Katrina, a pilates instructor and former dancer, gave birth to baby Isabella by Caesarean.
“Seeing Isabella for this first time outweighed everything I’d ever done; opening nights in Sydney, parts in shows, there’s nothing like it – its incredible”.
I had a prolonged pre-labour. So much so, that at times I felt as though I was making the whole thing up.
For the three weeks prior to the birth I was having labour pains nearly every night. I was still working a 30-hour week instructing pilates. I’d come home from work and from about 8pm onwards, it was as though I was in labour. My husband and I were counting the minutes between contractions and although at times they were getting closer and more intense, nothing seemed to be progressing. I was thinking, yeah right, this is never going to happen.
Then I had what I thought were my waters breaking. It was some form of release of fluid but as it turned out my waters were still in tact. My obstetrician thought it might have been a release of “hind water,” the fluid that sits outside of the amniotic sac within the womb.
At this stage, the baby had not engaged, even though she had been positioned head-down since 26 weeks. I could feel the pressure of her head against my cervix as though she was trying to move into position. But my cervix hadn’t opened.
I was huge. I had put on 18 kg. My normal weight fluctuates between 50-55 kg. Just before the birth I was 77 kilos – quite something considering my small frame – and 7lbs of this I gained within the last 10 days. I was told that once you reach gestation, it is common to put on weight rapidly.
Most of my extra weight was fluid. When I went to have scans they had trouble getting a clear image of her on the screen.
When I first went to hospital I spent the night attached to the foetal monitor. I was registering contractions but they weren’t close enough, or at a high enough interval, to be considered full stage labour.
My obstetrician was concerned that my baby had a big head thought to be in the 90 percentile. I have such a small frame yet my baby was expected to weigh between 8.5 – 9 lbs.
Because of this, they decided to book me in to be induced the next week leaving me the weekend to go into labour. I never did. Still my baby hadn’t engaged.
After the first induction at 9am, nothing happened. I was walking round the maternity ward feeling like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The following induction at 1pm triggered the second stage of labour. It was three hours before I went into full-on contractions.
It was more pain than I had ever imagined. Nothing could ever have prepared me for this! I could dance on my toes for 12 hours a day with bleeding feet, but nothing compared to the intensity of what I was feeling. I couldn’t speak. I was completely in shock.
It was the biggest shock to find out that I could not control the pain.
Then I discovered how bad I was at breathing! As a pilates instructor having spent years concentrating on how to breathe and teaching other people how to breathe, I was unable to do it!
The sensation was as though I could feel my cervix and pelvis expanding. It encompasses you – your whole lower body is involved – totally all consuming.
Being watched while going through such pain was quite difficult. I am such a control freak and here I was with an audience at such a weak moment. Brendan (husband) went to massage my back but the sensation was tenfold – phenomenal.
When my obstetrician (who was lovely) tried to examine me, I was crawling away from him. It seemed a total invasion of privacy.
It felt completely uncomfortable and I was totally self-conscious
Then my obstetrician announced that I had only dilated half of what I supposed to have. He suggested an epidural.
We made a deal. He was to come back at 8pm to check my progress and we’d go from there.
For me the thought of having a needle in my spine and being numb was horrifying. I also knew some possible side effects could be lower back pain. I bawled.
When they tried to insert the needle in-between the contractions, I had to pull my knees to my chest. Normally this would be easy but with a huge belly it was near impossible.
Within two or three minutes, the epidural took effect. From then onwards it was party time. It was fabulous. I was yacking my head off and watching the tennis. Leyton Hewitt was playing. The graph was reading that I was contracting but I could only feel a minimal amount of sensation.
When my obstetrician returned, I was still only 2cm dilated. I should have been at least 8cm. It had been a long day. I was quite emotional and low in energy.
My obstetrician felt the safest and most positive option was a Caesarean.
He reasoned that I could have gone on like this for days and even then there was no guarantee that it would not culminate in a Caesarean.
Feeling momentarily defeated, I cried at the thought of having to hand over the control of my birth to someone else.
It was as though I didn’t get the chance to do my job. I had been set on having a normal labour. I knew a Caesarean was always a possibility but it definitely wasn’t in my equation. You always like to think that you are going to make it your own.
The biggest thing or me was that I wasn’t going to be totally present in the birth.
The three of us (my husband and mother) talked it through. The baby’s size, along with the failure to progress, was the determining factor.
My obstetrician called in his team and I was taken to theatre. During the Caesarean, I was aware of the movement and incision but it felt more like a finger stroking across my belly than a knife cutting. There felt no pain.
Within 25 minutes Isabella was born. Brendan cut the umbilicial cord, the paediatrician carried out the Apgar test then yelled out that she was the most perfect baby.
