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.
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,
Something Rebecca and I have in common is that we have both have a background as a labor doula (her much more so than I). So we have witnessed the amazing and beautiful revolution focusing on empowering birth as it continues to take the country by storm. Since we started having children, labor doulas have become more popular. The suggestion of hiring one has increased in mainstream bump and parenting magazines. And for good reason! Labor doulas are incredible additions to the birth team.
We aren't trying to steal the light from the labor doulas nor negate the importance of an empowered birth, we simply want to extend that focus to the perinatal period, of which childbirth encompasses a day or two.
If you are pregnant now, who is on your postpartum team? Have you created a plan? Have you been stressing about preparing for your baby's arrival? Did you know an antenatal doula could help with that?
If you are not currently pregnant, think back, if you aren't fully into the amnesia stage, you may remember more than a few times of self doubt, tears, or frustration; wishing someone who understood was there to help you.
Enter the postpartum doula.
Realizing how powerful a mother is when she is properly supported during her postpartum period, Rebecca and I started talking about postpartum doulas. We developed a dream of placing postpartum doulas that understand the early signs and symptoms of perinatal distress into the homes of every new mother. You know how this goes, Rebecca and I decided once again, that we might as well start somewhere.
On July 17th, The Seventh Mom Project, Inc. launched our social enterprise, Tampa Bay Perinatal Professionals. This enterprise is a perinatal doula agency that truly knows motherhood is not always sunshine and rainbows; doula agency ready for any mother, regardless the weather.
We hope you are as excited as we are for this journey!
Holding the umbrella,
You know it's funny how things happen in my mind. Elizabeth and I really didn't have a planned post for today and we had just decided we were going to link to something else when out of nowhere it hit me.
Hello Earth Day!
But you see that's not where my brain stopped no, it then jumped over to planting trees, fun projects with the kids, then moms and of course "Mother Earth" and then the natural health and holistic health movements. Seriously if we've never had the opportunity to sit down and brainstorm together let's make a brain date you'll find my stream of consciousness, especially when well caffeinated, is really quite fun.
Now back to Earth Day- April 22- marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. Now if you're a history nerd like myself go click Earth Day to learn about this one day were twenty million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate their desire for a more sustainable environment. Hey I wonder how many moms were out marching for Earth that day. I don't want to get into a rant about various religious-political-social issues surrounding Earth Day or Creation Care Day or whatever you choose to call it. Once the gears in my head started spinning I really kept thinking of how the natural parenting community, or as we sometimes call it "crunchy mom" community often sees things, especially when it comes to perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. A lot of moms are concerned about taking medications, especially while breastfeeding or are simply interested in seeking more natural remedies for all ailments, including postpartum depression.
If I had a dollar for every time I saw a post in a moms group asking something like "what are natural remedies for anxiety" or "what oils are good for depression" I wouldn't have a mortgage to pay anymore. Seriously.
So, with this in mind, today I want to touch on a few complementary options for treating prenatal or postpartum depression and anxiety.
I just want to throw this out there, there is nothing wrong with deciding to take medication for mental illness. Medication combined with therapy is the most effective known treatment for maternal mood disorder.
As always, consult with your health care provider before starting or stopping any treatment plan, be it pharmaceutical or otherwise.
I also want to mention the value of Mom's groups, you know the kind where you get together with other moms with or without your baby and chat about various topics. Research has shown Peer-to-Peer support is an integral and effective part of recovery from maternal mental illness. It improves outcomes, improves quality of life, helps connect people to treatment, reduces severity, and is cost effective. If you are able to get to a group or even a play date with a couple of other moms, go for it. This may seem like a huge task but if you go, odds are you'll be glad you did. Let us know if you need information on motherhood groups near you, we'll be glad to share a list of resources.
Now if you are able to get out of your home (I say able because I know depression and anxiety can make just stepping outside a huge feat) you may want to consider what are called Complementary and Alternative Medicine or CAM. According to the MAYO Clinic, nearly 40 percent of adults report using complementary and alternative medicine. Doctors are implementing CAM therapies too; often mixing them with more mainstream options — hence the term "integrative medicine."
