(A long post ahead. 10 000 words. A novella of life, birth, motherhood, illness, sacrifice, joy. This is how many words it took to share the story of Beth. A cup of tea would accompany this nicely. I recommend chai or Celestial Seasonings.)
How do I tell you the story of Beth, without telling you all that came before it?
How do I tell you of the great miracle that is her, when it also means telling of the great darkness that came before?
I’ve been putting off writing these words. Resisting the page, turning away from the screen.
It is months since she was born, and I am still squinting away from it.
All I want to do is soak in her loveliness and her light. Burrow my face into the golden amber of her hair.
Be here now in all that is good.
Forget what came before.
And I hold the story in me.
Write in my head a thousand times over.
Turning the words around and around.
Wondering what must be said.
I hold onto all the details though they pain me.
I hold onto them so they can be written.
Once they are written, I can forget.
They will be out in the world, speaking the story for those who need to hear it.
And I can forget. I can drop the heavy, lumpy, heaving weight of it.
I can let it go and be lighter.
I know I must write.
I know I must write it out. Tell the story that needs to be told.
Need to write it for her, so she knows just how much she is loved.
Need to write it for my daughters, just incase they inherit this awful pregnancy illness that overtook me. I get down on my hands and knees and pray in the dust that they don’t. But if they do, I want them to have my words. I want to weave everything that it took from me and everything it gave to me in one gnarled, soft rug incase they need the comfort of those words one day.
Need to write it for the women who were broken from Post Natal Depression.
Need to write it for the women who have been devastated by hyperemesis gravidarum.
Need to write it for the world, so its heart blooms in understanding for the sisters who walk through these dark nights of the soul, mind and body in order to bring a child into the world.
So let’s start at the very beginning.
It’s late at night. Beth is asleep beside me. Ostara is asleep in the next room. Stars are out. There is silence. Time to write.
Just over a year ago, I came out of the closet. I’d made the decision to only have one child.
Believe me when I tell you that there were very few moments in the three years after I had Ostara that I ever believed I could have another child.
I was battle scarred and weary from the very beginning. From the moment I became pregnant with Ostara, I felt like I was on a train I couldn’t get off of.
Don’t get me wrong – I dearly wanted her. It was very much a consciously chosen pregnancy.
But something happened to me. Something clicked over.
I just didn’t feel like myself anymore.
And I didn’t feel like myself for a really long time after.
I don’t really know how to explain it.
I found out I was pregnant with Ostara when I was nauseous. A nausea that worsened. It crippled me and overcame me. I’d vomit my pregnancy multivitamins up without fail each morning. I vomited all over our house. I would rock back and forth, too sick to even read. I’d stare at my hands on the sun lounge on our patio. Anything to stop the swells of pregnancy sea sickness that overrode my life.
I remember calling my mum about it. I’d cry on the phone and say I wasn’t sure how I could ever do it again, how any woman could ever do it. I asked if everyone went through this.
And she laughed that kind of dry laugh that mothers have sometimes, and told me that
yes, they do,
maybe i’d have to toughen up a little bit.
And maybe in some ways that set the stage of all that was to come:
the fact that I suffered,
the fact that it wasn’t easy for my body or my spirit,
the fact that I measured myself on how other mothers did (and would always come up lacking),
the fact that I didn’t understand my body had its own unusual quirks,
the fact that I had horrifically high standards for myself that were impossible to reach,
the fact that I felt immensely judged by my family (and that there was nothing I could do on god’s green earth to be seen as a good mother by them)
the fact that my relationship with my family of origin was about to become increasingly strained before it imploded.
Fuck mate, it was hard.
I’m crying writing this.
Onwards we go.
I got ante natal depression and anxiety. I freaked the fuck out over having a perfect birth. I knew I would fail no matter what.
My hips started displacing.
Walk, my mum said. Oh Leonie you just need more exercise.
And so I did until I was hobbled over in pain, breathless with it.
When I told my midwife, her eyes widened in horror.
Oh for god’s sake Leonie. That’s the worst thing you could be doing. You need to rest. Your hips are dislocating.
There was SO much I didn’t know about my body back then.
Didn’t know I had a body with specific conditions that needed another level of care.
Didn’t realise that I wasn’t weak.
If I had, maybe it would have been easier.
Ostara was born. It wasn’t the perfect birth. It was an induction birth.
It was, how the French say: Fucking painful. Horrifically painful. Painful for a long long time.
And god I wanted relief during it. I wanted to run screaming from the room.
But I couldn’t take pain medication. Wouldn’t.
Because to do so would make me a bad person.
I’d read all the books, you know?
I knew what was right for my baby.
And I would sacrifice myself on a spear to do the right thing.
The problem was…
when you sacrificed yourself on a spear…
who was left to tend to the baby?
A woman who had been through a war.
The memory of that birth traumatised me for years afterwards.
I cried almost everyday for the first year that my poor body had to go through that.
We moved back to my hometown when Ostara was six months old.
I thought it would be unicorns and puppy dog tails and family!joy!forever!
I thought I’d spend the rest of my life there.
I thought that was IT you know?
But it wasn’t.
What’s more, it was so far NOT it, it was positively wrong.
We felt overrun by my family. Like we had no privacy. No time to ourselves. No space of our own.
Even though we had our own home, my family felt like it was an extension of theirs.
They would come without calling first. Let themselves in through the back door. Peer through the windows.
Even when I asked them not to.
Even when I asked them not to.
I felt like a teenager raging for my own privacy, space and sanctum.
But I wasn’t a teenager.
I was an adult.
A mother. A wife.
A woman with her own family who no longer could play the role of the good daughter and sister if that meant hindering and harming my relationship with own self, husband and daughter.
I had to break out of the old family tree in order to grow my own healthy sapling.
Oh god, loves, it was hard.
The hardest thing I have ever done.
To fight day by day to find the courage, wisdom and strength to have boundaries.
To not be swallowed up whole by the family I was born into.
To not revert back to every old pattern under the sun.
To not play the part that my family knew me as:
Leonie, the joker. Leonie, the one who is inept at practical things.
I knew that if I didn’t, I would lose my spirit. My life. My relationship with my husband. And the kind of mother I wanted to be.
I went to counsellors.
We went to relationship therapy.
I learned a lot.
And I had to grow the fuck up, basically.
Had to give up being a kid.
