It’s not a secret that I’m pretty passionate about maternal mental health. Actually, it may not be something I’ve communicated very well in the past. So maybe it is a secret and I’m outing myself! Anyway, if there is one thing that keeps me in doula work it’s maternal mental health. How we feel and the stability of our emotions have an incredible impact on how we parent. How we perceive our births and those first few months postpartum have a huge impact on us for the rest of our lives.
Postpartum is already an incredibly emotional time. Our hormones are going crazy as they transition our bodies from pregnancy to no longer being pregnant and often lactating. Our brains have just completely rewired themselves to bond with and parent this new little person. And if it’s the first baby, we are adjusting to a completely new way of life. We need the best start possible here to thrive.
My own experience with postpartum depression (or rather mood disorders) started as what I would describe as anxiety. I did not fit the descriptions of postpartum depression that I could find. I was functioning. My baby was cared for. I got up each morning and went to work. I made it to church on the weekends. I still showered. I concluded that how I was feeling must just be parenting. Except I wasn’t okay. My brain was in a state of semi panic all the time. I couldn’t breath. I was paralyzed be the 99 bajillion things in my head. This progressed to the occasional panic attack. I didn’t get treatment until my daughter was three. By then, things had progressed passed just anxiety. I didn’t realize how bad I felt until I felt better.
In my case we also had a series of very significant life events happen in the year before her birth and in the two years after. I remember constantly trying to figure out if how I felt was because I was postpartum or because of our life circumstances. Nevertheless, I needed treatment and I fell through the cracks.
My takeaway is this: Parenting is hard. Having a new baby is hard. All of this is hard and you are changed. But. BUT. Postpartum mood disorders don’t always look like depression and we do ourselves and new mothers a disservice by continuing to promote that model. It may take a few weeks but you should feel mostly like yourself (just with your heart now running around outside your body). The things you enjoy in life should not completely disappear. You should still get excited about things that you did before even if you have less time to pursue them. Panic attacks are not normal. Flashbacks and PTSD symptoms are not normal (and are terrifying common among postpartum women). These are signs that things are not as they should be and you may need outside help.
Surround yourself with support. If your family and partner don’t understand, seek support elsewhere. Support groups that are specifically for postpartum mood disorders can be incredible. One of our local hospitals here in Indy has one I highly recommend. But so can general parenting support groups like Breastfeeding USA or ICAN or MOPS. Sometimes just knowing you aren’t alone makes all the difference.
Sometime, though, you need more than just support and it’s time to talk to your doctor. If your OB is unsupportive or blows you off, find a doctor who is supportive. It doesn’t have to be an OB. Medication is not evil and doesn’t have to be forever but it can be lifesaving in the short term.
This is why I’m a doula. As women, as mothers, we deserve better. Our mental health is incredibly important and impacts every aspect of our lives. We need our struggles to be recognized and taken seriously. It’s vital to our lives and our families that this is the case. Our children deserve it as much as we do!
I get asked more often than you might think what kinds of births I support. What my favorite kind to attend are, or even if I leave when things don’t go the way they were planned. This breaks my heart. Every birth is unique. The needs of every laboring mother are unique. No birth looks the same and the best birth possible looks different for every woman! And I don’t leave.
As your doula, my role is to support you in YOUR choices, not to make sure you make the choices I think you should. For that matter, it’s pretty rare that I even have an opinion. This is your day, your experience. I am not in your body. Yes, there are benefits to a natural birth but there are very valid reasons (including just desire) for that not to be your goal. My goal for all is not that everyone would have a “natural birth,” but that everyone would make their choices from a place of confidence.
I look back on all the families I’ve had the privilege of working with and each one has a special place in my heart. The long births, the fast ones, the ones that ended in surgery. Every mother was amazing. Every father stepped up. It’s such a joy and privilege to be part of that. I would truly not be able to choose a favorite.
No matter if your plan is all natural, an epidural, or even a planned csection, (and certainly when things don’t go quite how you plan) doula support can have a role and enhance your experience. My hope for every woman is that they are able to look back on their birth, be confident in their decisions and be at peace. That’s the best birth.
