Jennifer Ginsberg: When I was pregnant with my first child, I had an idyllic vision of
what childbirth would be like. I imagined I would have a quick labor
and easy birth, then my son would peacefully latch onto my breast and
we would sail off into maternal bliss.
After all, I had been healthy all through my pregnancy -- I carefully avoided caffeine, shellfish, and unpasteurized products. I ate organic foods and diligently took my pre-natal vitamins. In fact, the day my water broke, I walked for an hour and took an intense yoga class! There was no reason for me to anticipate anything other than my romanticized fantasy of labor and delivery.
The reality was not quite so pretty. After my water broke at home, my OB sent me to the hospital, hoping labor would begin naturally. After spending the night in the hospital, my cervix was not even dilated 1 cm, so I got induced. Twenty-five excruciating hours of labor passed, and I watched in panic as my baby's heart rate dropped with each forced contraction.
My OB came into my room with a concerned look on her face and broke the news to me
-- the news she had been broaching for hours but which I didn't want to accept -- I needed a C-section, and I needed it NOW. I remember being wheeled into the painfully bright and sterile room, filled with strangers wearing masks and gowns, and seeing all the operating tools glistening on a table next to me. I was sobbing in fear and exhaustion, but couldn't even speak. I was racked with terror.
After my son was unwillingly ripped from my body (at least that was what it felt like!), I was paralyzed from the anesthesia and couldn't even hold him. He was whisked off to the nursery while I was wheeled away to recovery, completely traumatized by the entire experience.
After a few hours, we were united, and I was so exhausted and doped out I could barely stay awake. I slept with him that first night in my hospital bed, my tears splashing onto his tiny swaddled body. I desperately wanted him to crawl back inside of me and forget that the entire thing had ever happened.
When I got home from the hospital, I was overwhelmed by feelings -- feelings so complicated that even as a psychotherapist, I couldn't understand them. My anxiety was off the charts -- I literally felt like I was jumping out of my skin. I was terrified that I wasn't equipped to take care of my son. I was incredibly lonely and sad, in spite of the fact that I had friends and family members around. I felt like, along with my body being ripped open by the C-section, my soul had been ripped open emotionally. And I had no idea how to begin to heal.
I did my research and discovered that many women suffer from post-traumatic stress symptoms following an emergency Cesarean birth. Not only did I feel completely robbed of my fantasy of a vaginal delivery, I also felt like I was cheated out of that magical moment of bonding when the baby lies on your chest after you give birth. I was certain that because my son and I had not experienced that precious moment together, we would never be fully bonded and he wouldn't have a secure attachment to me. All of this seems far-fetched and hyperbolic now, but at the time these feelings were very real.
I also felt like I couldn't express my dark feelings -- after all, I ended up with a healthy baby, and I was supposed to be feeling maternal bliss and gratitude. I was also having major breastfeeding problems, and I told myself that if I couldn't even feed my baby, what kind of piece of sh*t mother was I? This distorted thinking, which was compounded by severe sleep deprivation, only further consecrated my feelings of guilt and isolation.
Shortly after I brought my baby home from the hospital, I was sitting on my bed struggling to latch my tiny, writhing, little beast onto my engorged breast. My husband walked into the room and observed the mayhem. "Maybe he just doesn't like breastfeeding," he said quietly. This was a particularly low point.
The people in my life were getting frustrated with me, and telling me to "snap out of it." One family member actually said, "A lot of people have C-sections -- what's the big deal?" There was no acknowledgment that I was recovering from a major, unplanned surgery while trying to navigate the complicated road of new motherhood. I was dripping in shame.
I was fortunate to find a support group for new moms where I could talk about my trauma and express my authentic feelings, rather than the candy-coated bullsh*t that some people seem to want to hear. I also found wonderful resources and information online about emotional healing after a Cesarean. One suggestion that I found extremely helpful was to start referring to my experience as a Cesarean birth, rather than a C-section. This simple shift in language reframed the experience in my mind from being a surgical procedure to an actual, legitimate birth. I was fortunate to find an incredible lactation consultant who helped me correct my latch so I could successfully nurse my son, which built my confidence as a mother.
If there are any women reading this who can relate to my experience, there is help available. I strongly encourage you to find a supportive place where you can connect and relate to other women. Isolation only makes everything exponentially worse.
I am currently developing a support group for new moms where they can express all of their postpartum feelings in a safe and non-judgmental environment. My hope is that more services will be available to postpartum women to help them through this emotionally and physically challenging time.
Motherhood is not meant to be endured alone.
|Jennifer Ginsberg is a Los Angeles mother, writer, and addiction specialist with over 15 years of experience in the fields of alcoholism, addiction, and recovery. After receiving her MSW from the USC School Of Social Work and MAJCS from Hebrew Union College, Jennifer served as the clinical director of a 120 bed drug and alcohol treatment facility. She also co-developed an addiction prevention program for Jewish youth, which has been implemented in synagogues nationally. Jennifer now works privately with people who are impacted by the devastating effects of drugs and alcohol and writes about all topics related to motherhood, addiction, and women in politics. Read more about her life at angstmom.com|