I was euphoric. I had a baby! I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, tell the whole world, invite them all in to have a peak, “Look, I have a baby, a little boy, my dream came true”. I couldn’t have been happier; I was flying high, that little bundle of joy swaddled in his cot beside my bed was all mine. He’d arrived.
I was joyous too because I’d survived theatre and E had gotten to see his son being born. However, it was not how I had imagined birth. And this was certainly not how I imagined my introduction to motherhood. There was no champagne or lazy hours spent in our bed at home admiring our new baby all on our own. There were no candles burning or soft music playing. There was none of the stuff I had hoped for when I had intended a home birth.
Instead here I was in hospital, wearing a blood spattered hospital gown with a catheter attached to my bladder and a drip attached to my arm. My body was full of drugs from the surgery including the obligatory antibiotics, which were killing all the good bacteria in my gut. And I was itchy, very itchy, as my body started to awaken from the anaesthetic. All I wanted to do was scratch.
I was also laying on what can only be described as a huge sanitary towel with a smaller sanitary towel soaking up the blood trickling from my vagina. No one had told me that I would be bleeding from my vagina following the birth. Just like no one had told me that I would need a catheter and a drip and be unable to move from my bed. I didn’t know any of this.
One thing I did know however was that there would be pressure to establish breastfeeding and as desperately as I wanted to breastfeed, I had resolved not to buy into the anxiety that accompanies this. I distinctly remember a variety of midwives trying to help Elijah latch on to me using all different sorts of techniques - I was completely thrown by the rugby style approach and am in awe of women who adopt this.
In the end it was my marvellous male midwife who helped Elijah latch on, which I found nothing short of incredible really. My baby was feeding from me! It was a strange sensation initially though and it soon became clear to me the reason women suffer with sore nipples because my nipples weren’t used to it. Still at least I was able to relax a little and with that my breast feeding journey began in earnest (more on that soon).
That first night I couldn’t sleep because I was high on life and cups of tea, and because the hospital environment is not really conducive to resting with all the midwife checks and the babies crying. I was slightly on edge too because I wasn’t quite sure what I would do if Elijah cried because I was so ill prepared for the reality of life with a new born.
It’s ridiculous really, I had read a lot of books about pregnancy and about birth but not one single book about babies. We had opted not to attend the NCT courses either so we were both clueless. All of a sudden, with this tiny person beside me my, “We’ll just wing the baby bit” attitude seemed ever so slightly naïve. What was I thinking?!
Breastfeeding wasn’t my only concern. Nor was knowing what to do when Elijah cried. It was more so the fact that I had such limited range of movement in my bed that I wasn’t going to be able to do very much regardless of the nature of his needs. And indeed I couldn’t do much, so that when he did cry because his nappy needed changing, the midwife had to tend to him, which I found desperately upsetting. I couldn’t care for my own baby!
The next day the reality of recovery became glaringly obvious to me. It hurt to move. No one tells you this do they. Just like no one told me that I was going to bleed for six weeks. Or that my breasts and indeed nipples would get really sore. Or that I would have to wear those hideous compression stockings for a good ten days at home. Or that I would struggle to walk upstairs without feeling like I may collapse due to the blood loss I’d experienced during the birth and the lack of iron in my body.
I was keen to have the catheter removed first thing that next morning and, with the help of pain killers, I winced my way to the toilet as I was determined to get on with life as normal. Taking a shower later that morning felt amazing, albeit exhausting, and I remember staring aghast in the mirror at my post-pregnancy body, not recognising it.
Admittedly my bump was deflating quickly, but it was still very evident and felt strange knowing that the baby was no longer in there. I was very pale too and had a scabby nose from all the scratching post-theatre, and now I had this new scar below my bikini line, which was sore and soon bruised, and I felt all saggy. I stood under the water, holding onto the wall, head down and just let the water wash over me, cleansing me.
I had been told to invest in some high-waist leggings and big pants to wear post-surgery and I was grateful to my friend for the tip. Both of these made a huge difference in ensuring minimal pressure on my wound. The leggings also helped to hide those horrible stockings, although I sneaked these off whenever I could as I was mobile and practicing yoga (of sorts) within a few days.
