Tag Archives: pregnancy

Being: Mark Four, Melanie Adams

I.

 

The winter of ’92 had infected my mother with its frosty failure

It clutched her womb with barren hands

She haemorrhaged a me, mark three.

 

With a grievous contraction, she expelled

The coagulated nothing

Spurned by her body.

 

The stab was familiar.

 

In 1980, first blood seeped from her young form

Rippling tides of relief.

 

Summer of ’92, it had gripped her viscera

The day after the miniature cardiac throb caressed her ears

And the surge of maternal love sparkled in her chest.

Her arid figure cracked and crumpled.

 

My father’s shirt had promised them a daughter.

Draped in the vivid spirits of the Violent Femmes

His mind incanted: Let me go on.

 

My father bought a bounding ball of puppy fuzz

For my mother, as consolation.

 

Later, I heard ‘constellation’

Picturing all my selves that never were

Coalescing into celestial objects.

 

Doctors told my mother

Her anatomy was the great antagonist

Bellicose, designed to obliterate.

And yet, this determined speck

Clambered out of the mire of non-existence

A scatter of atoms, at first

Uniting into lungs, a brain

And a heartbeat.

 

And so I was.

Born all aperture, drinking my surroundings

With large brown spheres

Gleaming. Winking.

Slung from stellar oblivion.

 

II.

 

I was fourteen years, crushed up

A thousand tiny shells spat out by the sea

With its wringing tide.

 

Sinking in its mouth

Until my bones lodged in the back of its throat.

Life coughed up my skeleton.

 

The Violent Femmes and their jagged colours hung about my ribs

Fluttering, gored into strips by a decade of spin cycles.

 

I had grown from a clot of cells

To this, a self-immolating bush

Destined to blacken and burn out.

 

They said God’s hands had

Plucked me from the astral plane

Of their empty bodies

Flinging me through incandescence

To this dimension.

 

Why would God waste his divine fingers

Stitching something to squander?

 

My bled-out siblings called

From the belly of the earth.

I ruptured and burst like a tired star.

 

I was the sprout that had struggled

Through the concrete fissures of the footpath

Poking its fecund face

Into suburban spring.

 

I wanted to crawl back down.

 

To slide back down the spiral at the centre of the world

To slink back into

The hull of my mother

To sleep within her dormant walls

Secreted for a century

Before my renaissance.

 

Instead I was an unblinking eye

Inhaling weltschmerz

Without slumber.

 

Eating the city’s grime and feasting

On its acrid disappointment.

 

The shirt’s prophecy unravelled

Me, a violent woman

Dreaming of gunshot wounds

 

Pockets groaning with stones

Weighed down in the river

Hoping to sink.

 

Diffuse like light pollution

Lying limp on the floor.

Atomised. Paralysed.

Shredded to a joyless confetti.

Floating away.

 

III.

 

The moon mirrors my mother’s love

Luna urges me as she does the ocean

To lift its arms. To rouse itself from its bed.

To swell and embrace the salty shoreline.

 

My fragments, like iron filings

Magnetised back together.

 

I raise myself as a filament

Conducting light. Throwing it back

To my family, who so loved me

That they shovelled the soil of debt on their own shoulders

Just to hold me. Just to see my newborn face

And hear my infant giggle —

The mellifluous tinkle of chimes

Thirteen years in the making.

The shirt sacrificed itself to us.

Its vibrant creatures stretched and ripped

Beyond recognition.

I still feel the noble ghost of its ribbons

Stroking the crevices of my back.

 

Existential guilt still hums

A covert wasp’s nest crafted in my skull.

I will spray it away someday

But for now, I will cradle this tender glow

Cupping my hands

Over the blazing candle

Of being.

 

 

Works Cited

Violent Femmes, “Blister in the Sun.”1983. By Gordon Gano. Violent Femmes. Slash Records, 1983, Cassette.

 

 

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Solid Sand and Broken Water, Hannah Baker

i.

He had soft sage and lavender fingers

When his mother took him up the estuary

To his brother’s tiny grave. Her first-born,

She told him, still-born, but still borne.

For months she carried him, thinking only

Of his potential, then lost him like a limb.

 

Suddenly become a second son,

He doesn’t feel like a miracle.

Unless they’re supposed to grow

More insubstantial, year by year.

 

Now he can’t help but hold sensations,

Keep them pressed into the soft mud of

His muscles, either side of his stony spine

 

Like the smell of cold grass, broken and

Sharp, wound round his little knuckles

Until he felt the hair-thin roots give.

He shuddered and stopped tugging

But those blades bit back and dug

Their imprint deep into his fingers.

 

Surely his brother would only be bones,

And even those pitted in this acidic soil.

 

Porous surfaces never used to panic him,

But the stinging sight of honeycomb now

Swells his tongue back to close his throat.

 

He tries to run, to only glide over the earth

And so ward off its patient hollow hunger,

But gravity forces his feet to knead the ground,

And long for rest on this grassy headland.

 

Though his soles are callused they still sweat,

And the veins show through his instep,

Blue and green like branches and streams.

 

Thick clay skin means nothing

When the cracks threaten to leak

His beaten blood.

 

Even the sea breeze bores into him

But the warm honey sun is soothing

And from this high the sand is as solid

As anything can be.