What is considered “alternative medicine” changes constantly because different forms undergo research and testing over time and tend to become more mainstream. To make sense of the many therapies available, it helps to look at how they're classified by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM):
Whole Medical Systems
A system is more than a single remedy, it's actually many practices or remedies that center on a philosophy, for example:
Thought to strengthen the communication between your mind and your body. CAM practitioners say these two systems must be in harmony or balanced for you to be well. Examples are meditation, prayer, relaxation and art therapies.
I'd like to mention the concept of mindfulness and its power when it comes to motherhood. Mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. Practicing mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Here in Tampa Bay, we have professionals that specialize in Mindfulness, Evelyn Ojeda-Fox of Red Tent Collective is one such professional. I encourage you to check out her Dunedin based business and ask her about services such as mother's circle, motherhood mentoring, even Craniosacral Therapy. Many moms rave about the mother's group that meets there each week!
Biologically based practices
These are dietary supplements and herbal remedies taken as teas, oils, syrups, powders, tablets or capsules. Using ingredients found in nature, these are very popular with people interested in using herbs in place of or in addition to prescription medicines.
Here's a brief article on herbal treatment for anxiety courtesy of the MAYO clinic. I'd like to point out the importance of knowing potential side effects and adverse reactions to herbals and please use caution if you are breastfeeding.
If you're interested in learning more about using herbs or many other holistic options, our friend and supporter De'Nicea Hilton, DOM, AP, holds a Masters of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is certified as a diplomat of Oriental Medicine with a thorough knowledge of Acupuncture and Point Location, Biomedicine and Chinese Herbology. Dr. D as she is affectionately called recently shared more information with us about her practice and working with women experiencing in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. She offers appointments in both Clearwater and Temple Terrace. The Seventh Mom Project, Inc. is looking forward to inviting Dr. D to join our Temple Terrace Peer-to Peer support group coming soon!
Manipulation and body-based practices
Chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation and massage are examples.
Sometimes the simple luxuriousness of a massage or the relaxation that comes with a visit to the chiropractor can do a world of good for a mother whose feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of burning out. Chiropractic care in particular is associated with relieving some of the physical ailments of postpartum adjustment. As an example, the hormone relaxin, which is crucial for loosening ligaments in preparation for birth, lingers in the body for 6 months to a year after pregnancy, leaving your pelvic and sacral regions vulnerable to misalignment and injury. Regular chiropractic adjustment is believed to help maintain stability in the region, helping you to recover quicker and more effectively. Dr. Shannon Whitlock, not only offers home and birth center visits, but she holds specials classes and mom's morning out events. Remember those moms groups I mentioned, find one.
A buildup of anxiety manifests itself in tense muscles-a feeling of stiffness and tightness. Hands-on massage therapy treatment can increase relaxation, while helping the body to grow stronger. For our friends on the other side of Tampa Bay, especially if you are currently pregnant, check out Melissa of Rising Lotus Maternity Services and over here in East Hillsborough, Anita Griffin Thomas is a licensed massage therapist who works with chiropractors, neurologists, immunologists, OB/Gyns and orthopedists to achieve the best possible outcome for their patients.
Some CAM practitioners believe invisible energy force flows through your body, and when this energy flow is blocked or unbalanced you can become sick. Different traditions call this energy by different names, such as chi, prana and life force. The goal of these therapies is to unblock or re-balance your energy force. Energy therapies include qi gong, therapeutic touch, reiki, and magnet therapy.
Things to keep in mind
Many doctors practicing today didn't receive training in CAM or integrative medicine, so they may not feel comfortable making recommendations in this area. Bare in mind that mainstream therapies have been researched and tested for safety and effectiveness. Science based evidence does exist for some CAM, for many there is still a lot of unknowns.
Sadly, there are CAM practitioners who make exaggerated and sometimes outright false claims about curing diseases. If your CAM practitioner encourages you to skip treatment from your doctor or therapist be very aware. Mental illness is still a medical condition and it's crucial to ensure proper care and treatment. Large scale, carefully controlled medical studies are costly. Trials for therapies are often funded by big companies that develop and sell drugs. Fewer resources exist to support trials of CAM therapies. That's why National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health was established — to foster research into CAM and make the findings available to the public.
Talk to your doctor about risks and benefits of any therapy you're considering especially if you are pregnant, have other medical problems or take prescription medicines. Don't stop or change your prescription medications — without talking to your doctor first. Finally, be sure to keep your doctor updated on any alternative therapies you're using, including herbal and dietary supplements.
