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How do you say hello and then goodbye – Leo’s brave lion heart

Birth Stories

Jessaveve Hunter

October 15th is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day and during the month of October we try to raise awareness of this significant and life changing event by encouraging families to share their stories of grief and healing so they may give comfort to other families that may be going through the same or similar journey.

Tonight on this day, Jessaveve Hunter is finally ready to share her birth story.

My husband & I found the Calmbirth course extremely useful for our first birth. But for the birth of our second son, we faced a very different, a very difficult situation. Our son was diagnosed in untero with a genetic condition affecting his heart & other organs. It was terminal. He wasn’t going to live after birth. We were prepared that we might have just minutes to cherish him. With much counselling we decided, in every way we could, we would lean in. Lean in to the grief, to the supports available, lean in to cherishing our pregnancy, whilst he was still with us, lean in to the funeral prep (though it broke my heart), AND at the same time we leaned in to giving our beautiful son, the best birth. So we revised our Calmbirth book & we did all the ground work for a calm, special and truely cherished birth. It didn’t go exactly to plan but it was so beautiful. I was able to gift my son, a good birth. And because it was so good, we (and our family) were able to cherish the 1 hour we were given with our sweet boy.  Here is my beautiful and precious birth.

Heavily pregnant & a week and a day overdue. My labour started on a large double bed in the birthing suite. I was relaxed. Excited. Confident. My two gorgeous midwives giggled as they explained how many sheets & towels they had layered on my bed. We were expecting a big pop. I had litres and litres of extra fluid in there. They took a while breaking my waters. I locked eyes with my hubby Aaron as they poked around and I breathed slowly. Hubby slowly stroked my arms and softly chanted our birth mantra. I was well rested and I had taken a long hot bath (we’ll come back to that later) before our planned appointment.

Although this was my second vaginal birth, I was well overdue, and had the full support of my husband, our huge community at home,  many specialists & the MGP team –  still there were such mixed emotions.

How do we say hello & then goodbye?

Since the 20week morphology scan, we began praying & preparing for a very sick child.

We named him Leo Judah. Like the strong lion of Judah in the bible. With his heart, like a real lion, disproportionate to his body size. He made us brave. By 30weeks (on our eldest sons 2nd birthday) we found out our Leo had a terminal diagnosis. He wasn’t going to live. We knew he was safe until birth. He simply needed his mumas strong heart to beat for his.

And so our plan shifted. From urgent multiple surgeries in multiple hospitals, canulas, breathing tubes and an eventual heart  transplant…to a new focus: giving our Leo the chance to say hello. To be held, loved & cherished as long as his little lion heart lasted.

So after the waterworks, since my last labour was over 30 hours long, I was adamant that there was no point staying in hospital. My midwives agreed I was to go home, buy ribs for dinner and have another long hot bath, to return when I was ready. I slowly waddled down to the hospital foyer.

My midwife caught me grimacing in the edge of a chair in the foyer and sensed my labour had started. Stick to the plan, we agreed. A lovely hot bath at home & I’ll be back when I’m ready!

Driving home I played my birthing podcast, I rode the gentle waves of joy and pain and excitement. I kept an eye on the clock (surges 3-5mins apart I didn’t tell hubby). A part of me knew we should be turning around. We were a good hour away from the hospital. But I was stubborn. I was enjoying myself. I knew what was ahead & I had a good plan. What could go wrong?

The whole way home each surge released more of my waters. By the time I got out of the car I was pretty wet. Thankfully it was pouring rain anyway & I was wearing gum boots. I remember laughing at myself for my stubbornness as I waddled up to the front door, wet from head to toe. So ready for my hot bath.

I hopped on the loo as hubby filled the bath. A couple cm deep. “Is it hot yet?” I called out impatiently, “Ahh Jess” Hubby said with a worried tone starring at our floating temperature rubber ducky…”the water’s gone cold. How much water did you use for this morning’s bath?”

“No. Noo. Nooooooo!” I cried out as if in a cartoon. The irony was that there was a big bath in the birthing suite. And I knew if I wasn’t so stubborn about ‘knowing’ my labour would be long & slow, like my first, I could have just stayed.

I hopped in my cold bath. Hubby filled all the saucepans with water and set the kettle. ‘I’ll just heat up the bath’ he said anxiously. But my now my surges were coming in hot & heavy. 2mins apart. He started timing. He was running in & out of the room with saucepans and kettles and yelling out “is that another one? Oh Is it over? Can you press the button?”. I began to panic as I started to imagine giving birth in the car. Even getting to the car seemed impossible. The only way of getting through my surges now was with his deep connection & focus on me. Breathing together as he chanted my mantra. I clutched his arm & took a deep breath. “Stop timing” I said. “I have an idea and you’re not allowed to disagree with it.” “Call the neighbour”. I said. We called lovely Deb over & She packed us a dinner. And before I knew it I was asking her if she minded driving us to hospital so hubby could focus on getting me through each contraction. She said yes. Thank God!