 

Every direction leads, he thinks,

Not to headstones holding old bones down

But to ribs exposed like mangrove roots.

 

ii.

Death happens, not easy but often.

Entropic, all matter is mostly vacuum,

It would be easy for lethargy to sink into

Atoms, and for weary rock to turn to sand.

Observed closely enough, coastlines are infinite,

And molecular gaps keep anything from ever truly

Touching. But somehow matter retains, regains,

Its energy, even advances to animation when

Bodies meet, or bloody waters break and

Out of the lather erupts something new.

Not easy but often, life happens too.

 

iii.

She laughed out sea roses as a child,

When her father warned her off wanting.

Still the smell of certain perfumes and the sea

Clearly recalls to her the sticky softness of

Petals unfurling and clinging to her tongue

Before tumbling off the cliff of her lips.

 

He told her she had been born too early.

Half-knitted, with fluid in her lungs

And a film of foam for skin,

She might have unspooled again.

But she chose to cough and cry instead.

 

Surviving with just this, she sometimes still

Feels like a miracle, and marvels at herself:

No tiny flame wind’s whim could flicker out.

 

By holding heart-sized stones she learnt to

Swim in a lake as cold and sharp as glass.

Her lungs already knew the worth of leaking,

But gravity needed help to hold her down.

 

With hands like lace she dried and sewed

Lilies and larkspur between her petticoats

And cocooned herself, as if with paperbark

 

Then paced, finally leaving distinct prints,

But passing unstung through the bees in the

Clover, over pine needles and rosemary, into

The solid embrace of the wind. Sand blows

Into the old scars of her eyelids, still she reaches

For the shape into which she wants to grow.

 

She will expand, year by year, from within,

And when all her layers chafe she knows

Her pumice-light bones will keep her afloat.

 

The bruises that bloom and linger only show

Where everything else ends and she begins.

 

Her pulse beats in her lips, drowning out

The pounding waves. Her heart had been,

Before her birth, only ghostly filigree:

Useless, however delicate and complete.

 

Now she’s dense and centrifugal, feet planted

In shifting sands, scoured by salt spray and

Spitting rain. She can afford to shed a little;

She’s known plenty of loss, but no lack.

 

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You and Me, Asmono Truong

They say first impressions are indelible. The surpassing of decades has failed to mute my recollection of you, dear Francis. A murmur, a pause, then an outburst. You certainly knew how to make an entrance.

The pause frightened me. Were you okay? How is my baby? I asked. Before they could answer, you screamed your presence. Like an athlete who screams of success in penetrating an opposition’s goal, their pioneer and daring, you declared your entry, and overwhelming, into the world.

You cried, boy, could you cry! Such a talent in distress, my attention captured, instinctively and gladly were your needs above mine. Your pain is mine, and your cry I could identify amongst ten thousand. They carried your wail to the adjoining room as doctors surrounded me as if to redirect the spectacle.

My thoughts were only of you.

‘You are losing a little blood, my dear. The heparin is being troublesome but we have it under control,’ a doctor reassured. I had been on various anti-coagulants since I began to suffer clots in my legs several years ago. One day I awoke to a swollen ankle, and that was that. I was at risk. A life-threatening risk, a doctor would bluntly advise. A little mass of misguided platelets, doing as designed but risking the very life they sought to repair.

Nevertheless my thoughts were only of you. Welcome. How are you? It is very nice to meet you. Welcome. These were my last thoughts before I lost consciousness. The stage was not yet big enough for the both of us. The light was all yours.

 

I awoke to a darkened room, the bedside aglow with monitors whose font resembled advertising neon. The soft thrum of the air conditioning felt deceptive given the staleness of air and moderate temperature. Its empty sound was all I heard and within the dissatisfaction I was reminded of exactly where I was, and who I was missing. Your name I called as I searched for and pressed the buzzer by my side.

‘How are you?’ a nurse asked as she entered. She swept to the IV on my right, weighing its contents with one hand whilst tracing its tubing with the other. My wrist was soon in her gentle grip feeling for the glub glub of my blood measured against the sight of her watch. She smiled. Her question was rhetorical, she would know if anything were wrong.

‘When is it? Where is my baby?’ I asked.

‘It’s 11 pm. You’ve been out just over a day. It’s Tuesday now, you came in on Sunday. You are doing well now. Your baby is healthy across the hall. I think they’ll be letting you go tomorrow.’

‘Can I hold him?’ I asked.

‘Sure.’ The nurse departed to return with my desire. ‘What’s his name?’

‘Francis.’

‘Isn’t that a girl’s name?’

‘It can be for both. I gave him that name because I didn’t know if it was going to be a boy or a girl. My only preference was for a child. It’s Francesca, Fran, and Frances that’s girly.’

I lifted your hand Francis and it fell to rest in the centre of my palm, just where a magician holds their coin. I thought if we played rock-paper-scissors I could choose paper, and would always win. My giant paper envelope would nullify any configuration you chose. Life is not always fair and you would one day break my heart.

‘Francis, you are perfect,’ I declared.

The nurse smiled. ‘I’ll be checking in on you every couple of hours. If there’s anything you need, then please just press that buzzer by your bedside.’

