sides va-ja-ja tidy-up for the delivery room? Or a few weeks off before the baby arrived to chill out? Most of my friends took two or three weeks off work before baby arrived to chill and pamper themselves. Some took four! Sadly, I was not one of them. Not the first time, when I had Maxwell, nor the second time round.
‘Chilling out’ is not something I do well. In fact, it’s something I very rarely do. I’ve either got a To-do list a mile long or, like many mums/girlfriends/daughters/friends, I’m doing things for people. I say ‘yes’ way too often.
There was also the maternity leave and ‘reduced income for god knows how long’ factor niggling away in the back of my mind. So instead of booking myself a fast ticket outta own for mine and Josh’s last holiday alone together FOREVER, I booked myself solid with work right up until the birth-eve.
As well as writing for FRANKIxo (my third baby!), I took on a freelance project a month before baby’s arrival that turned out to be a monster disguised as a lamb. Of course I didn’t realise when I said ‘yes’ that it was going to be riddled with problems and a gigantic, stress-inducing, time-sucking black hole that almost broke me!
I actually burst into tears in my obstetrician’s office when she asked me why I’d missed my previous appointment (working), and then of course that started ringing all kinds of ‘antenatal depression’ alarm bells.
I was fine. I was just stressed – and the thought of scheduling in ‘counselling sessions’ on top of the manic workload made me worse!
Instead, my pre-baby chill out was swapped for visitors flying in – eek – a week before the birth.
Did I mention I was delusional!?
I had two besties visit me from Queensland for three days, then another two Melbourne besties spent the Friday to Sunday with me – before my scheduled Monday caesarean. Oh yeah, and Dad arrived the day before I delivered too – he wanted to be one of the first to meet his new grandson!
Yes, I knew it was silly having so many guests so close to the birth day. I couldn’t truly relax with them because I had a pressing ‘To-do’ list I needed to get through, like packing my hospital bag, work hanging over my head and organising a bookshelf (and 300 books piled on the floor) that arrived a day before bub (it was an untimely delivery date).
But I also desperately wanted to be surrounded by people who loved and cared about me. And these gals fit the bill. Anyway, there were perks … they set up my bookshelf and cooked and cleaned for me!
Delusion #2 A calm birth – followed by sparkling wine and cheese
I was booked in for a planned c-section for 8am on August 21. I bought six bottles of Black Wattle sparkling (I’d been craving sparkling wine all pregnancy) to celebrate post birth and told Josh to organise the cheese, crackers and Maggie Beer pate.
I imagined my doctor, Dr Karuna Raja, with her calm, reassuring voice, a couple of nurses and a small, intimate operating room. A bit like a water birth in a birthing centre, but you know, with all the hospital gear on hand. And no pool.
I wanted it to be the opposite of my first frenetic birth experience, which resulted in a panicked emergency caesarean after a 10 hour labour. Key word: ‘wanted’.
This time, everything was planned, so everything would be calm, right? Wrong.
Clearly I was stressed in weeks before the birth and as a consequence, my blood pressure travelled north – and I was very nearly admitted to hospital four days earlier than planned (‘But I have to pick my friends up from the airport’, I told my obstetrician.)
Did I mention how delusional I was?
I ended up being admitted for monitoring, then released. Then I was admitted again the night before the scheduled caesarean date – just hours after dropping my friends at the airport and my son at his dad’s house – because I’d noticed a decrease in baby’s in-utero movements.
It was stressful.
Josh left me at the hospital at about 1am while I continued having tests. I got to sleep about 3am.
Suddenly my delusions were realised and reality set in.
Why hadn’t I been prioritising my baby’s health in all of this? Early mother guilt started to eat away at me.
At 6am I popped on my hospital gown and hair net, had my cannula inserted and was wheeled off for pre-op preparation. I wondered where Josh was. ‘Hope he hasn’t slept in,’ I thought. He did. And, much to my surprise, there was bugger all phone reception in the hospital theatre wards.
No amount of hitting ‘redial’ worked. I tried to stay calm – I’d already beaten myself up with mother guilt all night and refused to let any more negative hormones flood my body.
The nurses scrambled around trying to find staff with different phone carriers to see if they could get reception but, no luck.
At 7:55am and with seconds before I was about to be wheeled into theatre, Josh walked through the doors all scrubbed up! I was about to ask him if he’d remembered the cheese and sparkling wine when the anaesthetist introduced himself to us – and explained his billing procedure (seriously) for the spinal block.
‘Are you OK with that fee?’ he asked from above me while I laid on the bed.
‘Sure,’ I said. I wasn’t really in a position to argue!
And off I was wheeled…
There was no champagne glasses or wine bucket. No soothing music. No dim lighting. And nope, no pool.
Instead, there must have been about 10 staff wearing the ‘trending’ green scrubs buzzing around the operating room and introducing themselves to me. I didn’t remember any of their names.
I could feel my heart start racing.
I’d had more than 20 operations over my lifetime due to other medical issues, but suddenly I felt like a theatre virgin. I knew what the drill was, so why was I so delusional about the whole thing?!
The anaesthetist inserted the spinal block and, of course, all I could think about was the minority of women who have negative side effects. ‘What if I can’t walk for weeks?’ I thought.
