When Krista asked me to write about my life as a woman I was thrilled to share some of my experiences as a new mom, since that is the most salient female experience I have ever known. As a new mom, I’ve developed a disdain for the overly mushy and sentimental birth and infancy stories that abound…because while those may be some people’s experience, it sets other’s up to question everything about what they are doing. It’s the runway supermodel equivalent to motherhood. Yes- runway supermodels do exist and they are people with feelings too, but we cannot all be runway supermodels. I’ve read a couple of interesting articles recently that have attempted to normalize the vast experiences of becoming and being a new mother, so that is what I hope to contribute today…another not so perfect, but wonderful in it’s own way experience. I want to share the things that I didn’t expect and all of the goals I had to let go of during our experience.
Our son’s due date was 10 days before Thanksgiving, and he had no intention of coming out it seemed. In the end we began our birth experience a week after his due date and we brought him home on Thanksgiving Day to a houseful of friends and family and food! Because our doctors are uncomfortable with allowing a woman to stay pregnant more than a week past her due date, we ended up checking into the hospital the night before we were 1 week past due.
One of the things about pregnancy that I didn’t expect was the insomnia that would come and go. Saturday night before our induction was to start I was only able to sleep about 4 hours due to pelvic pain and anticipation. Sunday evening we checked into the hospital for some pre-induction procedures (apparently the cervix has to thin before they can start induction so they give you a medication to work overnight while you sleep – so scratch the medication free birth). Typically that medication won’t trigger labor, but the doctor said it was our best shot at avoiding pitocin. About an hour after the medication was given, I got my wish…I began having contraction and went into labor around 7pm on about 4 hours of sleep.
I didn’t expect how utterly unprepared for the pain I was despite my best efforts at preparation. Several times I found myself throwing up because the pain was so overwhelming. It was hard to let go of my goals to shower, stretch, and walk through the contractions. I remember telling my husband “this is so much worse than I could have ever imagined”. I had heard other people say that they had wanted so desperately to go home in the middle of their labor experiences, which never made sense to me. However, in the middle of the night with contractions coming about every 2-3 minutes apart I was mentally talking myself out of begging my husband to take me home, because at home there was no pain. Monday morning, having only slept 4 hours since Saturday morning, labor fatigue and exhaustion got the best of me and I nearly fell off of the birthing ball between contractions because I had fallen asleep. Realizing I still had a ways to go, I blotted another goal off of my list and requested the epidural. I’m not going to lie…it was great and just what I needed. I fell asleep for a couple of hours and when I woke up it was time to push. When we arrived at the hospital my son was at “zero station”. After two hours of hard pushing, we were still at “zero station”. My doctor advised us to consider a c-section because he wasn’t budging, but I wasn’t ready to give up the goal of natural birth so I negotiated for another 30 minutes.
As a side note, pushing is a very strange experience. I didn’t expect it to be like the t.v. shows, but it is so utterly different, at least when you have an epidural anyways. The pushing part is about the same, but what they don’t show are the couple of minutes in between where you are catching your breath and everyone is standing around making awkward small talk (“so where did you go to school”, “I saw there was a 13 pound baby born here last month” etc.). Very surreal, it felt like a bad sitcom where people are standing around whistling and trying look anywhere but at the main attraction!
Thirty minutes can go by very fast and at the end of it we ended up on our way to the operating room due to concerns that our son wasn’t able to fit through the birth canal. I find myself questioning that based on all of the natural-birth literature I have read, but in the end our little man was dead set against coming out, so we scratched the natural birth from the goal list and down the hall we went. They don’t show you on t.v. how having c-section medications makes you nauseous and causes you to itch for days. They don’t tell how it so cold in there and your body goes into shock so your hands are flopping around on the table like a fish out of water.