You were asleep through it all Francis. Through my examination and whispers you were probably unaware. But I raise no complaint because it was only joy. You lay there asleep upon the rise and fall of my chest and I thought to join you as I allowed myself to drift and fade into the night.

 

The next morning I heard footsteps shuffle into my room.

‘Good morning sleepy head,’ a man said.

I was already awake and had heard him, but far more attractive was keeping my eyes closed and focusing on your presence in my arms.

‘Good morning!’ the man called again. Someone gave my big toe a squeeze for good measure.

‘Hi,’ I replied.

I opened my eyes to see Dr Shaun’s arched form standing by the end of the bed. He studied the chart in his hands without expression and then made eye contact over the rim of his glasses.

‘All appears in order and we’re happy with where you are. You are both ready to go home later today,’ he said.

I willingly misunderstood. I too was happy with our location, I liked that we were being cared for and our needs attended to.

‘Can we stay a little longer?’ I suggested.

The nurse detected my disappointment.

‘It is hard, there is a day devoted to mothers after all, but you’ll be fine,’ she attempted. ‘We’ll have your possessions ready, and can call you a cab.’

‘Thank you,’ I obliged.

‘My wife just had a baby, it is a wonderful time. Will your husband be home?’ the cab driver said, a few minutes into the journey.

‘Um, no. It will just be us.’

‘When is he coming home?’ he continued.

‘Um, no. It’s just me. Me and the baby, alone.’

‘Oh.’

His shoulders tightened and his gaze upon the road became more intent. It almost felt as if I should apologise for his embarrassment. The rest of the trip remained silent but for the voice of the GPS and the tick of the fare meter.

We pulled up outside my home. The driver, whose discomfort still lingered, could not seem to look me in the eye.

‘How much?’ I diverted.

‘Um, have it on the house, miss. It is the least I can do.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Positive,’ he said with greater footing.

‘Thank you.’

I carried you, Francis, for nine months without struggle. But now as I carried you to the front door, my, were you heavy! I realise now how weak I was then, such was the focus of my attention. I pushed open the door to a greeting of stillness and quiet. A stain at the centre of the lounge rug marked where my water broke. You began to cry.

I rested the bassinet on the dining table and lifted you out. I was struck again by how utterly unique you were. I imagined that even if I wanted to, you would be impossible to ignore. There would never be another like you given the infinite possibilities that added and wrestled their way into your creation.

‘Baby, what is it? This is home. Welcome to you. You and me. You and me now,’ I said, ‘You and me.’

Your cry eased, your face lost its creases. The bridge of you nose reminded me of a crinkle cut chip that decided to become one that was smooth. Do you remember the tune I hummed as I held you? We swayed with my knees as springs, our first dance.

‘Let me take you to your bedroom,’ I whispered. Your space I had prepared for so long! Clotted cream were the walls painted to the nine foot ceiling the colour of midnight. Galaxy patterned cornices of moons, planets, and stars surrounded the sky. You could always dream and would always be free. A cot, a rocker, table for changing, dresser, toys, mobile, dust bin, and lamp were at your service. I placed you sleeping Francis inside the cot, the faint expansion and compression of your chest told me I was no longer alone.

 

For the time we had together your father never came to visit. From the moment he knew that you were coming, a coldness was apparent in his touch. Contact was initiated more from my side, our conversations became increasingly brief, and messages were more typical than meetings. He never really even said goodbye, but just gradually disappeared.

There was common ground despite the thirty five year difference between the two of you. You were both confronted with the unfamiliar, and the expressions when each or you perceived distress or pleasure were undeniably similar. The comparison made him look infantile, and you, Francis, were imparted with a mature quality. You did far better than him. A light you shone where it was dark. An upswing you provided in a frightening descent. Hope and purpose you restored. A gift you were, but one that I could not keep.

 

It started with a peculiar morning. My alarm did not wake me, you did not wake me. The day instead arrived with a broadly lit room and the roar of a sports crowd from the neighbouring field, their cheers and groans rolled through the air. My intuition was the first to assert that this was not my life. I wake up earlier and differently, my thoughts gathered and became desperate for you. I immediately leapt from bed and made for your room.

I found you cold and silent. Without cravings, without curiosities. Lifeless you were, and in bottomless agony I realised that your company was gone forever. My Francis. There are not enough tears to wash this pain away. Everything that you were was taken by what they called a Sudden Infant Death. Each of these words speak with an increasing tragedy and grief, that without warning, you, were gone.

Was this your secret plan all along? Did you dislike the circumstances you were in? Could I have done better? Was it simply that I was not good enough? They said that being a mother would be a difficult and heavy burden, but the curse of once being a mother is terrifying. Maybe my mum could sense my crying. She called that day.

‘Laura?’

‘Mum,’ I sobbed.

‘Oh darling, what is it?’

‘Francis is gone mum. He is gone.’

 

You are gone Francis, but just as my memories and emotions can endure the passing of time, so too will I always remember you and me.

 

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The White Line, Cassie Hamer

 

It was the woman’s stomach that Kat noticed first – round and ripe as a February mango. Eight months pregnant, she guessed.

Kat shuffled along the bench to give her extra space.

‘Thanks,’ said the pregnant woman, panting a little as she lowered herself slowly onto the seat. The air in the station couldn’t be good for the baby, Kat thought – sooty and still – almost like smoking.

The chimes of a station announcement sounded.

