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Anne Watson's Story: No One Told Me Early Motherhood Would Be This Hard

Main image photo credit: Dolly Nophaenkham of Doll Face Photography

There is a photo my husband Tim took the moment they brought our son Russell out of my womb and into this world. October 19, 2013 at 12:47am. You can see the clock on the wall behind him as he took his first breath. Covered in my blood – umbilical cord just-cut – his tiny eyes squinting-shut as the bright surgical light shines down on the doctors and nurses who performed my emergency C-section.hey’re buzzing around with their rubber gloves and hairnets and surgical clamps, blurred with motion. It is an image burned on my brain. So intense & raw, yet so beautiful. It captures the beginning of our son’s lifetime in this world, and the moment that my life’s journey changed forever as I transformed on that operating table into a mother.

There is so much that led to that photo – so many stories that brought us to that precise moment. Every parent has their own story, and in the big scheme of things my story isn’t really that different from most. But, what I find surprising is how difficult, and at times frankly scary, my birth experience was compared to how I’d envisioned it would transpire, and how common my fear-filled experience seems to be amongst new mothers.

As we approach our son’s first birthday this weekend, I keep reflecting on that time a year ago – not just his birth, but those first few weeks of motherhood that were so much harder than I ever imagined. Just like that photo, the early days of motherhood were intense and raw, yet beautiful. And I just had to write it down, because I know I have a huge community of  mothers who can relate to what I went through. I imagine some are feeling it right now. And what I want to say is this:  those feelings are real and valid and need to be shared and honored.

Like many mothers, I thought I wanted a natural birth. I felt deep down that I could do it. I found an amazing doctor and hospital that supported my vision. I did prenatal yoga. Studied weekly with an amazing doula. Read every book about natural childbirth I could get my hands on. I watched documentaries. Meditated. Visualized. Did my affirmations morning and night. I wrote daily journal entries in a diary addressed to our unborn son telling him about what it was like being pregnant with him. I loved being pregnant. We had wanted this baby so much and I was determined to experience it all to the fullest, because we knew he would be our only child so I only had “one shot” at this pregnancy & birth experience and I wanted it to be beautiful.

And, in the end, it was beautiful. It unfolded exactly as the Universe intended it to. After all, our son is healthy and strong, and that alone is a miracle that gives me so much to be thankful for. But, my birth experience itself was so far removed from anything I’d hoped for or envisioned, I remember feeling disappointed and foolish at the time. And I was mad at myself for ever setting my expectations so high. It was my life’s biggest lesson up to that point around what I am in control of versus that for which I’m simply along for the ride (a lesson I would continue to learn more thoroughly than I ever imagined).

Russell was born nine days after his due date, at 41½  weeks into my pregnancy. I had experienced early labor for those final nine days, with contractions happening frequently, but never consistently. So it was never “time” to go to the hospital since I really wanted to try and have him naturally. But by the ninth day I was so exhausted, it was time to go in for a non-stress test just to ensure Russell was doing ok.

Tim & I went in thinking, “This will be a quick visit and we’ll be back home in no time.” We’d even left our lunch in the fridge to eat when we got back. But, when they took a peek with the ultrasound, the nurse immediately said, “I hope you’re ready to meet your son today!” Ahh! No, we weren’t! Hang on. We left the suitcases at home! It turned out that my amniotic fluid level was extremely low – our son had very little left to keep him moving around in there. So, it was time to induce. With the dreaded “Pitocin” – the drug I’d read so much about and had wanted to avoid at all costs if possible. Nope. It was going to be what they used to start me off on the road to labor.

So, there I was – nurse hooking me up to the I.V. (another thing I hadn’t wanted – needles and tubes sticking out of my arms for the birth). Tim was quickly running home to get our bags and I suddenly found myself alone in a hospital room, with needles in my arm and a big pink gown on, about to start labor. I was nervous, excited, terrified and thrilled all at once. They “broke my water,” but my fluid was so low, nothing came out - So, they really cranked-up the Pitocin to see if they could move things along quickly.

Tim returned just in time when the first “big ones” started to come on. The nurses offered me pain meds, which I declined. I turned them away for the first six hours. Until I remember Tim taking my face into his hands in the sixth hour of intense Pitocin-induced contractions, looking me in the eyes and saying to me, “You don’t have to do this.” That was it. I was too exhausted. I knew if I carried on like this, I’d never have the strength to push when it came time for Russell to be born. So, I agreed to pain medication.

First was the intravenous pain medication, a narcotic that gave me hot and cold flashes. I hallucinated. Apparently I was telling Tim stories about bears in the forest?! (One of the only times I wish he’d made a video of me that he unfortunately didn’t!) Then came the allergic reaction to that drug and the vomiting began. They tried putting an oxygen mask on me and I vaguely remember feeling sick from the smell of the air being pumped into my face and ripping it off so I could throw up. Again. And again.

So, they removed the narcotic from my I.V. and once the pain meds wore off the Pitocin contractions were so intense that I gave in & asked for an epidural. I remember hugging the anesthesiologist when he came in. My fear of large needles vanished. I didn’t care. Just make the pain stop.

The epidural felt like a warm blanket over the bottom half of my body. And for the first time in hours I was able to rest. I actually napped – which I still find hard to believe. But, somehow I managed to get a good hour of sleep, while the epidural kept the contraction pain at bay. This whole time, though, Russell wasn’t dropping. And I wasn’t “progressing.” It was disheartening to say the least. I kept shaking like crazy (apparently a side-effect of the drugs) and repeatedly throwing up. This was SO far from the beautiful, natural birth I’d envisioned. With needles, wires, and tubes coming out of every end of my body, I felt defeated.

We gave it a few more hours, but then suddenly, according to the doctors, things took a scary turn. Russell’s heartbeat was taking some dramatic “dips” and the OBGYN didn’t like the look of it. She spoke with Tim and me and said that she highly recommended an emergency C- section. I remember crying uncontrollably and feeling like I had no control over anything: my emotions, my body, our baby. Everything was out of my control. But, we had to do what we had to do.

So as soon as we consented to the C-section, it took just three short minutes until Russell was out and Tim took that photo. Those were a LONG three minutes. I was still shaking and vomiting. I remember the anesthesiologist holding my head during the surgery while I threw up on him at least 3 times. That poor man. He was trying to catch it in one of those little “sick trays” while talking me through what they were doing to me. “OK, Anne, we have to tie your arms down now because you’re shaking. I will give you some drugs to help you calm down.”

I was crying and couldn’t see Tim, with my arms strapped to the table like some sort of mental patient. I just wanted my husband. “Where is Tim? I want my husband!” Finally I remember Tim grabbing my hand and squeezing it tight. “Where is our baby? Is he here? What’s happening?” The doctors were so serious. I heard one of them say, “Oh wow, the cord is really wrapped around his neck tightly.” Then there was silence that felt like an eternity. Then the unbelievably amazing sound of Russell’s first cry – which was more of a cute little squeak that made us all laugh. Our son was born.

