Support for a woman in pregnancy, birth and as a mother is paramount. I have come to realise the power and necessity of female support through my journey as a woman, a sister and a mother. I am delighted to offer this space for women to share with honesty, courage and spirit their own unique accounts of their birth journey's and their journey as they birth a whole new part of themselves as a mother. So I introduce to you the awesome warrior mama Shonagh!
My Birthing Journey - Three very different births.
By Shonagh Ruddick
Early in my first pregnancy I lost a lot of weight despite an increased appetite and I was diagnosed with Graves Disease; hyperthyroidism in pregnancy. As it can be very dangerous, I was put on medication and both baby and I were monitored closely throughout.
I had a 26 hour birth centre labour with two hours of crowning and pushing before they decided to take me to theatre for an episiotomy and foreceps. I was told I was tired, that I needed to push harder, that I was giving up. I was so exhausted and in so much pain I can't even remember it all.
It was only as they were tugging him out they realised my son was wrapped in his umbilical cord and the placenta was pulling him back. I lost a lot of blood and the ordeal left me in shock with an infected, open episiotomy wound that took 3 months to heal. I felt I had failed him and that I was weak. I was never having a baby again.
Breastfeeding did not come naturally to my traumatised baby or myself. He was syringe fed at the midwives instruction and it took three long and painful weeks to get him entirely onto the breast with the support of a lovely health visitor.
I endured mastitis and thrush at this time and have often questioned what made me persist. I think I wanted so badly not to fail him or myself again, I felt this would somehow rectify all that had gone wrong. I went on to feed him for 12 beautiful months. Nursing became central to my feeling of self worth as a mother and still fills me with a sense personal pride and value.
1 year after my sons birth I suffered an unexpected early miscarriage and this changed me, I knew then I wanted another child.
22 months after my first baby arrived, my second son was born. I had a great deal of anxiety around his labour and the things that could go wrong.
My apprehension was unfounded, it was a 6 hr labour and this granted him and I the energy to have a natural, unassisted birth. As soon as I felt the first contraction I was overcome with a determination not to be cut again and worked as my body needed, positioning and resting as it told me - in short I listened and trusted intently to my body, my baby and my intuition. I was without fear and I knew what I wanted. I experienced the great joy and accomplishment of natural birth for the first time and it was a revelation. Breastfeeding was immediate and successful and lasted another incredible 11 months.
Despite this, without reason or explanation I experienced several months of post natal depression. I was so very angry and felt so very useless. Caring full time for two young children without family close by became overwhelming. Those around me noticed, I got help and I got better but I hold a lot of guilt and regret about the way I treated my boys during this time.
I quickly became pregnant again and spent the majority of the 9 months dreading the arrival of my baby, questioning my ability to cope with three infants and suffering from a very weak and painful pelvic floor. My body felt like it was giving up. I began swimming in attempt to alleviate pressure and strengthen my core and quickly fell in love with the freedom, peace and energy it gave me. It was crucial to my growing positivity at this stage and remains an important part of mywellbeing.
My last baby came 18 months after my second, without fear, without unbearable pain and without complication. He brought with him peace, a sense of calm and a feeling of completion to our whole family. Even now he smiles more than all of us put together.
His was a 3 hour labour that made me feel like a powerful Mother and woman. My experiences had taught me all I needed to know and I was able to let go, believe in myself and believe in my ability to birth. I made it to 9cm easily at home but my illness required I attend hospital to deliver and have him immediately monitored by paediatricians. All three boys were born hyperthyroid and carried my harmful antibodies. Thankfully this was a temporary condition for them all.
Breastfeeding was again important to me, allowing me to nurture and nourish my babies despite my illness, and thankfully was once again a success. My third son is 8 months old and I am feeding him still.
It was at the end of this 3rd pregnancy where I began to suffer from gallbladder attacks. My husband says he'd rather watch me labour than watch me suffer a gallbladder attack and I have to agree, I can't begin to describe the severity of pain. Undiagnosed and sent home with antacids for two months, a series of A&E visits eventually granted me an ultrasound and a diagnosis. Cholesterol build up throughout successive pregnancies was to blame, however I knew this could only have come from the food I was putting into my system.
I ate cleanly and became healthier to avoid attacks until my removal surgery. When the time came I didn't react well to the anaesthetic and as a result was very unwell. Even more heartbreaking was the prolonged stay where I asked the nurses to wake me every 3 hours so I could pump and dump. I was so dehydrated from vomiting they couldn't send me home, the only place I wanted to be to nurse my baby and hold my boys.
Eventually returning home I was very underweight and in so much pain that breastfeeding became an exercise in torture. This was the first time I considered giving up as I questioned if it was becoming detrimental to my recovery. I knew I needed to heal for all my children.
I felt as though my choice was being taken away by my failing body, and I just couldn't let this illness take it from me or him. A variety of new positions, sheer stubbornness and support from like minded friends helped me continue. My husband speaks now of how difficult it was to watch me endure this period.
Since then I have completely changed my diet, put off from ever having to visit a hospital again or leave my babies without their mother, even for a short time. I eat a plant based diet, that is helping me gain weight, strength and energy. I have treats when I fancy but find my appetites have changed. There has been no return in my Graves symptoms and I am medication free.
I am, for the first time, looking after myself properly and dedicating time to my own happiness and health which have been neglected since I began my journey as a mother. I realise now that my wellbeing is central to my children's and am determined to stay strong for them.
Often, times throughout these illnesses and pregnancies I have felt let down by my body and its inability to function well. I believe the choices I am making now give me control and allow me to celebrate all my body has achieved despite the setbacks. It made me three beautiful, healthy, happy and loving boys and I'm only now able to appreciate and enjoy that fully.
Me & Tessa
Tessa was a fountain of knowledge and support to me during all my pregnancies, especially the last, where her diet and self care advice helped me through a serious illness while coping with a new born on top of my two other young children. Thanks to her advise, support and encouragement I not only survived a most difficult ordeal but was able to breast feed my son pain free and recovered quickly and with a strength and energy I didn't have before. She truly cares.
Mama We Salute you!
I have known Shonagh since my first placement as a young super keen art and design teacher. I remember being blown away and instantly in love with the wildly creative, intelligent woman whose energy was infectious! She taught me SSOOOO much about how to be a creative and playful teacher. Her ingenuity, capacity to always have a million and one brilliant ideas and her support and compassion for students, created such a melting pot of energy and enthusiasm for art in the school we worked in together. She has gone on to unite her passion for motherhood and arts in an awe inspiring way - check out Shonagh's awesomely creative play ideas for young beings here: