The Post-Baby Body

When I look at my body, why don’t I see it for what it is?

My body has changed too much. It is too fat, too white, too stretched out. I feel shame when I see myself in the mirror. I don’t want anyone to look at me.

These bags are under my eyes because I stayed up half the night, breastfeeding a waking baby so that she would stay asleep and get enough rest to grow. They are there because I crawled out of bed before the sun rose, bleary eyed, to start the day with my girl. My once toned body now spills over because I haven’t exercised in the better part of a year – too busy, I have been, nursing a high-needs baby who has wanted to breastfeed every moment she could since the day she was born. My skin is stretched out, stripes running down my stomach to mark the place where she grew.

Who told me these were flaws? 

When my friends who don’t have children yet confide their fears of their bodies changing, I tell them it doesn’t matter. “I’m a mum now,” I say. But then why does it matter to me? 

I want to shake myself, slap myself in the face, and say to myself “Remember when you brought Madelyn into this world, and you were proud of yourself? To have done it so fast, to have coped so well. What satisfaction you felt! Where has that pride gone? Where is that satisfaction in having tested the limits of your body and mind and finding it triumphant?”

The average woman gains 3kg per baby. Why do I view this as a challenge? That better not be me, I think, I better stay the same size. Is there not more to life than I how I look?

I hope so. I hope that what really matters is what I have accomplished using my body. I hope that my body is merely a tool that I use to succeed in that which is important to me. I hope that I am more than what I look like.

When I look at my body, why don’t I see it for what it is?

This is a body that has created and sustains life. 



How Madelyn’s birth compares to ‘One Born Every Minute’

Madelyn wasn’t interested in anything except the lovely, shiny light bulb when I was trying to feed her to get her to go sleep tonight, so I came into the office and have been watching old ‘One Born Every Minute’ episodes while waiting for her to get hungry (she’s feeding now, and half asleep). It’s making me feel all nostalgic.

I loved giving birth to Madelyn. It was the best experience of my life. I felt so empowered and proud. I couldn’t believe I had really given birth.

Giving birth didn’t feel like what it looks like on TV. It felt very calm, very natural. It hurt, but it didn’t feel like the horrific, unnatural type of pain that I imagined it would be. It was a pain I could cope with because it was a good pain. I’ve heard of a lot of pain comparisons – it’s like breaking however many bones on your body, for instance – but the awesome thing about labour is that your body makes all these amazing calming, pain-relieving hormones. In an accident, you’d just get adrenaline, which doesn’t help the pain at all. Childbirth is what a woman’s body is created to do. It’s not an injury or an accident, it’s life.

It doesn’t really feel like period pain either. I’ve heard that comparison a lot. It started off like period pain, but once I was in established labour, it no longer felt like that at all. Period pain is quite a dull ache, whereas the pain of labour was extremely sharp. The contractions really were like rolling on waves. The pain steadily got worse and worse until it was almost too much to handle, and then I knew whenever it got to that point that the pain would steadily decrease back to nothing. Even between contractions, there was a shadow of pain, as if the pain was so raw that my body couldn’t forget it even when it was gone.

One thing that was really helpful to know when giving birth, and is quite easy to recognise now in ‘One Born Every Minute,’ is that the transition to the pushing contractions is really intense, and that it’s at that stage where you start to feel like you can’t do it anymore. But it was a bit funny, because I was waiting for myself to actually think “I can’t do this anymore,” so I didn’t realise when I was in transition because I never thought that. I did say that it hurts too much, and I remember thinking that something has gone awfully wrong and that surely any second now they’re going to tell me I need a C-section. But then the pain changed, it had moved into my back, and the fear was gone as my instincts took over.

The pushing stage, to be completely honest, really just felt like I was doing a big poo. I thought that it would be excruciating to push a baby through my birth canal, but it genuinely wasn’t any worse then passing an extremely large poo. The baby’s head crowning was very sore, it burnt, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. But that was only for about 20 minutes, and then she was born. I didn’t even feel the tear, because the skin was so stretched and burning anyway. The only way to describe how it felt when her body came out is that it was the physical manifestation of relief.

