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Category: Post Partum

A Home Water Birth Based on Faith and Evidence Based Care

A Home Water Birth Based on Faith and Evidence Based Care

Around my daughter’s first birthday in December, it was placed heavily my heart to have another child. I had just graduated college, and the timing seemed perfect. My husband agreed and we found out we were expecting in January with an estimated due date of around September 17! I immediately started researching home birth midwifery options. I had an all natural, un-medicated hospital birth attended by a midwife with my daughter. I was at the hospital less than an hour before she was born, because I knew I needed to wait as long as possible before going in to be able to stick to the birth plan. It felt weird to not have a care provider with me while I was laboring. The post partum care was disappointing with my hospital midwives. So I knew I wanted to give myself something more with this baby. We deserved the best care possible. I found a homebirth Certified Nurse Midwife in my state, and she took me on as a client.

I was incredibly blessed with an easy pregnancy. I didn’t have HG this time; in fact, I never even threw up once. I was able to work out until the middle of the third trimester as well. This was such a difference than my pregnancy with my daughter, which was great because having a 1 year old and being pregnant at the same time is quite challenging! We had an anatomy scan with the maternal fetal medicine doctor that does the ultrasounds at the birth center and found out we were having a healthy son. I still tear up thinking about that day. I knew God had a plan for us to have a son, and to keep him whole and intact. He was created perfectly, and I would not change that by circumcising him! I felt instantly connected to him the moment I saw him on the screen. I knew at that moment I would do anything to protect him!

maternity shot for birth story

Having my midwife come to my house for all my appointments was so nice. I never had to make childcare arrangements for our daughter, and it was simply convenient! I also had regular chiropractic care during this pregnancy, which alleviated a lot of aches and pains. Also, I treated myself to pedicures with my girlfriends which was fun!

Once September came I had some episodes of prodromal labor. I knew my baby was getting ready to enter the world, but each time the prodromal labor would end without me actually going into labor, it was disappointing. He had been posterior most of the pregnancy, so I figured it was him trying to get into the best position.

The early morning hours of my due date, I started having contractions that I knew weren’t Braxton hicks. I knew Berkley was coming to meet us. I was timing them and getting so excited. I cleaned and lit candles, prayed and told my husband. He needed some convincing that it was time, but once he realized it was, he started blowing up the birth pool. It was around 3:30AM at this point. We called our midwife and told her we believed I was in labor. We also sent text messages to the doula and photographer. We were so excited!

birth pool for story

My midwife called around 6:00AM to let us know she was on her way. She told me my labor may stall a bit once my toddler woke up, and recommended sending her to Grandma and Grandpa’s so I could get on with my labor. In her experience, mothers of small toddlers can get out of the labor when they mother their toddler. And I was so ready, so off she went to Grandma and Grandpa’s. I remember sitting with her on the rocking chair, where I nursed her for her first year of life, telling her mommy loves her so much, and she will always be my baby girl. It was such an intense moment knowing when she would arrive back home she would be a big sister.

My midwife was right. My labor slowed way down once Faith woke up. I went almost 2 hours with no contractions. My midwife still set up all her equipment though. She suggested I take a walk, use the breast pump, take a shower, all to get things moving again. I asked for a cervical check and I was 4 centimeters dilated and 80% effaced and baby was at minus 2 station.

Hours passed with pretty minimal contractions. My midwife went to go eat some lunch around 11:00AM to give us some space. It was so weird having such irregular contractions, yet they were so intense. I was pretty confused about the situation. When my midwife arrived back, I told her I would like an intervention of some sort to get labor moving. Once my doula arrived, I consented to a stripping of the membranes. Literally, once that happened, things picked up so fast. The contractions were coming so quickly. I could barely breathe and talk through them. I noticed all my hypnobirthing techniques weren’t helping to cope. I told my husband to call the photographer, I knew it would be soon that we would be meeting our baby boy!

My midwife didn’t want me getting into the birth pool prematurely. So when I asked her if I could get in and she said yes, I knew it would be close. This was around 2:45PM. I already felt so tired from being up all night with contractions. The pool was very relaxing, I am so glad I got that thing! It was nice being able to stretch out in it. The contractions were coming so quickly. I didn’t know how much more I could handle. I felt like I was loosing it. We put on my hypnobirthing tracks which helped a little. I even said I wanted to transfer to the hospital. Looking back, I know this is a “sign post” that means that the baby is coming soon, but I couldn’t think at that point. I just didn’t know how I could handle any more labor. The photographer walked in and I couldn’t even say hi. I felt so rude! I was sobbing. I was a mess. I felt like I was failing at my peaceful birth.

janet hugging me

labor in pool 3

birth story photo 1

 

labor in pool 2

I felt nauseated (which again, usually means baby is coming SOON) so my doula did some aromatherapy which did help.  I asked to get out of the pool. I went into my room and was crying some more. My midwife came and gave me a big hug and told me I just needed a little more courage and the baby would be here. I told her she was right, that I was scared. Looking back at my photos of that moment, I realize I definitely picked the right care provider. She hugged me and told me everything I needed to hear.

laboring on ball

Right at that moment, my water broke. My midwife called her assistant in to chart the time. It was clear fluid. I felt so much better once my water broke, but then the contractions kept coming even more frequently. I started having bright red blood drip down my leg. My midwife immediately (yet calmly) figured out I was involuntarily pushing against a cervical lip. I asked if it were too late to get back in the pool. Of course not! So I ran back into the pool. The bleeding stopped just as soon as it started. Everyone was right there with me. I told my midwife I felt like I had to have a bowel movement. Again, a sign the baby is right there. She just told me “poop the baby out”, “it’s okay!”, “you can do this”.

labor in pool 4

labor in the pool 3

The pushing was an experience I had not really had before. With my daughter, she came very quickly with no pushing stage, and I had 3 first degree tears. I wanted to be in the water to minimalize tearing. It is amazing how natural it is to push. I didn’t need any directed coaching about how long to push or how to push. If given the opportunity, it comes naturally!

pushing

Within just a few minutes, he was born! I did it! I leaned against the back of the birth pool and he was right on my chest. He had vernix! He was so cute and tiny! It’s amazing how quickly you forget how tiny they are! He got a 9 and a 10 on his APGARs. He was so beautiful and calm. My photographer said when he was born, I was saying “We wanted you so much, We wanted you!”.

group shot at birth

birth of c 2

birth of C

 

after birth of c 2

I felt like I didn’t have a lot of traction sitting in the birth pool with him, so I asked to move to my bed. We went to the bed and just cuddled, hugged, breastfed, everything that should be done in that golden hour. When we were ready, my midwife checked me and I didn’t tear! She weighed our boy and he was 7 pounds 12.5 ounces and 20.5 inches long. There were no hands on him other than mine and my husbands until we consented to his exam. She didn’t even have to draw blood to test his blood type, she collected a sample from his umbilical cord! It was such a private birth, this was the experience I wanted, the experience we deserved. I know God designed me to be able to give birth, and having a midwife with so much experience and evidence-based practices made the home birth decision even more excellent. I know my fast recovery and lack of PPD can be attributed to such a peaceful birth and loving care from my midwife and family.

we did it

kale at birth

Maternity Photo by Brink Street Photography

Birth Photography by Aperture Grrl

A Healing Hospital Birth {After a Delivery that Resulted in PTSD and Birth Trauma}

A Healing Hospital Birth {After a Delivery that Resulted in PTSD and Birth Trauma}

This birth story of my daughter Kayla was my healing birth after having suffered a traumatic birth experience with my son Alex in December of 2011. When I gave birth to Alex, it was a traumatic, intense birth to say the least. I struggled with PPD and PTSD as a result of his birth.  I wanted Kayla’s birth to be different and healing.

I had hoped and planned for a homebirth. I suffered HG my entire pregnancy and because of that my hemoglobin was dangerously low, too low in the state of Wyoming to be “allowed” to birth at home.  Because my labors and births with Blake and Alex were so fast we still prepared and educated ourselves to have this baby unassisted. To be completely honest, I wanted nothing more than my husband to catch Kayla.

I had been contracting every 4 to 6 minutes from 6:00PM or 7:00PM the night before.   As morning approached they were becoming much more intense and harder to work through.  When my husband woke up at 6:30AM I informed him of this and we both made the decision that we would pack and drop off our boys and make the 45 minute drive to our midwife.  I had an appointment with her at 2:00PM that day but didn’t think I could make it that long and didn’t want to give birth on the interstate.

I was checked in to triage.  I knew that on the drive over my contractions had gotten much worse but was shocked to see on the monitor they were every 2-3 minutes lasting 30 seconds to a minute. I felt as though I was leaking amniotic fluid so made sure to tell the OB but the two tests they did right there were negative and they also sent a third to the lab. I was dilated 3cm which was an improvement from 2cm but still only 50% thin and minus one station.  I was told to walk the halls and come back to be re-checked.

Jimmy and I walked and walked and walked. I was very disappointed but not shocked that my contractions were slowing down and becoming much less intense. This always seems to happen to me when I arrive at the hospital.  We eventually made our way back to triage and just knew there would be no change but I also knew that just because there was no change now doesn’t mean that I may not be in full blown labor later that day or night.  I was re-checked and sure enough still 3cm and -1 station and I was 60% thinned out.