Had to craft my own path.
I called it “Becoming An Adult.”
In the meantime, my parents split up.
All the other marriages in my family dissolved.
A great thrumming tornado was making its way through the landscape of my family.
Chris and I were the last ones standing still together.
On top of this,
I was fucking hard on myself, man.
I had completely unreal expectations of what a mother should look like.
I had no concept of self care.
I took not even an hour away from my baby until she was eight months old.
I took the concepts of attachment parenting and made it into a competitive sport.
I thought I was an awful person if I even took one step away from the formula.
I forgot the holy covenant of Leonie:
Don’t convert to any doctrine. Eat from the buffet of what is true and right for you and sings to your spirit. Leave the rest.
It works for me for religion. I needed to apply it to parenting as well.
On top of this, my darling, beautiful, bright, effervescent star beam Ostara was not an easy baby.
I didn’t know that at the time.
I just thought I was fucking weak for not dealing so well.
But she didn’t sleep very well. Ever.
Didn’t sleep through the night until she was two and a half years old.
I was chronically sleep deprived. Horrifically so.
She was a mama’s girl from the very beginning.
She just didn’t cope with the world if she wasn’t in my arms.
She didn’t cry… as long as she was on the boob.
She lived on there, guys. That was her world for a long, long, looooong time.
She breastfed for hours upon hours… rarely lasting more than an hour (two or most) without boobs.
For YEARS. It seemed that was her safe place.
If she was out of my arms – even in her daddy’s arms – it just didn’t work out.
I couldn’t shower/poop/eat with two hands/attempt to get some work done without hearing her cry.
My nerves = fucked.
Now trust me, I love Ostara. I love that girl to the moon and back. I have known since I was 14 that she was my daughter, that I would have her. She’s been in my dreams and visions since then, in every reading I’ve ever had.
She is sunlight and happiness and explosions of joy.
She is immensely sensitive, creative, gifted, passionate.
She is incredibly empathic and picks up on energy.
She has a built in radar and steers clear of any situation or person or animal that feels off to her.
She is so special to me.
I will always, always, always be glad that she is my daughter.
I will always, always, always be honoured that she chose me.
And at the exact same time, I realise now that she requires a lot of energy to parent.
Her catchphrase is:
“Mummy, I neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed you”,
said while looking longingly, pleadingly with her wide blue sky eyes.
Every part of her little body and spirit feel that and believe that.
She neeeeeeeeeeds me in order to feel okay in the world.
And even though her daddy has been a beautiful, nurturing, kind, full time, loving, gentle constant in her life… it’s always, always, always mama that is needed. On a really high level.
And it’s okay that that’s who she is.
And at the very same time, I needed to learn
The Art of Understanding And Nurturing Leonie too.
If you find yourself taking breaks during cooking dinner to have a panic attack on the floor,
it’s not normal, darling.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
I learned that after a few months of doing that.
The crushing feeling around my lungs and chest.
Feeling like at any moment a particularly big wave would appear and take me whole.
I just want you to know:
it doesn’t have to be like this.
I told Chris one day:
I don’t think I’m okay honey. I don’t think this is actually normal.
And it scared the shit out of me to say it.
It broke my heart.
And it also was the start of something beautiful.
It was the start of coming home.
The counselling and therapy and intuitive healing and relationship counselling. The journey through eastern medicine – bushflower essences, naturopathy, acupuncture. The arrival at western medicine and medication to help it all come together.
And things got better.
Slowly, step by step. Slowly.
I mean, things were still pretty shithouse with my family.
But at least I wasn’t breaking apart at the seams anymore.
And ya know, I guess the thing I want to say is this:
None of it was a lie, ya know?
I think so often we think if it is hard, it all must be awful.
Or if it’s good, it all must be fantastic.
When in reality, life is so much more nuanced and layered and contradictory than that.
I’ve meant every single thing that I’ve shared on my blog and facebook and instagram over the years.
I’ve been fucking grateful for the good bits.
Because there were many, many, many, MANY.
I’ve always hunted for the positive, like a happy-hunting hound dog.
And they are so easy to see:
Not every day was a crappy one. Not every moment was awful.
Not everything was broken.
There were still so many blessings and miracles and joys.
Beach days with baby. Renovating our old cottage and caravan. Picnicking in the luminously green grass in our backyard.
I make loveliness wherever I go.
And it was all a pretty fucking awesome adventure, ya know?
We were on the biggest healing journey of our lives.
And then the time came when we realised:
We gotta get out of this place.
That Proserpine wasn’t actually our happily ever after that I so believed it would be.
That we needed more than that.
We needed a school for our daughter that felt good and true to our spirits.
We needed space from my family in order to thrive as our own family unit.
We needed to be closer to a city so my husband could thrive by studying his own passions at university.
We needed more.
I had to let go of an old dream, ya know?
A new dream was waiting.
And my old dream was tattered and falling apart at the hinges.
My old dream that we’d live in my hometown, the place I was born, and for everything to be happily ever after for everyone for evermore.
But I was different.
I wasn’t who I was growing up there.
I was fuller and bigger.
And the container there was too small for me.
So we left.
And sometimes (almost always)
you need to let go of old dreams that aren’t working
to discover and love a new one that does.
We moved north,
up into the jungle by the sea.
Lived (rented) in an amazing treehouse that was beyond my wildest dreams of what I deserved.
And not long after, fell madly in love with a beautiful home on an acreage.
Took a big deep breath and faced my fears and bought it.
And we’ve been making our home here ever since.
Me, my husband, our daughter.
And of course, our two fluffy (but sometimes naughty) puppies that frankly don’t get as much screen time on this blog here now we’ve got kids. But yes, they are still here, and we still adore them, and Charlie is still my dear furry mate, and Angel is still Chris’ besotted stalker.
And it’s been really sweet, guys.
Felt like we had to go through a whole lot of stuff and learn so much.
We had to face some really old family patterns.
And grow up.
And heal our shit.
And form a really strong marriage.
And create boundaries.
And really embrace that this is who we were, and this was our highest dream for creating the family and life that sung to us.
I’m a changed woman from all that shit.
Braver and more compassionate.
Stronger with more cracks.
Optimistic but with caveats.
And it’s been a real healing time too, ya know.
At long, long last, I worked out the secret for me to be a happy mum.