‘We regret to advise that all trains on the western line are experiencing lengthy delays due to a medical emergency at Redfern. We apologise for any inconvenience.’

The pregnant woman sighed. ‘Not again,’ she muttered and rubbed her stomach in circles.

At the other end of the seat, two men in suits and loosened ties sat down.

‘I’ll bet it’s a suicide,’ commented one of them.

‘Selfish bastard,’ said the other. ‘Why couldn’t he have just thrown himself off a cliff? Save us all the hassle.’

Kat stopped listening. Unfeeling, banker pricks.

Next to her, the pregnant woman moaned softly and clutched her side.

‘Are you OK?’ Kat asked.

‘I’m fine. I’m fine,’ she said, waving away Kat’s concern. ‘It’s just the baby kicking the crap out of me.’ She smiled wanly. ‘I’m over it.’

‘How long have you got to go?’

‘Two weeks. Thank god.’

‘It’s hard at the end,’ Kat offered, sympathetically, remembering how every step had felt like a bowling ball, grinding on her pelvis.  She had wanted it all to be over – to have her little girl out, and in the world. Now, she would give anything to feel that pain again.

‘You’re a mum?’ asked the pregnant lady.

Kat paused. She never knew quite how to answer that. ‘Um, yes. I had my baby two months ago.’

‘Two months, and you’re back at work? That’s amazing.’

Adam had been cautiously supportive when she said she wanted to go back. ‘You’re sure you’re ready?’ he’d asked, frowning.

Kat wasn’t sure, but she could think of no other way to climb out of the black hole. ‘I’m sure’, she’d lied.

‘OK, well, I guess it might be a good distraction.’

‘I hope so.’

‘So you’ll stop expressing then?’

‘I guess I’ll have to.’

But she hadn’t. Every day, in the toilets at work, she pulled out her breast pump and cried, silently, as she watched the milk drip out of her.

Everyone had been so kind, at first.

‘Kat, if it’s not too much trouble…’

‘Kat, I know you’re probably snowed under, but do you think…’

‘Kat, I don’t want to put too much pressure on you…’

But after a couple of weeks, their extra words dried up. They went back to exactly the way they’d been before the baby.

Kat would never go back.

She still hadn’t gotten around to changing her screen saver image – a photo from the 12 week ultrasound image. The outlines made her baby look like an alien ghost.

The dirty wind of an approaching train blew into Kat’s face. She looked at the painted white line, separating the platform from the tracks, separating life from death. Stepping off would be so easy.

Damn that white line.

‘Kat, I’m sorry, I can’t find a heartbeat.’

That damn white line – flat and dead on the ultrasound machine.

The train squealed into the station.

The two young men leapt up, while the pregnant woman lifted herself heavily off the bench.

Kat stayed seated.

‘Aren’t you getting on?’ asked the pregnant lady.

‘No, I think I’ll wait for the next one.’

‘Don’t you want to get home to your baby?’

To a home with a nursery that had never been slept in? And a fridge full of breast milk that would never be drunk? No, Kat did not want to go there.

‘It doesn’t stop at my station,’ she lied.

The train took off with a groan and Kat stayed sitting, watching the white line.

 

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A Deeper Shade of Baby Blue, Monique Burns

I could hear every beat, every laugh every foul, drunken, slurred word through the paper thin walls of the bedroom. All I wanted was sleep and to be any where but here, my head was pounding and the feeling of nausea was overwhelming. I was stuck in a dank horrible caravan park for the annual family reunion with a bunch of strangers that I would apparently be related to soon; and something inside told me it was going to get a lot worse before it got better. In between the brutal small talk and fake smiles through gritted teeth I found out I was pregnant; and it could not have been at a worse time.

Fault′ line` n. a boundary between incompatible or irreconcilable beliefs, feelings, or the like.

In the first few weeks of pregnancy it wasn’t the nausea, sore breasts or headaches that were giving me the most grief; instead it was the sense of discord between what the magazines said I should be feeling and the emotions running through my head. I had been with my partner for almost four years and we had been engaged for six months so there was no problem with commitment or the thought of ‘going it alone’ but I still couldn’t shake this feeling of dread. How would I break the news to my parents and what were we going to do about the wedding that was planned for later that year or my dress which had already been purchased? How was I going to finish the year of my uni course and fit in my work experience, what would my job say and how would I feel walking around my parents house with a baby bump?

Each website I visited to find out about pregnancy brought up pictures of smiling mothers to be caressing their inflated tummies and staring lovingly at their partner…it made me want to cry and quite often I did. Then I felt bad for not being over-joyed and I would cry more, but only when no-one could see or hear me because of the shame I felt. I realised that I was meant to be happy and in a way I was but the worry that swept over me when I realised the task ahead overshadowed any feeling of pleasure that I could fathom…I had this massive crack down the middle of my heart with one side trying to remind me that this was a blessing and such an exciting time for us, and the other side saying that I’d never be able to do this and everything was going to fall apart.

In my quest to feel better I enlisted the help of a psychologist from the hospital that would handle the birth. Her name was Maria Perkins and she had been working with the midwives clinic for years helping women cope with the changes faced before, during and after pregnancy. She says that although the feelings I was experiencing are rarely plastered over the cover of pregnancy magazines they are increasingly normal.