I was getting ready to be released when Kayla’s heart rate jumped to the low 170’s. Her normal heart rate is usually late 140’s to low 150’s and I know this because I checked it often at home on my Doppler. Many of the labor and delivery nurses had commented on how beautiful her heart rate usually was and joked that she was just showing off. They opted to keep me in triage for a while to monitor her and see what would happen.  I had texted my doulas earlier that morning to let them know what was going on and kept giving them updates.  They were trying to decide at this point if they should make the hour drive to join me.  I told them not quite yet, I would let them know if and when I needed them so they were on stand by.  Jimmy was updating my mom and sister who were watching Blake and Alex.

The doctor ordered a bio-physical profile to be done.  The tech didn’t give us any clue as to what was happening but she made a comment to the effect of “they will take good care of you here” as she was leaving.  After that comment was made I just had that “feeling” she had found something on the BPP.   We waited a bit and then my nurse came in and said,  “Do you want to have your baby today?”.

She walked me to a labor and delivery suite and started an IV.  I agreed to this because I knew with my hemoglobin and hematocrit level being so low I was in danger of bleeding out after birth.  The doctor came in and informed me that I had no fluid.  My heart immediately sank because I knew that I was at risk for the cascade of interventions being started. The doctor said that her recommendation would be to start Pitocin but I stood my ground and said no, especially with Kayla’s heart rate being so high and the fact that I had no fluid. She agreed to try and stretch my cervix as much as she could.  She was able to get it to 4-5cm and at this point I was 90% effaced.  I let my doulas know that I needed them as well as my mom and sister.

My mom and sister arrived with my boys around noon, about 15 minutes before my doulas did.  Once they arrived the doctor came back in and asked how much time I felt like I needed to get things moving and we said two hours.  I don’t think she was happy about it but she agreed and she also agreed to “let” me get out of bed as long as I stayed on the monitor.  This meant I could only go as far as the cords let me.

As soon as they left the room my doulas had me get up and start moving.  I was doing squats, figure 8’s, lunges, bouncing on the ball and all fours in my bed.  I knew as long as I kept moving and upright there was a very good chance that I would get things going on my own without the Pitocin. I had an amazing nurse that day and I do think God was looking out for me.  She came in countless times to re-adjust the monitor and never once complained or ordered me back to bed.

Two hours later the doctor came back and I was so scared but almost positive I had made a change.  I was approximately 5 to 6 centimeters dilated at this point and 100% effaced.  We were all elated.  I continued to do what I had been doing and my doulas made sure I stayed hydrated and nourished at all times.

The doctor continued to come back every two hours to check me and every check there was change.  At some point in time I made the very difficult decision to have a fetal scalp monitor placed so I could be a bit more mobile and wouldn’t have to worry about the monitor not staying on.  I must say that this doctor was amazing and truly she restored my faith that there are still “good” doctors out there.  She respected my wishes. She would always tell us what her opinion was but never once pushed anything on me. She never violated me and would always ask before doing a cervical check if it was okay and if I was having a contraction would wait until I told her it was over.

One of my doulas took the clock down so it would not be a distraction to me.  My mom and sister unfortunately had to leave and go home 45 miles away with my kids.  It made me sad they wouldn’t be there for the arrival of the baby.

The atmosphere during my labor was consistently calm and relaxing, the lights were dim and we used candles. It was the kind of atmosphere I needed.  My husband was putting tons of counter pressure on my back and was using cold rags to help with the pain and also because I was hot.  I found the most comfortable position to be on the ball and I stayed there most of my labor.  Things hadn’t got intense yet and I was easily breathing and moaning through the contractions.  I made sure to stay on top of them and really, really focus. I remember thinking at one point “could it really be this easy all the way to the end?”.  There was one point and I think it was around the time I hit transition that the journey become emotional, very emotional.  It caught me off guard.  I was having flashbacks to Alex’s birth and realizing that I was facing this fear head on.

It was when I hit 8 centimeters that things got bad and I really started doubting my ability to do this naturally.  I had made the move from the ball to the bed for that check and was still doing somewhat okay.  The doctor let me know she was slightly concerned because although I was dilating and thinned out Kayla’s head was still -1.   She let me know that if it stayed that high there was nothing she could do to help get her out vaginally and it would have to be a cesarean section.  I remained calm because I trusted my body. I trusted Kayla and I remembered something a different labor and delivery nurse had told me when I was pregnant with Alex. Some babies do not drop until moments before birth.

The doctor brought up the idea of Pitocin and it stirred a lot of fear within me. I was reassured that I would not need much at all.  I agreed to it but was absolutely terrified because I have heard so many stories how unbearable Pitocin makes contractions. I was suddenly hit by the worst contraction ever. I couldn’t get my focus back and I lost control.  I started begging for the epidural, saying I could not do this and yelling at the nurse to stop the Pitocin.  To this day I am not sure if I received it or not, I know the bag was hung but not sure it ever entered my body.  The nurse said she had barely hit the start button when I yelled to stop it.  So, if I got any at all it was a very small amount. I know now this was transition because of the intensity and fear that just took over. What made it worse is I lost my focus. I had been so calm up until that point but the idea of Pitocin and a possible cesarean section sent me over the edge.  Deep down I knew she would drop.

I could feel Kayla’s head getting lower.  I could feel that I was leaking what little fluid I did have left and I knew I was pooping.  I was embarrassed but there was nothing I could do. I started screaming, “She’s coming, she’s coming”. My husband knew from my previous birth that when I start saying that the baby is close very close to being born.  He let them know someone needed to get the doctor right away.

She came in and did a cervical check. I was 10 centimeters, her head had dropped and she was about to crown.  The doctor barely had time to get dressed.  I told her I had to push and I pushed once.  I felt the ring of fire but was so confused why it wouldn’t stop. I know now that it is because she flew out all in that one push and flew out so fast her body hit the bed.  I screamed and the next thing I knew she was on my chest.

I began bawling and couldn’t stop; it was surreal.  I could not believe I had just given birth un-medicated and I survived! Although this was not the birth I envisioned or planned, it was wonderful. It was healing and most of all it was empowering and in that moment my natural birth high began.

Empowering Hospital Birth after birth trauma

 

The Skinny Mom: Does She Think She’s Better Than You?

The Skinny Mom: Does She Think She’s Better Than You?

“When my daughter was about a week old I was at the grocery store and a woman asked how old my baby was, I told her one week with a smile. Her response was “well you don’t look like you f***ing had a baby a week ago.” and turned and walked away from me. It hurts to be ostracized by other mothers in that way.” – Jonelle, of Aware Beginnings Doula Services, commenting on Mothering the Mother Part II: How Postpartum Care Helps Us Love Our Bodies

I’m a skinny mom. Not too skinny. But on the slender side.

I gained about 25 lbs in each of my two pregnancies and shed it within a few weeks of giving birth.

When I’m pregnant, people tell me I don’t look it.

I fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans until seven months in.

I wore a short black dress to a party a few days before our second was born.

party

My K’taan is a size small, I can still squeeze into the back seat between my two babies’ carseats, and I still have no stretch marks.

Do you hate me yet?

What if I told you that I don’t diet and my only exercise is babywearing? Would you hate me then?

My body looks the way it does for a number of reasons (including socio-economic status and access to real food) but mostly because of a genetic lottery. In the eyes of our society, it’s a lottery I’ve won. But ‘winning’ isn’t everything. I have a history of starving, purging, cutting, and risking my body. This history is invisible when you look at me. It can be covered up by a short black dress and gold high heels.

Maybe you assume that I have my shit together, that I am in control; maybe you think I’m happy.
Maybe you assume that I am superficial.
Maybe you assume that I diet constantly.
Maybe you assume that I diet constantly even when I’m pregnant and therefore do not have my baby’s best interest at heart.
Maybe you assume that I’m mean and manipulative.
Maybe you just know that I think I’m better than you. (I don’t. And I don’t think the skinnier mom standing next to me is better than me, either.)

Other people’s ugly assumptions aside, I know and enjoy the advantages of being a skinny mom:

I still get to be seen as cute and slightly sexy (even though I’m a mom, which is, apparently, the least sexy thing in the world).
I don’t have to buy a new wardrobe when I get pregnant.
When I look at pictures of mothers in magazines and advertisements, they look like me (I also happen to be caucasian and able-bodied. Bonus!).
I wasn’t automatically classed as a ‘high risk’ pregnancy due to my weight.
I could satisfy all my pregnancy cravings without feeling guilty.
I receive most of the advantages of being a skinny girl – I get served first at deli counters, customs officers are always nice to me, my in-laws think me an appropriate match – but since I’m a mom, these days I get a lot less harassment from skeezy men.

These are important social advantages. It will be hard for me to lose them as I get older. But they’re all from the outside. Inside is a different landscape.

