Storytelling- here's some of Mine, in all its honest glory.
Ok folks, I've asked you to trust the process of Storytelling. I wouldn't expect you to take a leap if I wasn't willing to lead by example. I will caution that the process of sharing your story (and putting it in to words that exist outside of your head) can be uncomfortable. I will also say- it can be freeing and take weight off that you may not have known was there or have been desperate to get rid of. Vulnerability connects us at a human level; we all have a desire to know we are not alone.
Baby bump & postpartum round one
We had been married for five years. I was following the advice my Mom once gave of finishing college before baby, well- mostly. The first college degree was under my belt and second was underway. (Definitely messed up the “finish college before getting married” part, oops.) My story of Motherhood is profoundly impacted by the absence of my own Mom; she passed away suddenly when I was only 20. I'm forever thankful for the 20 years I had with her, she was absolutely my biggest fan and confidante. Being a motherless mother holds its own complexities. Working full-time and taking graduate courses while pregnant probably kept me busy enough to gloss over the fact that I was longing for her support and wisdom. Thankfully, I was also surrounded by a husband, family and friends who were very supportive.
Pregnancy went well with the “normal” amount of wondering whether I was doing whatever I should be to care for myself and baby. I was fine letting my husband contribute by his tendency to inquire how much tuna or lunch meat I was eating. Physically there were no concerns other than “almost” having gestational diabetes (the three hour glucose test is torture, no lie.)
My care was with a midwifery group at a local hospital. Other than enjoying their more personal approach to my regular check ups and some basic knowledge of their tendency towards a more “hands-off” approach to birthing, I didn't know much about “informed birth.” This became evident when our baby was found to be in frank breech position at the 39 week appointment. We were whisked up to an ultrasound where an OB/GYN confirmed the position and from there on, my husband and I only heard “but could end in emergency c-section.” Fear set in for both of us as “rookie parents” and we opted for a scheduled cesarean the following day. My husband left this office visit relieved and excited, while I left scared and deflated.
Surgery went “fine.” Laying on a table horizontally, not able to see anything other than bright lights, with arms out to your sides and feeling the effects of a spinal block taking effect while trying not to freak the heck out is not exactly what I would call “fine,” but baby was born and beautiful and I was alive after it all, so “fine” is what we'll label it.
I will never forget my baby being brought to me and having the first experience with breastfeeding. My husband and best friend were there. All of us were breastfeeding for the first time. I’m forever grateful for the nurses I had while in the hospital, especially one I had overnight whose words gave me confidence when I felt lost. Two days after baby arrived, I was asking to be discharged. When we three got in the car and began driving home, my husband put in to words exactly what I was thinking, “they are really going to let us leave the hospital with a baby?”
Once home, it felt like I was living in a strange place for the first several weeks, let’s get real- several months. The entire routine is completely new- in addition to nourishing and caring for a new human. There was panic until my milk came in and then amazement when it did! Those first weeks/months were a combination of beautiful, lonely and scary. Life as a Mom was overall pretty awesome. Confidence was gained with the passing of each milestone.
Baby bump round 2
Life was in a pretty comfortable rhythm before baby #2, another boy, arrived- other than the added stress of being responsible for the well-being of my maternal grandparents, which included lots of obstacles (to put it nicely). I was very determined to have this baby via VBAC. I had a provider who was encouraging of this decision and I set out to arm myself with as much knowledge as I could consume.
Pregnancy once again was without any major issues, minus the groin pain (again and much earlier this time). The details of this pregnancy do not stand out as much, parenting a toddler/preschooler and working full-time probably left little time for details. I took the week leading up to my due date off and began maternity leave. I enjoyed this time (didn't get that far with my first) and also felt a strong need to keep mostly to myself this last week. I was thankful this baby remained head down and did as much as I could to relieve (and ignore) the pain in my left groin.