I wish I could say that the craziness ended there, but alas it didn’t. I continued shaking for hours after the surgery. The only thing that calmed me was holding Russell. That was magical. I just hated that I was so out of it and drugged-up. I finally fell asleep for a few hours, just in time to wake up the next morning and find the nurses wheeling Russell out of our room and down the hallway to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (or ‘NICU’). It was awful.

They couldn’t stabilize Russell’s blood sugar and had to put him on an I.V. Once again, my dreams were thrown off-course. There was no holding our baby whenever I wanted to, no doing skin-to-skin in the privacy of our room and no breast-feeding him from the start. He was in a hospital incubator, being fed formula by nurses every three hours. I could hold him, briefly, but because he was hooked-up to an I.V. I couldn’t walk around with him or go further than a few feet. At first they said that it might just be overnight. But then one day turned into two, which turned into three, and eventually four.

I remember those nights at the hospital. They felt so eerie. I encouraged Tim to go home each night, because they had no spare bed in our room and he wouldn’t have gotten any sleep. So, each night in the hospital I was alone. Our baby was down the hallway – the baby who I’d gotten to know in my womb for the last nine months was suddenly gone. My tummy that had been so full of life was empty, and I had no baby to hold. I felt helpless, and at times completely useless. So, I’d focus on my recovery and on walking down the hallway to visit our boy as often as they’d let me. All I wanted was our baby back and to go home.

Finally, on the fifth day, we were released. It felt like being released from prison. I was elated. Our boy was healthy and alert, my recovery was going smoothly; it was like a fog was lifted and I felt on top of the world as Tim drove us home that day. But, as soon as we pulled into our driveway things ground to a halt again. I stepped out of the car and was baffled as I looked down at my clothes – had I peed myself? I was soaking wet from the waist-down. I went inside and checked my bandages – it was disgusting. The glue holding my C-section incision had burst open and I was leaking bloody fluid everywhere. So, it was straight back into the car and back to the hospital. The LAST place I wanted to go. I cried my heart out and just kept thinking, “WHY???”

Sure enough, when the doctor examined me, she confirmed that my incision had reopened. It was a 5-inch-wide x 2-inch-deep wound that would require daily home nurse visits for at least the next month. I was crushed. It wasn’t as simple as re-stitching things. Instead they had to help it “heal from the inside-out” by packing it with gauze every day and then “wicking” it to ensure that it was bleeding, which aids in the healing process. It was excruciating. I would cry every day when I knew the nurse was on her way because I knew how much it was going to hurt. Meanwhile, we had a newborn to tend to. And I felt imprisoned again, this time under house arrest. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house, because if any accidents happened and I was found to be out of the home, our health insurance would stop payments on my home nurse care. So, I wasn’t allowed to take the risk.

So, there I was. Home with our baby, but in excruciating pain. Exhausted. Confused. Overwhelmed. Hormonal. I vividly remember one night standing in the middle of our kitchen, covered in spit-up, crying my eyes out from pain & exhaustion while holding Russell as he sobbed and asking Tim, “Did we make a HUGE mistake??? Please tell me it isn’t always going to be THIS hard!” I was a wreck. Poor Tim was so patient and encouraging. I swear I married a saint.

And, unlike many mothers I’d heard of, I didn’t have an immediate connection with our baby. I loved him and I never, ever wanted to harm him or myself. But, I definitely remember having thoughts from time to time during that first month like, “I wish I could undo this. What have I gotten myself into? Is life ever going to be the same? Why did we do this? I want this nightmare to be over.”

I had a post-op doctor visit the second week after Russell was born, and I just cried the entire time. I remember asking the doctor, “Is this normal? Why is this so hard? Why am I so sad all the time?” She very kindly sat with me for about 20 minutes while I just cried, and she reassured me that, according to her, I was “completely normal.” That being sad after a baby’s birth is part of the deal – she said I had “The Baby Blues.” She told me she had a nickname for the first couple of months after a baby’s birth: “The Dark Time.”

That’s exactly what it felt like. Dark. Another friend of mine left me a voicemail that same week – a friend who had had a baby earlier that same year – and she said, “I know these first few weeks can be completely insane and bewildering.” She was so right. I felt lost, and confused as to WHY this misery and depression has been so normalized by society. I remember thinking, “If this is the case, why didn’t anyone warn me?!”

And to make matters even more complicated, I loathed breastfeeding. I know that’s an incredibly non-politically-correct thing to admit these days, but it’s the truth. It hurt. Both my breasts and my incision would scream in agony when I fed Russell. We had “latching issues.” And because of his stint in the NICU, I had milk supply issues from the get-go. I also hated that I was the only person who could feed our child.

There were times when I was so tired and would have paid a million dollars for someone else to get up in the middle of the night and tend to his hunger cries. But, I remember feeling SO GUILTY at the thought of feeding him from a bottle – let alone formula - because it had been beaten into my brain by American society throughout my pregnancy that he HAD to have breast milk for the first year. Anything other than my own milk would be like feeding him poison.

So, I will never forget my first “outing” with Russell. Around the third week, Tim encouraged me to take a walk across the road from our house over to the Target shopping center so I could get some fresh air. (Of course, I made it as far as two blocks before I looked down and saw I’d leaked breast milk from both sides down the entire front of my shirt. But, luckily I’d brought a cardigan with me – so I threw it on and thought, “I’ll be damned if anything stops me from getting out today!”).

I went into Target and was pushing Russell around the baby section, just looking at clothes and toys, until I came to the formula aisle. I felt how I think a pubescent teenage boy must feel when he tries to sneak a peek at nudie magazines in the local 7-Eleven for the first time. It felt so naughty, but I couldn’t help myself! I picked up different packages of formula, read about how they worked, and dreamed of what it would be like to just “mix a bottle” and not have to rub lanolin on my bleeding nipples anymore. But, I put it back. I couldn’t do it. Not yet, anyways.

I made it: 8 weeks of breast milk, 4 at the breast, 4 pumping. The final straw was one night when I was pumping while Russell was asleep, Tim walked in and caught me in tears (again!). I was in agony. And when he flipped the lights on, we could see that the milk I was pumping was pink – I had streams of blood flowing into the pump along with the milk. Enough was enough. Tim encouraged me to stop the madness. The next day, I went back to that formula aisle, bought a canister and never looked back.

Now, here I am, almost nine years later. I am a mother to an incredible, healthy 8-year-old boy with a heart of gold, a powerful mind, and an amazing imagination. Little did I know when Russell was born just how much he and I would go through together during his early childhood years that would bring us closer than I ever thought was possible.

