The Two Week Wait
10 Questions To Ask Your Care Provider
Pregnancy After Miscarriage: How Long to Wait Before Trying Again
Bleeding In Pregnancy
Birthing Your Placenta : Active Management versus Physiological Management
5 Common Postpartum Experiences
In this week’s episode I chat to Jessica Prescott who is the author of three vegan cookbooks including the newly released Vegan One-Pot Wonders and co-founder of Melbourne-based Mama Goodness an organic food delivery service for new mums. She talks us through her two homebirths - one in Berlin and one in Melbourne - and compares her labour, delivery and postpartum experiences. It was the stark contrast between her births and breastfeeding experiences, which she discusses in detail, that have encouraged her to pursue a career as a postpartum doula. Jess’ story is heartwarming, funny and informative and it really emphasises the importance of community and support during the postpartum period.
Image by Sunni Hart
Jess and her husband Andy were living in Berlin when they fell pregnant with their first son, Louie. At the time, Jess was undecided as to whether she wanted to have children; witnessing climate change and the effects of overpopulation were weighing on her. However, Andy really wanted children and she would often lie in bed at night wondering if he would leave her if she really did open up about her doubts around bringing children into the world.
After 14 years on the pill Jess decided to go off it and shortly afterward, at the end of a night of partying, Jess and Andy conceived accidentally. Despite her fears and concerns, she was 29 and in a happy marriage, it couldn’t really be more perfect.
After seeing a women’s doctor at 8 weeks she set out on a mission to find an English-speaking homebirth midwife who was available around Christmas time – not an easy feat in Berlin. However, the midwife of Jess’ dreams existed and under Germany’s exemplary health care system, she had her homebirth as well as the pre and postnatal care and support she desired.
While Jess felt certain of her choice to have her baby at home, her husband Andy took a bit of convincing (you can hear Andy tell his side of the story in the Father’s Day Special.
“Andy knew to trust me but he was still a little bit worried. I was reading Ina May’s books and when I was in London I picked up Do Birth by Caroline Flint and after reading that he was wholeheartedly on board and now he’s incredibly passionate about birth. We also had a hospital close by so that security was there if we needed it,” she says.
Aside from symphysis pubis dysfunction, Jess enjoyed a really smooth pregnancy and journeyed towards her birth day with support from her beloved midwife and doula. She was one day past her due date when she lost her mucus plug and that night, while Andy was out playing ping pong (a popular sport in Germany), Jess bounced on her fitball and stuck inspirational images to the wall next to the birth pool. The next morning she woke with mild contractions.
I stayed in bed until I had a craniosacral appointment; it was only two blocks away but I was having trouble walking there. It’s basically very light pressure, her hands were under my back, and we were trying to get Louie engaged as he was resting on my pelvis. I went home after that and my midwife visited and encouraged me to do an enema so I could make room for Louie to engage which I did, shocked at how uncomfortable it all was. She told me to drink a litre of tea and then have a big sleep and said that she thought I’d be ready in about 10 hours. Upon leaving she said: Call me when your waters break or you get into animal mode, whichever comes first.”
“I got in the shower and the hot water on my back was so incredible and when I got out I was shivering and nauseous and remember thinking that it was way too early to be feeling this overwhelmed because everything I was experiencing was a sign of transition.”
She called her doula who came at 6pm and by then Jess couldn’t talk through contractions. Soon after her waters broke and she felt like she wanted to push. The midwife was called to come back and Jess moved from the toilet into the bedroom where she knelt on the floor and rested her arms on the bed.
“My waters broke at 7:30 and my midwife just made it. She encouraged me to pant through contractions to slow the pushing down to prevent tearing, she was also holding a warm face washer on my perineum. I panted him out, I felt the ring of fire, it’s intense but it’s nice because you know you’re so close. I was just somewhere else, I was thinking about all the women who have existed before me who have birthed, I was envisioning my body as a cave and water rushing in and out of me, his head came out and his slippery little body slid out. And I remember thinking: is that it? It was so fine. As soon as I looked at him I knew he was Louie.
“I sat on the bed and put him on my chest and waited for him to crawl to my breast which he did. And then I had to birth the placenta which I found really difficult but my doula took it and encapsulated it for me and she did it within 24hours. I wanted to put a protective bubble around myself for those first few weeks, friends organised a meal roster and my midwife came every second day for the first two weeks and then once a week for a month after that. She was very strict about bedrest. She said: you do not leave the house! On day 10 we went to the doctor just down the road for his check-up and that was exhausting and I understood then why she told me to stay home.
“He latched so easily and my milk came in without issue; I didn’t have any issues at all and I fed till he was two. I did get mastitis quite a few times though, over the two years, and I always managed to nip it in the bud before it became too unbearable. Ina May suggested high dose echinacea and that always worked for me so I never had to have antibiotics. But it honestly feels worse than labour; aching limbs and exhaustion and I just learnt the signs to look for. It was always a sign that I needed to slow down because I was doing a lot.”
When Louie was two they moved home to Melbourne and fell pregnant with Jude very easily. Jess couldn’t afford a private midwife so she enrolled in the homebirth program at Sunshine Hospital which required her to be in exemplary health and live within 30 minutes of the hospital. Her friend, Sunni, stepped into the role as doula and while she had a relatively smooth pregnancy, she did endure the pain and discomfort of symphysis pubis and vulva varicosities (cold ice packs in her underwear helped a lot in those final weeks).
Contrary to popular belief, Jess’ second labour was longer than her first. She woke six days past her due date with contractions and after dropping Louie at daycare she was convinced that he would have a baby brother by the time he came home. She spent the day resting and walking and prepared a loaf of bread to bake the next day. That evening, her doula came over and started massaging her while Andy put Louie to bed.
“I was having the best contractions on the toilet and things started to pick up. At about 11 I called the midwife and Sunny built me a nest on the floor with blankets and pillows and I had a few contractions down there and one was so intense that I bit the pillow. The backup midwife arrived and my waters still hadn’t broken but I could feel the ring of fire and I just couldn’t believe it. He was born en caul so when his head came out he looked like a bank robber with the sack on him, my midwife took the sack off and my midwife started untangling him from his cord but then she could see that I knew what I was doing so she let me take over. But I couldn’t hold him, I was so weak and shaky, it had all happened so fast. I’d gone from pacing the house and having contractions on the toilet to birthing within 30 minutes
“I birthed the placenta and haemorrhaged a bit and so they gave me pitocin. A few weeks before your due date the homebirth midwives give you drugs like pitocin to keep in the fridge and you also have a resus unit in the home too. Thankfully the bleeding stopped so we didn’t need to transfer. My active labour was a minute and a half, it was so short. It went from manageable to I’m having a baby and it left me in shock.
“My breastfeeding journey was so different the second time around. I got really badly engorged, so much so that he couldn’t latch and then my nipples were bleeding and I remember thinking that this is why people quit before they establish feeding. If I didn’t know how easy it would become, I would have quit too. It was horrendous. It was so hard and so painful and every time he latched on I’d gasp because it was so painful. It was a good couple of weeks before I turned a corner but it felt like an eternity.”
Her different experiences and her belief in the importance of a restful and sacred postpartum period has inspired her to train as a postpartum doula. It’s the perfect career to have alongside Mama Goodness which provides nourishing meals and snacks to new mums in Melbourne.
“We cook every Monday and deliver on Tuesdays to mothers who have babies and toddlers because I think it’s good to remember that postpartum is forever; you don’t need to have a newborn to treat yourself or one of your friends to a care package in the form of homemade, organic food.”
Two fast homebirths, In Berlin and Melbourne, Postpartum care, Breastfeeding journey
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