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Cassandra on surviving a traumatic birth followed by PPD during a pandemic

mom holding her baby-essay on mom surviving a traumatic birth

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

My baby and I almost died during the birth. It was a pretty traumatic birth, especially for a first time mom who didn’t know what to expect.

Three days of labor and three days of excruciating pain before the hospital decided to admit me for the birth, because I wasn’t dilated enough. All this culminating to a placental abruption and me bleeding out. Baby’s heart rate was was decelerating so much, it was at less than half the normal, and she wasn’t getting enough oxygen. She was delivered by emergency c-section, in which she needed a blood transfusion.

I was alone for the first three nights with baby at the hospital. My husband wasn’t able to take his paternity leave right away, so after a traumatic birth, I was left alone at night. I had trouble with the latch at first, so my baby was crying all night. And the visitors. They wouldn’t stop.

Related: When I tell you about my difficult birth, here’s what I need you to do

Although their intentions were good, they kept coming, leaving me no time to rest. A sleepless 72 hours (because of the painful labor) turned into a sleepless 6 days before I finally got home to get some sleep. But a restful sleep never really came, because my baby was not a “good sleeper.”

She woke often. I couldn’t get the latch right and it was painful. The visitors wouldn’t stop coming, telling me all that I was doing wrong and giving unsolicited advice.

I was in pain from my c-section, but still had to get out of bed to entertain guests every day. My incision got infected, the bleeding lasted longer than it should, and the breastfeeding wasn’t getting any better, I still wasn’t sleeping for more than 3 hours per day. And that’s when the fear started settling in.

Related: True life: There was SO much about breastfeeding I didn’t know

I was afraid to leave the apartment. I was scared something bad would happen to my baby. I was afraid to let people touch her or kiss her, because she didn’t have any vaccinations yet and she was more susceptible to illness. I was afraid to let smokers near her because smoking increases the risk of SIDS. I’d wake up every 30 minutes to make sure she was still breathing.

I almost lost her during the birth. I couldn’t lose her now. And then I started to have these dark thoughts. I was an unfit mother. My baby cried all the time. Maybe I was unfit for motherhood. Maybe I made a mistake having a baby. Don’t get me wrong, I had all of these thoughts because I loved her with every fiber of my being, but I thought she deserved better than the life I was giving her, better than ME.

The visitors kept disrespecting my husband and my boundaries. I felt unsafe in my own home. I sought help for the breastfeeding, because at this point my nipples were raw and misshaped because of the incorrect latch. I was getting vasospasms and it was painful.

Related: 10 crucial rules for visiting a newborn

It took 3 months for the breastfeeding to get easier. But at this point I was a wreck. I felt so alone but so afraid of people. Getting out of the apartment was terrifying and overwhelming. I was crying all the time. My husband and I were fighting constantly. He didn’t understand me. The day I thought “I want to die. I don’t want to do this anymore,” is the day I knew I needed help.

I reached out to a nurse who specializes in prenatal/postpartum classes and coaching. She helped me to get assessed by my GP. I had postpartum depression. This was 6 months after having given birth. I thought all I had felt was normal, that motherhood was supposed to be hard.

So I started what needed to be done to help dealing with birth trauma. I distanced myself from those that were disrespecting our boundaries, I started therapy, and my GP put me on Zoloft.

Related: Therapy made me a better mom—and wife

We decided to move, because our noisy old apartment building was part of the cause of all of the sleepless nights (the sound of the elevator and the neighbours kept waking baby up). And then COVID-19 hit.

I, a hypochondriac/germophobe with PPD had to move and care for my 6-month daughter in the middle of a pandemic. I started spiraling even more. I never left our new apartment, I was scared of the virus. Not for myself, but for my daughter. If I got sick, who would care for her?

She’s a very attached child, who contact slept and napped, who needed to nurse to sleep, who was prone to breath-holding spells when she couldn’t regulate her emotions. How would she fare without me if I got sick? And even worse–what if she got sick?

Related: Sleep like a baby: Your expert guide to 12 months of rest

My husband was out of work because he was a personal trainer (gyms were closed), I was on maternity leave (55% of my income), we had just moved and bought new furniture and a bigger car for the baby. Now we had financial issues on top of everything else. It felt like I was drowning.

My baby’s birthday was in July. She turned one and it feels like everything started clicking into place. She was sleeping longer stretches, so I was sleeping more. My GP and I finally got my dosage right. The skills I had been learning in therapy were finally helping. I quit my job at the end of my mat leave. I had been unhappy there for years and the fear of returning and leaving my daughter had been eating at me.

I found a new job, one day per week, in a school where I’m finally respected for the professional that I am. My husband is home with my daughter on the day I work and I’m home the other days with her. The thought of putting her in daycare amidst a pandemic had been keeping me up at night. I had been worried not only of the risk of her catching the virus in daycare (because let’s face it, the first year is always the worst health wise in daycare, they catch EVERYTHING), but also of missing out on all of her milestones.

Related: It’s okay if all you did was watch ‘Paw Patrol’ today

Now I get to be home to raise her. My husband found another more stable job, so we aren’t as worried about our income. I finally feel as if I’m on the road to recovery, 16 months later. My healing isn’t linear. I have days where I feel very down and have a harder time coping. But at least now I have hope.

I’m nowhere near where I was a year ago. I have mostly good days. I can sleep, I can smile, I can laugh, and I can leave the apartment. I am also kinder to myself. I am exactly the mother my daughter needs, flaws and all. I give her love and I mother with kindness and empathy. The breath holding spells are now minimal. We are doing the best we can, and that’s enough. I am enough. 

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