I’m surprised at the number of inductions in  ‘One Born Every Minute,’ and especially at the reasons for being induced. Knowing that being induced makes you four times more likely to need intervention, I can’t understand why so many women would be induced just because they can’t wait any more or the baby might be over 9 pounds. It’s just so interesting to me, because I was the opposite. The doctors I spoke to while I was in hospital wanted to induce me at 39 weeks at the latest. I didn’t want to be induced at all. I only accepted being induced on my due date because I kept ending up back in hospital and I figured if  I said ‘yes’ to that, I’d at least get to go home and relax for that remaining week. I was so fortunate that everything went so well despite being induced, but honestly, I was terrified. Angus wanted me to do everything I could to make the baby come, but I just felt like I needed to get myself into the right head space instead. I needed to go into the induction totally at peace about the whole thing, rather than still scared and frustrated because labour hadn’t started naturally.

It is also interesting to see how many women on the show go through labour and childbirth by themselves. It makes me feel sad to see woman having to go through it on their own. Even though I didn’t really talk to anyone unless I had to once my labour started, I couldn’t have done it without my three support people. I am certain that my labour went so well because I was so looked after. It was like I didn’t even have to worry about anything going wrong, all I had to do was focus on getting through it, because I knew I had them to worry about that for me.  I trusted completely that they were most concerned in that moment about me being comfortable and at peace, and about seeing my baby born safely. The midwife who attended the birth apparently left the room at some stage (I had no idea about this, as I was focusing on the labour), and when she came back into the room she sighed and said “I can feel the love in here. It makes me want to have another baby,” and she wrote in Madelyn’s Well Child book that she was born surrounded by love. It’s true, and I am so thankful.

There seems to be this idea that women who don’t use pain relief are just trying to be tough. I’m sure this is true for plenty of women. But it’s not true for me. I was all for as much pain relief as possible, until I started reading about the potential side effects for the baby. I became determined to go as far as I could without even using gas, because I didn’t want to put my baby in danger. My theory was that if I left it until as late as possible before using gas, I’d have less time to want pethidine or an epidural. I only had gas because the ward midwife (before my own midwives had arrived) brought it in to my room and said “Here, try this.” She’d offered earlier on, and I’d said (and this is an exact quote), “No, I’m fine for now, thank you.” She asked again a bit later, and I didn’t want to say ‘yes’ because I hadn’t asked for it which meant I was probably doing okay without it, but I didn’t want to say ‘no’ because some pain relief would actually have been quite nice, so I just didn’t answer. My contractions were getting very intense and very close together at this point (in fact, I think it was the beginning of transition), so I don’t think she minded that I just ignored her. I had my final check before my own midwife was called, and then she said “Oh, I nearly forgot about the gas!” and brought it up. My mother-in-law said “Courtney, that doesn’t effect the baby,” and my husband and mum both encouraged me to just give it a go, and I figured that the worst that could happen was that it wouldn’t work, in which case I wouldn’t be any worse off anyway, so I tried some. It didn’t really take away the pain, it just made me forget about it really quickly, and the rattle of the gas moving through the tube as I breathed in and out helped me to concentrate on my breathing. Almost immediately, I found that I was much more relaxed and totally ready for the pushing stage (which I had been afraid of). For my next birth, which I so hope will be a beautiful, natural water birth with no complications and far away from the delivery ward of a hospital, I’m going to ask my midwife not to offer gas. I know how well it worked for me, so I’d like it available if I need it, but I’d also kind of like to see if I can do it without any gas (I guess that’s me trying to be tough, huh). I think I could have done it without any gas this time around, so it would just be interesting to know.

Granted, I had a very easy labour, which is probably why I didn’t need stronger pain relief. If it had been very long with very little progress, I imagine I would probably have desperately needed a break from the pain. I also think that a large part of the reason I could deal with the pain was because I was totally in the ‘zone,’ totally able to focus on breathing and relaxing. If I’d been very afraid, I can see how it would have been very difficult to focus on relaxing and breathing, and I wouldn’t have coped so well. I’m just fortunate in that regard, I guess.