Last year we lost my husband and Russell’s beloved daddy to an 18-month cancer battle. The Universe granted me the gift of being able to be by Tim’s side when he needed me most, just as he had been there for me during this difficult period of life. There is no more beautiful exchange of love that I can think of than that. And through it all, our son Russell became our rock.  

When I look at Russell’s birth photo now the emotion that immediately springs to mind is “awe.” I am in awe that this tiny person who came out of my womb is growing into a man. I pray he’ll lead a fulfilled life. I would do anything for this boy because this photo shows how much “a piece of me” he truly is. And for that I am eternally grateful.

To any new mother out there who might be struggling in the early days in a similar way, please know that you are not alone. Even though it doesn’t feel like it now, it DOES get easier. You will feel like yourself again – or, better yet, you’ll become an evolved version of yourself. It won’t always be that hard. You will sleep again. You will get your body back (well, kind of!). And that tiny baby who you find so hard to read in the beginning will turn into an amazing person that will light up your life and transform you into a “mom.”

Anne Watson's Story: No One Told Me Early Motherhood Would Be This Hard

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Anne Watson's Story: No One Told Me Early Motherhood Would Be This Hard

Anne Watson, Editor-at-Large for Yes Collective and professional photographer, shares her beautiful, harrowing story of becoming a mother

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Yes Collective's series Your Stories shares your stories of challenges, growth, setbacks, new beginnings, and the messy beauty of finding our way as working parents

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Anne Watson, Editor-at-Large for Yes Collective and professional photographer, shares her beautiful, harrowing story of becoming a mother

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Main image photo credit: Dolly Nophaenkham of Doll Face Photography

There is a photo my husband Tim took the moment they brought our son Russell out of my womb and into this world. October 19, 2013 at 12:47am. You can see the clock on the wall behind him as he took his first breath. Covered in my blood – umbilical cord just-cut – his tiny eyes squinting-shut as the bright surgical light shines down on the doctors and nurses who performed my emergency C-section.hey’re buzzing around with their rubber gloves and hairnets and surgical clamps, blurred with motion. It is an image burned on my brain. So intense & raw, yet so beautiful. It captures the beginning of our son’s lifetime in this world, and the moment that my life’s journey changed forever as I transformed on that operating table into a mother.

There is so much that led to that photo – so many stories that brought us to that precise moment. Every parent has their own story, and in the big scheme of things my story isn’t really that different from most. But, what I find surprising is how difficult, and at times frankly scary, my birth experience was compared to how I’d envisioned it would transpire, and how common my fear-filled experience seems to be amongst new mothers.

As we approach our son’s first birthday this weekend, I keep reflecting on that time a year ago – not just his birth, but those first few weeks of motherhood that were so much harder than I ever imagined. Just like that photo, the early days of motherhood were intense and raw, yet beautiful. And I just had to write it down, because I know I have a huge community of  mothers who can relate to what I went through. I imagine some are feeling it right now. And what I want to say is this:  those feelings are real and valid and need to be shared and honored.

Like many mothers, I thought I wanted a natural birth. I felt deep down that I could do it. I found an amazing doctor and hospital that supported my vision. I did prenatal yoga. Studied weekly with an amazing doula. Read every book about natural childbirth I could get my hands on. I watched documentaries. Meditated. Visualized. Did my affirmations morning and night. I wrote daily journal entries in a diary addressed to our unborn son telling him about what it was like being pregnant with him. I loved being pregnant. We had wanted this baby so much and I was determined to experience it all to the fullest, because we knew he would be our only child so I only had “one shot” at this pregnancy & birth experience and I wanted it to be beautiful.

And, in the end, it was beautiful. It unfolded exactly as the Universe intended it to. After all, our son is healthy and strong, and that alone is a miracle that gives me so much to be thankful for. But, my birth experience itself was so far removed from anything I’d hoped for or envisioned, I remember feeling disappointed and foolish at the time. And I was mad at myself for ever setting my expectations so high. It was my life’s biggest lesson up to that point around what I am in control of versus that for which I’m simply along for the ride (a lesson I would continue to learn more thoroughly than I ever imagined).

Russell was born nine days after his due date, at 41½  weeks into my pregnancy. I had experienced early labor for those final nine days, with contractions happening frequently, but never consistently. So it was never “time” to go to the hospital since I really wanted to try and have him naturally. But by the ninth day I was so exhausted, it was time to go in for a non-stress test just to ensure Russell was doing ok.

Tim & I went in thinking, “This will be a quick visit and we’ll be back home in no time.” We’d even left our lunch in the fridge to eat when we got back. But, when they took a peek with the ultrasound, the nurse immediately said, “I hope you’re ready to meet your son today!” Ahh! No, we weren’t! Hang on. We left the suitcases at home! It turned out that my amniotic fluid level was extremely low – our son had very little left to keep him moving around in there. So, it was time to induce. With the dreaded “Pitocin” – the drug I’d read so much about and had wanted to avoid at all costs if possible. Nope. It was going to be what they used to start me off on the road to labor.

So, there I was – nurse hooking me up to the I.V. (another thing I hadn’t wanted – needles and tubes sticking out of my arms for the birth). Tim was quickly running home to get our bags and I suddenly found myself alone in a hospital room, with needles in my arm and a big pink gown on, about to start labor. I was nervous, excited, terrified and thrilled all at once. They “broke my water,” but my fluid was so low, nothing came out - So, they really cranked-up the Pitocin to see if they could move things along quickly.

Tim returned just in time when the first “big ones” started to come on. The nurses offered me pain meds, which I declined. I turned them away for the first six hours. Until I remember Tim taking my face into his hands in the sixth hour of intense Pitocin-induced contractions, looking me in the eyes and saying to me, “You don’t have to do this.” That was it. I was too exhausted. I knew if I carried on like this, I’d never have the strength to push when it came time for Russell to be born. So, I agreed to pain medication.

First was the intravenous pain medication, a narcotic that gave me hot and cold flashes. I hallucinated. Apparently I was telling Tim stories about bears in the forest?! (One of the only times I wish he’d made a video of me that he unfortunately didn’t!) Then came the allergic reaction to that drug and the vomiting began. They tried putting an oxygen mask on me and I vaguely remember feeling sick from the smell of the air being pumped into my face and ripping it off so I could throw up. Again. And again.

So, they removed the narcotic from my I.V. and once the pain meds wore off the Pitocin contractions were so intense that I gave in & asked for an epidural. I remember hugging the anesthesiologist when he came in. My fear of large needles vanished. I didn’t care. Just make the pain stop.

