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I spent my life anticipating motherhood. I looked forward tremendously to being pregnant and having children. My husband and I were very lucky in that we conceived easily, the first pregnancy “stuck” and was a smooth and healthy experience. I felt and looked good throughout the pregnancy which boosted my confidence about having an “easy” birth experience. To prepare we took a mindfulness class, in which we meditated, practiced yoga, and discussed the realities of labor, delivery, breastfeeding and the early stages of parenthood. I read countless birth stories, each one getting my adrenaline pumping and the excitement of my son’s impending birth almost too much to bear.

BIRTH

My due date came and went, and then we found ourselves at a 41 week appointment discussing labor induction. This isn’t at all what I had hoped (and planned) for. I wanted to labor at home for as long as possible. I pictured it being at night, we would call my dear friend who was also serving as my doula. Her boyfriend would heroically bring her from their outer-island home to ours on his boat. We would walk in the moonlit field behind our house to coax out the baby inside me.

Instead, 4 days before my 42 week mark, my husband and I “checked” into the hospital to begin a round of prostaglandin suppositories followed by a shot of morphine to help me sleep through the night. I was disappointed and relieved by the turn of events; this baby had to be born and though we tried everything we could at home (walking, yoga, spicy food, sex, CASTOR OIL, red raspberry tea, resting) my body wasn’t ready and the statistics are persuasive enough that and induction felt like the right thing.

I woke up in the morning with mild contractions, but I was still walking and talking and eating and laughing. The midwife decided to up the ante with a pitocin IV. This caused more intense contractions, but they were disorganized, coupling, and not very effective. They were still a lot of work to get through and this is when I felt my real labor began. I spent time that day in the tub, but mostly hanging on my husband and moaning through each contraction. By the evening I was exhausted and still only 5 or 6 cm dilated, so the midwife thought I should try to rest. I was having severe lower back pain and opted for a sterile water injection which was UNBELIEVABLY painful. But, my back didn’t hurt after that and with another shot of morphine, I was able to get some rest that night.

In the morning my cervix had dilated to 7 or 8 cm and now stuff was getting really real. I was in the zone and thinking only about my contractions and how to get through each one. I felt calm and focused. I hung on my husband again all day long and moaned and sat in the tub. Around noon I asked when I could start pushing and the midwife said if I thought I was ready then I could start right then. So I did. I pushed in the bed, I pushed in the tub, I pushed squatting and I pushed hanging on a railing. Pushing was exhilarating, but by far the most exhausting thing I have ever done. Because of the pitocin IV the baby was being monitored throughout the labor and for the most part his heart beat at a steady 133-ish bpm. At some point during this first round of pushing, his heart beat dropped and the midwife and nurse had looks on their faces I will never forget as they had me lay down on my side on the bed and take oxygen. I remember looking at my husband with tears in my eyes thinking, “When and how is this going to end?”

After 2 ½ hours of pushing and little progress I asked about getting some pain relief. My contractions were coming so close together that I was in constant pain from them and couldn’t feel when one started and one ended. I was so exhausted. The midwife thought getting an intrathecal (like an epidural but allows feeling in the legs and the ability to feel pressure) would be timely. Two anesthetists arrived shortly thereafter and gave me the injection in my spine. The relief was so incredible I immediately started cracking jokes and had an entirely renewed sense of hope. However, I also realized that I had barely slept in the last 48 hours and I couldn’t push forever so I talked to the midwife about a caesarian delivery: when they would make the call, if my husband could hold our baby as soon as he was born, when I could start trying to breastfeed, etc.

After about an hour of resting I could start to feel the contractions gaining intensity again and I wanted to try pushing while the pain was still somewhat numbed. With the OB surgical team scrubbed in and ready to deliver at any moment I pushed and pushed and pushed until another  2 ½ hours had passed and my baby was born.

LIFE AFTER BIRTH

My very first thought upon the vaginal delivery of my baby was physical RELIEF. No more contractions, no more “ring of fire.” I observed the well-being of my boy, lying healthy and large at 8lbs 11oz on my chest, but felt no immediate rush of emotion toward him. He was here. Healthy. Great. Now I want to eat, hydrate and get some rest.

The first few days in the hospital turned my world upside down. I was emotionally all over the place, crying almost constantly. I didn’t want to connect with people; even my family and friends. It took us 3 days to name our son. I could barely walk I was so exhausted from the labor.

Truth be told, I was absolutely terrified. I thought we had made a huge mistake. I couldn’t believe that anyone would want a baby. I kept searching for understanding in people’s eyes, but everyone just mooned over Caleb’s health and robustness and were so proud of my stamina during the labor. But I was struggling with breastfeeding, extreme fatigue and couldn’t find the spark of connection with my baby that I thought would come naturally if I followed all the “rules” of bonding. I was breastfeeding, doing lots to skin to skin contact, cuddling him in our hospital bed. Of course I loved him and would already do anything to protect him, but what I really saw when I looked at him scared me to death. He was ceaselessly needy and a total mystery.

I was very happy to leave the hospital after 5 days, though things didn’t get much easier. I got Caleb to sleep during the 45 minute drive home and just sat next to him in the back seat completely shell-shocked. I cried. My husband’s mom and sister were staying with us for 2 days after we got home which was so wonderful. They cooked food, were quiet like mice, and my mother in law did her best to ease my fears about breastfeeding and being a new mother in general. I dreaded the moment they left: my husband and I alone in our house with this tiny creature squalling for food, sleep and comfort. I began realizing how long it would be before I got to sleep more than 3 hours at a time, watch a movie, have a night out with my friends. These thoughts made me nauseous and panicky. Just like that, it was if the person I was before Caleb was born had never existed. How could I not be grateful for our perfect, healthy baby? What was wrong with me? WHAT HAVE WE DONE?

3 days after we got home, my nipples cracked and bleeding, I began to feel very ill. I took my temperature and had a low grade fever. I called the hospital and spoke with my midwife. she asked if I had any red splotches on my breasts and indeed I did: mastitis. What was already extremely challenging for me was rendered almost unbearable by this infection. A part of me hoped she would say I had to stop nursing. Another part of me hoped I would have to be hospitalized. Then I could finally rest. Someone else could take care of Caleb. It took 20 days of antibiotics (during which time I worried about yeast infections, thrush and exposing my newborn to so much medicine through breastfeeding) to clear up the infection. However, by then nursing was getting way easier. In fact, everything was. I was beginning to understand my baby and read his cues and cries like Dr. Sears said I would. At about a month he gave me a smile. I have been head-over-heels in love ever since.

What I experienced was not postpartum depression, anxiety or psychosis. What I experienced is commonly referred to as “the baby blues,” but I feel that this phrase does little justice to the depth and profundity of what I went through. I know that not all women struggle as I did, but I believe that many do. I think through sharing stories and we can give strength, hope and comfort to other families have similar experiences.

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