The story of how I came to be pregnant is really quite short. I had an IUD and I got pregnant. That pregnancy didn’t work out and with the IUD failing at its one job, and realizing that the chances of getting pregnant with an IUD were around 1 in 1000, I thought that the universe was telling my husband and I that we need a to have baby. We didn’t try to get pregnant again, but we didn’t do anything stop it from happening and after two weeks in Boston with much whiskey, Guinness and clam chowder, I was pregnant. Easy.
My pregnancy was awesome. I felt like the most amazing, vibrant and sexy woman in the world. I felt like the complicated relationship I had always had with my body was put aside and it looked and behaved just as I knew it always was supposed to. I just loved it. I’d found my calling. MOTHERHOOD.
I knew what kind of mother I was going to be. With no room for any variation I thought “I’m going to breastfeed until she’s four, only use cloth diapers, only eat organic food. I’ll have a natural childbirth with absolutely no interventions whatsoever.” My devotion to all of these ideals was unshakable. And as soon as it was time for my daughter to be born, each of these ideals fell away one by one.
My pregnancy was largely uncomplicated. I had low blood pressure and no gestational diabetes. I was labeled high risk for being plus sized which was insulting and unnecessary but other than that, the only problem I encountered was a fear of Downs Syndrome which was quickly eliminated by an amniocentesis. According to my midwife my daughter was going to be very healthy. Enormous but healthy. And probably on her way out early. My husband and I were so excited.
I wanted a home birth but was insured by Kaiser so that was out of the question. Kaiser Sunnyside, however, touted the lowest C-section rate in the state and claimed to be a “mother-baby hospital” and devoted to low intervention births. I was settling for second best, but thought it wasn’t so bad.
My due date came and went with nothing. And that’s when things started to fall apart. I was two weeks late and being admitted to the hospital for some monitoring. I was assured that I would be released and allowed to labor at home. When we arrived at the hospital, the nurses and midwives told me a very different story.
“You aren’t leaving. You are going to have a c-section”.
My response was as plain as her statement. “No I am not. And I won’t be induced either.”
I was in hospital for two full days with a really slow labor. I had never been in the hospital before and was scared and wholly distrustful of doctors and nurses. I was unable to relax and nothing was working. I begged to be allowed to leave to see an acupuncturist. They said that the only way I would be allowed to leave the hospital would be to take an exhaustive test proving that my daughter was responsive and I was healthy. I took the test. Even during the test, I knew it wasn’t going well. Afterword, a doctor told me that my daughter was tiny and hadn’t grown since 37 weeks. I knew this was wrong and I told her so. I even asked her if she was sure that she had the right chart. She said that my daughter, who up to this very day had a projected birth weight of 9 lbs, would be lucky to wight 6 lbs. She told me that my daughter could die. My doula said that the doctor was wrong. I was terrified and didn’t know who was right. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had to get into active labor as soon as possible.
In order to have my doula do some exercises to get me into active labor, I had to sign a release form acknowledging that by taking my daughter off of a monitor, I assumed the risk of her death. I knew she wouldn’t die and I knew I wasn’t going to allow them to induce me so I signed it.
After many more hours of active, excruciating back labor, I made it to 9 and 1/2 centimeters dilation. But something was wrong. The attending midwife told me that anytime her head hit my cervix, her heart rate went down. They told that I would have to have a C-section now or later, so I needed to decide. Against every instinct in my body, I had a C-section. My labor, which was in my mind, supposed to be a beautiful, loving and strengthening experience had devolved into a nightmare of trauma and fear.
I can’t remember too much about that time of my daughter’s birth. I remember Kyle bringing her up to my head and him laying her on my chest. All 8 lbs 11 ozs of her. She was big and healthy.
I don’t remember those first few hours. I remember the pain and the feeling of the drugs but not much else. My first concrete memories of encountering my daughter were filled with terror. Not of her, but of myself. I remember thinking of really frightening things – harmful things. I remember not going to sleep in the hospital. I couldn’t let my guard down. I knew that some how my daughter was going to be hurt. My husband convinced me to try to sleep. He said that he would take care of her and not let anything happen to her. I woke up and they were both gone. I FREAKED OUT! I went roaming around the maternity ward, crying and sobbing and found them in the nursery. I was so upset with him and I couldn’t stand to see the nurses touch her. None of it was rational but I had these intense feelings that I would hurt her but also that if I left her with anyone else something terrible was going to happen.
I knew something was wrong. I didn’t feel that blissful love that I thought I was supposed to feel. I felt responsible. I felt a visceral responsibility to this little stranger and I was disturbed by it. I thought that I had made a terrible decision. I knew something was wrong with the way my brain was processing. Every time I began to feel some sense of comfort, I would get a mental picture of myself hurting her. Before I went home, I remember talking to someone, and I told them that I was scared and that I was having scary thoughts. They just assured me to that I was just tired and that nothing was wrong.