One thing I did not get into here is essential oils. Again there's just not a lot of research and I don't want to give unsafe information to anyone. So I will offer this, if you like the smell and want to diffuse some oils or maybe wear a special skin safe blend, go for it. Please be very cautious when using essential oils as injuries can occur.
In addition to essential oil use I did not talk about placenta encapsulation. I just want to touch on it real quick, since I have written about it before, while there is no science-based evidence confirming that placenta consumption can improve postpartum adjustment there are numerous accounts of anecdotal evidence from moms who have tried placenta encapsulation or placenta smoothies. I cannot tell you for certain that consuming your placenta will improve your mood, speed your recovery, or promote breastfeeding success but it may work for you. Perhaps even the placebo effect is worthwhile. We have been fortunate to work with many placenta specialists, specifically broadening their knowledge of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and are more than glad to help you narrow down your search.
And the last thing I want to mention, is go outside. Plant a tree if you like (this seems like a lot of work) or simply sit in the sunshine breathing in fresh air. Just being outdoors has been proven effective at boosting one's mood. I used to sit on my porch steps nursing my baby in the afternoons just to get my fresh air and sunshine fix and I felt great after each time. In fact, I suggest finding a great moms group that has outdoor meet ups and play dates because, well, outdoors is good for moms and kids. I can even help you find one!
Umbrella is open, today's forecast is a Purple Rain,
You never know who you are going to meet on your journey. Through our recent SISTERMom training, Rebecca and I have had the pleasure of meeting a local celebrity.
Deanna Silva is the current reigning Mrs. St. Petersburg, Florida and hopefully advancing to be crowned Mrs. Florida this May. Now, my adolescent minded prejudices would have thought, "What could this beautiful and talented woman and I have in common?" Sadly, it is this terrible illness that brings us together. But also, thankfully, we are brought together.
We are so proud of Deanna as she is taking on Postpartum Depression as her platform. It is brave and inspiring to see someone with with so much social spotlight, highlight a dark and personal struggle.
We thank you, Deanna, for holding the umbrella and speaking your truth to bring awareness to this critical health crisis. We know how hard it is, and we applaud you. We ask all our supporters, to support Deanna as she prepares for Mrs. Florida United States.
Please read her beautiful story "Finding Purpose Through the Pain: How PPD became a Blessing in Disguise."
Caught in a landslide..no escape from reality... (I am sorry, kind of)
Yesterday morning, I was semi-daydreaming through a workshop titled “Expectations in Relationships”. While the workshop was focused on romantic relationships, I couldn’t help but think about a different relationship and the expectations I had once held for motherhood. The definition of expectation is “the act or state of looking forward; a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.”
The goals of the workshop were to decide if we should have expectations? Identify Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Expectations, and to offer tools to build healthy expectations.
Immediately I thought about how Motherhood is rampant with misconceptions, expectations, and idealizations that unlike the gradual reality of a romantic relationship, are typically thrust upon you in one final push.
Some healthy examples of expectations for relationships included: my partner will communicate with me and my partner will put in their share of the work. Unhealthy examples included, my partner will know what I am thinking, and my partner will complete me or make me fully happy.
Comparing the examples to the list of “Motherhood Expectations” I solicited from an online group of moms, I found that many moms are entering this relationship full of unrealistic and unhealthy expectations for themselves, their partners, and their babies. The crash of reality with these unrealistic expectations has to do damage mentally, emotionally, and socially.
Where do our Motherhood Expectations come from?
Expectations typically come from our experiences (ie, we decide to do things or not to do things the way our mother did them), our past experiences with infants, and societal norms. One way our unrealistic expectations are allowed to develop is the fact that nobody talks about the ugly, the unpleasant, or the unmentionable. We often only see the pretty side of motherhood, amazing birth photos or new nursing mom's with a happy baby perfectly latched, or my personal favorite, calmly sleeping babies in a beautifully decorated nursery. Social Media highlights the joys and precious moments. What about the sore bottoms and chapped nipples? Friend and mentor Sarah Workman Checcone of Postpartum Society of Florida decided to change this by discussing the unspoken details in her book From Bump to Grind.
Let's look at some of the Motherhood Expectations voiced by the mom's group members.