Some nights I tell my husband I don’t want to have sex because I’m tired and covered in milk and I imagine my body has been taken over by a hungry parasite who just also happens to be a baby I love. It feels there is no more space in my body for receiving or giving anything.
If I do compare myself to the mothers in an advertisement, they are still thinner than me, happier than me, prettier than me, less milk-stained than me. I am still lacking.
I wasn’t classified as ‘high-risk’, but I had to pay three months’ rent for out-of-pocket for decent healthcare during my last pregnancy. It was hard to convince myself that my baby and I were worth it.
I could satisfy all my pregnancy cravings without feeling guilty, but I didn’t (I still satisfied them – I just felt guilty).
I don’t do it anymore, but I have thrown up or skipped more meals than I can count. Other people liking your body doesn’t make you love your body.
I’m a happy person but I still feel out of control sometimes – especially when my toddler is eating spaghetti with a spoon.
I love breastfeeding now, but when I first lactated colostrum, I felt disgusted by my pregnant body.
The flip side of being told I don’t look pregnant is people thinking that I am not my baby’s mom. “Is this your baby?” they ask, and I try to take it as a compliment but I know there’s an edge in my voice when I answer, “Yes, this is my baby. This is my baby.” This is my body that birthed this baby and I hate that you looked at it and thought otherwise.

My body is real and I am learning to love my postpartum pooch (below: a few days PP in ye olde disposable panties).

Postpartum

My claim is not that, “I too, my full-bodied sisters, am a daily victim of unfair physical ideals!” I know that, on the whole, I benefit from them. And I’m not saying that BWF should have a ‘skinny moms’ day for every plus-sized mama day. I know that every day is ‘skinny mom day’ in all the rest of social media. I’m just saying that in a country where at least 80% of women dislike their bodies and Miss America is perpetually malnourished, we are all capable of hating ourselves. You don’t know how someone feels about their body just by looking at them. You only know how you feel about their body. And your own.

In my better days, this is how I like to think of my body: as a powerful vessel. A vessel for my thoughts and actions; a vessel for my creativity; and of course, a vessel for my babies. It is through this body that I show my love for other people. This body lets me laugh. This vessel has (love) handles but it is tall and deep. It will get old and its enamel will crack. Someday it will disintegrate entirely. I can only hope that when it does, I’m not worried about how it looks.

So, do you hate me yet?

Mothering the Mother, Part II: How Postpartum Care Helps Us Love Our Bodies

Mothering the Mother, Part II: How Postpartum Care Helps Us Love Our Bodies

“A safe pregnancy is a human right for every woman regardless of race or income.” – Amnesty International

“I have horrible [postpartum] stretch marks that I feel the need to cover and of course my breasts are nowhere near where I would like them to be.” – Courtney, Beauty Revealed Project.

So here I am, sitting cross-legged with a computer in my lap, typing around the soft belly that still protrudes (that always will protrude), while my seven week-old daughter sleeps in the next room. I’ve got a clean cloth diaper stuffed into my bra and I’m thinking about the talk I will give at the upcoming BWF Conference in October.

(((Registration is open! You should come! I want to meet you!)))

My topic is ‘Mothering the Mother’, an expansion of my most popular blog post ever, decrying the lack of postpartum care provided to American women. And I am being sponsored by the Beauty Revealed Project, a fantastic community and an online collection of photos and stories celebrating women’s real postpartum bodies.

Darien McGuire Photography

To some, this may seem like a strange fit: What, one might ask, does postpartum care have to do with bodily self-acceptance? If I bring a new mother a big pot of soup, is she suddenly going to love her stretch marks?

The answer is no; the answer is yes.

Our society-wide refusal to acknowledge the changes that come with motherhood is one of our greatest acts of misogyny. The bare facts: The United States is one of four countries in the world refusing paid maternity leave to its new mothers (the others are Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea). Despite 20 year-old research stating that changes in our healthcare model would soon require in-home postpartum support, American women do not receive postpartum care beyond a six week check-up. And our maternal mortality rate is the highest in the Western world.

These policies and their resulting tragedies perpetuate a widespread distaste for the childbearing process. Somehow, it has become OK to force a woman back to work just a few days after a human being came out of her body. To cut it open (routine episiotomies, routine cesareans) and leave it untended for six weeks or more. To let women – especially poor women, and women of colour – die preventable deaths after they have created life. The birthing woman’s body, not perceived as an economic resource, removed from its dubious status as a sexual object, is just not valued.

Sweet Serenity Photography

This devaluation spreads to other non-essential aspects of women’s postpartum bodies. The postpartum pooch. The stretch marks. The sagging flesh, the milky leakiness, the scars. There is nothing ugly about these body parts. But google any one of them and the instructions you find will be on how to hide it. How to get that ‘pre-baby body back’, terminology which I find so offensive because, really, where did that body ‘go’? It’s still here. Right here. My body did not disappear into some Platonic realm from which it must be reclaimed. No. My body, my (fortunate, privileged) healthy body birthed a baby.

It is so hard to see one’s own culture(s) because these are beliefs we are born into, ideas by which we live and die. So I’d like to try a little experiment. Let’s imagine the cover of a celebrity-ogling magazine. You know, the kind that watches bumps like my toddler watches diggers.

The cover shows a glamorous new mother.

She is lying in bed, her body relaxed and comfortable.

She is not groomed because she does not need to be, it is not expected of her.

She is not lifting weights or on her way to yogafit class; she is nursing her baby.

The headline reads, “K. Kardishian, New Mother! Inside: pics of her beautiful baby and fabulous new stretch marks!”

Yeah. I can’t imagine it either.

But I maintain that the physical manifestations of having birthed a child do not need to be hidden. They could, hypothetically, be celebrated. I swear they could be seen as sexy. I have heard they can be markers of status. Or simply perceived as healthy, normal, even unremarkable.

open book studios

What would it take for any of these to happen? We would have to start with the postpartum period. With gently caring for women who are gently caring for their newborn babies. With giving their bodies space to recuperate. With touch and massage, actions which tell them that their bodies are OK. With giving them nourishment and love. Showing mothers that we care about them will allow them to internalize that care and to care about themselves. Bodily self-acceptance cannot be far behind.

I have been lucky to receive incredible postpartum care over the past two months. I had midwives and friends, community to bring me meals and a partner to look after me. I did not have to get back up on my feet and do the impossible. I could rest. My body and my heart both show the benefits of this care. And as I sit here and feel my milk let down, telling me that my infant daughter will soon wake up and call me in to nurse, I feel grateful that my body birthed a baby. I know deep inside that my body is more than a cog in a machine, or something to be looked at. That it is strong, powerful beyond measure.

The health of our bodies has everything to do with how we feel about them.

KaylaMarie Photography

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The Beauty Revealed Project is on Facebook and online at www.beautyprojectrevealed.com. The staff of this wonderful, encouraging page accept photo and story submissions from postpartum mothers. They also assist in the arrangement of free or low-cost postpartum portraiture sessions with professional photographers. The Beauty Revealed Project is a not-for-profit organization and a labour of love.   

Pregnancy After An Eating Disorder

Pregnancy After An Eating Disorder

I have tried to write this at least a dozen times. It never turns out the way I want. In the beginning I tried to approach it like an informative article, a place people could go to find facts, research and information… but I get caught up in my own experience, and it ends up a jumbled mess… No, I can’t write an informative article. Not yet. Not until I tell my story…

So here it is. I had anorexia for over 7 years. ‘Had’ anorexia is the right way to write it, but the reality is that it had me…

I was 13 when it ‘started’. It was slow; an incessant nag in the back of my mind, slowly wearing me down, like the way a constant water drip smashes into concrete, slowly working a hole through… you’re not good enough, that’s not good enough, you’re not good enough, do it better… like a drip, these thoughts came, slowly, until they wore me down. Eventually I was swimming in them. Or more accurately, drowning in them. Everything was so out of my control, I had no idea where these thoughts were coming from, but they were inside me and they would not stop. Food became the thing I could control. While everything seemed crazy, and out of my control, I could control food. And my weight. Except, of course, that I had lost all control. I was completely and utterly powerless against this disorder.

[2003 – 17 years old: after I was discharged from a hospital stay, and when I graduated from high school]

teenage anorexia

At my worst, I was 39kg (85lbs), and at 156cm (5’2”), and this was a devastating weight to be. I couldn’t see it though. Even at 39kg, I could see extra weight; bulges and bumps that I needed to lose to be better. I lived with other anorexic girls on my many hospital admissions, and felt obese compared to their emaciated figures. Eating disorders are bizarre like that; I never could see myself for what I truly was. I saw these girls and I thought I was not controlling my food enough. Even though at one point I existed on a handful of oats soaked in water (but never cooked, because I wanted my body to burn my energy digesting them) and drinking iced water (because I wanted my body to burn more energy to warm it back up to body temperature). I wondered why my parents worried so much, I was frustrated and angry at people trying to ‘help’, and every single time I walked into the ‘Eating Disorders Clinic’ I felt like a fraud.

Thankfully, after years of suffering, I was given the help I needed and eventually I was ‘weight restored’ to 54kg, and ‘recovered’. Which is a misleading word which just means that you aren’t drowning in self-hatred – but it doesn’t mean that the drip isn’t there, or even the occasional downpour or flash flood of thoughts. My experience with  recovery from anorexia is similar to an alcoholics experience with recovery – we can triumph over it, but never let our guards down and we must always be aware of triggers. I have many triggers, but my biggest trigger was yet to come… but it wasn’t pregnancy.

I met my partner in 2006, and began trying to start a family in 2007. I always wanted to have children, and was excited about being pregnant. But I was nervous. My body was going to grow, in a way that I had absolutely no control over. I would have to surrender control, but keep control. I could not allow myself to be swept away in a flood of thoughts. I could not skip meals. I could not run until my muscles were burning. I had to look after myself, and I had to look after my baby. Could I do it? I was strong, but was I that strong? I was recovered, but… was I *that* recovered? Was I ready? Would I ever be ready?

