By Erika Mitchell
I had the perfect birth. It was exactly what I had hoped for: a peaceful home water birth with my husband, doula, and midwife all present and supportive. I labored beautifully and transitioned through my ‘gates of great doubt’ with a whimpered “I don’t think I’m doing very well” followed by 20 intense minutes of pushing, and inevitably the slithery rush of my beautiful son’s body into my surprised hands. I remember reaching down between my legs to grasp him for the first time; my eyes were closed as I savored the warm, slippery feel of him, and I panted out a few cries of relief, exultation, fear, and love. I was so intensely proud of myself. I felt I could conquer the world, achieve any goal and move mountains.
Doubt and fear began to creep in within 24 hours. I had been told about the baby blues and expected a little roller-coaster of emotion over the next few weeks. I was not prepared for the body wrenching sobs that ripped through me like earthquakes as I clutched my nursing son at 2 am on day three. I was not prepared for the terror that stole my joy as I looked at my husband with despair and begged him to ‘give me my life back’. I was not prepared for the loneliness, the fear, the sleeplessness, and the grey and lifeless world I would inhabit for 20 out of 24 hours of each day.
I remember being told at one point not to talk too much about my birth, not to tell people how perfect and beautiful it was because most people don’t get to experience such a wonderful transition into motherhood. I internalized that and told myself that I had no right speak of my birth, period. I believed I had no right to feel depressed, scared or lost because I had had such a good birth; therefore I gave up my right to experience any postpartum sadness. This added to my isolation. Every time I tried to speak about my spiraling descent into darkness I felt blocked, selfish, ridiculous, and unworthy of support. How dare I complain when I had so much to be thankful for?
I struggled like I know other women struggle. I was told by well meaning midwives that I may need medication, which undermined my belief in myself and added anger to my feelings of shame for needing help in the first place. Friends who could see no reason for my pain dismissed me; after all I had had such an easy birth and a healthy baby. I was hardest on myself, denying my need for help and depriving myself of comfort, counseling, and support from my peers by keeping myself isolated from other mothers.
But I was lucky and still am. I had a supportive husband who drew me out into the light and held my hand when I was lost in the darkness. He let me cry, he let me sleep, he loved me and was patient with me and our son. Our little family was held together by his strong arms and understanding soul. My mother and I had been estranged, but the birth of her grandson gave me a window into her world and opened my eyes to her strength and perseverance, and she became a rock I clung to, a phone line that was always open and arms I could retreat to when I needed another woman who understood my pain. I am lucky because I was allowed to find my personal strength, I was given the space to fall apart and put myself back together knowing there were people there to hold on to me if I fell too far.
I had a perfect birth, but I still had postpartum depression. I deserved help, support, comfort and compassion and I know that now. I am not alone and I know that too. All mothers deserve and need support.
Erika is a mother of two and an aspiring midwife living on beautiful Bowen Island, BC. She is slowly learning the art of self care, remembering to breathe deeply and appreciating one day at a time.
For more information about the myths of motherhood that can lead women like Erika to feel that they are unworthy of support please see this video.
You may also want to read a prior blog post about how the myths surrounding motherhood can contribute to postpartum stress.