Chloe Mackie is a Gold Coast-based midwife who welcomed her son Sunny into the world a little over a year ago...
We caught up with the mindful mama to talk about her own birth experience (“intense AND empowering”), the importance of midwives, and how going back to basics has allowed her to truly appreciate all aspects of motherhood. Editor: Marisa Remond | Follow @chloejmackie
You’re a mum and a midwife, can you tell us a little about your birth story bringing baby boy Sunny into the world?
The memories that I have of my birth are so precious to me. Like many women, I felt strong and powerful at times yet, fearful and exhausted at others. As I birthed my baby into this world I remember feeling so overwhelmingly cocooned in love and support. Childbirth was exactly what I imagined it to be, it was intense AND empowering. Having supported many women to birth their own babies, I felt grateful to be able to experience such a sacred element of womanhood. The prospect of birthing our baby felt in itself like a challenge and reward, it was an exciting time. In the weeks and months leading up to our birth, I felt incredibly connected to the women around me. Whether it was my mum, sisters, friends or midwives, I felt like we were apart of this big secret (amazing) club and only women were invited! During labour, I really relied on my midwives. We had two private midwives and a student midwife, they gave me strength and courage. Usually, in the ‘real world’ that person for me is my husband, Jase, he is my biggest advocate. But during those sacred hours of labour and birth, Jase took on a different role, he was calm and relaxed and grounded me like never before. What I reflect on a lot, is how supported I felt. We were a planned homebirth but needed to transfer into our local hospital for meconium stain liquor at 6cm (baby had done his first poo in-utero). It meant I wasn’t able to utilise the pool to birth my baby and I needed continuous fetal monitoring throughout labour. Whilst these were all possibilities that we had discussed antenatally, I definitely lost my mojo when we transferred into the hospital and to be honest it took me awhile to get back into the swing of things but my support team were my saving grace. They recreated our space from home using candles and aromatherapy, and I spent the majority of my labour on a gym ball in the shower. What I remember the most is feeling respected in my choices. My midwives and I had spent a lot of time together during my pregnancy, so they all knew what I needed and wanted for our birth. I also felt really supported by the extended multi-disciplinary team within the hospital too, there was an amazing team leader on that night who really advocated for me and trusted me. I felt supported to birth our baby in my own time and on my own terms, it truly was an incredibly empowering experience.
How was your pregnancy – was there still a sense of the unknown or did your experience as a midwife make it a relatively smooth process?
As a midwife, I was in a privileged position to know my options regarding care providers. Having cared for women within both midwifery continuity of care and fragmented models of care, I knew that my experience into motherhood was going to be vastly shaped by my choice of care provider. Jase and I enlisted the support of a private midwife. She was fierce, compassionate and extremely knowledgeable. I felt safe in her care and I trusted her with all my being. Between the three of us, we spent hours antenatally discussing my options, Jase and I felt respected and listened to and it was important to me that Jase had ample opportunities to ask questions, share his dreams around becoming a father or discuss any concerns he may have. To be honest, I don’t ever remember feeling any anxiety when I was pregnant, I think in part, because I was so well supported and because I knew how amazing and empowering childbirth can be. There were times in my pregnancy that I needed re-grounding, particularly if I had been involved in a more difficult birth…but generally, I felt excited and immensely connected to the long lineage of birthing women who had come before me. Physically, however, I was amongst the minority of women who get hyperemesis in pregnancy, essentially it means, extreme nausea and vomiting (day and/or night). For some women, it can last their entire pregnancy, I was one of the lucky ones and had it until around about the 25-week gestation mark. I lost about seven kilos in the first few months of pregnancy before I even started gaining weight. It was a difficult time, but Jase and my mum were my lifesavers. My mum had hyperemesis for all four of her pregnancies, so she had lots of tricks up her sleeve and was really empathetic. Of course, we tried all of the ‘normal’ morning sickness remedies, but to no avail, so we took it day by day. I would eat tiny amounts of nutrient-rich foods and if I managed to get up and get dressed, it was a good day (gah!). I would get dehydrated quickly, so I spent a lot of time getting IV fluids and would take antiemetics on the days I had work. To be honest, those memories seem like a lifetime ago and I when I reflect on my pregnancy I focus on the last few months when I was I feeling really well. From the 30-week gestation mark, as I started getting my energy back, my body felt strong and I really loved the way my body felt when I was pregnant, I adored nurturing and growing our baby. I often thought, if my baby and body could get through those first few months, then we could get through anything together. Once I started feeling well again, I LOVED being pregnant and I really relished those last few months.
