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Episode 358

Jessica Urlichs

In this episode I chat to well-known author Jessica Urlichs @jessurlichs_writer about her three pregnancies and births. In her first pregnancy she was a magnet for grief-filled stories which exacerbated her fear and anxiety around birth. During labour she felt unsupported and unheard and she consequently experienced birth trauma and postnatal anxiety. Jess talks at length about her significant breastfeeding challenges and her choice to bottle feed to sustain her physical and mental health. Her second and third births were both healing and positive and she consciously chose to have epidurals to ensure she was in a calm and grounded mindset so she could make informed choices.

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“I had quite an easy first pregnancy apart from fatigue and round ligament pain. I knew nothing about babies or birth, just like most people I suppose, but it wasn’t until I started seeing my midwife that I started learning about the birth journey. I really wanted to go in with an open mind. As soon as I started telling people I was pregnant, people would share their experiences which were like war stories. My mindset right from the get-go wasn’t the greatest; I was very nervous. I spoke to my midwife and I came to the conclusion that I would try for a natural birth and just see how I would go.

“I honestly believed that ignorance was bliss. I didn’t want to know about birth because everything was freaking me out. I was three days past my due date when my labour started. My labour was all over the place so it was really hard to time the contractions. My midwife had a weekend off so I was communicating with a midwife I’d never met before which made me a bit more nervous. I went into the hospital and I found out that he was posterior and I wasn’t very far along so I was told to go home. I felt like I was a bit of an inconvenience. Once we got home labour progressed quite quickly so I got in the bath and I’d move between there and the shower and the toilet. Within a couple of hours I was ready to go back to the hospital and when I got there I needed a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk.

“The midwife did an internal and I was fully dilated and ready to push. The whole experience was one where I felt like I wasn’t being listened to, there was no professional support for me from the midwives. The next part is a bit of a blur; my baby, Harry, turned but the cord was around his neck and his heart rate dropped and mine spiked and then the team needed to come in to use the kiwi cup (also known as a ventouse/vacuum) to get him out. When I look back now I think I needed to be in hospital earlier with support rather than at home feeling alone and not knowing.

“I had really bad nipple damage from the beginning; they were in shreds by day two. I was putting pressure on myself and I can see that in retrospect. There are lots of societal pressures to breastfeed and sometimes perseverance is helpful and sometimes it’s just an agonising journey where the first few weeks of your baby’s life is riddled with severe anxiety because the pain of feeding is so bad. When Harry was around 2-3 weeks I first introduced the bottle and I was crying from a mix of guilt and relief. I was pumping pink milk and it was dreadful. I just knew I had to look after my mental health so switching to formula was the best decision for us but it took months for me to stop pumping and even longer for me to get my mind in the right space.

“I sought support for my perinatal anxiety and it was the first time I felt like I’d been listened to from start to finish since I’d had a baby. It was really cathartic. My mind was constantly in flight or fight mode because I had so many intrusive thoughts about Harry’s safety. I had to see those thoughts as irrational and over time they did subside. All this said, I fell pregnant very intentionally with my second baby, Holly.

“I saw a private obstetrician and a midwife I really connected with. I was anxious but overall it was a smoother and more supported pregnancy. I went into labour three days before my due date and it was much the same as Harry’s labour; inconsistent niggles. I called my midwife when I felt like it was really painful so she came to my house and did a vaginal examination and I was 5 cm so she encouraged us to go to hospital. Labour got so intense but when I got to the hospital it was such a different experience; dim lights, calm atmosphere, I was able to breathe through the contractions, I got an epidural and it wasn’t too long before my obstetrician arrived. Holly had her cord around her neck a few times and her heart rate started to slow and my obstetrician reached for the forceps and I asked her if we had time for me to push and she said we did so I pushed and she was out within a few minutes.

“It was a really healing birth. I wanted to try breastfeeding but I was really prepared to switch to formula if it didn’t work. Thankfully it was a completely different experience. I had tender nipples and a bit of pain and it took a few weeks to develop a rhythm but at about week 4 it felt great and I ended up breastfeeding her till she was 14 months.

“In my head I knew we weren’t finished but it took us a good year to decide whether we’d have a third baby. Holly was about two-and-a-half then and I actually had two miscarriages before I conceived my third and it was really upsetting. You picture them and make space for them in your life and it’s horrible letting that go.

“I went through the midwifery system and I had a different midwife again because we’d moved and she was wonderful. I’d had such a positive experience with Holly and I wanted to try for a vaginal birth again with the support of the epidural.

“Labour started much the same; it was around dinnertime which is always hectic but I just tried to ignore it because for the week previous I’d had little niggles. I was reading Harry a bedside story and I started timing them and once he was asleep I laboured at home for an hour and then we went to hospital. I didn’t speak to anyone for hours because I was trying to stay in my head and just get through it.

“I managed to get the epidural and when it was time to push, I pushed for an hour because she just kept going up. The midwife got the obstetrician in and she said her nose had been tilted up and she was posterior so she said I may need an emergency caesarean. My heart sank then because I really wasn’t prepared for it. First they wanted to take me to theatre to try and turn the baby so we got down there and the obstetrician used the forceps to hold her in place and I was able to push her out – without an episiotomy or tearing, amazingly.

“I felt like my pelvic floor was really heavy but to be honest I haven’t had any troubles. It’s been an easy recovery for me. It’s taken about six weeks to feed confidently without all the pillows and of course the transition of adding another baby to the family is always challenging; that part in-between working out where we fit.”

 

Topics Discussed

birth fear, instrumental birth, perinatal anxiety, Private obstetrician, Breastfeeding challenges, MGP, Epidural

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