Pernille Teisbæk – About giving birth and being pregnant again
Just weeks away from her due date, a heavily pregnant Pernille Teisbæk talks to To The Moon Honey’s Bea Fagerholt about the birth of her second son, Bobby, whose swift arrival left her with a feeling of anxiety. Pernille has spent most of her third pregnancy processing the intense experience of loss of control and panic she experienced during her previous labour, while at the same time feeling that she can be mindful when she gives birth to her third son in a few weeks’ time. Read the edited podcast transcript of Pernille’s conversation with Bea here.
“I found out that I was expecting my third child at the start of the corona crisis (in March – ed.). It was a surprise – but a joyful one. We’d rented a holiday cottage to get away from our usual surroundings at home for a bit. We were going crazy with two small children who constantly needed entertaining. So we went, and while we were at the cottage I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting my period. Early on, I took a test, which was negative, and I thought: Phew! It wasn’t exactly the plan, but a week went by and then I started to feel sick.
Being pregnant for the third time in less than three years seems completely crazy. This time round, I’ve felt a bit more nauseous, but also slightly more discomfort after the first trimester so I thought that this pregnancy was just developing differently and that maybe it was going to be a girl. But it’s a boy, and we’re really happy. It took me some time to get used to the idea of a third boy. It means that I’ll be the only woman in a house filled with lots of lovely boys.
I’ve noticed that during the corona crisis we’ve really come together as a family. Not because I didn’t appreciate my children before, but we’ve found a really good rhythm, all of us. There’s almost one year and nine months between the children, and they weren’t the best of friends from the start. They each have their own temperament and are probably also a bit more active than many other children, but they’re incredibly loving and really fun to be with so they have also – although, of course, it’s hard to spend time with small children – made this whole corona crisis a bit more fun and entertaining. I can also see that the friendship between them has grown. But they’re still so small (Billy is three and Bobby almost two – ed.) and finding out who they are as human beings.
Luckily, this third pregnancy has been very straightforward. At least, in purely physical terms. I feel really lucky in that. In terms of mental health, there is quite a lot going on at the moment, including a new house and all sorts of other things. But when I have a lot of things going on, I’m quite good at pushing myself aside mentally speaking and continuing to work on all the practical tings involving the family, and packing and moving and ensuring that everyone is OK, and then I end up being last on the list.
But now I can see that with only a few weeks until my due date I’m starting to think about a lot of things. Personally, I don’t think that you become better at giving birth. Maybe you do if you ask Tina (Winther, from Mamaprofylax – ed.), who was my personal midwife when I was expecting Bobby. I’ve enlisted her help again during this pregnancy. Of course, your body knows what’s going to happen, but you become more cognisant, and sometimes that awareness isn’t always the best thing to bring to the table. At any rate, I’m comparing my two deliveries which were very different.
When I had Billy, my labour was very long. As I’ve talked to Tina about, you go into labour for the first time with a certain naivete, and you don’t really know what’s happening — which is pretty smartly designed. You have a feeling that anything can happen. Billy was a breech baby, which meant that it was hard for him to come out by himself. He was born after a lot of Rebozo massage and all sorts of other things that my husband Philip took care of. I thought it was hard because it all took so long, but when he was born I was so happy and quickly forgot about everything else.
During my antenatal classes with Bobby, Tina and I focused on the fact that it should be a positive experience and that it would be quick – or at least quicker. All the things or mistakes, if you can call them that, that happened during my first labour – the things that could be changed – was something I focused on in my conversations with Tina. This helped me a lot, and I felt really ready to give birth the second time.
When I left my final session with Tina, I remember that I had a feeling that Bobby was quite a big baby, which turned out to be true. I contacted Tina some time before (my due date – ed.) and asked her to help induce the baby. I couldn’t walk around with him in my belly any longer. He just had to come out.
My due date was 23 December, and I didn’t want to end up going into labour on Christmas Eve. It seemed that that would be a pity for him. I know that Tina would never do anything without believing that I was ready, and she could see that something had to happen. She swept my membranes and almost two days passed before I went into labour. I remember that Tina said I was ready and that things would move fast. But I kept playing the scenario from Billy’s birth in my head where I was in labour for two days, so I thought that ‘fast’ maybe meant one day. I was happy if we were able to reduce it to just one day.
After Tina had swept my membranes, I impatiently wrote to her the day after because nothing had happened. I remembered an old wives’ tale about jumping from a kitchen table down onto the floor to get the labour going. I didn’t do that – and I wouldn’t recommend it – but we took the children to a playground near where we live. I knew there was a trampoline there and thought that that might get something going. And it did. The walk home from the playground took longer than usual, but I didn’t have the feeling that I should make my way to hospital right away, so we went home and gave Billy his dinner and put him to bed. We went to the hospital just after that, and I found out that I was five centimetres dilated. At that point, I didn’t think that the contractions were too bad. They were bearable.
