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Episode 388


Perinatal psychologist Yara Heary shares her two birth stories and interweaves her professional insights to form a rich (and extra long) episode. In her first pregnancy she attended an education class about birth options and, after choosing community midwives for her care, she birthed at home. She talks at length about her challenging breastfeeding experience, relationship challenges in new parenthood and the importance of a safe space to talk through her thoughts and feelings in postpartum. Her second pregnancy was unplanned, hence she had to do a lot of therapy to come to a place of acceptance and excitement. This episode is brimming with honesty about the inherent challenges of motherhood and the fact that joy and grief coexist - in pregnancy, postpartum and parenthood.

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“We planned the pregnancy but we didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. We travelled after we got married and when we got back I decided to get stuck into my work as a therapist; I was working in a psychiatric ward in the government sector and also in private practice but because of my age and because I’d never had a false alarm with pregnancy, I wondered if there was an issue. I suggested to my husband that we start trying and then we fell pregnant in the first month. I was so excited but also…I had things to do.

“I hadn’t done a lot of research. I knew I needed to take prenatal vitamins but I didn’t know much about birth options and my first thought was that I didn’t have private health insurance. It’s funny now because I did a complete 180 in the process of being pregnant; I went out and got private health insurance immediately and then I ended up birthing at home with community midwives.

“I went and saw a GP and they gave me a referral to an obstetrician at my local hospital and that was it; there was no other information shared. Because of the space I work in now, I look back and see such a lack of information and preparation. I’m fortunate because of the space I work in and the connections I made, I learnt so much more about my birth options. One of the first things we did as a couple was find The Bump WA which was created by pioneering women who called on the government for reform into birth practices and maternal healthcare many years ago. They also formed the government-funded Community Midwifery Program (CMP). There was a connection between The Bump and CMP and they were not-for-profit and we went to a birth options class and my mind was blown about the variety of options there were. It was really empowering and through that class I decided to go to the family birth centre where I could have continuity of care and hopefully less intervention.

“My pregnancy was typically non-eventful. I felt very happy, healthy and stable which was entirely different to my second pregnancy. We also did an 8-week birth preparation class through The Bump and it was so thorough, evidence-based and woman-centred. I started to feel so empowered about going into birth and I just wasn’t worried. I felt ready for anything.

“Quite late into my pregnancy I decided to have a homebirth. We were all ready to go with the CMP at the family birth centre but  I spoke to my husband about homebirth and he didn’t feel comfortable for a long time. He’d come home from work and he’d have a new horror story each day. I don’t know how I was able to stay calm in that but I just kept saying: that is them and this is us.

“I trusted my birth team and would do what they recommended. If things needed to change in the moment then we’d be guided by our birth team. My feeling as a therapist and a woman is that people need to be birthing in a space that feels safe for them. It’s not about the location but it’s about feeling safe and confident and supported and that you’ve got the trust of the people with you. My experience is that I’ve never really felt comfortable in hospitals; I wanted to be cosy at home, be in my bed, eat my food and drink my tea.

“The type of women who work in CMP are a certain type of midwife. I always felt safe in their presence. At home I felt I could avoid a situation where I felt pressure to do something I wasn’t comfortable with, even in regards to the time I had to labour. It’s never too late to change your care or birth options. This thing about getting comfortable disappointing other people and rocking the boat; it’s so important for us to find our voice.

“My husband was the one who requested a doula. I started making phone calls and I met Fiona West and I still think of her like an auntie. In my African background, we think of aunties as people who are everywhere to call on, not so much your blood relative. I looked at Fiona and knew I needed her softness, gentleness and nurturing. I went into labour a week after I met her and she was just wonderful.

“I was separated from my mother when I was four and I met her again when I was 24. That energy that I picked up in Fiona was that mothering, nurturing energy that I exactly needed. The birth itself wasn’t long. I went into labour at 39+5. The night before I had a sudden urge to go nightclubbing and a few nights before I cleaned the dishwasher with a toothbrush. My midwife said it’s quite common to get a surge of energy before labour starts.