I wonder how much influence the length of labour has on everything. According to the hospital, my labour was only 2 hours and 50 minutes long. I’ve heard it said that quick labours can be worse because the contractions are so hard from the very beginning. I don’t know if that was true for me. I personally was fine. The contractions did very rapidly get close together and longer, but I still had the build up that allowed me to get used to the pain, it was just a really fast build up. I don’t think I would have coped if it had gone on for much longer. But I have no way of knowing whether, if it had been longer, it would have been the same and just kept building to be worse, or if it got as bad as it would ever get.

Watching ‘One Born Every Minute’ has made me so thankful to live in New Zealand, where you can have your chosen midwife as your lead maternity carer, and she’s the one who attends your birth, and where even in the hospitals women are encouraged to birth in any position they would like. Most of the women in that show birth lying on their backs with their legs lifted up. If that’s comfortable for you, great. But I would have hated it. It also surprised me to see that, in all the episodes that I watched, only one woman had skin-to-skin time with her baby straight away. About half had the baby taken away and cleaned before they even held them. In New Zealand, it’s just so normal to have skin-to-skin as soon as the baby is born, regardless of whether or not you’re going to breastfeed.

My midwives were amazing. My lead maternity carer couldn’t attend my birth because it had to be at the hospital, which I was really upset about, but she arranged for the most amazing midwife to attend it in her place. I was so, so happy when my midwife called me while I was in the hospital and had finally agreed to an induction, to say that she’d find me a midwife to attend my birth. I had been so concerned about just having whoever was working that day attend my birth. I wanted it to be someone who I knew, felt comfortable with, and was focused on me. All of the midwives I met while in hospital were awesome, but I still wanted to know who would be there. Honestly, if I’d known that I’d have to have the baby at the hospital and been able to choose a midwife accordingly, she was exactly who I would have wanted. She was so relaxed and so prepared for whatever was going to happen. I met her at the hospital a couple of days beforehand, and she talked with me about my birth plan and then showed my mother-in-law and I around the delivery ward. She even showed us forceps and the various suction tools, and how the bed could be adjusted to help me birth upright if I needed an epidural. She actually left the birth up to my student midwife (attached to my lead maternity carer), who was incredible. My husband still mentions, every now and then, how supportive and comforting she was. She even stayed until after I’d been stitched up, and helped us get the baby latched on again for the feed, when I’m fairly sure she didn’t need to. She is going to be an amazing midwife.

I still remember the first time I saw my daughter. She was placed on the bed between my legs, and I looked down at her. She was a red-ish purple colour, with her eyes screwed up and her mouth wide open. She was crying, but I couldn’t hear her. Her arms were straight out to the side, and her fists were closed in tight balls. She was impossibly tiny. I couldn’t believe she had really arrived. Every pain I had felt in the hours before leading up to that moment disappeared as I picked her up.

a  IMG_5915I still can’t quite believe that I’ve given birth. I’m so thankful for the experience I had.

Our birth story

It feels like a lifetime ago that I was getting ready for labour to be induced because of the gestational hypertension that I had developed in the last two weeks of my pregnancy. I can’t believe how scared I was. All I want to tell people now is that there’s nothing to be scared of.


Our birth story really starts two weeks before she was born. Up until then, everything had gone perfectly with my pregnancy. But then, quite suddenly, my blood pressure spiked. Twice, I was told by the midwife to go straight to the hospital. After the second time, it was decided that I would be induced at 40 weeks. I was so upset. I had so wanted to avoid intervention, and now my labour was going to be started with intervention, which made me four times more likely to need further intervention. I spent the week leading up to the birth preparing my mind and body for whatever would happen. I found comfort in knowing that God wasn’t surprised by this turn of events, and made up a cute little rhyme – “I can withstand it, because God planned it” – to remind myself that I would get through the birth fine, because God was in control and knew what was going to happen.

This did mean that my midwife wouldn’t be able to attend the birth, as she’s contracted to the birthing centre where I’d planned on having the baby. But she found a midwife for me who was known for her laid back attitude and her belief in letting women birth how they want. Meeting this midwife a few days before the induction alleviated my anxiety a whole lot. She was wonderful, and said she saw no reason why I couldn’t still have the birth I’d wanted, despite the induction.

