Archive for August, 2012

One today

I had hoped to post a photo from each of Theodore’s twelve months of life, but sadly my photographic archives are in Brisbane and I am in Sydney. Instead, here are some pictures from his big day. Happy birthday, little darling.


Theodore: A Love Story (Chapter One)

Tomorrow is Theodore’s birthday and we’ve been excitedly preparing to celebrate his first complete trip around the sun. What follows is his birth story, which I wrote down not long after the event. Please don’t read on if you’re not keen on such things as birth stories.

It’s 6am. I awake thinking I have terrible period pain, then remember I’m pregnant and this is impossible. At only 35 weeks it’s much too early to be labour. I warm a hot pack for my ‘period pain’ and crawl back into bed. Half an hour later, strong pain still, getting harder to ignore. Most alarming of all, the stabs of pains are by no means comfortably apart. A few minutes would be my guess. I decide to adopt my sister’s favourite saying: “Keep calm and Google it”. I read a comparative list of symptoms for false labour and actual labour. Seems it all hangs on whether the pains get closer together or not. I climb into bed again, and admit to myself that ‘closer together’ they are definitely becoming. At this point, Tony rolls lazily over and finds me wide awake, “I think I’m in labour”. For a few seconds, he looks mildly concerned, then mutters something about sleep and rolls over again. But he doesn’t sleep long, things start to happen. I wake him and suggest we time the contractions. Three minutes apart. I get up to go to the toilet and throw up violently. This seems to finally rouse Tony from his slumber. We decide that after the incident in England, any vomiting should be treated seriously. We debate whether to visit the Frauenarzt or go straight to the hospital. After all, it’s very unlikely to be the real thing.

While we’re deciding, Rose wakes up. By the time Tony’s got her out of bed, I’m vomiting again and in serious pain. We time the contractions. Two minutes apart. Hospital it is. I grab a bag and wonder what to pack. I get a clean towel from the cupboard, then remember that hospitals have towels. I grab my toothbrush and a bowl to be sick into. Of course, I forget my camera. We take Rose with us. It’s too early to call anyone, and I suppose neither of us wants to admit that this might be the real thing.

Tony gets lost in roadworks on the way to hospital. Fortunately, it’s only a five minute drive. By the time we get inside, my contractions are strong and agonising. I get confused and can’t remember where to find the birthing unit. The lady at the front desk is taken aback by our bad German. She collars an English-speaking orderly who looks at me terrified, then takes us to the hospital admissions office. “Take a number” he says, then scurries off. Tony and I look at each other. What else can we do? We take a number. Fortunately, we’re called in a few minutes. I don’t even get to the explanation part, I’m doubled over in pain. The admissions lady is clearly annoyed to find someone about to give birth in her office. She shoos us out, indicating the direction of the birthing unit, which I now recall to be on the second floor.

We buzz the door and it opens majestically. Having lost all my German I look helplessly at the hebamme who is sitting serenely at the front desk. I point to my sick bowl and then to my tummy. “Vomiting. Contractions.” She laughs, “Ich verstehen!” and shepherds us into an exam room. We’re given over to an angelic looking student midwife, Sabine. She speaks beautiful English. She hooks me up to a trace and leaves us in peace. The contractions get stronger. As I strain and gasp in utter agony, trying not to disturb the trace machine, Rose is suddenly roused from the mysterious adventure she’s been having. “I feel a bit sad” she whimpers and runs to Tony’s arms, looking at me as if I’ve transformed from Mummy to stranger. A doctor comes in. His English is good. He explains that it’s not clear whether I’m really in labour. “It’s possible that the vomiting is causing the contractions, or it could be the other way round.” “How do we find out?” I ask. “You’ll have a baby” he says. Tony starts calling for friends to collect Rose. Anne and Chris are blissfully asleep and don’t answer their phone. But things are moving quickly so he calls Rob and Arabelle. I kiss Rose goodbye and try to look excited and confident. Her expression breaks my heart.