I also quickly realised that breastfeeding demanded a certain style of dressing, especially in winter time, a vest that could be pulled down from the top and a top that could be rolled up from below to reveal the nipple, or a button-down top. It’s knowing stuff like this that certainly makes a difference in navigating through this confusing time. It did mean a huge percentage of my wardrobe, including all my dresses, would remain unused for some time.
I was constipated for three whole days following the birth, which just added to my general level of discomfort. I loathe being constipated and was frustrated that the balance of microbes in my gut had been adversely affected by the antibiotics and I usually resist them for this very reason. I took probiotics and ate yoghurt to increase the levels of good bacteria and consumed seeds, fruit and brown rice, as well as drinking a whole heap of water in a quest to empty my bowels.
However, there was a psychological aspect to this too; the scar was so painful that subconsciously I was very fearful of creating yet more pain through the pushing action to defecate. The mere hint of a sneeze had me panicking because sneezing hurt. A lot. As did coughing and any sudden movement. It sucked. I was given medication to soften the stools, but stopped these along with all medication as soon as I got home from the hospital as I just wanted to give my liver a break and heal my body holistically.
I took some milk thistle to support my liver, and also to increase my milk supply. I took arnica remedy to help with my internal healing and I used a combination of arnica cream, tea tree oil and lavender oil on my scar to heal this too. I found that rubbing arnica onto my skin where the bump had been helped with this contracting, and I channelled Reiki onto myself at any given opportunity.
It was a relief when my digestive system started working properly again. There’s such a connection between the gut and the mind that when you’ve a whole heap of toxins stuck inside you it starts to change the way you feel, and I didn’t need anything else throwing me off balance as I was having a hard enough time as it was. I’d completely lost my grounding, like the rug had been pulled from under my feet.
Admittedly those first few days in the hospital and then back at home I was still euphoric. My dream had come true and I was blown away with the love I felt for this little being who was a part of E and I. It was nothing short of a miracle and I was incredibly grateful. I was also inundated with deliveries of flowers, cards and presents, and received lots of emails and messages of congratulations.
It was mind blowing, like entering a whole new world – people seemed genuinely happy for us that we’d had a baby, and I found all the attention both uplifting and incredibly overwhelming. I’ll never forget the delivery of a huge cuddly teddy bear from my work. It was so huge that it took up half of the dining room table and both Mum and I were in hysterics about it. I love that teddy as it represents all the love that was directed to us at the time and the craziness of it all.
It took five days before I crashed. My Mum had expected it earlier and was concerned I was going a little too hyper. I’d been warned that the tears may arrive with the milk on day three and there was a part of me that naively thought maybe I’d gotten away with it. But alas not. I couldn’t stop crying and I felt incredibly sensitive, insecure and low. It threw me, what did I have to feel low about? I had a baby, I should have been continuously happy for ever more.
However, it’s all part of the process as the hormones do their thing and the exhaustion begins to kick in. It did make me think though that we often believe certain events or changes to our life will bring us continuous happiness, but there’s often always a challenge. This challenge was hormonal and the fact my world was well and truly turned upside down and I didn’t have a clue how to find my grounding again.
It didn’t help that I’d lost so much blood during the birth that I was on the borderline for a blood transfusion, which I refused. I just didn’t like the idea of taking on someone else’s blood and energy. I questioned my decision in the week’s that followed. I shall never forget leaving the hospital and walking to the carpark and being so out of breath and feeling so weak that I had to support myself on the car to steady myself. I shall also never forget arriving home and struggling up the stairs and having to sit down at the top to recover.
Due to the fact I’d lost so much blood I wasn’t allowed to be left on my own in case I collapsed or fainted. This in itself was a challenge as I love being on my own, its what I do best, pottering until my heart’s content and enjoying solitude and silence. So it was tough always having to have someone in the house with me, and of course not being able to drive so that I felt my wings were truly clipped - I struggled with this as much as I struggled every other aspect of the post natal period.