He ran ice over my stomach and chest and asked me what I could feel, to determine if the anaesthetic was working. But there is a huge ambiguous gap between feeling nothing – and being ready to make an incision through five layers of muscle – and feeling ‘some’ sensation. I didn’t want to give him the wrong answer!
My answers didn’t make sense. ‘Well, I can kind of feel cold and then numbness,’ I said. I could sense his frustration with me. He wanted definitive answers. My heart started racing faster with nerves. I’m pretty sure he was just about ready to give me a general anaesthetic and knock me out cold when we found the sweet spot.
A makeshift cloth screen was placed across my chest to prevent Josh and I from seeing the procedure, but I could see bits of what was going on in the ceiling light reflection. I had 100% trust in my obstetrician, but the whole clinical feel and pushing and tugging behind the screen made me sick with nerves.
I didn’t remember any of this with my first birth! But then again, I’d had a massive quota of pethidine and gas by the time I reached the operating room.
I could hear Dr Raja saying ‘push, push,’ and thought she was talking to me.
‘I’m having a caesarean – not a vaginal birth,’ I replied.
‘I’m talking to the trainee doctor,’ she said.
Then, a little more ‘pushing’ and my baby boy was born.
Delusion #3 Meeting baby
Remember the Kleenex tissue newborn ads? Where the beautiful mum is handed the perfect newborn and they haze into one another’s eyes? Well, mine and Louis’ introduction was nothing like that.
A swollen, reddish-purple bundle with bulging cheeks, squashed letter-box slit eyes and goo all over him was held up high above my belly as my doctor announced, “Oh, what a good looking baby you have!”
Was she serious?! Clearly of understanding of ‘good looking’ was very different.
In fact, I felt very weird when I saw Louis for the first time – almost disconnected and bewildered. I’d carried this little boy around inside me for 39 weeks, but I didn’t ‘know him’, or this baby that was being held in the air above me – and told was mine to keep!
My mind blanked after his ‘air introductory’, until he was wrapped up and held against my face and chest by the midwife. I remember trying to pull my face back, so I could see what he looked like.
He didn’t look like me, that’s for sure! He was very, very swollen and looked like he’d just down five rounds in a boxing ring.
I felt the same when Maxwell was laid on my. Almost in shock, not being able to mentally connect the baby on my chest to the baby I carried in my belly. It was like they were two different entities.
Then, Louis was whisked away with his dad for observation and I was whisked away to the post-operative care room.
I was delirious. Sleep deprived. Overwhelmed. Still delusional. Trying to make sense of the surreal introduction to my baby. But reality was starting to kick in – finally – and I become more and more eager to be reunited with this curious little boy.
The post-op nurse asked me a load of questions to determine if I was healthy enough to go back to my room, and I was determined to answer correctly – whatever it took to expedite the process and see that little boxer again!
Delusion #4 Ding! Ding! Bonding with baby. Round 2
Lucky for Josh, I’d forgotten about the wine and cheese that wasn’t waiting in my hospital room for me. Instead, I got something much better.
Josh and Louis were already in the room cuddling when I was wheeled back in. It was heart melting seeing Daddy gazing into his little son’s eyes. Josh handed him over to me. He was all mine. Well, I’d have to share him with his dad and brothers’, Maxwell and Daniel (my step son), but mainly he was all mine.
Related: 7 Newborn Challenges Parents Face
I held him tight and couldn’t stop looking at him, trying to connect the baby in my belly to this baby in my arms. He was finally here!
I could almost feel the surge of mother-baby hormones flooding my body to ‘bond’ us. Natures clever like that! But it wasn’t instant. It was a gradual flood. I think I knew it had taken full affect when, hours after the birth, our sons and my Dad had arrived at the hospital. Everyone wanted a cuddle, and I wanted more than anything for the boys to bond with Louis, but I felt a surge of protectiveness kick in.
“Have you washed your hands?” I asked. I had to bite my tongue and stand back so they could experience the magic of their new little brother without a wicked mother interfering!
I was also in love all over again. And so was Josh, Maxwell and Daniel! And Poppy!
Delusion #5 Remembering how to look after a baby
My memory is like a goldfish. Seriously. I’ve written countless of parenting stories and I’m a mother! With the first pregnancy I read every book every written but with this one, I didn’t even open the obstetricians information pack! I just thought I’d ‘know everything’ when that little bundle was handed to me. But I didn’t.
I forgot how to wrap him up like origami. I forgot how to sit when feeding (my posture and back was aching within days). I forgot how to make him burp, make a bottle, hold him in the bath, clean his belly button and umbilical cord… you name it!
I forgot how frustrating it was to be holed up in a bed after a caesarean, and how big my belly would be still after giving birth. Aaah, body image. That’s a whole other story!
The one thing I am not delusional about though is how incredibly lucky I am to have this little boy at age 42. A gift from the universe that has made our little family that much happier and bigger.
I didn’t even want a sparkling wine. I was drunk with love.
Of course I did eventually get around to popping the cork on one of those six bottles, seven weeks after the birth. And oh, was it good! Cheers to that!
This article was first published on FRANKIxo.com.
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