Blogger: Naomi Meller | Instagram: @naomimllr
Looking back on my first pregnancy, I now realize I had some unrealistic expectations about the birth of our child. I had no idea that the start of her life would begin with me almost losing mine.
During my pregnancy, I had daydreamed for months about giving birth to our first baby, sitting with her for the drive home, walking into our house and settling in.
I had seen many of my friends do this, mostly reflected in happy pictures posted all over social media of fresh new sleeping babies, smiling spouses and siblings.
Our experience would be nothing like that. Instead, it was different and scary and unexpected. And I think that most women relate to that more than the ideal.
Sometimes (almost always?) labor and delivery is not what we anticipate. Sometimes we get a rough start. What I learned, and have embraced years later, is that sometimes we make it through and come out feeling stronger than we ever knew we could.
Just to give you the condensed version, I got sick after having my daughter. To this day we don’t know how it happened, but I somehow got an infection during, or right after delivery that quickly spread through my blood. I became septic within 24 hours of her birth and received a blood transfusion before being rushed into the ICU. My family was anticipating the worst — my organs were failing, I had fluid in my lungs, and there was little hope in the prognosis. Doctors were starting to prepare my loved ones for the worst. I have very few memories from that time, but my new baby was home with her father while I lay away from them, barely conscious on a breathing machine in a hospital bed.
Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine and some other force inside of me, just when things seemed like they couldn’t get worse, I started to get better. Over the course of about a week my conditions gradually improved and I was transferred into a regular hospital room. My husband and days-old baby were finally able to come to me and stay with me until I was finally discharged.
All of the images I’d anticipated: first doctor’s visit, car rides, feedings, all of those things had happened without me. I still clearly remember the first time I changed her diaper in the hospital. She was well over a week old.
Fast forward several months. I was terrified that my baby was going to have suffered from not having her mother with her at the beginning of her life. That my inability to breastfeed due to all of my antibiotics and medications was going to destroy her. That she would feel disconnected. Insecure. Maybe even suffer health-wise.
I am here, five years later, to say: we are all okay. I have a 5 year old who remembers absolutely none of what happened. She is smart and happy and funny and loves me to the moon and back.
Our recovery was a long one. I had to recover physically, of course, but I also had to recover emotionally, as did my husband and family. It took months. We have a photo in which I am standing up, holding my daughter with an IV line hidden off to the side. She was more than two-weeks-old, and it was the first time I could hold her on my feet without help.
While getting my strength back was difficult, the emotional toll lingered and lingered. I felt guilt, worry. I did not allow myself to acknowledge what happened. I felt a need to minimize my experience, to end every sentence with, “but everyone is fine now, so we’re good.”
I felt an urgency to tell every mother I came across that I wanted nothing more than to breastfeed, but that my illness made it impossible. I wanted to tell people that I was scared about our future, my connection to my baby, but worried that I’d seem abnormal or troubled to people who expected just the pure joy in having a new baby.
It wasn’t until I acknowledged that this was a traumatic experience that I was able to start to let go of some of that pain. Just because it can always be worse doesn’t mean that an experience wasn’t a traumatic one. Therapy helped a great deal (I have always been a fan of therapy). Between talking it out, and just the natural passage of time, the heaviness of what had happened began to lighten. The dark cloud that it was drifted further and further from us.
We just had our second child last fall. Was I nervous because of what had happened before? Absolutely. I was terrified. But I also knew that the likelihood of it happening again was going to be almost non-existent. Our 5 year old has no reason to think that her start was any different from what she has seen with her younger sister. We’ll talk about it someday, but in the grand scheme of our everyday life, it just isn’t at the forefront anymore. Once a year, during her birthday, I re-live that time, look at pictures, remember just what we went through, cry about it a bit. But I think that’s an important part of healing as well.
It’s always easy to look back on an experience and wish you could give yourself advice. I wish that I had known that everything REALLY would be OK.
Because today I am confident that our love was unfazed by a rough start.
Today, I am confident that I do my very best with my girls. Like everyone else we have great days and rough days. I look back to the many memories we’ve created over the past five years with warmth and fondness, and I know that we'll build so many more.
I’m certain that my story will resonate with many others, and I hope that it allows someone else to accept their experience for what it was. Whether it was good, bad, even if it went just as you imagined it might.
We are all mothers, after all.