I feel fairly fortunate that we were able to know the day that we would last just be us two. On the morning of my induction, we woke up really early and spent some time lying in bed talking before getting up. Angus made pancakes for breakfast, and I fluttered around trying to both get ready and relax. Having both our mums there was a huge help. As well as my labour and hospital bag, which I’d had ready since the first time I had to go to hospital, we packed enough food, books, magazines, etc, to last a couple of days. A friend had given us the key to her mum’s house near the hospital (her mum was away for the weekend), so that Angus and our mums could stay if needed. Angus had planned to come home that night, and I’d forgotten some stuff for the labour, but I figured it was okay because he could bring it in for me in the morning.

We arrived late at the hospital because of roadworks. They actually called when we were in the car park to see where we were. We were taken up to the ward, and I was extremely happy to find that I’d been given my own room. After spending some time on the CTG monitor, and having my blood pressure taken several times, the ward midwife who was looking after me for the day came to do the first lot of gel. My cervix was closed, hard, long and posterior – the midwife assured me this was exactly the way you would expect it to be, but said this meant the induction would probably take two or three days. This was at midday, and the plan was that we’d do another lot of gel in 6 hours time.

We spent the day waiting around. We could do what we wanted, as long as we were back every hour to be monitored for 20 minutes. Angus watched TV in the lounge for awhile, and at one stage my mum and I went for a walk to the cafe to get some lunch. I noticed period-like pains, and commented that the vaginal exam and gel must have at least started to stir something up. At about 3pm, I noticed that the pains were coming quite regularly, and were accompanied by tightening in my uterus. I started to check the time whenever the pains came, and noticed they came every 3 minutes. When the ward midwife came in to do the monitor again, I mentioned them to her. She looked at my stomach as one was happening, and said “Oh, good God!” She timed the tightenings, but they were only lasting 30 seconds.

They steadily got worse. Angus and I went for a walk to the cafe, and had to stop every few steps for me to get through what I was now sure were contractions. At some stage, my (birthing centre) midwife’s student midwife, who has been working with my midwife for the past few months, called to let me know that, as she’s a student, she’s allowed to attend the birth if I wanted her to. I definitely wanted her to, so I was really happy to hear that.

At 6pm, the ward midwife came to do the second vaginal examination. She didn’t even bring the gel, because she was sure my cervix would have done something. By this stage, the pains were getting really intense. I had to really concentrate on my breathing, and hold my husband’s hand, to get through them. This vaginal exam was awful. I kept getting the tightening pains through out it, so it took ages. And she couldn’t find the opening of my cervix, which meant it took even longer. Eventually she just gave up, though she did say my cervix was softer and shorter, and I did have a bloody show. She said she thought this would still go on for two or three days. Her shift was ending soon, so the next ward midwife assigned to me would be back at 10pm to check on the progress and do the next lot of gel.

At about 7pm, the pains became even worse, and closer together, though not much longer. I desperately needed Angus to touch me each time I had one. I was laying on my side, facing Angus. My mother-in-law massaged my feet and my mum rubbed my back through the pains. It got harder to concentrate on my breathing, especially at the height of it. I started to whimper a bit. I remember thinking, but not getting around to saying, “I don’t want anyone to leave me tonight.” The next ward midwife came in to do the monitor, and asked if I wanted gas. I said that I was fine for now, thank you. I was determined to go as long as I could with out it, so it would be enough if I needed it later.

At 10pm, the next ward midwife came in to check on me, and was suprised to find me in so much pain. She suggested I take a shower (the room had a private bathroom), so my husband and I went into the bathroom. On the way in, I said to him, “I just need to do a poo first” and the midwife freaked out. She evidently thought it was the baby coming, and she told me she needed to do a vaginal examination before I could poo. I just said “I won’t poo then,” and my mother-in-law managed to somehow convince her to let me have a shower first. The shower was really nice, but I felt a growing sense of urgency to get them to call my midwife (the one my own midwife had organised for me). When I got out of the shower, I changed into a dressing gown, sports bra and undies, rather than back into my clothes. I asked our mums to get the hospital to call my midwife, and my student midwife. I even managed to somehow explain that I wanted my student midwife, as opposed to the student midwife attached to my new midwife, who could also have attended the birth. The ward midwife then came back, so I asked her to call my midwife (I was a bit obsessed with this), and she said the registrar (the doctor) was coming to do my vaginal examination first. I’m not quite sure why the doctor needed to do it, I must really have freaked her out by wanting to do a poo.

At this stage, the contractions were a bit longer, and really close together. I remember saying things like “It hurts too much” and “I’m getting really scared.” We tried a heat pack on my stomach, but anything touching my stomach made the pain worse. Angus kept holding my hand. My mother-in-law suggested changing position, so my husband ended up sitting on my bed, and I sat on my knees and lay my head on his shoulder. At first I sat back on my knees between each contraction, and lent forward for each contraction. But then it became too sore too quickly to move each time, so I spent the rest of the time up on my knees, with my head on Angus’s shoulder, and with his mum massaging my feet and my mum rubbing my back. The ward midwife offered gas again, but I didn’t get time to answer her as I had another contraction.

When the registrar came in, she said “Oh, it sounds like transition!” but when she did the vaginal examination, I was only 5cm dilated  This was still good though, as it meant I was ready for my waters to be broken. She said I had a bishop score of 9, and that she would arrange for my midwife to be called (I relaxed a lot, and somehow also managed to ask her to call my student midwife). I was able to then move back to the position mentioned above, and it was around this time that I noticed a distinct change in the contractions. They had previously been an extremely sharp pain in my stomach, but now they started off that way, and ended with pressure in my back. I pointed to my back, and said “It’s changed,” so the registrar looked at my back, and showed Angus and our mums a bulge, that she said was the baby moving my bones out of the way to come through.

This was the point the hospital has recorded my labour as starting, making it technically only 2 hours and 50 minutes long. We thought it probably actually fully started at around 7pm, making it about 6 hours long.

The ward midwife brought in some gas, and I figured the worst that could happen would be that it wouldn’t work, so I tried some. It helped heaps. It didn’t take away the pain, it just took the edge off it, and gave me something to concentrate on during the contractions.

My midwife and student midwife both arrived at about 10:30pm. By this time, I felt like I was swimming thanks to the gas. When they came in I said, almost apologetically, “I’ve already started on the gas.” My midwife said to leave the gas in the room, that there was some in the delivery room, and to follow her. My husband whispered to take one more quick drag before we left, which I thought was a very good idea, so I did. My midwife said to let them know if I was having a contraction on the way, and we’d stop. I decided that I was not having another contraction without the gas, so walked as fast as I could, including walking through a contraction towards the end, to get to the delivery room.

Everything after arriving in the delivery room is a bit of a blur. My midwife said to my student midwife “You do everything, I’ll take the notes,” so my student midwife delivered my baby, which is really nice. I climbed onto the bed straight onto my hands and knees. My husband noticed that my waters were leaking, so suggested they put something down on the bed because they were about to break. Two contractions later, they did break (he feels very proud about his “I told you so” moment), and everyone cheered. I remember feeling triumphant. This meant extremely little intervention!

I still had to be monitored, which the midwives tried to do while I was on my hands and knees (I didn’t even notice), but couldn’t differentiate between my heartbeat and the baby’s, so I had to lie on my side to be monitored. As soon as it finished, they said I could change position, and I almost couldn’t be bothered, but managed to move back on to my hands and knees, with my support people all doing what they’d been doing in the ward.

It was soon after this that the pushing contractions started. My goodness, I have never felt anything like those contractions. For day afterwards, I was in awe of the strength of the pushing contractions. My whole body was taken over by the urge to bear down. I remember very little about what happened once these contractions started, except my husband commenting on me loving the gas, and on how sharp my nails were (I then became conscious of not digging them into his side). They hadn’t done a vaginal exam yet when I started pushing, so my midwife asked me, “If I said to stop pushing, would you be able to?” and I shook my head. There was no way I would have been able to. So they just let me keep pushing. I only pushed with the contractions, but they were so strong that very shortly the baby’s head started crowning. I remember telling myself “Only two more contractions and the baby will be here,” but I have no idea how I knew how many more contractions there would be. My mum and husband swapped places so that he could catch the baby, and 20 minutes later, she was born.