I know I’m not alone. A huge shift occurs when women become mothers for that first time, which can often lead to a period of shock. Not only do they tend to lose blood and with that iron and their magnetic and indeed energetic connection to the Earth itself, but their whole identity and sense of self changes. Life is no longer all about them - as it tends to be during pregnancy, at least the first pregnancy - and now there’s this other little being demanding their attention, and their own needs become secondary to that.
There’s this fabulous quote from Uma Dinsmore-Tuli in her book, “Yoni Shakti” that sums it up perfectly, “For a postnatal woman, the experience of transformation is direct, bloody and embodied. Whatever kind of birth a woman experiences, the transition from being pregnant to being a mother is an immense and rapid transformation at every dimension of being from the visceral to the spiritual. At a physical level the body changes overnight from a living embodiment of ripe fullness into an empty and often damaged and exhausted shell.
Even after the most positive birth experience, the postnatal body can be left bleeding, leaking and broken. The shift in hormone levels is like falling off a cliff, or going cold turkey from class-A drugs. From the astonishing experience of peak levels of pregnancy and birth hormones (the feel-good progesterone, oestrogen and endorphins that facilitate the super-human endeavours of late pregnancy and labour, and the massive adrenalin kick that actually births the baby), a postnatal woman encounters a dramatic hormonal drop accompanied by a chaotic vortex of shifting patterns of endocrine activity”.
Fortunately, I was fully supported during this challenging time and my Mum virtually moved in to make sure I wasn’t on my own during the day. This meant that E could continue his life as usual, and while I was initially aggrieved that he didn’t take any time off when I initially came home from hospital, I came to realise that this was his way of coping with the significant shift in our lives.
This did present issues for us later however as he lacked an understanding of what having a baby at home entailed. By the time he returned home from work all the chores were done, the washing was up to date and dinner was in the oven. This was all my Mum’s doing may I add, she did everything for me, well for us really those first few weeks, because I really didn’t have the energy.
I was so pleased to have the extra help. I sweated so badly at night those first few weeks that the sheets would get wet, which I believe was my body’s way of trying to release the after effects of the drugs from my system, that and the shock on my body of night time waking, so these needed to be washed daily. Plus, there was all the extra baby washing - I couldn’t believe that a baby could create so much washing.
I also hadn’t realised that breastfeeding was a full time occupation and while the opportunity to sit down was appreciated from an energetic perspective, I wasn’t used to it and I often felt that I should be doing something instead. I watched a lot of television during this time, which was also strange to me and while it was a novelty initially, I soon tired of it. I also used the opportunity to respond to work emails because I couldn’t switch off from this and still felt the pressure to work.
I was desperate to get back on my yoga mat and while I certainly wasn’t able to do this in hospital (what was I thinking?!), I made sure to get on it as soon as I could once I was back at home. Initially I just lay on it and breathed, before incorporating some gentle movement in an effort to relieve the congestion in my digestive system and try and energise my system again.
It wasn’t long though before I was desperate to actively move my body and practice as I had done previously in a yang and active manner. It didn’t matter to me that I’d just had major abdominal surgery or that I was exhausted from this and from the sleep deprivation, I just wanted some anchoring in my life again and this way of practicing came naturally to me. In my naivety I felt it would benefit me physically and mentally, bring me back to Earth a little.
In hindsight it was silly of me, yet it was also an essential part of my yoga journey and learnings. I eventually came to realise that if anything this approach to practice, especially in the post-natal period, was without doubt creating further energetic imbalance within me and stressing my body and mind, yet I couldn’t see it at the time. I was desperately clinging on to anything which felt normal, even if it wasn’t actually enhancing my wellbeing.
It’s a lesson we learn. The one about letting go and surrendering. But here I was with babe in arms and still I wasn’t dancing with the Goddess of the Moon and allowing her energy to flow through me. I was still taking a masculine approach to yoga and to life, despite absolutely needing the softness and compassion of the feminine at that time and it would take me a few more years to realise this.
