Gemma Ovens
Gemma Ovens with her daughter, Pearl. Image Credit: Supplied

She didn’t know where the strands of happiness ended and abject terror began – what she did know was she was wrapped in a blanket of this making for 39 weeks.

Gemma Ovens, a British expat in the UAE, was expecting. The initial joy at finding out that she was pregnant remained, but the memories of previous losses – she had had two miscarriages before this – splashed over her every once in a while like icy water.

Ovens recalls googling for hours on end, scaring herself with ‘what could go wrong’ lists. “When I was pregnant with Pearl, it was a very anxious pregnancy. Every day was anxious.”


“They kind of termed her as a precious pregnancy. They didn't really want me go in over 40 weeks or to get too heavy. I was extremely anxious towards the end and just wanted her in my arms. And then they kind of made the decision that if there was no sign of Pearl engaging by 40 weeks, then they wanted to go down the C section route. Thirty-nine weeks and four days later, I did have a C-section. Looking back, I wish I would have had more support with the anxiety and with you know, the options that were out there. But I was quite vulnerable at the time,” recalls the then 36-year-old.

High risk pregnancies
“Pregnancy at both ends of the spectrum, that is underage pregnancy and older age pregnancy, requires more vigilant ante natal surveillance as compare to the normal expected bracket of child bearing age. When we talk of advance maternal age we are referring to pregnancy occurring after 35 years of age,” says Dr Mahnaz Fazal, Specialist Obstetrics and Gynecology, Medcare Medical Centre.

But as a first-time mum, she was winging it. She rues not getting emotional – and practical - support. “I wish I'd had someone to help me mentally come to terms with that my pregnancy was progressing very well that the miscarriages happened for a reason, and a natural birth would have happened eventually.” (Globally, an estimated 23 million miscarriages occur every year, reports international journal ‘The Lancet’ in the paper ‘Miscarriage: worldwide reform of care is needed’.)

The big operation

“I think if you're a first-time mom, sometimes you just kind of get swept away in it, or you can be a little bit clueless and vulnerable. And you just go along with what you feel is right at the time,” she says.

Gemma Ovens
Gemma Ovens with her baby Pearl. Image Credit: Supplied

When Ovens gave birth, she was lying flat on an operating table and had just about enough time to see Pearl before she was whisked away. There was no skin to skin contact – and Ovens couldn’t crane to see her child; she had been asked to lay still for about 12 hours. “I didn't see her for a few hours. And then when the nurse did come back, I asked that she lie with me. And she did. So we had a couple of hours then,” she says.

But she couldn’t feed her, couldn’t change her – she was a new mum, no doubt, but she couldn’t do the things that would have helped her hormones settle. She just watched from her bed, propped up on pillows and wanting to move on. “The pain when you try to get up and start walking again [is terrible],” she shudders.

“No one tells you rehab from the C-section is going to be so severe,” she says. “Particularly if you're into exercise and you want to get back into exercise; I was a little bit naive as to the amount of rehab that's actually needed to get yourself back to that point. You know, it's not a tiny operation that you can just recover from,” she says.

Ovens had also put on some weight during this pregnancy – going from 69kg to 96kg. Fifteen days after giving birth, she was still 16kg overweight. As a physical education teacher and someone who had always been active, the stagnation was alien. “The whole journey for me was quite frustrating. And it took a long time to rehab myself so that I was able to return back to the level that I was at pre-pregnancy,” she says. What this journey did do for her for offer her some perspective; a trained pre- and post-natal fitness instructor, she says she didn’t realise how tough recovery from a C-section post-partum was.

Back to basics

“I didn't do anything for approximately, I would say four weeks and then I started some very, very short walks. I’d just try to walk a little bit further each time and then started with some stretches because I found my body was very tight, very stiff; my posture was poor, because of pregnancy and post C-section walking,” she explains. Slowly, about eight weeks on she began to include other exercises such as weight lifting and other bodyweight moves.

Exercise and breastmilk
As long as you eat enough calories and stay hydrated, there's no impact on breast milk. Breast milk will only deteriorate if you're not eating enough, you're not hydrated, and you're overdoing it on the exercise. So there's got to be a balance, says Gemma Ovens. A recent study, ‘Maternal Exercise and Growth in Breastfed Infants: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials’ published in the international journal Pediatrics, suggests that mothers can exercise and breastfeed without affecting the growth of their babies.

“What I struggled with was I didn't realise how much trauma had come from having a C-section. I struggled to look at the scar,” she says. “I had a little bit of emotional healing to do when it came to the scar. I was overwhelmed, especially because in addition to everything, I also had diastasis recti the first time around,”

What is diastasis recti?
US-based May Clinic’s website explains: “During pregnancy, the growing uterus stretches the muscles in the abdomen. This can cause the two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen (rectus muscles) to become separated by an abnormal distance — a condition called diastasis recti or diastasis recti abdominis. Diastasis recti might cause a bulge in the middle of the abdomen where the two muscles separate.” Gemma Ovens says that it requires specific breathing exercises to resync the core and strengthen the muscles in order to get both muscles together. Over time, using exercise and posture-correction tools, she says, she healed herself. Now, Ovens works with other mums to help them with the condition.

Two years on, Ovens is pregnant again. This time she refuses to go in unawares. She’s been attending hypnotherapy classes, which she heartily recommends. She has a birth plan. “I've tried to do a lot of work mentally in case it goes down the C-Section route again, because I'm absolutely petrified having the operation and having to heal again.”

What is hypnobirthing?
Hypnobirthing teaches mums-to-be a practical way to self-hypnosis, relaxation and other calming techniques along with educating her about the birth process in order to make the process an easier one.
“All hypnobirthing courses generally follow the same holistic approach to pregnancy and labour. In essence, we provide all the information possible to parents so that they feel so empowered and secure enough in their knowledge and capabilities that they can take control over their pregnancy and labour and have a birth experience they want and deserve, whatever shape or form that may take,” explains UK-based Clinical Hypnotherapist at Mind Solutions Tessa Kiernander.

She’s also been exercising – weights and all! “So the rule of thumb is if you have always exercised - I've always lifted weights and I've always exercised – it’s okay to continue. And in the first three months, you can just carry on with whatever you were doing as long as the doctor hasn't said the rest, for whatever reason. What is not advisable is, if you've never really exercised, but you get pregnant and you want to start a new routine, you can't then start lifting weights, it's got to be, you know, walking or swimming, under the guidance of someone that's qualified, and after getting the all-clear from the doctor as well. So I've still been squatting and deadlifting and doing everything I was doing. Obviously, the weights have dropped as the pregnancy’s gone on.”

A relaxed second pregnancy

Oven says this pregnancy has been so much more relaxed than her previous one. “I've been so busy with my daughter, with the business; it's been a lot more relaxed, which has been great. We won't have any more children after this one, so I really wanted to embrace it. I've not put on as much weight. I have probably worked harder during this pregnancy because I've been a little bit more relaxed. So I've maintained the weight training. Whereas with Pearl, I drop the weight and I was doing more circuit and cardio based exercises. So yeah, it's been a lot better in that respect, I have enjoyed it more.”

Gemma's pregnancy shoot Image Credit: Supplied

Research – and relaxation – are key to unspooling the blanket of emotion enveloping expecting mums so that the terror is gone and the joy remains. You can have a happy pregnancy.

Tell us aboout your pregnancy journey at