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My birth experience was traumatic—but I am slowly starting to heal

[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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Mom life demands efficiency. Because while the amount of hours in the day are the same as before kids, now a sizable chunk of that time is spent caring for and loving on those little people. Compromises happen—and let's just be honest, the old beauty routine is one of the first things to get cut.

But, wait! You don't have to sacrifice putting on mascara or, worse, skipping the SPF. Instead, why not flip it, reverse it, and look at the bright side? Here's your opportunity to streamline your morning makeup routine. With some savvy skin care and beauty hacks, you can get your radiant glow on in record time.

Here are our tried-and-true hacks passed down from Motherly mamas:

1. Embrace multipurpose items

If the most pressing issue is limited time, consolidate multiple steps of your beauty routine with a multipurpose item. For example, instead of starting with a SPF moisturizer, followed by spot concealer and a blendable foundation, you can take care of all of that in one go with one of our favorites: Earth Mama's 3-in-one Lady Face™ Tinted Mineral Sunscreen. The beauty stick also allows you to easily fold SPF 40 into your routine, because Lady Face doubles as super-safe, clean sun protection. Even better? The sunscreen blocks blue light from those ever-present digital screens with a ray-scattering, non-nano formula.

2. Revive dried mascara

Especially after a sleepless night (#motherhood), mascara can make a major difference in how well rested you appear to be. If you realize your tube of mascara is dried out, don't write it off as a lost cause. Simply soak the sealed tube in warm water to loosen up the mascara — or add a drop of a multi-purpose saline solution into the tube. That should do the trick until you have time to buy a replacement. (But let's face it: You're a mom. It's okay if you're tired.)

3. Keep coconut oil handy

Coconut oil isn't just for the kitchen. From a DIY hair mask to an in-a-pinch lip balm or naturally removing makeup at the end of the day, coconut oil's cosmetic hack-list is long. For summer, we especially like adding a thin swipe of organic extra virgin coconut oil to the cheekbones at the end of the makeup routine for a bit of an extra glow.

4. Multitask while deep conditioning

If your hair needs a bit of TLC, consider applying a natural, paraben-free deep conditioner before doing chores around the house or even a short workout. By working up a bit of a sweat, the conditioner will set even better before you rinse off in the shower.

5. Start your hair care routine the night before

As you work to find your new normal morning routine, it can help to simply reschedule a task or two—like hair. If you shower the night before, get a jumpstart on your look by blowdrying, straightening or even braiding it for loose waves in the morning.

6. Even out your skin tone

Between multiple wake-ups during the night and wavering hormones, complexion issues can become a thing for most mamas. Thankfully, the hack for managing that is as simple as finding a great foundation that goes on smoothly and doesn't cake or crack through a morning of momming. Scope out the ingredient list for naturally nourishing components like coconut oil, shea butter or beeswax — and skip the stress (and the return process if the shade doesn't match) by going for something that easily blends with most skin tones.

7. Find brands your feel great about

As a mom, you might find yourself considering bigger life questions: Are my cosmetics safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding? Are they helping the world my children will grow up in? Can I trust the ingredients and mission? Pro tip: read the ingredients on all your personal care products, memorize the ones you want to avoid, and look for third-party certification to ensure the product is actually what it says it is. When you find a brand that walks the talk, you're going to want to be loyal.

8. When in doubt, go for a bold lip

With happy hours swapped for play dates, your daily routine may look a bit different than it used to. But who says you have to leave your personal style behind? If you've always been a fan of makeup and going a bit glam, keep going for it, mama! The extra 60 seconds it takes to apply lipstick or whatever else gives you a bit of pep in your step is well worth it.


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

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