What About When Things Don’t Go Well…

The more I read this book, Push Back by Amy Tuteur, MD, the more I wonder where the moms who haven’t had a good experience with birth, breastfeeding, postpartum depression, and such are. There is so much of a huge focus on the births that go well, the breastfeeding that goes well, and yet the moms who are buried beneath PTSD symptoms from a traumatic birth or “failed” breastfeeding get pushed under the rug.

I had a midwife appointment this past week, and had specifically requested the appointment be with one of the midwives who is also a lactation consultant. I wanted to ask her if she had any advice as to how to prepare for pumping as little bear will most likely not be able to nurse right away. She didn’t have very many tips for me, but she didn’t make me feel bad when I said I was still preparing to possibly not be able to breastfeed. I had a fairly difficult experience with Little Monkey. Sure, I did manage to breastfeed him for 15 months before he weaned himself. But those were hellish 15 months. I developed a nursing aversion in the beginning (like within a week of him being born) that included intense nausea and almost panic attack levels of anxiety every time my milk let down. He was also the kind of baby, and still is that kind of toddler, who absolutely refuses to eat unless he is hungry. This meant a lot of frustrated nursing sessions because I was engorged but he wasn’t ready to eat. Then add in severe back spasms (thanks to an un-diagnosed gallbladder issue) and I couldn’t nurse without severe back pain unless I had good back support. But I kept going, I refused to consider stopping because I was fed that constant narrative that “breast is best.”

Here’s what I want to make clear – yes, breast may be a bit better than formula, but for those of us who live in a first world country with access to good health care, good formula, and who actually get the CHOICE to breastfeed or not, breastfeeding doesn’t trump formula. Feeding your child formula isn’t going to destroy them for life. But there are many narratives that dominate the parenthood/motherhood arena of life that have been set up to make mothers who can’t or choose not to breastfeed feel severely guilty or ashamed. I would be willing to say that I continued breastfeeding Little Monkey to MY detriment. I struggled with a lot of postpartum depression and anxiety for months alongside the difficult breastfeeding. No one told me that it would be okay if I wasn’t able to continue breastfeeding. I cried the day he weaned himself. I didn’t cry because I “lost a bond” I cried from relief. But I had continued because I told myself that Little Monkey and I would lose our bond if I stopped.

This isn’t true though. Just because I fed my child from my breast doesn’t mean our bond wouldn’t have been any different than if I had fed him with a bottle. Think of the adoptive moms, and how they bond with their children while NOT being able to nurse them. That mother/child bond is not dependent on how you feed your child, or how you deliver your child into this world. It is, however, solely based on how much you take care of them. Are you there to make sure they feel safe and can rely on you to be there for them? Are you there to make sure their tummies are full and they have a comfortable place to sleep?

As I am mentally preparing for the possibility of not being able to breastfeed little bear, I am having to fight a HUGE inner battle against self-inflicted shame that that’s not doing what’s best for my baby. Logically I know that I’m going to do what is best for little bear, but holy crap, the shame and guilt I’m having to fight. It’s not good. Granted, I am in a slightly different situation with little bear’s condition. With his probable neurogenic bowel/bladder, breast milk is something that would/could greatly help him. There are options of using donor milk, but my goal is to make sure that if my body simply does not want to participate, then I want to take the shame off me and let him eat formula without any extra guilt on me. This whole pregnancy is teaching me the great importance of making the best decisions for my child AND me regardless of what the culture around me is trying to pressure me to do.

So what happens when it doesn’t go well? Nothing should happen. Nothing being no shaming, no guilt tripping, no making struggling mamas feel bad for not doing such n such. We should instead be supporting mamas for making the best decisions for themselves AND their babies. Did you notice that? I said “…making the best decisions for THEMSELVES.” Too much of the parenthood/motherhood culture builds a cage around mothers making it difficult for them to get the care they need. With postpartum depression on the rise, more mothers losing their lives to that and anxiety, we need to be more aware of helping mothers take care of themselves. Thanks to my amazing therapist, I had the tools to be able to take steps back from being Little Monkey’s mama multiple times because I felt like I was losing myself and losing my mind.

I want to see the narrative change. I want to see mothers hear that having a c-section is okay, that having pain meds during labor is okay, that not being able to or choosing not to breastfeed is okay. We already hear that natural birth is okay, in fact it’s so prevalent that that’s the loudest voice we hear. Hearing that breast is best is also such a loud voice that we don’t hear that not being able to or choosing not to is also okay. While there is nothing wrong with natural birth, I just want to see those advocates support and lift up the mamas who can’t have a natural birth or hey, guess what, choose not to!! No mama is any less or any more for how they bring their children into the world. Nor are they any less or any more for how they provide for their children. The thing that matters is how present you are for that child. How are you going to raise your child? That’s the more important question. Birth, breastfeeding, those are only a drop in the bucket of a child’s life.

 

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Planned vs. Natural

I’ll admit Pinterest is my go to thing for when I need to do something mindless. It’s the place I actually do a lot of research, collect recipes, and ideas for my makeup blog. It is the place I have my boards full of hundreds of pins specifically about birth, pregnancy, child care, toddlerhood, and the like. When I was pregnant with Little Monkey, I had a secret pregnancy board and collected a lot of various articles that actually helped me prepare for his birth and nursing afterwards and taking care of a new born. With little bear, I knew what I wanted to learn specifically about for his birth. I was in the middle of researching specific natural birth techniques when we got the news. While I do not have any problem with having a planned c-section, it is very different from planning for a (hoped for) natural birth. Because of this, Pinterest has suddenly become a sort of unsafe place for me as it keeps reminding me of the other pins I have pinned regarding natural birth.