The epidural felt like a warm blanket over the bottom half of my body. And for the first time in hours I was able to rest. I actually napped – which I still find hard to believe. But, somehow I managed to get a good hour of sleep, while the epidural kept the contraction pain at bay. This whole time, though, Russell wasn’t dropping. And I wasn’t “progressing.” It was disheartening to say the least. I kept shaking like crazy (apparently a side-effect of the drugs) and repeatedly throwing up. This was SO far from the beautiful, natural birth I’d envisioned. With needles, wires, and tubes coming out of every end of my body, I felt defeated.

We gave it a few more hours, but then suddenly, according to the doctors, things took a scary turn. Russell’s heartbeat was taking some dramatic “dips” and the OBGYN didn’t like the look of it. She spoke with Tim and me and said that she highly recommended an emergency C- section. I remember crying uncontrollably and feeling like I had no control over anything: my emotions, my body, our baby. Everything was out of my control. But, we had to do what we had to do.

So as soon as we consented to the C-section, it took just three short minutes until Russell was out and Tim took that photo. Those were a LONG three minutes. I was still shaking and vomiting. I remember the anesthesiologist holding my head during the surgery while I threw up on him at least 3 times. That poor man. He was trying to catch it in one of those little “sick trays” while talking me through what they were doing to me. “OK, Anne, we have to tie your arms down now because you’re shaking. I will give you some drugs to help you calm down.”

I was crying and couldn’t see Tim, with my arms strapped to the table like some sort of mental patient. I just wanted my husband. “Where is Tim? I want my husband!” Finally I remember Tim grabbing my hand and squeezing it tight. “Where is our baby? Is he here? What’s happening?” The doctors were so serious. I heard one of them say, “Oh wow, the cord is really wrapped around his neck tightly.” Then there was silence that felt like an eternity. Then the unbelievably amazing sound of Russell’s first cry – which was more of a cute little squeak that made us all laugh. Our son was born.

I wish I could say that the craziness ended there, but alas it didn’t. I continued shaking for hours after the surgery. The only thing that calmed me was holding Russell. That was magical. I just hated that I was so out of it and drugged-up. I finally fell asleep for a few hours, just in time to wake up the next morning and find the nurses wheeling Russell out of our room and down the hallway to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (or ‘NICU’). It was awful.

They couldn’t stabilize Russell’s blood sugar and had to put him on an I.V. Once again, my dreams were thrown off-course. There was no holding our baby whenever I wanted to, no doing skin-to-skin in the privacy of our room and no breast-feeding him from the start. He was in a hospital incubator, being fed formula by nurses every three hours. I could hold him, briefly, but because he was hooked-up to an I.V. I couldn’t walk around with him or go further than a few feet. At first they said that it might just be overnight. But then one day turned into two, which turned into three, and eventually four.

I remember those nights at the hospital. They felt so eerie. I encouraged Tim to go home each night, because they had no spare bed in our room and he wouldn’t have gotten any sleep. So, each night in the hospital I was alone. Our baby was down the hallway – the baby who I’d gotten to know in my womb for the last nine months was suddenly gone. My tummy that had been so full of life was empty, and I had no baby to hold. I felt helpless, and at times completely useless. So, I’d focus on my recovery and on walking down the hallway to visit our boy as often as they’d let me. All I wanted was our baby back and to go home.

Finally, on the fifth day, we were released. It felt like being released from prison. I was elated. Our boy was healthy and alert, my recovery was going smoothly; it was like a fog was lifted and I felt on top of the world as Tim drove us home that day. But, as soon as we pulled into our driveway things ground to a halt again. I stepped out of the car and was baffled as I looked down at my clothes – had I peed myself? I was soaking wet from the waist-down. I went inside and checked my bandages – it was disgusting. The glue holding my C-section incision had burst open and I was leaking bloody fluid everywhere. So, it was straight back into the car and back to the hospital. The LAST place I wanted to go. I cried my heart out and just kept thinking, “WHY???”

Sure enough, when the doctor examined me, she confirmed that my incision had reopened. It was a 5-inch-wide x 2-inch-deep wound that would require daily home nurse visits for at least the next month. I was crushed. It wasn’t as simple as re-stitching things. Instead they had to help it “heal from the inside-out” by packing it with gauze every day and then “wicking” it to ensure that it was bleeding, which aids in the healing process. It was excruciating. I would cry every day when I knew the nurse was on her way because I knew how much it was going to hurt. Meanwhile, we had a newborn to tend to. And I felt imprisoned again, this time under house arrest. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house, because if any accidents happened and I was found to be out of the home, our health insurance would stop payments on my home nurse care. So, I wasn’t allowed to take the risk.

So, there I was. Home with our baby, but in excruciating pain. Exhausted. Confused. Overwhelmed. Hormonal. I vividly remember one night standing in the middle of our kitchen, covered in spit-up, crying my eyes out from pain & exhaustion while holding Russell as he sobbed and asking Tim, “Did we make a HUGE mistake??? Please tell me it isn’t always going to be THIS hard!” I was a wreck. Poor Tim was so patient and encouraging. I swear I married a saint.

And, unlike many mothers I’d heard of, I didn’t have an immediate connection with our baby. I loved him and I never, ever wanted to harm him or myself. But, I definitely remember having thoughts from time to time during that first month like, “I wish I could undo this. What have I gotten myself into? Is life ever going to be the same? Why did we do this? I want this nightmare to be over.”

I had a post-op doctor visit the second week after Russell was born, and I just cried the entire time. I remember asking the doctor, “Is this normal? Why is this so hard? Why am I so sad all the time?” She very kindly sat with me for about 20 minutes while I just cried, and she reassured me that, according to her, I was “completely normal.” That being sad after a baby’s birth is part of the deal – she said I had “The Baby Blues.” She told me she had a nickname for the first couple of months after a baby’s birth: “The Dark Time.”

That’s exactly what it felt like. Dark. Another friend of mine left me a voicemail that same week – a friend who had had a baby earlier that same year – and she said, “I know these first few weeks can be completely insane and bewildering.” She was so right. I felt lost, and confused as to WHY this misery and depression has been so normalized by society. I remember thinking, “If this is the case, why didn’t anyone warn me?!”

And to make matters even more complicated, I loathed breastfeeding. I know that’s an incredibly non-politically-correct thing to admit these days, but it’s the truth. It hurt. Both my breasts and my incision would scream in agony when I fed Russell. We had “latching issues.” And because of his stint in the NICU, I had milk supply issues from the get-go. I also hated that I was the only person who could feed our child.

There were times when I was so tired and would have paid a million dollars for someone else to get up in the middle of the night and tend to his hunger cries. But, I remember feeling SO GUILTY at the thought of feeding him from a bottle – let alone formula - because it had been beaten into my brain by American society throughout my pregnancy that he HAD to have breast milk for the first year. Anything other than my own milk would be like feeding him poison.

