Last week the Evening Sun shared an interview they did with a few of our mamas. Shawna, Ahna, Ashley, and Sarah met with Lindsey from the Evening Sun to talk about the group and an upcoming fundraiser we’re doing for Carry the Future. To read or watch the interview, click the link or photo below!
Punk Mamas’ Hana RW has shared her story of becoming a mother with us, which is heartbreaking, frustrating, raw, and honest…but has a happy ending! This past Mother’s Day, our Punk Mamas Facebook group was made aware how hurtful holiday ads can be to adoptive mothers, as they tend to only target mothers who have physically given birth. And until it is pointed out to you, it’s not something you notice. We are very grateful that Hana has shared with us her journey of motherhood. It is important to us that we show there is more than one way to parent, there is more than one way to welcome a child into the world, and there is more than one way to be a mother. SC
My husband and I had been married for seven years before we felt like we were “ready” for a baby. This is really a different story, but it leads me to my birth story – so, here we go. After about six months of casually trying to conceive, I got pregnant; it was right around Mother’s Day. Along with the usual first trimester blahs, I was excited and nervous and we blissfully went to the first OB appointment with the intent of hearing our baby’s heartbeat. After an annoying amount of paperwork and questions and waiting, we both stared at the monitor waiting to see the little blob on the screen. I’d really been looking forward to getting the sonogram picture and was excited to tell all our friends and family about our new addition. Within seconds, I could see something was wrong on the doctor’s face. She had no poker face at all. Her mouth was taught; her eyebrows furrowed together. Her eyes squinted at the screen and she frantically moved the wand around. She didn’t speak and I didn’t breathe. It probably lasted fewer than thirty seconds, but it felt like thirty minutes. She said, “I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” I heard my husband inhale sharply, but I couldn’t take my eyes away. The doctor and nurse fumbled and someone said they needed to get another doctor to confirm. I thought, “oh good – go get another doctor, because clearly you’ve made a horrible mistake. You are wrong. I feel pregnant, so clearly you don’t know what you are doing.” The second doctor burst in there was more poking and face scrunching and screen staring. He took my hand and said, “I’m so sorry.” And then he walked away.
I can’t really describe what that’s like. It’s devastating. It’s isolating. Not many people knew about the baby we lost, so I felt like I had to put on a brave face and just act like everything was fine and normal. I had to go to work and move forward with my life when all I wanted to do was cry and scream. Those that did know, said things to me like, “just try again” or “this was god’s plan.” My mom patted me on the back and said, “maybe next time.” Maybe next time? These comments were hurtful; hearing them was horrible. Possibly the most unhelpful thing said to me was the nurse at the doctor’s office, who within minutes of being told that my baby had died said to me (as she was drawing blood or I may have punched her in the face), “this is nature’s way of saying the baby wasn’t healthy. It happens.” Thanks, nurse. It does happen. Needless to say, I never set foot in that doctor’s office again. Anyway, after two years of trying to conceive and one year of seeing fertility specialists and countless painful procedures, I threw the white flag up and said I had to stop. I literally couldn’t do it anymore and I had no interest in pursuing invasive procedures and putting myself and my body through any more.
Should we call this phase two? Phase two – adoption. My first thoughts on adoption were this: do some paperwork, blah blah, home study, blah blah, get a baby – pretty basic. I quickly learned, it’s anything BUT basic. It’s exhausting, time consuming, anxiety producing, stressful, and expensive. Adoption forces you to be a parent way, way before you are a parent. You have to jump with both feet, without looking, into the unknown, no matter what the outcome. You have to prove your worth to social workers, to an agency, to a judge, to a birth parent, birth parents, or birth family. You have to prove that you are healthy, financially stable, and mentally prepared. You have to go to counseling and have a social worker come to your home for an inspection. You have to convince many people that you deserve to be a parent, and that you are worthy, when you may be feeling the opposite of that deep down. I felt like a failure. And here I was, trying to put on a smile and convince everyone that my marriage is perfect, my home is perfect, my job is super flexible, and we are a stable family. It took nearly six months to get all of our paperwork in order, clearances done, physicals completed, and home study approved. We had three failed adoptions, before a successful one. Each one was a loss of its own. We lost those babies, though they were never truly ours.
