Postpartum depression is real. It is more than the proverbial baby blues for many women. This is a story for those who may benefit from the sharing from this mom. My comments are in italics.
My husband and I tried to conceive for over a year and were having trouble getting pregnant. I had extensive lab work and thorough check-ups done to try and figure out what was going on. I tried everything from acupuncture, chiropractic care, fertility supplements and herbs and finally out of the blue, I finally ended up getting pregnant. I was beyond excited but nervous about keeping this baby safe and healthy for 9 whole months.
My estimated due date was March 27, 2013 and I had a 3 page birth plan along with my hospital bag packed and ready about 2 months before I was due. I was beyond ready. My birth plan included delayed cord clamping, saving my placenta for encapsulation and to be able to have the baby the entire time for skin-to-skin and nursing and not allowing them out of my sight without my husband or myself present. (We encourage moms to have a very short birth plan- and a separate baby list. Keeping it simple helps it to be read. The things she was asking for were basic things that many hospitals offer to most every birthing mom.) I wanted a home water birth but I have a history of miscarriages (previous marriage), low progesterone levels, and worst of all, a blood clotting disorder. I did not want to take any chances since I was about 45 minutes from my hospital. I planned on having a natural labor and delivery. I requested a birthing bar for the end of my bed, to be able to labor in the bath tub as long as possible and for them to respect my wishes.
I had a doula that I hired from the beginning and she was also my chiropractor. I had issues with my doula throughout my entire pregnancy because I felt like she wasn’t doing what I expected someone in her role to do. I wanted a doula so that she could support me and be my voice for whenever I was in discomfort and would not be able to speak for myself. (The role of the doula is never to speak for the woman- as that is as disempowering as not listening to the mom- but instead to help her find her words and confidence to share those words.) I needed someone to support me and my birth plan as much as possible. (I think it may be difficult for someone to be a working professional doula and also have another full time professional job that may be a huge distraction. Some can manage it if their work is flexible, but with demanding jobs it may be more difficult. If during your pregnancy you feel the doula is not a good fit- change!)
I tried to stay as healthy as possible throughout my pregnancy and gained a healthy amount of weight. I took a hypnobirthing class. Overall, despite my blood condition, I pretty much had a text book pregnancy. I was so excited to be a first-time mommy. (Even though hypnobirthing offers many good concepts for a natural birth, having more tools may prove to be beneficial for a mom who does not find it to be the only effective tool in her labor.)
It was now Sunday, April 7, 2013 and I woke up feeling different. It was now 12 days after my EDD. I was happy to be pregnant and enjoyed it the entire 9.5 months but I was tired, so huge, and ready to meet this baby. I started labor slowly and manageable that morning and all throughout the day. I kept in touch with my doula but she seemed preoccupied with other things. It was not almost midnight
and I was starting to feel more uncomfortable. I knew we still had to drive to the hospital and it wasn’t necessarily around the corner. I sent my doula a text and asked her for advice. She said it was up to me but I could go ahead and head to the hospital if I wanted. She said to only call her if I got admitted. When we got to the hospital, I was checked and was at 4 cm. They went ahead and admitted me and things went fairly slowly. (ACOG in an attempt to lower the cesarean rate came out with a statement that we need to consider cervical dilation of 6 cm (instead of 4 cm) as the start of active phase labor. So they encourage women to realize early labor can take a long time. We find that if the baby is not optimally positioned- it may take even longer.)
After being in labor for several hours, I was beginning to feel more and more discomfort and decided that I was ready for the bathtub to help relieve some of my surges. They told us that the tub attached to my room was not working. They didn’t have a different room to offer us. They never brought in the birthing bar and when I asked my doula about it, she said she would check but I never got it. My doula never offered me her birthing ball. I was confined to the bed and my husband was trying to help me but we were both new at this and there was no one to help or listen. (It is a shame that this mom felt confined to the bed. Often without encouragement moms will stay in the bed although they should have freedom of movement per evidence based studies.) I was so upset that my wishes were being ignored. I was stuck at 9 cm. for many hours and in so much discomfort at this point. I could not get relief from anyone and I was not progressing. I refused anything that would force labor and wanted to wait as long as possible to see if things progressed on their own.
After about 17 hours in labor, I was approached about a C-section, again, and told them that I did not want one, again. (The average woman is in labor for more than 19.5 hours) They told me that I was not making any progress on my own and it would become dangerous for myself and the baby. We looked to our doula for advice and she said it was up to us.(The role of the doula may have been confused at this point as we do not give medical advice or refute medical advice. Instead we help you formulate questions to help you gather more information. ) Once again, I had no support from her. I felt so alone. Nothing was going as planned. I had taken some castor oil a few days before to try and speed things along and they were concerned that with the baby being “overdue” and with me taking the castor oil, she might be swallowing her meconium. (We are never fans of castor oil but the studies are not conclusive on whether this indeed can cause the baby to pass stool due to taking it.) This scared us to the point that we knew we had to do whatever it took to get her out. The baby’s heart rate started dropping, as did mine and then they mentioned that they needed to perform an emergency C-section. At this point, I just wanted her to be safe. We started to prepare for the C-section and my husband and I were both so frightened. Within a few hours, they were performing the surgery. (I can only assume this was not an emergency but an unplanned cesarean since it was not done right away.g And I am guessing the baby’s heart beat issue resolved as well. )
I remember being so drowsy and out of it and feeling such a sense of disappointment and sadness. She was born at 7:31pm on April 8, 2013 and they had someone ready to aspirate her lungs in case she had swallowed the meconium and fortunately, she was fine and didn’t need it. (There is always a team for cesarean babies as they are not squeezed on the way out and need some additional help with breathing often. The fact that this baby was so healthy was another indicator that she was not under distress in the last hours of her labor after all.) She was a healthy 7.10 pounds and 21 inches long. I was so excited to see her but was so exhausted since I was never allowed anything to eat or drink or even time to sleep. (Eating and drinking in labor is good practice as per evidential studies. And it sounds like an epidural to allow her to rest and wait out a few more hours could have resulted in a possible vaginal birth.)I was so drowsy that I could hardly stay awake to see her when she was born. When we were taken to our recovery room, I never really got a chance to bond with her. I never got the skin-to-skin (Family centered cesareans are now being offered in a few hospitals in the area- which allows the baby to be skin to skin and nursing while in the OR.)and to top it all off, I had to keep staying on top of ensuring that they saved my placenta. I reminded them many times and still, they managed to throw it away. They had apparently done 2 more C-sections after me and I asked them if they could dig it out. They knew they messed up so they had someone dig it out. I worried if I was getting mine or not but they were certain it was mine because I had some large fibroids during the pregnancy and this marked my placenta in a unique way.
