I started writing this post back on Memorial Day weekend. I haven't written anything since I started it, and it's taken me this long to finish it. I think I see this as a final step in my healing process. This is a real issue that people are just now starting to speak out about....
This is long....I warned you :-) .
Labor and birth are rarely "easy." As a first time mother, I tried to prepare myself as best I could for what labor and birth would be like. I wasn't scared at all. I had faith in my body, my intuition, my strength. I had confidence, knowledge, and inner peace surrounding labor and birth. I had a good relationship with my midwife and my partner. But how do you, or can you, prepare yourself for something that is so widely different for every person and something with which you have nothing to pull from. You do the best you can.....that's how. So, that's what I did. I took birth classes, read books, watched videos, and immersed myself in anything and everything to do with birth. Did it help with labor and birth? Absolutely. Did I still get PPD (postpartum depression)/PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)? Yep. Birth rarely goes as we plan it in our heads. I knew that, and didn't necessarily expect it to. On the other hand, you have to prepare yourself for something. You have to imagine yourself giving birth. You have to imagine what it will feel like to have contractions. You have to imagine and practice how to cope with pain. When you write out your birth plan you have to think about every single detail. So how do you do THAT without setting yourself up for disappointment when things don't go as you had prepared yourself for. That's what I don't have the answer for.
It wasn't just the labor/birth that I feel contributed to my PPD. It was weeks before when I spent the last part of my pregnancy taking care of my partner, post surgery, both at home and then at the hospital for a week because of an infection. It was not listening to my body telling me to go ahead and go out on maternity leave from work. It was our stay in the hospital after my son was born, feeling like I was imprisoned and pressured and confused and strong and weak all at the same time. It was the helplessness I felt when I looked at my newborn laying on the bili light, following the doctor's orders not to breastfeed him so he could stay on the light, when my soul screamed that this was needless and was interfering with our bonding. It was not stepping foot back in my house until a week after my son was born because of jumping through hospital hoops. It was having to put my cat to sleep the day after we had gotten home because his liver had shut down. It was going back to work only 5 weeks post partum.
Wow. That's a lot of crap for a normal person to deal with, much less someone at the end of their pregnancy or new parent. And all of that is aside from the 36 hour labor with a posterior baby, transferring to the hospital after planning a home birth, and just coping with labor in general. Could things have gone differently and been worse? Uh, yeah. Being thankful that I didn't have to have a c-section and I had a healthy baby does not diminish all of the other things that DID happen. I can be thankful and upset and happy and sad at the same time. And being thankful for the GOOD things that happened doesn't mean I don't have to deal with and process all of the BAD things that happened too.
I dealt with PPD, PTSD, and anxiety for well over a year after I had my son. From time to time I still feel like I have bouts of it. I in no way feel like I had a sever case of PPD/PTSD, and cannot imagine what a mother with a severe case is going through, but nobody knew what I was going through except my partner. No matter how much I wanted them to, no one could tell just by looking at my face that I was crying inside, begging for someone to just spend some time with me and talk to me, wanting to break down and just have someone listen and hold me while I cried.
At the time I didn't think I had PPD, definitely didn't realize many of the symptoms I was having were PTSD, and thought the anxiety I was feeling was part of being a new parent. I tried for a long time to work through things on my own. I thought it was just me, that my expectations had been too high. I talked to my partner about it....a lot....and felt guilty about it. Why do I talk about this all the time? Why can't I just get over it? What's wrong with me? Tons of people have WAY WORSE birth experiences than I did. I knew that didn't discount what I was feeling, yet I obsessed over it. Every. Single. Day. I lived it over and over and over in my head. I felt like all I talked about for the first few months, hell the first year, was my birth and my feelings. But that was the only thing I knew to do. I did have some feelings that I knew were not normal. Like when someone I knew went in to labor I secretly hoped she had a long labor like me (sorry!). I was angry! I was angry that she might get more attention than I did or get treated better or get to have the birth that I didn't. Or any time someone I knew announced they were pregnant I would have this upswell of emotions that lasted days or weeks. I was jealous and angry and sad and rewalked my path all over again.
I was so tired of feeling a hole inside. I picked at it and picked at it and it was getting smaller, but it was still there and I was tired of it! Finally, I started reaching out to the people that were involved in my obsessive thoughts. I spoke with my midwife several times about things that happened that I was having issues with. I spoke to my partner about the feelings I had towards events surrounding my pregnancy and birth. I took actions that I thought might help keep someone else from having some of the same experiences I did. Once I spoke the whole truth and shared myself with the people that were on my mind, then I finally started to feel better. I had been holding it all inside me because I didn't think it was real, that it wasn't valid, that I was over reacting because lots of people have worse experiences than I did. Yes, I gave myself permission to mourn the loss of the birth I didn't get to experience, and I did that, but it didn't heal the birth I DID experience. Only time and complete openness with the people involved did that. And you know what? They were AMAZING! My midwife listened to me compassionately, validated my feelings, and offered me things from her perspective, and my partner, from the very beginning, was a great listener and always supportive. I so wish I would have started my journey by speaking to them about the REAL issues I was having when I first realized they were an issue. It took me a little while to figure out what the REAL issues were, but once I figured it out I wish I wouldn't have been so scared to reach out. But that's why I'm sharing this now. I'm reaching out to YOU. Talk about your birth. Talk about your experiences, good and bad. Talk about your expectations and what you loved and what you hated. Get it all out in the open and see what happens. I know it's hard, but sometimes YOU have to take that first step and reach out, because other people can't read your mind, and they really do want to help. It just might change your life.