And it was all about taking care of myself and healing myself and giving myself time out and throwing out the books and just doing it my own way.
We found our groove here.
And it was gentle and it was glorious and it was all our own.
Chris’ parents came to live in our granny flat for a while.
And it was lovely to have another pair (or two) of hands for a while.
Made parenting our gorgeous spirited girl that much easier.
And with all this ease and joy and groove happening, I thought:
Maybe I could.
Maybe I could have another baby.
But only if I didn’t break myself next time around.
I had long talks with Chris.
Bless that beautiful man’s heart.
He always, always, always listened so compassionately when I cried about how broken I was from pregnancy, birth and baby. He would nod understandingly as I told him I didn’t know how anyone could ever have more than one.
Even though he wanted another child, he never, ever pushed it with me.
Even though he wanted another child.
I feel teary with love when I think about that. How much grace and compassion he gave to me.
He accepted wholeheartedly that it was my body, my wellbeing and my spirit that would be impacted most significantly by having another child.
And that I needed to make that decision for me.
I’m so deeply grateful to him for doing that.
It felt like his honouring of me choosing how many children I conceived this life healed so many ancestral stories from women in my family lines who didn’t or couldn’t choose.
Lineages upon lineages.
And so I chose not to.
And then I did choose.
One starry night, a beautiful baby came to see me in a dream.
Told me that I was her mama. That she belonged to me.
And that it would be different this time.
And I got this glimpse into the world where she was my baby,
and it was so filled with love and joy and calm and peace.
It was overwhelmingly beautiful.
And before the doors of my spirit could close, could snap shut with a hearty bang of
“OH GOD FUCK NO NOT THAT DISASTER AGAIN”
… I asked myself a question.
The question that changed everything.
What would I need to do this time in order for it to feel good?
I made a long list in my head of all the things that broke me last time.
And I made a plan of how to do parenting in a way that would sing to me.
And then, when I was ready, I told Chris I was ready for another baby.
He didn’t believe me of course. He laughed and rolled back over in bed.
But I was insistent.
And he was quietly delighted.
I became pregnant two bleeding moons after that.
I knew I was pregnant the day we had sex.
I knew I was ovulating.
I tested it within a couple of days.
Got a negative, cried with sadness. I was so sure I was pregnant.
Realised later that it was too early to test.
Took another test 10 days later.
Another negative. I threw the strip out. Cried. Had a nap.
In the nap, had a dream that I had gone back and checked the stick and it was positive. The dream told me I needed to wait ten minutes to see negative or positive.
Woke up, checked the stick. It was positive.
Checked the box.
Realised I am, in fact, a dickhead who should read instructions because it said to wait ten minutes to check.
Got another test.
This time, read instructions. Followed them.
Who woulda thunk it, hey?
(Thank god my dreams tell me what to do.)
Bang on five weeks, the nausea began.
Just like with Ostara.
This time, I was ready.
Started going to acupuncture, eating protein and dry crackers, taking morning sickness herbal remedies.
Felt like I was coping. Wasn’t enjoying it, of course.
But, I was getting there.
And then… it kept getting worse.
I began going to the doctor.
Started more medication.
Ramped up acupuncture to be daily.
I remember my acupuncture saying as I shuffled white faced to her door:
“This is like a monster. Chop off one head, and it grows another.”
My wrists became bruised from so many acupuncture needles.
Did healing sessions with Hiro.
Researched hyperemesis gravidarum cures.
Tried them all.
It was an endless, mindless horror.
Looking back on it, it is hard to imagine.
Really, how bad can nausea and vomiting be?
Get over it.
So thinks anyone who has never experienced that particular hell of HG.
I began regular trips to Emergency for hydration drips.
After a few rounds of that, I was admitted for longer stays.
Slept with a drip in the fold of my elbow.
It became bruised.
My veins became scarred.
So many drips.
So many needles.
Days when I’d crawl out and lie on the grass, vomiting like a dog for hours.
Water would make me nauseous.
I couldn’t drink more than a mouthful without vomiting.
Food made me nauseous.
The smell of food was the worst of all.
Chris was banned from cooking.
We were one scent of fried egg away from another hospital visit for nine months.
At 10 weeks, we had an early ultrasound.
Doctors were convinced I was having twins because of how extreme my HG was. (It’s much more common with twin pregnancies!)
I was terrified.
I only wanted one. I only wanted one. I couldn’t bare the thought of two. Especially not when the first time nearly broke me. Especially not when this pregnancy was doing its best to break me again. I thought the world was betraying me.
I was an anxious, teary mess.
The ultrasound dude was Scottish.
The grey and white screen flickered.
“Please, please can you tell me there is only one in there?”
“Oh yes darlin, only one in there.”
“Are you SURE?”
“100% positive. No twins. Just one baby.”
I was so relieved I burst into tears and cried great big heaving sobs.
“Oh you poor darlin. Oh you poor thing. It’s going to be okay.”
Chris held my leg, squeezed it.
Ostara fetched me tissues.
Here’s something I wrote when I was pregnant:
Can I just say, it really is a shitty, shitty illness. I don’t know if anyone can fully grasp just how debilitating and miserable it is. It’s not just being bedridden – it’s being so wholly consumed by nausea that you can’t move, can’t think, can’t read. Any movement or talking can set off vomiting, and every vomit brings you closer to another hospital admission for dehydration and malnutrition.
At my worst, I can’t even stand looking at another person’s face because it moves and it makes me nauseous. I’ve been able to make very few phone calls over the last four months, and I can count on my hands the amount of times I’ve been out in the world for things that aren’t hospital related or absolutely essential.
I nearly gnawed off a doctor’s head the other day when he referred to hyperemesis gravidarum as morning sickness. It is not. Morning sickness of course isn’t nice to have at all… but it’s like comparing a sore toe to a broken leg. Hyperemesis gravidarum is chronic, debilitating and can be life-threatening when not treated. What’s more, it can’t be cured. Some women are able to get relief (hallelujah!) from medication, others (like me) find that HG can beat medication, and a constant juggling of a cocktail of medication is needed in order to stay hydrated enough to not need a 24/7 drip. Some women can’t even get that and end up in hospital for nine months. It’s fucking brutal, man.
It means I haven’t been able to see friends, run errands, go to the grocery store, walk for any extended length of time… do anything except lay in bed, on my side, trying not to hurl. That’s been my existence.
