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"We re-lived it over and over." Robyn's traumatic birth story.

Birth: there's nothing quite like it, and it's clear no two birth stories are the same. Which is why we're asking everyday women and some of our favourite celebrity mums to share theirs, in Mamamia's My Birth Story series.

This week Robyn Matthews tells Mamamia about her nerve-wracking birth story with her second child Atlas.

My first pregnancy was uneventful. Our daughter Gypsy was born at exactly 40 weeks after a long 37-hour labour back in 2013.

My second pregnancy started out straightforward, and at 27 weeks, after moving to the Great Ocean Road for work, I visited Warrnambool hospital to register my intent to give birth there. The obstetrician decided to do a quick in-room scan and as my son looked quite small; she booked me in for a more in-depth scan the following week.

I make small babies, so it was no surprise that it showed that he just had very short legs but was otherwise fine, so at 28-weeks I was cleared to join the local community midwife program.

Watch: Questions about childbirth, answered. Post continues below.


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At 30 weeks I headed to Timboon for my first community midwife appointment with Gypsy in tow. We were going to have a girls’ lunch then an ice-cream after. The midwife was lovely and everything went well. 

Just as we were finishing up, the visiting obstetrician asked if I wanted to see her as well. She rotated between the rural clinics once a month and just happened to be there on that day. We had a quick chat, then I got up on the table and she asked if I wanted a sneaky look at my baby, which of course I did!

I told her it had only been two weeks since my last scan and I felt completely fine, but she was really quiet, and when I looked up, I saw her face was white.

She calmly explained that there appeared to be a lot of fluid in the pleural sacs (the normally thin membrane that separates the lungs from the chest cavity) and that whilst it was likely that her machine was just old, I would need to go to Warrnambool hospital immediately.

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She called the head sonographer, and he cleared his entire afternoon schedule for me. 

Nonchalantly I told her that we’d just grab some lunch and an ice-cream, and then I’d head in after dropping Gypsy home. She stopped, held my hands, looked me in the eye and said very lovingly but sternly, "No, you are going to get takeaway and head there now with your daughter. You don’t have time to head home."

My mind was all over the place; what did she mean I didn’t have time to head home? I thought that surely it was just an issue with her machine?

I grabbed Gypsy some hot chips and called my husband, although I didn’t know what to say. It seemed like a weird, bad dream. I felt fine, and just two weeks ago my baby was fine!

When we arrived at the same clinic I’d had a normal scan at two weeks earlier, I was rushed in past the full waiting room. Everything was in slow motion. 

The sonographer was very solemn and quiet during the scan, then handed me a handful of 3D pictures of my baby. Just two weeks ago I was told that they didn’t give out 3D pictures, but now he was giving me a handful. What did this mean? Was he telling me my baby might not survive?

When he finished, he told me to call my husband and tell him I wasn’t coming home. I was to be transferred to Melbourne as soon as possible. 

He told me to start preparing mentally for the likelihood of having a premature and very sick baby very soon. And with that, I was admitted to the maternity ward – not knowing if I was going to lose my baby.

My husband, in his stress, packed the most ridiculous hospital bag ever: seven pairs of leggings, one top, one pair of pyjamas, no undies and for some reason, Gypsy’s toothbrush.

I bid a tearful farewell to my husband and daughter, not knowing when I’d see them again.

Image: Supplied. 

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The nurses and obstetrician on the ward were so lovely. Nobody could tell me what was happening to my baby, why or if he would survive, but they reassured me that Melbourne was where I needed to be. 

They tried to calm my nerves by giving me a tour of their NICU and took turns to come and bring me warm Milo’s and chat with me all night. I was transferred really early the following morning to the Mercy hospital for Women.

Even though it was a Saturday, I was immediately taken to perinatal care where I was introduced to "my team".

They quickly ascertained that there were many issues with my little man. He had Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR) and was too small. His placental blood flow wasn’t regular; his heart was struggling; I had higher than normal amniotic fluid levels and then there was the fluid around his lungs. 

There were apparently A-Z of reasons why he could have the fluid, but the best outcome was option Z. But the only way to diagnose that was to rule out A-Y first with many, many tests. I even went into false labour after my amniocentesis.

The hospital staff were amazing. Although I initially had to share a room with a new mother, as soon as a bed became available with one of the other antenatal mums, they moved me straight away. 

There were a few of us on the ward for different reasons and we soon became lifelong friends and each other’s pillars of support. I truly don’t know how I would have gotten through without them.

Quickly my incredible team ruled out most of the worst-case scenarios. But his lungs were so full of fluid (more than 5cm in his tiny lungs) that it was putting strain on his heart.

