Kara's Story: My Journey with My First Born
Today's blog post comes from Kara, one of my closest friends. I call her my "mama whisperer" because she is my #1 go-to when I have a question, need to vent, or have a special moment to share. She is one of the most supportive and non-judgmental people I know and an incredible mama to boot. When I talk about being so lucky to have friends who shared their motherhood journeys with me openly and honestly, Kara is always at the top of my mind.
I'm so grateful she's sharing her journey with her firstborn with the world today and shedding some light on something so vitally important: the quality of care that birthing people and new parents receive and how that can impact their entire experience in monumental ways, both good and bad.
Thank you, Kara, for sharing your story and your voice! I'd love the opportunity to share more stories like this from moms, dads, and all parents. Please contact me if you'd like to share yours!
When I found out I was pregnant with my first-born, it was a complete and total shock. My husband and I knew that we wanted children, but we were on the “five-year plan.” We wanted to wait a while, get settled in our married life, and enjoy some time as just us before introducing a child into the mix. Needless to say, when I saw that plus sign on a home pregnancy test only a year and a half after our wedding day, I felt a wide range of emotions. Shock, fear, and anxiety quickly turned into excitement and elation as I told my husband and we began to share our news with family and friends.
I was the first of my friend group to have children, so I had very little idea of what to expect. I will admit that my experiences with healthcare professionals—prenatal, during labor, and postpartum—strongly influenced my confidence as a new mom. Here are just a few examples of things that happened to me: the good, the bad, and the ugly. ***Trigger warning ***
The OB at my very first visit encouraged me to have all the early genetic testing done so that I could “decide if I wanted to terminate” if anything came back abnormal. Imagine you just saw your baby’s tiny flicker of a heartbeat on the ultrasound machine. You have just received confirmation of the life you are carrying. Then you head into the OB’s office to be met by this comment. I was appalled and speechless. Without giving it much more thought at all, I decided I would certainly not be having this testing done. Yet this early testing can be extremely beneficial, giving you and your doctors valuable information about the growth and development of your baby. This OB’s tactlessness planted the first seeds of doubt in my mind about the type of care I would receive with this practice.
When I was nine weeks along, I experienced some bleeding, which landed me in the local emergency room. My husband was out of town for work and I was there alone and very scared. I received tremendous care during this experience. The nurses were kind and encouraging. The radiologist who performed the emergency ultrasound must have sensed my panic, and even though I’m sure he wasn’t supposed to do this, he turned on the machine’s audio and I could hear my baby’s heartbeat going strong. A different OB from my practice called me after receiving my results from the hospital and was extremely supportive and uplifting. My faith was restored in the OB practice I had chosen.
The rest of my pregnancy progressed without concern. I never encountered that first OB again, strategically avoiding scheduling appointments with him. I loved every other doctor I met within this practice. When I went into labor, it was like a scene from a movie. My water broke—like really broke—gushing everywhere. I was surprisingly calm. I woke my husband, told him to shower, cleaned up our bed and sheets, and we made our way to the hospital.
This was when I met the nurse that made ALL THE DIFFERENCE in my birthing experience. I didn’t have a solid birth plan, but I had expressed the desire to attempt an unmedicated birth. In the early stages of labor, she said something to me that I will never, ever forget. She said, “There will come a time in your labor, it’s usually when you’re around 8 cm, where you feel like you just can’t do it anymore. When you reach that point, you’re so close, you’re about to meet your baby, and you need to believe you can do it.” Well, that time arrived. I looked at my husband, asked him to have the nurse come check me, and demanded an epidural if I was not already at 8 cm. Sure enough, when they checked, I was at 8 cm. This angel of a nurse looked me dead in the eyes and said, “This is the moment I told you about, you’re almost there, and you can do this.” Two hours later, my baby girl entered the world, and I had succeeded in my unmedicated birth. This nurse had empowered me and truly made me believe that I could do it. I felt like a superhero!
Postpartum was a whole different story. I was encouraged to “room-in” with my baby, meaning that she would not be taken to a nursery and cared for by the nursing staff, but rather remain in the recovery room with my husband and me. While this is an excellent suggestion and is meant to encourage bonding between mother and baby, it left me feeling depleted. I was exhausted. I had delivered in the afternoon, and therefore had a long parade of visitors almost immediately after having gone through what felt like a marathon. Even when my daughter was sleeping soundly, I couldn’t close my eyes and rest for fear that she would choke or stop breathing. By the time we were released from the hospital, I hadn’t slept more than thirty minutes at a time in over three days. That was the first time I felt unsupported in my postpartum experience.
Breastfeeding was a similarly harrowing journey. My daughter and I struggled from the beginning. There were a great number of well-meaning people attempting to support and encourage me through this. However, when we continued to struggle past the two-week mark (when everyone assured me things would get easier), I began to really doubt myself. I sought support from my pediatrician, from a lactation consultant, and spoke to family members with recent breastfeeding experience. I was told it was the best, the most convenient, the only way to go. I was convinced that I just had to try harder. It must have been something I was doing wrong. I struggled to bond with my baby and began to dread every feeding session. I was relieved when I went back to work and could simply pump, but anxiety and apprehension greeted me each time the weekend came and I was “forced” to attempt breastfeeding again.
I struggled like this for four months. I loved my daughter, but I did not love feeding her. Finally, I decided I had had enough. I could not do this anymore. I was riddled with guilt and felt ashamed for “giving up.” I was shaking as I dialed my pediatrician’s phone number to ask for advice on switching to formula. I was connected to a nurse in the office and almost immediately began sobbing as I asked her what I should do. To my great surprise and relief, this nurse did not attempt to convince me to “stay the course.” Rather, with great compassion, she said, “Oh sweetheart, you’ve done enough. You’ve given your baby the best start but it’s ok to make this decision. You have to think about yourself too.” It was exactly what I needed to hear. Within a week, my daughter was completely switched to bottle feeding formula. All of a sudden, I looked forward to feeding her every day. I felt more connected to her than I ever had before. We could finally bond over this shared feeding experience, where neither of us was anxious or frustrated, and we could simply enjoy the time together.
I guess the moral of my story is this: the type of support you receive during your journey towards motherhood, as well as your postpartum experience, can make all the difference in the world. It can leave you feeling scared, guilty, ashamed. Or it can lift you up, give you confidence, and make you feel like a complete badass superhero! It shouldn’t be as hard as it is, but never stop searching for the support system you need to be the best mom you can be and the best version of yourself as an individual. Remember, you were a woman before you became a mom, and that woman deserves all the respect and support she requires to thrive. The bonus is, when you are able to properly care for yourself, you have the ability to become a better mom for your baby too!