I was lucky that physically, the years of disordered eating and being malnourished did not affect my fertility or my ability to sustain a pregnancy, although that isn’t the case for everyone.

My first pregnancy came with a wonderful sense of ease; in relation to the eating disorder at least. This was surprising, as I was always acutely self-conscious and self-critical pre-pregnancy, but my growing belly was something I cherished. For once my body was meant to be growing, and I let it grow. I was relaxed. I loved the life and energy flowing from me. I loved that eating was ‘for the baby’, and I could argue with the thoughts in my head. “I must eat”, I would think, “I must eat, for the baby”. And I did. I gained a lot of weight, and I didn’t let myself worry about it. I knew that if I acknowledged the amount of weight I had gained, it would rain-pour-flood, and I would drown. And I could not let that happen. I gained a lot of weight – over 20kg (44lb). Part of this weight gain was because I couldn’t restrict what I ate – if I did, it would just begin a barrage of thoughts that I might not have been able to fight. Another part of this weight gain was like me saying a big f**k you to the thoughts – kind of like, “you’ve controlled me for long enough, look what I am doing now”.

Unfortunately, throughout my first pregnancy I suffered with antenatal depression that extended into postnatal depression and anxiety, mixed in with some PTSD. I was lucky that they eating disorder did not take hold in a negative way. I know that many women react to pregnancy differently – the changes in hormones and body shape can be a huge trigger for eating disordered thoughts and behaviours – and even after recovery they have trouble keeping the thoughts and behaviours at bay. Women need to be aware of their strengths and their limitations when it comes to their recovery, always inform care providers and try to let people know or ask for help when they are struggling.

I birthed my daughter via cesarean in August 2008. It was an emergency cesarean; very unplanned, and very unwanted. Because I had gained so much weight, I did not just ‘bounce back’ to my pre-pregnancy weight. Well, I don’t think many women do just ‘bounce back’, but regardless, I was devastated. My belly is covered in stretch marks, my stomach shrunk down after the cesarean my skin crumpled in a sea of raw pink lines and I had a ‘hang’ on one side of the scar. I was carrying extra weight across my whole body, and I felt like a disgusting puffy crumpled-up mess. Breastfeeding did NOT help me lose weight, despite the belief that it does, and I was wearing maternity clothes for some months while I struggled with whether I would ever get to wear my pre-pregnancy clothes again.

[2009]

mother and daughter after eating disorder

I develop severe postnatal depression and anxiety. Even though I had dealt with depression and anxiety for years, I couldn’t recognise how much I needed help. I struggled, and I had a baby who existed on 2 hour blocks of sleep (if I was lucky!) and constant feeding. I was a mess, and some days were so dark I could barely see a way out. I dealt with it for years, and I fought so hard for the first two years to not relapse or go back into disordered eating. The thoughts were there, and they were strong , and I believed each and every thought that entered my head: they would be better off without you, they don’t need you, you’re nothing, you’re nothing, you’re a bad mother and your daughter knows it… For two years I fought those thoughts, but eventually I was worn.

[August 2010]

mother and baby recovery from anorexia

It was around the end of 2010 when it started again. I don’t really remember it well, but it was a tough time for us all. A multitude of things tumbled together and crashed into me and knocked me off my feet…  I lost all the weight I was carrying, and was back down to me pre-pregnancy weight. I pushed myself to my limits, all the while believing that it was never enough, I was never enough, I could do enough, be good enough, smart enough, strong enough… People told me I was losing weight but I couldn’t see it of course. Each morning I would get up, and cry as I made my coffee, then sob as I said goodbye to my daughter. I’d cry as I drove to work. On the drive to work, I’d pass cars and powerpoles, I’d drive over bridges, I’d take careless risks through roundabouts and traffic lights, wondering if I could just accelerate, lose control, drive into or drive off at the right moment, and it would all be over. I didn’t, of course, and it was probably because I knew I didn’t want to die, but I told myself I wasn’t strong enough, I was too weak, and for being too weak I deserved to keep living in hell. I usually held it together at work, and I’d come home and be angry, and cry myself to sleep.

My partner would be there, sometimes frustrated and angry, sometimes caring, but always there. Despite that, I felt alone. And so powerless and weak. And ashamed that I had let it take me again. And hopeless. She watched as I fell into a pit of despair. I pushed her away, but she stayed anyway. There was one night when she sat down next to me, with a look I’ll never forget, it was fear, she looked at me with fear. She asked me if I was going to be ok, and it broke my heart. She sobbed, and we cried together. She said I needed help. She wanted to help. She didn’t want to lose me. I told her I was strong. I could do this.

I fought and gained some control back. It was hard, but we did it together, my partner and I. She reached in and helped me out again.

[January 2012]

mother and daughter

I was pregnant with our second daughter early 2012.

This pregnancy was difficult. The first 14-15 weeks were full of vomiting and constant nausea. It was difficult to force myself to eat when I knew I would be bringing it back up in half an hour. I couldn’t work for almost 6 weeks. Things quietened down in second trimester, except for a few scares that left me in the birth suite with a fluid leak and infection.

At 28 weeks I was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes and that was hard. I almost lost it. It was hard for me to keep hold of the eating disorder when I had to engage in the very behaviours that I were so disastrous to me for years. I had to keep track of my food, grams of carbohydrates, balance my meals, and religiously test and keep track of my blood sugar levels and weight. I had to keep it all in check. The obsessive part of me broke out, and I counted carbs to a key. I got to a point where I was 34 weeks pregnant, 62kg (136lb) and I wasn’t gaining weight and it was difficult. In my first pregnancy I found it easy to let my body gain the weight, I let myself eat, and I didn’t let myself think about it. This time, I was surrounded by triggers, and I couldn’t just ignore it, I couldn’t just eat, like in my first pregnancy. I had an acute awareness of my food, the nutritional value of my food, my weight… 

The hardest part was admitting it. I don’t like admitting when there’s something out of my control, I like being able to just take care of myself, and I won’t ask for help. Even when asked, I won’t admit I’m struggling. So telling my partner was tough. She already knew, of course. She knows my triggers, she knew what was happening in my head. We worked through it together, with a lot of support from her. I had a VBAC in November 2012, and with it, I gained a new sense of worth, achievement, and power. 

For me, the hardest part of this whole journey through pregnancy after eating disorders is relinquishing control. Through the years I lived with anorexia, I tried to control, I wanted control. Even through recovery, I hold on to the fact that I am controlling the eating disorder, I am in control of myself. But there’s an element to pregnancy and birth and postpartum that is uncontrollable. It is about trust and faith, it is about letting go and embracing the chaos. It is a fine balance between letting go and riding the wave, but knowing when to hold on again so I don’t start drowning. Even now, I struggle with knowing when I need to be in control and when I need to let go. Having a good support team around me to remind me to hold on or let go is essential.

It was also hard to get used to my new body. Things changed. A lot. Even being back to pre-pregnancy weight I am not the same as I once was. I’m softer and squishier, and I never expected that. And oh the stretch marks, so many stretch marks everywhere. No one told me my thighs would get stretchmarks, and yet as my hips widened, they did! My breasts are marked as well. And as my body shrunk back down my skin did not follow, and there is loose skin and dimples and crinkles… And I am one of the ones who don’t lose weight while breastfeeding, so that was a little disappointing as well!


post partum belly

I am 4 months postpartum now, and things seem clearer second time around. I am more confident, and I like my body. Some days I love my body. I know it deserves to be loved all the time, and I do my best. I am happier. Brighter. I still struggle with control – hold on, let go, hold on, let go…? The thoughts are there, although I wish I could say they weren’t, and they get to me sometimes. I can’t see this as something I will ever ‘get over’. Every now and then the thoughts get quieter and I live more freely, and sometimes they are deafening, and every minute is a struggle. I have to be aware of my triggers. We don’t own scales, and I don’t think there will ever be a time where I can have a set of scales in the house full-time – I can barely walk past scales on the shelf at a department store without wanting to stand on it. I can say with confidence that I will never be able to ‘diet’ or engage in any kind of radical detox program without having to fights the thoughts to take “one step further”, which is the path the leads to disordered eating. Exercise is difficult – I love running but have a tendency to push myself too far. I joined a gym once, a few months into an attempt at recovery, in an attempt to exercise in moderate and be ‘healthy’, but that didn’t end well.

But right now I am strong, and I am ok.

Written by Alisia, wife and mum to two kids in Australia.

post partum belly and baby

Mental Illness and Pregnancy

Mental Illness and Pregnancy

“I’ve debated telling this story. I’m afraid of being judged and perhaps even… yelled at.  But my story is just as important as yours. My story is the one that no one talks about. My story is about being pregnant with a mental illness.” -B 

My story starts a good 10 years ago, when I was officially diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. In a nut shell, Borderline Personality disorder is all encompassing. Its not usually diagnosed, and some psychiatrists don’t even believe its exists. It includes things like fear of abandonment, mistrust, harmful thoughts, and fast moving emotional thought process that I have no control over. I have very little control over what I think, do, and how I react to things emotionally. Medication makes things easier, but these things will always be a struggle for me. Anyways… 

At that time I had no future. The world was dark. No one cared and everyone else was a hypocrite. I had no future. And honestly it was only a matter of time, before the drugs, alcohol, and cutting caught up to me. Sooner or later… and I didn’t care that much. 