We’re moved to a birthing room with a big, round bed and a huge orange bath tub. While I dry wretch over a plastic container, Sabine gives me intravenous anti-nausea medication. The relief is indescribable. The contractions are unbearable. I struggle for breath and gasp at the top of my lungs. Sabine explains that my baby needs oxygen and tries to help me breathe from my diaphragm. I think miserably about the kindle version of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth which I never got to read. The doctor comes back. Since I’ve had a Cesarean he has to make sure a normal birth is safe to attempt. He ultrasounds my scar and looks very impressed. He asks me all the usual questions about how I come to be in Germany and I shamelessly brag about Tony’s research. While I groan and gasp through heavy contractions, he reads me the the paperwork. Apparently, there’s a small risk the scar will rupture in which case the baby will be without oxygen. I barely hear him. I breathe furiously and sign on the dotted line.

Sabine wont let me get into the bath. Because I’m pre-term Theodore must be monitored at all times. She looks apologetically at me. She tries to give me a mobile monitor so I can at least walk around, but after the fourth time it looses the heartbeat, she encourages me to lie down on the bed. For a while I feel furious. I think angry thoughts about the over-medicalisation of childbirth. Then I realise I’m actually quite comfortable. Each time I have a contraction, I push with my legs against the chair Tony is sitting in. He is barely heavy enough to keep the chair stable, but it feels great. The breathing is much easier lying down, I relax and wonder what Jules will say.

I’m getting very tired. In between each contraction, I basically pass out. I can barely rouse myself to talk to Tony, who I can see is reading on his Ipad (he later tells me it was Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth). Sabine checks my cervix. 5cm. She seems very excited. I am horrified. All that pain for only 5cm? “Don’t worry” she soothes, “the first five are the hardest, the second five will go much faster”.

She is right. In 40 minutes, it will all be over. I beg her to let me off the monitor so I can go to the toilet. She tells me excitedly that I’m feeling my baby’s head descending. We go through this discussion three more times before she finally lets me go. She encourages me to change into a hospital gown. I refuse. I know Jules will be proud of me. Her shift is over and she comes in to say goodbye. A new hebamme, Frau Janus, comes in. In one awful moment we realise we can’t understand each other, but the time for talking has finished anyway. A violent contraction hits me and I scream involuntarily. The sound brings people running, including the doctor. At this point it dawns on me. I’m about to have a baby.

I ask the doctor if I can deliver standing up. He shakes his head. Because of the trace monitor. He’s concernced about Theodore’s heart rate. He suggests I kneel on my hands and knees instead. I look sideways and realise Sabine is still here. “Don’t worry” she smiles. Another involuntary, alien scream. I ask her “How many times do I have to do that? Lots?” She and Tony laugh.

Things are hectic. The monitor looses Theodore’s heartbeat and the doctor asks me to turn onto my back while they find it. There’s no time to turn over again. Later, the doctor is very apologetic, as if he doesn’t want to be thought of as an old school chauvinist. I feel as if my body has taken over. I’m present, but not in control. The only thing I’m sensible of is the desire for it to end. The doctor tells me to breath as if I’m blowing bubbles in the water. No one says “You’re almost there, you’re doing really well!” That would be very un-German. Tony’s expression is a mixture of horror and fascination. One last contraction and Theodore pops like a champagne cork. Nobody catches him, he lands on the bed. For a moment, nobody touches him. All I feel is relief. He’s crying. I catch a glimpse of him. He is blue, the colour of blueberries. Somebody hands him to me. Tony kisses me, and we look at our son.

A paediatrician is waiting and my baby is taken from my arms. Tony stands while they check him over. Someone explains that he needs oxygen and I casually nod. Later I’ll feel terrible to have missed out on precious skin-to-skin time but for now I simply enjoy the relief. For a moment, Tony and I are alone. We look at each other and burst out laughing. Relief gives way to disbelief. We don’t even have a crib ready.

All of a sudden I realise that I did the whole thing without pain relief. I feel flushed with pride. The doctor takes Tony to see him and then returns to stitch me up. We chat about having babies in Australia and Germany. Frau Janus takes me to the toilet. I can barely stand. She gets me a wheelchair. Tony comes back and tells me Theodore is in the NICU. While I struggle between exhaustion and the pain of sitting down, Tony pushes me and we go off to see our son.

Gardening in the round

This peculiar round structure was the first thing I noticed when the real estate agent showed us our house. There it was in the middle of the front lawn, covered with grass and weeds and hosting an indignant brush turkey who was obviously freeloading. I had been looking at Brisbane’s rental properties for weeks, holding out hope that I’d find one with an innocent patch I might claim for vegetable gardening. And there it was. I was leased.