“For a long time it was just my husband and my doula. My husband and I were really locked into the zone together while the doula got the pool ready and did all the things. I started to get into a more active phase of labour and then I just had to get in the pool and I just remember starting to roar. It’s such an interesting thing; I had no control and it was like an outer body experience. The door opened and the midwives came in and I remember watching them come in and thinking I sounded like a crazy cow. I was so in the moment and they were very hands off; they were in the background. I had a few urges to push and then he was coming. He came out with so much force that his blood vessels burst in his eye. He was small – only 2.6kg – so quite little.

“Meeting my baby was bittersweet; I was so happy to have my baby boy but there was definitely an element of disappointment for me because I was unmothered. Being female I definitely had a desire to have a girl because I wanted to reclaim that lost connection that I had felt with my own mother. But one of the beautiful things that I have learnt in my journey is that that exists whether it’s with a daughter or son. It didn’t matter in the end anyway but I know that some people really struggle with that and understandably so.

“The energy in the room; it’s like everyone was high. It was gentle and soft and quiet as well. I got tucked into bed. My doula helped me wash myself in the shower and then she helped me put my underwear on and I felt so nurtured by that. Then she told me she’d see me in the morning and I thought: oh shit! What now? 

“I really struggled with breastfeeding. A wonderful birth but an intense and very hard breastfeeding journey. We ended up tube feeding for a while and we got to a point where we were exclusively breastfeeding. He wouldn’t suck and he was so small, he didn’t have sustenance in him so he’d fall asleep. He’d latch and then do a few sucks and then fall asleep so we had to start waking him. I was pumping, washing the stuff, going back to sleep and doing it all again within three hours. In the first few days because I was in a blur, I wasn’t on top of it because he started to get dehydrated and the midwife had to remind me how important it was. I also had frequent mastitis and thrush so there were lots of hurdles.

“Because I had a community midwife, she visited me twice a day, everyday for two weeks. We became very close; it’s hard not to become attached to someone who is supporting you when you’re so vulnerable. At The Bump, there was a group called Early Days and this was a couple of weeks after birth. It was most of the same women who were in the birth education class with me. The theme was always different but it was always along the lines of The things you’ve had to give up and it was in a dimly lit room, there were safe spaces to put your baby down, there were lots of biscuits and tea, lots of crying. There was lots of speaking really honestly and there were many women in that room who unfortunately had experienced awful things in their births and they had the space to talk honestly and to cry and to be seen and heard by the other women there. It was such a gentle, nourishing space and I really don’t know how I would have progressed if I hadn’t had that. I could talk about the things you’re not supposed to talk about. I could say I want to get away from my baby, I don’t want to be on demand all the time, I’m angry at my husband because he’s asleep, I wish for my old life back. You could say whatever you needed to say and it was such a safe space to be able to do that in. Every woman needs that, every woman after they’ve had their baby, whether it’s their first, second, third or fourth, they need a space where there is no judgement and complete freedom to say whatever is on your mind because when we don’t have space to do that it sits within us and festers. It turns into shame which becomes toxic, it turns into resentment and can impact our physical health. It was such a powerful and important part of my postpartum.

“After I had my baby I got involved with The Bump and within a year, the government cut the funding. It was the only not-for-profit offering birth education, lactation consultants, home birth preparation classes for free. It was so sad. We went to the health minister, we tried to rally support but we weren’t able to restore that funding. One of the wonderful things is that two of the main women there – Melanie and Ruth – they started The Community which is a very accessible birth education and they still do birth choices, home birth preparation although it is private so it does cost.

“With those breastfeeding challenges, there was a lot of opportunity for my husband and I to work together. Once breastfeeding was established and he went back to work, the struggle for us was our relationship and the disconnect. What neither of us were prepared for was the enormous shift in identity, for both of us and how it would impact our relationship, and how we would have to learn new ways of connecting. At that time, we’d moved into a new home and we still had the old place and at one point we went out for dinner and he made a comment about not being needed and he said maybe I should just move back into the old house. I remember saying how do you think I could do any of this without you? He needed to come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t the centre of attention and he needed to know how his role had changed.

