Friday, November 12, 2010

The Post In Which I Beleatedly Relate My Two Birth Stories

Hey fellas : This post is about giving birth. I'll talk about things like vaginas and poop. If this makes you nervous, please exit now, and direct your attention to something such as ESPN.com. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Pregnancy #1

My first pregnancy was a surprise.

We had just moved to Ohio, an unexpected move we were only given 2 months to plan for. When you and your husband don’t know any one, you *ahem* find other ways to entertain yourselves.

I was on the pill. I used it correctly. It failed. My OB/GYN said it was likely due to stress.

And I was an anxiety-ridden mess. We were both still in school. We were still living on student loans. We hadn’t planned on having children for at least 3 more years.

I graduated from law school. It took me 2 months to find a job. I was an anxiety-ridden mess.

I started my new job at the same time I started my third trimester. I had 3 months to become totally competent in a difficult field, so I wouldn’t appear incapable when I returned after my 6 week maternity leave. I was an anxiety-ridden mess.

It was 2 weeks before my due date. My doctor was concerned. The baby never dropped, a sign he interpreted as a very big baby. Ultrasounds revealed a 10-11 pound baby. He told me there was a 50-50 chance I’d need a C-section. I was an anxiety-ridden mess.

We induced 2 days later. I was given gel to ripen my cervix. My body reacted so poorly to the gel that we had to quit using it. I couldn’t sleep all night.

I labored. I got an epidural. I pushed for an hour and a half. My doctor thought things weren’t moving fast enough. He gave me an episiotomy. Without even asking.

The baby was born. She was only 7 pounds. Turns out she just had a giant head. I got a 3rd-degree tear despite the episiotomy. I had been awake for approximately 22 hours. I could barely stay lucid enough to hold my new baby.

I wanted to breastfeed. The baby just wouldn’t latch. I got a little help from the lactation consultants, but the minute they’d leave, the baby would stop latching. She’d cry all the time. I didn’t know how to help her. I was an anxiety-ridden mess.

The second day in the hospital, the baby finally fell asleep. My husband and family left to get a meal, thinking I’d finally get some rest.

10 minutes later, the nurses rolled her bassinet back into my room because she wouldn’t stop screaming. And I broke down. Because my baby couldn’t be soothed. Because I was so exhausted, and she wouldn’t give me even 10 minutes to rest. The nurses were so concerned about me they called my husband, and asked him to come back.

It was a sign of things to come.

I was sent home with a baby who still felt like a stranger.

The recovery from childbirth was unexpectedly worse than the birth itself. I spent 3 days so constipated I could barely function. No amount of Dulcolax would help. My doctor finally prescribed an industrial strength stool-softener.

It worked. Too well. For the following 3 days I couldn’t control my bowels. I was so ashamed of myself. I literally felt like an animal.

And the baby still wouldn’t latch. For 5 days I could hardly feed her. I was an anxiety ridden-mess. We finally broke down and gave her a bottle of formula. I was so ashamed that I was unable to feed my own baby.

I began pumping like a fiend, mostly because if I had to bottle-feed, I was at least going to feed her breast milk. Two weeks after I gave birth I ended up with a sever case of mastitis, with a fever so high I became delirious.

My best friend from law school traveled to Ohio and nursed me through the mastitis. But after it healed, it was clear to me I just couldn’t handle breastfeeding. I was certain this would ruin my baby. I was an anxiety ridden-mess.

And the worst thing of all, was that the baby still felt like a stranger, albeit a stranger I felt no ill-will towards. It was like being a babysitter. You felt obligated to care for your charge, but it wasn’t the mother-love I expected.

Just before my maternity leave was up, I finally started to experience the mother-love I was so anxious to find. I hated to take her to daycare. I was sure this would ruin her. I was an anxiety-ridden mess.

I took her to daycare. For the first two weeks I cried more than she did at drop off.

Eventually I was able to function at work, and take my baby to daycare without tears. But I could never shake the guilt I felt that I had to take her to daycare. I was an anxiety-ridden mess.

Pregnancy #2

My second pregnancy was also a surprise, only because my husband and I acted like stupid teenagers who thought “one time wouldn’t hurt.” Mentally I was medicated enough to control the anxiety.

But it was a difficult pregnancy. I had morning-sickness for 20 weeks straight. During my 6th month I had some bleeding from an indeterminate cause. I was told to take it easy.

One month later it became clear the baby wasn’t growing at the rate it should. I began bi-weekly non-stress tests and told to abstain from work.

Another month later it became clear the baby wasn’t growing at all. We entered a precarious system of balancing the baby’s health while encouraging her to stay in the womb until her lungs fully developed.

Ultimately we were able to keep her in me for 39 weeks. My labor was easy. My doctor was kinder. My recover was remarkably swifter. The baby was born 4 pounds, 10 ounces. She was little, but very healthy and strong. We had determined straight away not to breast feed for my own mental health, a decision I and my doctor supported whole-heartedly. Everything went right.

And it didn’t matter.

Just as before, I felt like a babysitter, unable to capture the love I hoped would happen almost immediately. Just as before my depression worsened.

By the time the baby was three months old, I was so low that my husband knew, and I knew, that bad things would happen if I didn’t get help. I was scared. My husband was scared. The next opening at a psychiatrist’s office wasn’t for 3 months. My doctor put me on the highest dosage of Effexor she could legally prescribe. I pushed on through for the next 3 months, even though I could barely function.

Finally, I saw a psychiatrist, and for the first time in 2 years was properly diagnosed with and treated for bipolar depression.

Ultimately, my pregnancies were the best surprise ever. They reminded me that sometimes there is a hand greater than yours guiding things. I am blessed.

In the future

We haven’t ruled out the possibility of a third pregnancy, now that I’m properly medicated.

If I ever get pregnant again, it would be, in part, that I just want one opportunity to love my baby fiercely the minute she is born, not months later.

That strikes me as a selfish reason reason to have a baby.

But it’s true.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

As mothers, we are constantly bombarded with ideas of how things SHOULD be done, of feelings we SHOULD be having. Then we convince ourselves this is the correct way to be a fantastic mother. If we dont' feel this way, that must make us a not fantastic mother. This is wrong.
What if it's ok to not instantly love your child the moment it is born. What if it's ok to not love them as much as you thought you would even 3 months later. What if it's ok to say, this is how "I" function. It may not be how "you" function. My child is still loved. It is a growing love as I try to figure out this little person.
We, as mothers, need to not set ourselves up for failure due to other mother's ideas of how things are supposed to play out. Just sayin'.

Angela Pelnar Wherritt said...

Thank you, anon. Alas, I am still learning to not look to others, but to look inside for the answers. I think for many women, pregnancy is filled with questions and self-doubt. For right or wrong, we look to the experiences of those who walked this path before us to resolve these fears. It takes a lot of self-resolve to confidently take the road not followed.

Angela Pelnar Wherritt said...

On another note, how wonderful it would've been to hear birth stories that didn't end in some variation of: "But the moment I saw/held/heard my new baby, the pain went away/it was all worth it/etc." People will easily admit they didn't get the pregnancy or labor or breastfeeding experience they expected, but that's ok. Maybe I've been looking in the wrong places, but I've found very few people willing to admit to their loved ones, to strangers, and especially to themselves that it took weeks or months to bond with their child, and that's ok.