Victoria refers to her story as a legacy through trauma. Following a miscarriage in her first pregnancy, she encountered complications and many interventions through her next pregnancy and birth of her oldest son. She was separated for him for most of his first week of life in hospital, and the experience had a profound impact on her, and eventually led to a career change as a successful birth photographer (you can see her work here, and some of her images are featured on this blog!). It took her almost 10 years to meet her next baby, following a diagnosis of poor ovarian reserve, and it was an incredibly beautiful, healing experience shared with her husband and son. Read on for the full inspiring story!
Victoria and her two beautiful boys
I lost my first baby, it was a miscarriage. First scan there was a heartbeat, second scan there was none. It broke me, it wasn't something I'd ever considered would happen and felt so unprepared. Waiting in my hospital gown to go into theatre for a D&C, I couldn't hold back the wave of grief. A nurse asked me what was wrong and I was in shock at her question. She didn't know why I was having the procedure and I didn't know there were other reasons a woman might have a D&C. I needed pure empathy and support and it wasn't there.
That was a hard time, a devastating time actually. I never sought counselling. I quit my job. I had to rebuild myself, let go of dreams and set new goals. Depression brings about a crazy strong focus, and back then I thought the trick was to use that focus on things to distract you... my distraction was either going to be alcohol or exercise. I took up road cycling and the training gave me an outlet for my grief. Within 3 months I won my first 100km race.
It took a year to fall pregnant again. And with the pregnancy came the anxiety. The anxiety made me stop all cycling, and without the focus and exercise, my depression hit hard. I was an emotional mess. As the pregnancy progressed, my dark thoughts gained strength as I would picture myself hanging by my neck from the back verandah. I wasn't focused on how labour and birth would go. I was waiting for the day I'd be told my baby was dead and confirmation that I was defective.
I was under the care of an obstetrician. He told me I was high risk because of my previous miscarriage. He gave me internal examinations every appointment and would inspect my breasts each time to check for changes. I never realised until years later that this was an uncommon experience. He told me he'd only ever had one first time mum deliver naturally without drugs and that she was an Iron Woman. I spent my pregnancy feeling incapable on every level.
My waters broke at 36 weeks and I was still at work. I was told i needed to go to hospital for IV antibiotics. I had no bag packed for hospital and my anxiety levels were peaking. I laboured for 2 days on and off in hospital before agreeing to the syntocinon drip. I felt exhausted before I began. But my cycling training kicked in and mentally I coped well with the induced labour for 8 hours.
I discovered what it felt like to labour with a baby in posterior position, with my membranes already ruptured, and with a midwife who told me she would not stand and hold monitors on me for the trace and that I needed to get on the bed and lay still. Everything about my state of mind was anxiety, panic, fear, rejection and failure, and my body closed down. With a broken will, I requested an epidural.
My version of 2nd stage labour went for 2 hours and ended in a forceps delivery. My midwife refused to do much other than paperwork, so my husband was tasked to get the obstetrician gloves and also hold my leg as I was coached through prolonged pushing. My obstetrician attempted to turn my baby while he was in my vaginal Canal. The first attempt failed and with the second attempt I felt and heard a huge clunk as he forcefully twisted my baby by his head. I was terrified he had just broken my child's neck. I easily pushed out my son with the next contraction and he was a dreadful blue colour and I was in absolute shock. It was like nothing I had ever seen let alone experienced before.
The midwife took my baby immediately, wrapped him up tight and gave him back to me after conducting her initial assessments. Apgar scores later read were 9 then 10. He never needed to be taken from me. I tried to unwrap my baby so that I could have some skin to skin but the Midwife kept taking the baby back and rewrapping him in a huff. Overwhelmed with anxiety, I begun having a panic attack and I thought I was going to die. I was given some Valium and left in a room on my own for around 5 hours. The guilt of this separation haunts me to this day.