My husband passed her to me through my legs, and I said “Oh, wow.” I couldn’t believe how tiny she was, that she was here, that I actually gave birth to her (and that she was a girl). I took off my dressing gown and sports bra, and held her to my chest, where she started feeding almost straight away. I moved to recline on my back, and she fed while I stared at her and smiled at my husband.

My mother-in-law said something about me being able to confidently have a home birth next time, and my midwife said “Oh, do you want a home birth?” and when I said yes, she said “That would be a good idea, considering how fast it was!”

Because I hadn’t had to have the drip, I could deliver the placenta without the injection. I continued having extremely strong contractions. The student midwife actually asked if I was pushing on purpose, or if it was my body just doing it. It was my body just doing it.

After several massive blood clots, the placenta finally came out, and then my midwife told me they needed to examine me because I’d torn. So my husband took his shirt off and held the baby skin-to-skin while I got back on the gas. It turned out I had a second or third degree tear, so my midwife got the doctor to take a look at it, to determine if it could just be stitched up by her, or if I’d need it done by the doctor under anesthetic  The doctor determined that it was a third degree tear (tore my sphincter), so she’d do it under anesthetic. I very nearly chose to have it under general anesthetic  as I was so scared of having a needle in my back, but decided that it would be better for Baby if I just had the local and was able to recover quickly. In hindsight, I’m glad I did, as it meant the area was numb for four hours and the feeling came back slowly, rather than being hit suddenly by the pain.

Apparently her head and shoulders came through perfectly, without any tearing at all. But as her torso came out, she may have twisted funny, or it was just stretched to it’s limit, and I tore.

While this was all happening, Baby latched on to Angus’s nipple, which was pretty funny. I had some colostrum expressed so that she could have something to eat while I was gone, and then was wheeled out to theatre to be stitched up. On the way, we passed another woman in labour, and I gave her an “It will all turn out wonderfully” smile. I really hope it did turn out wonderfully for her. My mum and student midwife came with me while my husband and mother-in-law stayed with the baby. She was still hungry after devouring my expressed colostrum, so my poor husband had to try and comfort her while she cried for more food. It took two hours for me to be stitched up, and then my husband and baby joined me in recovery, and after she ate we slept.

I really couldn’t be happier with how her birth went. My midwife (the one who was with me for the birth) said later to my own midwife that I defied the odds of an induction. I feel quite proud of that. Some days, I still can’t believe I actually gave birth. It is the most wonderful feeling.

The Creator is not a careless mechanic (35 weeks and 2 days)

There are less than five weeks until my estimated date of delivery. This is crazy and exciting.


A not-great-quality-but-still-quite-cute photo of Angus and I on New Years Eve

I have been feeling pretty good, just very, very sore. Amazingly, I’ve been handling the heat okay. I’m not handling the extra weight in my pelvis so well.

I’m not feeling that nervous about the birth. I feel entirely confident that my body is able to bring our baby safely into the world. I feel assured that my midwife, and her back-up midwife, know what they are doing. I trust that my support people know my philosophies about birth, and if I have to transfer to the hospital, I know that my husband is more than comfortable with making sure my voice is heard.  It would be so easy to be frightened about giving birth, so I’m being purposeful about what I read and who I talk to. I don’t really want to hear your birth horror story right now. And I don’t really need you to tell me that I’m being naive by not being scared – I’m not saying it won’t hurt, I’m saying chances are I won’t die and I’ll probably even do it again in a few years time. I’ll get through it, and it will be okay. I’m not scared because there’s nothing to be scared of.

I’m extremely excited about meeting our little baby. I am especially excited as my friend, who was 5 weeks more pregnant than me, had her little baby four days ago. I met her (the baby) yesterday and she was just so tiny and sweet. It’s so amazing to think that the baby who has been growing inside my friend is now a little person with a name. I can’t wait to find out my baby’s name, and to see what he or she looks like. I can’t believe there are only a few short weeks to go.


New Years Eve (33 weeks and 2 days)

“Remember this, for it is as true and true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.”
– Ina May Gaskin