I’ve hurled in the hardware store. I’ve hurled in the car. I’ve hurled beside the car on the side of the road many, many times. I’ve hurled in the parking lot. I’ve hurled in the toilets at the mall. I’ve hurled on myself on the couch. I’ve hurled in most rooms of our house. I’ve laid outside in the grass on my side because I couldn’t move an inch without hurling again.
On really special times, I’ve hurled so hard and so convulsively I’ve wet myself thoroughly. On one special day I shat myself from vomiting. I’ve hurled so much I’ve got haemorrhoids.
I honestly don’t know how many women get through it – I had so much support. Chris has pretty much been a solo parent and my carer and looked after me, Starry, the house and dogs. Chris’ parents looked after Starry in the afternoons for a couple of hours each day. We didn’t have financial worries (as I shared here – my business can keep running well when I’m not well).
Many women don’t have that kind of support. If you know of anyone with HG, please be kind to them in whatever way you can. If you can help them with childcare or getting groceries or doing washing or whatever – anything – please do it. Also: advice probably isn’t helpful. Those with HG will have tried anything to claw their way out of their illness. At some point, it’s just accepting that it’s a shithouse situation that could last until baby is born.
And bless, I’ve tried every hippy remedy and healing technique under the sun. This baby is unfixable. I’m forever grateful to my intuitive healer Hiro Boga saying to me months ago “Leonie, I’ve done all I can do. You need to be in hospital.” And I cried, and faced my fear that going to hospital was failing. And I went. And I got the support I needed so desperately.
My wonderful acupuncturist too has been super pragmatic – at the early stages, she was able to help control it. And once it was obvious it was getting worse, she helped me make plans to go to emergency.
I’ve let go of all my hippiest dreams of having a “natural” pregnancy (and birth) this time around. I’m much more pragmatic:
My body needs medical support in order to survive. End of story.
And I look forward to giving birth however it happens because honestly, nothing can suck as much as this pregnancy. And I’ll know when I give birth that I won’t have to experience HG, the illness that sucks giant donkey balls, ever again.
I freaked out a LOT about doing birth perfectly the first time around. A LOT.
This time, I could barely give a shit. I don’t care how it happens.
Why? Because Ostara’s birth means nothing compared to how much I love her. It’s one day out of the thousands that follow. It’s not the culmination of our relationship. It’s just the beginning.
A common secondary complication of HG is depression. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can get through months of extreme nausea, dehydration and the rest of it without feeling like they were walking through the darkest night of the soul. There were many many days of sheer misery when the only relief I got was Chris helping me to the shower so I could lay on the tiles underneath it.
I’ve cried many many many tears during this. I have absolutely no idea how I would be able to cope with continuing to be ill. I feel like I am missing out on so much – my daughter, my husband, my life. I can’t parent. I can’t speak. I can’t type. I can’t write. I can’t think. I can’t do anything. Just let this illness have its awful way with me until it is done.
Around week 14, after 9 weeks of emergency visits and being bedridden, I told Chris that I was considering termination. Up to 15% of HG sufferers end up having a therapeutic termination because they (physically & emotionally) can’t cope. HG is not something to mess around with – it can cause death when untreated, organ failure, dehydration, malnutrition, chronic depression and a whole host of other physical complications that come from not being able to eat or drink and having endless vomiting convulsions.
Chris was understandably really upset by the idea of termination. Of course. And he also understood that I was suffering deeply and needed more help. This baby was and is very wanted, but I felt unable to cope with the constant, unrelenting illness. I felt scared, traumatised and very, very alone in this body that was rebelling against me. I had no way out, no moments with myself.
Chris and I went to the doctor’s together that afternoon, and I let our doctor know that I was considering termination. My doctor was very kind – he got that I was really serious about not coping, about just how horrific HG was, and did everything he could to get me more support. He said words I will never forget, not because I didn’t know them already, but because I felt like someone cared as much as I did:
“Please, please, let us get what you need. This pregnancy, this new life is a very precious thing.”
He began making phone calls to experts around the state. That afternoon, he got me transferred to a major city hospital to get a consultation with the OB GYN registrar. She was very knowledgeable and understanding, and started me trialling new anti-nausea medication which helped a little.
Every step of the way, we hoped it would end. The timeline was two weeks out. We hoped it would end by 10 weeks. By 12 weeks. By 14 weeks. By 20 weeks.
But it continued.
Right up to the moment she was born.
As I shared in this post, I went to a doctor again when it became obvious it wouldn’t end. I wasn’t coping. I was miserable. Deeply depressed. I’d lost any feeling of light.
She took me through the depression test.
At the end she said:
Leonie, I can’t even tell if this is depression or just the natural byproduct of this awful condition you have.
I added higher strength anti depressants to the piles of tablets I took each day to keep me and my baby alive.
Trust me, dearests, I tried everything.
I tried hypnosis. It was useful as a self help discovery tool, as a therapy, but ultimately, it didn’t have an effect on the frequency of spewing. I did feel less freaked out about spewing while it was happening, less gut-wrenchingly miserable, so that’s a ginormous plus. But it, for me, was not a cure for HG.
It was hard sometimes when people came up with suggestions for healing HG.
I know how much people cared, how much they genuinely wanted me to be better.
And I also knew that reiki, ginger, homeopathics couldn’t do shit for this horrendous thing I was going through.
The only thing that could fix it?
Was birthing the placenta that was creating such a horrific allergic reaction in my body.
The only thing that could keep me alive until then?
Some fucking die-hard medications and western medicine intervention.
I am finding it really hard to write about this.
I don’t want to think about it.
Don’t want to remember it.
It was the most horrific time of my life.
I fought against HG for a long time.
Inside my head, there would be a tape playing:
“Why is this happening? WHY ME? I can’t believe it! I am so angry! WHY ME? I am so frustrated! I can’t believe this is happening to me! When will it end? God, why? Please! I hate this! I hate this so much! This is fucking awful! Make it stop make it stop make it stop!”
I was really angry. I questioned everything.
One day, I went to have a nap.
“Please, please, please God, please tell me what I need to know.”
And just one word came back:
“I don’t want to surrender you fucking asshole! This is fucking awful! This should not be happening to me! Make it fucking stop! You are breaking me!”
There was silence.
And I gave up the fight in that moment.
