• Shannon Everest

Leonne Barker on Pregnancy, Birth & Support.

What kind of support did you prepare yourself with for your labour and birth and were there particular values underpinning your decisions and choices?

My husband and I had a lot of discussions about the type of support I felt I would need during labour. I knew I would need someone to be present, advocate for me and support with pain relief. Most of all I knew I would need to be loved and encouraged.

I read hundreds of birth stories online in an attempt to prepare myself for what was ahead but this proved to be counterproductive in the end as the birth was quite different to anything I had read and when things didn’t resemble what I’d read about, I panicked.

My husband and I went to a prenatal class run by the hospital and learned about pain relief options. A student midwife supported us in the lead up to the birth and at the birth itself which gave us some continuity of care and I asked two trusted friends to support my husband and I when the time came to give birth.

The support of my husband was amazing and over the course of my pregnancy it became apparent that he knew all about pregnancy and birth without the aid of google. This was confronting in the beginning but in the end I was so grateful for his steady presence. Men know more about pregnancy and birth than we give them credit for.

I felt to involve a student midwife as I knew continuity of care would be important and my husband and I felt to open up and share the experience with someone we did not already know.

Did you feel there was an opportunity to ask for support during pregnancy and did you find this easy or difficult and what areas did you find you needed the most support in?

I had severe morning sickness starting from week six of pregnancy until I was seven months pregnant. The constant nausea and frequent vomiting took a huge toll on my body and I lost over ten percent of my body weight. I told my supervisors at work as soon as the sickness started as it was impossible to hide my symptoms. They were very supportive and understanding and I was able to take breaks and relocate my desk to be closer to the bathrooms.

My husband supported me with daily chakra-puncture and massage sessions. These sessions eased the sickness considerably. Chakra-puncture in particular was a lifesaver for me. It helped me sleep when nothing else seemed to work.

I was supported by my GP and took anti-nausea medication throughout pregnancy but it didn’t always work. On one occasion I was so unwell I called on friends living nearby to take me to hospital when my husband had a commitment he couldn’t reschedule.

I was uncomfortable asking for help but the pregnancy forced me to push past my protections and let people in. It was very challenging for me as I was very sensitive to any hint of judgement I could feel and I wanted to appear as though I had it all together.

Looking back on it all I can see that I was really afraid of seeing how loved I am and how much people care for me. Sounds crazy I know but every time I was forced to reach out I would end up sobbing when help arrived because I had to let the love in and let my walls down. It was quite confronting.

With the postnatal period, after the birth of your baby – did you have expectations of this time or even some pre-awareness of what it might be like having a baby for the first time? Were you able to feel ahead what was needed in some areas or were there also areas you had not considered?

I couldn’t quite get my head around what life with a newborn would be like. I knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park but nothing could prepare me for how challenging it really is!

When the midwife presenting at the prenatal class mentioned we would be feeding our babies for 10 to 12 hours a day I started to get a bit worried...then she mentioned three hours a day of baby crying and I realised that it was going to be hectic before we even thought about nappies, basic self care, communication with friends and family or anything else. My brain was exploding trying to calculate how on earth it would all be possible but I figured lots of other people had done it so it must be.

We brought beautiful blankets, essential oils, music, pillows, supportive clothing, nourishing food and essential baby items to hospital in an effort to support ourselves through what we knew would be a challenging time. These things made a big difference.

I had a baby brother born when I was twelve years old so I thought I had some idea of what was ahead but nothing prepared me for what the reality of life with my own newborn would be like.

Our baby (Elliot) was born early and was only 2.1 kilos which meant we had to jump through a lot of hoops to keep him with us in the hospital. This meant we were feeding him constantly round the clock and topping up with expressed milk. His blood sugars and temperature were tested constantly and his heels were a mass of cuts from the tests. If we failed to meet a marker the whole process would begin again. It was agonising and I was totally unprepared for feeling like we were on an episode of newborn survivor. The feeling that I needed to keep my baby safe was so primal and overwhelming.

Three days after Elliot was born I ventured out into the hospital to find some clothes for him as the clothes we brought were way too big and they weren’t keeping him warm enough. Unfortunately none of the stores had any suitable clothing. I remember seeing a lot of horrified looks on the faces of expectant parents coming in for their prenatal classes as they observed me hobbling back to our room sobbing “he ... doesn’t.. have... any... singlets” down the phone to a friend. I like to think I was doing them all a service preparing them for some of the realities of life with a newborn.

What was the role your relationship with your husband played in offering support throughout the time?

I honestly do not know how I would have survived pregnancy and birth without the support of my husband. He was there every step of the way cleaning up after me every time I was sick (which was a lot!). Bringing me food, coming with me to appointments and providing a sounding board for everything I was feeling.

When Elliot was born he was able to hold him skin to skin while I processed the trauma of the birth (I couldn’t stop shaking). When I was immobilised due to an infection post-birth my husband fed me, watered me, carried me to the toilet, changed my pads, fetched ice packs and brought the baby to me every time he needed feeding. He was my arms and legs.

This practical support was amazing but that was really just the tip of the iceberg.

What I appreciated most about the way my husband supported me was the way he backed me. When I chose to have an induction because Elliot didn’t appear to be growing properly he supported me 100 percent. When I expressed that I was in a great deal of pain he insisted that I be seen by a doctor after four midwives declared there was nothing wrong with me. My husband’s refusal to take no for an answer and play nice ensured that the cause of my symptoms was identified so I could receive the treatment I needed.

What was your biggest area of growth in your relationship with yourself throughout this period of being pregnant, birth and caring for a newborn ? Are there ways you now have more understanding of yourself?

Pregnancy, birth and motherhood have all changed me profoundly in different ways.

Pregnancy made me far more aware of the way I move my body through life. It also allowed me to feel how precious I am and how I had not truly valued my physical being up until that point. For example I could see that I changed the way I would cross the road, walk up stairs etc because there was a baby inside but I realised I deserve that same level of care even when not carrying a baby.

Birth made it so clear to me that I am so much more than a body. The amount of physical pain we can feel and endure is immense but in the worst of it I was able to feel that there is no physical pain that cannot be dealt with if I am connected to my soul. I had to remain absolutely still during three very strong contractions when my epidural was inserted and I was able to get through this by connecting to the fact that I am so much more than a body.

Caring for a newborn has opened my heart to a flood of love that has been held back for what feels like lifetimes. Now I can genuinely feel how precious people are. Everyone was a newborn once and we are all love at our core. I thought I knew this before but I don’t feel I began really feeling it until I had Elliot. This awareness has been a huge adjustment as I have had to accept that we as human beings have allowed huge amounts of abuse to proliferate unchecked.

I used to be able to read the news without really feeling the horror of what we’ve collectively allowed. Now when I see news headlines I connect more to the impact they represent on the people mentioned within the articles. It inspires me to live my life differently and feel the love I have for others.

I feel more responsible in my relationships now. When issues arise I find myself asking what response is needed rather than focusing on other people’s choices.

Leonne Barker lives in Australia and has been around the sun 39 times. She loves being with her husband, son and people in general. When she's not bringing order and ease to education policy she's painting, parenting, taking photos, sleeping or writing.

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