Rachel continues her birth story as she recounts the details of her daughter’s arrival and how she found healing in the weeks after. (Read Part One here)
The Birth of Emerald Nanette: Part Two
By Rachel Stockard
So here we are…the birth of my baby is imminent and all I want to do is escape. I am waiting for someone to tell me what to do. We go back and forth for a while. My indecisive nature is showing up at the worst possible time.
I have this image and memory on repeat in my brain, just like one of those old film reels: my second baby, Moses, was plopped onto my chest, fresh and slippery with a little scrunched up face. This was everything I wanted in a birth, and yet I feel completely empty and emotionless. I feel the aftermath of an unmedicated vaginal delivery- the stinging reminder that I just pushed a tiny human being out of my body. But I look at my son, my child- and I feel nothing. No connection. It’s like the oxytocin just refused to flow. Is this even my baby? I think. He seems so unfamiliar. This child and I have been physically connected for nine months now, but he feels like a total stranger. And now, I am about to give birth to my third baby, and I am so scared that the past will repeat itself and I’ll be stuck in that same situation. What if I don’t love my baby? What if my kids lose their mom? What if my husband isn’t up to dealing with a psychotic wife and my marriage really does end this time around?
I am surrounded by some of the most understanding women that walk the earth, but the nature of birth work is that it isn’t your story. You can’t tell a mom how or where to give birth, and that’s exactly what I’m asking them to do. Sandee, who has had six babies with a variety of births and outcomes, has been there. She has no judgment and wants the best for me- such fitting traits for a doula. But I- I am struggling between the disappointment of a “failed” homebirth and the inability to cope with the pain of labor. I obsess over the financial aspect of transferring to the hospital. It wasn’t easy for us to pay for a homebirth, but I worked childcare for next to nothing to make it happen. If we went to the hospital now, we would have to pay out of pocket for our birth up to our deductible, which wasn’t something we could afford. Still, my husband said not to worry about that. He was so torn between wanting to push me to have the birth I wanted and just wanting my suffering to end. And suffering is the only word to describe the place I was in at that point.
The rest of the story goes like this: I stayed home.
I pushed my baby out quickly and effectively for about fifteen minutes until I felt her head crowning. I continued to push, but nothing was happening. Up to this point, I had been guiding myself through the pushing process, manually feeling her progress as her head moved in and out, and it was such a lovely process. I was in a squatting position on my knees. After three minutes of crowning and pushing and pushing and pushing, my midwife asked if I could feel my baby moving. I misunderstood this as fetal movement in utero and said yes (I could still feel her kicks during pushing), but she was really asking if she was moving through the birth canal- basically, if my pushing was working. And it wasn’t.
It’s kind of a blur from here because panic mode ensued. They lifted me up to a runner’s position- standing with one foot on the edge of the birth tub- pushing, pushing, still nothing. Baby’s shoulders had to be dislodged one at a time (this is called shoulder dystocia and occurs when the baby is partially birthed but one or both of shoulders get lodged in the birth canal, which occasionally can be dangerous or even fatal for the infant). To give you a mental image you probably don’t want, she was basically elbow deep uprooting my wedged baby, which literally felt like someone was ripping apart my uterus. And then I just laid back and her 9.5 pound body slid right out. I pulled her up out of the water and held her blue, virtually lifeless body, but I was so thankful it was over that I was totally oblivious to her condition. Everyone else was running around and I was in my own world with my baby, admiring her. Carissa grabbed the oxygen mask but so quickly she inflated those little lungs and her blood started flowing to her brain once again, so assistance wasn’t even needed. We stared at each other, feeling the connection of thankfulness from our mutually traumatic experience.
I’m so glad I had people on my team who helped me formulate a plan to combat my inability to process my emotions and helped me sort through resources to find the right fit for me. There were certainly bumps in the road- not everyone was on my team through it all; but my husband insisted on the right care for me and gave me time and space to work through it. My primary care provider at Cole Family Practice (who I just cannot say enough good things about- thanks, Annie!) came right on board with my plan to start medication immediately following birth, so they worked me in and I began taking Zoloft just 6 days postpartum. A few weeks later, I began seeing a counselor at the Hope Clinic and later started seeing a psychiatrist there who now manages both my medication and therapy. I have learned so much about myself, but the healing has only just begun. The on-boarding time for SSRI medication is 4-6 weeks, so those first couple of months were really difficult. My father-in-law also passed away when Emerald was six days old, so that added to the difficulty of this season for our family, and especially for my husband. We have grown exponentially in our marriage, but it’s still difficult to juggle our support for one another and the everyday craziness of raising three small children.
Postpartum depression is the ugly beast I have kept hidden in the closet for the past three+ years, using my well-formulated excuses to shut myself in that dark space just stroking the identity of that monster time and time again. And I returned to those tendencies during the initial weeks of Emerald’s life. I sat in my dark room, unable to move and having little or no desire to live. I drove away from my family late at night, just to drive right back because I didn’t know where to go. I obsessed over the most ridiculous things with no realization of how minute they were. I couldn’t give my baby a bath because I had recurring thoughts of drowning her. I couldn’t cook because I had images of cutting myself with knives or burning myself on the stove. I had so much anxiety about driving and would picture the most horrific wrecks imaginable or driving my minivan off a bridge. I have since learned that these are intrusive thoughts and are irrational, but rarely dangerous. Still, they are absolutely terrifying, and will make you feel like you are unfit as a mother. But just in case nobody else will say this to you: you aren’t.
Look, birth doesn’t have to look this way. The postpartum period does not have to look this way! There are so many resources for new moms and for seasoned moms too! This is a biochemical response, not a choice. The idea that mental health is anything other than a physical condition is just absurd. People of faith, hear this: no matter how much you believe in the power of Christ, not everyone can just believe themselves out of depression. And although some things can help, there are situations in which no amount of worship music, yoga, meditation, service to others, etc. can undo the complicated chemistry of your brain and teach the neurons to fire the right way or the hormones to produce at the right rate. I am the last person on earth to want to take medication, trust me. I try to out-will a headache like the best of them. But every week that I put my compilation of pills and supplements in their little bright green daily organizer, I am making a choice to put my mental health- and my family- first. I have been in a place where I was so close to choosing not to live, and that’s no longer my reality. For my kids, for my husband, and for all the other moms who are fighting, I am choosing to live.
My message to fresh mamas is this: you may have heard of the baby blues…you know, a little weepiness and some irritability after birth. No big deal, right? But if your baby is six weeks old, it’s time to stop masquerading it and call it what it is; there is no shame in that. I’m so sorry for the stigma you have to face, but I can absolutely assure you that there are good people who actually want to help you, and you will not regret seeking that out. If you feel like this may be you, let somebody know! I am in no way a mental health expert, but if you feel like you have no where to turn, I am more than happy to meet you for coffee and just talk through it. You are not alone in this.
And hey, hiring a postpartum doula can help too! 🙂