I’d been so angry and questioning for so long. I’d denied the illness. I tried arguing against it.
It was immovable.
So I surrendered.
My body softened.
I took deep breaths.
I softened some more.
It became the mantra.
Of course, I still struggled sometimes (and sometimes often).
But mostly, the tape inside me played:
“This is what is. You can’t wish for it to change until it does. This is what is meant to happen. If it wasn’t meant to be here, it wouldn’t be.”
It became a shrug.
When people saw me and expressed their sadness about how sick I was and how awful I looked, I would shrug:
“This is just how I am in pregnancy.”
Rolling back and forth. Grieving my life. Grieving missing my daughter and my husband so much. Grieving the ability to cook, clean, walk, play, write, draw, go out into the world.
I felt stricken with the grief. My daughter didn’t have a mother for nine months. My husband didn’t have a wife. I didn’t have a life.
Later in the pregnancy, about 3-4 in the afternoon, the crippling nausea would lift for about an hour. Not fully. Just enough to stand. To look at people’s faces. I’d try and play with my daughter, talk to my husband, and do what work I could in that hour. A tiny reprieve. And then I’d be sent back to the dungeon, my bed.
(I was fucking sick of my bed. Surrender and acceptance and all that shit, but goddamn I wanted to get away.)
Another important lesson unravelled itself:
I spent many, many long hours in bed. Most of nine months.
Many hours spent on my ipod trying to keep my mind off the nausea and body stuff.
I started reading bunches of gossip sites, of reddit. I felt like I was getting an education in how non-hippy people lived.
And dude, it fucking bummed me out. I got so fucking depressed about everything.
I talked to Chris about it.
Have I mentioned what a babe he is?
And how sage and wise?
Baby, now is the time to feed your mind with positive stuff. Now, more than ever.
He was right of course. He always is.
If ever I needed some positive thinking, it was now.
I think I gave up on it for a while there because it wouldn’t stop HG.
All the kind-hearted people who so wanted me to be better who told me to affirm my way out of HG.
And I couldn’t. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t hide, I couldn’t positive the illness away.
But I realised I needed it to actually survive.
So I deleted all the crap from my ipod.
Replaced it with dozens of affirmations and oracle apps.
And everyday, spent my hours there instead.
If it was going to be mindless ipod shit, it had to be stuff that actually lifted my spirit.
It made a difference.
A big lesson:
If you want to feel like shit, read shit.
If you want to feel uplifted, read uplifting things.
At 20 weeks, we had our ultrasound.
We knew we wanted to find out the sex again.
We adored doing it when we had Ostara.
Plus, I really needed something to hang onto.
Needed to hold on to that idea of bringing a soul into the world.
I absoloodely thought I was having a boy.
But I thought exactly the same thing with Ostara.
I might be a bit intuitive and stuff, but I have zero percent accuracy at knowing my own baby’s gender.
We turned up to the ultrasound. We took Ostara with us.
Our little buddy. Our little dearest.
As we walked in I told her we were going to find out whether she would have a little brother or a little sister.
“NOPE!” she said cheerfully. “I having a baby SISTER!”
The flashing grey and white screen.
I see the three dots again, instantly.
I know what three dots mean.
My heart jumps with joy and love.
“Girls! I am having two girls!”
I thought I would be disappointed.
I thought my heart would long for that boy I pictured.
Instead I felt soaring joy.
Two fairies. Two mermaids. Two sisters.
I asked Chris if he was disappointed.
He looked at me like I was a wanker.
“How could I possibly be? I get to have another baby. I love having a daughter!”
Apart from being all fucked on HG, that other weird hyper condition I have started rearing up: hypermobility.
(For those of you who don’t know, hypermobility = double jointed = overly flexible. Which can be fun in yoga class, but it creates massive issues when pregnant and breastfeeding. Dislocated joints = major bummer.)
My hips began displacing.
I found it hard to walk.
My midwife recommended going to see a man with medicine hands, Charley, a Bowen Therapist.
I’d never had Bowen Therapy before.
And by that stage, I was so jaded I was all:
“Yeah, fucken hippy therapies don’t do SHIT!”
(Because, you know, nothing was keeping this lady from hurling her breakfast up!)
But I went anyway.
Because dislocated joints suck balls.
And waddya know?
He really DID have medicine hands.
I ended up going to see him once a week.
I would go during his pregnancy clinic. There’d be a bunch of us sitting in his waiting room. When I started, I was the smallest belly in the room.
And week by week, the biggest bellies would fall off the cliff into no return, and we’d hear news of their new arrival.
Chris and Ostara would wait there too, in that great nest of clucking hens.
Eventually, I was the biggest belly there.
Throughout it all, I thought I knew her name.
I thought her name was:
Sia Hope Dawson.
We all called her Sia while she was in my belly.
We all thought it was it.
Then one night a month or two before she was born,
I was wrapped around, holding Ostara as she went to sleep when I heard a very clear knock on my spirit’s door.
“My name’s not Sia,”
she said simply from inside me.
The next morning, Chris said:
“Hon, I need to talk to you about something. It’s important. Please don’t be upset.”
“Her name isn’t Sia.”
“I know. She told me too.”
Two days later, Starry said:
“Baby’s name isn’t Sia! I don’t call her that anymore!”
“Okay darling, I know.”
Message was received, loud and clear.
(Please tell me if you have a baby named Sia Hope! I want to know!)
What was her name to be?
We were instructed by our spirit guides for Chris to find her name. That she was earthy like him. Ostara was named by me, and has the same kind of astral energy I have.
Chris got to name #2.
So I tried not to annoy him about it. Stop trying to brainstorm it.
I had way too much time in bed thinking about things, really.
Eventually he said:
What about Beth?
Softness and kindness. Ease and evening.
There were many great soul lessons in my pregnancy and hyperemesis gravidarum.
That of surrender. That of filling my mind with positive hippy stuff (even if it wasn’t going to fix my body).
My relationship with Chris became threefold stronger because of it.
We became more deeply into a soulmate relationship.
He showed me in that pregnancy just how deep his love for me was, and how much he could hold the space for me.
He really stepped up to the plate. He was brave and big hearted and he held the space for me to break apart a million times. He carried the faith for both of us because I couldn’t anymore.
