I’ve just finished a conversation with a girlfriend and it got me thinking. We were talking about our birth stories and how it has effected us in our lives. Both of us have become stronger for it, as so many women do, but it’s also changed a huge perspective of life. Both of us had emergency C-sections with our first children and both have been subjects of ‘taboo’ post partum. Being such a big part of new parent’s stories I get to be privvy to MANY postpartum conversations. From how their pregnancy went, to how their birth went to how they’re both currently doing. It doesn’t always have happy stories but there are many times where the mum is too timid to tell me how they’re actually doing.
It makes me sad to think that it is seen as a weakness, failure or not doing something correctly for having to give birth differently to how society sees it. As we both said today, having to have emergency c-sections wasn’t a choice we opted for and if we had been able to deliver naturally we would opt for that hands down EVERYTIME. As we got further into our stories, she quietly admitted that she had a friend come to her late into her pregnancy and sit her down and say, ‘you won’t take any pain relief, you wont have an epidural, you must breastfeed your baby..’ the list continued. This came from a single woman with no children of her own telling a first time mum what she should and shouldn’t do. I feel sorry for all of those women who think that’s where the bar is set. I was one of the ‘i want a natural birth, no drugs’ women too and boy did my world change 16 hours into labour when my little one was fighting for her life and there was no other option but to get her out.
We both spoke about our emergency experiences and how I was fortunate to have a very relaxed, chatting and laughing sort of caesarian delivery where she had experienced an anxiety attack and had been knocked out. What was similar for both of us were the feelings post birth. I was so incredibly disappointed that my body hadn’t done what it was ‘meant’ to and felt like I had not carried on our female line of being able to deliver babies naturally- my grandma had 9 at home and at the time I felt like I hadn’t. I had also had a gestational diabetes pregnancy (according to many failed tests prior to this decision) that also had not helped my self confidence.
We both struggled to breast feed and after a good fight from both of us, at differing times we ended up on formula. The next big taboo subject- especially with midwives where we were from, who ONLY condoned breast feeding. I know of women who have had to sign wavers from the hospital to say that their child is dehydrated and they need a top up of formula- but they have to sign the paperwork to say if the kids don’t take to the breast again they wont sue. What kind of world are we in???
We found up until the kids were at least one, every single dr’s appointment, stranger in the street, friend or family member who asked how the breast feeding was going was like an extra bag of guilt for our mummy guilt pile. It’s horrendous to be on the receiving end and at times the other person had no clue what they were doing. Not every woman is ABLE to feed their child, and in my opinion many children are better off for having a healthy, mentally happy parent that struggling and fighting through breast feeding to fall prey to other issues.
Post Natal Depression. Biggest taboo subject aside from bladder leakage that I’ve come across…
After my friend’s first child, she checked herself into a recovery clinic to get help with her depression. It had gotten to a point where she felt she had no other option and I’m so proud of her for doing so. I had no idea and I’m SO proud and privilidged that we talked about it today. There must be so so many women who go through this post birth and never get help and never tell anyone how they’re doing. It’s DEFINITELY ok to get help!
To be honest I had degrees of PND after the birth of our first-especially when breast feeding didn’t happen and I lost my milk on top of my ‘failed’ birth and I fell into a horrible post recovery funk. I remember looking at my breasts and thinking ‘what on earth are you good for then?’ I was angry. SO angry at myself and at the nurses who interfered with a perfectly working plan to make me think the way I was feeding (by expressing) was wrong. Thank god my mum and husband were close by or I doubt I would have been pulled back from the doors of what I felt like was hell.
I thought after two and a half years I was ready for baby two and started to build up the mental strength to try again. We fortunately fell pregnant very quickly and it stuck. As with our first child, the baby announced its pregnancy via ovarian cyst pain and I was sent to hospital with suspected ectopic pregnancy. Not only was I relieved to be told that everything was fine with the baby, we were told that the baby was bringing a friend with it. Twins! I just remember laughing hysterically, looking over at mum who had taken me to the hospital and bursting into tears.
I think carrying a baby for anyone can and is stressful… Twins for me was stressful. After losing a baby years before I was paranoid about it happening again. My husband was deploying overseas for seven months, we were building a house, moving interstate and having twins. Something no sane person would take on if they were sane.
