When I was younger I had very specific ideas about what my birth plan and motherhood would be like. We would start a family in our mid-twenties and be done having babies by 30. We would have two or four children, conceived and birthed naturally, and exclusively breastfed for the first year of life. I would work part-time and be a baby-wearing, cloth-diapering, organic mama who never let my child watch television. And since I had been a NICU nurse, I thought caring for a newborn would be easy as pie.
Spoiler alert: none of that happened.
Foiled Birth Plan
I found out I was pregnant just before my 30th birthday, eight years after we got married and four years later than planned. It required numerous tests, medications, and procedures. Despite this beginning, I held out hope for smooth sailing pregnancy and the natural birth that I had planned. However, our baby girl had other ideas. She made one big somersault at 29 weeks and nestled her little head right up into my rib cage. She became a very dedicated breech baby and would not budge.
My plans for a natural birth experience were foiled when I had to have a C-section. The night before, I sat at our computer feeling like a failure. I envisioned having a neatly-typed birth plan, but it seemed useless now that I wasn’t having a natural delivery. I attempted to type one up so I didn’t show up empty-handed at the hospital, but our printer ran out of ink.
Once again, I failed.
My Actual Birth Experience
The morning of delivery, I was terrified. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the worst-case scenarios. We got to the hospital and soon it was time to walk to the OR. My sweet midwife came to walk me down the hall. I froze, panicked, and actually tried to walk backwards and momentarily escape. I asked our midwife if we really needed to do this, or if it was possible for me to go home for a couple of weeks and think this through.
Eventually, I made it down the hall and met our perfect baby. She wasn’t exactly what I pictured. Being stuck in one spot for three months gave her a serious kink her neck. And within an hour of delivery I found out that she had bilateral “hip clicks” which likely meant that her hips hadn’t formed right from being breech. Soon after, she was diagnosed with Hip Dysplasia and was outfitted in a white Pavlik Harness she had to wear 24/7 with only a t-shirt on underneath. I bawled when I found out I could no longer do skin-to-skin and she wouldn’t be wearing any of her beautiful newborn clothes.
Adventures in Breastfeeding
I wish I could say breastfeeding went better. The combination of the severe kink her neck (called Torticollis) and the Pavlik Harness meant that she could only nurse on one side in a very odd position. To top it off, she was terrible at it. It seemed like her neck was painful: she would be very irritable and barely slept. She seemed very hungry, like she wasn’t getting enough to eat. I asked the nurse for a bottle and while she obliged, it was with a hushed whisper of, “Don’t tell the lactation nurse.”
Cue the feeling of failure yet again.
My body didn’t get the memo that the baby was bad at breastfeeding because my milk came in very fast and furious while I was still in the hospital. At least something was working like it was supposed to! I had suddenly turned, overnight, into a full fledged one-woman dairy farm and I wasn’t prepared for that at all. I was puffy from all the IV fluids, itchy from the anesthesia, leaky, and cried constantly due to hormones and lack of sleep. Everybody at the hospital saw my boobs. The doctor, the midwife, the nurses, the Dominos pizza guy, the housekeeping staff, my dad, the people who dropped off the food trays: everyone.
The day of discharge, our kind, well-meaning lactation nurse advised me I shouldn’t take my prescribed pain meds and breastfeed. Therefore, I stopped taking them and I limped the slowest, most painful limp out of the birthing center in a shirt with milk stains on it, maternity pants that barely fit from all the swelling, sobbing from the hormones while my husband carried our sweet perfect baby that I was convinced hated me because she refused to nurse. On the way out, there was another young couple leaving with their baby who looked very put together, calm, and collected: very “normal.”
I couldn’t help asking myself what was wrong with me?
Home wasn’t much easier as I tried to breastfeed while pumping and running a small scale creamery with a baby who barely slept more than an hour or two at a time. Our first lactation appointment didn’t go well, the well-meaning lactation nurse said we were doing exactly 21 things wrong, including not feeding her enough.
In the following weeks I struggled to care for myself post-op, along with a newborn needing multiple specialist appointments, while attempting to breastfeed. I wondered how could something that was supposed to be natural be so hard? How had I helped countless other women breastfeed when I worked in the hospital? I experienced fear and guilt about failing as a mom because it was much harder than I had ever expected.
During those first few rough weeks I called my best friend for support. I lamented how all the other new moms looked so calm and put together. How it seemed like motherhood came so naturally to them. She said those moms look like they’re put together on the outside, but inside they feel like a hot mess.
Finding My Support Group
Four weeks into struggles with nursing, I finally mustered up the courage to seek out lactation help. During that time I had also developed some severe anxiety to the point I feared leaving the house. But I was able to seek out a local support group of breastfeeding moms.
The minute I walked into the room I felt I had found “my people.” A room full of exposed breasts, blurry-eyed women with unwashed hair in messy buns, and a loud chorus of crying babies greeted me. I felt like I was home. Here were other new moms who for a few hours each week removed the mask of acting sane in public. They let their guard down. For the first time in four weeks I realized I was normal. The room was packed with women who were also struggling with breastfeeding. Many of them had less than perfect, sometimes traumatic, birth stories and some also had infants with special medical needs.
I swallowed my pride and took advice from the same lactation nurse who had told me all the things I was doing wrong a few weeks prior. She was very encouraging and praised me for the hard work I had been putting in to feed my baby. She was more than willing to listen to concerns and provide solutions. And I was so thankful because I really needed that help. The remainder of maternity leave was still a struggle, but those weekly meetings really helped me reacclimate to society.
Not Meeting My Own Expectations
Over three years later, I look back at that time and still shutter a bit. However, I can gladly report that we turned out just fine. Even though I never became that all-natural momma.
I have one child, conceived on fertility medication. Not birthed naturally but rather through a planned C-section. I didn’t exclusively cloth diaper and didn’t exclusively breastfeed. I was not able to breastfeed the full year as I had planned. My baby got quite a bit of formula, which more times than not was generic Walmart brand. I work full-time, I rarely buy anything organic, and my daughter watches more TV than I would like.
Overall, I didn’t meet my own rigid expectations regarding birth and motherhood.
And it doesn’t matter.
My daughter is perfectly healthy, kind, very loving, funny, thoughtful, and exceptionally smart. She is my best gal pal. And I am thankful for the life that we have, even though the beginning was far from what I had planned.