But here’s one thing I didn’t expect to have trouble with. There is almost none to little research or resources for mamas preparing for a c-section. Yes, while I know it is an actual surgery, and there isn’t much one can do to prepare for it, I find this frustrating. I am a planner, researcher, I dig to find information about specific things. I zero in on a part of a plan, I try my best to understand the most I can about specific things. I don’t just randomly and blindly research, I am very particular. So when this shift came, I am felt thoroughly lost because I no longer have something to plant me feet on. I do yoga several times a week (or try to, this fatigue is killing me now!) and part of that routine has included hip opening poses and squats. All in preparation for labor and delivery. But do I keep doing those poses now? Do I keep working on keeping my hips strong and using an exercise ball in the comings week to open my pelvis?

With so many things up in the air and theoretical right now, I need the practical to rest on. Make sense? It isn’t helpful to hear I just basically sit and wait for the c-section. “It’s not that big of a deal.” Sure, maybe not, but I’m not even allowed the luxury (not really) of going into natural labor. I don’t get to put to use all of the things I learned from Little Monkey’s birth, I don’t get to chose. While the predictability of a planned c-section is very helpful for making sure Little Monkey will be taken care of, it’s the so now what that gets me. I can only handle so much unknown. I can hold it together if I have practical things to do between now and when little bear is born.

So through the research I have found, which is pretty much nothing, the only thing I can possibly do to physically prepare for the c-section are gentle core exercises. The examples I’ve found are specifically for pregnant mamas and yes this is something I can practically do, it’s maybe not enough. I have my list of what to pack in my hospital bag for the c-section AND for the NICU stay, but what else can I do? I asked one of the midwives I see, and even she couldn’t give me advice or resources of what to do. There are plenty of articles and resources and advice for what to do AFTER a c-section, but once again, nothing for what to do beforehand.

I had abdominal surgery almost a year ago to remove my gallbladder, so at least I have some idea of what to expect post c-section. However, this still doesn’t feel like enough for me to hold on to. I’ll post more once I am able to put some sort of game plan together! And I will share my list for my hospital bag when as well.

A Shifting Perspective

At the beginning of this pregnancy, I had this intense feeling that this pregnancy would be hard. I didn’t know what that would look like, but I just knew it would be a lot harder than Little Monkey’s. Sure enough, I hit 6 weeks, and HELLLLOOO nausea. That lasted, well, I’m still dealing with random nausea off and on and I’m 26 weeks today. Then at 16 weeks, I started bleeding from a placenta previa, which meant low activity levels for several weeks to give it a chance to shift. By 20 weeks, placenta previa was no longer an issue, but instead we were facing an entirely new set of difficulties.

My little bear has Spina Bifida, and that meant and entirely new perspective on this pregnancy. I went from preparing for what I had hoped would be a natural birth, working with midwives, a doula, to now a planned c-section at Children’s hospital, where my little bear will be taken directly to the NICU upon delivery. While I don’t have any issues with having a c-section, it’s the whole major shifting of what to expect with this pregnancy. Instead of going in for regular midwife appointments, I’ve had more ultrasounds than I can count, a fetal MRI, blood tests, an amniocentesis done, and there are still more tests and ultrasounds coming before he’s born. I am now the 1 in 1000 who’s baby has a serious condition. This has been hard, really hard with watching so many other friends around me carrying and delivering healthy babies. Babies they get to take home after 24-48 hours. Babies they get to snuggle and hold tight within seconds of being born. Babies who are whole, healthy, and dare I say, normal?

Sure, some days are a lot worse than others. Some days are actually okay days and I feel like I can manage without feeling like I’m drowning. The hardest part isn’t that I don’t think we’ll be able to do this, no that’s not it. I know we’re really going to be okay. Phil and I are in this together, we have a lot of support already, and I have the resources I need from moms who have gone before me in this specific journey. But there is a part of all of this that makes me feel very frustrated. I know there are other mamas out there who have gotten this same terrifying diagnoses. I know there are other mamas who have and will stand anxiously besides that NICU crib watching their newborn. We live in a culture that tries to silence the difficult. We live in a culture full of people who don’t want to face the hard, tearful stories of those who don’t have the same stories. Because of the culture we live in, I want to break the silence and really talk about what this has been like and what it’s going to be like finding out my son has a serious condition.

My depression has been hard over the past month. I already have an underlying depression that while I can manage it quite well, peaks every so often. With this whole shift in my pregnancy, well, let’s just say this is the highest it’s peaked in a long time. I have coping techniques, but when combined with the approaching third trimester fatigue, feeling like I’m drowning under the constant inflow of information, it’s been a bit much. The story of my life has never fit inside the “normal” box. I do not fit norms. I never have. And with this pregnancy, it is once again on the outside of those norms. When mentioning this to my mentor, her response was to tell me that maybe I’m supposed to go against the norms in order to create new norms. So maybe that’s my job in this life. That’s what I’m called to do.

I’m hoping over the coming months as I start to prepare for the planned c-section and the following who-knows-how-long NICU stay, I will be able to share things that are helping me. For now, I am clinging to movement little bear has in the womb, and the fact that I already feel a deep, strong connection to him. I still have days where I wake up and hope this is all a dream, but it isn’t, and I will face whatever may come.