Megan Thomas follows up her heart wrenching birth story with what I am calling a love story. The dedication of her husband during her postpartum period is unwavering. She is right though, dads need support. If you know a dad that needs support, encourage him to visit Postpartum International for more resources for dads.
Thank you again for sharing your story Megan.
Holding the umbrella,
My long physical and emotional recovery after Ella’s traumatic birth didn't happen alone. My husband has had a journey all his own! The discussion around the physical and mental health of postpartum moms is a necessary one but it's also important to remember that having a baby is a life changing experience for dads too, especially when that birth doesn't go as planned. Josh knew he'd be my coach during labor but I don't think anything could have prepared him for just how much I'd need from him during my birth experience.
I had several complications with my delivery. My baby was stuck in the birth canal and I had to have a C-section. During the C-section, my uterus ruptured and when they were controlling the bleeding they injured my ureter, something that would cause me to have a total of 6 surgeries in 4 months!
So right away my husband was faced with a scary medical situation that we were not prepared for. During my daughter's birth, he was trying to help me stay calm while at the same time dealing with his own fears that he was loosing me. Because of my complications, I was unable to do kangaroo care with my daughter so my husband had to step up and take over that role! He gave her her first bottle (the first of many) and rocked her when I couldn't.
The day after she was born I had to be life-flighted to a different hospital because of the injury to my ureter. Because my baby had just been born and wasn't discharged yet, my husband had to make a choice...stay with your daughter who was born last night or follow your wife who could die. He chose to drive to meet me at the hospital, but that meant signing away temporary custody of our daughter to his parents. When he left the hospital, he was stopped at a red light by the launch pad where he watched them load me on the helicopter. If you've never left your day old baby to watch your dying wife get loaded into a helicopter...he doesn't recommend it. It was so horrific we don’t talk about it very often. He's never wanted to be in 2 places at once more than that day.
Since my daughter was born, I've had 6 surgeries and during the weeks and months of my recovery, my husband took on a new role...nurse! He had to help me with everything, getting up, lying down, walking, showering, going to the bathroom, emptying drains and catheters, changing my dressings, you name it! I tried to breastfeed and he was trying to help with that too, which he admitted he didn't really know anything about! He would sit there and stroke the baby's hand while she nursed trying to stimulate her sucking reflex. Eventually I had to give up breastfeeding and because I couldn't get up to make bottles, that was all Josh's responsibility at first.
Dealing with all the medical complications was really hard for my husband. Josh is a total businessman. He's a doer, a fixer, and does not like anything medical (or the sight of blood)! The hardest part for him was watching me go through so much physical and emotional pain all while knowing there was nothing he could do to help the pain. He was with me every single day during my 3 hospital stays and was such a help at home. After my bladder surgery, I was at a real low point and felt absolutely horrible! I was in pain, had a drain coming out of my stomach and a catheter. I remember my husband helping me to get dressed and I just started crying because I felt so disgusting and he just looked up and said "it will be ok, we will get through this."
Throughout this whole journey, every day Josh would look at me or see me struggling to complete some simple task and all he'd say was "how can I help?" I leaned on him in more ways than one. He was the one getting up with Ella when she cried, making her bottles, changing her diapers, cooking me food, helping me remember my medications, draining my tubes and drains, checking incisions, taking me to my appointments, taking care of our dog and house. We even joked that he changed my dressings better than the home health nurse! He definitely learned more about my uterus and cervix than he ever expected! All of this while trying to adjust to a new tiny human that was suddenly our responsibility. All those fears of a a new parent were magnified by everything else going on with me.
Thankfully he was able to take a couple weeks off of work but eventually he had to return so that he could go back to another role...breadwinner! It was hard for my husband because for him, he thought the birth would be the hard part and then life would go on! He didn't have the constant physical reminder of her birth but he had his own visual ones. Certain sounds and sights he says he will never forget...as much as he'd like to. Ella's birth was every bit as traumatic for him as it was for me. He didn't know how and couldn't fix this for me.
