There are two sides to every birth story, the baby’s and the mama’s. At some point in the process, they diverge from being the same story, instead branching out to each be their own. Emmett’s entrance into the world was long, hard, and equally beautiful. And I shared in that. But after his story ends, mine picked up where his left off, him cuddling on my chest immediately following his emergence into the world, and changing my life in a way I didn’t fully expect.
Ask any mother what her story is and I am sure she will have a hell of a tale to tell. Some have “easy” pregnancies and births where they performed it with ease, au naturale, no pain meds, and only pushed for 30 minutes. Then there are traumatic stories, pushing for hours, life threatening complications, and horror that blessedly results in a happy, healthy baby. But either way, there is mom’s story with all it’s emotional, mental and PHYSICAL ups and downs that are so intricately intertwined into the most transformative experience many of us may ever face.
And each one of those stories, trials, victories, emotions, and hardships is valid.
As everyone else but Ben and Emmett melted away in the delivery room, I lay there with my son on my chest, taking it all in. There was an instantaneous shift occurring in me that went from non-mom to mom. In my body, in my brain, and in my emotions. I wouldn’t say I was the mom that was gooey, and “oh my god, this is the best thing ever.” I was crying happy tears, I was happy, and conflicted, exhausted, traumatized, and overwhelmed. And in that moment I felt terrible. Who would ever acknowledge that? That’s what you were supposed to feel, right? Just nothing but happiness? I felt more. In the instant, I knew I loved this tiny, wrinkled creature, with his steel eyes and dimpled chin. But it wasn’t a cup runneth over feeling like everyone had ever told you it would be. And I felt immeasurable guilt when I was “supposed” to be feeling nothing but happy. Exhaustion from six and a half hours of pushing, and a traumatic birth that needed to have my baby vacuum assisted into the world will do that to you, I guess. But that was also not the end of it.
Once we reached the mother-baby wing to start recovery, it started becoming apparent that my road to physical recovery might not be smooth sailing. During Emmett’s birth, I wasn’t pushing as hard as I thought due to the high doses of medication from my epidural. When we turned it down so I could regain some sensation it became too much – a torturous experience that I melted down, nearly gave up, and screamed over. To remedy it, and to prepare me for Emmett’s evacuation, I was given one last dose of medication from the anesthesiologist. How big of dose I received we wouldn’t realize until much later. For HOURS I couldn’t move after. My nurses came in, tended to me, and wanted me to walk to the bathroom to try and pee. But I still couldn’t move my legs. When they helped me to the bedside potty, I couldn’t go. I was regaining feeling, but couldn’t walk, my legs still like concrete cylinders attached me to, but I could feel things. When nothing came out, but tears from my eyes, they had to make a call – it was time to put a catheter in.
But with that regaining of feeling, came awareness of what all had happened in labor. I tore in two places, one second degree tear under my vagina, and another tear near my urethra. After such a long labor and the physical issues, it was a war zone down there and putting a catheter in reaggravated all of the physical pain I had just experienced. Along with the tears came screaming. The nurses were then forced to call my labor and delivery nurse to put the catheter in since she had plenty of first hand knowledge of my lady bits, and my trauma. She waltzed in and her typical humor said, “If you wanted to see me again, you could have just called!”. It was the laugh I needed when I was filled with pain and doubt, and scared out of my mind that not being able to go pee for 5 hours after labor was not a good sign. And then we realized it was going to be a much bigger problem.
Nearly 2 liters of urine filled the catheter bag. TWO. LITERS. A giant soda bottle. After retaining so much water through pregnancy and being loaded up with more during labor and my epidural, I was ready to pop. I just didn’t know it.
Ben knew that was not right, but wouldn’t tell me until afterwards what a problem it was. Balancing his nursing knowledge with being a supportive husband put him in an impossible situation. But what he told me later is that when you hit about 450 millimeters in your bladder is when you feel like you have to go really bad. 2,000 milliliters is a significant problem, that distended my bladder way beyond the normal capacity. So, when you think of women giving birth no longer being able to hold IN their pee? I had the exact opposite problem, and couldn’t get it OUT! With Emmett’s head pressing against my bladder for the duration of the labor, it stopped my bladder and essentially shocked it into non functioning. This began my days of having a pee bag strapped to my left leg. I just didn’t realize at the time it would last far beyond our time in the hospital.
Having a bag strapped to your leg is an embarrassing enough situation as it is, but mitigated by the fact that you are in a hospital made it “okay”. But after nearly two days of recovery, and having a catheter removed, reinserted, and removed again, and told you can’t go home until you can empty your bladder – well, you will do whatever you have to do to pee. I learned that blowing bubbles through a straw into a water bottle will activate your muscles enough to help with the process. And it served me well enough to get a reluctant release from the hospital, though it was not nearly anywhere back to normal.