It was the middle of Christmas, and when we arrived at the hospital the midwife greeted us with reindeer antlers on her head. She looked like someone who had just been to a Christmas party and was very jolly! She was really experienced, but her shift was about to end and she told us that if I wanted her to deliver my baby we needed to hurry the labour along a bit. I had planned to give birth in a cosy atmosphere with dimmed lighting, so we’d brought fake candles and music along to make the hospital ward look more inviting. But when I’d been sitting on a ball for about half an hour, the midwife asked whether it wouldn’t be a good idea to get the labour going. I was all for it. And completely unaware of what was about to hit me in the next few minutes.
I lay down on the bed and she broke my waters, which eased the pressure in my swollen belly and gave me an enormous feeling of relief. Then she asked me to go to the toilet to see if I was able to pee. But when I reached the door to the bathroom, only three metres from the bed, the first contraction hit me. I have quite a high pain threshold and don’t believe that I’m particularly sensitive, but this was the most insane thing I’d ever experienced. It was really intense and I thought: “What the hell was that?!” and instinctively reached out for something to hold onto, something that felt safe, which in this case was the bed.
Already as I moved back towards the bed, I got another contraction which almost knocked me off my feet. My knees buckled under me, and it was so intense. I struggled back to the bed and asked the midwife for pain relief, but it was too late by then. The next contraction came and that also felt very intense. I asked the midwife to examine me, and it turned out that I was fully dilated and ready to push. After only two pushes on the bed, he was out. When he appeared, it turned out that I had been right about his size. He had a larger-than-average head and weighed 4500 g. It wasn’t just a tiny baby slipping out. Having such a big baby was an extreme experience. It made sense that the way had to be cleared and that was why the contractions were so strong. When I look back, I understand the pain I went through. I can quite easily cope with a lot of pain. I’m not afraid of it. But when he was born, I could feel that there was something that wasn’t quite right. At the time, I didn’t know what it was, but I started to feel really ill. My body started to shake all over, as I do when I feel sick and afraid. Shaking after giving birth is normal, but I just couldn’t calm down again.
When Billy, my first child, was born, I was overcome by a warm feeling in my entire body and felt very calm when he was placed on my chest. It was the most moving moment in all sorts of ways, seeing this little thing who had been in my belly. But I didn’t experience the same thing at all this time around. Bobby lying on my chest actually started to make me feel sick. I felt unable to breathe and asked to have my blood pressure checked several times. It was like something had happened – but the midwife assured me that everything was just as it should be. I just couldn’t calm down and couldn’t get out of that hospital quickly enough. Of course, I knew that after he was born, he had to be measured and weighed, but I just wanted to forget about all that and leave. I couldn’t stand being there and I just wanted to get out and get some air.
On paper, and to my husband and the midwife, who were present, it seems like a fantastic labour. But for me, the experience was far too overwhelming. I have applauded women I know who have given birth quickly and considered it almost prestigious. But now I understand that women who have a normal delivery, where everything goes well and relatively quickly, may find it difficult to admit that they felt overwhelmed as they are greeted afterwards with backslaps and big smiles. I really recognise this from giving birth to Bobby. Although my body was willing and able, my head wasn’t really in the right place and that left me with an unpleasant feeling about the birth. I now almost feel bad and enormously sad about the way in which I wasn’t able to acknowledge others I know who have had a quick delivery and felt uncomfortable about it. I just couldn’t relate to it. I always imagined that a quick delivery was a dream delivery. Now I know that that isn’t necessarily the case, and my thoughts very much revolve around how to improve the situation this time around. You’re told that your next delivery will be even quicker – but having to think about giving birth faster than I gave birth to Bobby is too abstract for me. My aim is to have a positive experience. I’m not the sort of person who thinks that giving birth is awesome, but I really want to get to that point. I want to feel that giving birth is amazing.
After I had Bobby, we left the hospital and went home relatively quickly. But when we got home, I could still feel the fear in my body. Luckily, I was able to sleep and felt better when I woke up again. But for a long time afterwards, I was still not myself, and some time passed before I realised what the problem was. Tina, my midwife, told me later that there may be many reasons why you react to your delivery the way you do. The reaction I described to her, and which she has also seen in other women, is the result of a sudden change that you were not expecting to occur in your body. You get scared and think that there’s something wrong —and get a feeling that you can’t handle it. I’ve spoken to Tina a great deal about not focusing so much on the pain this time, but more on the other things that might happen. I can feel that all the unknowns, all the things I cannot control myself, those are the things I’m afraid of. During the quick labour I had with Bobby, I felt a huge loss of control.