On May 11, 2016 I got a call from our adoption social worker that a birth mom had found our profile on our agency’s website and out of hundreds of families, she wanted us. This being the fourth time we were matched, I was already tired, skeptical, and burnt out from loss. But in adoption, you have to be enthusiastic even when you are not. You have to be ready even though you are terrified. You have to be confident even though you know that this could fall through. Olive’s due date wasn’t until June, so we assumed we had six weeks to prepare. WRONG. Olive’s birth mother went in to labor less than two weeks later.
May 21, 2016 was a Saturday, and like most Saturdays, I was getting ready to go around the corner to our local farmer’s market for my weekly shopping trip. My phone rang around 9am and I saw the number and my heart skipped a few beats and I felt like puking. It was our adoption social worker notifying us that Olive’s birth mother was at the hospital and that we needed to get to Kansas today (we live in Pennsylvania). I panicked inside. I’m not a flexible person. I’m not spontaneous. I’m a planner and a scheduler and an organizer. This wasn’t the first time we were dropping everything to fly across the country, either. This was taking a toll on our bank account, our jobs, our emotions, and our life. I’ve never, ever packed like a hurricane before. I called people. Someone came and got our dog. Oh, and my packing job was terrible, but thanks, Target, for saving the day (I ended up boxing most of what I bought and shipped it home). We flew almost all day, and on our third flight, Olive was born, but she wasn’t Olive yet, and she wasn’t mine yet.
We got to the hospital at around 1am on Sunday. The nurses at the hospital treated me like a threat. They whispered about me. When I entered the birthing ward, I had to say, “Hi. I’m the prospective Adoptive Parent for X-baby” (because that sounds totally fucking natural – it’s not invasive at all). Everyone knew who we were, and either completely ignored us or were very awkward with us. They acted like they had never seen an adoptive couple before, which felt really strange. The nurse walked us to a room as our social worker had arranged for us to have a hospital room just like mothers who birth have. She stood in the doorway and pointed to the bathroom and towels and asked us if we needed anything. Then she said, “let me see if I can get the baby.” In my head and my dreams, I have been wondering for years what this day is like. But after so many losses, I found it hard to be anything but scared. I didn’t want to bond to this baby, because what if like all the other babies – she wasn’t mine. After a few minutes, the nurse returned with Olive. She was swaddled in a little blanket and had a bow on her head. I didn’t know what to do or how to act. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t excited. I just did what I thought I should do. I picked her up and held her. The nurse gave me a bottle, so I fed her. Or I tried to. I either wasn’t good at it or she wasn’t hungry. I don’t know, I just assumed I wasn’t doing it right. The nurse didn’t offer any advice – in fact, she just walked away, which was unexpected. To be honest, I was so tired. I had traveled all day, and I wanted to take a shower, and I desperately needed sleep. The nurse soon came back and took Olive to the nursery so we could sleep, and I was glad for it. I didn’t want to be with her, because I was terrified of losing her. I was also doubting myself that anyone should trust me to take care of a newborn. My head began to fill with doubt and negative thoughts and self-defeating words…don’t attach…she will change her mind…protect yourself. My head was telling me that I should run away…this is too scary…you need to leave. I started to have a panic attack. And all night long, I didn’t sleep. The next two days were much of the same on repeat. I was absolutely TERRIFIED anytime my husband would leave me alone, even if it was only for fifteen minutes to run and get us food. And I mean, this was an intense feeling – the feeling that I was going to die. My anxiety had NEVER been so bad before. And the hospital was of absolutely no help to me. Nurses came in and out to check on Olive, but never offered any advice, let alone look me in the eye. Aside from being terrified, I worried about Olive. She was small and she wasn’t eating great from the bottle. She was gassy and I didn’t know how to burp her the right way. The nurses ran out of the room as soon as they were done checking on her, and I felt too tired and timid to chase after them to ask for help. I felt so defeated and scared that I was going to fuck up and not be able to care for this tiny human. Further, the hospital had only given me a wrist band that matched Olive. That meant that I had to be in the room with Olive at all times. Shawn (my husband) did not get a wrist band, so he could not be alone with Olive. I asked if he could have one and I was told that they only print three, and typically that is two for the parents and one for the baby. One was on Olive’s birth mom, one on me, and one on Olive. That’s it. Not only was I in limbo, but I was trapped. I couldn’t go for a walk. I couldn’t get fresh air. I couldn’t go to our hotel and unpack. I really, really felt like I needed to nest in our hotel. My instincts were calling to me to go to that hotel room and organize and control that environment because everything else was out of my control. But I could not. I was chained to the hospital room and my anxiety. No escape. I was away from all our family and friends, too. There was no one there to help. In between all the other thoughts, I thought of Olive’s birth parents and birth family. They were going to experience loss like I had. I cried for them and for Olive. I was glad that they had agreed to an open adoption, and I vowed to do everything I could to maintain those relationships.
