On Birth Trauma and Postpartum Depression
My journey to motherhood began easy and purposefully. My husband and I decided to have a baby and figured we would have a few months to get a head start on preparing emotionally and financially but one month later I was pregnant. I had an easy time conceiving and as it would turn out, I’d have just as easy of a pregnancy.
My pregnancy was a breeze. Besides being a little anemic and having some hip pain towards the end, it was perfect. I was 100% convinced that my birth would be just as easy. Before I was even pregnant, my husband and I had researched and decided on a home birth. I scoured the internet and finally found the one home birth Certified Nurse Midwife in our area and as soon I was pregnant I set up my first appointment.
My birth started out great. My water broke at home while watching tv. I had spent the day working (dog walking a cute Goldendoodle) and shopping (for groceries). I was a little nervous but also confident. This is what I had prepared for. I read book after book of birth stories and tales of midwives. I had watched home birth videos and looked at millions of pages of photos from birth photographers. I was ready.
Having chosen home birth I was going at this whole thing unmedicated. It’s easy to say no to drugs when in order to get them you would have to pack up everything and actually drive to the hospital. However, I never even reached a point during labor where I wished I could get them. It was painful, for sure, but the pain was not as bad as I expected it to be. I was more tired than anything. I had reached 8 centimeters quickly and was overconfident that it would be over soon. My body, as it turns out, had other plans.
During my labor I actively pushed for five hours. I walked around my house for what seemed like an eternity, stopping to push in doorways and over furniture. When it seemed like the end was near my midwife moved me into the bedroom and I finally gave birth while squatting. It should be said that I had a very qualified midwife. I trusted her completely with both my and my baby’s safety. She had been monitoring him with a fetal monitor the whole time and everything had been great. Then he was born.
He came out not moving, not crying. His heartbeat had just shown up strong on the monitor a few minutes ago before she set it down to catch him. What had happened in those two or three minutes? She immediately jumped into action helping him breathe with an ambu bag. Her RN assistant gave the tiniest chest compressions. My doula called for an ambulance in case they needed additional help. In those moments time stood still. Was it seconds? Minutes? All my preparing and I had never considered a bad outcome. I was so sure in my choice to birth at home. So ready to avoid hospitals and drugs and unnecessary interventions. Had I made an unsafe choice?
Finally after a couple minutes he was breathing on his own and crying. As I sat there in nothing but a towel and sports bra, the room suddenly filled with a police officer, two firefighters, and the medics who had all responded to the 911 call. I got to hold him for less than five minutes before my husband and baby were whisked away to the emergency room to double check that everything was okay. Having just given birth and sitting there covered in blood, I was not able to go. By the time I got three stitches and cleaned up, it was two hours before I got to the hospital. Everything seemed fine and it didn’t seem like there were any problems but the doctors wanted to put him on antibiotics (“because we just don’t know what he was exposed to at home”) and observe him overnight.
Despite everything seeming okay with the baby, my husband was now throwing up and sick. The doctors forced him to leave because we were in the NICU and they could not risk babies getting sick, but as it turned out his “sickness” was just a bad combination of stress, dehydration, and lack of food and sleep. Luckily he was permitted back in a few hours later after he got to feeling better. By this time we were just waiting on some routine test results and having gone through a 12 hour labor and feeling gross, my mom came to sit with Wyatt and my husband ran me home to take a quick shower and pack an overnight bag. In the hour we were gone, however, things took yet another turn.
As I stepped out of the shower I was greeted by texts from my mother, telling me that Wyatt was having what they thought were seizures and to get back quickly. As we returned to the hospital, an EEG was already underway and we were told he was, in fact, seizing. Over the next week they would do test after test trying to find a cause and they were all coming up empty. They ended up telling us after everything that it was most likely related to him not breathing on his own but they could not find anything about it in his tests and that hopefully after some time they would dissipate. (After they found no cause and medicated him, we went to a follow up appointment with a different doctor at a different hospital. She found no signs of seizure activity in his brain and we are now very convinced that the original hospital was just looking for problems where there were none. Their poor treatment of us for our birth choices was extremely unsettling and at the time we did not feel confident enough to question what they were saying. This feeling that they did all of these tests and medications without need contributed to postpartum feelings in a big way.)