Then I met my husband. He held my hand and offered me a choice. Did I want to continue being miserable, angry and alone, or did I want the future he was offering me? With a career, and a home and maybe even a baby? I had always wanted a baby. If I wanted that, I had to start medication. That was my choice. I was tired of all of it, and I had nothing to loose, so I chose him.   

I was stable for 3 years. Properly medicated with regular therapy and we both felt it was time to have a baby. We wanted a baby and we knew it would be hard. We knew it would be hard because of my illness, but we decided as a team to take the risk. We wanted a baby boy. Maybe it was selfish to want something so badly, especially since I knew I would not be able to go off my medication. My psychiatrist assured me it was safe though, so we quadrupled my folic acid intake to counter act the medication I was already on. And within a few weeks I was pregnant! 

We were thrilled. Nervous, scared. We were parents. There was life growing inside me!!! 

This lasted all of 2 weeks. Then I got sick. 

Typical pregnancy symptoms I was told. They will pass, “you have life growing inside you”. Not so simple for someone like me. For the first 3 months, I was so nauseous I couldn’t eat. I lost 15lbs. Luckily I had enough to spare. Something as simple as not being able to eat was hard for my mind to accept. I cried often. 

The second trimester was worse. “Its ok, it’ll pass, its just part of being pregnant, you have life growing inside you!!” I had a migraine for 3 months straight. Nothing I did alleviated the pain. It only went away when I was sleeping and I wasn’t sleeping all that well either. I cried because I was in pain and tired. 

Please don’t misunderstand. Of course I had moments of elation. Every time he moved. Every time we listened to music together and he danced. We still dance! He amazed me. He was growing inside me and it truly is an amazing thing!  These moments gave me the strength to carry him longer then I wanted to. These moments were very special for me. 

The third trimester, although relieved by the fact that finally after 12 weeks my migraine had went away and I was able to eat again, now the depression kicked in. I hadn’t slept in God knows how long, I was miserable every single day, I ached everywhere I could hardly move. I cried every day because I felt so sick of life. My mental illness had taken over my thought processes, and more then once I threatened to cut my baby out of me! People thought it was funny for me to say that. “You have life growing inside of you. It’ll all be worth it in the end.” They all said. But I had never had a baby before, I didn’t know what they meant, and as far as I was concerned at that point, nothing was worth the pain I was feeling physically and emotionally. I was so unhappy and so depressed and my thought processes were so disturbed. I felt bad for how I was feeling because I knew my son could tell. Every time I cried he got quiet and I knew he knew how I felt about him. So I also felt ashamed. I should love my baby. I grew him and he’s special, but I didn’t. I didn’t even like him anymore! He had put me through a lot already and I was very angry at him.  

At 40 weeks 2 days I called my doctor and begged him to induce me. Once again stating that I was totally serious about cutting him out myself. He finally obliged  and I was scheduled for an induction the next day. I was so incredibly grateful! The induction worked and within a few hours I was in full labour! 

It hurt like a bitch but I was so happy to finally be in the final stretch of things. Morphine, epidural yes please!  

Time is a daze but I think I was in labour for about 14 hours before I started pushing. The nurse has mentioned that I could up the epidural so I did and by 9:00am I was ready to start pushing but I couldn’t feel anything so I did the best I could. 

My doctor showed up and tried to vacuum. It didn’t work, it fell off 3 times and baby wasn’t bugging. Finally he concluded that baby was stuck and we had to have an emergency c-section. Up until this point I was doing fine. My mood had elevated for obvious reasons and I was in the home stretch! This baby that had been tormenting me for 40 weeks would soon be out and maybe then we could start our relationship over.  

They said C-section and everything changed. Now I got scared. I turned to my husband and said, “can you call my parents?” Now I was crying, for the first time throughout the entire labour. I had prepared myself for everything except that. Everyone told me that I had the hips to birth a baby, but my baby was now stuck between them and was not coming out on his own.  

So they did the c-section and everything went smoothly. I was embarrassed because I was laying on the table completely naked and exposed. Nothing covered except my head, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice. I pushed it down like I had pushed all my feelings and emotions down for so long and just let them do what they had to do. 

They tugged and pulled and the anesthesiologist commented over and over again, “just a little bit more tugging.” I guess baby was really stuck. I felt my body move with each tug, but they eventually got him out and he cried and we were happy. I was so happy he was finally out! 

My husband held him for the first half hour while they stitched and stapled me up. My parents came right away because the C-section was a shock to them too. Apparently my mother was hysterical, “my baby is being cut open!!!”. So they held him too. I don’t remember if they held him before me. I wasn’t opposed to it. I guess I was happy. I was more relieved. 

The one thing I remember is how invasive the nurses were. They wanted to put me on Demerol so I would stop shaking because of course by this time my body had gone into shock. My OB said no right away (the one good thing about the entire experience) and just put me under a heated blanket. Within half hour my shaking had stopped. 

As the nurses cleaned me up, my body completely numb and still fat from pregnancy, one of them commented on my scars. I have about a dozen that are noticeable because of my mental illness and the first thing I thought was, didn’t you read my file?  Must I explain this to you? But I quickly did. Calmly. It was not what I needed to hear, nor was it something I wanted to explain at that precise moment. I mean I had just had a baby literally ripped from my body. Clean me up and keep your comments to yourself! 

newborn after cesarean

Well from here on in, nothing went right. I didn’t sleep for 4 day, because they insisted on having a bright night light on all night long. I was exhausted! Baby wasn’t eating and was unable to nurse because my milk refused to come in.  I looked and felt like shit and this baby would not stop crying! We supplemented. We had to. 

Because of all the drugs, my face broke out in cold sores. I’m prone to them to begin with, I get them quite seriously actually but this time, I had over a hundred! I had them in my eyes, on my cheeks, on my nose, my chin. The glands in my neck had swelled up so much I could hardly move my head, and since the herpes virus can actually kill newborns, I was restricted in how often I could hold my baby. Needless to say, we did not bond..

Now the depression hit a high. We were finally home, still not breastfeeding, or sleeping. I couldn’t move because of the surgery, he was crying because he was so hungry. I was crying because in my mind, I was a failure. I couldn’t birth my baby, I couldn’t feed my baby, I couldn’t even hold my baby. I said to my husband, “if your’e holding him, who’s holding me? ” And I meant it! I felt so incredibly alone and shameful. I thought often of just stuffing the baby in the freezer. Often. If it wasn’t the freezer it was the washing machine… Often. And that scared me.  In my screwed up mind, this baby was the cause of everything bad that had happened for the last 42 weeks of my life and if he just wasn’t here anymore… I felt horrible. What made me feel worse was the fact that I knew he knew exactly how I felt and it was obvious that he didn’t trust me.  

I still cried every day. It was a very difficult time for my husband. I put on a brave face for all the family that came to visit us, but as soon as we were alone everything fell apart…. 

So here’s where the story gets better.

We were sitting on the couch one night, just hanging out watching tv. He was 2 weeks old, and I just looked at him. This was the first time I had actually just looked at him. He looked back and I said, “there is something so familiar in your eyes.” As I looked harder, I realized he had my eyes. I was looking into a mirror! My heart melted. I said, “I guess you aren’t so bad…maybe this isn’t your fault.” And his glare did not faultier. “Can we start over?” And turned his head and started rooting, “You want to try just one more time?” So for the first time I nursed him.

He latched and he drank big gulps and he looked at me and I could tell that for the first time he forgave me. He understood and I promised him then that no matter what I thought, no matter what the voices told me to do I wouldn’t do them. He trusted me now and I couldn’t betray that. The thoughts haunt me on a daily basis even now but he trusts me and he loves me and he cuddles me and he forgave me and now he doesn’t even remember and as time goes by, the thoughts dwindle and they aren’t as strong. That night I fell in love with my son for the first time. He looks just me, so how couldn’t I love him.  

Some days for me are harder then others. My son is my reason now. My reason to stay strong, to take my medication and to go to therapy. He needs me  to do these things not only for myself but for him. Every time I look into his milk chocolate eyes, my eyes,  I’m reminded of where I was, where I could be and where I am now I’m more confident as a mom and more secure as a woman, and its all because of him. I’m so lucky. My husband has been incredibly supportive throughout this entire journey and I have him to thank as well. 

I still don’t know how I’m going to explain things to him as he gets older. Why I need to take medication, what the scars mean, why I get so angry sometimes or cry uncontrollably, and why I can’t control certain aspects of my emotions. I don’t know. But I figure I’ll just take every day as it comes. As a blessing. I grew him inside me. He’s mine and regardless of how I felt about him in the beginning, its not how I feel about him now. He’s the absolute love of my life and I tell him every single day. 

mother and son

pregnancy and mental illness

Infertility, Loss, Cesarean Birth, and PPD {A Mother’s Story of Two Births}

Infertility, Loss, Cesarean Birth, and PPD {A Mother’s Story of Two Births}

{Editor’s Note: This story comes to us from Rachel. This is the story of infertility, loss, and two Cesarean births – one which was not empowering, and a second that was positive and healing. This is also the story of two experiences with Postpartum Depression and the effects on bonding and motherhood.}

My story starts almost five years ago, it was our wedding day and after a few months of me trying to convince my husband, Pat, we were ready to start trying to have children, he finally agreed. We lived in the small northern town of Wawa, Ontario. It is a beautiful place, a wonderful place to raise a child.