‘The reality of pregnancy and impending parenthood is that it can have a lot of ups and downs. Although it is thought of as a blissful and exciting time in a woman’s life it also heralds a multitude of changes, not just with the body but also relationships and lifestyle.’

Perkins also points out that any big event in a person’s life can cause a lot of stress. That goes for weddings, new jobs, moving house, winning lotto or having babies. Stress can make you feel down and it’s not unusual for women and men to feel down sometimes in both pregnancy and after the birth.

Suddenly it was making sense to me; I was in the middle of planning a wedding while moving out of home for the first time in my life and then boom! I’m pregnant on top of it all. Of course I was feeling down; I was stressed beyond recognition. But something was still eating at me, pervading my consciousness with every bad feeling that passed through my head…if I’m feeling blue now then what happens when the baby arrives, will it get better or worse? Statistics show that perinatal depression (which is depression that occurs during pregnancy or the postnatal period) affects 15–20 per cent of women in Australia and around 14 per cent of women will experience Post Natal Depression (PND). The staggering fact is that for around 40 per cent of the women that are diagnosed with PND the symptoms began in pregnancy.

Maria Perkins explains to me that when you are depressed it can be hard for you to tell how serious your feelings are. ‘ The best thing for a woman to do when she thinks she may be experiencing perinatal depression is to get help early; tell your doctor or midwife about your feelings so they can help you decide if your just feeling down, or if it’s something more serious’.

If the signs of perinatal depression are addressed early they can be treated very successfully and it is better to seek help early rather than risk postnatal depression later on states Perkins. ‘It is more strenuous on the family once PND comes into play and if this is not diagnosed it can lead to postpartum psychosis, very rarely but I have seen cases of it and it takes a huge toll on everyone involved’.

This statistic haunted me; not just because I was stressed, studying and completely unprepared for this but because as a teenager I witnessed my aunt suffer with postnatal depression which evolved into puerperal psychosis because it went undiagnosed.

I was only about thirteen at the time so the full story is a little vague but what is etched into my memory is the time I joined the women in the family for a weekend break down at my Nan’s holiday house. My Aunt had just given birth to her first child; a blue eyed little angel of a daughter. The baby was having trouble sleeping and was suffering from jaundice so getting sleep in a small cabin was almost impossible for everyone. One particular night the baby was screaming and my Nan went to help out; all of a sudden the baby wasn’t the only one screaming. My aunt was screaming at her mother in-law to back off and let her do what was right for the baby, to stop interfering in her life and judging her for not being a good enough mother.

I think it was then that someone should have recognised the signs of postnatal depression; the mood swings and feeling of inadequacy were right there but no one in my family knew enough about it to help or even suggest help. I remember my aunt disappearing from family functions and the distance between her and my uncle increasing. Most of all I remember my own parents going to visit her week after week when she was admitted to the psychiatric ward. I remember overhearing them speak about her treatments and the sadness that permeated the air when they spoke to my uncle and muttered words like electroconvulsive therapy. I was never allowed to visit her at the hospital, my parents refused to let us come along because, ‘She’s not the same person now.’

It took a long time for her to resemble ‘that person’ again. The even sadder thing is that by the time she came back everything in her world had changed. Her marriage had crumbled, the home she was building with her husband and daughter had to be sold and her child was being cared for by the mother-in-law she had been so adamant to keep a distance from.

This story is sad and terrifying and with the experience of motherhood just around the corner it makes it all the more real to me. Whether we like to admit it or not the reality is that 1 in 7 Australian women will suffer from some form of postnatal depression and for these women the expectations of how they should feel about motherhood and the actual experience of it is a major fault line that is breaking their worlds apart.

This was the case for Abigail, a 31 year old teacher from Sydney who suffered with severe postnatal depression for several months after the birth of her son Jai.

‘At the time I just couldn’t believe how terrible I felt, especially as I had been so elated when I found out I was pregnant. My husband and I had been planning this for so long and we were in the best stage of our lives to welcome a new addition with secure but flexible jobs, enough savings and a good support team around us.’
Abigail said that things started to change about a week after bringing Jai home from the hospital.

‘ One day I could not stop crying, I moped around the house like an extra from a zombie movie and I felt so awful just as though my body was weighed down by this incredible feeling of guilt and shame. I had nothing to be crying over and that made me feel even worse.’

Abigail’s husband Jacob was a big support during the weeks that followed but even that wasn’t enough to change Abigail’s frame of mind. She says that looking back she remembers one particular night sleep deprived and desperate she yelled at him to leave her alone and was sick of him and the baby.

‘The weeks after that were the worst, probably my lowest point and it was when I got so angry that I almost shook Jai that I realised there was something severely wrong with me. I was a hazard to myself and this beautiful little life that was relying on me, I needed help and quick so I rung my mum.’

Luckily for Abigail her mum was only a couple of hours down the coast and could drive up to be with her that afternoon. Abigail remembers crying uncontrollably when her mum walked in, after the baby was taken care of Abigail was taken to a GP who diagnosed severe postnatal depression and admitted her to hospital.
‘my mum moved in with us to look after Jai and my mother-in-law was a major help while I recovered, making meals and also supporting Jacob through the mess because he was so worried and still trying to work and support us through it all.’

