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[Trigger warning: This essay describes one woman's emotional journey with a traumatic birth experience.]

My arms are filled with blessing and my lungs are filled with air. But my eyes are drawn to my heart, which is shattered into pieces. Shattered because what was expected to be a sweet day of welcoming our second baby girl into the world turned into the scariest day of our lives.

After a straightforward delivery, I was blindsided by unexpected massive blood loss stemming from a clotting complication. I almost lost my life in an operating room. My family almost fell apart because mama almost didn't make it. My husband almost lost his wife and my girls almost lost their mother. And while everything turned out okay in the end, my heart was left with a grief that is really hard to understand.

You would think almost dying would make me grateful for living—but it left me stunned and incredibly sad. I had no idea that I held so many unconscious expectations on how that day would go—and they all seemed pretty reasonable.

This was my second pregnancy, I was in good shape, and I already had one uncomplicated labor and delivery. How could anything go wrong?

But when those expectations were smashed on the ground, it knocked the wind out of me. And the dust that rose from the rumble formed this dark cloud over me, around me. It settled like a shadowy fog over my thoughts and my mind.

For weeks after, I couldn't stop thinking about how "it wasn't supposed to be this way."

I wasn't supposed to only hold my newborn baby for 15 minutes before being rushed into an OR for six hours. I wasn't supposed to drain blood like a broken dam until the point just before death. My blood wasn't supposed to stop clotting correctly. I wasn't supposed to wake up in a recovery room with an oxygen mask and 14 different tubes and monitors in and on me.

My husband wasn't supposed to wait in a room for hours to hear if his wife would live or not. My baby wasn't supposed to spend her first day of life in a hospital nursery, being held by nurses instead of by me.

I remember staring at the operating room ceiling, unable to move, as doctors and nurses swarmed around me. At that point, I had no idea what was going on. All I knew is that I felt like I was coming unplugged from my own body. I started to pray—telling God that I was scared, that I wanted to live so I could raise my babies.

God graciously answered my prayers that day: My babies are healthy, my family is still together. After mustering the courage to ask a doctor if he would tell my husband that I love him, in case I didn't get to tell him ever again—I am alive, I have survived.

But my heart is grieving the "almost"—what it almost lost. I almost missed this. I almost lost my family. I almost lost my life. That's all I could think about for weeks. Those thoughts would echo as I nursed my newborn, as I saw my 3-year-old come joyfully running when I picked her up from school, as my husband and I would cuddle up in bed.

I felt confused by how devastating "almost" could feel. And I felt ashamed for struggling at all—because the reality was—it all turned out okay. What was there to grieve?

"At least you have a healthy baby girl!" was a phrase I heard a lot in the first few days. Each time I heard it, it stung. Because she and her sister almost didn't have their mama. Almost.

There was an ocean of tears in between what happened and the happy ending—and to ignore that ocean made me feel like I was drowning.

It took me the better part of two months to realize my heart was grieving what it did lose. There was no "almost." We grieve what we've lost—and I had lost a lot of precious moments.

I did lose memories that were supposed to happen and plans that didn't get to be. I had lost a safe and uncomplicated delivery. I lost spending the day with my baby on her birthday. I lost the chance to spend those first precious hours alone with my husband and our newborn, soaking in her features. I lost the chance to introduce her to her sister, her grandparents. I lost so much blood that it took months to get my energy back to normal.

I lost the illusion that death was a distant event because I was unexpectedly thrown into the valley of its shadow. I lost the illusion that I would always be there for my girls, that I would share my life with my husband until a ripe old age.

An entire village of people was gracious and brave enough to enter into this pain with me—my husband, mom, doctor and a few close friends. They gave me permission over and over again to feel whatever emotions presented themselves in the days and weeks that followed.

They reminded me that what I went through was, in fact, traumatic when I was tempted to brush it off. They pointed to hope when I couldn't see it for myself. Sometimes I cried for much of the day, other times I was so numb (and tired) that I binged watched TV for hours while nursing my newborn.

A dear friend sent me a message early on that has been the encouragement I have clung to when I'm tempted to rush my recovery: "I'm certain the gloominess will lift, just as the fog always does, but you're right in the thick of it. And I don't think you need to feel the need to lift the fog yourself. Let it sit there. Let it be lifted by faith.."