My husband was starting out his career as a police officer and I was working at a daycare. Things couldn’t be better. We tried for approximately 6 months and nothing happened. We did not have a family doctor there, so discussing any fertility issues just didn’t happen.

Pat was given the opportunity to join the Police Force in another town in Jan 2008, so we embarked on our new journey. Although Pat is originally from this town, we were restarting our life in this new town. I was more than happy to move where he grew up, where his family is.

We continued to try, but nothing. After being referred to a specialist, Pat and I both did various blood work and tests. Tests revealed that I suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome which could sometimes lead to infertility. I was crushed. I wanted to be a mother. How could I explain this to my husband? I would not be able to give him any children; all he ever wanted was to have children, to be a dad.

After talking with the Ob/GYN he had given me a prescription for Clomid, a fertility drug known to help women with PCOS. After taking it the first month and going for more blood work, the doctor was optimistic that this would work!

Fast forward three more months, I found myself pregnant. It was a few days before Valentine’s Day in 2009. So I figured I would wait to tell my husband; I bought a bib that said “I love daddy”, some little booties, a rattle and left a positive pregnancy test in a box. My husband has never liked early gifts, but I just couldn’t wait! I told him that he needed it the day before and that it was so important.

When he opened the box he had the most confused look on his face, he did not know what a pregnancy test looked like and didn’t realize what I was giving him until I said I was pregnant. We both shared tears and we so thrilled to finally have this happen for us after trying for 2 years.

I had some morning sickness, just nausea really. I was excited because if you felt nauseous that was a good sign. I had an early ultrasound to date the pregnancy; it was so amazing to see the little life inside me, the heartbeat of this new being that my husband and I created! I was helping this little baby grow. We told everyone, we were so ecstatic to finally have the chance to be parents! Everyone was very so happy.

I was about 11 weeks and had very, very lite spotting and no other symptoms. I called my midwife Amy and told her and she said she would be right over to see if we could hear a heartbeat although it was still early. I told her it was okay and that I would see if it continues, I really didn’t think that anything was happening.

I had no other symptoms of miscarriage, and this couldn’t happen to me! That night I started to have back pain and some mild cramping, I finally told my husband, who tends to be a worry wart. He immediately told me to go to emergency room. I did reluctantly; something like this was not going to happen to us.

They did some blood work and a pregnancy test and told me they would call me as soon as a spot opened up for an ultrasound. I went to work that morning, told my boss that I would need a couple hours off but I would be back after my ultrasound. She insisted I take the day off, I was kind of mad because I didn’t want to miss work. I was fine… I really was sure nothing was happening.

Going to the ultrasound I felt fine, the spotting and back pain were very little. Then the ultrasound tech told me I was not allowed to see anything. That’s when I got nervous. I then had to go and wait again to get my results.

I called my husband to let him know that I was waiting; he asked if I wanted him there, I said no that I was fine. Everything was fine, he had just finished a night shift and he hadn’t had any sleep and was supposed to work that night. He showed up five minutes later! I am so thankful he did!

We waited in the little room; the doctor came in with the report and had to leave but left the report. I looked at it and couldn’t understand a thing. As I am looking at it the doctor walked back in and asked if I understood anything. Of course I didn’t, the page was all these numbers and abbreviations, we sat down and he just came out and said there was no heartbeat.

We were crushed. We saw the heartbeat before; how could it no longer be there? Why would this happen to us? We both grieved at the loss of our unborn baby; we went from being on top of the world to the bottom of a muddy pit.

Of course I saw the specialist again and he just said sometimes these things happen. (These things weren’t supposed to happen to me.) I started Clomid again as soon as I could, I needed to be pregnant again. The month came and went and no pregnancy… I couldn’t do this. You are always let down every time you start your period and you are reminded that you lost that baby.

I took the Clomid another month and told my husband that if I did not get pregnant this month I didn’t want to try again. It was too hard. When the time came for my period; it wasn’t there… I reluctantly took a pregnancy test. I was pregnant!

I didn’t tell anyone, not even my husband… I wasn’t sure if it was worth telling my husband. I couldn’t carry a child, so why bother him with the grief if we lost another? I would do it alone. He came home that night and I felt extremely guilty but did not tell him. I couldn’t keep it in after 3 days I just sat beside him and showed him a pregnancy test.

I didn’t say a thing, we hugged, and I think we both felt the same way, happy but very scared. We kept this pregnancy a secret from everyone until I was 4 months. Everyone was overjoyed. We were terrified that something was going to happen, that this baby would be taken away from us.

The pregnancy was great, no complications, everything was wonderful. At the end of my pregnancy, all I wanted was to hold my baby. I felt like a whale, like I couldn’t possibly grow any larger. At 40weeks 4days I went to see a naturopath to have acupuncture to try to induce labor, I was fed up!

The day went on and at some point my water broke. At first I was in denial, but was getting contractions every 5-8 minutes. We went to the hospital because I was Group B Step positive and needed antibiotics during labor.

Contractions continued every 3-4 minutes for 12 hours. My midwife Amy checked my cervix, I was only 1cm. I was devastated, I couldn’t possibly go any longer. The pain was intense and my hopes of having a natural labor were gone. I requested an epidural.

At this point my labor had stalled and I was having some relief. Once the anesthesiologist came and left I finally felt great. I tried to rest a bit knowing I had a long time to go but then the pains started again. My epidural was not working or strong enough but I continued to pull through, breathing through each contraction focusing on what was to come, my little baby!

Contractions continued for another 14 hours, Amy and Pat right by my side the whole time. After being there with me for 26 hours Amy had to transfer my care to the on-call OB. As soon as she told me this, I asked for a C-section. I couldn’t possibly go on without her and I was physically exhausted, emotionally exhausted, and disappointed.

At this point everything becomes fuzzy. I had given up and laid there in the hospital bed waiting to be rolled into the OR. When they pulled my little boy out of me I was so drowsy, I just remember them saying it’s a boy, and then he was gone and I went to recovery.

I was in recovery for a while and when I was allowed to go into my own room to see Maksim he was tired and didn’t want to nurse. I was feeling sick, tired and sore, so he went to the nursery. My husband kissed me goodnight and that was it.

In Recovery

Maksim was brought to me in the morning and I looked at him like he was a stranger. Who was this child and what was I supposed to do with him? As time went on I developed postpartum depression.

I truly believe that it was because I didn’t have a natural birth and was ripped of the opportunity to bond with him right after having him. All I wanted was to be able to nurse him, knowing that this was the best I could give him.

With the PPD, I had given up on breastfeeding and pumped instead. I thought that this would help but it didn’t, I felt like I wasn’t able to bond with my baby. I pumped for 5-6 months and quit. I still feel bad to this day for doing this but am grateful for the breast milk he did receive.

There were many days I just did not want to be a mother. I never felt the urge to hurt my child but I didn’t want to be around him. I wanted my old life back; I wanted someone else to take care of him. I saw a counselor and this helped a bit, I went back to work and things seemed to look up.

Maksim was almost a year old and my husband mentioned wanting to try for another. At that time I only wanted another baby to experience a vaginal birth, to nurse my child and to be a mom. Again I needed to go on fertility drugs as my cycle was not regular and I was not ovulating. After two months of the Clomid I was pregnant.

I called my husband right away, he was training and couldn’t come home so I told him over the phone. You could hear the happiness in his voice. This time we waited about a week and started to tell close family and friends, then really made it known to everyone at 12 weeks.

I still wasn’t sure about wanting another but the pregnancy was here I just went with it. This pregnancy was so different, I had a lot of morning sickness that lasted all day, at 14 weeks I had unexplained bleeding. We had emergency ultrasounds but all seemed okay.

At 20 weeks the baby was showing two cysts on his brain. This really worried us; we didn’t want to have something wrong with the baby. At 30 weeks the ultrasound tech said he was a really big boy and that the cysts were gone! We were thrilled.

At 40weeks my water broke, I did not have any contractions. My sister and I went shopping as I continued to leak fluid all day! I walked and walked and walked and still did not get any contractions. The OB did not want to induce because of my prior C-section, I should have fought for it but for some reason I didn’t.

After 24 hours of ruptured membranes I was given another Cesarean. This was different! My midwife Amy was in the room with me, she let my husband hold the baby close to me right after he was taken out, I saw him for some time before they took him away.

I wasn’t in recovery long this time and my little Felix – 7lbs 6oz – was brought to me as soon as I entered my room. I was able to have skin to skin time with him and he (with help from Amy) latched on no problem. My doula, Kayleigh was there to capture those moments and to assist with breastfeeding when Amy left.

Baby Felix

What a different experience! What a positive experience. I healed so much faster and was so happy to be a mom. Now fast forward three months – I still long for that vaginal birth, but feel very blessed to have two healthy and happy children.

Having a positive birth experience the second time around has made me love being a mother and appreciate the little things so much more. That first smile, those 3am feedings and when your toddler says “Je t’aime maman” – you couldn’t ask for more!

