[Editor’s Note: Some parts of this guest post by a brave Warrior Mom may feel triggering for those with difficult birth or intrusive thoughts. It’s important to share stories like this one because they show you CAN get better. -Jenna]
I had a uneventful pregnancy and birth experience with my first child—born at home in a birth pool after approximately 3 hours of active labor. My recovery went quickly and we had a lot of supportive friends and family to help. I never considered my second would be any different.
Around 37 weeks I started to feel sick, tired and stuffy-achey. My son had a cold, and I chalked it up to that. I let my midwife know and she encouraged me to rest, use a neti pot, drink plenty of water.
One afternoon my head hurt so badly I felt nauseated. I vaguely remembered something about headaches being related to blood pressure. I took my blood pressure with a home cuff and it was 154 over 92; I remember the numbers exactly. That scared me, especially since mine tends to be low (100’s/60’s) in pregnancy.
I lay in bed for a bit and waited, then took my BP again. It was normal. I took a nap and when I woke up I felt slightly better.
The Friday I was 37 weeks, 5 days, I took my son in for a Well Child visit and the nurse took one look at me and insisted on taking my blood pressure. It was high again. She asked permission to take a urine sample to check for protein and I agreed.
I was spilling protein. She wouldn’t let me leave until I called my midwife and set up bloodwork. Luckily my husband was with me. He drove me straight to the lab, and I went home and laid in bed per my midwife’s instructions while we waited on results.
I had preeclampsia. After four days of repeated labs, one trip to the hospital for monitoring, hours of lying on the couch and countless tears, I agreed to be induced. I picked the “crunchiest” hospital in the state and had cervidil placed at 10:00 AM when I was 38 weeks, 3 days. My baby was born around 8:30 PM after one hour of active labor.
The actual labor and delivery was easy. But the placenta wouldn’t come out.
Things suddenly got hectic.
I could feel blood pooling around my lower body and a team rushed in with some machines. My midwife leaned down next to my face and very seriously said to me, “You are retaining the placenta. You are hemorrhaging. We have an ultrasound machine here and we can do the ultrasound and try to remove the remaining pieces manually, or you can go directly to the ER and have a D&C, but you will have to consent to a potential hysterectomy before we can do that.”
I wanted to stay with my baby, and get started breastfeeding. I chose the manual extraction, which in retrospect was a poor decision. It was excruciatingly painful. I wasn’t able to breastfeed because I couldn’t sit up without passing out, and my baby not only had a tongue tie, but was unable to coordinate her suck/swallow reflex, which is common in preterm infants.
They also didn’t get all of the placenta, so I had to have a D&C when she was six weeks old anyway.
I remember the moment I felt a dark cloud settle over me. After they got me stabilized, it was just me, my husband, baby, and my nurse. It was about midnight and they had turned the lights down. I was freezing and shaking despite the pile of warm blankets. My IV was starting to really sting. I could feel cold sticky blood covering the entire backside of my body, from my calves up to my shoulders.
I felt like I was going to pass out at any moment. I was too weak to hold my baby, and I didn’t recognize her. She didn’t look anything like my son did when he was born, nothing like what I expected. I didn’t feel a sense of awe or amazement when I looked at her. I felt nothing. She was so tiny and bald.
I couldn’t even feed her; she was getting donor milk.
My room had gorgeous wall to wall windows with views of the mountains and I could see stars twinkling outside, but all I could think about was how cold, harsh and snowy the world was out there. And how cold it was in my room, both physically and emotionally.
I felt robbed of my beautiful birth plan. I felt more alone than I ever had in my life. I couldn’t even hold my own baby, and no one, not even my husband, understood what had just happened or how I was feeling. No one asked.
I was in the hospital for three days. I had lost two liters of blood. Nursing did not go well. I was feeding, pumping, then feeding donor milk every three hours. I was exhausted and still unable to sit upright. I was haunted with the repeating refrain, “You almost died. Your baby could have died.”
We learned later she had IUGR and my placenta had started failing weeks earlier. I felt guilty for not knowing my baby was struggling in there, for not going in to the hospital as soon as I had that first excruciating headache. My husband, as kind and supportive and loving as he is, seemed clueless as to the seriousness of the situation.