Here’s what I wrote during it:
I can’t even talk about how wonderful Chris has been the last six months without tearing up. Six months of him pretty much solo parenting, looking after me, Starry, our puppies and house. All the shopping, cleaning, washing. All the days he just pats my head as I moan and cry, saying “I know sweetie, you are doing good.” He has held the faith for us while I’ve been unable to. I can’t even say how much his support has held my boat from capsizing. I love him more every day.
I can’t imagine our relationship not having gone through HG. It’s funny, isn’t it?
It’s just different now. Even more solid, compassionate, loving.
Sometimes a tornado takes you away from each other.
Sometimes it brings you together.
Ostara holding me in the car after another hospital trip.
In the moments when I was well enough to sit up and talk, I tried to make up for lost time with Ostara.
She from all accounts was keeping it together during that long illness. She was so beautifully behaved, not overly emotional, so gentle with me.
I’d keep reminding her:
You don’t need to take care of me.
Your job is to be a kid. Your job is to have fun and play.
Daddy will take care of me and of you.
I’m going to be okay.
When I was well enough, I’d hold her in my arms as I said it.
She sensed that I had enough bandwidth for her to be vulnerable, and she’d dissolve into tears.
Tears upon tears upon tears.
I’d listen, and hold her, and ask her about her feelings:
Mummy, I’m so sad that you are sick.
I don’t want you to be sick anymore.
I’m scared. I miss you.
I know my darling. I know. I know.
And I’d hold her and kiss her sweaty little head.
And we’d sit together while all her feelings tangled their way out into the light, and she would be released and relieved.
And that’s how my pregnancy progressed.
Hyperemesis gravidarum. Hypermobility.
Both reeking havoc on my body, my spirit, my life.
Still vomiting at 40 weeks pregnant. Still feeling pretty damn depleted.
Not as horrifically ill as I was before. But not great. Not good by any means.
Still had the vast, vast, vaaaaast majority of my time spent laying in bed.
I started going to see my acupuncturist to start priming the body for birth, along with the Bowen Therapist Charley.
I looked like this:
But mostly I looked like this:
It’s three weeks since I gave birth as I sit down to write this. (It’s been five months now since I come back to finish it.)
Already, the story is falling away. Already, I can’t remember.
Shit, I should have written this down before.
But I didn’t. And I couldn’t.
So here I am, piecing together the story again from figments of memories.
This is how humans keep procreating, keep going, keep hoping:
they forget the sheer agony of the hardest parts.
So here is an important part to the story:
I asked people for their bets on due dates, and I wrote them down.
Mostly though, I listened to what Chris said.
He’s got a track record.
Last time he managed to get the day spot on.
He booked it in his calendar.
7 am, March 24, 2010.
And sure enough, it ended up being that I was booked in for induction at
7 am, March 24, 2010.
She was born 12 hours later.
I wondered if he could go two-for-two.
He’s a pretty damn intuitive man.
I figured he’d be right.
6 March, he said.
Great, I thought. Why couldn’t he let me end the vomit misery end by forecasting for an early delivery?
But the man could not be swayed. He never is.
So there it was.
As we got closer to her arrival, I started shitting myself.
I didn’t want to be traumatised by her birth.
I was feeling as weak as a kitten after nine months of awful illness and bedrest.
My back and hips were pretty rooted from displacing so often.
Oh… and did I forget to mention our baby girl was breech. And I was doing everything I could to turn her.
More acupuncture. More hypnosis. More of everything.
I was fucking over trying so hard. Fucking over feeling so bad and so unwell and nothing working.
I just didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to do natural birth. I didn’t want to suffer again. I didn’t want to have to actually work. I didn’t want to feel on tenterhooks about whether she would turn head down or not.
I’d done enough. My body had been through enough.
So I talked to Chris.
I felt so much deep, deep shame about the possibility of wanting a caesarean. So much deep shame about wanting to use pain relief medication this time around.
I had the inherent belief that I was a bad person if I took either of those options.
(By the way, I don’t give two hoots about what you choose for your birth. I just have ridiculously high, over-the-top, must-be-a-superhero expectations on myself. That’s a big ole soul lesson I’ve had to learn this time around. Expectations that suck giant wang trying to meet. Expectations that leave no room for my own humanity. Expectations that need a swift kick to the balls, frankly.)
My midwife said something which struck a bell in me.
She said during one of her own births, she was quiet.
And her doctor said afterwards “Gosh, you were just marvellous in that birth. You really did it well.”
And she said:
“Didn’t you hear me? I was screaming on the inside.”
And inside me there was a clunk, and a turn.
That’s what it felt like last time. I felt so very alone in my pain. And that I didn’t have any choices, because to even consider pain medication or a caesarean would make me a bad person. Because, you know, I should do everything perfectly!
Last time, I wanted a full blown hippy natural ecstatic birth.
I didn’t feel like my midwives even understood much about natural birth.
This time around, I had an experienced, natural birthin’, hippy-loving midwife.
And I’d decided I wanted a caesarean.
The beautiful irony of it all.
I talked to her. I was SO fucking worried about doing it. I thought she’d argue with me about it.
But she knew. She knew I was tired. I was tired of the HG fight. Tired of my weird body complications. That I didn’t feel I had the energy in me to go through labour.
And she accepted it completely. She understood.
Having a breech baby made it even easier.
It was a great relief.
She booked me in for a caesarean. She talked us through exactly how it would go.
She checked me again.
Beth had turned and was no longer breech.
I didn’t have an “excuse” anymore to do a caesarean.
What would I do?
I sat with my choice to have a caesarean.
Having given myself a choice, I was now free to choose what was right for me.
I read into what caesareans meant for my healing process.
Obviously, I wanted to be healthy and well again ASAP.
I knew having a caesarean meant two things which ultimately helped me decide:
1.) I would need to be in hospital for a few nights. I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from Ostara that long. She had been through enough with my illness.
2.) I remember very clearly the rush of endorphins as soon as you give birth. It’s a joyous burst of hormones that made everything pain-free after that. I wanted that hormone high again to get me through the newborn days.
It was the glow factor that made me decide, honestly.
I decided that my own best decision for me was to have a vago birth.
It’s funny, isn’t it?
I just needed to feel like I had the power to choose.
I needed to feel like I could do anything I wanted.
I told my midwife my plans.
I told her that I was down with all the medication-free philosophy, after all, I’d done it the first time, but for fuck’s sake, you better give me some drugs to get me through it.