On the third day, our room was filled with attorneys and social workers. This was THE day. The day that I would either become a parent or go home with nothing but a loss I was already well acquainted with. In between my horrible thoughts and anxiety, I had to smile. I had to meet Olive’s birth family and pretend I was over the moon in love, so ecstatic to have her, when what I was feeling was shame, fear, guilt, and remorse. I had to smile at social workers and attorneys. See my big smile? See how good I am doing? Olive’s birth mother is an amazing woman and she lovingly trusted us with her on that day and forever. With the stroke of a pen, the signature of an attorney, and the seal of a notary, we were given guardianship. A few days later, we had to go to court in front of a judge where we were granted temporary custody, and full custody pending we meet the obligations of our post placement visits back home – we would have full legal custody in a month. Although there was a huge burden lifted off of me, I didn’t get the relief that I expected I would from the successful adoption. It took me many, many months to bond and to feel comfortable and to feel ok with being called Olive’s mom.
We had to stay in Kansas for two more weeks in a hotel before all of our paperwork was cleared and we could return home.
Punk Mamas had a few follow up questions for Hana. We knew that Hana had started a Facebook support group for adoptive mothers, and we couldn’t turn down this chance to get it out there!
How has your confidence in being a mom changed over the last year, and were there any moments that made you stop and think about just how far you’ve come? Did your husband experience similar feelings in the beginning of parenthood as you did?
The first few months of being a new mom were really, really hard. I had a very hard time bonding with Olive. I really lacked confidence. But, I think the more I did things for her and found ways of being successful as a parent boosted my confidence. There were a lot of struggles; for instance, she was a car seat/car travel hater between the months of three to seven. She would scream and cry until she vomited in the car, and that really limited my ability to get out of the house and get shit done. It was also a really hot summer when she was born, so I felt like my outside time was very limited. I think by month seven or eight, I felt like I had really bonded with her. The ever changing schedule of a newborn and the inconsistency and lack of a routine for the first few months were difficult (as they are for any new parent). The sleep deprivation was the hardest. SO HARD. I didn’t feel like I had as much support from my family as I would have received if I had given birth. My perspective is that they assumed I didn’t need much help or assistance because I did not need to PHYSICALLY recover. I don’t think they understood the emotional toll that becoming a mother and caring for a newborn took on me, and my mental health was not in the best place. I think by month seven or eight, I was at Target shopping alone, and had a “holy shit!” moment – I was out with my kid, in public, doing fine and feeling confident. I often have anxiety about being out in public alone. I had anxiety that someone will catch me doing something wrong and call me out, or that Olive wwould have an epic meltdown in my favorite store (Target!) and I’d never be able to go back. But, the more and more that I went out, the less anxious and more confident I felt. Now, I feel totally fine about going out alone. I still struggle with anxiety and depression, but I feel much more in control and I know how to challenge my thoughts when that happens and I start to think irrational thoughts.
Shawn, my husband, did not feel the same way. In fact, he really struggled to understand my anxiety about being a new parent. He really, really helped me so much and I attribute my abilities to get my shit together and parent to him. He would take Olive to another room and let me sleep all night. He would take her when she would start to scream and cry and I was overwhelmed. He really listened to me when I would tell him all the anxious and distorted thoughts in my head and tried to make sense of them, even though they didn’t make sense at all. He would help me ground myself back to reality and back to normal, rational thinking. He bonded with Olive instantly, and I still feel like they have a really solid relationship since the get-go.
For anyone reading this who may be having infertility issues, what are some resources (support group, website, book, etc.) you would recommend to help them navigate the process of deciding to go the route of adoption?
For anyone who is struggling with infertility or has experienced loss, I’m sorry that you are going through that. It has really been one of the hardest issues of my adult life to cope with. There are tons of Facebook support groups, and also in-person support groups for infertility and loss. Some are religious, some are not. I would encourage you to join a few and find one that you feel is a good fit for you. I’ve made some amazing “friends” through groups (I’m looking at you, Lindsay!). It was extremely helpful to me to be able to share my thoughts and have them reflected back to me. To hear that what I was thinking and feeling was normal and ok. I highly would recommend that if you are interested in adoption that you join a support group; that is one thing I didn’t do until after our adoption. Even if you are in the beginning stages or just thinking about it, people are very willing to answer questions and provide feedback or just show you support. Another suggestion is to take a class or training on transracial adoption, if you are pursuing the adoption of a child that is of a different race. Also, don’t be afraid to seek out an outpatient counselor who specializes in infertility and/or adoption – that was a really good choice for me!
