An Honest Reflection on my Birthing Experience – and the Days After

I don’t think there is an extensive amount of truly honest birthing and postpartum experiences when we live in a world that glorifies being “Instagram perfect.” So I’m going to write about what I went through and how I’m healing, a week after my child’s birth.

It’s important to keep in mind that I have no true concept of time for any of this. Pain blends hours into minutes. All I know is that I entered the hospital at 11h and my child was born at 4h05 the following day.

I first made my way to the hospital because I was leaking amniotic fluid for 24 hours without a water break. Nothing truly extensive or earth-shattering, and I had the same condition a week prior and the hospital told me to go home. This time, they spotted it right away that I did, indeed, have a fissure, and to prevent infection to me and the baby, I needed to be induced. At this point, I was told I was only about 1cm dilated, and the baby’s head was not in the birth canal.

Initially, they planned a “balloon” induction. At the last minute, they said the doctor didn’t agree with this method and wanted me to be induced with Pitocin. Pitocin is a drug that is inserted inside you and triggers contractions and starts dilation.

The other thing about Pitocin is that it causes unbearably painful contractions, far more painful than natural contractions. If I am being honest and you are given the open of choosing your induction method, I would suggest you avoid this one. It is meant to be “faster”, but it is not worth it. Truly, the pain is not worth it.

The contractions were horrid. I have never felt such pain in all my life. I was told that passing a kidney stone/kidney stone surgery is more painful than giving birth, but on Pitocin, that is a lie. Contractions were literally 30 seconds apart, and none of them were any less intense than the first. 30 seconds of break before I was in excruciating pain, causing me to yell out to the entire hospital.

During my pre-visit, I was told I could request an epidural at any point during my pain, but this was also a lie, as I was denied again and again. The midwife told me the doctor kept saying I could not have one yet. It honestly felt like the pain I was feeling should have been pushing out a baby when instead, it was just torturing me. I remember telling Jordan that this pain was not normal.

Instead, they gave me an IV of drugs which I imagine was something like (or was) morphine – they told me it would not affect the baby. It made me quite high, and it numbed my contractions enough that they were what I imagine were “real contractions” level. It also lengthened the amount of time between my contractions which allowed me to get some rest. Unfortunately, it only lasted around 30 minutes before the IV was finished, at which point, my water broke in sync with the worst contraction yet.

It was crippling and had me keeled over in pain while Niagara Falls happened between my legs. The midwife said I still could not have an epidural. I washed up, and they gave me laughing gas to ease the pain. It hardly worked, and I finished the tank in 15 minutes because I was using it so much. At the end of using this, my water broke a second time – just as intense as the first.

They roughly checked my dilation – as I yelled out in pain – and the midwife said, “Oh yeah, we have to get you to the birthing room…” I was 7cm dilated. It took me a few moments to get into the wheelchair due to the pain, and I was rolled over and readied for an epidural (finally). At this point, I looked at the clock, and I believe it said 1h30.

The epidural was easy, and it provided extensive relief. I don’t know how anyone could go without it, especially through induction. I had access to a button and pressed it when I felt a contraction coming on – which was every 30 seconds. It was a fantastic relief.

But then my blood pressure crashed significantly. I told Jordan something was wrong. I couldn’t breathe, and the room was spinning. As this happened, my son’s heart rate went up. I could see on the midwives’ faces that they knew something was wrong. I was trying to stay calm for my son, but I could tell they were concerned when they said they would put a monitor on his scalp to get a better heart rate for him.

After God knows how long, the doctor that was going to deliver my baby came in and told me that the safest option, in order to prevent infection to me and being passed to the child, would be a cesarean. This was not in my birthing plan (though I did say, when I was young, that I bet if I had kids, they’d be via c-section). But I said, of course, anything to keep my baby safe.

I was rolled into the surgery room, and there were around 10 people working in the room. A sheet was put up to block the view from me, and the epidural was turned on. My entire lower half was made numb with other drugs as well. I could not feel anything from the chest down – I felt like a ragdoll, where I could feel people move me around but not feel any pain or true sensation.

Jordan was dressed for surgery and made to join me at my head. I was actually not stressed at all. Later, one of the nurses asked me how I could be so calm, and I said that this problem had only one solution to keep my baby safe: get a c-section. Why would I stress about a circumstance I cannot change? It will just impact the baby and my experience. I was truly feeling good at this point (no contractions felt) and I was very relaxed during the surgery, even laughing, talking, and joking with the nurses and Jordan.

At 4h05, my son was born. He scored 10 – 10 on the Apgar score, and the doctor even made a comment that they didn’t know why they were worried about him, because he’s clearly strong (like mum). I got to have skin-to-skin with him though I’m not sure how long it lasted. Jordan cut his cord.

Afterward, they stapled me shut (yes, staples), and Jordan left the room to go to a private room for skin-to-skin with the baby since I couldn’t do it in my condition. I thanked (and apologized) to all the doctors and nurses who performed my surgery, and had a beautiful chat with a nurse named Fatima. She told me that I was courageous beyond anything she has ever seen (she said, “definitely not like French women – must be a Canadian thing”) and that I was a wonderful person.

I was then rolled to a recovery room. They told me I would be there for 2 hours, but it felt more like 3. I didn’t get any sleep as I wanted for my lower body to become functioning again. Every time I closed my eyes, I had traumatic nightmares about the pain of the contractions again. When I was finally rolled into my hospital room, I got to do skin-to-skin with my baby boy again.

They encourage you to walk around and get up or wash after having a c-section so your muscles can adjust and reform rather than becoming tight and painful from non-usage. I was up and walking around and holding my baby without any issue. I was tender but not in pain. The midwife even told me, in the evening, that she would never guess that I had a c-section that morning because I was in “plein form.”

