Labor of Love: We Plan, God Laughs
We here at mamabare.co LOVE our Labor of Love series in this community – where women can share their own stories of pregnancy, loss, labor and motherhood – in all its various forms. We are reminded that our stories are each so unique in their own ways, yet entirely universal.
Jennifer just recently gave birth to her second child. Congratulations! A dietitian by trade, Jennifer and her husband live outside Toronto with their beautiful family. This is her labor of love story about becoming a first-time mom to her lovely daughter, Beatrice. Welcome!
How Would You Describe Your Pregnancy?
My pregnancy was, in a word, unexpected. I was happily newlywed and my husband had one request of our first year of marriage: no major life changes. I was sad since I was eager to start a family but honored his request and left my trusty IUD in place. I like to think that we made plans and God laughed!
I got pregnant less than a month after we got married… turns out my trusty IUD wasn’t as reliable as I thought- ha! It was a thrilling but anxious start to my pregnancy since there was a small chance I would lose the pregnancy when the IUD was removed. But my little one turned out to be pretty tenacious – a trait that persists to this day.
The rest of my pregnancy proceeded without much fanfare but still with much of the usual discomforts. My worst complaints were the unrelenting heartburn, as well as pubis symphysis dysfunction – a condition where the ligament that holds your pelvic girdle aligned stretches too much, resulting in feeling like you’ve been kicked in the lady parts 24 hours a day. I also dislocated a couple of ribs on a few different occasions, all thanks to that wonderful hormone relaxin! I was the source of much laughter for my physiotherapist, who couldn’t believe how loose my joints were.
How Did You Prepare for Labor?
I took prenatal classes and read everything I could get my hands on. My hospital bag must-haves: a comfy robe, juice (gave me energy to get through!), our birth plan, a nursing bra and comfy yoga pants for going home!
I was focused on trying to give birth without any pain medication, so I sought out information on alternate methods of pain control and wrote a fairly detailed birth plan (true to my Type A personality). I developed a list of mantras that I could recite to keep me focused and help me cope with my feelings. Ultimately, I settled on a hybrid along the lines of “breathe into my baby, exhale the pain” while visualizing the oxygen reaching deep into my belly, and exhaling the pain like a green-colored fog. It may sound weird – but it really worked for me!
Overall, my goal for my labor and delivery was to limit or avoid medical interventions, including Pitocin (oxytocin). Since I was group B strep positive, I was really hoping my labor would start on its own, limiting the need for labor induction or augmentation.
Did Your Plans Work Out?
My dreams for labor and delivery promptly fell apart when my water broke at 4:15am. Because I was group B strep positive, I had to get to the hospital promptly to start prophylactic antibiotics. My labor didn’t start on its own (despite speed walking up and down the hospital hallway) and my doc advised me to start the Pitocin about 12 hours after my water broke. I was pretty bummed but knew that this was the safest course of action for my baby.
I labored for another 8 hours before I felt the urge to push. My resolve to avoid pain meds faltered a couple of times, but the nurses reminded me of my birth plan and offered alternatives to help me manage the pain.
When I felt my weakest and started to tear up from fear, fatigue, and pain, my mother came to me and whispered in my ear, “You can do this. You are so strong. You can do this.” I felt a renewed strength and decided to keep going. My mother is the strongest woman I know and has had two babies without epidurals, so I borrowed some strength from her reservoir and kept going.
Tell Us About Meeting Your Daughter.
When it came time to push, my baby just did not want to come! I had to stand and then squat down and push during each contraction. It was brutal and exhausting and lasted over 2 hours. But meeting my daughter made it all worthwhile. I found the fatigue was by far my biggest challenge. I consider myself pretty tough, but after being awake for nearly 24 hours, and in labor for almost 20 of those, pushing a baby out of my body was the last thing I felt capable of. It was a mental challenge to push past the fatigue, pain, and fear.
I asked my mom and my husband to be in the room with me during labor and delivery, and they were exactly who I needed. However, I can’t discount the nurses who stayed by my side throughout. Anne Marie and Serina, you are angels among us!
What Were the First Few Days like for You as a Mama?
I was most surprised by how hard it was to establish breastfeeding. I had read a million books about breastfeeding and thought that was enough to prepare me. Was I ever wrong! I thought my labor and delivery was pretty challenging, but “hard work” took on a whole new meaning when I started nursing my daughter. I had it all: bleeding, cracked nipples, thrush, blocked ducts, and an inadequate milk supply. I fought hard for over 8 weeks to finally get breastfeeding established and I nearly sacrificed my sanity in the process. I sought help from lactation consultants along the way who encouraged me.
Most helpful postpartum tip:
Pre-preparing easy meals for after the baby comes. My amazing husband made huge trays of lasagna, pastitsio, and shepherd’s pie. Easy meals that can be put together without much fuss were a welcome comfort in the early days with baby.
Describe Your Postpartum Experience.
I did experience postpartum depression. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what it was while it was happening. It wasn’t until it had passed and I looked back on those early months that I knew I wasn’t well. To make matters worse, I felt my successes and failures in breastfeeding reflected on me as a mom. If I couldn’t breastfeed my daughter, what good was I as a mom? I also worried constantly about my daughter’s safety. I lied awake at night visualizing horrible things that could happen- like me falling down the stairs while holding her- and the fear and anxiety would consume me. I tried to plan for every possible worst-case scenario, including a home invasion, but felt terrified that I wouldn’t be able to keep my daughter safe. I know now that these overwhelming thoughts and feelings were part of my postpartum experience and I wish I had reached out for help.
I didn’t ask for help because I couldn’t recognize that what I was going through wasn’t “typical.” I also felt that if I told anyone how terrified I was day to day, they’d think I was crazy.
The one piece of advice I give to first time expectant mothers about postpartum depression? Talk to someone. Tell your mom, your friend, your doctor, your spouse. Talk about your thoughts and feelings. You are not “crazy” and you deserve help. I think if I had sought out help, I would have had a healthier outlet for my anxiety, fear, and sadness than just sobbing under the covers at night.
Any Words of Wisdom for New Mamas?
Trust your gut instincts. You know your baby better than anyone. Everyone will have an opinion about how you raise your child but only you know your child best.
Listen to your intuition. My daughter had reflux that went undiagnosed for about 10 weeks while we were told it was colic and would pass. But my gut told me something was wrong, so I advocated for my daughter and sought out help from a paediatrician who diagnosed my daughter’s reflux. After just a short time on medications, my daughter transformed from a baby that never ever stopped crying and couldn’t be put down, to the happy baby she was meant to be. I’m so happy I listened to my instincts.
More advice? Your baby will change about every two weeks. So… if things aren’t going well? Just wait a couple of weeks. You can ride it out for a little while longer.