If you are interested in joining a non-religious adoption support group, Lindsay PJ and I started one on Facebook that you can join here: Non-religious Adoption Support
What is the extent, if any, of the contact you have had with the birth family since the adoption?
We have an open adoption with Olive’s birth parents. That can mean different things to different families, but for our family we agreed to pictures and letters/emails and the possibility of in-person visits when Olive is older if that is what she chooses to do. Right now, I typically send emails to Olive’s birth parents and her paternal aunt weekly with a little update about what she’s been up to, what new skills she learned, etc. I print pictures and a letter and snail mail them twice a year.
Do you have any friends that have also adopted and is their experience similar to yours?
I do have several friends and family members who have adopted, but everyone’s experience is different! No adoption story is ever the same. Some of them did domestic infant adoption like I did, some did foster care adoption (or are still foster parents hoping to adopt) and some did international adoption. The different types of adoption offer vastly different perspectives and experiences, each unique to their own family.
If you knew someone that was planning to adopt, what one piece of advice would you give them? Is there one thing you wish you knew?
Find a core group of people who best support you and make sure you have that crucial support system set up from the start.
Thank you, Hana!
Punk Mama Shawna S. has shared her birth story with us. While she had a traumatic birth, she went on to have a successful breastfeeding journey with her son. We hope that by sharing her story, a mother out there reading this will be better equipped to navigate maternity healthcare options, find support for their traumatic birth, and/or feel less alone in motherhood.
Sharing this kind of makes me want to puke. You are going to read information that will probably make you say, “WHOA, TMI.” But here’s a “motherhood dare” for you: be raw, be fucking real. If you feel cheated, say so. Don’t let the bastards get you down just because your truth hurts their ears or because people don’t get what the big deal is. To start, during my pregnancy, I felt like a powerful goddess. As a parent, I feel that way too. My birth experience was not as empowering.
“Tomorrow is Earth Day, so I kind of hope the baby arrives tomorrow.” The midwife smiled. “You are 1cm dilated. Want me to sweep your membranes?” I felt a pinch and said so – she just said things are “sensitive.” I confidently answered that, no, I didn’t want my membranes swept, that I wanted labor to start on its own. The midwife smiled again and said, “Okay, well let’s see how this goes.”
I am having a dream about my dead friend and he just keeps repeating, “I just want you to know that everything is going to be okay.” I keep questioning him, he avoids answering. I wake up.
It’s 3:30am and I think I may have actually just wet my pants. I walk over to the bathroom and I realize that the wetness is not urine. I call for Ryan who springs out of bed wondering exactly what we need to do next. Oh god, the bags are already packed, but is the dog ready? Is she going to be okay while I’m gone? She needs to go to the bathroom. Let’s try to get her to go twice before we leave.
I have slept maybe three hours. I make the call to the midwife and tell her the situation; I’m pretty sure my water broke. She was sleeping, I can tell. She says that I’m probably wrong, to wait for two hours and see if I soak through enough pads and then call her back. So I soak through one pad in 15 minutes and tell her that I know what is going on. She says she wants me to come into the hospital because my water broke and now I’m more prone to infection. I trust her, so I reluctantly accept coming into the hospital, even though hospitals scare me and I had planned to labor at home for a while. I kiss my dog about a thousand times and promise her someone will be back for her.
As we walk out to the car, there are coyotes howling and owls hooting. It is the most beautiful, fierce calling I have ever heard. I text everyone to tell them what was going on. We are driving through a dense fog; the contractions are getting stronger. Is it going to be an Earth Day Birthday? We arrive and I start furiously sneaking granola bars because they keep telling me I’m not allowed to eat solids, although I was told I could eat during labor. I am tired and hungry. I’m starting to get really agitated because the nurse who I despise is here and she won’t stop talking to me, and I just want her to shut the fuck up. My mom is here and so is my best friend. We are all sitting and talking – making jokes. They are buffering that nurse and her stupid questions and I appreciate it more than I can express. I walk around for a bit, but it is overwhelming for me to walk through the hospital corridors. This place is so cold.
