My Birth Story: Reliving, Rehashing, and Now Rewriting
by Brandy Ash Myers, NCC
Today is a beautiful guest post by Brandy Ash Myers, a wonderful on-line friend of mine. She experienced postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress (childbirth onset) during the birth of her first child.
Now, during her second pregnancy, she was moved to write her birth story, as a facet of her own healing, and to help others heal.
It is a beautiful story illustrating how human mama/baby attachment occurs even with delays and with good enough parenting.
Please join me in sending healing and positive intention to Brandy Ash Meyers as she awaits the birth of her second child.
Please help her feel received and welcome.
That moment when you set your eyes on your newborn for the first time, remember it?
If you were asked to describe that moment in one sentence, how would you put it? Some new mothers would say it was “everything that I had hoped for”, and “that amazing moment I saw his/her beautiful face”. Most memories of that moment are empowering, blessed, thankful, and surreal.
Did I feel that way about my new baby Lauren Delaney, most certainly. Did I love her with all my heart had to give? Yes, even before she was born.
Society says that would be a little taboo, after all, isn’t your measure of motherhood the unconditional love you have towards your child?
Cold, traumatic, painful, scary, and unattached. Mumble those four words to a mental health practitioner, and automatically red flags shoot up for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
But aside from unconditional love for my daughter, that is exactly how I felt about my birth experience.
My husband and I were in pure elation when we found out we were pregnant the night before Thanksgiving of 2008. We had the house, the financial stability, the perfect little nursery, love and support of family and friends; I couldn’t have set it up better.
How could birth be so traumatic?
As I was pregnant, I could imagine it as if that joy was happening right there in that moment. I had already lived that experience emotionally, was just waiting for delivery day for it to happen.
When my water broke at 4:30am on July 28th, 2009, I was ready to feel that excitement in reality!
My nature is to be overly prepared not only physically but emotionally (some OCD even before my PP-OCD). And boy, was I emotionally prepared….to have a vaginal birth.
In 40 weeks of preparing for that joyous moment, NEVER once did I think that a cesarean birth could happen for me. After all, this had never happened for any of the women in my family; we are birthing machines. After 22 hours of labor, and a cervix that got to 6cm dilated when it started to thicken and be unfavorable, I was being prepped for a cesarean birth.
A bright white cold room with lights and the doctors and nurses prepping all around me; there I lay, waiting on a cold table with my arms strapped down like I was on a cross. Not only was I scared, but I felt very alone. My husband could not come in until the very moment they began surgery.
I could feel the blade as the doctor made the incision for delivery. The anesthesiologist was just over my head stacking my epidural with more medication to help me feel comfortable. I was trying to block out the pain of that barbaric moment, when the doctor was tugging to get the baby out.
And there she was, my Lauren Delaney. I heard her first cry before I saw her. The doctor held her up the way Mufasa held up Simba, and said those first profound words that stuck with me “she is a big baby girl!”. I heard a nurse say “9 lbs. 3.5 ounces”.
We shared that special moment, when my husband walked over with her bundled in a yellow blanket, a chubby scrunched up face, and I kissed her for the first time (unable to hold her because I was in “crucifixion position”). After about 15 seconds as a family of 3, Lauren was taken back to the nurses; I would not see her for another 15 minutes.
The doctor, along with her team of nurses and surgical technicians, became frantic when my cervix would not contract and I was quickly losing blood. Just as a vivid image of a traumatic event sticks with you causing PTSD, I remember the doctor saying “Pump her with Methergen now”. It wasn’t until the day of delivery that I had been informed I was anemic, to the point I was almost not able to have an epidural for fear that my blood would not clot at removal. The doctor massaged my uterus so that it would contract, sewed my incision, and off I went to recovery to finally hold my baby.
Cold, traumatic, painful, scary, and unattached.
3 years later, it still brings tears to my eyes to admit that in that moment I felt unattached to my Lauren Delaney. I loved her with every part of my being. The let down of not having the birth I had imagined (and already felt the joyous emotions of) was the greatest failure of my life, period. My first thought, while I was still on the operating table was “if I hadn’t let her get this big, I could have had a vaginal birth”. In mental health, we call these irrational thoughts.
Our dramatic saga of a birth story lasted for 10 more days while we were both in the hospital. Lauren was admitted to the NICU for breathing problems where she was treated with a 10 day antibiotic for a possible infection. I was healing from surgery and needed a blood transfusion. We were eventually moved to the pediatric floor, where Lauren was placed under a bilirubin light for jaundice.