The dr told me at the hospital at 81/2 weeks that one of the twins could disappear and be absorbed into the womb before twelve weeks. Essentially a natural abortion of sorts. So for the next month I was like a duck on water, calm on top and hysterically swimming on the inside. I can’t describe the fear of not seeing two babies at the first ultrasound. Hubby was able to come to the first scan with us and him and miss three were able to see the babies. The TV that faces the mum in the ultrasound wasn’t working so I couldn’t see them, but I was assured there were still two. The radiologist then said it’s still possible up to 20 weeks that the loss of one twin and it being absorbed was still possible. With hubby deploying and a whirlwind of 8 weeks each day was filled with silent terror wondering if the babies were doing ok. On top of that I had nausea 24hours a day 7 days a week up until 18weeks or so and I took that as a good sign. I must admit I didn’t enjoy the babies food requests. After having none with our first child, these two would request sausage rolls for days until I actually ate one or two! Twenty weeks came around, and my first question to the radiologist was, ‘are there still two?’
I am lucky I had the same radiologist the entire pregnancy so we got to know the kids together and she explained everything to me each time we went. She knew hubby was away and made sure she took lots of extra images so I could send them to him and he could see how they were growing.
I had my mother in law and Gran in law come and stay a few weeks while my parents went away and even while they were there I was starting to struggle with missing time with miss three and still silently hoping that the babies were cooking ok. I didn’t want to have company, I didn’t want to go anywhere out side of the normal routine miss three and I had developed. It was too much to fathom to be honest.
Hubby came home a day before delivery, and I remember the week and a half before just praying every night that they would stay in long enough for him to be home for delivery. I had to come to terms again that there was NO way I was able to have a natural delivery being twins. The OB let me entertain the idea for a week or so then sat me down and we had a huge heart to heart about it. I remember him asking me if I wanted to be guaranteed one baby healthy or two. Without him knowing he had played on my biggest fear and I had to adjust and move on with it. I remember bursting into tears with mum and dad a few times over the smallest things and a lot of it was down to the pressure and internal mum guilt that was building. Being the only person in a family to carry twins is exciting for everyone else but a huge burden for the mum to be.
During a local food shop, I decided to buy hubby twin baby willow figurines to add to our mum dad and bub statue I bought him after our first. The lady in the shop that I bought it from had the hide to have a go at me about ‘choosing the easy way out’ for delivery and then began to berrate me about how am I going to feed the children etc etc etc. Luckily I was having a particularly strong day and asked her to be quiet and I left her shop very quickly. How DARE she?
Delivery day arrived and after a couple of shots in the butt to make sure the boys came out fighting (and some words from mummy to them) we were heading to the delivery room. Both thrilled that today we went from a three person to a five person family… terrified and thrilled. All the drips and needles were administered and delivery began. Not even three minutes later we heard the best sound possible- one screaming baby and then 30seconds later the sound of another. I heaved a huge sigh of relief and looked at hubby proudly holding both of our boys and said ‘Happy fathers day, here are your boys safe and sound.’ He was like a pig in mud with them both and I’m positive his cheeks were sore from all the smiling.
Fast forward 8 hours and the agony is creeping in (as I was only given Panadol!) I see our tiny man Mr H is choking and the midwife is too busy fussing to get mr S over to me. I remember screaming at her to get the other bub as I was bedridden and frantic to help him. I remember her turning around, scooping up a now blue baby and running out of my room. She had to resuscitate him and clear his airway to get him breathing again. Back crept the nerves and panic. Not an hour later Mr S did the same thing but this time I had them both in arms reach to my bed and I fought to sit up and get to him. The nurse came in and grumbled at me but understood. The boys spent the first two nights in the nursery in case it happened in the night and I couldn’t get to them. No this is not something that’s ‘nice’ or ‘easy’ for any new mum, no matter how many kids you have.
Breastfeeding definitely didn’t happen this time around- despite my desperate trying to ‘get it right’ this time. It was sending me into a depressed spiral of anxiety and depression I can’t ever explain. One could feed ok- but wasn’t getting enough because he preferred to sleep than feed, and the other was too little to feed so was on formula very early on. The guilt at feeding one and not the other combined with so many other thoughts was too much. By day four my favourite midwife was on and we were about to bath the kids. I remember sitting next to her saying I need to make a decision and I was terrified of her answer. I remember bursting into tears and telling her I had to switch to formula as I couldn’t mentally do it. She smiled, said ‘thank god for that, I was hoping you would make that decision and don’t you dare explain yourself to anyone. This is the right decision for YOU and I support you 100%’ I wish I could give this woman a medal. She told me to call hubby and bring in formula and she taught us how to measure it out for the preemie boys. They still choked on their food and resus was still required but at least I knew what I was doing was going to benefit me long term both mentally and physically.