She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Seeing Isabella for this first time outweighed everything I’d ever done; opening nights in Sydney and Melbourne, my first principle lead role, there’s nothing like it – its incredible.
A feeling you’ll never forget.
After the Caesarean, I thought, ‘what was I ever worrying about’.
The next day my obstetrician told me that if I had been giving birth before Caesars were an option, I definitely wouldn’t have survived and we would have been lucky if Isabella would have made it as well. She would have got stuck in the birth canal.
With hindsight my prolonged pre-labour may have been a combination of my muscles not wanting to give and my baby being a bit lazy or perhaps tired.
My theory is that having been a dancer for 18 years, and constantly having to draw up my pelvic floor muscles, maybe my muscles were so used to being contracted that they refused to give. It’s almost as though I should have spent the pregnancy working at relaxing these muscles. Ironic really.
Isabella Edwards was born at 11.25 on the 25th July 2001 weighing 8 1/2 lbs and was 48cm long.
Katy and Isabella
Recovering from Caesarean
Katrina began dancing when she was four years old and has danced professionally for 18 years. She has appeared on stage in both Sydney and Melbourne in Phantom of the Opera, Showboat, Beauty and the Beast, My Fair Lady, West Side Story and was the principal role in Showboat. She is now a fully-qualified pilates instructor in Melbourne. Isabella was born by Caesarean Section when Katrina was 33.
The First 10 Days
For the first five days I was in a state of wonder, thinking, ‘Wow I have just given birth to a little human being’.
Somehow I was overwhelmed with happiness yet I could also cry at the drop of a hat. I guess my hormones were all over the place.
I spent a week in hospital before going home and was encouraged to move about and to not just lie around in bed.
Two days after the Caesarean I was up and able to have a shower. I needed help sitting up and getting in and out of bed. Bending down and picking things up was also problem.
I was taking panadol and digesics for ten days to ease the pain.
In hospital they give you a routine of Kegel exercises that are very basic pilates exercises to strengthen the abdominal muscles. From the third day onwards I began gentle exercises two to three times a day. My abdominal muscles had separated which is quite common. The muscles pull apart and if you don’t do any recuperative work they will not mend.
Two days after came home from hospital I got mastitis. My nipples were badly cracked. When Isabella was sleeping my nipples would scab but as soon as she began suckling, the wounds would re-open. The pain was excruciating.
It was so unbelievable to the point that I dreaded every feed. Her sucking rhythm was so strong but as it turned out, she was latching badly. Around the tenth day, my health nurse made a couple of simple adjustments.
I was put on a mild antibiotic to clear the inflammation and I took an herbal tea and naturopathic pills I had prescribed by a naturopath. The mastitis cleared within a few days. But I was achy, headachy and feeling very run down. I felt so raw.
The first 10 days were unbelievably difficult.
The honeymoon period was over, I had the bub and was on my own, feeling overwhelmed by the enormous responsibility. This baby in my arms was totally depending on me for its survival. Everything is so new. In hospital you’ve had nurses at your disposal and someone to say it is fine and help you put that baby to sleep. When you are at home by yourself and your baby is crying you think, I’ve rocked her, burped her, fed her and changed the nappy, and done it all over again and yet she is still crying.
If you can imagine that, combined with being post-op, post-Caesar, incredibly tired and run down, it’s a really difficult time. It all becomes a really sensitive issue. And often you feel you’re on he edge of postnatal depression. It’s also hard for the father because the first few weeks are very much about mother and bub.
After the initial 10 days, I began feeling that each day I was making progress. I was getting stronger and felt more on top of the situation.
You begin to trust yourself and feel a sense of independence.
Beyond the First 10 Days
From 10 days onwards I began walking a couple of times a day for 10-15 minutes with baby Isabella. This activity played an integral role in my recovery and regaining my strength. Within three weeks I returned to work.
At my six-month check my doctor gave me the okay to do everything.
My scar seemed to take ages to heal. It felt tender for a long time, as much as five or six months.
I lost 11 kilos in first 6 weeks and I still had seven kilos to go. I breastfed for four months. When I returned to work I was night feeding only.
The process varies for everybody. I knew another women who just couldn’t budge the weight even though she was so active and disciplined about her exercise. She was still breastfeeding and it was as though her body was holding stocks.
Returning to Work
The first week back at work was demanding, as it was my weekend for certification. For the first time in my life I had no awareness or strength in lower body. It was frustrating – such a different experience.
I napped every afternoon while Isabella was sleeping. Rest played a huge part of my recovery process.
I am convinced the reason I recovered so quickly was that I started doing basic tummy work each day. As I was doing the exercises, I imagined that I was knitting my abdominals together from the outside in.
I had also swum up until the birth, alternating freestyle with kick boarding laps of the pool.