You may not realise this but circles are a special shape in the world of gardening. In the language of permaculture, they have the best time and motion efficiency. For the past few months my circle has been planted with a green manure crop of fenugreek, mung beans and clover, biding its time and waiting for the real planting action to begin. This weekend we finally found leisure to dig in the green manure, errect a little fence and let the girls enjoy a working holiday. Their first few hours were spent in orgiastic dust bathing.

Being situated right at the front (where most Australian houses have only a modest bit of rockery and a letterbox), this garden is visible to all who care to notice it. I love to see the reactions of passers by, like the man who was obliged to wait patiently while his two dogs longingly eyed our chickens, or the daily throng of school children saying “Look Mummy, chookies!” or the couple who regularly stop their exercise to offer encouragement and check our progress.

The round bed will have to wait a little longer before my visions of a bountiful mandala planted with flourishing organic veggies are realised. For now, it’s proving a great conversation starter and a dream holiday location for the chooks.

The B word

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, so I’m throwing my coin into the pool of  breastfeeding experience.

Breastfeeding is a controversial topic in Australia. I’m sure everyone knows that. Except perhaps for the babies. I didn’t quite realise how controversial until I found myself pregnant in a foreign country. Germany enjoys a very supportive breastfeeding culture, there is a discernible difference in public perception. No one bats an eyelid when a baby is breastfed in public and I never saw anyone trying to cover up. During Theodore’s short stay in the NICU I was relieved to find lots of breastfeeding support and impressed to find a milk bank operating.

The controversy within Australia over breastfeeding reached boiling point early this year when Mia Freedman published her erroneous and unhelpful article. Thankfully, Tara Moss who happens to be patron of the Baby Friendly Health Initiative (which Freedman confuses with the Australian Breastfeeding Association), wrote a cogent and timely response. If only as many people had read that.

As for most mothers, breastfeeding and I had a rocky start. Having been carefully educated by my midwife Rachel (and the ubiquitous hospital propaganda) on the importance of early skin-to-skin contact to the breastfeeding relationship, I spent Rose’s first two hours crying alone in a recovery ward. But we managed to get back on track and three days later I left the hospital with a baby, a surgical wound and two silicone nipple shields. My life savers. I remember Rachel telling me I would soon be breastfeeding whilst hanging from a chandelier. I clung to those words.

breastfeeding a newborn

Rose was a reluctant feeder. Sometimes, she flat out refused. I spent hours expressing and trying to feed her the expressed milk from a bottle before I realised that she was just done. At nine weeks we sought help from a community nurse to wean ourselves from the nipple shields. At last, I was a proper breastfeeding mum. Just me and Rose with nothing in between.

I can remember feeling terrified, thrilled and at times, resentful that I was this little person’s only source of food. But the terror and euphoria of being needed is the both best and worst of parenting. I didn’t love breastfeeding, but I kept it up until Rose was fifteen months and we were living in Stuttgart. As an aside, fifteen months of breastfeeding had left me lighter on the scales than I had ever been pre-baby.

Theodore was a born breastfeeder. After a couple of minutes (“how do I do this again?, Oh, right”) he was away. He spent two awful days attached to tubes in a plastic box instead of in my arms. Breastfeeding was our secret code, our way of tuning out the droning and beeping of machines, the lights, the intrusions of doctors and nurses. He fed well and grew quickly. In the traumatic months that followed I tried and failed to comfort his constant, enraged screams. Often I couldn’t comfort him, but I knew at least he had the “best”.

As it comes time for Theodore to turn one I’ve turned my thoughts to how and when I’ll wean him. He’s very committed to breastfeeding, that much is certain. There’s more than a little stigma around extended breastfeeding in Australia. There’s a general perception that it’s not necessary and therefore, not worth doing, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary. Extended breastfeeding is the norm for most children worldwide. Not least of the benefits are immune factors in breastmilk, especially when every child (adult, dog and cat) seems to have the flu. But for me, in the end, it’s even simpler than this. Cows milk is made by cows for for little cows. Goats milk is made by goats for little goats. Koala milk is made by koalas for their babies and human milk is perfectly made for little humans. With this in mind, Theodore and I will keep going until one of us comes up with a reason to stop. And yep, I’m pretty sure if I had a chandelier, I could swing with my free arm.

About Me

A girl with a camera, a toddler and a sewing machine. Making sense of Germany... and life in general.

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