After having hubby re deploy for nine more weeks two days after getting home from hospital, mum moved in. I could feel I wasn’t feeling right and put it down to dual hormone levels settling out. I saw my dr about a month post deliver and he looked me square in the eyes and asked me how I was going. I remember him shaking his head and saying he was a little concerned about me and that I should pop in each week or fortnight to see him.
A huge sign to him that I wasn’t kicking along OK at the start was not wanting to see anyone or panicking when visitors wanted to come or telephone us. I couldn’t cope with my own situation that throwing more people into the mix, I nearly had a panic attack. Anxiety has and always will be my biggest struggle at times. I couldn’t handle the simple questions that all new mums get asked about sleep, feeding and how are the babies.
It wasn’t until eight weeks post that I went and spoke to the nurse there and told her how I was actually doing. She told me the Dr had put me on PND watch and that they were expecting a degree of depression post delivery but gave me tools to get by. We were supposed to do all sorts of travel at the end of 2013 and the Dr strongly advised against us going. The boys were still so little and not up to it, but he was most concerned about my mental state and me being away from my safety net.
I kept up to my weekly-ish meetings (also being mixed in with ‘baby check ups’) well into the new year and after about 24 weeks postpartum with their help I started to feel the cloud lifting. I know that even today I am having trouble still at times BUT exercise for me is a huge help and having hubby back is also keeping the anxiety levels down. I know when it’s starting now as well an endeavor to utilize my tools to change my head space. Sometimes it’s even triggered from foods I eat so my diet has had to become quite strict again.
On top of all of this my thyroid decided to crap itself again- as it did post delivery of our first baby. That’s a whole other story haha.
As the kids get sick or have troubles now at one, I still get my guilty pangs of ‘what could we have done better’ or ‘if I had breastfed then maybe this would have been avoided’ but I also know I wouldn’t have been a mum to them at all and possibly would have resented them. There’s a lot of mental kicking going on but I know that my three are my three and we are done. I know in my heart of hearts that I can’t fathom another major surgery to deliver a baby and then going through all of the mental garbage again. I want to be the best mum I can to the blessed little beans we have and I want to support them and hubby as well as we did when there were two, three and then five of us.
I know that I didn’t tell anyone about this because I hate the ‘poor you’ look or being treated any differently. I’m a strong person and with the help I had I got through it. Not everyone is the same and some need to vent and others don’t. Just choose what’s right for you and follow what you think will work for you.
For my friends who are expecting or planning kids, please keep a safe eye on each other. Dad’s can get it as well! Be kind to each other and support one another. I have been so lucky to have a mum, dad and hubby that have been both patient, loving and supportive through this crazy time.
For more information I hope you head over to PANDA Australia and see what amazing services they offer and familiarize yourself with it.
Information about PND: taken from Wikipaedia
Post Natal Depression (PND), also called Postpartum Depression (PPD), is a type of clinical depression which can affect women after childbirth. Symptoms include sadness, fatigue, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, reduced desire for sex, crying episodes, anxiety and irritability. Postpartum depression usually begins in the first few months after childbirth. In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, it is defined as depression with onset within four weeks after childbirth. Postpartum depression can also affect women who have suffered a miscarriage. It usually begins around two weeks after delivery. It may last several months or even a year.
While the causes of PPD are not understood, a number of factors have been suggested to increase the risk:
- Birth-related psychological trauma
- Birth-related physiological trauma
- Elevated prolactin levels
- Oxytocin depletion
- Formula-feeding rather than breast-feeding
- A history of depression
- Cigarette smoking
- Low self-esteem
- Childcare stress
- Prenatal depression during pregnancy
- Prenatal anxiety
- Low social support
- Life stress
- Poor marital relationship
- Infant temperament problems/colic
- Maternity blues
- Single marital status
- Low socioeconomic status
- Unplanned/unwanted pregnancy
Of these, formula-feeding, a history of depression, and cigarette smoking have been shown to be additive effects.
These factors are known to correlate with PPD. “Correlation” in this case means, for example, high levels of prenatal depression are associated with high levels of postnatal depression, and low levels of prenatal depression are associated with low levels of postnatal depression. But this does not mean prenatal depression causes postnatal depression—they might both be caused by some third factor. In contrast, some factors, such as lack of social support, almost certainly cause postpartum depression.