During our NICU stay, nurses were feeding Lauren with my pumped breast milk by syringe. When the pediatric doctor saw this happening on the pediatric floor, she very judgmentally said “You should not do this, your daughter could aspirate and die”. Also, to be noted, my Lauren Delaney had not latched on after tirelessly trying to get her to nurse, so I was pumping and feeding. These events only stimulated my irrational thought process. I was now thinking “My first job as a Mom, I have failed at”.
The day we were to be discharged, our pediatric doctor heard what she thought could be a heart murmur. With it being a Sunday, an on-call sonographer had to be called to do a sonogram of her little heart; more heart breaking testing. The sonographer confirmed she had a healthy heart and we were discharged. We could not get out of there soon enough.
That day, I left the hospital already defeated as a mother, with no confidence in my own skills. The running dialogues of irrational thoughts in my head were tearing me down. On the car ride, the song “I’m Alive” with Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews Band came on.
I remember feeling so relieved to be out of the hospital and have my baby coming home, but also guilty for not feeling the attachment that I had dreamed about from pregnancy.
The dialogue of irrational thoughts prompted my postpartum obsessiveness. Lauren Delaney and I were still struggling to nurse exemplifying my unattached feelings. We were using a nipple shield to nurse, that almost seemed symbolic of the one thing holding us back from being “attached”. Every evening from 7-10, Lauren would cry her little eyes out from acid reflux. I internalized this as, “If I am her Mom and I can not soothe her, I must be a failure”. I was defeating myself.
As I couldn’t control those thoughts, I started to try and control things I could be “perfect” at. This included cleaning my home, making sure Lauren Delaney’s clothes were perfectly washed, folded and put away, obsessing over one dirty dish in the sink, etc. During this time I was completing my Master’s Degree in Community Counseling and I focused on perfection there. If I couldn’t be perfect at being a Mom, I was going to be perfect at everything else. With the struggle to be perfect, then came the anxiety.
One weekend afternoon, when I was about to nurse Lauren Delaney, I looked around for my nipple shield and realized my dog had eaten it (and this wasn’t the first time!). Lauren was screaming at the top of her lungs in starvation, and my husband and I were frantically searching for another nipple shield.
He walked out the door, not telling me where he was going, and headed to the closest Babies R Us to our house; this was a 60 minute round trip. That was the most needed 60 minutes of my life.
I sat there on that couch (thinking my husband had left and had enough), determined to feed my daughter without that stupid imitation of a nipple I couldn’t stand anyway.
And we worked. And we cried. But, finally, we got it; she was nursing! And I cried, because no longer was that shield a symbolic barrier for me attaching to her. I was beginning to conquer that I could do something right as a Mom.
Studying mental health at the time, I knew that my thought processes were irrational. But being in the thick of it, I didn’t have the motivation to overcome it.
Nursing my Lauren Delaney that day was the first step. I began to put a microscope on the irrational thoughts I was experiencing. Internally, I was using cognitive behavioral theory to change my cognitions from irrational to rational. Instead of thinking “if I can’t soothe my child, I must be a bad Mom”,
I would repeat “you are doing the best you can to soothe her, this is not about you”. For the first time, I was winning.
Now this recollection of the postpartum period really only scratches the surface of what the first six months was like; I could really write a book. But, at this point in my life, that’s not the purpose.
Today, I write this story at 26 weeks pregnant with our second daughter; our Lauren Delaney is now 3 years old. I feel attached to her today in a way I always yearned for.
When I started thinking about writing this piece, I thought about some theme words and came up with “reliving, rehashing, rewriting”. I have “relived” the moment so many times in a positive and negative light. I have “rehashed” it to change my irrational thoughts into rational thoughts. Now, it’s my time to “rewrite” it, and by “rewrite”, I mean the birth of my next daughter.
After Lauren Delaney’s birth, I became active in VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) research, support group, and postpartum care. I took a position as a Parent Educator after completing my Master’s Degree; I was determined to learn and apply this knowledge at home. At 8 weeks pregnant with Baby #2, I was completely mentally and physically invested in “rewriting” this story to include a VBAC.
Again, I have played the tape in my mind of holding my second child straight from the doctor to my chest and the exhilaration of every mother’s right to natural child birth. But, at what cost?
The past few weeks I have felt scared to make a complete gung-ho commitment emotionally to a VBAC for fear that if I end up on that operating table, will I feel like a failure again?
It is not in my nature to give up at anything, but certain days throwing in the towel to do a cesarean seems easier to prepare for then the let down of trying and failing again.
The important overall outcome is a healthy baby and a mentally healthy start (which include other factors like healthy weight gain, exercise, etc.). For the next 14 weeks, I hope that I find clarity in how I will achieve a healthy “rewrite”.