Labor began the day before his “due date” at around 2am. I was excited once I realized this was the real deal. I'd never gotten to feel labor contractions the first time. After doing several things to see if they would subside, I woke my husband to let him know. Contractions began slow and manageable and then became pretty intense and close together. After calling the on call OB/GYN and thankful to hear MY doctor’s voice, we decided I should come in to see where things were at given the timing, frequency and duration of contractions. The same wonderful, best friend of mine joined me and my husband again. My mother-in-law stayed at our house with our son while he was sleeping and we headed to the hospital. The rest of this labor goes kind of like this: “back labor” and no medications for about 21 hours; fear sets in with continued pain and lack of progress. I kept wondering why no one would just reach up in there, change the baby's position (asynclitic) and get me out of this hell of throw up and pain. The decision was made at hour 22 to have an epidural which seemed to wear off in no time (all the while making me shake so much that no rest was received). A combination of meconium, heart decelerations at a point when they should have recovered and a husband expressing fear and concern (and exhaustion) for his wife and baby, led to a decision to have a repeat cesarean. Can you see the pregnant lady’s confidence, efforts and hopes being deflated?
Again- the surgery went “fine” (see above definition for fine). Exhausted, dehydrated and feeling defeated and disappointed, there I was laying in the OR again. None of the plans I felt I'd prepared so much for went accordingly. Most defeating was being in so much damn pain for so long and still ending up with surgery. Baby #2 was born peeing and pooping (more). Baby #2 was beautiful and again, it was so hard to not be able to hold my baby right away but only have him held next to my face for a few moments.
Back in the room, I was thankful he was brought to me earlier than my first baby was. He went straight to the breast with a big open mouth like he knew exactly what to do. This was about the only bright spot of our time in the hospital. The only other bright spot was when big brother joined us and got to meet his little brother. I remember in the instant my first son arrived feeling as though he had grown exponentially since I had seen him a day before.
Baby #2 did not like to be put down- meaning he would be quiet for minutes before crying. I’m not someone who feels comfortable with a newborn sleeping on me, especially with pain medications in my system and recovering from an exhausting labor and surgery. I remember feeling desperate from exhaustion both nights I was in the hospital- couldn’t put him down; scared to hold him, fall asleep and drop the baby! A kind nurse took him to the nursery for what only seemed to be minutes one of the nights and he seemed just as unsettled when he returned. I felt alone, exhausted and aggravated. (This aggravation symptom only grew as the weeks went on.)
I asked to be discharged so I could at least be miserable in my own surroundings. I was overwhelmed from the moment I got home. Nothing felt “normal.” Lack of sleep only exacerbated this feeling. I also experienced loss- a loss no one had ever mentioned. My special relationship with my one and only child, my first born, changed dramatically. I tried my best to multitask being Mom to newborn, recovering from labor and surgery and Mom to my three year old. I hadn’t thought about all of the many routines that would change (again) in bringing new life in to our home. There were tears from the three year old and tears from his Mama. (*A story for another time- the new and challenging feelings of parenting TWO.)
I felt agitated and angry with a newborn baby who demanded all of my attention and was so difficult to settle at night (I couldn’t seem to settle myself during the day and he was more active and unsettled at night). His “witching hour” was more like four. Have you ever yelled at a baby? I have; it doesn't feel good at all and doesn't solve anything. My husband came to the rescue several times as he knew (and heard) my patience had reached its end. Did I ever want to hurt my baby? Not that I remember- just wanted him to go to sleep and stay asleep at predictable intervals so I could have some moments to feel human- without holding, touching or providing for- another human.
Going back to work this time was both nerve-wracking (again) and a relief. Letting someone else care for my children felt like (is) a break. I have an amazing home daycare provider who also happens to be a very close friend! I was thankful for the wisdom and relief gained from my clinical supervisor at my work position during this time. (A wonderful part of my studies in becoming a mental health clinician is the natural value in seeking your own mental wellness- there is no shame.) She was my “unofficial” therapist and certainly gave me tools, confidence and HOPE that I was a good Mother and doing things that helped replenish “my cup” to continue to be a good mother, wife, person, etc. Without regular “sessions” with her (AND LOTS of prayer- sometimes angry prayer), I’m not sure how out of hand the anxiety, irritability and hopelessness would have gotten.
My lesson learned from these periods of my life and journey? SPEAK UP. YOU ARE WORTH IT. LET SOMEONE ELSE HELP WITH BABY/CHILDREN. HOPE AND RELIEF are yours if you verbalize your needs and enlist those you trust to help you find the right help. Speaking up takes NOTHING AWAY from your status as a human, wife/husband, mother/father, professional, stay-at-home parent, etc. In fact- you may end up being light and hope for others who may be hiding their own struggles and wondering if their experience matters.
The joy on my face below is a work in progress, it ebbs and flows. I am fulfilled by my personal faith, my loved ones and my passions in life.