When I needed to talk through things it was hard for him because it was like ripping the scab off a wound. And that scab was ripped off many times. He was scared too. Scared for me and that I wouldn't be ok. Scared that we didn't know the extent of my injuries and that I'd never be the same. We have been advised to not have any more children and that adds a whole new dynamic...he is still completely terrified that I'll get accidentally pregnant some day. But again, talking has helped. Dads need help too after a baby and we need to make sure they are doing ok, just as much as moms. No one will ever know what I've gone through but at the same time no one will ever know what my husband went through being on the other end of things. We can be sure of one thing though, situations like this either tear you apart or bring you together and thankfully it has brought us closer together. And equally important, it has showed me and my daughter just how much Daddy loves us.
We know that breastfeeding struggles can intensify postpartum depression and anxiety. The following is a story about how weaning can also impact our emotional distress. The author, Cat Halek is a local IBCLC and the Education Chair on our Board. She wants everyone to know that we support all moms, no matter how they feed their babies! Happy Breastfeeding Month!
Holding the umbrella,
I knew I would breastfeed my son as soon as I knew I was pregnant. There was no other option. I planned a natural birth. I planned a beautiful empowering birth. Then at 36 weeks my son was breech. My doctor planned a c-section at 39 weeks. I showed up at 6:30 am at the hospital ready for my c-birth. I had grieved the birth I wouldn’t have. Though, my son had flipped probably during a massage the night before. I chose out of fear and pressure from staff and family to have the scheduled c-section. Having my birth not go as I had wanted, I hung on to breastfeeding. It became my "I'll show you" to the world. I sat at a week and a half postpartum in a La Leche League group and told the fellow mothers, “They took my birth from me, but no one will take breastfeeding from me.”
After my pregnancy depression, I and everyone else was relieved that I didn’t suffer from post partum depression. The oxytocin from breastfeeding made me feel over the moon for my son. I was blissed out and in heaven feeding him. I set small accomplish-able goals for breastfeeding. First I set my goal for 6 weeks.
Then at 6 weeks I made my next goal to reach 6 months, and reached it! At 10 months I went back to work as a Peer Counselor at WIC. I completed extensive training on breastfeeding. I worked with women who were breastfeeding 3 and 4 year olds. I came to believe that allowing a child self wean was optimal weaning.
What I hadn't know and what many people don’t understand is that weaning is a very long process. The first bottle of something other than breastfeeding is the beginning of weaning. Starting solids is also the beginning of weaning. Weaning is the process of transitioning from breastfeeding for table food, it is not the immediate end to breastfeeding.
I made it to a year of breastfeeding Ian. I had unlimited access to my IBCLC mentors and peer support from La Leche League and my fellow Peer Counselors. I remember talking to Daniel, my husband about my new goal to make it to 2 years of breastfeeding. I never knew the challenges and issues I would have from weaning and what mother led weaning would feel like. All I learned about was child led weaning; La leche League's advice of "don’t offer, don’t refuse". He said he would support me but was shocked by my choice.
Breastfeeding with large breasts and a toddler that could care less about your feelings of flashing your entire breast at the world is not for the faint of heart. Breastfeeding one-year old Ian was a display of nursing gymnastics. Around thirteen months, I started feeling terribly uncomfortable nursing my older child in public. I literally felt like Ian was holding my large breast and showing it off to onlookers when he took nursing breaks. This led to a feeling of Ian violating me by presenting my breast to others was definitely tied to my history of sexual abuse, but it was uncomfortable nonetheless.
That was my first thought of "HMMMM, maybe I want to wean him earlier." I started explaining the difference of breastfeeding in the car and at home vs breastfeeding anywhere, anytime to my toddler.
Around 14 months, I began feeling resentful and trapped while nursing Ian to sleep and during night nursing sessions. I would be trying to pretend to sleep while getting Ian to sleep. But my heart wasn’t in it. I felt pissed at my husband and pissed at my son for trapping me into being still, boob out, and frankly not feeling in control of my own body.
My husband, after some prodding, took over bedtime. It took about a month to get Ian off the boob for falling asleep and then a natural progression to him not nursing at night But we did it.
