Being pregnant while grieving the loss of my dad was something I had thought through. As odd as that sounds, yes, my husband and I had discussed whether it would be something I could handle before going through with IVF as we knew my dad likely wouldn't be with us much longer. Would I be able to handle all the emotions of grief and pregnancy? It’s not normal to think through that, but it was our reality. Pregnancy is supposed to be one of the most amazing experiences of a woman's life. After years of infertility and the pregnancy losses we had suffered I was more than grateful to be pregnant, yet I still felt depressed. So much of the time during my pregnancy it was hard to distinguish what emotions were pregnancy hormones and all the changes that come with growing a human, or what was coming from grief of processing the loss of my dad? It is also very difficult to celebrate a pregnancy after a loss, it’s hard to be excited that you’re pregnant and not know if you’re going to have another miscarriage. It's also hard to let yourself be excited and joyful after just watching a loved one pass away. It took a long time for me to accept that it was happening and embrace the excitement of pregnancy.
I had an extremely difficult pregnancy which only added to all the existing emotions and depression. I had polyhydramnios (extra amniotic fluid), shingles, and passed a number of kidney stones. On top of all that, I was just plain uncomfortable. I was not the type of pregnant woman who enjoyed pregnancy I quickly came to realize, but I always thought I would. I tried to force myself especially because after all that we had been through to get there. I was finally pregnant and yet totally miserable. I could not for the life of me understand why some women love pregnancy. My own mother always said even at the end of her pregnancies she wasn’t ready to be done being pregnant. Excuse me, what? Hah! I was over it. All of it. The nausea, the reflux, backaches, fatigue, pain, kidney stones, lack of sleep. My belly was constantly burning and hurting because of shingles. It was safe to say I was not the pregnant mama who was glowing during this time.
During my pregnancy I desired and planned for a natural labor. I had decided I would rather a natural labor than a medicated labor. Not because I saw anything wrong with it, but more so because I’m usually that one percent that has a strange reaction to medications. Logan and I went to classes, we practiced, we hired a doula, we were prepared. As much planning as we did and as prepared as we were you still can not predict the way your baby is going to come into this world. After 24 hours of labor our son was born with the help of an epidural. All did not go according to plan. Before I go on let me just say how thankful and blessed we are with a healthy son and that a cesarean wasn’t needed. My body wasn’t truly ready for labor and I believe James would have stayed put another week or so if it had been up to him. I labored for 18 hours unmedicated with contractions on top of each other.
It wasn’t 18 hours of prodromal labor, or contractions every five minutes. This was full blown labor with contractions thirty seconds to two minutes apart, if I was lucky. I felt like every bone in my pelvis was cracking with every contraction. I pushed myself mentally and physically more than I even thought possible. Without my husband and doula it would not have happened. My husband was my rock. He reminded me of what I wanted just as I had asked him to do, but he also was very supportive of every choice I made. After 18 hours my doctor, and doula both agreed this was not progressing and without an epidrual to relax me and allow the labor to progress, I would likely end up with a c-section. I was only 6cm dilated after 18 hours of labor. Are you kidding me? There is NOTHING more disappointing than finding out you're only 6cm along after feeling like you've done everything physically, mentally, and emotionally possible to birth your baby. In order to avoid a c-section I opted for the epidural. I was that woman from the movies screaming “WHERE IS MY EPIDURAL?!” Once I was committed there was no looking back, I could not get it fast enough. I wasn’t getting a break from contractions and literally thought my body was going to give up. The epidural took the edge off of the contractions but I still felt each one.
Six hours later I had fully dilated and was ready to push. James Edward Harrigan Lowenstein was born at 12:36pm on my 27th birthday. He was the best birthday present I could ever ask for and I am so thankful to share such a special day with him. I can remember him laying on my chest and feeling so relieved he was here and that it was over. I thought I was going to burst into happy tears and feel an immense amount of joy, but that didn’t happen. Don’t get me wrong, I loved that little human and having him living breathing on me was the best feeling of my life. I don’t know if it was the exhaustion but I remember telling Logan I just didn’t feel how I thought I would feel. Expectations, they suck.