Abigail responded to treatment well and within a month she was ready for a second chance at motherhood. Before she and Jacob settled back in to family life they attended some counselling sessions, this enabled them to understand that this wasn’t their fault or a reflection of their parenting skills but a natural part of life.
‘It was reassuring for us to realise that so many people experience postnatal depression, I think the figures were about one in seven which is much more common than I thought. To be told that most people who experience it get through without permanent damage to their relationship and family was a relief.’

Abigail and Jacob survived postnatal depression and were finally able to bond with Jai, with thanks to their support group of family, friends and medical professionals they weathered the storm and went on to have another baby with the knowledge that they could handle the rollercoaster ride.

After hearing Abigail’s story first hand I was feeling much better about the prospect of coping with motherhood and the changes it brings about.

Maria Perkins believes that all women should be educated about the changing feelings and emotions that occur during pregnancy and how this will affect them after their bundle of joy arrives. ‘The difference between postnatal depression that is recognised and treated and postnatal depression that is brushed off as the blues can be huge. With the correct support and treatment it can be just a minor stumbling block but without it these women and their families can be adversely affected and cause lasting damage.’

This is evident in the case of Abigail and my Aunt who both experienced the effects of postnatal depression but had to deal with it differently due to their knowledge and support teams.

My first antenatal visit included the basic weigh in and medical history questions that would be expected of any hospital visit, what I didn’t expect were the confidential questions about how I was feeling and whether I had any problems with abuse or anxiety. I was later told by the midwife that this was to check for early signs of depression that may lead on to problems later on. This is a great initiative which needs to be adopted by all health professionals in order to overcome the prevalence of postnatal depression and remove the stigma surrounding it.

Another positive influence on helping the fight against PND is the increasing number of high profile names admitting their battles with it. In an interview with Good Housekeeping magazine, Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow admitted she had suffered from post-natal depression after she had her son, Moses. She described feeling like a “zombie” which was similar to Abigail’s experience and said it made her feel she was “a terrible mother and a terrible person”. The interesting thing she added was that she thought postpartum depression meant you were sobbing every single day and incapable of looking after a child.

‘But there are different shades of it and depths of it, which is why I think it’s so important for women to talk about it. It was a trying time. You don’t want anybody to know that you’re depressed or crying all the time.
‘There’s this shame that we bring to it and it’s incredibly debilitating and scary and you just don’t feel like yourself.’

Despite a cultural stigma against discussing motherhood in less-than-glowing terms Paltrow has come forward and let women know that postnatal depression is real and doesn’t discriminate. There are also Australian celebrities such as newsreader Jessica Rowe who have battled with the disease and now help associations such as Beyond Blue and PANDA or Post and Antenatal Depression Association which are helping raise awareness through workshops, social media and community education.

But the most important thing for people to realise is that the person closest to you may be suffering in silence. Look out for the signs and if you think your sister, friend, cousin or wife is struggling then reach out because the difference between saying something and doing nothing could be vital.

Download a PDF of BabyBlue

References
• Agnes, M. 1999. Webster’s New World college dictionary. New York: Macmillan.
• Figo.org. 2013. Post-natal depression ‘still has stigma attached’ | International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics. [online] Available at: http://www.figo.org/news/post-natal-depression-still-has-stigma-attached-003171 [Accessed: 9 Oct 2013].
• Hochman, D. 2011. Gwyneth Lets Her Guard Down. Good Housekeeping.
• Lovestone, S. and Kumar, R. 1993. Postnatal psychiatric illness: the impact on partners.. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 163 (2), pp. 210–216.
• Prendergast, M. (2006). Understanding depression. Camberwell, Vic.: Penguin Books.
• Robinson, J. (1965). Having a baby. Edinburgh: Livingstone.

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The Perfect Nine Months, Susan Baxter

‘You have an increased risk of having a child with Down syndrome,’ the technician told us flatly. When Graeme and I first decided to grow our family, we were determined to have one low impact child. That was just the way it was going to be. Our lives were packed full of sailing, scuba diving, camping and four-wheel-driving adventures, and we didn’t want to give up any of that. So we simply wouldn’t.

Over a coffee that couldn’t melt the lump in my throat, we discussed our options. Do nothing, and let nature takes its course. Or I could undergo a diagnostic procedure: either an amniocentesis which could not happen until I was several weeks further into the pregnancy, or a CVS which could happen much sooner. Our decision was easy: CVS. It could be done within a week, and the risk of complications (miscarriage) was less than the risk of having a child with a chromosome abnormality. What about the results? Well, that was easy too. A child with Down syndrome would not be low impact. Frankly, the thought was alien and terrifying.

A chorionic villus sampling (CVS) involves passing a fine needle through the abdomen into the developing placenta and withdrawing a few tiny fragments of the tissue into a syringe. The placental tissue contains the baby’s complete genetic information. The sample is then sent off to a laboratory for testing and initial results are available within two days.

The day of my CVS test is a bit of a blur. I remember driving myself to the clinic and feeling very conspicuous as the only pregnant woman in the waiting room without a ‘significant other’. I recall a nurse asking me if my husband was going to be driving me home as I might feel woozy after the procedure. When it was my turn, I was scared they were going to hit the baby with the needle, or hit something else, or take too much placental tissue. I can still remember the pulling ache as the needle went through the deep layers.