As he night weaned I started to enforce the boundry of only nursing at home on the couch or in the car. He adjusted beautifully to this. He would pull my pants leg and ask to go to the car or couch because he was ready to nurse. He would be fine with leaving what ever we were doing to go nurse in the agreed upon places. Keep in mind Ian n talking since 9 months and could speak in sentences at this time. Not every child could understand or verbalize these needs and adjust
At 20 months I stopped offering the breast at all. When he would ask for mum mums I would offer him a hug, a snack, or a drink. Also I would change positions and attempt to distract him with activities. If he would get really upset I would give in but over the next 4 months he weaned to 2 to 3 breastfeeding seessions a day. I was doing ok and so was he.
The menstrual cycle that started 2 weeks after Ian’s 2nd birthday hit me hard the first day. My nipples were painful and sensitive. I was emotionally and physically drained. I was over anyone having access to my breasts.
Dan came home that day. Ian came over to nurse. I offered him everything to distract and get him to change focus. He kept crying. I looked at Daniel and told him this is my last day breastfeeding I just cant do it any more. Daniel took Ian and told me to go lay down. I curled into a hormonal crying ball of mess and let Daniel take over parenting that night.
The first month of not breastfeeding felt pretty good. I could wear clothes I hadn’t worn since Ian was born. I had my body back. I had successfully weaned a child. I was proud of myself. My peers couldn’t believe that I mother weaned in such a great way.
A few weeks later I had to go to work. I went to the store to pick up some lunch before going and teaching a breastfeeding class. I started feeling emotional and anxious in the store. By the time I made it to the car, I could not stop sobbing; full body ugly cry in the middle of a target parking lot. I finally got calm enough to look at the clock. I was 20 minutes late to work. I called my boss. I couldn't stop the tears while explaining I just couldn’t get to work that day. There was no one to take over the breastfeeding class for me so I powered through and left afterwards. I was so distraught. I knew something wasn’t right.
The sobbing and sensitivity didn’t stop that day. It continued. It interfered with everything. Finally I decided to see my doctor and schedule a counseling appointment through EAP at my job. I saw my primary care provider to see about adjusting my thyroid hormone. She had been resistant to prescribing certain medications until I fully weaned Ian. Since I had weaned my provider felt comfortable to prescribe a different thyroid medicine and told me I may be having issues related to weaning and it changing my hormones. That was the first time I had even thought of weaning depression as a possible culprit.
I was under the impression that weaning depression was something that happened to moms that stopped breastfeeding abruptly and early, not to some one who had weaned gradually over a year. I breastfed only 2 or 3 times a day how on earth could this gentle transition from 2 sessions a day for 5 minutes down to zero breastfeeding cause this emotional response!?
When I discussed with peers and friends that I was suffering weaning depression they told me I could go back to breastfeeding. I didn’t want to start breastfeeding again I needed people to understand that my hormones were going haywire and that it was triggering a major depressive episode. I didn’t want to hear that I hadn’t made the right choice. I needed to hear that I could live a new normal with out breastfeeding and still be a good mom.
My counselor I chose to start seeing was exactly what I needed. She understood that this was a specific issue and I didn’t need to be told to wait it out until my hormones regulated. My counselor Rachel Haskell was the person who let me know I could cope while my hormones regulated and that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. While I was in the dark of middle of the tunnel our counseling sessions became the flashlight I needed to get to the light at the end of the tunnel.
I am here. My son is 6 years old. I have accepted the Bipolar 2 diagnosis, the counseling and medication recommended for treatment is what I have to do for myself. I have to be the best I can be so I can be a mom and wife. Having prenatal and weaning distress where only my life and future weren’t the only thing to consider is what I need to continue to push through the dark into the light. It got me to accept my history and understand that unlike other mothers where perinatal mood distress may only be a temporary hormone induced issue, My story would be ongoing of seeking out medication, peer support and therapy for the rest of my life.
I want all moms to know that breastfeeding is your child's first intimate relationship. Setting boundaries and allowing yourself to put your needs at time above your child when appropriate is teaching them about how to treat their future partners. I know that my weaning and prioritizing myself enough to get and continue treatment is going to make my son be a better partner.
The following blog post is the story of a guest blogger. It is a heart-wrenching story of birth trauma and taking it one moment at a time.
Thank you Megan for your strength and willingness to open up about your experiences.