Hearing my son cry for the first time was amazing, but I hated not being able to see him until he was 5 minutes-old. I didn’t like that my husband got to hold him first while I was being put back together. Talking with my husband later we both agreed that after the first cry, the whole experience was surreal and not the ‘skies parting, angels singing’ moment we had expected becoming parents would be (it took me a while to realize that this was another goal I had to mourn). It was incredible to hold him for the first time, but not the widely touted “it changed my life forever” moment I hear told about often. It was more on the level of “wow, this is really cool and he’s really cute”. I have found myself thinking, it’s like I was in a post-traumatic haze, a good trauma, but kind of like everything is going on around you and you are standing still in the middle of it.
I thought that after his birth, I could get back on track with my goals…but the one consistency in my birth experience had been that nothing went as I had planned. I didn’t expect that we would be at home before I would change my son’s diaper because of difficulty bending over with the incision. I also didn’t expect the shear joy that being able to take my first shower after his birth would be…it’s gotta be in the top 5 shower’s of all time so far! I didn’t expect how difficult nursing would be initially. Our son had difficulty latching in the hospital. At one point he had wanted to nurse for 5 out of 6 hours overnight and with significant breast tenderness and more exhaustion setting in I crossed the “no pacifiers” goal off of the list and begged the nursery to give him a binky. Turns out that because our son was a bigger baby (8lb 13 oz) he was just really hungry and the binky didn’t work. We were advised to give him a bottle until my milk came in due to his dehydration and so we crossed another goal off of the list – exclusive breast feeding. Eventually my milk did come in and he began nursing well.
When my son was 10 days old, I woke up and felt like I was dying, but I wasn’t sure how or where but everything hurt. It turns out that due to all the difficulty with nursing initially, I had developed a severe breast infection, which I would keep with me for 7 weeks through 5 different courses of antibiotics. Initially this caused more difficulty nursing due to the swelling, my son would become so angry and frustrated at not being able to latch easily that he would have melt-downs at each feeding. Towards the end of my infection the swelling had gone down, but his feeding-time only meltdowns continued. It was then that we realized that he wasn’t just having latch issues, but he also had significant acid reflux issues. I felt horrible thinking that he had been having pain from eating rather than frustrations with latching for several weeks.
Now my son is 14 weeks old, incredibly chunky, and he nurses well. His medication for reflux has helped significantly, he is spitting up less and less, and I’m wondering what will be the next goal I have to cut from my list. I’ve stubbornly held onto the desire to cloth diaper and we are making it about 50-75% of the time. This week he has begun sleeping through the entire night, 10-7 and when I wake to find him still sleeping there are no ‘hallelujah’ choruses playing. In fact I find myself thinking…I really wish he had woken up a few hours ago because the girls feel like they are going to explode.
One thing I didn’t expect was how utterly foreign the girls were to me after he was born, they’ve been with me my whole life and yet it was like we had just met! There were many things I didn’t expect (and I thought I was well prepared). After I knew he was doing better with his reflux, I didn’t expect how easy it would be to laugh when he gets mad sometimes. I didn’t expect that trying to nurse, let the dog out, and turn the oven off at the same time would lead to a total mommy melt-down. I didn’t expect that it would be so easy to put him in his swing and do some housework; I thought I’d want to sit and hold him all day. I didn’t expect to be peed on and puked on so much. I didn’t expect how drastically my standards of personal cleanliness would change (oh it’s just a little spit up, who cares). I didn’t expect how much my scar would bother me; it itches and feels strange still. I didn’t expect that going back to work would allow me to have more energy during the day, but I also didn’t expect that I’d miss him so much. I didn’t expect that him laughing or playing with his daddy would make me so unbelievably happy and make all of those difficult first two months seem like a distant memory. I didn’t expect that despite everything, within a few weeks of his birth, I found myself thinking…that wasn’t so bad really, I could totally do it again…
Andi Reffett has a Psychology Doctorate from Wheaton College and currently works as a therapist for Heartland Counseling, Inc. She enjoys working with children, adolescents and their families on many different issues including behavior, school, family relationships, self-esteem, anxiety, and social coping. She is also trained in and has a strong passion for working with children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Andi is married to Todd Reffett and they recently had their first child, Owen. I was privileged to have Andi as my supervisor at my internship with Heartland Counseling in Elburn, IL.