Afterwards, as I drove myself home, I cried that Graeme hadn’t been there with me.

The CVS came back clear. No genetic abnormalities detected. We congratulated ourselves and prepared for our low impact child.

My pregnancy couldn’t have been rosier. No morning sickness. Life went on as normal, with all the adventures we could squeeze in outside our demanding jobs. I kept my pregnancy a secret at work for as long as possible, and followed an online calendar that told me how my baby was growing. I felt my body changing. We started taking photos of my bump, which didn’t appear until about 17 weeks. From early on I was convinced I was having a boy.

At twenty-three weeks my blood pressure shot up. Immediate hospitalisation. (‘No, you don’t have time to go back to work. Go straight home, pack a bag, and admit yourself’, said my specialist.) I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia – it seemed my body was rioting against the alien thing inside me. I was given blood pressure medications that gave me screaming headaches and forced the contents of my stomach halfway across the room. I underwent blood tests and scans and ultrasounds. Surely I would be discharged once they sorted my medication – after the weekend at least? I had so much to do!

Pre-eclampsia is a condition which occurs only in pregnancy. The illness is quite common and occurs in about ten percent of pregnancies, but usually it is easily managed. It causes elevated blood pressure, swelling, and disturbed kidney functioning. In about one percent of pregnancies, pre-eclampsia can become so severe that it can threaten the life of the mother and the unborn baby. The illness starts to affect the mother’s other organs, such as the liver, heart, lungs, brain and blood clotting system, and as the illness progresses, the placenta stops working properly and the baby starts to stress. The only cure is for the baby to be delivered, regardless of the stage of the pregnancy. I knew none of this. In my ignorance, I believed they would find the right medication and send me home.

 I lay in a private room in the maternity ward of the San Hospital, listening to babies cry and families gathering in nearby rooms, delivering baskets of pink/blue flowers, teddy bears and balloons, celebrating new life. Later, I was wheeled upstairs to a birthing room where they hooked me up intravenously to a blood pressure drug, and I listened to a woman in the throes of labour as I watched milky liquid dripping from a clear bag into my vein.

My obstetrician, Dr Paul, came and gravely told me that I couldn’t have my baby here. They didn’t have the facilities to deal with premature babies. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I couldn’t have my baby yet, I was only in my twenty third week. I was going home soon, right? There were people I worked with, played with, that didn’t even know I was pregnant! ‘Your baby is going to come early,’ he told me. ‘I want to move you to North Shore.’

My perfect pregnancy was over. My dreams/illusions of the perfect nine months, the perfect birth, and the low-impact baby, were like flower petals (pink/blue) crushed under heavy shoes.

Ten years is a long time to avoid something. For ten years I have avoided revisiting the birth of my son. That rollercoaster ride was something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to relive. I’d recounted the story probably a hundred times – and managed to stay on top of my emotions with more strength at each telling, but re-reading my journals, the letters to my son, the records of everything that happened to him (and us) through his disaster-fraught journey – that wasn’t something I could do. They stayed on my bookshelf, three unassuming little books, firmly closed and easily evaded as life wrapped its inevitable tendrils about us and carried us along and away from that dark and traumatic time. Those journals stayed on my bookshelf until November, 2012.

            Before I had you, before there was any fear, I had a dream. I dreamt I’d given birth to you and I was wandering through a hospital, searching for you. I found myself in a room where everyone was dressed in finery as if for a ball, while I was in a hospital gown. I kept asking people where I could find you, but nobody knew; they just kept shaking their heads at me. I ran through rooms in a panic, screaming out ‘Where’s my baby?’ Does every pregnant woman have dreams about losing her baby? Or was I dreaming the future? When you were born, I didn’t even get to see you until the next day. They brought a couple of Polaroids to my room. What was in those photos didn’t match up with anything in my mind. The images showed something that looked like a skinned rabbit – all shiny and raw pink, face obscured by breathing apparatus, leads and tapes and probes everywhere. They told me that was my baby. Who cleaned you? Who whispered gentle words to you? Who held you that first time?

Every morning a troupe of medical staff would crowd into my room and discuss my condition as if I wasn’t there. I was confined to a private room in the high-risk section of the maternity ward; the goal to keep my baby inside for as long as possible. They trialled me on different medications, checked my blood pressure every couple of hours, and did regular scans on my belly. I held a small device, and each time I felt the baby move I had to click the button. They took blood until the inside of my elbows was pricked raw. My thighs were covered in green bruises from the daily injection of heparin. Each day, I would be allowed out of my room for the short walk down the hallway to the scales. I couldn’t see the fluid under my skin when I looked in the mirror, but when I got out of bed it would seep down my legs, and my feet would swell and spread out sideways like a frog’s. It was only later, in photos, that I could see how puffed up I was, how sick I looked.

During the long nights, I turned to my mother’s God. My journal at this time is full of prayers, pleading and promises. I thought that if I prayed hard enough, everything would work out fine. On the phone, my mother would talk about her prayer circle and assure me that God had a special plan for us. I didn’t care about a special plan. All I wanted was to carry my baby as long as possible.