So, I will never forget my first “outing” with Russell. Around the third week, Tim encouraged me to take a walk across the road from our house over to the Target shopping center so I could get some fresh air. (Of course, I made it as far as two blocks before I looked down and saw I’d leaked breast milk from both sides down the entire front of my shirt. But, luckily I’d brought a cardigan with me – so I threw it on and thought, “I’ll be damned if anything stops me from getting out today!”).

I went into Target and was pushing Russell around the baby section, just looking at clothes and toys, until I came to the formula aisle. I felt how I think a pubescent teenage boy must feel when he tries to sneak a peek at nudie magazines in the local 7-Eleven for the first time. It felt so naughty, but I couldn’t help myself! I picked up different packages of formula, read about how they worked, and dreamed of what it would be like to just “mix a bottle” and not have to rub lanolin on my bleeding nipples anymore. But, I put it back. I couldn’t do it. Not yet, anyways.

I made it: 8 weeks of breast milk, 4 at the breast, 4 pumping. The final straw was one night when I was pumping while Russell was asleep, Tim walked in and caught me in tears (again!). I was in agony. And when he flipped the lights on, we could see that the milk I was pumping was pink – I had streams of blood flowing into the pump along with the milk. Enough was enough. Tim encouraged me to stop the madness. The next day, I went back to that formula aisle, bought a canister and never looked back.

Now, here I am, almost nine years later. I am a mother to an incredible, healthy 8-year-old boy with a heart of gold, a powerful mind, and an amazing imagination. Little did I know when Russell was born just how much he and I would go through together during his early childhood years that would bring us closer than I ever thought was possible.

Last year we lost my husband and Russell’s beloved daddy to an 18-month cancer battle. The Universe granted me the gift of being able to be by Tim’s side when he needed me most, just as he had been there for me during this difficult period of life. There is no more beautiful exchange of love that I can think of than that. And through it all, our son Russell became our rock.  

When I look at Russell’s birth photo now the emotion that immediately springs to mind is “awe.” I am in awe that this tiny person who came out of my womb is growing into a man. I pray he’ll lead a fulfilled life. I would do anything for this boy because this photo shows how much “a piece of me” he truly is. And for that I am eternally grateful.

To any new mother out there who might be struggling in the early days in a similar way, please know that you are not alone. Even though it doesn’t feel like it now, it DOES get easier. You will feel like yourself again – or, better yet, you’ll become an evolved version of yourself. It won’t always be that hard. You will sleep again. You will get your body back (well, kind of!). And that tiny baby who you find so hard to read in the beginning will turn into an amazing person that will light up your life and transform you into a “mom.”

Main image photo credit: Dolly Nophaenkham of Doll Face Photography

There is a photo my husband Tim took the moment they brought our son Russell out of my womb and into this world. October 19, 2013 at 12:47am. You can see the clock on the wall behind him as he took his first breath. Covered in my blood – umbilical cord just-cut – his tiny eyes squinting-shut as the bright surgical light shines down on the doctors and nurses who performed my emergency C-section.hey’re buzzing around with their rubber gloves and hairnets and surgical clamps, blurred with motion. It is an image burned on my brain. So intense & raw, yet so beautiful. It captures the beginning of our son’s lifetime in this world, and the moment that my life’s journey changed forever as I transformed on that operating table into a mother.

There is so much that led to that photo – so many stories that brought us to that precise moment. Every parent has their own story, and in the big scheme of things my story isn’t really that different from most. But, what I find surprising is how difficult, and at times frankly scary, my birth experience was compared to how I’d envisioned it would transpire, and how common my fear-filled experience seems to be amongst new mothers.

As we approach our son’s first birthday this weekend, I keep reflecting on that time a year ago – not just his birth, but those first few weeks of motherhood that were so much harder than I ever imagined. Just like that photo, the early days of motherhood were intense and raw, yet beautiful. And I just had to write it down, because I know I have a huge community of  mothers who can relate to what I went through. I imagine some are feeling it right now. And what I want to say is this:  those feelings are real and valid and need to be shared and honored.

Like many mothers, I thought I wanted a natural birth. I felt deep down that I could do it. I found an amazing doctor and hospital that supported my vision. I did prenatal yoga. Studied weekly with an amazing doula. Read every book about natural childbirth I could get my hands on. I watched documentaries. Meditated. Visualized. Did my affirmations morning and night. I wrote daily journal entries in a diary addressed to our unborn son telling him about what it was like being pregnant with him. I loved being pregnant. We had wanted this baby so much and I was determined to experience it all to the fullest, because we knew he would be our only child so I only had “one shot” at this pregnancy & birth experience and I wanted it to be beautiful.

And, in the end, it was beautiful. It unfolded exactly as the Universe intended it to. After all, our son is healthy and strong, and that alone is a miracle that gives me so much to be thankful for. But, my birth experience itself was so far removed from anything I’d hoped for or envisioned, I remember feeling disappointed and foolish at the time. And I was mad at myself for ever setting my expectations so high. It was my life’s biggest lesson up to that point around what I am in control of versus that for which I’m simply along for the ride (a lesson I would continue to learn more thoroughly than I ever imagined).

Russell was born nine days after his due date, at 41½  weeks into my pregnancy. I had experienced early labor for those final nine days, with contractions happening frequently, but never consistently. So it was never “time” to go to the hospital since I really wanted to try and have him naturally. But by the ninth day I was so exhausted, it was time to go in for a non-stress test just to ensure Russell was doing ok.

Tim & I went in thinking, “This will be a quick visit and we’ll be back home in no time.” We’d even left our lunch in the fridge to eat when we got back. But, when they took a peek with the ultrasound, the nurse immediately said, “I hope you’re ready to meet your son today!” Ahh! No, we weren’t! Hang on. We left the suitcases at home! It turned out that my amniotic fluid level was extremely low – our son had very little left to keep him moving around in there. So, it was time to induce. With the dreaded “Pitocin” – the drug I’d read so much about and had wanted to avoid at all costs if possible. Nope. It was going to be what they used to start me off on the road to labor.

So, there I was – nurse hooking me up to the I.V. (another thing I hadn’t wanted – needles and tubes sticking out of my arms for the birth). Tim was quickly running home to get our bags and I suddenly found myself alone in a hospital room, with needles in my arm and a big pink gown on, about to start labor. I was nervous, excited, terrified and thrilled all at once. They “broke my water,” but my fluid was so low, nothing came out - So, they really cranked-up the Pitocin to see if they could move things along quickly.

Tim returned just in time when the first “big ones” started to come on. The nurses offered me pain meds, which I declined. I turned them away for the first six hours. Until I remember Tim taking my face into his hands in the sixth hour of intense Pitocin-induced contractions, looking me in the eyes and saying to me, “You don’t have to do this.” That was it. I was too exhausted. I knew if I carried on like this, I’d never have the strength to push when it came time for Russell to be born. So, I agreed to pain medication.