I just found those early weeks so incredibly challenging. I was so ‘gung ho’ about the transition to motherhood and what this would entail. My life for 38 years had been about me, doing what I wanted when I wanted and now it felt like that freedom had been taken away. I loved Elijah of course but I remember at his six week check saying to the doctor that I wasn’t sure how anyone could want more than one, as one was such hard work.
I was very well aware that we still had one blastocyst and three frozen embryos stored at Wessex and I felt this urgency to do something with them. The doctor told me to let that go and just concentrate on Elijah, and she was right. The last few years the focus had primarily been about having a baby and now I had the baby I felt a little directionless and a little thrown off balance because the reality of having a baby was very different to what I had imagined.
So, a little like with my yoga practice, I compounded my exhaustion by doing the things I used to do previously to maintain some sanity when it felt like everything else around me was totally out of control. This meant that five weeks post Caesarean Section I went running. I felt like I needed to get out the house, get into nature, clear my head and feel alive again. On some level I was also trying to run my life forwards.
It was insane now I think back, there I was with milk filled breasts and a tugging scar, running through the lanes, simply because I needed some fresh air, freedom and space to process all that had happened. I would never encourage any other new mother to do this. During the immediate post-natal period, let alone post-surgery, the body needs rest, not to be pushed like this, and a gentle walk would have been more appropriate.
Still, I was listening to my body in other ways. I had been trying to increase my iron levels through my vegetarian diet by eating vast quantities of dried apricots, spinach and dark chocolate, but I didn’t feel like they were having any significant impact. If anything, all the sugar was simply encouraging the growth of candida and creating a greater imbalance in my gut flora, which was already struggling due to the antibiotics and my lowered immune function.
So I finally relented and to my family’s relief I agreed to eat red meat. My Mum made me a Shepherd’s pie as she felt that this would make it easier to eat. Well I certainly didn’t have any problem eating it. It was an animalistic experience as I was salivating at the sight and smell of it and I simply couldn’t get enough of it and ate it with such vigour that E was astounded as he’d never seen me eat meat previously.
It was an empowering experience because for once I was truly listening to and honouring the needs of my body in a way that I hadn’t done previously. It wasn’t easy though and I had to dig deep to make peace with this on a soul level – I feel strongly about animal welfare and killing animals for our pleasure, so it helped to see it as a short-term medicine. It worked and I’m very grateful to the animals who helped me to heal. It took a few months but my iron levels increased and I reached a point where I no longer needed to eat meat and I returned to my vegetarian diet.
Six week’s post-surgery, I had a check-up with the specialist and by then my scar had healed. I could still feel it when running, but I wasn’t aware of it other than that. The vaginal bleeding had also stopped and I was finally able to drive again. I was also well enough now to be left on my own again and I relished this. I was still extremely exhausted though, the sleep deprivation was beginning to take its toll and little did I realise at that time that this would go on for many years!
I was still feeling pretty overwhelmed however and there were lots of tears and moments of frustration. It just took so long to do anything, to get Elijah changed and ready to leave the house, and then inevitably we’d need to have another nappy change and that would add on another ten minutes, so we were always running late. I was beginning to anger quickly too, a combination of the sleep deprivation and the tiredness and I blamed the Caesarean section for all of this – this wasn’t how it was meant to be!
And I think that’s the trouble. One of the five Reiki principles reads, “Just for now, do not anger”, because anger is often a waste of energy and can create disharmony if expressed inappropriately. It often arises because our expectations are not met, so the principle asks us, just for today to let go of expectation. But here I was full of expectation – expectation of birth, of motherhood, of having a baby, of what E should or shouldn’t do to help, and my expectations were not being met. It was a rocky road over those next few months.
It actually took me a few years to heal from this birth experience and the shock of the transition to motherhood. I couldn’t understand the reason any woman would elect to have a Caesarean section or have another baby, and I had increased compassion and respect for all mothers. My healing and spiritual journey would help me to finally come to terms with this experience, for what I would later discover is that what you resist persists…and the Goddess of the Moon was still waiting for me to dance with her.