Now I’m going to be giving birth for the third time – with two very different deliveries behind me. I’ve probably been quite good at pushing thoughts about the birth slightly to one side. I haven’t had the mental energy to think about going through another labour. I think that many women, who have given birth multiple times and who may have had a bad experience previously, have a certain ability to ignore it all until it actually happens. That’s when all these thoughts suddenly start filling your mind and you become scared about having to go through it all again, and afraid of how you’re going to cope. I think highlighting this is important and helping each other and reminding each other that we have to be better at tackling things before we go into labour is important. When you’re already there and going into labour and starting to panic, it can be difficult to involve the midwife at that stage.
All women are different, and I’m probably someone who needs a lot of control, but I think that everyone can recognise that feeling of loss of control during labour. I think that it would have helped me to have clarified my needs and what I was afraid of. I think you find greater peace of mind in not thinking about all the complications that might arise. This isn’t something I’ve worried about before, but because I felt so distressed last time, I’m very focused on not experiencing that kind of thing again. This time, I’ve also thought about what to do if I suddenly feel unwell. But I also feel that I need to reset those thoughts and regain the feeling that, of course, nothing will happen. I really don’t like all the unknowns. Especially when I have given birth twice and know that I’ve been lucky. I don’t want to gamble with anything or risk anything as I have two small children already, so I just have to get through this. I start feeling a tightness in my throat, and I feel that more is at stake this time.
This time, I really want to be able to pull my child out myself when I’m in labour. I want to feel an enormous calm and be in control of the situation. My general attitude to labour is good energy and determination, and I praise myself for being able to deal with it. But I didn’t have enough information about my last labour. I would have wanted maybe to have been asked to put my hand on the baby’s head and feel that it was on its way down. That does something to you psychologically. I imagine that women become almost primal and that by touching the head and feeling that the baby is on its way, they experience a fantastic feeling that they are part of things. That gives you the energy and motivation to continue.
Reviewing the whole process with Tina has been great for me and has encouraged me to go for yet another natural birth. If we hadn’t been as thorough this time, I may have been tempted to have a caesarean. I’ve toyed with the idea, and it sounds to me like a much more controlled birth. On the other hand, there may be a lot of things after a caesarean that you cannot predict, and I know that I’ve been able to give birth on the last two occasions, so I have more experience of natural birth.
I’ve had to weigh up what I felt most comfortable with. Tina’s role has been to guide me in how to restore any loss of control I might feel during labour. We’ve also focused on my having to try to give myself over to the experience and to trust that the staff have things under control. Being confident that they will inform me if something arises instead of trying to think about things from their point of view.
Becoming an elder brother when we had Bobby was the craziest thing for Billy. We have a lot of friends who’ve just had children and when we’ve visited them, I’ve noticed the way Billy seeks out the babies and wants to go and stroke them and is very interested in them. It’s as if he understands things in a different way this time around. He says that he himself has a baby in his belly and that he’s expecting a little girl this Christmas.
But I think having a little brother will come as a huge shock to Bobby. I can feel that that’s the case with him. He has great ownership of his father and mother. But as parents we have, luckily, tried this before – and the best part of this is that our boys have each other and they can come together in this experience of getting a younger brother. They can support each other, and they are as they were before, everything is as it was before and completely normal – it’s just that there’s one more person – but we have each other. That thought warms my heart, and I think that it’s really lovely to think that these two will become even closer after this. Because, of course, I have to create a relationship with my new baby even though I already have two other children.
But we’ve also found a kind of system where I’ll be very much with the baby while the two others are in daycare, and when they get home the idea is that Philip will take over a bit more so that I can be with Billy and Bobby. I feel very positive about that plan. I’m very conscious that having three children will be mad – but we talk about it a lot, and I hope that we can warm Billy and Bobby to the idea of it in advance. We’re living out of a lot of boxes right now as we are moving so there are already many new situations for them to get used to. I hope that it doesn’t become too overwhelming for them. On the other hand, it isn’t a bombshell that’s about to go off in the middle of a very peaceful period. Right now, we’re very unsettled so maybe the new baby will just become part of all that. As if the new baby is coming because we’re moving into our new house.
Their rationality is not always something we adults are able to understand. We can wrap it all up in a lot of different ways for them, but they’ll get used to it – as long as they have each other. This is an important thought for me. I only have one brother, and it’s never been more than the two of us so learning how to distribute your energy and attention in three different places will also be crazy for me. How to do things in the right way. That’s something I have to learn. When you suddenly go from one child to two, you also learn how to distribute yourself. You’ve been used to giving your only child an overwhelming amount of attention and then there are suddenly two of them who are also very different and each one has his own needs. Now a third is coming along who is probably very different to them. We’re looking forward to it.”