This guest post is courtesy of Gabrielle, a mother of one who found release in writing the story of her journey.
I am honored to be able to share her words with you .
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In birthing class, we went around the room and described our pregnancy thus far using one word. When husband’s turn came, he responded “marathon.” How right he was. At that moment I realized pregnancy was not just a step I had to take to get to having a baby and having a baby was not just a step to take to get to motherhood;but rather each was their own journey. Journeys I could never be prepared for mixed with emotions I didn’t know I had in me. Ronan Daniel made me a mother. I will forever be grateful for this human who chose me to bring him to life. Everyone says “children are miracles” but you don’t fully appreciate that until you actually birth a tiny miracle. However magnificent the miracle may be, the journeys there, and thereafter, are grueling.
The Journey: Conception
I always knew I would be a mom. Some women don’t ever have the yearning to bear children, some women grow into the desire, but for me it wasn’t a question or even desire really, I just knew it was a given. So, when I found a partner and married him in September, the idea of having a baby came soon after. Four short months later, I decided it was time. I had it all planned: At my next check-up I would deny my next dose of birth control, the following month I would get pregnant, and before the end of the year I would have my bundle of joy in hands.
I really thought it was that simple. As women, we spend the majority of our years preventing premarital pregnancy. We have it instilled in us that if we “mess up” and get pregnant before we settle down, then our lives will be over and ruined forever. We go on endless doctor appointments to find the right birth control, take extra precaution to time pills and shots, and always make sure to have proper protection because God forbid one tiny slip up and you will RUIN YOUR LIFE FOREVER. How funny is it that when we actually try to get pregnant no one warns you how difficult it actually is to conceive? Why is this warning not instilled in us?
It took me fourteen months to conceive a child. A year and two months of counting days, timing sex, spending obscene amounts of money on tests, and crying every month it didn’t happen. I was a healthy 27-year-old with a healthy 27-year-old partner so why wasn’t it happening? I beat myself up for over a year. I tried every trick in the book. When people inquired as to when we would have a baby, I laughed them off with “Yeah, maybe” or “when the time is right.” Why was I so cordial? If they could so offhandedly ask such a personal question, why couldn’t I give them a personal answer? I should’ve said, “Actually we’ve been trying for a year. I cry at night when I think about how badly I want a baby. I’m going to my doctors in a few weeks to talk about my options.” That’s what I should have said.
When I did go to my doctor, she told me to wait it out. WAIT IT OUT. She said these things take time and I’m young and healthy and not to stress about it. As if it was that easy. Fortunately for me, my time came and I finally got the positive test. It took a little more than a year, but it happened. I got pregnant naturally. We were over-the-moon and didn’t waste a minute telling friends and family. What I thought was going to be this simple step became a lesson within itself. I struggled silently for so long. I can’t even imagine the women that don’t get to say, “it finally happened”. Their stories go on to include more doctors, possibly needles, and definitely more struggle and my heart feels for them. I would say: “Dear beautiful woman beginning her motherhood journey: please do not think this process is easy. Every body is different and it may take a few times, hell a few years, to make a baby. Please do not stress out, please do not get down on yourself.”
Any woman starting their pregnancy journey, trying or struggling, I feel for you. It happens more than you think. If we just talked about it more, it wouldn’t be such a lonely journey.
The Journey: Pregnancy
Joy. So much joy. I took one test, saw the two pink lines, and my heart exploded. All I had to do was wait nine short months, gain a few pounds, and I would have a little baby to love.
