'Instagram gave me warped expectations about my first few hours as a mum.'

I knew my ideal birth-plan probably wasn't going to happen. I'd been warned about that part.

I knew to expect labour and birth to be long and tricky and unpredictable, and it was. My birth, like most births, didn't pan out as I expected. 

I was induced just shy of 38 weeks after I turned up at the hospital with leaking. Turns out my waters had been broken for the last 24 hours and I just hadn't realised.

I also broke my tailbone during birth after spending more than two hours pushing. That was certainly unexpected. 

Watch: Questions about childbirth answered by mums. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia

But I'd readied my brain for things out of my control happening to me during childbirth. What I hadn't prepared for was the possibility that my son and I would be separated at birth. That something out of my control would happen to us, our bond and our experience together after he was here. 

I'd had a pretty uneventful pregnancy. Normal symptoms and completely healthy tests and checkups. I'd assumed I would likely be in and out of the hospital in a matter of days. 


I assumed I would have that 'golden hour' of time with him on my chest, where I'd attempt to breastfeed him for the first time and soak up his cuddles and newness. 

I'd get to study his face and his body and feel his little fingers.

I'd get to watch my fiance's face as he met him and cuddled him moments after me. 

I assumed I'd get that photo. You know the one? The experience often shared on social media of a tired mum grinning back at the camera with her newly swaddled newborn in her arms and her partner or loved one by her side. I have always loved looking at those photos; new parents looking like deliriously happy deers in the post-birth-bubble-headlights. The calm after the storm of delivery.

I didn't get that. 

My son was only on my chest for a couple of seconds before the midwife alerted the pediatrician to irregular breathing and he was whisked away from me. As I sat on the hospital bed, legs spread, and yet to be sewn back up (from an episiotomy and second degree tear), I was told he was going straight to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). 

I'd given birth without an epidural, but they wanted to give me one to sew me back up. So while I was wheeled down to surgery, my fiance followed our boy as he was wheeled to a different floor of the hospital to be strapped up to a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. I spent an hour and a half not knowing if he was alive, struggling, stable, thriving - nothing. The first time I saw my son's face was in a photo my partner had taken of him, which I only saw once I was back on the postnatal ward.


I then had to wait until the epidural had worn off so that I could get myself into a wheelchair. My son was born at 11:23pm. I didn't see him again until 3:30am.

The moment I was reunited with my son in the early hours of the morning. 

When I finally met him, I was allowed to have a little cuddle but then I had to put him back. That was the start of a week of torture - visiting him every few hours to breastfeed, before returning to my bed alone. 


It's hard to describe what that felt like. My body and mind were screaming at me to just pick him up and run, even though I knew he was where he needed to be. Leaving him there and not getting to have him in my arms all the time was so agonising it didn't just hurt my heart, I could feel the pain in my bones. 

The midwives kept telling me to enjoy the uninterrupted sleep on the ward while I could. The NICU nurses kept telling me new things about my son like, "he's got some lungs on him," or "he's done some great poos." They meant well, but I felt devastated. I didn't want uninterrupted sleep, and I wanted to be with him, to learn new things about him. 

I spent five days in fight-or-flight mode waddling or being wheeled to the lifts and down to the NICU ward every few hours to visit my little boy, before he was finally released to my room. In the scheme of NICU stays ours was short - I only got a taste of what many other families have and are going through. 

I moved through that week in a state of shock that this was my reality. I'd naively thought we wouldn't need the help of a NICU given I'd had such a breezy pregnancy. What I'd failed to consider was that while my experience isn't the norm, it is not uncommon. 

According to the Australia Institute of Health and Welfare, almost one in five (17 per cent) babies require admission to special care nursery (SCN) or NICU. Some are there for only hours, some for weeks and some for months.


In hindsight, I can see that TikTok and Instagram definitely unintentionally warped my expectations. As I neared my due-date my whole feed was full of those post-birth blissful 'baby on the chest' moments and tearful new grandparents walking in to meet their new grandchild. 

My parents and in-laws didn't actually meet my son until he was a week old and released to my room. Only parents were allowed in the NICU at our hospital when we were there. 

I guess it was a good thing I was focused on the positive experiences of new parenthood pre-birth, but I am a big believer in knowledge is power. It's how I came out the other side of my rather hectic birth experience feeling quite fine about it. 

But I am still mourning the loss of not getting to be with my son when he was first born. Of having to visit him, and leave him. Of having to learn how to breastfeed on the open NICU floor and then relinquish him to the feeding tubes when I couldn't quite work out how to encourage him to latch under pressure. 

It was the hardest week of my life and while I don't think you can really prepare for how to handle something like that; I wish I'd considered the possibility before being thrust into it. 

Perhaps it wouldn't have left me feeling so blindsighted. 

Perhaps I would have appreciated the uninterrupted sleep.

Feature image: Supplied. 

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