What are some of your top tips to other expecting mums who are anxious about giving birth?
I believe a lot of anxiety around childbirth stems from the ‘unknown’. As women, we have a responsibility not only to ourselves but to our babies to really understand the physiological processes of childbirth. It is one of, if not, the most transformative periods in our life and the way in which we are treated and feel as we birth our babies can really impact our transition into motherhood. I believe, when we feel nurtured and safe and have some knowledge and understanding around the process of birth, it can be a really empowering experience. As both a mother and midwife, I wholeheartedly believe in midwifery continuity of care and I believe if you are pregnant or feeling anxious or unsupported, it is so important to seek other options for care providers, regardless of how far into your pregnancy you might be. Midwifery continuity of care models such as Midwifery Group Practice (MGP) and private midwifery care means you have the same midwife or team of midwives caring for you during your pregnancy, birth and generally up until six weeks postpartum, it can make a huge difference having someone you know and trust with you as you birth. Otherwise, doulas, student midwives or childbirth education classes such as Calmbirth or Hypnobirthing can really give you the additional support you need leading up to your birth. My advice to other women is to find a health care provider that really supports and respects you and provides you with relevant evidence-based information so that you can make informed decisions around your care. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or speak up if something doesn’t seem or feel right. One of my greatest learning curves as a mother has been finding the courage to advocate for my baby. It sounds crazy, but I found it extremely difficult in the early days to tell people exactly what I needed, in terms of my baby. Even something as simple as asking a family member not to come around to the house if they are sick felt really strange and rude, but it’s our responsibility as mums to be strong and protect/advocate for our little people where we can. I discovered early on that learning how to advocate for our babies really does begin in pregnancy.
Can you tell us what a typical day looks like – are you working at the moment, do you have help with Sunny, how do you get out the door each morning…?
I’m currently working as a midwife at a tertiary hospital. I work about 24 hours a week (so 3 x 8hr shifts) during which time my baby boy is generally cared for by my mum. My mum is an absolute angel, she drives an hour round trip to care for Sunny and when she isn’t able to watch Sunny, Jase’s mum will care for him. I am so grateful to be supported by two amazing women. I have also just enrolled him into a beautiful small Montessori daycare centre, he will start when he turns 15 months. I never envisioned him going to kindy so early, but I’m actually super excited for him to be nurtured in such a supportive, child-led environment, plus he’s a total social butterfly so I think it will really suit his personality. As for getting out the door each morning, my husband is once again my lifesaver. Jase has his own company which takes up most if not all of his working week, he leaves most mornings by 5am and is home quite late. On the days I have work, I wake up to a coffee next to the bed, mine and Sunny’s lunches packed and he’s usually done something around the house like unpack the dishwasher, or put a load of washing on just so my morning isn’t too hectic getting out the door with Sunny. He is an amazing husband and father.
What has motherhood taught you so far?
My greatest lesson as a mother so far has been to slow down. Time frames don’t exist in a baby’s world… I have a love/hate relationship with this concept as it really is so easy to get swept up in our day to day commitments but at the same time we can learn so much from our babies’ carefree view of the world. It’s really cliché and I feel as a new mum everyone says it, but our babies literally grow before our eyes. I have no idea where the days go. Making a conscious effort to slow down and really focusing on my bub has been so rewarding. I’ve found it incredibly hard returning to work and leaving Sunny but a friend recently reminded me that it isn’t about the amount of time I spend with him rather it’s about the quality of time I spend with him. I love to watch him play and his favourite thing at the moment is hide and seek. So I make sure we do lots of this on my days off. I try to either do my housework and catch up on my other commitments when he’s asleep or I involve him with it (that definitely takes 1000x longer) but it’s worth it.
How has your own childhood influenced your role as a mother?