Family and friends came and went. I was given flowers and gifts. The flowers gave me headaches and had to be sent away. Graeme was with me as often as possible, trying to keep my spirits up, trying to keep my mind off the ‘what ifs’. Others weren’t really sure how to deal with me, being unfamiliar with such an illness. The days slowly went past in a haze of anxiety and tedium. Was I being punished for ordering a low impact baby, the perfect nine months?

One Monday night, Graeme and I were taken on a special guided tour of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. My journal reports no more than, ‘Tiny babies! I found it difficult to breath,’ but I remember the shock of the machinery, the noises, the medical paraphernalia, and amongst all that, the tiniest, most helpless babies I had ever seen.

My journal deteriorates with my condition. Some entries are only a few lines long or end mid-sentence. I lost track of the days. I tried doing cross-stitch, writing letters. I had Graeme bring in my study materials, but the readings had become nonsensical and I soon gave up. The witches’ brew of drugs mesmerised me and dulled my thoughts.

And then everything changed. My test results showed that my kidneys and liver were shutting down, and the baby was showing signs of distress. Fourteen weeks before my due date, I was whisked away for an emergency caesarean, which was one of the most frightening and painful things I have undergone. It was decided I would have to go under general anaesthetic, but to reduce the risks they wouldn’t put me under until the last possible moment. I had a drip put in, and was made to drink some foul liquid while a nurse held her fingers on my throat so I wouldn’t vomit. I was lifted onto a hard table and a wedge was shoved under my hip. A nurse put in a catheter while a registrar butchered the job of inserting some sort of monitor into my wrist. (I bore a multi coloured bruise for months) Finally, they put me out.

 And Jamie was born.

            When I opened my eyes, your daddy was leaning over me. ‘We have a son, and he’s OK’, was all he said to me before I let darkness claim me again, but that’s all I had needed to know. It was sixteen hours before they let me see you. First I had to eat something, and get out of bed, and have a shower. Each thing I did was one step closer to our first visit. Your Aunty Ricki arrived on a very early flight, and Daddy came back too. Their presence gave me strength and courage. I remember the effort of just getting up, and in the shower I shook with pain and fatigue. They made me walk to you, although I know of other new mums who were wheeled into the NICU in their beds.

Later, Ricki and I stood by Jamie’s humidicrib. ‘He’s so sick,’ I remember saying to her.

‘He’s not sick,’ she responded, ‘he’s just small.’ But he was sick, dreadfully, heartbreakingly sick.

A few days after his birth, my journal entries suddenly cease for two months. These were the most frightening days. The days of not knowing. The days when we had to make impossible decisions. The days of preparing ourselves for the worst, only to suddenly be buoyed up by some tiny bubble of hope. It wasn’t just a rollercoaster. It was the rollercoaster, the ghost train and the house of horrors rolled into one, and we had unlimited rides.

I ‘surrendered to the terrible possibilities of loving too deeply’. Some mothers, when their babies are born prematurely, become detached and avoid bonding. They are so afraid of losing their tiny, fragile baby that they draw back and withhold their love. This wasn’t the case with me. From long before he was ever born, I loved him fiercely. And once he was born, I wore my heart on the outside of my body. I didn’t even know there was an option. And even though that tiny, silent creature looked like something that couldn’t possibly survive; I wore hope like a badge. I had to have hope, or my grief would overwhelm me.

I wasn’t expecting grief, but after love, it was the strongest emotion I knew. I grieved for my lost pregnancy and resented women getting about with bulging bellies and distended belly buttons. God forbid they complain about it. I grieved for my son’s horrifying start to life and the many months of sickness and discomfort he would suffer. I grieved that my body had let me down and I hadn’t been able to give my husband a healthy child. It is a phrase we hear often; ‘I don’t care what I have, as long as it’s healthy’. Even that was asking too much. When I hear that phrase now, I think of my tiny Jamie covered in splints and bandages and cannulas and monitor probes, his tiny hands scarred from pinprick blood tests, a tube down his nose and another in his mouth.

            All your visitors smile at you, at us, with their mouths, but their eyes are full of sorrow and confusion. Your grandparents are the worst. In the photos they all look shell shocked, like they’ve just seen the saddest thing and then had someone shove a camera in their face. They smile dutifully for photos with the new grandchild that they can’t even touch.

            I couldn’t hold you for a month, you were so fragile. When I finally did, they swathed you in flannelette until only your face was showing, and you were so light it seemed I was holding nothing but a bundle of rags. But to finally hold you! I was at the top of the rollercoaster, arms raised and screaming in exhilaration.

 I would never have the perfect nine months, but I cherish every perfect moment.

 

Notes

The quotation ‘I surrendered…’ is from Rachel Ward’s essay ‘Milk Fever’, published in Mother Love, edited by Debora Adelaide.  Random House Australia 2006

Works Cited

De Crespigny,L., and Chervenak, F.A. (2006) Prenatal Tests: The facts, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York
Stanfield-Porter, R. (2009) Small Miracles: coping with infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, Hachette Australia.
Ward, R. (1996). Milk Fever. Mother Love. D. Adelaide. Milson’s Point, Random House, Australia: 97.
Whelan, M. (2008), The Other Country: A Father’s Journey with Autism, Pan Macmillan, Sydney, Australia
NSW Health Publication (2006): Outcomes for Premature Babies in NSW and ACT, NSW Pregnancy and Newborn Services Network (PSN).

 

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