In the car on the way home. I sat next to her in the back seat. I looked at her and thought that I knew I couldn’t be alone with her because somehow I would be responsible for her death.
When we get home, everything continued to go terribly wrong. Breastfeeding didn’t work. I was unable to consistently use the nipple shield I was given with any success. I saw four different laceration consultants and had panic attacks multiple times a day and I was also having intrusive harmful thoughts all the time. I was overwhelmed with the belief that everything was going wrong and that my family would be better off without me. I started looking up plane tickets and the prices of apartments in other states and countries. I thought that I would just start over. I would leave my family. My daughter was young enough that she wouldn’t remember me and my husband would find another wife more suited to raising a child. He would find someone who would be a much better mother than I could ever be. I thought to myself. “I don’t have to do this, it would be much better if I went away.” I told my husband my plans and he convinced me that leaving was not an option.
At my 6 week followup appointment, I was given a questionnaire asking,
“Do I feel joy?” I replied, “Not really.”
“Am I anxious?” I replied, “Constantly.”
“Am I having thoughts of harming my baby.” I replied “More often than I can stand.”
My midwife let me know that according to my answers, I had postpartum depression and qualified to see a postpartum counselor. I made an appointment and that was the first moment of relief I felt. Up until that moment, I felt that when I talked about how I was feeling, no one believed me. No one believed me that anything was truly wrong.
Meeting my counselor was a big step for me. She told me that the feelings I had were real and common and the thoughts of hurting and abandoning my daughter were also common and a sign of postpartum anxiety. She told me that all of this was treatable. She encouraged me to take antidepressants. I told her I wouldn’t take them. As a compromise, she said she wouldn’t press me but that if I came to a point where it was really necessary, then she would push it.
Life kept going along. I remember this specific turning point in my experience when things changed.
My daughter was maybe four months old and refusing to breastfeed. I was super engorged, and I was tenaciously trying to exclusively breastfeed her. We were out doing errands and my daughter was starving. We were in the Costco parking lot trying to get her to eat. I was too engorged so I tried to express milk into a water bottle in the back seat of the car. I was crying from the pain and frustration. My daughter was screaming. We were all panicking. I just lost it and realized that the whole thing was ridiculous. I needed to feed my screaming daughter. I told my husband to hold my daughter and I ran into Costco sobbing and covered in breast milk. I yelled at the doorway attendant that I needed baby bottles and formula and water. He told me that Costco didn’t carry any baby bottles and I lost my shit. I screamed that I couldn’t believe that they didn’t have baby bottles but I could buy any other conceivable thing on the planet there. I ran back to the car we drove off. We were desperate and we were all crying. Luckily, we spotted a Kmart just down the street. I got what I needed there. I was embarrassed at how disheveled I was but I was finally able to feed Pearl. I was heartbroken. Another one of my ideals was dissolving. I never wanted to feel that desperate again but was devastated that I had resorted to feeding my daughter formula. As strange as it sounds, that Costco experience left me feeling lower than I had ever felt. For the first time, I felt truly suicidal. I called my counselor and told her that I wanted to die and she told me that it was time to start taking Zoloft. I did and that is when I started talking to one of the BBC volunteers on the phone.
She was kind and understanding. She made me feel so good about trying so fervently to breastfeed but also allowed me to listen to the part of me that knew that breastfeeding wasn’t working for us. She helped me come to the decision to stop breastfeeding.
She told me that in the grand scheme of things, breastfeeding was such a tiny thing. She said “if you and your baby are not connecting, what’s more important: breastfeeding or making the connection with your daughter?”
To me, this was one of the most important parenting decisions I could make. I decided that It would be selfish of me to continue to breastfeed. Our adversarial breastfeeding relationship was hurting my daughter. I stopped feeling bad about not breastfeeding. I pumped for 4 more months and when my breast pump broke and I had to switch to formula, I felt nothing but relief.
I started going to the BBC group meetings every week. I didn’t miss one for 6 months. And everything just started to get better. The women that I was connecting with weren’t the same as me, their experiences weren’t the same as mine but it was comforting to know that they were having the same thoughts as me. It was also nice in that group just wasn’t all sad stories and sad people. It was a strong group of women speaking with complete honesty about their experiences. Sometimes we laughed and sometimes we cried.
My journey through motherhood looks NOTHING like I thought it would. My ideals are gone now. I bottle fed. I used cloth diapers. I had a C-section. My ideals have been replaced by reality and love and an ability to set aside the small things. My daughter is smart and kind and more awesome than I could’ve imagined. I can’t get enough of her. I not only love her like I always knew I should have, I also like her so much more than I ever thought I could. I’m a good mother. And my involvement with BBC has been instrumental in my success.