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"I was screaming and hyperventilating." Dr Preeya’s first birth left her shell-shocked.

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 we profile GP and author Dr Preeya Alexander, otherwise known as The Wholesome Doctor, mum to a four-year-old girl and six-month old baby boy*.

As a general practitioner, Dr Preeya Alexander had given plenty of advice to her patients about pregnancy and birth from her Melbourne-based practice.  

It wasn’t until she began her own journey to parenthood with husband Will in 2015, that she felt able to truly empathise.

“We were keen to start our family and initially fell pregnant after trying for three months,” Preeya says.

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“Sadly, I experienced an early miscarriage, but we had planned a holiday to Greece and decided to stop “trying” to emotionally heal from the experience. We didn’t expect to come back pregnant with our daughter!” 

During her pregnancy, Preeya suffered from pelvic girdle pain.

“The pain really got to me as I’m usually a fairly active person, other than that I felt like I could definitely relate to all my pregnant patients' concerns around tiredness, breast changes and a fluctuating sex drive!”

When it came to making a birth plan, Preeya and Will, a plastic surgeon, had the same approach.  

“We both know from experience that you can’t necessarily plan everything when it comes to medicine. Our only stipulation for the obstetrician was that we wanted myself and the baby to survive childbirth!”

As Preeya was healthy with no major complications during pregnancy, she assumed - despite background medical knowledge - that the birth would be straightforward.

When she went into labour at 39 weeks and four days, Preeya called Will at work to let him know her waters had broken, then made her way to the hospital.

“Unfortunately, our obstetrician was on leave but otherwise everything seemed fine. We were initially excited to meet our baby!”

In spite of regular checks and the fact Preeya was dilating, things didn’t move quickly. 

“I began with some nitrous oxide for the pain and requested an epidural a few hours later. After about 22 hours of hours of very slow progression, I felt exhausted.

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“When I eventually got to 10cm dilated I was utterly spent. After a prolonged period of pushing, an attempt at forceps delivery was made and sadly that failed too.

“I remember seeing my heart rate and blood pressure rising on the monitor and the doctor in me was worrying about potential complications that could arise for myself and the baby.”

By this point the obstetrician threw husband Will some scrubs and called the emergency team in to assist.

“I saw tears in Will’s eyes and then it was all such a blur, like an out of body experience. I remember Will helped to transfer me to theatre to prepare for an emergency c-section.” 

Preeya’s epidural was quickly topped up before they could perform the surgery and the block went fairly high meaning Preeya could not feel her left arm or hand.

“I thought I was having a stroke - I was screaming and hyperventilating. It was made worse when my daughter came out because I couldn’t hold her safely without my left arm. She and Will were then taken out of the theatre so I could be looked after.”

“I was freaking out because we were all separated and I remember asking desperately for my husband and my mum. It is quite a horrific memory actually.” 

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

The traumatic birth left Preeya feeling guilty and shell-shocked. 

“I was exhausted, and I was devastated that I hadn’t experienced the skin to skin time in those initial moments post birth that I had looked forward to.  

“I had labial swelling because I had laboured for hours, but I also had a very sore, tender wound from the emergency c-section. It took me a while to bond with my daughter and I think the difficult birth was a large part of the problem.”

Looking back, Preeya feels now as if she didn’t know what to ask and how to advocate for herself earlier on.  

“As a first-time mum, I didn’t know what to expect or ask, so there was a lot of watching and waiting. 

In the weeks after the birth, Preeya suffered with flashbacks and began seeing a psychologist for help under the recommendation of her obstetrician. 

“I was honestly terrified of having another child and when we did start trying we had another early miscarriage. 

“In the middle of 2019 however, we found out we were pregnant again and so we began planning our second birth. Will and I knew that we wanted things to be different this time around.”

After meeting with the same obstetrician, Preeya opted to have an elective c-section. But once again she spontaneously went into labour.

“This time couldn’t have been more different though, as we knew what to expect. 

“We had planned for what we would do if I went into labour and so when my waters broke at 2am, we immediately called the obstetrician and went to hospital for an emergency c-section. 

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“My contractions were coming regularly and by the time we arrived I was already 6cm dilated.” 

The team doing the surgery were aware of Preeya’s experience first time around and did everything they could to ensure this was a difference experience.  

“One of the things I missed out on with my daughter was that important skin-to-skin contact immediately after her birth, so I made sure they knew this was what I wanted.”  

The obstetrician stopped the theatre to announce that this was the plan – that the family unit would remain together for the entirety of the procedure and would be taken to recovery together.

Preeya and Will’s son was born healthily in January 2020 and she admits the birth was very healing for them both.

Dr Preeya and her son after his birth. Image: Supplied.

“It was a much more calm and controlled birth. Breastfeeding and bonding felt easier immediately, partly due to the different birth and the fact it was my second time.” 

After her two very different births, Preeya’s advice to other women is to not feel bad when things don’t go to plan.

“Even if you are lucky to have an amazing birth experience – you should be able to say so.

“Every birth is completely unique; some good, some not so much and we should be able to celebrate this fact, not feel guilty about it!”

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.

*Children’s names have been withheld for privacy reasons.

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