She agreed. Made a special note on my file:
Give Leonie all the drugs she wants.
I just needed to feel empowered to make my own decisions.
Not subscribing to any ideology but my own body and soul.
I think my midwife knew.
From 37 weeks on, I felt vague and disorientated, achy and sore.
I called my midwife weeks before I was due, sure I was having some strange contractions.
Nope, turned out I had a hypersensitive uterus.
Which made me laugh at the irony.
Why oh WHY do I have everything that’s hyper? Hyperemesis gravidarum, hypermobility, hypersensitive uterus.
It’s like my body wants to do TOO MUCH. It’s default setting is to go above and beyond.
I am sure there is a deep soul lesson in there. In fact, I know there is.
At 40 weeks plus one day (aka the day Chris had written down as Beth’s birthing day), I spewed as I did everyday, and then I went to the Bowen Therapist.
I was the biggest belly in the waiting room.
It was time for me to fall off the cliff.
He did his magical woo-woo thing with his hands.
“That will put you into labour”, he said.
At 2pm I sent a message to my sisterhood of close friends.
I’d asked them weeks beforehand if they could hold the space for me when I was in labour zone.
I let them know that all was quiet in my uterus-land.
At 5:00pm, I started feeling cramping.
Is this it? I wondered.
Downloaded a contraction timer app.
Five minutes apart. Regular.
I laid in bed with a heat pack.
I was cheerful:
Is this what induction-free birth is like? LOL SO EASY! These contractions are nothing compared to induction ones!
Chris didn’t really believe me.
It’s really happening? Really? Ya sure?
This isn’t like last time!
Your waters haven’t broke!
Waters don’t break at the beginning of labour usually, hon. Only for 5% of pregnancies. That was just how it happened for me last time.
At 6:00pm, I sent a message to my girls:
“Don’t know, but I’m pretty sure I’m in labour.”
Called our midwife.
“You sound too happy to be in labour, Leonie.”
“Nah, look, it’s happening.”
“Nah, call me back when you’re cranky.”
All around me, peeps weren’t thinking it was getting exciting.
But I knew I was going to have a quick labour.
I waited for Ostara to go to sleep.
Kissed her goodnight.
I had already decided weeks ago that I would give birth after she went to sleep and before she woke up, so that she didn’t miss me.
Stared at myself in the mirror.
Contractions were getting more intense.
I wasn’t so happy anymore.
Contractions were getting harder and faster.
I called our midwife back half an hour later.
“Oh, you sound cranky now. See you at the hospital.”
I heated up heatpacks to get me through the 30 minute drive to the hospital.
Got the last of my things together.
Called my acupuncturist/doula.
“Hey Leonie, what’s happening?”
“Did you get my text messages?”
“No, sorry love! Have been on the computer!”
“I’m going to hospital right now.”
“Right. I’ll go through my clothes in the car. I will see you there.”
I guess this is a good time to explain the setup:
We had a doula last time.
It was wonderful.
This time around, I knew I wanted a bit of something else.
When Kellie my much loved acupuncturist mentioned that she did doula-ing and brought her needles with her, I was all over it.
She had been with me on the journey of my body since the beginning. She was intuitive, kind, compassionate. She got me. She was perfect.
We’d thought about birthing situations.
Again, I decided homebirth wasn’t the right choice for us this time around.
I needed quiet space to birth.
Being at home with my 4 year old, barking dogs and parents-in-law wasn’t the right space.
We thought about going down the mountain to the city hospital.
In the end, we decided to go to the country one because it was a closer drive, and because I’d already been admitted there so many times with my illness.
To my surprise, I discovered I’d entered into one of the best-known natural birthing midwife-run centres in the state. I got one of the most highly experienced hippy-leaning midwives of all.
They had large birth pools and were pro water birth.
They were used to seeing Kellie do acupuncture doing births, and were really happy to have her there.
They had a midwife training to do Bowen therapy during birth to assist.
It was a perfect fit.
So that’s what we ended up driving to that night, exactly nine months pregnant.
Somewhere behind us on the highway was my midwife and the acupuncturist, all of us making the 30 minute drive to the hospital.
As soon as we got into the car and bumped down the highway, my contractions sped up.
2 minutes apart.
90 seconds apart.
1 minute apart.
At this stage, I started my chant, my mantra that I kept up for the rest of labour:
SHITFUCK! SHITFUCK! SHITFUCK!
By this stage, contractions were riding on each other.
WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON? AM I GOING TO GIVE BIRTH IN THE FUCKING CAR?
I tried calling the hospital. Tried calling the midwife. Tried calling 000.
Both our phones had no reception.
We were in the long black hole.
I started panicking and crying.
Chris was mostly silent, driving as safely and quickly as he could.
You’re going to be okay. We will make it honey.
I consoled myself with the thought:
Even if you do give birth in this car… Gabe and Kellie are right behind you.
We hit the outskirts of town. We got reception. I called the hospital, told them what was happening.
As we sped up to the dark building, security guards and a midwife were waiting to bring me in.
They offer me a wheelchair.
I hobbled in.
Swearing. Breathing. Walking.
Having contractions against the wall.
I tried to swear quietly.
Sick people were sleeping.
Why oh why do they fucking put the fucking midwife ward right at the back of the fucking hospital?
Contractions keep coming a minute apart.
They let me in.
I lay in the waiting room.
My midwife walks in.
I’m between contractions.
“HULLO!” I say cheerfully! “I’m here!”
A contraction washes over me.
“That’s what we like to hear! Baby is coming then hey!”
“My contractions are only a minute apart.”
“You still have a while yet.”
“Can we please get in the fucking birth room?”
It is 9pm by this time.
I have a few more contractions beside the bed.
I hear Kellie walk in.
When my contraction is finished, I look down at her feet.
She is wearing socks under her sandals.
“I see you’re wearing your tropical winter shoes Kell!”
She begins laughing.
We talk some more before the next contraction washes in.
A few more contractions in, and shit is starting to get real.
As in: real painful.
I jump in the bath.
The relief is immense, immediate and palpable.
All the pressure on my hips releases.
“Oh thank god. THIS IS HEAVEN!”
More time goes on.
It keeps getting more intense, more painful.
I can’t get comfortable.
I’m being split apart.
“You are, you know Leonie” my midwife says helpfully. “It’s one body becoming two. It’s hard work.”