The next part gets a little fuzzy. As soon as I had given birth things started feeling different pretty quickly. It’s hard for me to put into words. I was holding my son that I had fought for for so long, both before he was in my belly and before he was earthside. I was healthy, he was healthy. But why did I feel so off? I had been awake for 50 hours straight. I had just had a long intense labor that didn’t go according to (my) plan. At the time I didn’t realize that it had been a traumatic experience for me. Although most would hear his birth story and assume that all was fine other than I ended up with an epidural. So what, you might be thinking. I might have thought that too. I didn’t realize that there is such a thing as birth trauma for the mother as well. The exhaustion was overshadowed by the joy we were feeling staring at our new baby boy, yet I still felt something hanging over me that I just couldn’t shake. Over the next couple of days in the hospital, I tried to ignore it and was giving myself some grace. I had been through a long labor, little sleep, nursing wasn’t going so well, and of course there’s hormones surging. Before we left the hospital I broke down in tears and asked to speak with our postpartum nurse. She was wonderful, I still remember her name, Julie. I wish every woman postpartum had a Julie because she was so amazing to us post delivery. I remember telling her I just felt off I just feel sad and not like myself. She encouraged me to rest when I could and that hormones will level out and baby blues will soon go away. I somewhat reluctantly accepted her response and it maybe even made me feel a little bit more at ease.
Over the next 8 months I struggled. I am a very emotional person, I always have been. It takes me a while to adjust to change. Motherhood is the biggest change, ever. You know it will be, but you literally have no idea how it changes you. I was constantly disappointed in myself for not feeling like I was the mom I always wanted to be or feeling the way I thought I would feel. I wasn’t happy a lot of the time. I was frustrated, sad, tired, and angry. SO angry. Angry even feels like an understatement. James was a horrible sleeper, absolutely awful. He always wanted to be held and never put down. I always thought I would be fine with that and all the snuggles, but it wears on you. I’m an introvert and I really refuel my tank by retreating and having some alone time. I wasn’t used to having a human attached to me every second of the day and night. Sure I expected it, but I didn’t realize how much it would take a toll on me. All I ever wanted to do was be a stay at home mom. Literally that is what I wanted to be when I grew up. My mom was a stay at home mom and I loved it. I never dreamt of doing anything else other than being at home and having kids. I thought that I would be a complete rockstar at motherhood, so why wasn’t I feeling like one? I could hardly handle the lack of sleep and the demands of a newborn. I was wearing thin, and quickly yet I didn’t want to admit to it. I hated myself for the way that I felt, and I also found myself questioning, why do people even have kids? Then I would spiral downhill because I felt guilty for feeling the way I did considering we wanted a baby for so so long and how could I be so ungrateful. Once again I tried as best I could to stuff my emotions away and just not deal with them. And again, expectations suck.
It wasn’t until my son was 8 months old that I vividly remember calling my husband at work and breaking down. Thankfully we lived about a mile from his office. He rushed home and I finally admitted “I am NOT okay”. He held me and I sobbed. I had hit my breaking point and just felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. I was sad, exhausted, and so angry. The anger was not something I had expected or even felt before. It was that day he told me to call my doctor, and I am so grateful he did. That is a hard phone call to make. What are you supposed to say when they pick up the phone? They're usually anticipating a call relating to scheduling an appointment or medical issues, but I burst into tears and said I am 8 months postpartum and I am not okay, I think I need help. Thankfully they got me in quick and my doctor was extremely caring. She had been an amazing OB through my pregnancy. During this appointment it was her who helped me realize I had three miscarriages, went through IVF, lost my dad, and had a new baby all within a year. It was a lot to process. She really understood and explained to me that all those things are traumatic and big changes on their own. She let me cry and hugged me when I just couldn’t stop. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. I immediately began antidepressants which I am tremendously thankful for. It was hard at first to admit it. It was hard to open up and explain to family what the reality was and why I needed medication. I thought accepting the medication meant I was somewhat of a failure because I needed the help and just couldn’t do it myself. Soon after starting antidepressants I was disappointed in myself for not reaching out sooner. Had I reached out sooner I could've started getting help and the last 8 months could've been much more joyful. I felt like I let PPD steal a lot of me away from my son's first year of life. Don't get me wrong, antidepressants aren't always a super quick fix, and they're also not always needed. I without a doubt believe in them and that they can save lives.
Once I was diagnosed with PPD my husband and I knew it was critical that in order to take care of myself I had to start getting sleep. I could not function. The less sleep I got the worse my PPD symptoms would get. I was lashing out at everyone and everything, literally everything. Our son had never been slept very well. There was a brief period that he was sleeping ten hours at night but it was short lived after a vacation threw it all off course. He was up several times needing to be rocked back to sleep and every morning he would wake up and be nearly inconsolable from roughly 2am-5am. I had absolutely no idea that I could feel the way I could. The anger, the exhaustion, the defeat, hopelessness. My husband began taking more night shifts to try and let me catch up on sleep. We were both only growing more tired, and more irritable. I was at a complete loss...
To be continued..