The midwife convinces me to go through with getting the IV, even though I didn’t want one. I can’t really process anything right now. The annoying nurse tries four times to get an IV in my wrist and finally the midwife just does it because she can tell I’m about to lose my cool. My midwife finally gets another nurse to take the place of the one who is pissing me off. Her name is Helen and she talks very softly and she looks like my friend Zayne’s mom; I like her instantly. I sit on the ball for a little while. People are piling in the waiting room to support me and everyone tells me so. I hang out in the shower for a while, but the nurses and midwife want me to get back on the bed and be monitored. This was not how it was supposed to be. I want to stay in the shower because the water relaxes me and I feel better in there. Every time they monitor the baby, nothing is wrong. “Why can’t I stay in the shower?” No answer. My sister is in the room intermittently; I like having her there. She makes me feel stronger.
Every time the midwife checks me, she tells me she isn’t “impressed,” that things are not progressing. I start to feel nervous. We have talked about all of my fears regarding hospitals and unnecessary medical interventions – she told me that she would never intervene in the birth process unless totally necessary. She had told me that I would not need a doula because she would be with me the entire time. I trust her. I trust her, right?
“Still not impressed.” She comes back and tells me that she thinks I should take Stadol so that I can relax. I start to cry. I don’t want medication. She asks me why I’m crying and what I think I know about Stadol that would make me not want to take it. I can’t remember, but I know I don’t want it. She looks me straight in the face and says, “If you don’t take this Stadol to relax, I’m afraid you’re going to end up with a C-section.” I trust her. She knows my fears and promised me safety, so why would she pressure me? I ask what is going to happen with this medication, and they tell me it will help me sleep. I trust them. They give me the Stadol and my vision starts to change. My eyes feel like they are darting back and forth. I am managing contractions from outerspace. I cannot relax. I am trapped in my own brain. Ryan is sitting beside me. I tell him I have to close my eyes because something isn’t right.
They have started Pitocin because the baby hasn’t progressed enough for their liking and they want to get things moving. The contractions are getting harsh and I am still not progressing to where they want me to be. I keep hearing “C-section,” “C-section” instead of what they are really saying. I tell them that if they want me to relax, I think I am going to need an epidural because the Pitocin contractions are the worst thing I have ever felt. I am crying hysterically because I don’t want this medication, but I also don’t want to end up with a C-section and I’m scared. At this point, I’m having tremors and no one tells me it is normal. No one. I am scared to death. “What are these tremors?” Why is everyone ignoring me when I ask that?
I did all of this research about the birth process and I am scared because no one knows what I want and I feel like I don’t know how to ask for it anymore. Everyone is looking at me to make a decision. The anesthesiologist comes in and he is the kindest person I have ever met in a hospital setting. He explains the whole process to me, treats Ryan with respect, and says he will be back to check on me. After the epidural, Ryan goes to get food and my best friend, Anderson, sits with me while I sleep. I wake up and they check me again. I have progressed much more. 10cm dilated! This time the midwife is impressed. Maybe the epidural was appropriate for this situation. I feel a little more positive with them not bothering me about my lack of progression. They increase the Pitocin even though I tell them that I am starting to be able to feel again. Anesthetic never works long for me. I have told her this before.
I think it is evening at this point, I have not been counting the hours and my room has no windows. I don’t know if the sun is shining or the sky is dark. Pitocin contractions are the worst thing in the world. I feel like my hips crack open every time the contractions surge in. I have a fever at this point and after drawing my blood for what seems like the 50th time, they tell me I have an infection. I beg them to let me dose myself with another epidural because something feels stuck and that I am having a lot of pain just in one area. The midwife looks at me in a concerned way but doesn’t say whether or not I can. She just kind of ignores the question. I don’t want to do it if it is going to cause me problems, so I stop asking because no one is actually giving me an answer.
I am writhing. I keep feeling like I need to push, but although I am 10cm dilated, the baby has not moved down. The next time I ask to dose myself again, she tells me I can and it anesthetizes everything but the one area that feels like my hip bone is breaking. I am pushing and nothing is happening. The midwife has her hands inside of me, pushing her full weight down on my vagina to try to “help it along” and it feels like she is tearing me in half. The baby still hasn’t moved down, so I’m not sure why her doing this is helping me. It hurts so much. This is not the birth experience I wanted. I know that, in this moment when she keeps telling me not to make noise through my contractions. I feel silenced. The baby is stuck, I think.
