My Story: There are several things that are important to know about our story -
- I was a certified nurse midwife at the time of my pregnancy and birth.
- My husband never wanted to be a father- he eventually came around only because I eventually leaned on him hard for having children. We ended up with infertility to boot- but he was all hands on deck on everything that was involved in getting pregnant beyond our bedroom.
- My husband was not as mentally stable or as sober as I thought he was.
I’ve heard it all before- all the should haves, would haves, could haves of what lead up to what was eventually the birth experience and postpartum disaster that this led up to. No one is perfect, no one always makes perfect choices. Sharing my story is not fear those things - but rather to say it can be really, horribly bad and still have a chance to get better.
When we finally had a successful pregnancy- one that didn’t miscarry in the first trimester, I allowed myself to try and enjoy the moments. But I had terrible nausea that lasted well into the second trimester, and then gestational diabetes. And then at 31 weeks and 1 day pregnant my water broke. I knew immediately that this was what was pouring out of me. I’d seen it thousands of times as a midwife. It happened in the middle of the night, and off we went to the hospital. I was not contracting, and I was hopeful that perhaps I would squeak out a few more weeks to help the baby’s lung development. But my body decided otherwise. Like all the woman in my family before me, I had an incredibly fast labor, pushed briefly, and gave birth in the span of 6 hours.
My daughter Vera was born with a good cry even at 31 weeks- but of course had all the issues a preemie could have. We spent 6 weeks in the NICU before she came home, and I couldn’t have been more of a mess.
As a midwife with many years experience of taking care of thousands of pregnant and birthing women, I was knocked for a loop. I was not supposed to deliver early. I was not supposed to feel helpless and unable to breast feed my daughter. I was not supposed to be hooked up to a breast pump every 3 hours around the clock. I was not supposed to need to feed my baby formula, or use bottles, or not be able to go skin to skin with her at our free will.
In addition to these internal struggles, I was left to fend for myself. Friends actually said things like, “Your baby is being taken care of through the night, why are you so tired?” or “That must be great getting sleep at night!”. The staff of the NICU, who knew me on a professional level for many years treated me like any other coworker. Never do I remember a single nurse, doctor, lactation counselor, or social worker say to me, “Jamie, how are you? How are you holding up?” Once I remember a day that I was running very late and didn’t make it to the NICU til about noon time. Vera’s nurse said to me as soon as I came into her cubby area, “Wow, I guess you had a leisurely morning!” while adding how I missed out on an alert feeding. What had caused me to be late was dealing with insurance hassles for my own medical grade breast pump, a puppy that I was unable to cope with, and the need to pump intermittently in the morning before finally getting out of the house.
And to add insult to injury, my husband totally came undone.
All of his personal struggles with his horrible childhood reared their ugly head. Seeing his infant daughter fight with every breath, her sternum actually cave in while she inhaled the forced air from her CPAP, her skin shiny and unkeratinized behind the plexiglass of a humidified air that had no contact with the immediate environment around her. The only thing we could do was place our hand gently over her tiny head and butt. No stroking, patting, cooing. These natural parenting instincts of calming a baby are harmful to preemies fragile neurological system.
Watching these things were terrible. Any thread of sanity holding him together let loose. Not only was he slipping back into using substances and eventually alcohol (his main drug of choice), but he was angry.
During Vera’s first week of life we were both at her isolette when a nurse I worked with in the labor and delivery unit came by. She said to me, “She will be alright.” And as much as I clinically knew this, I needed to hear it. But I broke down in tears because despite that, nothing else felt like it was ever going to be right again. My husband was angry with me for the circumstances we were now in, and I was getting no emotional support at all. He took the two week paternity leave he was allowed, but somehow could only manage to get to the hospital after 8PM.
During those 6 weeks, I always made sure to be at the hospital for meal times, because that was the only way I was going to get to eat. Once my mother took me grocery shopping, but I was in such a fog I couldn’t focus and wasn’t able to actually purchase anything but cereal and protein bars. Besides, I was in no state to be able to put together a meal.
When Vera was finally discharged, I was over the moon! The transition to home was not easy, however. I was spiraling out of control from the experience and lack of support, especially from my husband. Once his paternity leave was over he went back to work and even threw himself into overtime- working 70+ hours a week. Shortly after Vera coming home, his own family ended up in a crisis that just further exacerbated his behaviors. There were nights he didn’t make it back home til sunrise the next day.
When Vera was about 3 months old, I started to hear babies crying. Vera would be napping, and I’d be sitting on my couch attempting to be useful with my time while trying to ignore the racing heart in my chest or the horrible butterfly feeling in my belly. When she was about 4 months old, I was losing my mind. I could no longer be alone without being in a complete panic. I called my mother at all hours of the night. I would beg her to stay home from work and be with me. She spent every Saturday and Sunday with me and Vera, but I needed someone every day. I could no longer function. Somehow I managed to care for Vera safely. But there was nothing else I could manage. The thought of heading to a store for basic necessities was enough to make me want to throw up. And hearing babies cry in my house was really getting unsettling.
The day after Halloween 2011, I was admitted into a partial hospitalization program for acutely mentally ill adults. Every day my mom would be over to take care of Vera while I went off for a day full of group therapy and other modalities. Being hospitalized, especially the initial evaluation was humiliating. I was placed in a room with just a gurney. My personal belongings were taken from me, and I was not allowed even a blanket in the room. When the social worker did my intake evaluation, she stopped half way through and said with quite the dramatic sigh, “Oh, I see- you aren’t really adjusting to motherhood and you’re a professional and obviously are missing that.” I was started on an antidepressant and about two weeks later I was discharged. My head was clearer than it was when it came in, and I no longer heard babies crying other than the one I was supposed to hear from my daughter (of which there wasn’t much, because miraculously she was a very contented and happy baby). By the holidays, I remember feeling much more like myself. I was moving forward and able to take care of my daughter and be alone without any anxiety. I began to make plans for divorce.
My husband continued to spiral down further and ended up arrested for DUI. This was the action that pushed him into the right direction, as it forced me to tell him that I was in the process of moving forward with a divorce. My husband did not want to divorce, and somehow managed to see that his actions were going to leave him without a wife, a daughter, or any family. It took him almost another 2 years to fully recover and develop into the father I saw he could be before we even got pregnant with Vera, and it wasn’t always a smooth upward journey. It was many steps forward and back in many aspects.
When I think back to this time, which is still fairly frequently, I am so grateful that somehow we all managed to come out the other end as an intact family. I still have many regrets about my first few months of motherhood. I look back and think of how I never had a moment where I could just sit with my daughter and cuddle with her “in the moment”. I never got to really breastfeed. I never could manage babywearing or cloth diapering. I couldn’t even manage changing batteries in a toy (seriously, that happened) without a complete meltdown, let alone be able to verbalize what was going on inside my head.
This experience had left me changing a lot of my previous “life plan”. For one, there is no longer any significant life plan. I have no idea what I may be doing in five years beyond being Vera’s mom. Because of this experience, I left midwifery. I also let go of the plan of being a mother to at least 2 kids (I’d always hoped for 3, but would have settled for 2). Even though my husband may be in a better head space to have another child now that he is emotionally healthy, I do not want to risk it. I’m also near 40, and given my preterm birth of unknown cause as well as other health conditions I do not want to risk it. Parts of me have been quite sad about this; but as time goes on I am better with being a mom to a single child. But I don’t think there will ever be a time in my life that won’t ache just a little for what I really had hoped for.