One of our doulas, Rachel, shares the story of the birth of her third child and the postpartum season that followed. It is an honest look at postpartum depression and how she found the strength to get the support and healing she needed.
The Birth of Emerald Nanette: Part One
By Rachel Stockard
My first daughter was born about a week “late,” so when my due date came and went, I wasn’t exactly shocked or surprised (even though my second was a day early). Each day that passed afterwards felt like a year, though, and my frustration just kept growing. I had looked forward to being pregnant during fall, but Tennessee had other plans and the 80 degree temps in December were making me a crazy person. I was not interested in seeing anyone or talking to anyone and felt like some sort of hybrid between a dump truck and a blubbery whale. After months of remodeling and adding on to our house, just hoping the baby didn’t come in the middle of laying grout or hanging doors, the time had come…but baby wasn’t budging.
And seriously, I was completely over chasing after two toddlers like the Michelin Man.
On Monday, I cleaned my house for the thousandth time that week. I had been having plenty of cramps and irregular contractions for days, but I knew baby wasn’t low enough yet. A couple of weeks earlier my midwife confirmed that baby was low and engaged, but then I felt like baby had moved. Sure enough, at my 40 wk. appointment, baby was no longer engaged (did you know babies could disengage? I did not). So that afternoon I put the kids down for a nap and started the Miles Circuit to try to move baby into position for labor. I started watching the show “This is Us” to keep me entertained. When I finished the circuit on the birth ball, I definitely noticed baby was much lower. When my husband Blake got home from work I mentioned I had been having increasing cramps and even threw out a nonchalant “I think we may have a baby soon.”
We did dinner and bedtime routines with the kids as per usual. I settled on the couch, but was pretty uncomfortable and ended up going to bed early. I told Blake the cramps were just really intense so I wanted to rest.
(at this point, using the term “cramps” was my way of not actually admitting that I was having contractions…)
We had set up the Christmas tree in our bedroom this year (because, toddlers) so I kept the tree lights on and laid in bed all night, getting little spurts of sleep….8 minutes….5 minutes….3 minutes. I had to pee at least seven thousand times that night and every time I got up the pressure would intensify. I knew I had a choice to either rest for few hours or go ahead and get up and walk around to really get things going. I chose to rest, as I was no stranger to the exhausting process that was to come.
Sometime around 4am I just couldn’t lay down anymore and decided to get up. I let Blake know things were pretty real and I got in the shower for about half an hour, which felt nice. At around 5:30am, I let my midwife know I was ready for some extra support. At this point I was pacing and walking circles around our house because I was still in denial that I was in labor. Blake started to get the house prepped and asked his mom to come get the kids to take them to their mother’s day out program. We had several friends on-call for help with childcare because Blake’s dad was in the ICU and we didn’t expect his mom to be available to help, but it just happened to work out that she could, which was really helpful. Lucy, our 3 year old, woke up pretty early because I guess she realized something was going on. She was so interested in everything and helped Blake get the birth pool set up.
My birth team arrived at about 6:30am and my mother-in-law came to get the kids at about 7am. I love my babies dearly, but they were such a distraction and getting them out the door was crazy, so I was glad to be able to focus again. I was gathering backpacks and finding little shoes in between contractions. When I did regain my focus, things had intensified quite a bit. I had a protein drink that I was sipping on to stay hydrated and to keep my blood sugar up. I do not like eating during labor but get really weak and trembly, so I knew I needed to stay on top of hydration.
The pressure was getting really, really strong and the contractions harder to work through. It seemed like it was taking for-e-ver to fill up that dang tub and I desperately wanted the relief of the water. I was having some urges to squat when the contractions came, which in the past has been a sign I was pretty far along. My midwife asked several times if I’d like her to check my dilation, but I was so very anxious about not being where I wanted to be (which of course was like….at a ten, please??). I finally decided to relent and had her check my progress. I was dilated to 7cm at that point, but she stressed that she thought once baby slid down just a little bit more it wouldn’t be long at all. I was a little discouraged, but the tub was ready and the water was such a relief.
I continued working through the waves and relaxed into the warm water in between pains. Sandee, my doula, encouraged me to get up and move around a little and to empty my bladder (Sandee’s signature move, for which I have a love/hate relationship). I labored on the toilet for a little bit, which is my very least favorite, but one of the most effective places as far as gravity and pelvic positioning are concerned.
I got back in the tub. From this point, things get a little fuzzy to remember. And honestly, the rest of this story isn’t pretty. It really just isn’t. This is the part that has kept me from putting this experience into words, but it is so very necessary for me. It is here where I place my trigger warning for anyone who has experienced emotional birth trauma.
First, a little back story: after my first daughter was born, I wanted so badly to be a good mom and thought it would come naturally, as I had always been told I had a maternal sense about me. It turns out it was anything but that. I felt so awkward and out of place and struggled with intense guilt, confusion, and paranoia. I was finishing college at the time & had to leave my baby at 4 weeks to go teach 9th graders every day. I wept every single day. I pumped constantly, obsessed over her schedule, berated my husband for giving her a pacifier, tried “sleep training” which was truly a terrible experience, and never slept. I would lay her down in her crib in our tiny little apartment and go downstairs to the furthest corner from her room and just scream on the floor as she screamed in her crib. I was a total mess and had no idea that this was not normal. Fast forward to the birth of our second child, my son. I call this postpartum depression: take two + toddler. This time it presented itself as intense rage. Tiny daughter doesn’t clean up her blocks? All hell breaks lose. Husband home two minutes late? Time for a divorce. Baby needs to feed at 1.5 hours instead of every 2 hours? I wanted to die. Seriously…I was absolutely out of my mind. I tried to get help, but for the sake of time and space and protecting the character of others, it was a failed attempt, several times over.
So now, here I am in my living room. Everything is set up exactly the same as it was for Moses’ birth…down to the same set of ratty purple towels for cleaning up all the messes a homebirth brings, the same people talking amongst themselves, and the same dreary winter weather. At some point, I just lost it. The physical pain triggered all the emotional pain and helplessness and guilt I had felt as a wife, mom, and human being over the past three years. I needed out…now. I started to beg to go to the hospital, saying over and over again “Take me to the hospital. PLEASE, somebody take me to the hospital.” Looking at Blake with desperation and physically shaking and tensing and pounding on my belly telling my baby to stop. I got out of the water and continued to insist I couldn’t do this…we needed to go to the hospital and I needed them to put me under and cut this baby out of me. My midwife asked if that was what I really wanted and I felt paralyzed; I didn’t know how to answer. I could see the worry and fear in their eyes and I knew something was going wrong. What I really wanted was to have the baby at home. It’s what I planned for and paid for and prepared for, and yet here I was begging to be dismissed from it all. But each wave of pain that hit me pulled me further from reality and the pain-tension-pain-tension cycle persisted. I was so, so very afraid. I didn’t worry about postpartum depression, I was already dealing with it. The anxiety ran through my veins in the same capacity as the blue tinted A-positive. I was in full panic mode. I threw on clothes and flip flops and began to talk through the hospital transfer process with the birth team. My midwife started explaining it, and it hit me that I wouldn’t make it through all of that. Because it wasn’t a truly emergent situation, we would have to go through L+D, wait in triage, be moved to a room, wait on an anesthesiologist, etc. etc. etc.
“I cannot do that.” I said, trembling from the cold and my fear.
My midwife said “You’re right. I think you’ll have the baby in the car.”
(Stay tuned for part 2)