Full disclosure, for my first son, some of these expectations were met. So I had no reason to believe otherwise that there weren’t universal truths. And in the same manner, some realities were blown with him, so my second time around I had no expectation of a clean house, healthy prepped dinners, or routine. But each expectation or “ideal” we strive for, is an opportunity for disappointment.
Part of me laughs as I say the easiest way to deal with this disappointment is to drop the expectations. But realistically, we will have expectations. So, based on the suggestions from the presentation, I would like to offer some tools, or tips really, for creating healthy expectations.
Occasionally, even when we manage to lower our expectations, we discover that something about motherhood just doesn’t meet the bar. When these expectations are unmet, it is common to feel upset. So I leave you with a few reminders of what to do when you find yourself disappointed by unmet expectations.
I remember asking Daniel to go get a pregnancy test. He scoffed at me and blew my instinct off because so many times I had felt pregnant and was wrong. Still he came home with a pregnancy test that night after work.
Unlike the 20 or so pregnancy tests I took hopefully expecting a positive result during my first marriage, this pregnancy test I was praying would be negative. I had just been laid off a few months earlier. Neither Daniel nor I had a driver’s license. I was 20 pounds heavier than my heaviest weight. I was not prepared to be pregnant. I knew this was the worst possible time in my life to be pregnant. There was no way after trying for 5 years and not getting pregnant. There was no way to conceive with out fertility treatment like I’d been told in my last marriage. How could this be happening now with no medical intervention?
Obviously the pregnancy test was positive, or I wouldn’t be writing about perinatal mood distress.
Daniel’s knee jerk reaction was, “What if we abort it? You really shouldn’t be pregnant or deliver a baby with all your health issues.”
I sat outside on our balcony. I thought about aborting the pregnancy. I thought about how I had always wanted to be a mom. I knew I had to have the baby. I had to give it a try because what if I never get pregnant again.
So we decided to have a baby. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
We moved the weekend following the positive test. This was December 2009, by Christmas we told our family.
Before New Year’s I realized something wasn’t right. I just felt so hopeless. I couldn’t eat. My mind was consumed about how everything in my life was going wrong. I had no money. I had no way to get around without depending on my mom. I had no health insurance.
The uncontrollable crying began. The intrusive thoughts, of hurting myself or falling on my uterus causing the baby to be aborted, began.
I told my mom and Dan about my fears. We took steps to find help. I got my proof of pregnancy from the health department. I called an Ob/Gyn to help me find a provider to take me to provide treatment for my depression during my prenatal care. I was told sure they would give me prenatal care as self pay but I had to see a psychiatrist for depression. I called psychiatrists and they told me that I needed to see an OB for it because I was pregnant.
I remember going to PEHMS Emergency Adult office downtown St. Pete. I stood at the receptionist window sobbing. The lady was nice, but she told me because I had no insurance and no Medicaid, I was ineligible for services. She also said, “It’s normal to be so tearful in pregnancy, it’s just the hormones.”
Even with my attempts to find treatment, I received nothing. No meds, no counseling, nothing. My depression and isolation worsened. I began looking into midwives and birth centers. Insurance policies and finances excluded many of these options. I had some prenatal care at one office, but I wasn’t happy with my care there. I went to Breath of Life and spoke to Chris Hildebrandt. She listened, she didn’t dismiss my depression. She recommended Family Systems of Care.
After an intake session and setting up some case manager visits at home I got to be seen at Directions for mental health with a counselor. My first counselor there again dismissed my issues as pregnancy related and told me that everything would be better once I had baby. I was so distraught, I felt belittled and ignored by yet another person dismissing my condition.
I spoke up to my case manager and was assigned a new therapist. Finally I had a therapist that I could work with. I also began seeing a psychiatrist about the possibility of taking medicine. Things got better. The light at the end of the tunnel could be seen.
That light ended with a beautiful baby. I am so happy to be raising a delightful little boy. I still struggle with mental illness, but I now know it is common and can be treated when caught by knowledgeable and caring providers.