Who led me to believe these next few months would be a breeze if not enjoyable? Who are these women to claim to love being pregnant and actually, dare I say, miss it? Good for you I guess, but to be honest I hated being pregnant. I didn’t have terrible morning sickness but I had just about everything else. My nose was my superpower, my moods swung as much as a small child on a swing, and I was blessed with Gestational Diabetes. On top of feeling terrible and pricking my finger to test blood three times a day, at 20 weeks my baby’s kidneys were flagged. The doctor explained they were enlarged and I needed extra monitoring at Fetal Medicine in the hospital. I was now labeled “high risk.” Without much more information they sent me on my way. Once home, I consulted Dr. Google and got all the information I needed: my baby possibly had Down Syndrome and we may need to go in for surgery to drain his kidneys otherwise he would be born riddled with complications. Let the panic attacks and over-thinking ensue. It turned out to be nothing. After months of extra ultrasounds and additional hospital visits, he was cleared and nothing else came of it. I spent five months of my pregnancy crying and imagining the worst-case scenario for nothing. Hormones really do make you crazy.
I’ve weighed the exact same amount the majority of my life. It has fluctuated minimally through my college days but for the most part I’ve looked the same since age 17. Then came pregnancy. I gained 30 pounds - right in the middle of what is recommended. And it’s not that I minded gaining that much weight, I was creating life! It was more my body that minded. I’m fairly short and have a very short torso. It was very hard to fit a growing baby towards the end. His head was in my pelvis and his feet were in my rib cage and I hurt all over. Over the course of my pregnancy, I read eight pregnancy books, read hundreds of blogs, and researched baby products like crazy. My husband and I attended a birthing class so awesome that we felt empowered and ready for this baby to come. He was so supportive, he wrote my birth plan! I was on the tail-end of pregnancy and everything hurt. I was so ready to have a baby my body began to go into labor, but my baby just wasn’t ready. For the last two weeks, I experienced prodromal labor.
For anyone who doesn’t know what this is (I didn’t either until it happened to me): You are in labor, like real labor, that slowly comes and goes over a long period of time. In short- I was suffering mild to moderate labor pains for two weeks. It was the worst two weeks of my life. Ok, that’s an exaggeration but it was bad. I left work early and began my leave (some companies have no compassion but that’s a story all its own). Finally, six days post-due date my water broke! What I learned after my prolonged suffering is that women who experience the horrible-ness of prodromal labor typically have very quick births. This proved to be the case with me. My water broke at one in the morning. I got checked into the hospital and was already six centimeters. I labored, got an epidural, pushed for 15 minutes and BOOM had a baby. When people ask me “how long was your labor?” I usually respond with “about seven hours.” What I really should say is: “I had mild labor for about two weeks leading to a fast-tracked labor and birth. I only pushed for about 15 minutes but due to the aggressive nature of the birth I suffered a slight fracture of and bruising to my tailbone.”
Nowhere in the eight books that I read prepared me for this two weeks of torture. I had never heard of it until I was going through it and only then were there a few articles explaining what it was. There’s no explanation, no words of encouragement, and no warnings for women of just how difficult it is. So here it is: “Women going through prodromal labor: it is a natural and annoying occurrence that sometimes happens in pregnant women. In my own experience it is a mind-fuck that tells you ‘hey you’re in labor, haha just kidding’ every single day until one day it is real. It’s awful and you may cry every day during, but it only means the end is near and you will meet your baby soon!”
Any woman in their final days of pregnancy begging for it to be over, I feel you. It happens more than you think. If we just talked about it more, it wouldn’t be such a lonely journey.
The Journey: Postpartum
My biggest regret during pregnancy is that I focused solely on my pregnancy. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 as the saying goes and after all the time spent trying, I was just so happy to even be pregnant there wasn’t room for much else. I downloaded the apps and compared the size of my fetus to a various fruit every month. That’s what a baby is all about, right? I’ve heard the warnings having a baby is hard and it will change your life forever, but we don’t REALLY talk about it. We don’t dive into how real the baby blues and postpartum-depression are what it feels like and how to help ourselves and others.
Remember that perfect birthing class we took during pregnancy? It left me empowered and prepared to birth a baby. Why don’t postpartum classes exist? Birthing classes are so helpful, but it is an expensive class that prepares you for this short, albeit difficult, experience that is only one tiny part of what having a baby is about. Some insurance even pays for you to attend a birthing class! Why does no one say: “hey, it’s awesome you want to prepare yourself for labor and birth because it’s one of the hardest things you’ll do, but what you really need to focus on is what happens after birth.” You have this beautiful baby, then you bring baby home and your whole world is flipped on its side. You start to think “what did I do!?”