Finally, exasperated and exhausted with hardly any sleep and no nourishment, I give up. I cry and apologize to everyone that will listen, that this is not what I want, but I think I am going to have to have a C-section. Everyone looks at me like I am giving up, that I can keep doing this, but my mom gets down right to my face and looks me in the eye. She explains again what this would mean and I do my best to sound as rational as possible in making this decision so that people will know that I mean what I am saying. My mom advocates for me by turning to them to confirm that I am done. The mood in the room gets quiet. I feel so sad, but I am ready to meet my baby.
The surgeon who is to do my c-section has a cold expression and explains things to me between contractions. I sign whatever waiver and they take me to surgery. The nursing team is kind, although they all seem to be annoyed with one another. The anesthesiologist is back and he’s talking me through everything. The surgeon starts cutting before she asks if I can feel the area she’s about to slice. The anesthesiologist quickly asks me if I have any feeling. His eyes look concerned. I tell him that I don’t. They realize they left Ryan out of the room after the anesthesiologist asks the surgeon and staff why he isn’t there. Ryan walks in to see them already cutting into me and makes his way over to me. As he is sitting next to me, he sees blood splashing off of the table onto the floor. I have oxygen tubes in my nose and I’m focusing on that and the kind eyes of the anesthesiologist. “What will his name be?” “Zephyr.” Zephyr Ronan.
The cry that shoots through that room as Zephyr comes earth side is a sound I know will ring in my ears forever. His strawberry blonde hair, his poor bruised head from being stuck against my pelvis, his puffy little baby body. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life is right here, lying across my chest and I grew him inside of me. They take him for evaluation and I love the pediatrician who is there to evaluate him. He asks me if I want him circumcised, I say no, and he says, “Good, it’s just cosmetic anyway.”
They take me for evaluation because I have some extra blood loss, but fortunately, it is nothing to be alarmed about. The midwife jokes with me, “You redheads just bleed extra.” Hilarious. Thanks for the joke. I want to see my baby. I keep smiling as the nurse is wheeling me down the hall, “I want to try breastfeeding him right away so we can establish a good relationship.” The nurse just nods her head, “Well, we’ll see after the doctor finishes looking him over.” I am puzzled by the statement, but I am so excited to see him.
They bring him in, swaddled in a blanket and I can’t stop staring at him. The pediatrician comes down and looks very sorry. Because of some of the things Zephyr is doing with his face, they are concerned about him having a stroke while he was stuck against my pelvis while I was pushing for so many hours. My heart is sinking. My baby may have had a stroke? What will that mean? A million questions are on my mind and I can’t find the words to ask any of them. “When you take him up to York Hospital, can he be brought back to Gettysburg?” The doctor hangs his head a little and says, “No, unfortunately he would have to stay up at the NICU.” I start crying again. Zephyr should be evaluated if they think this happened but I don’t want him to go alone. I reluctantly agree, but I tell Ryan he has to go to York with our baby. He is nodding the entire time. He calls his brother to take him to York because the staff informs us that Ryan cannot ride with the baby, that it is a liability. I beg to be taken to York Hospital with my baby and they decline, over and over again. I am trying to hold onto this precious baby before they take him away from me. He opens his eyes just a bit to look at me and then falls asleep.
I don’t get a chance to nurse my baby for the first time because the NICU transport team storms in. The lady who is the one in charge, or so it seems, is pushy and rude. She hands me this tote bag with a onesie in it that nearly sends me into a rage when I read it. It is a plain white onesie with the words, “My First Ride” and a helicopter on it. I instantly want to punch her teeth out of her head. What kind of fucking stupid onesie is this to give a new mother with a baby heading to the NICU? She tells me they are going to give the baby formula. I tell them I would prefer to pump colostrum, that the baby’s blood sugar was fine, that his belly doesn’t even hold that much liquid yet. She then looks at me strangely and says, “If his sugar drops, we will have to hook him up to an IV with sugar water, you don’t want us to have to hurt him more, do you?” Of course not. But what kind of mindfuck is that? HURT HIM MORE?!?! I tell them I am going to pump and send milk to the NICU. She blows off everything I am saying.
She takes my baby and holds him out to me like she is holding a pretend doll and says, “Kiss your baby, it’s time to go.” They put him in a clear, plastic box and I just stare. When he is finally out of the room, I begin sobbing about wanting to be with my baby. Ryan holds me and tells me how much he loves me, about how awesome I did, and all I can think is how badly I failed. That I should have pushed harder to be taken with him.
