I spent more time in my first pregnancy preparing for the birth than for all the days that followed.
My goal was a natural hospital birth. I read every book and blog post. I hired a doula. I had a contingency for every situation. I talked to everyone I knew about their birth stories, analyzing their decisions. I (secretly) judged women who said, “Well, I wanted to do a natural birth, but then I had an epidural” or “I ended up with a c-section.” In my mind, I steeled myself with each story. That won’t happen to me.
And then the day came; early labor began at midnight on a Monday morning. My labor was long and grueling, but I was committed. My doula arrived at my house Monday at 5PM, and we labored at home until Tuesday at 8PM. During that time, my contractions were strong but inconsistent. My doula suspected less-than-optimal baby positioning, and we spent a significant amount of time creatively trying shift baby. When I checked into the hospital, I was 9.5 centimeters dilated! I was almost there.
After 8 hours of laboring in the hospital, trying everything, and feeling an excruciating urge to push, I was still at 9.5 centimeters. The hospital staff and particularly the OB on call was amazing – supportive of our choices and desire to continue laboring and trying creative solutions to get me to progress. In my view, we did everything “right.” However, at a certain point, the doctor was in the room telling us that we had no other options left, and the longer we waited, our risks went up for a uterine rupture or amniotic fluid infection.
During all of my planning for birth, I never entertained the idea of having a C-section, because I felt like it would jinx my plan if i did. The moment when we consented to the C-section was the lowest moment of my life. As they wheeled me out of the labor room to the OR, I shut down. I have never felt more defeated in my life.
The days and weeks after the birth were a blur, as they always are. Everyone says just be thankful that mama and baby are healthy, and I was. But at the same time, I felt humiliated and ashamed of my birth story. My doula insisted that I was a fierce birther, but I felt like an utter failure. People would ask me to share and I’d brush past it. I didn’t know how to process what had happened, and it felt easier to move on.
A few days after my baby was born, I sat on the couch, crying and telling my husband that I wanted my life back. I was emotional, but who isn’t after birth? I didn’t think that it was anything out of the ordinary. The hard thing about postpartum depression is that you don’t have anything to compare it to. I didn’t know if this was normal, or if I just wasn’t handling it well. During that time I felt a lack of clarity for what I wanted and needed. I wondered if I should push myself to do more, or if my requests for space and rest were unreasonable. At the same time, I felt restless and wished for more capacity.
I had the gift of having my husband home for almost 8 weeks after our son was born since he’s a teacher and was on summer vacation. In many ways, I think that kept my postpartum depression at bay; I passed my 6 week check-up with flying colors. After he went back to work, I experienced a downward spiral that led to me sobbing in the doctor’s office after a completely unrelated visit telling her I thought I was depressed. I tried therapy and got a prescription for Zoloft, but ultimately was too afraid to take it, and decided I would let more time pass before going that route.
Newborn stage was hard for me. I love babies, but having my own was very stressful. I had always dreamed of being a mother from a young age, but I found myself questioning everything. He wasn’t napping when he “should.” Was he getting enough milk? Should I feel guilty for being bored and wanting to escape?
Over the next two years I found that motherhood wasn’t fulfilling me in the way that I always dreamed it would. I felt unsettled and disoriented to myself. It felt like every single piece of my identity was up for grabs like jumbled puzzle pieces that I weren’t sure went to the puzzle. I tried variations for filling my time: staying home full-time, working part-time. We tried my husband and I both working part-time. Throughout this time a lot of life change happened. We left our church of 4 years. I had a miscarriage and shortly after we started trying for baby #2. Almost all of our inner circle friends moved away. We sold our house, bought a house and we moved to San Diego.
Hindsight is so often the only way to see, but 6 months after we moved, I realized that I was caught in a cycle of depression. I could see objectively that I had a really good life, but I wasn’t experiencing it as such. My depression was affecting my relationships and ability to enjoy my life, but it took me a few months to see that and finally admit that I needed help. Over the next few months I committed to doing the work. I tried a few kinds of therapy (CBT for the depression and EMDR to help process my traumatic birth) and started a regimen of mood-boosting natural supplements..
During the next 6 months I also engaged in a massive amount of personal growth. My community went through the 12-step program together (Breathing Under Water by Richard Rohr is an amazing resource here) and I went through my yoga teacher training. I dove headfirst into the depths of myself that I had been afraid to explore for fear of completely unraveling. I started this website and became more open about my journey. I began to take better care of myself. I learned how to ask myself what I needed and then allow myself the grace to do those things.
All of these things helped, and I feel stronger and more grounded now. Most importantly, I am able to identify when I’m starting to spiral down, and I can address my depression head-on and I have strategies for how to address it. Now two weeks away from giving birth to twins, I am sure that this new season will test me. In some ways, I’m terrified! In other ways, I’m preparing differently this time, and I’m excited to see how all my growth will serve me in this season.
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