I want all moms and anyone that works with moms to know that pregnancy or prenatal depression is real. It isn’t just hormones, though it can be exacerbated by the hormones of pregnancy. I want providers to know that treating mood disorders like they are simply side effects of pregnancy or the postpartum period and not addressing the root illness is the ultimate reinforcement that mothers don’t matter. There were more instances of my experience being dismissed I only mention the most memorable. These examples of dismissal say to me that women’s mental health issues aren’t important enough to be dealt with and treated. I ask myself, “How do psychiatrists not have knowledge of prescribing medications during pregnancy? How do obstetricians not know more about how to address refer and treat women who sit on their exam tables suffering?”
Due to my experiences, I desperately feel that appropriate care for moms experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders is a human rights issue. Thankfully, Chris caught me and directed me to Family systems of care, who helped me obtain treatment at directions was my salvation. Sadly, Directions is currently unfunded.
So who is helping moms like me today? That's right, I am.
Cat, a fellow Seventh Mom
A Note form The Seventh Mom Project, Inc.
Perinatal Mood Disorders, such as Depression and Anxiety can rear their ugly heads anytime during pregnancy or in the postpartum period (up to one year or more!)
Please watch yourself for these symptoms:
Contact your provider if you have any questions regarding your mental health during or after pregnancy. If you are not sure who to contact, please feel free to contact us for assistance. In an emergency, please contact 9-1-1.
Expectations and New Motherhood
One of the topics we talk about often in support groups and peer settings is that motherhood is not what we expected.
Some are more vague, but some expectations are very specific. I had this idea of what a great homemaker I was going to be when I decided to stay home after my son was born. I was wrong. I thought I was going to be able to cook and clean and spend so much time with my son all while looking like a 1950s television housewife complete with full hair and makeup every day. Then reality showed up and said "Be glad when you get to shower and brush your teeth undisturbed!"
Tired of so many moms saying to her, "I wish someone had told me...", our mentor and friend, Sarah Workman Checcone has even written a semi autobiographical book about all the things they don't tell you about labor, birth, breastfeeding and the postpartum experience. Her book, Bump to Grind is a very point blank reality check for many moms.
(NOTE: Bump to Grind is the story of many mothers, but Elizabeth suggests to balance your childbirth education with something like Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and to talk with as many moms as possible to get a better picture of the various ways birth happens.)
I don't know if I should even get into all the things I was wrong about becoming a mother. The process of becoming a mother, followed by parenting a tiny little human is full of possibilities for making what I used to consider mistakes. Pregnancy, labor, hospitals, feeding, sleeping, toys, clothes, cartoons, mothers and mother-in-laws. For instance, after the birth of my first child, I vowed never to wear those ridiculous mesh panties again, and held to the promise through two more babies. Enter baby number four and hello cheesecloth underwear. Again. I was wrong.
In our year of conversations, Elizabeth and I have discovered many similarities in unmet expectations. I, too, was once a woman who thought if I have the most beautiful, amazing, natural birth, I'll will avoid postpartum depression. Guess what home birth moms can and do struggle with perinatal distress as well. Elizabeth shared her story recently about how her reality challenged her expectations after her perfect birth.
I also believed that the feeling of detachment I experienced in pregnancy would go away as soon as I held my baby. I just knew all those happy mushy in-love feelings would simply appear the moment he was born. Nope. Not after I first held him. Not after we left the hospital. Not after I went back to work. Not after I quit my job and stayed home. In fact, it took months before I actually felt like "I love this tiny human; I really love my baby".
Another mythic image of motherhood is the blissed-out new mom, breastfeeding with no trouble and no signs of lack of sleep. I can tell you now if a mom is breastfeeding or pumping she's giving up sleep somewhere and it's going to be visible. If she's formula feeding, she's also losing rest to feedings; possibly even more time than the mom who's nursing. Breastfeeding in itself can be mythical.
For some moms, breastfeeding comes almost second nature. For others, breastfeeding hurts or causes a multitude of other issues. There's poor latches, engorgement, thrush, and mastitis. I'm pretty convinced that difficulty with nursing or not meeting our own expectations can exasperate postpartum distress. Let's be real with new moms and moms to be. It's not going to be all sunshine and rainbows. For some women the hormones that our body produces associated with breastfeeding can really upset their mental state. And weaning depression, yeah it's a thing. it's a real thing for anyone who thinks that it's easy to just stop breastfeeding and move forward happily even when they had difficulty and did not enjoy breastfeeding, guess what they're wrong too. In fact ask my friend Cat, an IBCLC about breastfeeding and maternal mental health. Oh boy what she could tell you about false expectations! She voiced a multitude of concerns that we will have to share with you later.