But peeing at home was near impossible.
Coming home with a newborn, to a new routine, and a new way of life is hard enough. Feeding, burping, putting him back to bed was an every two hour routine that left me only about 40 minutes to do anything in between, including trying to pee. And when that took 30 minutes each time and only got me a few little sprinkles, it was defeating and PAINFUL. With each pee, I became more scared to use the bathroom. I was hurt, tender, swollen, tearful, and panicked with each visit. It dawned on me as I made a kidding-not-kidding joke to some friends on a group chat – that pee time gave me PTSD. But it hit me… I really did. I had PTSD. Every push was frightening, making me shake, panic, and cry from pain and memories of Emmett’s difficult birth.
And so, at my 3 day check up, where we met with a lactation consultant since Emmett had dropped nearly 8% of his weight, I told the nurses at my appointment I still couldn’t pee. And then I was sent home with another catheter and a pee bag strapped to my leg. Vanity was officially out the window, and my self confidence in myself, as a mom, as a human took a plummet.
Nights were hard enough, figuring out how to latch, with tender breasts that were cracking and chapped. The tears flowed freely and I would flinch and fear rejecting Emmett out of sheer terror of the pain that would come. The bag strapped to my leg helped get rid of the excess fluid I had been carrying, but it restricted me to my house so much that I couldn’t go take the dog for a walk or go anywhere longer than 1 hour. The walls of my house were as closed in as at the hospital. Ben did everything he could to help, and though he couldn’t take away the pain, him being there was what I needed most.
With this issue, I had more doctor’s appointments than Emmett did, making us drive an hour each way, at least twice a week to see my doctors. The catheter was removed, reinserted, I had to try and prove multiple times that I could pee on my own. And once I was sent home with a self-catheter kit when I was still so swollen, that Ben had to attempt to do it for me. When my stitches were hit I bled all over the shower, streaming down my leg, horrified and crying and in pain it was time to go to Urgent Care for another bag catheter. Vanity, pride, and everything was gone. I felt so defeated. Everything was still to raw, literally and figuratively for me to do it on my own. We were in a no win situation.
The nurses at Urgent Care that very same night were horrified at what they saw and heard, and I was back. Round and round we went. Over the course of the first month of Emmett’s life I needed 6 catheters, amoxicillin for a bladder infection, and appointments with nurses, OB/GYN’s (including one who specializes in urology GYN), and a progressive plan of various degrees of cathetering to get my bladder to recognize that it was supposed to go on its own. It was after nearly a MONTH of this was I able to go home and perform my own catheterization, no longer needing the pee bag, but having to drain my bladder manually up to three times a day.
The waves of emotion, mental anguish, and heartache that you feel in times like that is staggering. What I found was that the physical aspects of birth are what no one talks about. We discuss more openly now the baby blues, post partum depression, but what we miss are the physical restraints that mar our growth into mothers and how anxiety grows and contributes to the quagmire of anguish we can experience. I tried my best to be self aware of my feelings, and understand that the lack of joy I had wasn’t that I didn’t love my baby any less, but that it did hamper me from taking in my role as a new mom in a positive light. It is hard to be joyful in pain, physically, mentally, or emotionally. But with the right support system, acknowledging the small victories we had, and time – I am in a positive place, feeling most of those feelings now that mom’s had always talked about.
The nights of tears, exhaustion you never thought conceivable, doubt, pain, anguish, and fear will lift. But counting our small victories, Ben and I have found our roles and rhythm to this new life. Having him home with me for this first month was the biggest gift, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him. Literally. And with this I know my love for him has also grown more than I knew possible.
Sharing my side of our birth story is done so that we can open a dialogue and talk about the feelings we share, no matter what they are. No one wants to say it is hard, that it isn’t a make believe ooey gooey fairytale, because that would make us bad people. But it is hard, harder that we care to admit. IT IS the most difficult thing we can do in our lives and we need to talk about it – the light and the dark sides of it all.
Trauma is okay to share and discuss. There is nothing about Emmett’s and my story that isn’t traumatic, and even on this side of the clouds it is unbelievable to think I did it. But with each look into his steel blue eyes, I am more thankful to have healed so I can focus now on being the best me, and the best mom I can be to him. Even if its not fairytale blissful. It is us.
So please, share your struggle and relish your victory. The little ones and the big ones, too. You ARE enough. You ARE strong. You ARE amazing. Moms are just superheroes like that.
Today is officially the day I am done with cathetering, and can be marked as “healed”. It may be a longer road to fully recover emotionally and mentally, but every day is a victory and I have the best prize of all.