My Story Told 2 Years Post Childbirth
There was a moment a few weeks after I gave birth to my son where I looked at myself in the mirror and quite literally couldn’t identify the person looking back at me. I just stared at her. I watched her make the same facial expressions but couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see myself in her movements.
I called my husband to come home because it scared me.
What a privilege I had that he could + he did.
We all come into this world via a woman, a/our mother. I have heard + taken part in plenty of conversations around the topics of that transformation in terms of the joy of holding your baby in your arms, lack of sleep, figuring out parenting with each new phase, etc.
But what about the conversation around the mother as a completely changed human-being from a cellular, neurological, emotional, social and hormonal level?
“When we enter the world of birth, we step across the threshold from the mundane to the sacred. Pregnancy and birth are a space between worlds — a liminal space — a place where you are no longer not a parent and not yet one either. This betwixt and between is sacred space within which powerful and profound events occur — often uninvited.”― Britta Bushnell, Transformed by Birth: Cultivating Openness, Resilience, and Strength for the Life-Changing Journey from Pregnancy to Parenthood
In those moments I had no idea what was going on; how nutritional depleted I was, how the hormone drops were affecting me and how the lack of sleep basically shot my adrenal system.
I was in a constant state of fight-or-flight seeing all the “new dangers” around me and my baby. I’d jump at a loud sound in my house or make-up in my head what could happen if we dared to leave the house.
T R U E S T O R Y
I was sitting outside with my newborn in the morning watching a squirrel jump around the trees while simultaneously planning exactly how I would destroy that squirrel if it decided to attack my baby (you know, as squirrels have been known to do).
Looking back, that story is obviously ridiculous and somewhat humorous. However, at the time, those small stories carried over into thoughts about walking into a store and immediately assuming the real possibility of a mass shooting or sitting in a coffee shop and not wanting my back to the door became
These thoughts, although primal in nature, were also invasive and exhausting.
THE POSTPARTUM WORLD
These moments combined with the brain fog I was feeling made life at times very scary. I remember being in a corner gas station and not being able to figure out how to safely make a left hand turn that close to an intersection.
I called my OBGYN office and made an appointment with the first available doctor in the practice. He asked what was going on, and tears hit before any words could escape my mouth. He handed me a tissue and asked me two questions.
“Are you breastfeeding?” Yes.
“How old is your baby?” 4 months.
“You’re textbook.” he replied. He explained to me that most postpartum blues/anxiety/depression hit in breastfeeding mothers 3-6 months postpartum.
I asked why then nobody checks on mothers 3-6 months out? I asked why didn’t they advise my husband to watch for this beyond the 6 weeks they talk about in the hospital? I asked why this was the first time I had ever been made aware of this fact?
I was angry. This felt like such an easy thing to talk about with new families. This doctor brushed off my questions with a comment, “Well we’re not going to fix the world in a day.”
Without a blood test and the irresponsible advice to, “Stop going to therapy, you don’t need it. These meds will solve your problems,” he prescribed me an SSRI and sent me on my way.
It took me days to go pick up the meds. I had never been on medication before and I didn’t completely understand why I needed it. I also felt a lot of guilt as I had a problem-free delivery and a healthy and happy baby. My circumstances were good. I was good. With support, my husband advised me to just try it out. So I did and it was the right decision for me because I needed that lifeline.
It took another six months before I saw my doctor for an annual exam where they found my thyroid levels had gotten worse and that I now had Hashimoto’s Disease. With a full blood panel they found that my Vitamin D levels were low enough that I had to take prescribed amounts to get my levels up before I could manage it on my own.
The new information offered very good explanation on why I was so fatigued, why my head was filled with fog and why I was feeling so much anxiety.
AS MY SON TURNS TWO
I write this to reflect, regroup + rejoice in how far I’ve come. But mainly I write to share how wild of a ride it has been in hopes that it might offer some insight to you, someone you love or hopefully even shed some light on all of us as a human collective.
It has been two years since I’ve given birth and currently I am working with a doctor who is addressing my autoimmune disease, my hormones, my gut health and my mental health.
I am feeling very grateful to finally be seen as a whole person. I am also grateful for a doctor who welcomes my questions and curiosity rather than asks me “anything else?” as they’re already halfway out the door.
And again, what a privilege that I knew what to do, who to contact and that I could afford this treatment not covered by insurance.