First was the intravenous pain medication, a narcotic that gave me hot and cold flashes. I hallucinated. Apparently I was telling Tim stories about bears in the forest?! (One of the only times I wish he’d made a video of me that he unfortunately didn’t!) Then came the allergic reaction to that drug and the vomiting began. They tried putting an oxygen mask on me and I vaguely remember feeling sick from the smell of the air being pumped into my face and ripping it off so I could throw up. Again. And again.

So, they removed the narcotic from my I.V. and once the pain meds wore off the Pitocin contractions were so intense that I gave in & asked for an epidural. I remember hugging the anesthesiologist when he came in. My fear of large needles vanished. I didn’t care. Just make the pain stop.

The epidural felt like a warm blanket over the bottom half of my body. And for the first time in hours I was able to rest. I actually napped – which I still find hard to believe. But, somehow I managed to get a good hour of sleep, while the epidural kept the contraction pain at bay. This whole time, though, Russell wasn’t dropping. And I wasn’t “progressing.” It was disheartening to say the least. I kept shaking like crazy (apparently a side-effect of the drugs) and repeatedly throwing up. This was SO far from the beautiful, natural birth I’d envisioned. With needles, wires, and tubes coming out of every end of my body, I felt defeated.

We gave it a few more hours, but then suddenly, according to the doctors, things took a scary turn. Russell’s heartbeat was taking some dramatic “dips” and the OBGYN didn’t like the look of it. She spoke with Tim and me and said that she highly recommended an emergency C- section. I remember crying uncontrollably and feeling like I had no control over anything: my emotions, my body, our baby. Everything was out of my control. But, we had to do what we had to do.

So as soon as we consented to the C-section, it took just three short minutes until Russell was out and Tim took that photo. Those were a LONG three minutes. I was still shaking and vomiting. I remember the anesthesiologist holding my head during the surgery while I threw up on him at least 3 times. That poor man. He was trying to catch it in one of those little “sick trays” while talking me through what they were doing to me. “OK, Anne, we have to tie your arms down now because you’re shaking. I will give you some drugs to help you calm down.”

I was crying and couldn’t see Tim, with my arms strapped to the table like some sort of mental patient. I just wanted my husband. “Where is Tim? I want my husband!” Finally I remember Tim grabbing my hand and squeezing it tight. “Where is our baby? Is he here? What’s happening?” The doctors were so serious. I heard one of them say, “Oh wow, the cord is really wrapped around his neck tightly.” Then there was silence that felt like an eternity. Then the unbelievably amazing sound of Russell’s first cry – which was more of a cute little squeak that made us all laugh. Our son was born.

I wish I could say that the craziness ended there, but alas it didn’t. I continued shaking for hours after the surgery. The only thing that calmed me was holding Russell. That was magical. I just hated that I was so out of it and drugged-up. I finally fell asleep for a few hours, just in time to wake up the next morning and find the nurses wheeling Russell out of our room and down the hallway to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (or ‘NICU’). It was awful.

They couldn’t stabilize Russell’s blood sugar and had to put him on an I.V. Once again, my dreams were thrown off-course. There was no holding our baby whenever I wanted to, no doing skin-to-skin in the privacy of our room and no breast-feeding him from the start. He was in a hospital incubator, being fed formula by nurses every three hours. I could hold him, briefly, but because he was hooked-up to an I.V. I couldn’t walk around with him or go further than a few feet. At first they said that it might just be overnight. But then one day turned into two, which turned into three, and eventually four.

I remember those nights at the hospital. They felt so eerie. I encouraged Tim to go home each night, because they had no spare bed in our room and he wouldn’t have gotten any sleep. So, each night in the hospital I was alone. Our baby was down the hallway – the baby who I’d gotten to know in my womb for the last nine months was suddenly gone. My tummy that had been so full of life was empty, and I had no baby to hold. I felt helpless, and at times completely useless. So, I’d focus on my recovery and on walking down the hallway to visit our boy as often as they’d let me. All I wanted was our baby back and to go home.

Finally, on the fifth day, we were released. It felt like being released from prison. I was elated. Our boy was healthy and alert, my recovery was going smoothly; it was like a fog was lifted and I felt on top of the world as Tim drove us home that day. But, as soon as we pulled into our driveway things ground to a halt again. I stepped out of the car and was baffled as I looked down at my clothes – had I peed myself? I was soaking wet from the waist-down. I went inside and checked my bandages – it was disgusting. The glue holding my C-section incision had burst open and I was leaking bloody fluid everywhere. So, it was straight back into the car and back to the hospital. The LAST place I wanted to go. I cried my heart out and just kept thinking, “WHY???”

Sure enough, when the doctor examined me, she confirmed that my incision had reopened. It was a 5-inch-wide x 2-inch-deep wound that would require daily home nurse visits for at least the next month. I was crushed. It wasn’t as simple as re-stitching things. Instead they had to help it “heal from the inside-out” by packing it with gauze every day and then “wicking” it to ensure that it was bleeding, which aids in the healing process. It was excruciating. I would cry every day when I knew the nurse was on her way because I knew how much it was going to hurt. Meanwhile, we had a newborn to tend to. And I felt imprisoned again, this time under house arrest. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house, because if any accidents happened and I was found to be out of the home, our health insurance would stop payments on my home nurse care. So, I wasn’t allowed to take the risk.

So, there I was. Home with our baby, but in excruciating pain. Exhausted. Confused. Overwhelmed. Hormonal. I vividly remember one night standing in the middle of our kitchen, covered in spit-up, crying my eyes out from pain & exhaustion while holding Russell as he sobbed and asking Tim, “Did we make a HUGE mistake??? Please tell me it isn’t always going to be THIS hard!” I was a wreck. Poor Tim was so patient and encouraging. I swear I married a saint.

And, unlike many mothers I’d heard of, I didn’t have an immediate connection with our baby. I loved him and I never, ever wanted to harm him or myself. But, I definitely remember having thoughts from time to time during that first month like, “I wish I could undo this. What have I gotten myself into? Is life ever going to be the same? Why did we do this? I want this nightmare to be over.”

I had a post-op doctor visit the second week after Russell was born, and I just cried the entire time. I remember asking the doctor, “Is this normal? Why is this so hard? Why am I so sad all the time?” She very kindly sat with me for about 20 minutes while I just cried, and she reassured me that, according to her, I was “completely normal.” That being sad after a baby’s birth is part of the deal – she said I had “The Baby Blues.” She told me she had a nickname for the first couple of months after a baby’s birth: “The Dark Time.”