Somebody should tell us to research mom groups in our area. Somebody should give us warning signs, validate our feelings, and let us know that everyone feels these intense emotions. Somebody should tell us - in big bold letters - “YOU ARE NOT CRAZY.” I needed that in my first couple weeks home because I felt crazy. The Baby Blues are real. I believe every woman goes through some sort of ‘blues’ period and although each story is different, we shouldn’t be hiding the fact that it happens.
Once I delivered Ronan, the nurses spoke to my husband outside about signs of Postpartum Depression (PPD). They told him to watch me and support me and I really don’t know what else they spoke about because I wasn’t there. Why wasn’t I there for this conversation? The only thing I was told was that if my depression lingers past two weeks to seek out help. To be honest, maybe there was more to the story, maybe they lectured me. I can’t really remember. I was in a baby-moon phase filled with love and beginning a breastfeeding journey that seemed to be more important than anything else at the time.
Our two day hospital stay was perfect. We had the perfect nurses. I was well taken care of. My husband was so supportive and helpful that I didn’t change one diaper. Then we went home. Why do hospitals send you home on day three knowing that the third day is the most difficult? Why didn’t I learn until after the fact that is when the baby will cluster feed and it will be the most difficult time nursing? Why did no one tell me these things? It was hard, so hard. My husband helped as much as he could but because I was breastfeeding, and that was all that Ronan wanted to do, he really couldn’t do much for me. It drove me crazy that my husband could lay there and sleep while I was being woken up every 45 minutes like a snack factory to begin work all over again. We fought, and I cried hard. That’s the reality of parenting, you will fight. If I could go back and ask for help I would have. I would have said “Please just stay awake with me. Help me stay coherent while I feed our child, that’s all I need is for you to be awake.” That’s all I needed but I didn’t know it at the time and it was frustrating. Any woman preparing to breastfeed on your first night home: take my advice and ask your partner to stay awake with you. You will feel so much better knowing you’re in it together.
The next few weeks were hard. I cried a lot. I cried happy tears, sad tears, mad tears, confused tears, and sometimes tears for no reason at all. I zoned out a lot. I would be having a conversation with my husband one second and the next he was snapping me out of this stare that I had no idea I was even in. I think it was my mind’s way of taking mini breaks, like a short vacation from the stress. You’re allowed to take mini breaks from time to time. I also had crazy thoughts. Between the dramatic drop in hormones and the physical side effects of breastfeeding, my mind starting to go haywire. All I wanted to do was feed and hold my baby. After I fed him, my husband would offer to take him and change him in the other room saving me from having to get up while in pain. Instead of being grateful, I started to cry and accused him of taking the baby away from me. “Why won’t you let me hold him?” I would ask and be so upset. I felt I was only there to feed him and I was otherwise useless. Why would I think that? I don’t know but I did. Those are the kind of thoughts your mind tricks you into thinking.
Eventually the crazy thoughts subsided, and my body began to heal until I started to feel “normal.” When people asked how I was doing, I would reply “Great! I’m feeling good and the baby is so good we’re lucky.” What I should have said was “I struggled hard at first. I wish my husband got more time off of work because being home alone is hard.” There are so many other components to postpartum it’s hard to think we combine it all into one. There’s feeding and keeping your new baby alive, but there’s also healing your own body and accepting what your new body looks like. There’s asking for help but also the pressure to keep up appearances. There’s the tremendous feeling of love but also the exhaustion and second-guessing yourself. Here is my final warning “For all mamas struggling: We all feel the same way you do to some degree. The crazy thoughts are just that, they’re thoughts. There are resources out there for you, please use them. It gets better.”
Any woman feeling overwhelmed in your postpartum days, I feel you. It happens more than you think. If we just talked about it more, it wouldn’t be such a lonely journey.