By Chelsea Long, Healthy Mama Happy Baby Content Coordinator
When I was pregnant with my first son, I spent all of my time preparing for his birth and didn’t give much thought to postpartum. Because of this, I was woefully unprepared for the mental health challenges that postpartum brought me. I was trapped in a cycle of depression and didn’t seek the help I needed until two years after his birth!
Thankfully, because of my first experience, I spent significant time during my recent twin pregnancy preparing for postpartum. Today, I’m sharing my first birth story, how I healed, and what I learned to go into my second postpartum period stronger than ever.
“I Didn’t Know How To Process What Happened”
During my first pregnancy, my goal was a natural hospital birth. I read every book and blog post, hired a doula, and had a contingency for almost every situation. I talked to everyone I knew about their birth stories, analyzing their decisions. During all of my planning for birth, I never entertained the idea of having a C-section, because I felt like it would jinx my plan if I did.
And then the day came; my labor was long and grueling, but when I checked into the hospital, I was 9.5 centimeters dilated! I was almost there.
After 8 hours of laboring in the hospital and trying everything, I hadn’t progressed. The hospital staff and particularly the OB on call was amazing—supportive of our choices and desire to continue laboring and trying creative solutions to get me to progress. However, at a certain point, the doctor was in the room telling us that we had no options left. The moment when we consented to the C-section was the lowest, most defeated moment of my life. As they wheeled me out of the labor room to the OR, I shut down.
The days and weeks after the birth were a blur. The common refrain is, “Just be thankful that mama and baby are healthy.” And I was. But at the same time, I felt humiliated and ashamed of my birth story. People would ask me to share and I’d brush past it. I didn’t know how to process what had happened, and it felt easier to move on.
“I Wanted My Life Back”
A few days after my baby was born, I sat on the couch, crying and telling my husband that I wanted my life back. The hard thing about postpartum depression is that you don’t have anything to compare it to. I didn’t know if this was normal, or if I just wasn’t handling it well. During that time I felt a lack of clarity for what I wanted and needed. I wondered if I should push myself to do more, or if my requests for space and rest were unreasonable. At the same time, I felt restless and wished for more capacity.
After my husband returned to work, I experienced a downward spiral that led to me sobbing in the doctor’s office telling her I thought I was depressed. I started therapy and got a prescription for Zoloft, but ultimately decided not to take it.
Newborn stage was hard for me. I had always dreamed of being a mother from a young age, but I found myself questioning everything. Why isn’t he napping longer? Is he getting enough milk? Should I feel guilty for being bored and wanting to escape?
Over the next two years I found that motherhood wasn’t fulfilling me in the way that I always dreamed it would. I felt unsettled and disoriented to myself. I tried variations for filling my time: staying home full-time, working part-time, sharing more responsibilities with my husband, but nothing seemed to make me happy.
“More Clarity About What I Need”
Finally two years after my son was born, I realized that I was caught in a cycle of depression. I could see objectively that I had a really good life, but my depression was affecting my relationships and ability to enjoy my life. I tried a few kinds of therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the depression and EMDR to help process my traumatic birth) and started a regimen of mood-boosting natural supplements.These interventions helped me to regain control of my mental health and enter into my next pregnancy much healthier.
My most recent pregnancy I spent minimal time preparing for the actual birth, since I knew from early on that I would most likely choose to have a scheduled c-section. Instead, I spent a significant amount of time and energy preparing for postpartum. Here are several ways that I prepared:
Pursuing healing from my previous birth: I found that as I processed my first, traumatic birth, I began to feel more ready for the arrival of my twins. One particularly helpful book I read was How to Heal a Bad Birth. It helped me to write out my birth story and come to peace with it. Another book I read was Body Full of Stars—one woman’s story of dealing with her postpartum experience. Reading another woman’s struggle helped to validate mine.
Conversations with my partner and friends: As I processed my previous birth, it helped me to identify my feelings of failure and my perceived lack of support and understanding from those around me. It also empowered me to share my fears for my upcoming postpartum. I was able to let my family and friends know what I was hoping for from them this time around.
Planning out help: Because I had a better idea of what my needs and desires might be in postpartum, I was able to more fully plan and prepare in practical ways. I had family fly out to take care of my older child while I was in the hospital. I hired someone to clean my house every other week. I prepared a ton of nourishing food options,including Whole30-friendly freezer meals, a plan to order Model Meals, and had a friend set up a meal train (where I requested Whole30-ish meals). As I progressed in my pregnancy I practiced asking for and accepting help because I know I’d need to be comfortable with that postpartum.
Self care practices: I set habits and made appointments prior to postpartum, so that when it hit I would already be prepared for how I would take care of myself during that time. Acupuncture, chiropractic, and massage were all parts of my postpartum self care plan. I also knew that I would get back into gentle, restorative yoga as soon as my body felt ready. I also prepared the supplements I would take postpartum so I could begin that right away. Lastly, I wrote out some mantras to repeat while I was in the hospital and for the days after, to remind me of truths about myself and my situation.
In my first postpartum, I lived in self-doubt and never knew what I needed to feel better. I am so thankful that my second time around, I was able to have more clarity for what I need, courage to ask for it, and no guilt in receiving it. Postpartum is hard, mamas. There are no guidelines for what you might need or want. Begin trusting your intuition now and honoring yourself so that you have practice for when you really need it. This postpartum has still been difficult, with its low moments, but the difference is that this time I know what is normal for me and I have a multitude of strategies for how to handle my hard moments. I would characterize myself as having moments of postpartum distress, but not postpartum depression this time around.
Chelsea Long is the Content Coordinator for the Healthy Mama, Happy Baby Program. She lives in San Diego with her husband and three year old son and infant twins. In addition to her work for HMHB, Chelsea is a yoga teacher, writer and meditation facilitator. Formerly an English as a Second Language instructor at the University level, Chelsea shifted her interest to holistic health after giving birth to her son. Her degrees in Communications and Education serve her well as she works with the Whole30 team to help other moms thrive during preconception, pregnancy and postpartum. Chelsea is passionate about helping others find healing through yoga, meditation, and nutrition, both through her contribution to the HMHB team and through her personal website.
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