For expectant moms, we suggest lining up the people you will need for breastfeeding support now. Find a local La Leche League group or Lactation Support Group. Moms that have a goal and a plan including the support of their partner are most likely to continue breastfeeding than those that don't prepare. Breastfeeding classes in Hillsborough County can been found here.
Another example of a wrong mother moment: I'd be the super happy energetic mom who never loses her patience, enjoys playing with the same singing Elmo toy for hours every day while refereeing Lego fights in between making endless kid friendly snacks and who is always thrilled to run errands with four kids in tow. If you know someone like this, chances are she's putting up a good front and you can do her a world of good by letting her know you see her. You can relate to her struggle and offer a safe place to vent when she needs it. If you are her, I need your secret. Seriously.
There's so much I was wrong about before having kids. So much I was wrong about having two, three, and four kids. I would not change my past nor give one of my kiddos up, but I would gladly pay for the cure for tantrums, tattling, and whining. I'd pay good money to never experience a diaper blow out that ruins my clothes. But I can't. And neither can the rest of the moms or the moms-to-be.
Elizabeth's Post Midnight Thought Pattern
Today is Everything You Think is Wrong Day. It's also the Ides of March, beware this can get kind of confusing. Taking the idea of everything you think is wrong and putting it into context of motherhood is counter-intuitive for me. Everything you thought about motherhood is probably wrong; when you think about the cute and cuddly baby, always smelling so delicious with rosy cheeks, quietly snuggling in your arms. Yeah that happens in motherhood. But it is the reason well meaning people say to cherish every minute and soak it up. You will miss the snuggles, but the snuggles are not the only thing happening in most mother's postpartum experiences. The screaming baby exists. We don't often see pictures of the screaming baby preconception, and even if they come across our radar, we tend to blame the parents. And since we ALL know we are going to be that mythical hero, AWESOME MOM, it won't happen to us.
No matter what you thought about motherhood, if those thoughts were full of staunch, black OR white, irrevocable ideas about the perfect baby and perfect way to parent, everything you think is wrong (or will be soon).
We have so much social pressure to be the perfect mother and before we are the perfect mother we have a really good idea of what we think the perfect mother's going to be so everything you thought was wrong. However everything you think once you get past that mythical mother, is right. Once we let go of our mythical expectations, I have found, it's really, really hard to come up with absolute wrong ways to mother. Most of us are walking around doing the best we can, with what we have. In my opinion we could read lots of blogs, journals and books; do all the research, but at the end of the day it doesn't really matter. We are our baby's experts. It's what you, your family and your baby come up with to survive that matters. Motherhood is a game of survival. If you're both still here; you're doing something right.
We would like to amend the national day calendar, making March 15 "Everything You Think You Know About Motherhood is Wrong Day". Let's just give ourselves a clean slate. Seriously there are days I need a do over. How about your ? What expectations were you certain you knew everything about? What challenged these beliefs and how did you reconcile your new truths? Comment below! We want you as a part of the conversation as we help break down unreasonable expectations for new and expectant moms.
While reviewing Tuesday’s blog post about International Women’s Day, it occurred to me how happy I am to have my amazing, feisty daughter. I am excited to be pushing these initiatives today, to provide for her generation a better tomorrow for women. I am not only excited to guide Allison and aid her individual growth; but also am excited to see who she will become. I look forward to a future of strong female leaders in a society that takes care of mothers the way they deserve to be cared for.
But it wasn’t always this way. From the moment I was pregnant, I tried to deny I was pregnant with a girl. I was so brutally sick, depressed and anxious. I wasn’t ready to accept I could parent a girl. People would ask and excitedly say, “One of each!” I would fill with dread. I was perfectly happy to raise two little boys and their older bonus sister on the weekends. I already had a girl and I had the luxury of sharing the role model responsibility with her biological mother.
