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Episode 275

Theresa

In today’s episode I chat to Theresa who speaks at length about the traditional Chinese period of confinement after birth, often referred to as the golden month. She had a private obstetrician for her first pregnancy and after induction of labour, she birthed via emergency caesarean. In her second and third pregnancies she chose midwifery care in the public system and actively prepared for vaginal births. For all three of her pregnancies her Chinese mother flew in from Singapore to care for her during postpartum and guide her gently into new motherhood. During this time Theresa wasn’t allowed to do anything but rest with her baby, an opportunity she regards as a very precious gift. 

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Image by Olive Juice Lifestyle Photography

“Being told a due date….I’m not sure it’s very helpful for a lot of people, or at least not for me. The fourth of June became my whole world; the fourth of June came and went and there was still no baby. My mum lives in Singapore and had been with us for a month before Mason arrived. Eventually I needed an induction at 41 weeks. I was told it was what was going to happen and I went along with it but I now know that I should have been given options.

My contractions started within 10 minutes of having the cervical gel applied. They came on hard and fast for quite a long time before I told the midwife but after four hours I was only 2cm. We were left on our own for a big chunk of time and I think we were nervous to ask for help but by 19hours post induction I was 4cm and I just broke down and asked for the epidural. Three hours later the trace indicated that my contractions had slowed down and the obstetrician – who I had never met – came into the room, told me my baby was in distress and she scheduled a caesarean. The whole labour was blurry and Luke and I felt very alone, we were just hanging in there by ourselves.

Theresa admits that it took her a few months to come to terms with her birth; she was grateful for a healthy baby but also quite confused and defeated by how quickly her labour and birth had escalated. Her milk took over 5 days to come in but she was persistent and she established a beautiful breastfeeding rhythm with baby Mason.

Although she was hesitant at first to embrace the traditional practice of rest after birth, she now understands how important it is and how lucky she’s been to have her mother sweep in and care for her and her family.

 “We practice confinement in Chinese culture, some people refer to it as the golden month or the first forty days. For a full moon cycle, I do nothing but rest. My only job is to lie down and feed the baby. You have to be horizontal for as much as you can during those thirty days so your uterus and pelvic floor can heal. I attribute my good recovery to that. Mum does everything around the house; all the cooking, cleaning, washing – everything.

“In between Mason and Noah I had a miscarriage at 11 weeks. Before kids, I had 37-40 day cycles but after the miscarriage, it kick-started a very regular 28-day cycle. It took us nine months to conceive but we weren’t stressed about it. When I found out I was pregnant I very actively chose to go with a different care provider because the private system definitely didn’t work for us. We went public with obstetric and midwifery care because I was considered high risk because I was intending to have a Vaginal Birth After a Caesarean (VBAC). I didn’t realise my first birth was traumatic until on reflection I realised that I would never want to experience that again.

“Noah was born on his due date. I went into labour the night before; it was a slow start with an hour between contractions. The midwives told me it was normal, especially considering I had never experienced spontaneous labour. The next afternoon I arrived at the hospital and after an internal examination, they told me there wasn’t much happening and that I could go home but I requested to stay. I laboured for twelve hours before I asked for an epidural and then I had a five-hour nap. My midwife, Lynne who I adored, told me I was 10cm and she told me it was time to push him out and I just burst into tears from joy, that I was going to get my VBAC. I couldn’t feel anything but I pushed for an hour and a half and his little hand was next to his face for four minutes, between worlds, before his body was born. It was so lovely knowing that we weren’t going to be separated, that he was on my chest and could just stay there. He fed immediately and our breastfeeding journey was so easy.

“Culturally, I feel a shift is happening in Australia. I did worry that my postpartum experience would be considered a weird Chinese superstition but it’s since been embraced with many birth and postpartum workers dedicated to educating pregnant women about its importance and relevance. My mother gets giggles when I explain to her how often people want to know what she’s done for me in my postpartum days. She’s both embarrassed (that anyone even thinks it’s worth mentioning) and excited to know that more women will be held in their vulnerable time. We are both in awe of how much women actually want this. It feels like the reception has been so accepting.

“We fell pregnant on the first go with Remy and of course everyone thought we were trying for a girl which is so odd, people presuming we would be lost without a daughter. I’d always had a vision of having three sons. I vomited a lot more in Remy’s pregnancy, right up till 19 weeks.

“We were living on the Gold Coast so I saw my GP and I booked into Gold Coast University Hospital and I was assigned to Annaleise who is known as a VBAC warrior. She just got me and she understood exactly what I wanted and what I was comfortable with and we were on the same level with parenting. I saw her the whole time, it was the first time I’d experienced continuity of care. I didn’t realise how important it was until I had it.

“A few days before my due date my waters broke while I was in bed. I could hear and feel the pop and it was the craziest feeling; there was water everywhere and we were just laughing. I rang the hospital and because I had a caesarean previously they told me it was hospital protocol to go in for monitoring. I was disappointed because I wanted some time at home. I wasn’t contracting so I pottered around at home, got my esky for my placenta and drove there and arrived just before midnight. We were watching Netflix and I felt my first contraction and five minutes later I had one that took all of my attention. Thirty minutes later I asked Luke to get the midwife and they moved us to the birth suite and I was leaning over the bed and they were coming in hard and fast. I looked up and saw her turn on the lights for the baby bed and she put a towel on the floor. I had asked for no vaginal examinations in my birth plan and my midwife knew that. I had no plans for an epidural-free birth but I just couldn’t believe it was happening.

“She asked me to get on the bed because I had a cervical lip and my midwife needed to move it. I started pushing and it got to the stage where I could feel him come out and slide back in and it was so defeating. I birthed him at 2am; it was so fast and my most amazing birth experience. Birth or life experience, it was the most amazing thing I’d ever done. It was such a great way to close my chapter of having babies.”

Topics Discussed

Vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC), Traditional Chinese confinement, Three births, Emergency caesarean

Episode Sponsor

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