I grew up with three big brothers, they were super protective but really loving. As the baby of the family and growing up with brothers I learnt to be quite resilient and Independent. In saying that, my brothers always made me feel so special and loved and nearly all of my childhood memories are of us playing and laughing. When I was quite young my parents separated and in some aspects, my mum took on the role of both parents. She is a powerhouse of a woman. Growing up our home was always filled with love. We never went to bed mad with each other and for as long as I can remember we would kiss everyone in our house goodnight before heading to bed. I guess my biggest influence stems from my parents. Loving my husband is probably one of the greatest things I can do for Sunny. It shows Sunny the importance of respect and communication within relationships. My mum has always said, put your husband first and your children second, they will thank you for it one day. I really believe this.
Midwives are such a strong and important presence in the entire pregnancy and birth process, what is your favourite part of the job?
Some people think midwifery is about the babies, but to be honest they are just the tiny (delicious) sprinkles on the cake. My motivation to be a midwife comes from the relationships I have with women. I adore women and the journey into motherhood is such an intimate time in a woman’s life, I feel incredibly grateful to be a part of that. I really love the concept of women supporting women, there is a saying that ‘empowered women, empower women’ and I really resonate with this. Being able to provide women and their families with information and knowledge so they can make informed decisions is probably my favourite part of the job. A close second are the intimate moments around birth (the golden hour!) and the blissful days and weeks when parents return home and start to blend as a family… umm so can I just say everything?!
What is your approach to health and wellbeing?
I definitely view health and wellbeing in a holistic sense. As I get older my health is easily defined by my mental state as it is my physical state. Spending time with family & friends, eating healthy, delicious food, moving my body and finding happiness in work and play is so critical. My biggest goal is having a balanced life, in terms of work and family. Of course, it’s super easy to let the wheels fall off every now and then, particularly if work is stressing me out or my baby is teething and not sleeping (fatigue is crazyyy) but it’s about utilising the support people around you and re-grounding yourself.
What is your definition of self-care and how do you make time for it?
I really love this question, because I think when people think of self-care they think exercise, yoga, meditation, etc. For me, self-care is a combination of things, I adore my time with my family, spending time in the sun or hanging with friends. I feel super recharged after an afternoon by the beach with good company and good food. Self-care to me is having a lazy morning at home, in my pj’s with my baby or a nice (big) glass of red when everyone in my house is asleep. I seriously will pour a glass a wine at 9pm and not finish it, just because I can. Self-care is about having that awareness for when life is feeling a bit out of balance and doing things that make your heart feel good!
How do you handle any of the challenges that inevitably come with motherhood and caring for a baby?
In regards to motherhood, this past year has been pretty kind to me. I have always trusted that Sunny knows what it is that he needs and so much of my transition into motherhood has been led by him. From his feeding, to sleeping to what activities he likes, I have let him tell me. I think sometimes as parents (particularly first-time parents) we completely overcomplicate things – mainly because we just want our little bubs’ lives to be perfect! But there are no rules and sometimes what the general ‘norm’ might be, may not work for you or your baby and that is 100% okay. Sunny has never slept in a cot, from the moment we moved him out of his bassinet he has slept on a mattress on the floor in his room. It sounds a bit sad and maybe a little crazy but he loves the independence and it means he doesn’t need to call (aka cry) for me when he wants to get out of bed. When I was pregnant, cots seemed a bit restrictive to me and I couldn’t shake this feeling that I didn’t really like them, so we decided to do something a little different and it has totally worked for us! It’s about trusting your instincts as a mother and trusting your baby. They definitely know more than what we realise. In terms of handling challenges that may arise, I am pretty stubborn, so when it feels like the wheels are falling off, I tend to go ‘inwards’ and just sort it out. In saying this, as I get older (and maybe wiser?) I am beginning to reach out a lot more to the community around me. I have some really incredible friends and of course my husband and family are amazing, so it has been a big learning curve for me since Sunny was born to reach out to those around me. I tell my expecting mums, that people love to help, so don’t be afraid to ask for it. I have really needed to learn this year to practice what I preach.
What is your favourite thing to do together as a family?
To be honest, I am totally grateful for every single moment I get with my family. I don’t particularly have any favourites because regardless of what we are doing, I get so much joy out of spending time with my husband and baby. Simple things like walking our two Border Collies at the end of the day or spending the day at the beach with my little family is what I love. It’s about going back to basics and finding enjoyment out of the simple, easy things in life.
If you had to describe motherhood in one word….