“This is fucked.”
“SHITFUCK. SHITFUCK. FUCKING SHITTTTTTT!”
In my first labour, I didn’t speak a word.
Silent as a buddha.
In my second labour, I swore like a fucking trooper.
I wasn’t out to win an award for Most Peaceful Birther anymore.
I was pissed off that I had to do this stupid fucking birth thing AGAIN.
“Kellie, I don’t want to do this anymore. This is fucked. I fucking hate this.”
“I know babe.”
“I hate it all.”
“I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“Why don’t you next breath, just say yes to it? Just try that? Say yes to the contraction instead of no?”
I do. I feel it opens me a bit more.
It takes more courage. More stamina.
I don’t know if I have it in me.
“I must go on
I can’t go on
I’ll go on.
– Samuel Beckett
Chris is there during all of this.
As he always is.
By my side.
He’s an extra part of me now.
Anytime I begin to scream or be high pitched, my midwife Gabe pulls me up.
“Be as loud as you want, but just make it low pitched. Screaming closes you up. Moaning opens you up.”
A nausea wave rushes over me.
Oh no, not this. For fuck’s sake. For FUCK’S SAKE. Please just let me birth without you, motherfucking hyperemesis!
I yell for the spew bag.
Chris holds it to the side of the bath.
I lean out and hurl, and hurl, and hurl.
I am getting tired. My body has lost all energy with that hurl. I can’t keep this up if I’m going to be vomiting too.
“It better be finished fucking soon. I’m fucking over it.”
The midwife thinks it will be some time yet.
I think it’s close. I know I’m over it.
I need to go to the toilet.
I go, and I think I’m going to give birth right there.
Gabe and Kellie help me back into the room. I drop on the floor.
I tell Gabe to check how far along I am.
“If I’m not nearly there, I want some fucking medication. I’m over it. I’m done. I want out.”
She checks me. She is surprised.
“Leonie, you’re at transition. Baby isn’t far away.”
The next contraction is searingly awful.
“I want some fucking medication! Now!”
“Yes, I’ll get it for you now.”
She holds it to my face, and at the last moment I turn away.
I am red hot and burning and being utterly shaken apart by the contraction.
I can’t concentrate enough in that second to have it.
My water breaks in that instant.
The midwife disappears from my shoulder.
The next moment, she swims back up.
“Leonie, there is meconium in your waters. It is old. Baby is distressed. We need to get her out now. I’m sorry, I can’t give you medication. I need you right here, right now. I need you to be here and I need you to push your baby out.”
A mirror shatters inside me. Beth needs me. Beth needs me to be here.
I will do anything to have my baby here. Anything.
I will do what it takes to bring her into the world.
This last effort for me.
I will do anything for her to be okay.
All I see, all I want is Beth.
I turn my head. I vomit again.
I push up onto all fours.
And I begin to push.
Just like last time, I feel my baby moving down my birth canal.
I can’t move my hips wide enough. I feel like a horse pushing out a foal.
It is harder than last time. I can feel she is bigger than Ostara.
Don’t care. Don’t care. Let’s get Beth here.
I moan and yell and buck and push.
Everything is fire red and pain and body.
Nowhere else but here. Nowhere else but here.
I am fury and anger and a mother’s love.
I am a bear. I am a wolf. I am this whole contraction.
I am nothing but a body, a writhing contorting mother’s body.
I am being split apart.
I am one body becoming two.
I am blood and fur and bone.
I am mindless and snorting. Pain, push, red, fire. Buck, pant, push, groan.
The world bursts open in song.
I feel her slip from me.
I see her slip into my midwife’s hands, then slip out of them.
She is on the padded floor between my legs.
My baby. My baby. My Beth.
She is crying.
I curl down and pick her up.
She is still attached to me, her cord still linking our bodies.
After the mammoth journey of bringing her into the world, through pregnancy and birth, it feels right that I am the one who catches my own baby. I’m the only one who could have done it.
Chris helps me to roll onto my back.
I lean back and hold her to my chest.
That sweetness. That face. That everything.
She is here.
At last, she is here.
She is worth it all.
“What time is it?”
“10 minutes past midnight.”
I look at Chris.
“I’m so sorry hon! If I’d given birth ten minutes earlier, you would have been right! You would have guessed BOTH girl’s birthing days!”
The midwife and Kellie laugh.
He laughed and shook his head.
“I can’t believe you’re even thinking about that now. It’s okay honey. It’s totally, completely fine.”
And it was.
And that is the story of how Beth was brought into the world.
With a lot of vomit. A lot of tears. A lot of love, faith, courage, endurance.
I was given so much kindness to make it through.
The biggest job of my life was done.
And I was given the biggest gift of all.
A healthy, sweet baby girl.
One who entered the world, and stunned us with her softness, quiet soul and loving light.
She is everything we needed and more.
The perfect completion of our family.
Can I tell you it was worth it?
All the tragedy. The pain. The illness.
Every single goddamn vomit.
Every shitfucking contraction.
Because every one of them brought me Beth.
Beth, beloved Beth.
I find myself looking at her.
Tears well in my eyes.
How close I was to never having number two.
How close I was to terminating the pregnancy.
How hard it was to navigate so much difficulty with hyperemesis gravidarum and hypermobility.
I whisper, watching Beth.
Thank you for choosing me. Thank you for telling me I was your mama, Beth. Thank you for making it.
Thank you to my husband, daughter, midwife, acupuncturist, intuitive healer, doctors, emergency room nurses and my tribe of kindreds – you all, my friends and the playgroup mums.
I did it alone.
But I had a whole team to get me through it.
So much kindness and compassion got me through.
I can’t imagine a life without her.
A million times yes.
Over and over.
I would do it again just for the wild, magnificent gift of loving her.
Her sweetness, presence, grace, ease.
She has healed my heart over and over.
Ruptured me with joy.
Made my life a sweet sailing ocean.
We did it.
I will open the comments circle here for once. Can’t imagine not having it open after telling one of the biggest stories of my life.
I will share more soon too, if you like, on what it’s been like adjusting to being a parent of two.
Thank you, as always, for sharing this journey with me.
Bringing Beth into the world took more out of me than I ever thought I could give.
And along the way you were there, sharing so much support, love and compassion.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
She is such a gift.
Always love and blessings,
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