My family was undergoing a lot of external stress when we found out we were pregnant with a girl. I luckily had read that girls withstand stress in the womb better, so I clung to that as a good thing. At least my baby would be more resilient. This was quickly counteracted with “WHO THINKS LIKE THIS?” screaming through my thoughts. Calmly followed by, “You, you do, because it’s all you have to hold on to right now.” My prenatal depression fed me lies. Told me I wouldn’t be a good mom to a girl. That I wouldn’t know what I was doing. My disappointment fed into my guilt and the whole thing escalated beyond my control. So I kept life moving, but underneath, I was an anxious, depressed kettle, ready to explode.
After International Women’s Day, and my epiphany that maybe this wasn’t an individual thing, maybe, like perinatal distress, there are more moms experiencing this disappointment, fear and guilt. So, I did what most moms would do, I turned to Google to find out. I was blown away by how prevalent this issue appeared on mom blogs and discussion boards. Notice the 282,000 google results!
I am linking a few that hit my heart hard:
Gender Disappointment – Tips For Coping With Gender Disappointment
SECRETLY SAD: OVERCOMING GENDER DISAPPOINTMENT
It’s a Boy, and It’s Okay to Be Disappointed
I am glad other parents are speaking out about this issue! It’s always nice to see that you’re not alone. I attempted to access some scholarly articles, and the one I found that linked gender disappointment as a risk factor was based on a cohort of women in rural Tamil Nadu, India. Interestingly enough, that study found that disappointment in having a girl was the concern for these mothers; while according to my completely unscientific review of the Internet, the western world seems to covet little girls. I found this personally interesting. The other studies I found on Google Scholar required paid memberships to access or a student ID. In my motherly opinion, I feel strongly that gender disappointment in the USA has to be tied to unrealistic expectations in American parenting (a subject I feel very soap boxy about, so let’s catch up another time). I would love to see more research and a transparent examination of gender disappointment; why it happens, how to help reduce the occurrence, and how to cope with it.
Realizing how much I love being a strong woman, made me realize how excited I am to raise a strong woman. Yes, it made me twinge with guilt for not embracing my daughter earlier, but also made me realize that I have embraced her fully. For this I am beyond grateful. She is my driving force and when (if) she has babies, postpartum life in America will be vastly different. This mama is making sure of it.
So tell me, did you experience mixed feelings when you found out the gender of your baby?
Reflecting on the rain,
What I do know is I did not like pregnancy, but really loved birth. Yes it hurt, and was messy, and was hard, sweaty, and truly sordid work, but yet I truly felt so powerful after my birth experience. I instantly loved my son. We had postpartum adjustment, every family does, but overall I really believed I was a kick ass mom. And life settled down into our new normal.
After my son’s birth, I felt so empowered. Any serious doubts subsided and I knew I was an amazing mom. I felt in my heart that all women deserve to feel that power while birthing. So, I left middle school education, certified as a labor doula and soon began working in maternal/infant public health.
Fast forward to my next pregnancy. Being entrenched in the natural birth community and trained in the physiology of birth, I was excited to birth with this knowledge. Feeling confident in my ability to birth a baby, I planned my daughter’s birth to be at home with a midwife. I had been experiencing more serious symptoms of prenatal depression and anxiety this time around and I was longing for the moment that would wash away the distress with her birth. We would be home, wrapped in love and familiarity. Her birth was seriously the most perfectly planned and orchestrated event I could ask for. It was magical in theory, but the magic didn’t wash over me the way I had hoped.
I wasn’t instantly in love. I was scared. I was scared to love her, scared to tell anyone, scared to admit to my circle of natural birth and natural remedy friends that I might need more than the prenatals and vitamin D I took daily. Her perfect birth, left me less empowered than my Pitocin labor. I was confused.
Conquering my perfect birth didn’t give me immunity to experiencing postpartum depression and anxiety. It was beautiful, but further confused me. How could I HAVE IT ALL, and still feel this way?
I have since learned not to ask such questions. Feelings are not usually logical. PMADs have so many factors, that we can’t assume one risk factor removed will remove all the risk.
I have learned that everything I thought I knew about parenting, wasn’t wrong, but different. This was a different baby. I was a new mother all over again and this time it was harder.
I have also learned to be grateful for my differing birth experiences. The perfect birth of Allison followed by the dark months of anxiety, opened my heart to accept more gray areas in my parenting philosophies and to cast less judgement. The contrast of birth experiences taught me to love myself and to love other mothers more authentically.
And for that I am very grateful.
Each walk is different, but we walk together, and that makes all the