Labor of Love: Challenge, Trauma, and Time to Heal
In mamabare’s Labor of Love series, women share their stories of pregnancy, loss, labor and motherhood – in a variety of forms. We are repeatedly reminded that parenting is truly a labor – no matter how we come about it. Birthed out of love, whether biologically, through loss or pain, by fostering or adoption, our journeys to and through motherhood are so exceptionally unique in their own ways yet entirely universal.
Here, Rachel opens up about her tricky path with fertility, her joyful pregnancy, and the traumatic birth of her daughter. It took months for physical recovery but much longer for emotional healing. Years later, she is now ready to share. Welcome, Rachel! Your story is safe here.
My Labor Story
My labor story started at precisely 12:34 p.m. on October 18, 2013.
How can I be so sure? Well, my baby girl is an IVF baby with all that entails: the firm decision to try, shots in weird places, hormone surges, the excruciating waiting game, but also the amazing experience of seeing the embryo implanted and then getting the good news that “it took.”
I loved being pregnant!
I had a really good experience with only moderate to mild symptoms (nausea, fatigue, heartburn) but nothing too extreme. I craved Lebanese food like crazy and my husband ran out to grab shish taouk probably three times a week. Every week, I excitedly updated everyone about our baby’s growth and what new body part she had recently developed. My husband and I wrote baby names on post-it notes all over the nursery door. We researched cribs and bought woodland-themed décor. We took a class at a local hospital and practiced breathing tricks. We dutifully listened to all the rules:
“Only go to the hospital when nothing seems funny anymore.”
“Breastfeed as long as possible” (“Oh, at least a year!” I proudly declared.)
“Don’t get the epidural until you’re at least 6-7 cm dilated”, and on and on…
Labor and Delivery
By July 9th, baby was overdue and my doctors scheduled an induction for July 14th. On the 13th, I woke up and had some spotting. Mid-pregnancy, I had already experienced some bleeding. Having gone to the hospital and being checked out early on, I had been told the bleeding was likely caused by a cyst and not to worry if it happened again. So I thought nothing of it. My husband and I got ready for church. Walking down to the garage, the first round of contractions hit. I stopped and told my husband I didn’t think I’d make it through church.
The funniest thing then is that we decided we’d better eat! It felt like the natural thing to do – obviously! So we headed to our favorite breakfast place… a mere 30 minutes farther from the hospital.
By the end of breakfast, I was sliding off the booth every few minutes and gripping the table with each new contraction. We headed home, where I squeezed my smiley face stress ball until I “didn’t find anything funny anymore.”
We arrived at the hospital around 2 p.m. The nurses ushered me in and placated me:
“It’s just your first baby.”
“You’re only dilated 5cm.”
“You have hours to go!”
I paced the room and laid across the bed when contractions hit, all the while reading the posters on the wall – including the one detailing hospital emergency codes for mother and baby distress. An intern arrived to ask questions for a research study and let me know they would soon be switching shifts. Everyone reassured us I’d probably be around for one more shift change.
After that, things become more of a blur – the doctor checked me and suddenly more people were called in. My contractions were constant so the baby’s heart rate didn’t have enough time to rebound. When it was time for the epidural, nothing was taking. I have a high tolerance for any anesthesia so I already knew this would likely be an issue. The doctor kept insisting, “But you shouldn’t be able to feel your legs!”
I felt my legs.
Suddenly, the doctor said that I was almost at 10 cm and an emergency c-section might be necessary. As he finished his sentence, they decided there was no time for surgery prep so they tried the vacuum and then forceps to get my distressed baby out. I heard a call for Code Lavender and, as 12 more people materialized at the foot of my bed, I realized things were getting serious.
The doctor climbed on a step stool and pushed down on my stomach as they pulled my baby girl out. My placenta had started detaching (thus the earlier bleeding) and it came right out with her. My husband said they passed him the scissors to cut the cord but then quickly grabbed them back, yelling, “No time!”
Our baby was green and not breathing. The cord was around her neck and she had swallowed meconium. She was whisked to a specially equipped bassinet in the corner. I remember constantly asking if she was ok while they stitched me up from a 3rd degree tear. (By the way, no drugs work on those muscles!)
Someone finally looked up and said, “Well, the placenta came out at 4:53 so she was probably born at 4:52 p.m.”
The amazing team of doctors and nurses cleared her lungs, got her stabilized and laid our baby on my husband for skin-to-skin.
All in all, we ended up spending longer in that room as a Recovery Room than we did as a Delivery Room.
I Wish I Had Known...
I wish I had known that when you stand up right after having a baby, you may pee or bleed all over the floor. Do not try to clean it up – the nurse will yell at you (kindly) and remind you that those muscles will be useless for a while.
I wish I had known that breastfeeding may not happen. This in no way makes you or me a bad mama. I tried all the holds and supplements and shields. Lip ties were cut and I pumped for 5 months, with mere ounces coming out each time.
And I cried. A lot. I thought I was failing. I wish I had cut myself some slack and known that I did my best and it was going to be okay. Someone recently told me that IVF mamas often have trouble with milk production. I wish I had known that back then.
Postpartum looks different in everybody. It took me 2 years before I felt like I was finally coming up for air. My husband kept me upright that first year. He gave our baby her first bath, got me outside for walks, and hired a crew for moving homes with a 2-month-old.
A New Role
When I see pictures from that time, I’m always surprised to see myself smiling. It felt heavy. I felt scared.
I felt like a stranger was in my home and though I loved her with all my being, I did not know her. And I did not know myself in that role.
Now when I look back, I realize the trauma and PTSD of my labor – on my body and my emotions; on my expectations versus my reality.
Physical healing took a matter of months. But it took me much longer to become aware of how scared I had been and how close I came to losing my baby. That trauma, uniquely paired with sleep deprivation, moving, breastfeeding struggles, and just the everyday demands of “normal” life, meant I did not take a breath or reset.
Find Your Mamas.
Being a mama is hard. I thought I would be a natural and I am not.
But I found the women that I can text mid-tantrum (…hers and mine). I found the women who will show up and make me go for a walk, the ones who listen without judgement when I say “this is hard”, the ones who remind me:
I am not alone.