“In those first early months in particular, we need our partners to play a supporting role; doing what needs to be done and supporting birthing people to be able to do what they need to do – nourish this baby and make sure it survives. I also needed to be aware of how to think outside my relationship with my baby and figure out how to maintain my relationship with my husband.

“There was a lot of learning going on and it was a shock to me. I hadn’t given his experience very much weight. I remember my response was very much: snap out of it. I wasn’t going to take on the responsibility of guiding him through that inner work. For me, mothering is an experience that is very laborious because, in addition to all the reasons that it is for everybody else, I was separated from my mother at four years old and I grew up in a household that I do not want to replicate. For me, there was a lot of labour involved in learning about the right way to form secure attachment. Even as a psychologist that labour still exists because it’s one thing to know things and another to embody and live them. I have to work hard to notice my own internal dialogue, my bodily sensations, what I want to react with and how I want to speak to myself.

“I think most people when they become parents gain insight into things that have happened to the past which they could have until they had a baby that is mirroring things to them. It’s completely normal to have that experience but for me with my trauma, it’s more laborious for me that it was for my husband.

“I went to the literature to find answers for new parenting relationships and it was really challenging. I was looking for resources for our relationship and in my search I found the work of the Gottmans and they have a programme called Bringing Baby Home. It wasn’t offered anywhere in Australia at the time and you couldn’t train to do it either. I waited and waited and eventually there were these women in Canberra who delivered the programme at a hospital to any pregnant couples and the outcomes were amazing. I flew to Canberra when I was pregnant for the second time and it covered everything and it made me so angry that it wasn’t easily available. At that workshop I really birthed the concept of my business, Life After Birth.

“My second pregnancy wasn’t planned. My husband had just turned 40 and we had a party at home and three people came up to me and told me I was pregnant and I thought they were crazy. I was doing Crossfit at the time and I was losing my breath and seeing stars when I would get up from the floor. I also had an intense craving for french fries. I eventually went to the GP because I was so tired and she just asked if I was pregnant and I told her she was ridiculous. She convinced me to do a pregnancy test and of course it was positive. She was so excited and I was smiling but I felt like I was dying inside because it wasn’t what I’d planned and I didn’t think I could manage two kids. The first thing my husband asked me was whether I was okay. I knew I didn’t want to terminate so it was a process of coming to terms with having another baby. I went to therapy and worked through it for five months and once I got through that I was fully in it. I felt just so happy to be having this baby. I’m so glad that I listened and didn’t try to deny the fact that I had fear. I had no shame about it either, I talked about it to everybody.

“I was really unwell and exhausted and I had a hurricane toddler. I had the same doula, Fiona, and I talked through all my fears with her and she put me in contact with another doula who did rituals because I felt like I needed to honour myself before I became a mother of two. I felt so held and I was ready to have my baby.

“I had my show in the morning. I didn’t even tell my husband, I just went back to bed to get more sleep. It was so much faster. My son had gone to his grandma’s and then my doula and midwives arrived. This time it was the doula and I locked in together; we’d had two-and-a-half years to affirm our friendship so she was there while my husband was busy doing all the things. By 12:20pm she was born in the water. I was absolutely exhausted; I wondered how I was going to do it.

“She was born not breathing. She had crowned and was moving and I could feel it and it was uncomfortable. I couldn’t grasp what was happening and everyone was encouraging me to rub her and breathe on her and I just remember saying she’s going to be fine. The midwives gave her some resuscitation and then she let rip and she’d never been quiet since then. She was an amazing breastfeeder and it was such a full circle experience and incredibly affirming that I wasn’t the problem.

“When she was born, I remember having many moments of deep grief that, similarly to the way I’d grieved for my maiden life, I was grieving for my life as a mum of one and the ease that I didn’t realise was there for me. There’s still the grief of what was and how it’s changes. I think that’s the constant in life in general but there is so much grief in being a mother; it’s always there and it exists with joy. It was a lesson for me. Your heart and life expands with another baby but there’s still grief in that.”

Topics Discussed

birth preparation, Breastfeeding, Doula, homebirth, perinatal psychology, relationship challenges in postpartum, Two Babies

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