My friend Anna is there and she talks me through everything. We talk about the entire situation, and she makes me feel better. I refuse to sleep. I get the phone call that my child did not have a stroke and that he seems perfectly fine, but he is a lazy eater, so they want to keep him until he will eat at least 1oz in a sitting. I become furious, he does not need to consume that much in a sitting. I tell Ryan to advocate for our son and he does the best he can.
I ask the nurses at Gettysburg for help because I need to start pumping. The nurse comes in and tosses the items on the bed and says, “It isn’t difficult to figure out.” She mentions a breastfeeding app. I want to mention that she’s an idiot. But I figure it out because I am determined that they will not take this away from me. And I pump. Ryan takes the milk to the baby. I am determined to get out tomorrow because now I am watching my infant child lay in a box via laptop. I am crying and hardly eating this shitty hospital meal. We have been separated by a hospital that goes out of its way to promote kangaroo care and I think about how horrible it is that they would separate a mother and child if the child is not ill. I am obsessed with this laptop. My baby is so beautiful and perfect.
I walk and walk and walk so that I can show them I am better. They are shocked because I just had major abdominal surgery and I am walking like I have no pain at all. I do not want to be here. When I am finally discharged less than 24 hours after my C-section, I have to have a leg bag because I still cannot urinate on my own. The surgeon who is discharging me doesn’t seem concerned about risks and she signs off on my paperwork without mentioning much of anything. My husband drives me to York where my mom and stepdad meet us. They wheel me into the NICU and in that plastic container is my sweet baby. I can’t stop crying when I see him. He’s swaddled in the blanket and I can’t believe that we are here.
I feel like I abandoned him to this place and now he is a prisoner until they say he can go home. My stepdad tries to take a family picture and I’m crying so I say no. There really isn’t a happy “coming home” picture of us. I never knew it was possible to love someone so much. We go home at midnight and come back at 6am. I am there all day and he is finally nursing. I don’t have any support with it because the nurses are busy – I’m just doing it. I’m determined. I’m still pumping so that they will stop feeding him formula during the times that I am away. This child is so beautiful. The rest of the time is a blur because all I am focused on is establishing our breastfeeding relationship.
The doctor who evaluates him on the day he gets to go home is matter-of-fact and personable. I like him immediately. He tells us we get to go home and I want to hug him. My baby is fine, there was never anything wrong with him, just some bruising and swelling. We go home and jump into a routine of naps, snuggles, and nursing. I am so, so in love.
Side note, it turns out that the reason I felt like I couldn’t urinate while I was at the hospital was because I had a UTI from them catheterizing me so many times during labor. Awesome, thanks for all of the fond memories.
It makes me sad to say that we were failed by the medical system, as so many women are. Especially when my particular experience involves a medical group that I am employed by. To say that I am thankful for my child’s health and my own healthy outcome is an understatement, but that shouldn’t even need to be mentioned. I am writing about my birth experience because it was real and it happened. It happens regularly where providers neglect to treat the patient like they are worthy of an explanation, like the process isn’t just as important as the outcome, or like the clock always has a significant place in the birthing experience. Additionally, the lack of education in terms of establishing a breastfeeding relationship is astounding and we owe more to our mothers who want to have successful breastfeeding relationships with their children.
As a result of this failure, I have met some amazing women who have been through similar circumstances and who have filled an immense gap in my life with empowerment and love. I am part of a small family of women who meet monthly to support each other and the resounding effects of traumatic birth experiences. If you have experienced birth trauma, I highly suggest finding a support group of some kind and go tell your story. It has been the biggest blessing, especially on those days where I find images coming to me and the rage I feel is almost uncontrollable. I try not to focus on this, but I feel like if I wouldn’t have gotten back in the bed each time they asked me, it is possible that Zephyr wouldn’t have stayed stuck. But it is all maybes and what-ifs now. He’s here and we have such a strong bond.
This experience has helped me grow as a parent, believe it or not. I am now also a very conscientious parent – constantly checking myself to make sure that I don’t let the shadow of my birth experience overthrow my belief in giving my child the freedom and autonomy to explore this world without a helicopter parent. The most important thing is finding a way to bring light into a world with so much darkness. My son is going to be two on April 23rd this year and he is a constant reminder of what beautiful things can grow from chaos.
Punk Mamas had a few follow up questions for Shawna – we wanted to know what she would have done differently, how to find support after a traumatic birth, and how to navigate breastfeeding when healthcare providers aren’t offering the support you need. Here are her responses:
What would you do differently if you have the opportunity?