Still no one talked to me about the birth or how scared I felt. I so wish hospitals sent mental health professionals to speak with new moms, especially after a birth like that.
We went home and had very little support. The scary birth story made people uncomfortable when I told it. I could tell in their eyes and by the way they awkwardly said “I’m sorry” and changed the subject. My father-in-law reminded me as I was lying on the couch the day I got home from the hospital that “back in the day, women just squatted down and had babies in fields and went right back to work.” I reminded him that back in the day, both baby and I would have died.
I was still very weak and got winded and lightheaded just going up the six stairs in our tri-level to the bathroom or our bedroom. I was still triple feeding every three hours. Almost no one brought us food or offered to help with anything.
The mother of a school friend of my toddler son came and took him for a few hours to the park one day to play. I barely knew her and she was one of the three people that reached out. A friend brought us Chinese takeout one night. A guy I knew through our homeowners’ association brought us a home-cooked meal. I am forever grateful to those people, and I will be forever bitter at the “friends” who did nothing for us during that time, despite knowing how awful the birth had been. It changed my perspective on friendship for sure.
Breastfeeding was so painful. My son had also had a tongue-lip tie that we didn’t catch until he was 18 months old, and I had hated breastfeeding with him. Not wanting to go through that again, we had my daughter’s revised with laser at four weeks. I felt guilty for doing it. I had my husband stay and hold her while I sat in the waiting room and cried.
She developed reflux and “colic” and lost weight. She screamed all day and all night. I was working from home at the time and carried her in a wrap most of the day. I couldn’t take client phone calls, and when I did, more than once they got an earful of screaming as she suddenly woke, strapped to my chest.
She was up every hour or two all night long, and because I was still breastfeeding, so was I. I did an elimination diet and ate chicken, rice, and apples for a month. I had extensive allergy and food intolerance testing done, hoping I could figure out what, in my breastmilk, was making her so miserable.
We tried numerous reflux medications with marginal improvement. I finally gave up and put her on hypoallergenic formula at nine months. She was instantly happier.
Then I fell apart.
I became angry. The guilt I was carrying about so many things came out as rage. At her, at everyone. I was mad at the universe. I was mad at my husband. I was mad at our unsupportive friends.
None of this was what I had planned or envisioned. None of this was like my first birth and child.
I couldn’t sleep. The tiniest noise would make me jolt awake, heart racing, hoping I could make it to her in time to just pat her back and get her back to sleep before the full blown screaming fit forced me to stay up walking and patting her around the house for hours.
Despite the formula, she was still a terrible sleeper. We had to carry her around in an Ergo for an hour or more every night until she was deeply asleep. One night when she had been screaming at bedtime for several hours, I thought about throwing her across the room.
I told my therapist, one I fortunately had lined up for regular appointments when I started having nightmares and flashbacks soon after the birth. She encouraged me to call my psychiatrist, who I hadn’t seen since early in my pregnancy (to make a plan to prevent PPA/PPD this time, since I also had it with my first).
Luckily, I already had one. I had so many risk factors: a history of postpartum psychosis and alcoholism on one side of the family, a likely history of (undiagnosed, unknown) mental illness on the other side. My Fitbit says I was averaging between 2-3 hours of sleep at that point.
Because I already had a relationship with a psychiatrist, I was able to get in and get on meds (three of them!) very quickly. The first thing he said was, “you can’t get up at night with the baby anymore.”
Luckily my husband is amazing and took over the night times. I sort of felt it was only fair, after my doing it alone for nine months. She’s 18 months old now and her reflux went away completely around a year. She’s a hilarious and feisty toddler. She’s still extremely loud and vocal.
Thanks to medication and earplugs, I started sleeping again. My anxiety went away. The fog of depression lifted. I started seeing beauty around me again, in the mountains and trees and in my kids. I’m off all but one of the medications and am slowly tapering off of it as well.
Recovery is possible even in the worst cases. I thought about hurting my baby, and that memory is still painful and sickening. I felt like no one understood. I felt like my baby was a stranger.
I felt so, so alone. You’re not alone. There are thousands, millions of women out here who have gone through what you have. Speak up. Needing help doesn’t make you weak or a bad parent. It makes you strong enough to ask for what’s best for your family.
We are’t just strong, we are warriors. And we are here for you.