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Episode 345

Phoebe

In this episode Phoebe from @sageandclare details her long journey to pregnancy and her two very different vaginal births. After close to three years of trying to conceive unsuccessfully, she was diagnosed with PCOS, endometriosis and Natural Killer (NK) cells. She began her IVF journey and fell pregnant on her second cycle but unfortunately, this coincided with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome which took weeks to resolve. It was in her first pregnancy that she started experiencing severe hip pain and years later she was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, torn ligaments, arthritis and pelvic instability. She has made the conscious decision to grow her family before she has both hips replaced.

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“It took about five years to conceive my first. We tried naturally for about two-and-a-half years but we didn’t get anywhere. We started when I was 25 and I feel like I was heavily dismissed because of my age. We eventually sought fertility treatment and tried IVF and that worked for us.

“For the first couple of years I didn’t really know what to expect so I just accepted the advice I was given but then I realised the emotional toll it was creating. Four years into the journey I was diagnosed with endometriosis, PCOS and natural killer (NK) cells so finally I was able to understand why. It was both upsetting and validating but it allowed us to be clear on what path we needed to go down.

“The endometriosis and natural killer (NK) cells were discovered via surgery. They cleared it out and then they said that I should be fine to conceive and the next three months would be critical. I didn’t fall pregnant in that time so we went straight to IVF and I got pregnant on my second round which was very fortunate. NK cells are a heightened immune response so they put you on steroids which suppress your immune system. So in trying to conceive I’ve spent a lot of time on steroids which isn’t nice because there’s a lot of side-effects.

“When the first didn’t take it was hard, I wasn’t expecting it to be successful but I found I only grieved for a few days before I was on the next cycle. I was approaching IVF with Eastern practices in mind and I believe acupuncture has really helped me along the way. I had an inkling that I was pregnant because I developed ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome so I found out I was pregnant when I was in hospital. It was a really weird and confusing time because my heart rate was through the roof and I put on 4kg in 36 hours from fluid. The doctors did mention terminating the pregnancy if I couldn’t work through it. I was in hospital for 10 days but it took about 8 days for it to resolve.

“All I’d ever thought about was getting pregnant but I’d never thought about what the first trimester would be like and how worried I’d be. I didn’t really feel like I was pregnant and having a baby till I was about 24 weeks. It had just been such a long journey up until that point that it was hard to trust in it.

“At six months pregnant I started to find it hard to move around but I didn’t think much of it but then all of a sudden I couldn’t walk. I went to see my obstetrician and told him it was so painful, I couldn’t separate my legs and getting dressed and driving was very, very hard. I was on crutches from that point on and almost admitted to hospital because it was so debilitating. Everyone told me that it would be okay once I’d given birth and while I may need to do postpartum physio and pilates, it was really just pelvic instability. It seemed like a common story but unfortunately that wasn’t the case for me.

“I was really worried about birthing my baby, mostly because separating my legs to get shoes on felt impossible. An active birth was something that didn’t really feel realistic. My obstetrician suggested an induction if I didn’t go into spontaneous labour before my due date but I was really against that so I made several appointments in the week before my due date for stretch and sweeps and the third one worked.

“I laboured all night and then next morning even though it felt like it had eased, the midwife suggested I come in for an assessment. I was admitted then and about 4 cm at that point and I was really upset about that. The contractions really exacerbated my hip pain and my baby was posterior so while the contractions were more intense, the break between contractions was incredibly painful too.

“I had written in my birth plan that I didn’t want to be offered pain relief but I got to the point where I said that I needed an epidural. I was exhausted and I felt the relief of everyone in the room because they were concerned about my ability to continue on without pain relief. I rolled on my side but then the epidural wore off on one side. I pushed for about three hours but nothing was happening and my obstetrician came in and he said right, we’re going to birth this baby. At that point I had a vacuum-assisted birth and it was quite hard to get Jude out but it worked. He didn’t cry when he was born and he was on my chest for a moment and then he was quickly taken away and I remember the silence in the room and then more people rushing in. I just kept saying is everything ok? And I was met with silence. Eventually he started crying and that was that…I’m still not really sure what happened.