{An update from Mom: “My little one is now 15 months, I got PPD again but I am on top of it this time and am happy to report that my little one just weaned himself…. Nursing really helped the PPD and this time was easier because I could recognize the signs and asked for help right away.”}

The Family

The Magical Menstrual Cycle

The Magical Menstrual Cycle

{guest post by Samantha Bice}

When did you first hear an explanation of your menstrual cycle? Apart from asking my mom or step mom what pads or tampons were upon seeing them in the cabinet, I don’t have a memory of an explanation until third grade. We all had to get a permission slip signed so that we could learn about our “bodily changes”. Boys and girls were sent to separate rooms in the school…I remember the girls were sent to the computer lab.

We were given small booklets that talked about breasts growing, “periods”, and feminine products and hygiene. We were told that a confusing time in our lives was fast approaching and that we would start to bleed, once every 28 days, and that it was okay. We could use pads or tampons, and as long as we were careful to be ready and if we washed ourselves, no one would ever know that we were “on our period.” Most of the talk was focused on the products we would use to take care of this issue. [And they didn’t even teach about the good ones!]

Fast forward to middle school. I had started my “period” and managed to avoid getting blood on my pants or “smelling.” I still really had no idea what a period was for other than to tell me I was not pregnant. At that point in my life that seemed like a useless thing to do since I was not having sex.  Same story in high school, only add in a small amount of knowledge of an egg dropping and that my period was to get rid of the unused egg each month.

It was not until I was a married woman and thinking about babies that I stumbled upon the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler in the book store. I picked it up, thinking that since I was a take charge kinda girl with everything else that I should add my fertility to the list too. This was also after many unsuccessful attempts at finding the right birth control for me (come to find out, my body hates all chemical birth control), so that was in the front of my mind as well.

That book changed my life.

Imagine my surprise when I read that my “irregular periods” were actually pretty normal, and that I was not broken. Every cycle (not month – we work in cycles, not on a calendar) my body was performing a magical and specific dance of hormones. Eggs matured, temperatures changed, ovulation occurred, hormones shifted, my body prepared. I was amazed. I suddenly had respect for my body and did not find my cycles annoying anymore.

WHY had no one explained all this to me? Why was the focus on managing the bleeding and not on the reasons why it even happened? Beyond knowing “period=not pregnant; no period=pregnant” we were told nothing. We were told that we should perform this task like clockwork, every 28 days. No room for error or we were “irregular”, like a badly cut puzzle piece. The focus was on all the things we needed to buy and do in order to cover up the fact that our body performed as expected.

Now, I want to share some knowledge with all of you. I can not cover everything – hence why the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility (TCOYF) is large. But I can give you the basics on how things work and the basics of keeping track of all this.

The Menstrual Cycle: A Carefully Choreographed Dance

I think most of us have the basic knowledge of what the cycle does (generally speaking) – it is the preparation and “dropping” of an egg that then awaits fertilization. If that fertilization does not happen (or if implantation does not happen), you have menstrual bleeding – your period – and a new cycle starts. But lets talk about specifics.

The first hormone that causes things to happen each cycle is the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). This hormone does just what the same suggests – it stimulated follicles. These follicles are on your ovaries, and each one contains an egg. Generally about 15-20 follicles start to mature each cycle.

During this time period (anywhere from about 8 days into your cycle to more than a month) your estrogen is rising. Shortly after you reach your estrogen threshold (one or two days after), one of the eggs bursts through the ovary and starts the journey down the fallopian tube. Sometimes more than one egg makes it out (fraternal twins or higher multiples – if all are fertilized). The eggs that didn’t “make the cut” dissolve.

This high level of estrogen (which drops off after this peak at ovulation) triggers a surge of Luteinizing Hormone (LH). This surge of LH is what ovulation tests detect and occurs just before the release of the egg during ovulation. [Please note – an LH surge does not mean you *did* ovulate, but rather that your body is preparing to.]

After the egg is released, that follicle that it came from turns into the Corpus Luteum. This will release progesterone for about 12 to 16 days. Normally a woman’s luteal phase (the time from ovulation to the start of a new cycle) does not vary much within that woman by more than a day or two during each cycle. The luteal phase is the one part of our cycles that is locked in for most people and they will have their own “normal” they can depend on.

The progesterone released by the Corpus Luteum is very important. It causes the lining of the uterus to thicken (for implantation) and prevents further egg release that cycle. It also causes a change in your fertility signs (more on that later).

After this 12-16 day period of the luteal phase, if the egg has not been fertilized and implanted, the Corpus Luteum dissolves and a new cycle starts (your “period” comes). The first day of bleeding is the first day of your new cycle.

A Quick Word on Averages

Please note that during this entire post I am going to be speaking in terms of the average cycle. There is a large amount of normal variation within these numbers – and outside them. The 28 day cycle is not a golden rule or number. Each woman has a cycle unique to her – just like the particular color of her eyes or her love of a certain food. Please do not take these average numbers to be the only “normal” and count yourself as abnormal. They are simply for simplification purposes.

Conception

Conception is the process of fertilization – sperm meeting egg. When and where does this take place? Once the egg is released by the ovary, it is sucked up into the fallopian tubes quickly – normally within 20 seconds. The ovary is not actually attached to the tubes by the way – they sort of barely meet at the end of the tubes where the “fingers” of the tube stick out to catch the egg. These fingers are called fimbria.

Fertilization has about 24 hours in which to occur. The egg does not sit around waiting for sperm for the entire luteal phase. Around 24 hours is all the chance we get. The egg is fertilized in the lower third of the fallopian tubes, not in the uterus as is commonly thought. The egg will continue its way down the tubes and burrow into the lining about a week after ovulation, on average. If the egg is not fertilized, it dissolves and is absorbed, or it comes out with the menstrual flow.

In order to stop the process of the shedding of the uterine lining, as soon as the egg implants your body starts to make a hormone – I know, another hormone! This hormone is called Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) and is the hormone that pregnancy tests detect. This hormone not only stops the lining from shedding as normal, but it signals the Corpus Luteum to stick around and keep making progesterone to sustain the lining (which feeds the fetus). This progesterone is important as it sustains the pregnancy until the placenta takes over after several months. [This is why low progesterone causes miscarriage.]

As you can see – this dance of hormones and processes is complex. Complicated steps, but seems effortless and fluid when observed. Our bodies do all this without prompting in most cases, and is just as miraculous as the actual process of growing a baby. Our bodies do a lot of work just to get the egg ready to create the baby, and to maintain the system for many years “just in case”.

Charting: Your View of the Dance

Charting with the Fertility Awareness Method (which is taught in TCOYF) is based on three basic fertility signs. These signs, when charted together, give you a view of what your body is doing and where you are in your cycle.

Waking Temperature (Basal Body Temperature)

This is the fertility sign that gives you a view of what hormones are acting at the moment, and when you have ovulated. It is the “graphic” portion of the fertility chart. To get this information you need to take your temp first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. You need to use a Basal Thermometer for the best results, as they are more accurate than a fever thermometer. They are usually available in the fertility section of your local drug store or WalMart/Target. That would be the aisle with the pregnancy tests and contraceptive devices.

Before ovulation your temperature is lower (between 97.0 and 97.7 on average) due to the temperature suppressing effects of the rising estrogen at the start of the cycle. After ovulation, within a day or so, your temperature will rise due to the heat producing hormone progesterone. If you conceived, the progesterone stays around and your temp stays higher. If you did not conceive, the progesterone stops and your temperature drops as well – a sign that says your menstrual flow will start soon.

A few notes about your waking temperature. 1) You need to take it at the same time each day, trying not to vary it by more than 30 minutes or so. When you first start to chart, try to be as precise as possible in order to get your “normal” readings for a few cycles before messing with anything. 2) You need to take it after at least 3 hours of sleep (this gives your body time to regulate and get to the basal state) and before you get out of bed. Keep it on your bedside table. 3) Your readings may be off if you have a fever, have drank more than a drink or two of alcohol (or if you rarely have alcohol), or are using more warming devices to sleep than you normally do. Illness can also effect the temp in other ways – think about if you normally sleep with your mouth closed, but then sleep with it open because you are congested. This would cause your mouth temperature to be lower in the morning.

There are two ways to get your temperature. Orally – the way you do for a fever, or vaginally. Vaginal temps tend to be more precise for many women and you do not have to worry about the effects of occasional mouth breathing either.

Cervical Fluid

Cervical Fluid, or cervical discharge, is an important fertility sign. In my opinion this is the sign that we should absolutely be taught about from day one of becoming a woman. The normal fluid our body makes – which changes throughout the cycle – is not dirty. It is not defective. It is a sign of where our fertility is at that point. I suggest you begin to think of it as awesome and not dirty (in other words – not “discharge”) because this stuff is cool.

You have several types of fluid. I will work from least fertile to most fertile. First is the lack of fluid – this is called a dry day. This generally means you are not currently fertile. This normally occurs right after menstruation ends, and after your fertile period (ovulation). Then there is sticky fluid. This is the dry feeling fluid that clumps and looks almost like rubber cement (a type of glue). This is also considered not fertile. It usually occurs after menstruation but before ovulation – and sometimes for a few days after ovulation. The next type is creamy – this is usually thick and white or yellowish, and feels and looks like lotion. This is not a fertile fluid, and normally occurs before ovulation, and occasionally after ovulation. All of these types leave no mark in your underwear, or they leave a streak or line.

