Body after the baby
Yumi Stynes explores the right exercises for women after pregnancy and the common fears they may have.
Each time I look at my gorgeous son I reflect on my traumatic journey to motherhood.
From miscarriages, to uterine adhesions, to almost losing my son at five months pregnant and finally bed rest, I felt inadequate. I was ashamed of my inability to have a normal pregnancy.
I had severe perinatal anxiety and postnatal depression. I was betrayed by my body, I felt I was less of a woman - an incompetent one. I was submerged in these feelings for so long that I started believing in them.
I do not want to raise fear nor panic among those who are trying to conceive or are pregnant. But I do want to talk about it to let others struggling to conceive or just having a difficult pregnancy know that it is OK to feel anger and frustration.
It seems society has an expectation of how things should be for a woman, including having a baby, and that it is a natural part of life. Those who suffer pregnancy loss, struggle to conceive or have a risky pregnancy are viewed with pity and sympathy or with glaring eyes of accusation that "she must have done/ate/exercised too much/worked too much for that condition to occur" thus exacerbating feelings of shame, remorse and guilt.
We all know deep down that none of this is true. We know the facts about miscarriage and that it cannot be prevented. It has nothing to do with what we ate or how much we exercised. We know it is not our fault yet we continue to feel a sense of failure.
But we are a lot more than the way a medical term defines our condition and what the societal expectation is of a pregnancy, motherhood and parenting.
When I decided to have a family, not remotely did I anticipate that I was about to embark upon one of life's toughest journeys, where my hopes of being a mother were crushed several times.
It was during a prenatal ultrasound check-up I was first diagnosed with adhesions in my uterus. I had a strong feeling my earlier miscarriage which resulted in an unnecessary dilation and curettage (D&C) had contributed to it. Months of online research later my signs and symptoms were mimicking a condition known as Asherman's syndrome, "a condition caused by D&C or uterine surgeries that results in adhesions in the uterus and thin uterine lining, thus trouble falling and sustaining pregnancy".
After months of wasting money on specialists, scans, unnecessary hormone therapy that resulted in terrible headaches, I found a specialist who confirmed my fear and diagnosed me with Asherman's syndrome. I was shattered, knowing I would have to go through several corrective surgeries. I was angry that a D&C that caused it could have been avoided and I was never informed of the risks. After several surgeries, acupuncture and regularly crying myself to sleep, I got pregnant. I thought my days of agony and struggle to feel like "a normal woman" were over.
It was a perfect day of warm sun and cool breeze as I walked towards my 19-week scan, and I was elated that I was about to find out my baby's gender. As I looked at the scan images and saw tiny little arms, the emotions I felt cannot be explained. I was completely unaware of the commotion around me as the radiologist called in another doctor to look at my scan. When I realised something was not right, my heart was pounding and the worst scenarios were playing out in my mind.
I asked what was wrong. The baby was perfectly fine but my cervix was shorter than expected and dilating, none of which made sense to me then. The medical term is cervical incompetence, which means "the inability of the uterine cervix to retain a pregnancy in the absence of the signs and symptoms of clinical contractions, or labour, or both in the second trimester". In a nutshell, I could lose the baby any time.
I decided on surgery, known as a rescue cerclage. Statistically it has poorer chance of success than an elective cerclage that is done earlier in pregnancy to prevent a premature labour. I was made aware of all risks and possible fatal consequences. I knew my body could go into labour and reject the cerclage and there were risks of perforation during the surgery itself.
It was the only way to save my son so I went ahead with it.
At 19 weeks the survival rate of my son if I were to deliver then was zero. My obstetrician and I were hoping to get to a viable stage, which was still a good six weeks away.
Incompetent cervix in many cases is not even caught until a woman has had one or two second trimester losses, I learnt in an online forum.
Desperate to save my child, I listened to my instincts and put myself on the strictest form of bed rest, my logic and the general consensus among women who delivered with a rescue cerclage was the less pressure you put on your cervix, the higher the chances. Thus began my four-month journey of perinatal anxiety, depression, panic and bedrest.
I had to resign from my job and stop all form of physical activities. My life came to a halt.
With each passing day, weeks and months lying on my bed staring at the ceiling or on a good day looking outside the window and crippled with fear of losing my baby, I somehow developed a certain kind of inner strength and determination to tackle my emotions.
It was during those months of my life I truly felt grateful for life itself and for those little things we otherwise take for granted. I visited the hospital weekly, and that was my treat day, a day where I went out of the house walked few steps and breathed fresh air. What a blessing those were! I felt grateful for my family and my closest friends that stood by me and reminded me of my strength and reassured of a positive outcome.
Above all I felt grateful for the life that was still beautifully growing and breathing inside me.
My obstetrician and I set short goals. My first was to reach viability at 24 weeks and then 28 weeks, where survival chances are 80 per cent. Then 33, 35 and finally 36, which is considered full term. I reached 38 weeks and delivered a beautiful, perfect boy without any birthing complications.
During this journey I realised an individual's strength is not in perfecting themselves. It is found in the moments, the minutes, the seconds when we are struggling and we still believe firmly we can rise above it. Some days we fall, crash and cry and some days we rise high and fight it all. Our greatest strength lies in our ability to hope, dream and trust, in even the direst circumstances.
Strength is not in keeping it all together – it is admitting that life is hard and it may or may not be what we expected it to be. Each one us is born with the innate ability to fight and not quit until the end - we just have to find that determination for the battle. My determination to save my son was far stronger and greater than any medical obstacles. And that determination was my greatest strength during those months.
Faria Hossain is a Sydney mother. Her son will soon turn two.