That’s exactly what it felt like. Dark. Another friend of mine left me a voicemail that same week – a friend who had had a baby earlier that same year – and she said, “I know these first few weeks can be completely insane and bewildering.” She was so right. I felt lost, and confused as to WHY this misery and depression has been so normalized by society. I remember thinking, “If this is the case, why didn’t anyone warn me?!”

And to make matters even more complicated, I loathed breastfeeding. I know that’s an incredibly non-politically-correct thing to admit these days, but it’s the truth. It hurt. Both my breasts and my incision would scream in agony when I fed Russell. We had “latching issues.” And because of his stint in the NICU, I had milk supply issues from the get-go. I also hated that I was the only person who could feed our child.

There were times when I was so tired and would have paid a million dollars for someone else to get up in the middle of the night and tend to his hunger cries. But, I remember feeling SO GUILTY at the thought of feeding him from a bottle – let alone formula - because it had been beaten into my brain by American society throughout my pregnancy that he HAD to have breast milk for the first year. Anything other than my own milk would be like feeding him poison.

So, I will never forget my first “outing” with Russell. Around the third week, Tim encouraged me to take a walk across the road from our house over to the Target shopping center so I could get some fresh air. (Of course, I made it as far as two blocks before I looked down and saw I’d leaked breast milk from both sides down the entire front of my shirt. But, luckily I’d brought a cardigan with me – so I threw it on and thought, “I’ll be damned if anything stops me from getting out today!”).

I went into Target and was pushing Russell around the baby section, just looking at clothes and toys, until I came to the formula aisle. I felt how I think a pubescent teenage boy must feel when he tries to sneak a peek at nudie magazines in the local 7-Eleven for the first time. It felt so naughty, but I couldn’t help myself! I picked up different packages of formula, read about how they worked, and dreamed of what it would be like to just “mix a bottle” and not have to rub lanolin on my bleeding nipples anymore. But, I put it back. I couldn’t do it. Not yet, anyways.

I made it: 8 weeks of breast milk, 4 at the breast, 4 pumping. The final straw was one night when I was pumping while Russell was asleep, Tim walked in and caught me in tears (again!). I was in agony. And when he flipped the lights on, we could see that the milk I was pumping was pink – I had streams of blood flowing into the pump along with the milk. Enough was enough. Tim encouraged me to stop the madness. The next day, I went back to that formula aisle, bought a canister and never looked back.

Now, here I am, almost nine years later. I am a mother to an incredible, healthy 8-year-old boy with a heart of gold, a powerful mind, and an amazing imagination. Little did I know when Russell was born just how much he and I would go through together during his early childhood years that would bring us closer than I ever thought was possible.

Last year we lost my husband and Russell’s beloved daddy to an 18-month cancer battle. The Universe granted me the gift of being able to be by Tim’s side when he needed me most, just as he had been there for me during this difficult period of life. There is no more beautiful exchange of love that I can think of than that. And through it all, our son Russell became our rock.  

When I look at Russell’s birth photo now the emotion that immediately springs to mind is “awe.” I am in awe that this tiny person who came out of my womb is growing into a man. I pray he’ll lead a fulfilled life. I would do anything for this boy because this photo shows how much “a piece of me” he truly is. And for that I am eternally grateful.

To any new mother out there who might be struggling in the early days in a similar way, please know that you are not alone. Even though it doesn’t feel like it now, it DOES get easier. You will feel like yourself again – or, better yet, you’ll become an evolved version of yourself. It won’t always be that hard. You will sleep again. You will get your body back (well, kind of!). And that tiny baby who you find so hard to read in the beginning will turn into an amazing person that will light up your life and transform you into a “mom.”

Main image photo credit: Dolly Nophaenkham of Doll Face Photography

There is a photo my husband Tim took the moment they brought our son Russell out of my womb and into this world. October 19, 2013 at 12:47am. You can see the clock on the wall behind him as he took his first breath. Covered in my blood – umbilical cord just-cut – his tiny eyes squinting-shut as the bright surgical light shines down on the doctors and nurses who performed my emergency C-section.hey’re buzzing around with their rubber gloves and hairnets and surgical clamps, blurred with motion. It is an image burned on my brain. So intense & raw, yet so beautiful. It captures the beginning of our son’s lifetime in this world, and the moment that my life’s journey changed forever as I transformed on that operating table into a mother.

There is so much that led to that photo – so many stories that brought us to that precise moment. Every parent has their own story, and in the big scheme of things my story isn’t really that different from most. But, what I find surprising is how difficult, and at times frankly scary, my birth experience was compared to how I’d envisioned it would transpire, and how common my fear-filled experience seems to be amongst new mothers.

As we approach our son’s first birthday this weekend, I keep reflecting on that time a year ago – not just his birth, but those first few weeks of motherhood that were so much harder than I ever imagined. Just like that photo, the early days of motherhood were intense and raw, yet beautiful. And I just had to write it down, because I know I have a huge community of  mothers who can relate to what I went through. I imagine some are feeling it right now. And what I want to say is this:  those feelings are real and valid and need to be shared and honored.

Like many mothers, I thought I wanted a natural birth. I felt deep down that I could do it. I found an amazing doctor and hospital that supported my vision. I did prenatal yoga. Studied weekly with an amazing doula. Read every book about natural childbirth I could get my hands on. I watched documentaries. Meditated. Visualized. Did my affirmations morning and night. I wrote daily journal entries in a diary addressed to our unborn son telling him about what it was like being pregnant with him. I loved being pregnant. We had wanted this baby so much and I was determined to experience it all to the fullest, because we knew he would be our only child so I only had “one shot” at this pregnancy & birth experience and I wanted it to be beautiful.

And, in the end, it was beautiful. It unfolded exactly as the Universe intended it to. After all, our son is healthy and strong, and that alone is a miracle that gives me so much to be thankful for. But, my birth experience itself was so far removed from anything I’d hoped for or envisioned, I remember feeling disappointed and foolish at the time. And I was mad at myself for ever setting my expectations so high. It was my life’s biggest lesson up to that point around what I am in control of versus that for which I’m simply along for the ride (a lesson I would continue to learn more thoroughly than I ever imagined).

Russell was born nine days after his due date, at 41½  weeks into my pregnancy. I had experienced early labor for those final nine days, with contractions happening frequently, but never consistently. So it was never “time” to go to the hospital since I really wanted to try and have him naturally. But by the ninth day I was so exhausted, it was time to go in for a non-stress test just to ensure Russell was doing ok.

Tim & I went in thinking, “This will be a quick visit and we’ll be back home in no time.” We’d even left our lunch in the fridge to eat when we got back. But, when they took a peek with the ultrasound, the nurse immediately said, “I hope you’re ready to meet your son today!” Ahh! No, we weren’t! Hang on. We left the suitcases at home! It turned out that my amniotic fluid level was extremely low – our son had very little left to keep him moving around in there. So, it was time to induce. With the dreaded “Pitocin” – the drug I’d read so much about and had wanted to avoid at all costs if possible. Nope. It was going to be what they used to start me off on the road to labor.