MAYBE WE DO BETTER
As I know I’m not alone in some version of this story because my OBGYN who when I offered some feedback on how maybe a blood test might have been a more appropriate place to start rather than a pill replied with “well, hindsight is alway 20/20 and this actually happens to a lot of women” – that maybe we should be taking better care of women having babies – before, during + after.
Maybe instead of partners going back to work basically five minutes after getting home with this new life to understand, we find a way to let that irreplaceable bonding time be had.
How ridiculous is it that the U.S. is the only industrialized country with no national paid family leave policy putting 1 in 4 women in the position of going back to work just 10 days after giving birth. Educate, donate and take action via PaidLeave.US
Here is the frustrating part, we know better…
The importance of early infant attachment cannot be overstated. It is at the heart of healthy child development and lays the foundation for relating intimately with others, including spouses and children. It affects parents’ abilities to nurture and to be responsive to their children. The effects of infant attachment are long-term, influencing generations of families.U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Maybe rather than a six-week check up where you’re expected to have the baby blues, women are brought back in three to six months after giving birth.
Maybe we make the one thing we all have in common, how we come into this world, something that is honored, prioritized, safe and dignified rather than glorified as hard work.
“Almost all global maternal deaths are prevented by ensuring women have access to quality, respectful, and equitable maternity care. Too few women have the access they need.” | Every Mother Counts
Maybe us now, the grown babies of these mothers, would have a better chance at optimal physical + emotional well-being from the moments we arrive on this earth, if the mothers had what they needed to prevent these traumas + could recover properly.
Through all these struggles, I know my privilege in it all as a white woman of a certain socioeconomic bracket.
“African American women across the income spectrum and from all walks of life are dying from preventable pregnancy-related complications at three to four times the rate of non-Hispanic white women, 2 while the death rate for black infants is twice that of infants born to non-Hispanic white mothers.”
ADVICE TO NEW MOMS
Until the systems get in order (whatever that means) advocate for yourself. Truthfully, I cringe writing that last sentence because as a new parent, you really have no idea what that means. My best advice is confide in other moms and be as vulnerable as you can. The first person, a new mother as well, who I felt comfortable telling that I chose to get on medication replied with, “I started yesterday, too.”
Spend more time educating yourself on the transition of birth than trying to figure out the best onesie to take baby home in from the hospital. However, both are important! Celebrate in the joy of the tiniest socks you’ve ever seen while also understanding what is happening to your brain + body.
Ask your doctor to do a full blood panel. Know where you are depleted!
Friends of new moms: Check-in with her 3-6 months out rather than just in those first couple of weeks. Once the meals and visitors stop is often when a lot of the isolating feelings can start.
The Postnatal Depletion Cure By: Oscar Serrallach
I loved reading about how other cultures handle the first 40 days post-birth. Also, he talks about the exact blood tests you should request and nourishing foods to eat.
The Fourth Trimester By: Kimberly Ann Johnson
PEOPLE + ORGANIZATIONS
Book a Postpartum Mama Hour with my friend and energy-worker (and mama of 2) Reggie. There is so much that can be done to help with all the physical + emotional changes.
And if I’ve lit a fire in you, check out everymothercounts.org. They make it very easy to contact your policy-makers in local, state, and federal government to demand policy action that supports pregnant, childbearing, and postpartum people in the response to COVID-19.
To leave you on a positive note, motherhood is the greatest joy of my life and I’d do it all over again knowing the same outcome.
I have always found solace in knowing that James and I were, are and always will be in it together.
Every night before I go to bed I go into his room and put my hand on his little belly so I can take deep breaths with him. My mind quiets from the actions of our day and I feel our connection at a cellular level. It is nothing short of magic.
We share so much about the good, because it is easy and it feels good to share the good. We shy from the painful topics for many reasons; we don’t want to seem ungrateful, it is too vulnerable, we don’t want to be stigmatized, we don’t want to ruin another person’s experience, we don’t want to complain, etc..
So I leave you with this final thought:
These moments that I just shared in regards to my first two years as a mother seem like a lot of struggling. But here is the thing; when you are reborn you will undoubtedly struggle. You have to break to rebuild with all these new pieces of yourself. It is painful and it is beautiful. It is the very definition of being alive. And nothing makes me feel more alive than when my two-year-old runs to me, looks me in the eyes, grabs my face with his sticky hands and lays a slobbery kiss right on my lips and yells, “Love you mama!”
Now offering First Year of Life Photography Collections.
I created these new Maternity | Newborn | First Year of Life collections to make more space (and less stress) for celebrating during this incredible time.