Fail is the “f” word of birth. It does NOT apply to you. And everyone need stop stop saying it. What a terrible word to apply to inductions and VBACs and everywhere else they use it. What a way to set mothers up. Ranks right up there with Advanced Maternal Age. Sometime the system fails. Sometimes part of the care team fails. Sometimes what you perceive (or are told) as a failure really is the very best choice for you and your baby. But I’m telling you, and listen, YOU NEVER FAIL.
Somehow we’ve got to figure out how to promote normal birth without making people feel terrible when it doesn’t work. Somehow our care system has to figure out how to intervene as necessary rather than as standard procedure so we can trust the system. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I know this to be true. Because sometimes, the interventions we are trying desperately to avoid really are the right choice and the best thing for us as mothers and our babies.
I know, right about now someone will be thinking that, “if they just had a home birth….” Sure. But not always and the women who are risked out (and those for whom it is just not a comfortable choice) also deserve to have good, evidence based care and to not be told that they should have had a home birth and all would be well.
Whether or not you did things “right” doesn’t matter. Having adequate information to make good decisions matters. Good as in the best for you. How you, as a mother, are treated matters. What happens to your baby matters. How you feel about it in the moment and looking back matters. But there is no failure no matter what.
This week was my daughter’s eighth birthday. My beautiful, kind, laughing child is growing up. She likes dolls and boys and climbing trees. She’s so friendly and into other people’s business I’m convinced she’s the next Mrs. Lynde. One minute, she’s a little girl, the next, a young woman, way older than I'm ready for her to be. I am blessed to be this child’s mother.
Her birth is what made me a mother. She brought light and love into my life in a way I’d never experienced and changed me forever in ways I could never have anticipated. It shaped me to be the person, mother, and doula that I am today. But the circumstances of our lives at the time, her birth, and our following complications were one of the most difficult times of my life. I’ll never be the person I was before she was born.
My daughter’s birthday is a day of joy. It’s a day of celebration and I don’t allow the trauma of her birth to cloud that joy. But especially the day before, I remember. I remember my naivety as I walked into the hospital on that Ash Wednesday night eight days past my due date. The feeling of inevitability and disbelief that this was happening.
What followed was a medically unnecessary induction which, from its starting point, I had nearly a 50% chance of needing a c-section. But I didn’t know that. I’d been told an induced labor was the same as a natural labor. Finally, 30 hours after the first dose of cytotec and 18 hours after pitocin, I was taken into surgery for the surgical birth of my child that I’m still not convinced was necessary at the time and am absolutely sure had been completely avoidable. But that’s not where it ended. My doctor also messed up the surgery and didn’t get everything out. After ten weeks of cramping, bleeding, and not having enough milk for my baby, I passed the last of what should have been removed in surgery.
During that time, I was completely blown off by my doctor. By several doctors and everyone else actually. I was told by my medical team that there was nothing wrong with me, that I must have an intestinal bug, that some women just can’t produce enough milk, that there was nothing wrong. To this day, none of that is reflected in my medical records. I was told by “friends” that the problems we were having were my own fault because I never should have consented to an induction and epidural. People were terrible and no one listened.
To add to the equation was the fact that we’d just moved over 4000 miles less than a year before and my husband’s employer refused to allow prearranged time off because the baby hadn’t come "on time.” I had to go back to work before it resolved and then my grandfather passed away when she was four months old. I know about birth trauma. I know about postpartum depression. I know about feeling alone. I lived it. It’s not supposed to be that way.
Birth is more than the safe delivery of a baby and a woman is more than a vessel for that baby’s growth. Birth is a physical and emotional experience that helps create a family. So often that’s forgotten. Emotional health is as important as the physical. And so I work. I work for the women I serve so that their experiences are better than mine. So that they know what they are choosing and look back and own that decision. I work for change so that my daughters have better care than I did. As a doula, I don’t save people. I help them find information, I hold their hand, I rub their back, I help them through, and I make sure someone is listening.
Adina Nelson, CD(DONA)
I am a birth & postpartum doula and chlidbirth educator practicing in North Idaho.
She was there every step of the way for me and my husband...I thank Adina for everything she helped us with. She truly is a special person and we will be forever grateful for her! ~Erin