I would absolutely hire a doula. My family and husband were wonderful, but they don’t understand unnecessary interventions and ultimately could not help me advocate for myself adequately. If I would have had a doula, I would have felt more comfortable laboring at home a bit longer, which would have allowed me to relax. I never actually wanted a hospital birth because hospitals give me anxiety, but Zephyr was an unplanned pregnancy and we did not have the money to have a homebirth at that time.
The reason I chose Gettysburg hospital was because I thought those midwives had my back. What it turned out to be was that all but one of them were entirely misleading in how they would assist and support me through the birthing process. Next time, I do not have a choice but to go to a hospital that is VBAC-friendly, but I will be much more prone to questioning my provider and ensuring that we have a good, understanding relationship surrounding what I would like to aim for in terms of a birth process. I didn’t feel like I needed to do that the first time around because I was assured that they wanted the same things for me. I would also choose a hospital that offers a NICU because the pain of knowing that you are in a place 30 miles away, crying for your child while he is in another place crying for you is just too much.
Where did you find a support group for your traumatic birth experience?
The group that I am a part of requires attendance to an in-person meeting before joining the Facebook group. I discovered them through a local resource for parents and children called Om Baby Center in Camp Hill, which is where I took my cloth diaper and breastfeeding education classes. If you live in the south central Pennsylvania area and struggle with birth trauma, I would be happy to support you in finding an outlet and circle of women to help you navigate your feelings. I would say the internet is the best place to search to find what is right for you. If you don’t see something in your area, look into starting your own group. It is a lot of work, but we need educated, compassionate individuals to help support families through these distressing experiences.
Punk Mamas has selected a few online resources regarding traumatic birth as a research starting point:
Improving Birth‘s mission is to Inform, Support, Engage and Empower Consumers, Community Leaders and Providers with Tools to Improve Birth.
Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth (PATTCh) is a collective of birth and mental health experts dedicated to the prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth.
Solace for Mothers is an organization designed for the sole purpose of providing and creating support for women who have experienced childbirth as traumatic.
What about navigating breastfeeding on your own, were there any books, groups, websites, or apps that you would recommend to anyone not receiving the support they need from healthcare providers?
I was the first person in my family to breastfeed their child successfully, so my family really had no clue how to encourage or support me. I was so thankful that I had taken a breastfeeding education class through Om Baby Center because it gave me the confidence to call the nurses out on their misinformation. I felt equipped with knowledge to start out strong, which was so imperative to my success.
After Zephyr was born, I found myself reading Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding, which just continued to help me feel empowered. With random moments of panic or concern, I found myself online with the (local) Harrisburg/Mechanicsburg Breastfeeding Support Group on Facebook, which is a large group of mamas in the Harrisburg area who have been or are all on their own breastfeeding journey. That group was an invaluable resource for me when parental anxieties started to knock me down and I am so grateful to have found them. Another great resource that I recommend to all breastfeeding mothers is Kelly Mom because it provides answers and reassurance to just about every wall you could possibly meet in your breastfeeding journey.
Shawna S. can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Punk Mamas started in early 2016 as “a private Facebook group where punk mamas can openly discuss pregnancy, childbirth, raising children, and motherhood!” Started as a small group of mothers within the hardcore scene, it has now become a group of 500 punk women in all stages of motherhood sharing encouraging stories and supporting one another. There are mothers on the west coast, east coast, overseas and everywhere in between; women trying to conceive, pregnant, first-time mothers, step-mothers, adoptive mothers – ALL mothers; those who stay home, those who are lawyers, teachers, librarians, tattoo artists, doulas, and everything in between. This diverse group has been a blessing for many who needed someone to turn with their pregnancy, parenting, and motherhood questions, a place to share those small parenting victories, or a place to let off a little steam in this crazy world.
With hopes of reaching and helping a larger audience, Punk Mamas will now expand as a collaborative blog. We are not sure how this will play out yet, but are hopeful Punk Mamas will come forward with their specific stories and their tried-and-true advice to share. If there is one thing that Punk Mamas have learned from the Facebook group, it is that there are a million different ways to be a good mother, and we hope this blog reflects that. There will be plenty of conflicting stories, so please keep in mind that we are all doing the best we can with the information and resources that we have as individuals; there is more than one “right” way to raise happy and healthy children! We hope others can find our stories inspiring, humorous, educational, and thought-provoking, but more than anything, we want you mamas out there to know that you are NOT alone in your journey!