The first type of fertile fluid is called watery. This is just the way it sounds – like water. Usually clear or only slightly colored, it leaves a round wet mark on your underwear due to the high water content. This is a fertile fluid. Fertile fluid is one in which sperm can survive. You must have a fertile fluid present for sperm to live and move in. This fluid usually shows up around ovulation. If you see this, assume you are fertile. The other fertile fluid is egg white. This is the most fertile fluid and is what you want to look for if you are hoping to conceive. It looks just uncooked egg whites, sometime streaked with pink or yellow but is mostly clear. Sperm love to live in this and can swim well in it. This will also leave a round wet mark in your underwear due to moisture content. It is also stretchy between the fingers – stretching up to a couple inches or more.

A typical pattern of fluid would go like this: Menstrual blood, dry, sticky, creamy, wet/egg white, dry or sticky, menstrual blood. Again – this is just an example and each woman will have her own pattern. After a cycle or two of charting, you will see your personal patterns. Occasionally a woman gets a last surge of fertile fluid just before menstruation. This is not another ovulation but rather a reaction to the drop in progesterone.

Cervical Position

This is the one sign of the three that is considered optional when charting. However, I would encourage you to try it. It really does help with charting (especially when your other signs do not seem to match up) and teaches you a lot about your body. It does take practice. My “favorite” way to check my cervix (in other words, the easiest) is to squat down all the way – bum on my ankles – and feel for the cervix. Your cervix is a small “bump” at the end of your vaginal canal or rather at the bottom of your uterus – it feels much like the end of your nose for most of your cycle, only with a dimple in the middle (the cervical os).

When you are not fertile, your cervix is low and firm and closed (keep in mind, those who have birthed children have a slightly open cervix for ever after in most cases). When you are fertile, the cervix moves up higher and becomes soft (like your lips) and opens a bit. It is also very wet when fertile as it puts out a lot of good fertile cervical fluid. To notice these changes, you need to check yourself each day in the same position. You will start to notice after a cycle or two what your normal fertile and infertile patterns are for your cervix.

An amazing site to look at is The Beautiful Cervix Project. This site has collections of photos of real cervices in all stages and ages. Being familiar – and comfortable – with what all portions of our body look like is an important part of embracing the whole woman, our whole self. This project is dedicated to helping with that.

Other Signs

Not every woman has these signs but they are worth charting if you have them. Midcycle spotting, pain or aches around the ovary area (note the side), increased libido, full or swollen vulva, bloating, increased energy, breast tenderness – all are rather common signs during the cycle. If you chart them, you may see a pattern. For instance, women who get midcycle spotting tend to find through charting that it occurs around ovulation. The pain in the ovary area has a name – mittelschmerz – and typically indicates the release of an egg.

Charting

I think the easiest way to explain charting as a whole is to show you a chart. I will add one of mine to illustrate.

Chart

This is one of my older charts. You can see the lower temperatures before ovulation. The “cross” is the day of ovulation. You see that my temp rose after ovulation and stayed above the “cover line” (the horizontal line) until shortly before the new cycle started. This cycle was 32 days with ovulation on day 2o and a 12 day luteal phase. The blue days are infertile days, the green days represent likely fertile days, and the orange/tan days are the luteal phase.

As you can see on my chart I have a few things that are not typical. First, I tend to have a few random days of fertile fluid before ovulation. I also have what is called a “slow rise” in my basal/waking temperatures. These are both a variation of normal and are normal for me. I am able to line up my typical cues of ovulation to know when I have ovulated – for instance I always get ovulation pain and chart it. This is (for me) a very reliable sign.

Sometimes you might not ovulate. This is called an annovulatory cycle. Most women have these from time to time for various reasons. Stress and illness are two big reasons. I once had a cycle that lasted 147 days – during which my husband and I were apart for my job. After we were under the same roof again, a new cycle started the same week and things went back to normal. Here is an example of an annovulatory cycle for me:

Annov. chart

As you can see, the signs are all over the place, and my temperatures never really get a pattern. I may have ovulated around day 34 or so, but no other signs confirmed that other than a slight rise in temperature.

Getting Started

For more information I highly suggest the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It really is an amazing resource and goes into full detail of how to chart and how your body works. I have simply given you the starting building blocks. There are several methods of charting fertility, but FAM (Fertility Awareness Method) as taught by TCOYF is my favorite. You can find classes in most major cities about fertility charting as well.

Fertility charting can be used both to help conceive, and to avoid conception. I have used it for both purposes.

When using to avoid pregnancy, and you understand it thoroughly and use it correctly every day, you have only a 2% chance of conceiving within a year. That is if you use condoms during the fertile phase (correctly) or abstain while fertile. [Condoms have a failure rate of around 2%.] If you use other barrier methods during your fertile time then your chances would be close to that of whatever barrier method you choose. Keep in mind that the failure rate and user failure rate are different, and you should research any barrier method you decide to use with FAM. Also, the user failure rate of NFP (Natural Family Planning – which includes multiple types of charting or fertility tracking) is anywhere from 2% to 20% depending on the study you look at. This is not the fault of the method, but rather the user. “Cheating” (not following the rules) is much less forgiving with NFP than it is with other types of birth control.

When using this method to achieve pregnancy it can be very helpful. First and foremost – you learn about your normal. The 28 day cycle and day 14 ovulation is probably the biggest myth of womanhood. That is a “clockwork” example and is simply not true for all women. In fact, you can have a 28 day cycle and still not ovulate on day 14. And as we learned – the egg is only viable for about 24 hours. If you miss the egg, you miss it – and thinking you ovulate on day 14 when you ovulate earlier or later can mean that you miss the egg again and again.

You also start to see your patterns. You notice when your cervical fluid changes and what the fertile period looks like for you. Past cycles do not dictate future cycles – BUT they can help you to get a good guess going of when to time intercourse to catch the egg. Another thing it does is alert you to issues. You would be able to see if you do not ovulate, or if you do not have fertile fluid when you need it. You can catch a short luteal phase (which means the fertilized egg may not have time to implant) and possible issues with progesterone. In other words – you can arm yourself with information and avoid some expensive and time consuming testing.

Please keep in mind that I have only given you the basics here – the building blocks. Now it is up to you to research and read or take a class. Please do not run with this small amount of information and use it to avoid pregnancy, and on the same hand – please don’t chart for fertility just based on what I have written here. My hope is to clear some myths, help you learn, and help you appreciate your body a bit more. Please feel free to post questions below and I will try to answer them as best I can. I am not an expert or teacher, but I have read and researched the subject extensively and used the method in both ways for several years.

A Mother Fights Through PPD After Induction and Cesarean Birth

A Mother Fights Through PPD After Induction and Cesarean Birth

{Editors Note: This story comes to us from a strong young mother. When our births take a turn we did not expect, it can effect how we feel as mothers and women. Postpartum Depression is real. Mothers – you are not alone. Seek support and help in the best way possible to help you heal.}

At nineteen, I found out I was pregnant. My boyfriend and I started talking about what to do. Adoption? Abortion? No, this lady was mine and I was in love with her (we found out at 20 weeks because I was still having periods, so I didn’t have to wait to find out gender!). The next few months felt like they took forever, with multiple complications in the mix.

At 39 weeks, I was induced because of hypertension. They started the pitocin, placed that ball [a Foley Bulb] in to get me started on dilating, and we were on a roll. At 3 am, they checked me, said I was at 5cm, and said that at the rate I was dilating, I should be pushing by dawn. For the next 14 hours, they kept checking with no progress.

They had maxed the pitocin to the highest it was allowed without direct doctors orders. I was contracting, hard. My daughter was stuck, there was no way she was coming out vaginally. At 20 years old, I felt like a failure. I felt like I couldn’t do what a mother should be able to do. As they wheeled me back to the operating room, I cried.

Not because I’d see my daughter soon, but because I didn’t get to experience what everyone else I had talked to got to experience. I hadn’t talked to anyone that had a c-section yet.

At 5:20 pm on May 3, 2012, my daughter Ameriellys was born. She was beautiful. It was wonderful. The hospital stay was fine, though I barely slept because they’d take my daughter to the nursery if I fell asleep at night with her (since I couldn’t move all that much to get her out of the bassinet or change her or anything).

First Moments

It wasn’t until I got home that I suddenly felt horrible. I was upset all the time. I was snapping at her father constantly. I cried every time I tried to breastfeed because I still hadn’t fully brought in milk, and I felt like it wasn’t going to work. I wanted to do nothing but sleep. I couldn’t do what a normal mother should be able to do because I had major surgery and could barely move.

I felt, again, like a complete failure because I needed help. I realized I had PPD. I tried to fake being happy, but everyone saw I was a wreck. I never went to counseling, I never went and got medication. Instead, I surrounded myself with my wonderful family and support system of friends and the massive family Ameri was born into, and day by day they slowly helped me realize that my daughter needed me.

I may not be perfect, but she loved me. She calmed down when I talked to her, she felt safe when I was near. I may have needed help, but no one became the perfect mother overnight, and every mom asks for help and needs support.

Mother and Daughter

She is currently almost 11 months old, and while I still am not perfect, I’m the perfect mother to her. I filled my time up by going back to school and starting work back up, which helps the 3 sets of grandparents see her because they get to watch her while I do that. Rather than allowing myself to fall back into that darkness, I pushed myself to go do things that I, and my daughter, would be proud of me for doing.

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