No one really tells you about how swollen you will be when you give birth. I still looked six months pregnant after my birth – and I looked and felt that way for 5 days. It was just as tender as when I was pregnant, and I couldn’t bend over or truly get comfortable at night in bed.

With a c-section in France, you need to stay at the hospital for 5 days (2 for natural births). This was really heartbreaking and demoralizing if I’m being honest; I packed my hospital bag for two days, at that. All I wanted was to bring my angel into my own space with my family. They checked on the baby two times a day, and the same for me – I also had to get painful shots every day to combat the coagulation of blood and these would continue for another week after I left the hospital.

Nights at the hospital were on my own, and every time my husband would leave in the evenings, I would cry – not out of having to be on my own, but due to wanting to come home as well. The first night as a new mom was pretty scary, as I had just had surgery that morning and prior to Raphaël’s birth, I had only held one baby in my life before him (for a total of three minutes). Learning what this baby needed was new and slightly terrifying, and of course, there were moments in that first night where I doubted that I had the capacity to be a good mom. But then I looked down at him in my arms and I cried tears of joy. Looking at him, there was no doubt of my capabilities. I knew he was made for me, and me for him.

Hormones post-pregnancy are intense and I cried a lot. In addition, absolutely no one warned me about the strength at which milk comes in, even if you’re not breastfeeding. I felt like a cow, to be honest. I hated it. And considering I was choosing to go the formula-only route, having to deal with milk production was frustrating. (For the record, I chose formula-only because European formula has high standards, have just as much (if not more) vitamins and minerals as breastmilk, and it’s less stressful on the mother – and as a first-time mom, I wanted to avoid stressors such as: will I produce enough milk? Will breastfeeding limit how involved my husband can be? Will I have to pump all day? etc.)

My breasts were five times their regular size and rock-solid. It was beyond painful. It would make me cry and I couldn’t even get comfortable at night. And something interesting I learned is that babies can smell their mom’s leaking milk and it turns them a little bit crazy; I witnessed this on the night of the third day when nothing seemed to calm him down. I was walking around with cold compresses down my shirt because it was the only relief I could find.

When I was finally released to go home, what initially was exciting soon turned to very overwhelming as I started to navigate a new environment with my child, where I wasn’t alone and in a protective mom-son bubble with him, but had external triggers and stressors with comments to make about the choices I was making for me and my son. This manifested as insanely painful neckaches that kept me awake at night and had me in tears during the day.

Thankfully, France’s amazing healthcare system meant I was able to book an osteopath for Monday (we arrived home on Friday) and she was the one who told me it was a stress-caused tension and gave me some very encouraging words: remember that I am the mother of this baby, my decisions for this baby are of primary importance and no one’s opinions should influence those decisions, I am doing everything this baby needs to be successful and no one’s criticism should make me doubt that, and that me and my husband need to set boundaries and advocate for my role as mother to this child. It was very important for me to hear these words.

After a realignment, I began to feel the release of this tension and slowly became better. I could truly, comfortably, enjoy my son again. And let me tell you – enjoy him is an understatement.

Having this child has triggered an interesting apathy for the rest of the world: nothing really matters but this little life I have in my arms. He is my life, truly, and has made me feel as though motherhood is one of my “primary purposes” in this lifetime. It has awakened something in me; a pride and love that is truly indescribable. I adore being a mother.

It probably helps the experience that I have an angel for a baby. His routine is pretty standard: wake up, get changed, have a bottle, sleep again for 4-5 hours, repeat. I know not everyone can say the same about their baby, and I know it has nothing to do with me or my parenting but everything to do with the behaviour of the baby. I, from a spiritual perspective, believe it has to do with the fact that I had a very easy, stress-free pregnancy, and I kept very zen throughout the nine months – and kept a very zen home environment, on top of that. I am sure that he is a reflection of that energy.

I believe that the key for me to keep out of any Post Partum Depression will be to continue to remind myself that I am the mother of this baby, and I am doing enough for my child. I must navigate through comments, criticisms, and unsolicited suggestions as if there are plugs in my ears – pay them no mind and keep focused on what is best for my child. I need the support of my husband and need him to advocate for me when people question my modes and methods. My midwife even said that the baby is thriving because of me, and that ensuring I am kept stress free is essential during PP recovery. T

My mood is very positive. I do not get stressed when the baby cries or is fussy, and I don’t get overwhelmed when I can’t figure out what’s making him upset. I’m not afraid to make mistakes and I know that babies are a lot stronger than we give them credit for. I go with the flow and roll with the punches. I’m learning him, just as he is learning me. This is a journey we are on together, and we must be kind to one another, and patient with one another. Though I carried this soul within me for nine months, everything changes on the outside and I’m sure it’s very overwhelming for him. I want him to learn and discover safely without feeling any stress from me as he does so.

That being said, the support I’ve had from family here has been incredible and has made the transition so much easier for the both of us. I wouldn’t be able to know and love Raphaël as I am doing without the constant help.

So far, I have learned the following about my son:
Likes: being sung to, classical music, being talked to, looking at high contrast books, being milk drunk, being held, being wrapped in a carrier against me, a very specific soother style
Dislikes: pee, getting cleaned after a pee, being wet, nighttime sleeping (a dark and quiet room feels less safe than a noisy living room during the day), cold baby wipes, being hungry

I am looking forward to seeing where this journey takes me, and I can’t wait to bring out my baby even more into the world so we can explore together, and he can discover everything around him. He is changing every day (and becoming even cuter every day) and I feel so blessed that he chose to spend his life with me, that he picked me to be his mom. I can’t wait to discover his dreams and hold his hand as he tries to reach them. The days are already flying by, so I just hope that life goes a little slower, please…

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