After a challenging pregnancy suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum and a long and traumatic labour, Zoe gave birth to her first beautiful little girl, Lucy. Throughout this chapter of her life, Zoe felt unheard and unacknowledged by her medical team and hopes that in sharing her story, she can encourage expecting mamas to trust their gut and not be afraid to speak up for themselves.
What’s your name and who’s in your family? My name is Zoe, and my family consists of my partner Nick, our almost 8-year-old daughter Lucy and our 6-month-old daughter Freya. We live in Clyde, Victoria Australia.
How did you feel learning you were pregnant? What concerns/thoughts/feelings came up for you? I was with my best friend Bree when I initially had a suspicion that I might be pregnant. We were walking through Coles and the smell of meat in the deli had me dry retching. Without hesitation, Bree rushed to aisle 7 and grabbed 3 pregnancy tests, and sure enough, every one of them presented two lines before I could even finish peeing on them! My first thought was “how the hell am I going to tell Nick?!” I was so frightened but I was glad I wasn’t alone when I found out.
How old were you when you fell pregnant? Were you at school/working/studying? I was 21 when I fell pregnant and working full-time at the beginning of my pregnancy.
Did you feel supported during pregnancy by your family/partner/medical team? Nick was incredibly supportive. He knew we couldn’t raise a baby in a share house so he made a career change and worked hard to provide a good home for myself and Lucy. Unfortunately, my family and I were a bit distant throughout my pregnancy (though much better now) and I felt very disconnected from Nick’s family – I almost felt judged by them. They had all been married before starting families and his parents made it very clear that they thought he was too young and irresponsible to be a father at 22 despite his older brother becoming a father at a similar age. It was ok for him, because he was married.
As for medical support – I had NONE. I had seen my usual GP and had a blood test to confirm my pregnancy. He failed to provide me with any information and didn’t book me into a hospital. At 19 weeks I had a serious bleed and presented to the local hospital where we discovered I had a placenta abruption and partial detachment. The hospital advised me that I wasn’t registered in their system and as I hadn’t received any pregnancy care I was now a high-risk pregnancy and was referred to a specialist hospital an hour away.
Despite being a high-risk pregnancy, I had only one single appointment at the specialist hospital before my birth where I met with a midwife and doctor to discuss my birth plan. I expressed my concerns about birthing my baby, especially after the abruption. I had also suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum throughout my entire pregnancy and received zero treatment for it. It was just brushed off as bad morning sickness despite not being able to eat or drink for days on end. By the end of my pregnancy, I was completely exhausted and very fragile. I told them that something just didn’t feel right and requested an elective cesarean. But before I could even finish speaking my request was declined – my feelings surrounding giving birth were completely disregarded. I was told, “You’re young and healthy. We are not inclined to perform a c-section as you will heal faster from a natural birth” – boy were they wrong!
How old were you when you gave birth? I gave birth to my first daughter, Lucy, at the ripe age of 22 and 7 years later, we welcomed our second daughter Freya.
What was your birth experience like? Horrific is the only word that comes to mind. I had agonizing back pain for hours and Nick decided we should head to the hospital to get checked out. We made the hour-long drive to the hospital and I was plonked in a chair and hooked up to monitors for 6 hours. I was told I was in pre-labour and that both myself and bub were tachycardic. I was to sit in the chair and rest until our heart rates could be regulated, but after another 6 hours nothing had changed and I was sent home to shower and rest at midnight. I did not rest – instead I spent hours curled up in pain until 6am came around and I said to Nick that I couldn’t handle the pain anymore. We went back into the hospital and as we were checking in with the nurse at the reception, I could see her gearing up to send us home again, but thankfully the doctor who had assessed me the evening before was just about to clock off her shift and recognised me. She made the call to induce me and I was finally admitted at 39 weeks. My waters were broken for me and I was given the juice to get things rolling. And things started rolling quick!
Within an hour the contractions were coming hard and fast. And they did not stop. By hour 2 I was on the gas. By hour 7 was a pethidine shot. Then back on the gas for a few hours. By hour 15 I requested an epidural, which was the best decision I ever made. An hour later I felt calm, pain-free and was able to drift off to sleep. But not for long. Somehow in my sleep, I kinked my epidural line. I went instantly from pain-free to 100 on the pain scale. Teams of medical staff came running in, alarms went off, machines were being attached to every limb and I felt very panicked as no one would tell me what was wrong. Nick slept on the floor oblivious to it all until I threw a bottle of coke at him and screamed at him to call my mum.