The usual CTG machine that a healthy mum would be connected to for five to 10 minutes to check their baby’s heart, would take me sometimes six hours a day. It was a horrible emotional and physical rollercoaster and I just wanted to get off.

At 31 weeks they decided to do a drain and shunt procedure on him. They operated on him through my womb and were able to insert a shunt into his left lung to drain the fluid into my amniotic fluid. 

They also drained some of the fluid from his lungs during that procedure to test and that gave us our final diagnosis – Congenital Chylothorax. Somehow his thoracic duct had malfunctioned, and instead of pumping lymphatic fluid around his body, it was pooling in his lungs. 

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We were warned that if the shunt didn’t take the pressure off of his lungs and heart, he was going to be born very early. They hoped that by relieving the pressure, his thoracic duct would also heal, but even if it did, we would likely need to spend three to four months in NICU.

Thankfully, almost immediately the fluid started to reduce. The next day his heart was back where it should be and his lungs were semi-inflated and we could even see him practice breathing!

Listen to Leigh Campbell's birth story. Post continues below.

After two weeks in hospital I was released to the local Lions house. I will forever be grateful for it and the support I had from the other people living there in equally heartbreaking circumstances. Although I had to report to the hospital every day for more scans and monitoring, it was nice to have a space where my family could come and visit at weekends.

Every day, my baby was getting stronger and stronger and his lungs were getting clearer. Every day was a milestone.

At 36 weeks, just as everything was starting to look up, my health suddenly took a turn. I had Gypsy with me for school holidays and I wasn’t feeling well. They ran some tests, and they showed that my liver and kidneys had suddenly started to shut down. Although my blood pressure and urine samples were normal, I had developed a rare form of pre-eclampsia. Baby had to be born very soon.

I called my husband to quickly come in again.

Throughout all of this, my team really wanted me to have a vaginal birth. They wanted to squeeze as much fluid out of his lungs as possible as he passed through the birth canal. I was induced the following evening.

At 7am my husband came to the hospital and my waters were broken. All of the birth planning I had done with Gypsy and in the early stages of my pregnancy meant absolutely nothing now. I was no longer scared of a c-section or any other intervention. I just wanted a healthy baby.

Even though I had experienced such a medicalised pregnancy, I was encouraged to have the labour that I wanted. I was allowed to try essential oils and acupressure to establish labour on my own, and almost straight away the contractions started. 

At around 11am I started to struggle. The contractions were intense and so close together. I had already had morphine which made me feel like I was lapsing in and out of consciousness and not helping the pain at all, so I started to beg for an epidural.

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The same as with Gypsy, the top 'pushing muscle' began to engage with each contraction, and my body was trying to push the baby out even though I was only at 5cm.

Baby was getting sandwiched, and it was excruciating. While we were waiting for the epidural I suddenly felt him start to move. I had the quintessential ‘the baby is coming’ moment, and I really felt like I was going to sit on him! 

When the anaesthetist arrived, I made the midwife check again as I was convinced the baby was coming. She quickly checked and confirmed I was still only 5cm dilated, then said, "Oh hang on, there’s a lip here. Let me flick it and see what happens."

Then I felt a whoosh, and she laughed and turned to the anaesthetist and said "Sorry, too late, the baby just dropped into my hands. We’re having a baby!" And just like that he was crowning.

Suddenly the realisation that the baby would likely be born very quickly turned into panic, as we needed a full paediatric team! Just as the team ran in, the next contraction, helped along by all of the extra amniotic fluid I was carrying, pushed him out and thankfully the midwife caught him!

But he wasn’t breathing, and he wasn’t crying. I started screaming, "Why isn’t he crying?" And I pushed my husband to go over and be with him, but with 15 doctors and nurses all around him he couldn’t see anything.

After what felt like forever, but was probably only a couple of minutes, he began to cry, and with that, all of the stress and worry of the last two months poured out of me in huge sobs. Our son Atlas was here, and he was perfect. Tiny (2.1kg) but perfect.

Image: Supplied. 

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Instead of four months in NICU, he only needed 10 days in special care. After an X-ray to check for re-accumulation, he was discharged and hasn’t looked back since.

He’s now three, and aside from a few little scars on his chest and asthma, you’d never know the rollercoaster of a journey he had to get here.

Both my husband and I really struggled mentally and emotionally to deal with everything that happened. We felt so blessed to have our baby, but so incredibly guilty as well.

We re-lived those eight weeks over and over and over. When Atlas was 18 months old, we took him back to the Mercy for a debrief with the team. That gave us both such closure, to be able to thank the amazing staff who had been like family to us for everything we had been through.

If you have an amazing birth story to share, let us know by emailing some details to: [email protected] and including 'My Birth Story' in the subject line.

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Feature Image: Supplied.

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