Holding the Umbrella,
Expectations...it's hard to get around expectations. We all have them and boy did I have them about my pregnancy. I was going to eat all the right things, do all the right things, and give birth the way I wanted. I knew I wanted an epidural, wanted to deliver vaginally if possible, wanted to do kangaroo care (skin to skin contact right after birth), and I'd start breastfeeding immediately!
Well...I got the epidural! Other than that, nothing went as I expected. I ended up being induced due to complications during the pregnancy and I tried to deliver vaginally but my daughter got stuck in the birth canal. We tried everything, the vacuum 3 times but nothing helped and she wasn't budging. So we went into a c-section and I thought ok this will be ok and EXPECTED it to go as planned.
I was wrong again! For some reason the medication did not work and I felt the c-section, every bit of it. I was in so much pain that I wasn't fully aware of what was going on but I knew something had happened and the doctors and my husband were nervous. It turns out my uterus had ruptured and they were trying desperately to control the bleeding and save my life. I remember seeing my daughter for a second after they delivered her and thinking ok she's here, she's breathing I can see her, but that's it. Right after they delivered her I started screaming for them to sedate me because I couldn't handle the pain and being conscious any longer.
Nothing about her birth went as planned or as I expected.
That magical moment everyone tells you about when you deliver your baby, hold her on your chest and all the pain of labor magically melts away...it wasn't like that for me. When I think back to Ella's delivery I remember mostly pain, fear, and uncertainty. I didn't get to hold my baby after she was born or do the kangaroo care but I made sure my husband did and my mom was able to capture it on video. It's a video I cherish watching.
My C-section didn't go as planned but I thought I had made it through the worst of it.
Nothing went as expected! I couldn't breastfeed, I couldn't get up and care for my baby; I couldn't even care for myself! I expected to fall instantly in love with this little human I helped create and be in this perfect bubble of joy and bliss and smiles. Well someone burst my bubble! Instead I was filled with pain, sadness, and guilt. I had a friend that delivered about a month after me and when I asked how her delivery went she said it was splendid and she loved it.
What?? What was wrong with me then? I never expected to feel this way but I did. I had to leave the hospital with an external drain coming out of my kidney because they could not operate to repair the ureter until I had healed from the c-section. I had what is called a nephrostomy tube and I had it for 8 long weeks. One of the hardest parts for me was the constant physical reminder of what I was going through. It was bad enough that I was in pain from the C-section and also from trying to delivery vaginally but the tube coming out of my kidney was a whole new pain.
I couldn't get up without help, I could barely walk. When Ella cried, I couldn't get up and take care of her. It was always kind of an unspoken rule between my husband and I that I would be the primary caregiver for the baby.
Well those roles were reversed! Not only was my husband on full time daddy duty, he was also on full time nurse duty for me. I remember one night that at the time was probably one of the worst nights but now I look back on and laugh. It was after my 4th surgery to repair the ureter into my bladder. It was very extensive and I went home from the hospital with a drain coming out of my abdomen, urinary catheter, and a whole new scar intersecting my C-section scar.
I wasn't allowed to lift Ella and again, could not get up without assistance. It was late at night and Ella was having one of those nights where nothing would console her, she was hungry, tired, cranky, bored all at the same time and would not stop crying. My husband was walking with her trying to calm her down and my dog started jumping on him to go outside. At the same time I needed him to come empty my drain and catheter because they were getting too full.
This was a real low point for us at the time but we got through it and can laugh about it now. I was so unbelievably sad. I kept thinking, "This is it? This is what I waited so long for? This is how I'm supposed to feel?" I felt completely helpless and worthless. I felt guilty because I couldn't get up and help Ella when she cried but also felt so horrible that I didn't want to get up.
There were days that I was so sick or in so much pain that getting to the couch to sit was all I could manage and couldn't do anything for Ella.I was afraid Ella was bonding with everyone else instead of me because I wasn't able to care for her like I wanted.
I felt guilty for not being happier that my baby was finally here..
For the first few weeks I think I was in literal survival mode, just trying to stay alive and when I was finally able to stop and think about all I went through I started to really process it.
Well meaning family and friends would say things like "Well she's here and healthy, that's all that matters. Now you can move on."