It took me a solid 40min to get out of the bath & into the car. For the next hour in the car (or maybe more, Deb drives like a grandma) I had one goal. Don’t give birth in the car.

Now was the time to zone in to my visualisations. I was a red balloon drifting away. I was slowly stepping down the sand steps of my own beautiful private beach. I could hear the waves in my mind. I kept my eyes closed almost the whole trip. Hubby had practiced our mantra whilst stroking my arm as I breathed in for one sentence and out for another.  “Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Just to be and to breathe” ‍ This was my only control. The only way I could redirect the urge to lift & twist my body & push.

5 mins away from the hospital. Now everyone was in the loop. Family were waking up our 2yo to bring him up in time to meet his brother, photographer was trekking in despite a severe asthma attack, midwife was well informed guiding us at each stage. 1 min from the hospital. Now she was riding the elevator down to meet us. Would we make it? Yes! We were going to make it!

I knew I didn’t have the time to wait for the covid check in. My contractions were now less than a minute apart. But hurrah, I could see someone had accidentally left an emergency exit door near the elevator, chocked open! I waited for my next contraction to finish then sprinted through the door. After barely shuffling for weeks I don’t know how I managed to run but I did. I sprinted down that corridor and when I caught sight of my midwife time slowed down. We ran to each other with open arms like in a cheesy movie. I could hear that classic slow motion romantic melody in my head. Dum-dum-du-du-dum-dum. I collapsed into her arms as another contraction hit. She waved her magic swipe wand and made all the doors open.

Back in my birthing suite. I felt victorious! I made it. She started to run the bath (just for pain relief we were not planning a water birth) as I perched on the edge of the bed catching my breath. 10mins till I was ready to get on all fours on the mat she had prepared on the floor, to allow her to check me. 9cm dilated. (Too late for the bath!) I was so in the zone it barely registered. All I knew was I needed those sterile water injections in my back for the unrelenting posterior back cramps. She was quick to administer them. They were all ready. She knew my birth plan. Ah. Such relief. I actually had a break between contractions. I could take a breath. They may have been only seconds apart. But I was exhilarated from my hilarious rollercoaster of a journey home & back. I wasn’t crippled with exhaustion like the last labour. I wanted to slow things down. I managed a quick hot shower.

Then it was on. Transition. The pain shifted. It was totally different. Almost gone. pushing sensation increased & then took over. I was ready to push this baby out and finally meet him. Right then my birth photographer arrived. My dear friend. Perfect timing. Because he was still posterior my position on all fours triggered the back cramps again. Oh no. I can’t do this I thought. But the midwives got me another lot of water for injections on request, and again, the back pain disappeared! Yes! I can do this.

It was still about an hour of pushing (1/3 of the length of my last posterior pushing stage). My midwives stood back & offered encouragement. At every stage they were just so impressed with me. It brought me so much confidence. I began to grow weary and uncomfortable on all fours leaning into my husband. They brought me a bean bag. I slumped into it & hugged it through each surge. Hubby, now on his ten millionth arm stroke and mantra chant was hugging me and stroking my hair.

He was still twisted round, halfway posterior, which slowed things down and I felt stretched and stuck. My midwife used a hot washer on my perineum to soften it & help me to stretch & not tear. when I was almost at my limit their words comforted me “that’s it, go at your own pace, nice & slow. perfect. that will help you not to tear”. And eventually they suggested I trial turning over to lay on my side with legs wide. That did the trick. He finally came out!

What a chubby bubby. And miles of dark thick shiny hair! Once in our arms he opened his eyes and stared up at us. Our photographer captured every moment and our parents arrived with our son just in time to meet his brother.

I was ecstatic. I knew we didn’t have long but I wasn’t sad I was full of joy! He was here! I did it! And all on my own. No episiotomy, no vacuum, no doctors! And here was my darling little boy. We made it. We gave him a good birth & a chance to say his hello before heading off. Who would have thought that this would be the birth to bring so much healing to my previous trauma.

He never made much noise. Barely a squeak. But man did he soak us up. He stared and snuggled and met his brother and they exchanged the gifts we prepared for them. We read them stories. And he was passed around the family. Our siblings came, our pastor came. There was tears and joy as everyone admired him and us. We prayed and sang. And his little heart beat for a full hour, just past midnight. Meaning he technically lived for two days, and his birthday will always be a whole day of it’s own.

Leo Judah only ever knew love. He was a blessing to our family. He completed us, and he will always be our baby & Archie’s little brother. Though we are passionately sad, and completely heartbroken, we look forward with eager anticipation for the day we will hold him once more and call him by name.

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