For the days that followed, the same midwife was assigned to my care. She was a Jekyll and Hyde. If she was in the room alone with me she would say terrible things, discouraging things, like "You'll never be able to breastfeed, let me go get you some formula." But then my husband would walk in and she would say "Oh you're doing a fabulous job! Keep it up." She made me feel like I was losing my mind. I ended up making a complaint thank goodness and she was relieved of looking after me and my baby.
My son had jaundice and was under lights for days, with strictly minimal time allocated to feed and no cuddles. On one occasion the staff encouraged me to sleep and said they'd wake me after 2 hours to feed him. I awoke in a panic to see him in the humidicrib screaming in distress and hunger. It was 5 hours later. I'll never forgive the hospital staff for their lack of care. My trust in hospital staff was completely gone.
After the longest week of my life in hospital with my little jaundice baby, we were finally allowed to leave. I still feel as though his treatment was unnecessary. Unfortunately, the next 12 months were similar kind of Hell, one of the darkest times of my life. My baby screamed so much, he was so discontent, in so much pain and I was completely incapable of fulfilling his needs. I would you get outrageously angry, I would scream at him, I hated him, I hated myself and I wanted to die. I even visualized how I would do it and how I would take my baby with me when I went.
Victoria's first son receiving phototherapy for jaundice
My husband also had postnatal depression and he was completely useless to me and my baby. I honestly have no idea how any of us survived this time. Neither of us sought help for depression or went on any medication. I did however go to multiple sleep clinics and long term stays to try and work out how to get my baby to sleep. Nothing ever worked. I think we just learned to accept it all for what it was.
About a year after my son was born I witnessed some photographs of a child being born naturally and it brought up a lot of feelings. The idea took some time to evolve but I decided I wanted to be a birth photographer. I was already working as a photographer and this genre was fascinating to me. I had an overwhelming need to witness and document a natural vaginal birth with no intervention.
The first birth I ever photographed was a home birth, and a third baby for a mother who was pure inspiration. From there, I had the honour of documenting more and more births - everything from home birth to hospital birth, water births and land birth, cesareans, still births, everything! Every step of the way I was confronted with my own feelings and experiences from my miscarriage and the birth of my son. I was forced to restrain my emotions while working in the birth space for other women, and to process these feelings and ideas when I was alone editing their birth stories.
I began to form an idea in my head of what birth really meant, what it should look like, what it can look like, how society and it's expectations and language around birth have such a huge influence on our birth outcomes. I had a clear picture in my mind that if I ever fell pregnant again, I would do everything so very differently, from a place of a truly empowered mind and heart.
From a photographic point of view my work had gained traction out in the world. I received industry awards for my work, and in 2013 was named Australian documentary Photographer of the year for my portfolio of birth images. Social media allowed my work to be spread, enjoyed, debated, and used to educate the wider community with real stories, visuals and reasons behind the realities of birth. Professionally, I became one of the country's most prominent and experienced birth photographers and presented at many industry conferences in Australia and the United States. I could never have imagined that I would turn such heartbreak and pain into so much to be proud of.
My pregnancy and birth journey's we're incredibly difficult for me to work through, in fact they've taken years! The work I have done over these years has not only helped me confront and heal from my experiences, but also helped countless women and their families process their own experiences. And my work has touched lives in ways I will never fully know, but I feel intense gratitude for it all.
By the time I was ready to try for another child, tests discovered that I had no more ovarian supply left. I was peri menopausal. I grieved for the loss of what I'd always hoped for, an informed and empowered pregnancy, birth and opportunity to mother a precious new life with the wisdom I had gained. But as fate would have it, I fell pregnant despite science and it's statistics.
My miracle baby was born 9 and a half years after my son. It was an incredible birth witnessed by my first son, a healing birth for us all, and one that I re live over and over with joy. My new little one doesn't sleep any more than my first son did, but I'm living with intense love and happiness each day. I embrace him day and night with pure love and gratitude for all I have. This is what life is about! This is my greatest accomplishment, showing my son's that you can turn the deepest pain into the most wonderful outcomes.
The ultimate labour support: partner, son and dog
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