I’ll start with a little background story. I experienced my first battle of depression/post partum depression when I was 16/17 after the premature birth and subsequent death of my first son, followed by my being on birth control for the first time in my life. Upon discontinuing the pill, I found myself depression-free until I got pregnant with my second son in 2012. I gave birth to a beautiful perfectly healthy baby boy 18 months ago at a local hospital. It wasn’t the home birth that I wanted, and though it wasn’t “the worst” as far as hospital births go, it also was nowhere near the best. Essentially everything that I hadn’t wanted, I was “forced” to have, including saline drip, antibiotics, and electronic fetal monitoring (EFM). I was group-B strep positive, and at the time not knowlegable of any alternatives I did consent to receiving antibiotics. However, before going into labor I was told that I would not have to stay hooked up to a saline drip and that they would just keep the IV base in my hand and hook me up whenever I needed a dose of antibiotics. Upon arrival at the hospital, this was apparently not the case per instructions of the “current on-call CNM”. I was also told beforehand at a doctor’s visit that I could request “intermittent fetal monitoring” with a doplar instead of EFM also known as “continuous [electronic] fetal monitoring”. Again, upon arrival at the hospital, that wasn’t going to fly. Now bound in bed by a blood pressure cuff, an EFM belt, and an IV tube, my desire to get in the shower during labor was essentially made impossible, and at that point I wanted nothing else than to just lay there on my left side (I did this, except for a trip to the bathroom, until it was time to push). I thankfully only had to labor at the hospital for about an hour and a half or so (my total time from start to finish was just shy of 3.5 hours). My partner and my mother were there with me the whole time. I remember the nurses constantly asking me for information to put in the system, asking for signatures on papers I hadn’t (and couldn’t) read during contractions… it was overall an unpleasant experience. So this is where we begin to get into how my bond with my son was affected for the worse, and what I believe contributed greatly to my Post Partum Depression.
During pushing, I was in (what I now know to be) a very poor position choice to prevent tearing of the perineum. I was in the semi-upright sorta-seated position that most hospitals have their mothers in now-a-days. I was not allowed an easy, slow, take-our-time pushing phase. And even though I could feel myself tearing, I could feel everything and wanted to slow down, I wanted to stop for a moment, the CNM kept yelling at me to not stop, to keep pushing, particularly once his head was out. Once he was born, my son was placed immediately on my stomach as requested. Of course, the nurses were scrambling to remove the EFM belt and get it out of the way, which I hadn’t even wanted in the first place. The next few minutes are hazy. I’m not sure when exactly they clamped the cord, even though I had requested delayed clamping. I’m not sure exactly when my placenta came out, I just remember her tractioning it. Whether it had detached and she was just helping it out or not I have no idea. Though my recollection is fuzzy, I don’t think it was more than maybe ten minutes or so for all of that. While she was tractioning the cord I remember her saying I had torn, and she’d need to give me stitches. I have never received stitches before and I was really nervous. I was already shaking uncontrollably at this point and was afraid of holding my baby while she stitched me for some reason. (I also don’t remember much of my son through any of this, though I never received any drugs to my knowledge). So, I handed my son off to my partner (I hadn’t even gotten him to my chest from my belly). He got to hold him for a minute or two then handed him off to the nurse to wipe him off a bit, measure and weigh him, and stamp his feet. At some point they asked if I wanted to wait to take him to the nursery until I was done with my stitches. I didn’t know what to do so I let them take him, my partner close behind while my mother stayed with me. At this point I had to pee terribly (I despise saline) and since my privates were practically numb I had an accident with the bedpan and needed a shower. This whole time I’m receiving texts from my partner that the nurses were getting impatient– they wanted to give my son a bath.
My partner managed to hold them off until I got into the nursery. Then we stood by and watched while someone else washed our baby. Afterwards instead of letting us take him to the room, they said they had to put him in the incubator to bring his body temperature up. Which according to the machine, never dropped, so he didn’t stay long. By this time it was around 11:30 pm. We finally got to the room and settled in. I didn’t get to hold him much until the next day, and first thing in the morning they took him to get circumcised. We had planned on waiting at least 3 days, but I had wanted to wait at least 7-8 days to make sure his clotting factors were established, but they said they liked to do it the day before discharge so that they could monitor them for 24 hours. They refused to allow my partner to accompany him, and so we sat, quiet and sad, for over 2 hours waiting for my son. They finally brought him back to us and left without a word. His first pee after surgery was a horrible experience for all of us (without going into a full-on anti-circumcision tangent, I will say that we have decided to never circumcise another boy). Now I should say at this point I still had not breastfed my son.
My son did not nurse for the first time until he was almost 24 hours old. It took us almost two days to see the lactation consultant. He had a poor latch from the start, which became a major contributing factor to my PPD. When we finally got home, it was hard. I would stay up most of the night every night with my son balling my eyes out because he wouldn’t nurse and would just cry, or when he did finally latch it hurt so bad I couldn’t stand it, and I was just. So. Tired. I felt alone, like I was a poor mom. I felt like I had failed, and I didn’t feel the bond that I knew I should have been experiencing with my newborn. It wasn’t there. I loved him, but there was this distance between us that broke my heart. And to this day, my son now 18 months old, I still feel the same. My birth-right was stolen from me. The crucial bond with my child, was stolen from me. For the last 18 months I have struggled with fatigue, depression, thoughts of just disappearing, feelings of disdain and anger, of betrayal and loneliness. I have struggled with breastfeeding, I have finally understood why people shake their babies. Truly, understood how they could do something so atrocious. I can say that I never crossed that threshold, but I stood at it and looked over the edge. The sound of my son crying still puts me on edge and makes me grit my teeth in anger. And that scares me. It breaks my heart. That I have no patience for my son, that I get so angry with him. At 18 months postpartum I am still battling the remnants of depression, and our bond is still lacking. And yet the thought of not breastfeeding (he’s still mostly breastfed, which I am very proud of), or not having him in my life, is heart-wrenching.
It has been a constant fight, one that I was not prepared for, one that hundreds of mothers are not prepared for nor cared for and supported through properly if at all. Our partners don’t know what to do, our mothers think we’re just complaining, our friends feel sorry for us or just think we’re exaggerating. That’s if we even talk about what’s going on in the first place, which many of us don’t.
I now know what Michel Odent is talking about. I now know why he advocates so much for facilitating the maternal-fetal bond, for not disturbing birth or the early postpartum (first 1-3 hours after birth). I know the evidence is there, but I hadn’t really realized the seriousness of the situation, the true need to really and truly make sure the maternal-fetal bond is preserved and nourished, until I experienced (and actually realized what had happened) first hand the repercussions of not doing so.
Post-partum depression and maternal-fetal bonding are topics for concern that should be at the forefront of every birthworker’s mind. Women need support, they need answers, they need alternatives. They need to be left alone in birth and facilitating bonding needs to be a top priority. This isn’t just some radical opinion. This is real life. For all those mothers out there who are experiencing this, or who have in the past, know that you are not alone. There are others out there who are going through the same thing, there is help, there are options. Reach out to the women around you. Talk to your partner, your midwife, your doula. Get your placenta encapsulated if possible. Try herbs, yoga, meditation, counseling. Eat a good healthy diet with plenty of vitamins, minerals, and healthy saturated fats. Get sunlight. For moms who are pregnant, stand up for your rights, stand up for the bond between you and your newborn. And if you think you may be at risk for PPD, I cannot express the importance of placenta encapsulation, healthy diets, and a good support system.