Sure enough, I started to feel gratitude for different moments of that day. I have started making peace with what happened. I've realized that life after a traumatic birth means you live in the tension of two massively conflicting realities: Grief and joy. Fear and relief. Sorrow and delight. I no longer have the illusion tomorrow is guaranteed. But that's all it was—an illusion.

So I snuggle both of my babies a little closer and hug my husband a little tighter, trusting that the fog isn't forever. I thank God for details and memories that did take place that day, trusting that healing will come. I try not to take a single moment of this life for granted. And I lean into grief when her currents rush over me, knowing that swimming with them is the only way to get to shore.

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

This article was sponsored by Kinder. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


Our Partners

Starting this weekend Target will be limiting the number of people allowed in its stores to give shoppers and staff more space to spread out and adhere to social distancing recommendations during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Beginning April 4, Target will actively monitor and, when needed, limit the total number of people inside based on the store's specific square footage," the company notes in a news release.

You'll also notice staff wearing gloves and masks over the next two weeks as the company steps up its coronavirus protection measures.

Many people are choosing to stay home and order groceries online, but that's not an option for everyone as long lines at some Target's prove.

FEATURED VIDEO

"We're incredibly proud of the commitment our more than 350,000 frontline team members have demonstrated to ensure millions of guests can count on Target, and we'll continue to focus our efforts on supporting them," says Target's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, John Mulligan.

Target is open this weekend but—along with Costco, Aldi, Publix and Trader Joe's—Target stores will be closed on Easter Sunday to give the essential employees in these stores a much-deserved break.

I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."

FEATURED VIDEO

According to attachment theory, when you respond to the needs of your child, a strong bond is formed and woven into their personality, serving as a basis for all future emotional ties. So your kids love and depend on you. And they can feel anxious when involuntarily separated from you, like when you are asleep.

Child psychologist Esther Cohen suggests that it is fairly universal that infants and toddlers try to open the eyes of their sleeping parents. Her theory is that when you are present, but with your eyes shut, you are not responsive, and on some level this causes your child a form of "emotional distress." So the best and easiest way for them to feel better is to wake you up.

Cohen believes that reestablishing eye contact bridges the gap between your physical presence and your emotional presence, making the situation feel normal again. Your kids are relieved that you are alert and there to interact with them—and that you are available to protect them.

Kids are hardwired to seek our attention all the time.

At birth, your brain is only about 25% of its adult volume. Born particularly vulnerable, you depend on years of loving care. This prolonged helplessness has resulted in the evolution of certain behaviors—like baby coos, smiles and crying—that increase your odds of survival within your family.

By the toddler age, they've developed a sense of who you are and what you can do in relation to people, and realize when they are separate from their parents. Toddlers also have what's called object permanence—they can understand who or what is, or is not, present. That means they'll search for objects and people. (And wake you up when they find you.)

Bottom line: When you sneak off for a nap and your toddler looks for you, know that this is a natural instinct for them, and they will grow out of it. But for now, when you are asleep, you are not there, so your kids must. wake. you. up.

And for an extra fun fact: Research indicates that this also could be why it's so hard for you to ignore your partner when working from home. They are there, but technically not available, so you

continually find reasons to interact with them—just like waking them up from a nap. 😉
Life

Navigating family dynamics during or after a divorce is already a tremendous challenge. Throw a highly transmittable virus and a global pandemic into the mix, and many parents will be left with more questions than answers. Matters of custody, financial stability and mental and emotional health take on new significance—and new challenges—under these circumstances. But you can do it, mama.

As a divorce attorney, I've worked with numerous families during these past weeks, in various stages of the divorce process, all of whom are learning to navigate and negotiate unfamiliar dynamics created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are my tips for co-parenting in the context of COVID-19.

1. Show children that you are calm.

Parents know better than anyone how perceptive children are. Even so, we often forget how our moods and anxieties can unintentionally affect our children. To keep the calm in the household, let children see things are under control: Ensure that potential disagreements with your co-parent are kept in conversations between the two of you (not in front of the kids), and give yourself time and space to manage your own stress and anxiety. Stressed children mean stressed parents—and the principle applies in reverse as well.