That made me furious!
Not only did it completely negate everything I was going through but then it made me feel selfish for focusing on myself. I was SO thankfull that my baby was healthy but at the same time I had no idea when I was going to feel better or if I'd have any long term complications.
I had almost died twice. I went through 6 surgeries, 3 week long hospital stays, and countless other tests and procedures. I would have flashbacks or wake up and not know where I was...was I in the hospital? Am I ok? Am I having another surgery? I was hurt and needed healing. I kept my feelings to myself for a long time and that was a mistake. It just kept boiling up until I finally broke down one day and told my husband how I was feeling.I just started crying and I don't think I stopped for 2 days. But once I acknowledged my feelings, I felt like a little weight was lifted off my shoulders.
The next person I talked to was my mom and she helped me to understand how different a traumatic birth is compared to a normal delivery and that the feelings I was having were completely normal. I remember telling her that I felt guilty because everyone always says that they would walk through fire for their child and at that point I wasn't sure if I felt that way and my mom explained to me, "Megan, you already have walked through fire for her! No one will every know everything you have gone through and are still going through for your child!"
That helped me put it into perspective. Once I started talking about my feelings it got better and I started to have more good days than bad. When I did have a bad day all I had to say to my husband was "It's a bad day today" and he understood that I might be crying when he came home and that it was nothing he did, just something I had to work through.
I didn't have an immediate, blissful bond with my baby, but now I feel it. Of course I loved her but I went through an incredible trauma getting her here and I needed to acknowledge and own that. Talking about it helped me so much. Now, I can think about everything I went through and know that Ella has one tough Momma and one that would (and has ) go through anything for her.
Often, when I learn more about the long term effects of maternal mood disorders on the health and development of children, I become very anxious that I have destroyed my children for life.
*** Next are the risks associated with UNTREATED maternal mood disorders on children ***
This can be pretty scary really!
*** Resume Reading Here***
Then I remember how brave I was to get help. How important it was for me and my children that I sought medical treatment. That I let go of my ego and stopped trying to "power" through. By getting treatment, I took a huge step to reduce these risks and improve the health of my children. This is the thread I hold onto when the guilt starts trying to eat me alive. My saving grace.
So to focus on the positives, I am sharing a few images of my beautiful, healthy children. Please feel free to share yours too!
Splashing in puddles with the kids,
August is National Breastfeeding Month, the first week (8/1-8/7) is World Breastfeeding Week and the last week (8/25-8/31) is Black Breastfeeding Week. Thus, it is a time of increased breastfeeding advocacy and celebration. It is not a time to shame non-breastfeeding families. In fact, as a breastfeeding advocate, certified lactation counselor, and breastfeeding mother, nothing irritates me more than an attack on a formula feeding family.
My advocacy and promotion for increased breastfeeding support is not an attack on the use of formula. It is an attack on the lack of appropriate social support that fails the moms who wanted to breastfeed. My celebration is about how far we have come, while simultaneously recognizing how much more work there is to be done.
The percentage of women who indicate they want to breastfeed is rather high. In Florida, 77% of women do initiate breastfeeding. However, by the time that mom is 3 months postpartum, only 37.6% are exclusively breastfeeding and at 6 months only 17.3 are exclusive (CDC 2014 Breastfeeding Report Card). It is this 60% of moms that wanted to, but for some reason did not maintain exclusivity, that I work and advocate for. They must be provided the support necessary to make a change in the health of moms and babies.
Nothing good comes from placing blame, fear, or guilt on the individual family. As a system of care, as a society we need to recognize how much of breastfeeding is not in the individual's control and help to build appropriate social supports that build up all mothers, regardless of feeding method. A happy healthy mom is more likely to breastfeed. A properly supported mom is more likely to breastfeed. So let's stop throwing "Breast is Best" in the faces of moms and as a society offer true support to help moms reach their feeding goals.
When it comes down to it, a happy healthy mom feeding her baby is the most important thing. Whether it is breastfeeding, pumped breast milk-bottle feeding, or formula feeding, a healthy mom, confident in her decision is the most important factor for the healthy development of her infant.
Supporting All Moms,
Each walk is different, but we walk together, and that makes all the