“During the birth and afterwards, I felt like I wasn’t really in the room. It was a good few weeks before I felt like I was back in my body – I know that sounds odd – but I can’t really tell you much about what happened after he was born. I felt completely disconnected, to the point that I was asking my husband if I was talking to him. There was a moment in the birth where it felt like I disconnected completely and I wondered if that’s what it felt like to die. I didn’t feel like I was in my own body. It was weird and it’s weird saying it.

“I felt traumatised after my birth; I couldn’t talk about it without crying but I only realised I had trauma a few months afterwards. It had been so many years and so many things had happened during that time and then I finally had my baby and it was like the first time I allowed myself to feel that trauma. It’s like I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The intensity of the hip pain had gone but I was still in a lot of pain. Initially because of the hormones I felt okay but then I started to realise that something wasn’t quite right because it was impacting my life and my ability to hold Jude and just do everyday things.

“I was consistently told that I was weak and needed to build my strength back up, I was even told by a few health professionals that the pain was in my head. I saw lots of different people over that time and I just kept feeling that everything I was doing was making it worse.

“When Jude was almost three I went back to my fertility doctor and started talking about IVF again. I felt like I needed a final check on my hip pain before I went into another pregnancy. Along the way I hadn’t even thought to talk to my GP so I went to her and she suggested an MRI and that led to a diagnosis of torn ligaments in my hips and she referred me to an orthopaedic surgeon and he took one look at me walking and he sent me off for more scans because he felt like there was more going on. He diagnosed me with hip dysplasia in both hips, torn ligaments, arthritis and pelvic instability. It completely floored me; it was validating but a huge shock because what’s required to fix it is quite extensive.

“His advice was to have my family first because it can take years to fix what I have, including multiple surgeries. I spent a few months thinking about it with my husband because I didn’t feel like I could make a quick decision about that. I kept coming back to the surgeon’s overarching advice that life is full of surprises so we just prioritised having another baby despite the inconvenience of the hip dysplasia.

“I had three embryos left and we decided to do a natural IVF cycle and I did acupuncture and I got pregnant on the first round. By 10-12 weeks I was noticing a significant change in the pain and by 18 weeks I was on crutches. It’s not that I couldn’t walk but it was a real struggle. My partner dropped back to part-time work and then covid hit so in some ways that was a bit of a blessing because he was working from home.

“I felt like I did well overall; at about 28 weeks I was in full-on pain and I just couldn’t see how I could continue with the pregnancy. I saw my obstetrician and cried and just asked him when he could take the baby out. It was a really rough six weeks, I just felt like my mental strength was exhausted so things started to unravel for me. But then at 34 weeks I knew I wasn’t far away so that last five weeks was okay because I’d been able to rebuild my mental strength and change my attitude.

“Heidi’s birth was a really healing experience for me;  it was a really lovely birth. I went into her birth knowing I’d been through 40 weeks of severe pain so straight off the bat I said I needed an epidural because that’s what I needed for a calm and peaceful birth. It’s what I needed and wanted.

“I felt completely connected after the birth and I really enjoyed postpartum a lot more. It didn’t go perfectly – I had chronic mastitis a few times – but I felt way more connected to her and had the capacity to surrender to the whole experience.

“Once I’ve had my third baby – I’m currently 26 weeks – the plan is to eventually build myself up for the first of my hip replacements.”

You can learn more about Phoebe’s beautiful homewares company Sage and Clare here

Topics Discussed

Endometriosis, Epidural, Hip sysplasia, IVF, Natural Killer (NK) Cells, Ovarian hyperstimulation, PCOS, Private obstetrician, Two Vaginal Births

Episode Sponsor

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