FEATURED VIDEO

2. Be transparent with your co-parent.

Communicate as openly and honestly as possible with your co-parent about yourself and your children. Keep your co-parent updated about you and your children's location, home education and health (physical and emotional). It is critical that, in the case of an emergency and in everyday life, both parents be fully aware and in sync regarding children's whereabouts and welfare. Transparency breeds trust; secrets breed mistrust and animosity.

3. Keep your rules.

Because this moment feels so uncertain and some of our regular norms have fallen by the wayside, there can be a tendency to let other household rules start to slide. Make sure everyone remembers their responsibilities within the family.

School might be at the kitchen table now, but having children make their beds, get dressed and brush their teeth in the morning helps maintain a sense of normalcy that can be helpful for children when things seem tumultuous. Maintain chore schedules, eat dinner together and continue to follow rituals and rules that remind children (and parents) of the responsibilities we have.

4. Consult your health care provider when disagreements arise.

If you disagree on social distancing measures, I usually advise both parents to telephone their child's pediatrician or health care provider and agree ahead of time to follow their advice. Parents can also consult the CDC measures and agree to follow those protocols. Educating your co-parent can be the most helpful thing to do now.

If you are divorced and work with a parenting coordinator, they may also be a helpful resource. If not, a third party, like a mutually trusted friend or relative can serve as an impartial mediator to help you come to a reasonable agreement.

5. Maintain boundaries.

For parents and children in this time, it is important to maintain a degree of personal space. Many of us have been directed to self-quarantine, and isolation is not easy. The nationwide efforts to keep us apart in order to contain the virus have put many of us in closer contact with those around us than we may be accustomed to.

Constant shared space and time can certainly introduce new stress into an already tense environment. While these small measures may not seem significant, taking time to yourself to be alone—even just in a separate room—can be healthy and good for group morale. Take a walk, do some yoga, whatever it looks like, take care of yourself as a parent right now.

Be flexible with your co-parent.

Flexibility, transparency and reasonableness need to be at the forefront of all decisions. Remember that this is an unprecedented situation, and it calls for flexibility, especially in scheduling.

Both sides need to be reasonable if someone becomes ill, of course. If your co-parent can't travel due to illness, then you need to be understanding about this issue and work with them to provide makeup time for the future. But the situation also calls for transparency by the parent who is sick. That parent should provide the information necessary to make the co-parent feel comfortable that they have appropriate resources and are taking proper precautions to keep children and adults safe and healthy.

Plan ahead.

While immediate concerns may be taking center stage right now, planning for the future has never been more crucial. Make time to sit down with your current or ex-spouse and take stock of your respective finances, your job security and your co-parenting schedule management as soon as possible, and create a plan (and a backup plan) for going forward. Though it may not be comfortable, transparency with your current or ex-spouse is essential.

Be smart, plan ahead and above all, stay safe.

Love + Village

As a mom of three and former social worker working for many years in the fields of adoption, Sara Ester of Sara Liz Photography knows firsthand the importance of family time. When she learned that families all over the country are self-isolating due to the coronavirus outbreak, she knew it was the perfect time to capitalize on moments of connections. Her mission was simple: promote family time to ease stress and promote happiness.

Liz reached out to dozens of families on social media asking if they would like to be photographed on their porch for a "Front Porch Session" and the responses were huge.

FEATURED VIDEO

Photo by: Sara Liz Photography

"Amid all the COVID-19 stuff going on I asked if families would be interested in a quick five-minute session on their front porches to document what a crazy experience it has been to be quarantined at home," Ester told Popsugar. "The people participating ran with it! So many families made funny or encouraging signs, showed up in their pajamas or yoga pants, and just really embraced the whole 'quarantine chic' idea. It was really reaffirming to see how everyone is in the same boat. We're all just trying to do the best we can with a crappy situation!"


Photo by: Sara Liz Photography

We're living in perilous times and it's nice to see families using the lockdown as an opportunity to bond. After all, it doesn't matter how big or small your house is, it's the love inside that counts.

Photo by: Sara Liz Photography


"Photography, specifically documentary photography is a big part of how I see and function in the world a lot of the time," Ester shared in an Instagram post. With everything being so overwhelming the last week or so, it has helped me to also keep in mind that what we are dealing with is historical."

News
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