When I got back to the room, I was expecting my doula to give my baby her first adjustment since she had been through so much trauma with the C-section. My doula had already left and I was so upset. (Rarely we leave before seeing the mom after a cesarean. Often we are allowed to meet her in the recovery area. Occasionally for reasons often that are outside of the control of the doula, the mom is separated in recovery for several hours. If it has been a really long labor, we may leave- but it would have to be an extended stay in the recovery area or another mom calling in labor to have us do so.) Soon after that, my mother was kicked out of the room because at this point, she was considered a guest and it was after visiting hours. My mother went with us and she does not drive, we were not sure how she would get back to our house 45 minutes away. I was so stressed and knew that I would need her help but there was nothing I could do about that. At this point, I haven’t even had an opportunity to enjoy my new baby and I felt as though everything had gone wrong and was completely out of my control. There is nothing worse than feeling like you have no control over this new experience. (I can not even imagine a family member who had been invited to the birth would be asked to leave if the mom desired to have her stay to help. I am unsure of which hospital this was but this is a travesty for sure. I stayed the night with my daughter and her husband after the birth of her babies)
I started trying to nurse the baby and I was persistent in trying to get her the colostrum the first few days. It was not going well and I could not get a good latch. She was constantly crying and hungry and I was not able to successfully nurse her. They had to express my milk and have me pump a little to feed her through a small tube. It would hurt me to nurse her by cradling her because of my surgery and the soreness from it. (The lack of support for moms needing help with breastfeeding is a hospital issue at most every hospital. I feel strongly that attending LLL meetings prior to having a baby and taking a great couples’ breastfeeding class helps!)
I started feeling so inadequate as a new mother. I was not as happy as I expected to be at this point with a brand new baby. I hated feeling this way but I didn’t know how to make things better. My husband was there by my side the entire time but he couldn’t help me either. After about 4 days in the hospital, I was finally released and it was a tough transition at home. I could barely get around and nursing was still a struggle. I had to break down and get the baby formula to try and supplement and this was disappointing to me. No matter what I did, I could not seem to find my happiness. Here I was, a brand new mother, with a healthy baby girl and yet I was so depressed. (The way a mom feels about her baby is affected by her birth experience. Recovering from major surgery only adds more sadness to this situation. Having a postpartum doula could have been the best gift she could have gotten- someone to help her talk through her birth, help her get rest and help her with breastfeeding would not have been a luxury but a wonderful necessity at this point for sure.)
I was crying everyday for most of the day and trying to hide it from my husband and my mother. I had so much love and support from them but I felt so incredibly alone. I even had moments where I would see my baby getting hurt, not by me but where she would fall or something like that and I felt horrible for thinking these thoughts and worst of all, I didn’t know where they were coming from. I had my placenta encapsulated after about a week after I got home and despite what others may believe, I truly feel that they are what saved me. It could be in my head but as soon as I started taking them, once she got them back to me, I started feeling better. (We hear the stories of how placenta encapsulation is so helpful in these situations!) I never felt that way again. Postpartum depression is a very real thing and although mine was very short, thank God, I felt the pain of it and hope that it never happens again. (These are all expected feelings directly related to PPD.)
I have since told people my story, in a much shorter version, and they seem to see it as though I’m complaining and being selfish. They tell me at least I have a baby and as long a she was healthy, I should have been happy but what they don’t realize is that when a baby is born, so is a mother. I may not have had the perfect labor and delivery that I wanted, but now that it is 15 months later, I can appreciate that I do have a happy and healthy baby and despite what I went through, it was all worth it in the end! (It makes me sad that the feelings that a mom struggles to share are diminished in this way and she is not being heard as she begins to process her pain.)
Thanks for listening,
I can only hope that Martha heals from this birth. I hope she seeks a childbirth class that offers a safe healing space for her to do so prior to her next labor. I hope she is able to find an experienced doula who will support her fully and that she finds a provider that offers patience in her having a gentle VBAC. I know that Martha has plans to do things very differently the next time. So often women feel like this will never happen to them.
Birth experiences affect so much about how a woman feels about herself, her baby and can impact so many areas for life. Please value the experience and help moms have the proper support in labor- the proper support after the birth and in the first month of motherhood. Stories like this need to be told so others can think about what they would want to have be different. Thanks so much Martha for sharing. The sad thing is pregnant couples do not know what they do not know. The preparation you think is enough, often is not providing you with what you may really need. Often times there are red flags along the way that your intuitive voice warns you about- listen to that voice.