We ended up spending a week in the NICU. It is impossible to sleep in the hospital. I had to wake up every few hours to pump and bottle feed (he was hooked up to too many wire to breast feed, plus they wanted bottles so they could monitor exactly how much he was eating). Nurses came in every hour or so to check on him. Machines beeped. There was no door to the room, just a curtain so shining lights and voices from the hall creeped in. For that week I barely slept at all for I refused to go home and leave him alone. I thought that week would be the most stressful and that once we were home things would be fine, but again I would turn out to be wrong.
The first week home was an adjustment. We were still bottle feeding expressed milk because Wyatt would not latch. The three different lactation consultants from the hospital were of no help. They kept repeating that sometimes it’s just harder for some people, that I should use a shield, that sometimes it just doesn’t work out. I sat there on my couch night after night, crying about how I was failing. The one night I wasn’t able to pump enough and had to supplement with formula was the final straw. I took him with to me the chiropractor at two weeks old and like magic she adjusted the roof of his mouth and he latched immediately. I'm half convinced she was a powerful witch. After he begin nursing, he quickly started sleeping through the night much to our amazement. It seems things are finally looking up. I felt great and soon went back to work after only a couple weeks. Since I am on my own with my pet sitting business, I started back slowly and took him with me on jobs by babywearing.
Then yet again life seemed to have darker plans for me and as the weeks went on I began feeling less and less like myself. I felt tired even after sleeping 8-10 hours. I felt irritated at even the smallest of the things. Nothing made me happy. Nothing felt right. I cried. I snapped. I sulked. What was wrong with me? I began to wonder if I had postpartum depression. After much internet reading it did not really sound possible since though I had some of the minor symptoms, my issues did not seem as serious as the lists suggested. I had no harmful thoughts, I was just sad. I did not want to run away and leave my baby behind, I just didn’t feel like myself. One day while browsing ebooks from the library, I saw a book by Brooke Shields about postpartum depression and decided to check it out. As I sat there reading one night, I could do nothing but cry because so much of it sounded exactly like me. It seemed I had finally figured out what was wrong.
I ordered another two books online and decided that since I seemed to be on the low end of the PPD spectrum, that for now I would try and work through it without professional help. As with my birth, I had no desire to be medicated and I had no desire to be under the care of a doctor. I do not recommend this, if you have PPD you should get help. I can admit that I was probably being a bit reckless but doctors are not my jam and for the time being I felt comfortable enough to handle it in house. Right now I am reading and learning and unpacking all of these issues that made my birth and my sons beginning so traumatic. I am angry that my body failed me on such a basic level. I am angry that my home birth ended in a week long NICU stay. I am angry that the hospital staff treated us so poorly because of my birth choices. I am angry that my son was medicated. I am angry that no one understands how I feel. I am bitter that I missed my moment. That first moment where you see and hold your baby for the first time. That happy moment. That happy moment that I was robbed of has turned me bitter and angry and twisted. I am angry my baby was taken from me before I even got to hold him.
If I had been at the hospital, would the fetal monitor somehow have picked up something different? If I had been at the hospital, would I have been forced into a c-section after pushing so long? Would not having him at home have changed what happened? Is it my fault? He is doing great now and having no problems but the guilt still needs worked through. I always wanted a large family and now I find myself afraid to even think of doing it all again and yet here I am, 7 weeks pregnant at almost 8 months postpartum. I still would not want to be hospitalized and plan to home birth again even though I know I will likely receive backlash from my family.
I never expected the postpartum period to be this hard. I had dreamed of being a mother for so long. How could something that I looked forward to be causing me so much sadness and anxiety? Postpartum depression is a difficult subject. I could barely admit having it to myself, much less others. I'm the one who chose a home birth that ended poorly and as a result I felt like I had to act like everything was fine and that I was fine with what happened, but in reality I was struggling harder than I thought possible. There is such a stigma surrounding it and such a large scale of how it can present itself that it can be difficult to realize you have it because it is not openly talked about and the symptoms can vary so much. It feels especially hard because it seems like I should have no reason to feel this way. Despite how poorly we were treated at the hospital for our birth choices, my son is doing great and thriving. I am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Birth trauma and postpartum depression are very real and if you suspect you have postpartum depression, please contact your doctor immediately.