The line was removed and a second epidural was then administered. I laboured for a total of 70 hours, including a day of painful pre-labour before my waters were broken. When it finally came time to push I could feel my epidural waning and requested more but was told it was too late, it wouldn’t work in time. The midwife advised me that I would be left to push for an hour. Due to the nature of my pregnancy and labour, once I reached an hour they would “assist” – I hit the hour mark and was pushing with every ounce of energy I had left. I honestly believed I was screaming like a mental patient, but my mum says otherwise – that I was silent. Scarily silent and determined. She says I didn’t make a sound until the midwife told me to push harder and I snapped at her “I am! Something is wrong!”
They did a check and sure enough, the baby was caught on my pelvic bone. She was posterior. The rest happened so fast. Yet it felt like a lifetime. The nurse said “we need to help get baby out” and that was it. No explanation as to how, no warning. The “help” involved a painful episiotomy and a rotational forceps delivery where the forceps were used to turn the baby and pull her out. I tore to the second degree and the pain was excruciating. They say that after a while you forget the pain of childbirth. Not this Mumma – I remember every fragment of it and it haunted me for years to follow.
Were you able to debrief your birth experience in a way that helped you to process the experience? It took me a very long time to process what had happened during my birth. I never felt uncomfortable sharing my experience but never felt right complaining about it. Women give birth all over the world every single day. It's normal to experience pain, so who was I to complain? It wasn’t until I fell pregnant with my second daughter that I came to realise just how much of an impact Lucy’s birth had on me. I had regular panic attacks and struggled with anxiety daily. My past experience, along with the battle of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, left me with very severe anxiety and fears around birth and pain. I chose to go through a different hospital the second time around and they were so understanding. I was linked with a postnatal and birthing psychologist and it made all the difference in the world. She helped me understand that what I went through was not a normal situation and was handled poorly, that I shouldn’t have been ignored when I expressed my concerns – for no one knows your body better than you, and if you have doubts, trust your gut. The fact that the midwives and doctors “assisting” me with the birth but not informing me of what was happening was quite violating, to both my body and my trust. This enabled me to be granted a c-section with my second daughter. It was pain-free, calm and peaceful. I would even go as far as to say enjoyable!
What do you think could have made you feel more supported during pregnancy and childbirth? What would have helped you? A doctor who cared. A doctor who listed when I was telling them how sick I was, that what was happening to my body wasn’t normal. A hospital that listened to my wishes and who understood my fears, especially given that I was a young and first-time mother. I just needed someone to listen to me – to see me as a person and not just a patient.
What were the first few weeks of motherhood like for you? What concerns/thoughts/feelings came up? After 3 days I was discharged from the hospital and sent home with my healthy chubby little girl. I was swollen and had more stitches than I could count, and couldn’t sit comfortably or stand for long. I worried that I wasn’t enough for Lucy, but I knew that she was mine and that no matter how much pain I was in, I would do anything for her. Those first days of baby cuddles were everything to me.
Do you feel that you had a healthy support network? Nick was amazing and my mum was there every time I called, I couldn’t have done it without her.
How did you find transitioning into parenthood? Did you have strategies in place to manage stress and anxiety? I didn’t have any strategies in place. I just took it one day at a time and absorbed all the tiny newborn cuddles and first moments as much as I could.
What challenges did you face in the first year of motherhood? I think as a new mother every day presented a new challenge. It still does. The feeding, the sleep battle, the teething...
What do you love most about being a mum? I would have to say just watching my children grow. Seeing them develop their own personalities and watching my girls grow into independent, outspoken and opinionated women – even if that does make it more challenging to parent them sometimes!
What do you wish people could understand more about being a young mother? Being a young mother is often frowned upon these days – I hear comments like “but you’re still a child yourself!” and “but don’t you want to live your life before you settle down and have kids?” – yet I have had the privilege of growing alongside my daughters. Their firsts have been my firsts. Being a young mum helped me to find maturity at a young age. It has taught me to value the small moments and appreciate the little things, a lesson I think many learn far later in life.
What’s helped you the most in becoming a mum? If I could give a piece of advice to any new mother, it would be to trust yourself and speak up. Trust your own body and trust your instincts. Make yourself heard. Too often people can be seen as a patient and not a person. Medical professionals can become desensitized – for they deal with patients all day, every day. But you are not just another statistic. If you feel something is wrong with you or your child, make yourself heard and don’t stop until someone listens and takes you seriously.
Thank you so much Zoe for your vulnerability in sharing your story.
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