So, there I was – nurse hooking me up to the I.V. (another thing I hadn’t wanted – needles and tubes sticking out of my arms for the birth). Tim was quickly running home to get our bags and I suddenly found myself alone in a hospital room, with needles in my arm and a big pink gown on, about to start labor. I was nervous, excited, terrified and thrilled all at once. They “broke my water,” but my fluid was so low, nothing came out - So, they really cranked-up the Pitocin to see if they could move things along quickly.

Tim returned just in time when the first “big ones” started to come on. The nurses offered me pain meds, which I declined. I turned them away for the first six hours. Until I remember Tim taking my face into his hands in the sixth hour of intense Pitocin-induced contractions, looking me in the eyes and saying to me, “You don’t have to do this.” That was it. I was too exhausted. I knew if I carried on like this, I’d never have the strength to push when it came time for Russell to be born. So, I agreed to pain medication.

First was the intravenous pain medication, a narcotic that gave me hot and cold flashes. I hallucinated. Apparently I was telling Tim stories about bears in the forest?! (One of the only times I wish he’d made a video of me that he unfortunately didn’t!) Then came the allergic reaction to that drug and the vomiting began. They tried putting an oxygen mask on me and I vaguely remember feeling sick from the smell of the air being pumped into my face and ripping it off so I could throw up. Again. And again.

So, they removed the narcotic from my I.V. and once the pain meds wore off the Pitocin contractions were so intense that I gave in & asked for an epidural. I remember hugging the anesthesiologist when he came in. My fear of large needles vanished. I didn’t care. Just make the pain stop.

The epidural felt like a warm blanket over the bottom half of my body. And for the first time in hours I was able to rest. I actually napped – which I still find hard to believe. But, somehow I managed to get a good hour of sleep, while the epidural kept the contraction pain at bay. This whole time, though, Russell wasn’t dropping. And I wasn’t “progressing.” It was disheartening to say the least. I kept shaking like crazy (apparently a side-effect of the drugs) and repeatedly throwing up. This was SO far from the beautiful, natural birth I’d envisioned. With needles, wires, and tubes coming out of every end of my body, I felt defeated.

We gave it a few more hours, but then suddenly, according to the doctors, things took a scary turn. Russell’s heartbeat was taking some dramatic “dips” and the OBGYN didn’t like the look of it. She spoke with Tim and me and said that she highly recommended an emergency C- section. I remember crying uncontrollably and feeling like I had no control over anything: my emotions, my body, our baby. Everything was out of my control. But, we had to do what we had to do.

So as soon as we consented to the C-section, it took just three short minutes until Russell was out and Tim took that photo. Those were a LONG three minutes. I was still shaking and vomiting. I remember the anesthesiologist holding my head during the surgery while I threw up on him at least 3 times. That poor man. He was trying to catch it in one of those little “sick trays” while talking me through what they were doing to me. “OK, Anne, we have to tie your arms down now because you’re shaking. I will give you some drugs to help you calm down.”

I was crying and couldn’t see Tim, with my arms strapped to the table like some sort of mental patient. I just wanted my husband. “Where is Tim? I want my husband!” Finally I remember Tim grabbing my hand and squeezing it tight. “Where is our baby? Is he here? What’s happening?” The doctors were so serious. I heard one of them say, “Oh wow, the cord is really wrapped around his neck tightly.” Then there was silence that felt like an eternity. Then the unbelievably amazing sound of Russell’s first cry – which was more of a cute little squeak that made us all laugh. Our son was born.

I wish I could say that the craziness ended there, but alas it didn’t. I continued shaking for hours after the surgery. The only thing that calmed me was holding Russell. That was magical. I just hated that I was so out of it and drugged-up. I finally fell asleep for a few hours, just in time to wake up the next morning and find the nurses wheeling Russell out of our room and down the hallway to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (or ‘NICU’). It was awful.

They couldn’t stabilize Russell’s blood sugar and had to put him on an I.V. Once again, my dreams were thrown off-course. There was no holding our baby whenever I wanted to, no doing skin-to-skin in the privacy of our room and no breast-feeding him from the start. He was in a hospital incubator, being fed formula by nurses every three hours. I could hold him, briefly, but because he was hooked-up to an I.V. I couldn’t walk around with him or go further than a few feet. At first they said that it might just be overnight. But then one day turned into two, which turned into three, and eventually four.

I remember those nights at the hospital. They felt so eerie. I encouraged Tim to go home each night, because they had no spare bed in our room and he wouldn’t have gotten any sleep. So, each night in the hospital I was alone. Our baby was down the hallway – the baby who I’d gotten to know in my womb for the last nine months was suddenly gone. My tummy that had been so full of life was empty, and I had no baby to hold. I felt helpless, and at times completely useless. So, I’d focus on my recovery and on walking down the hallway to visit our boy as often as they’d let me. All I wanted was our baby back and to go home.

Finally, on the fifth day, we were released. It felt like being released from prison. I was elated. Our boy was healthy and alert, my recovery was going smoothly; it was like a fog was lifted and I felt on top of the world as Tim drove us home that day. But, as soon as we pulled into our driveway things ground to a halt again. I stepped out of the car and was baffled as I looked down at my clothes – had I peed myself? I was soaking wet from the waist-down. I went inside and checked my bandages – it was disgusting. The glue holding my C-section incision had burst open and I was leaking bloody fluid everywhere. So, it was straight back into the car and back to the hospital. The LAST place I wanted to go. I cried my heart out and just kept thinking, “WHY???”

Sure enough, when the doctor examined me, she confirmed that my incision had reopened. It was a 5-inch-wide x 2-inch-deep wound that would require daily home nurse visits for at least the next month. I was crushed. It wasn’t as simple as re-stitching things. Instead they had to help it “heal from the inside-out” by packing it with gauze every day and then “wicking” it to ensure that it was bleeding, which aids in the healing process. It was excruciating. I would cry every day when I knew the nurse was on her way because I knew how much it was going to hurt. Meanwhile, we had a newborn to tend to. And I felt imprisoned again, this time under house arrest. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house, because if any accidents happened and I was found to be out of the home, our health insurance would stop payments on my home nurse care. So, I wasn’t allowed to take the risk.

So, there I was. Home with our baby, but in excruciating pain. Exhausted. Confused. Overwhelmed. Hormonal. I vividly remember one night standing in the middle of our kitchen, covered in spit-up, crying my eyes out from pain & exhaustion while holding Russell as he sobbed and asking Tim, “Did we make a HUGE mistake??? Please tell me it isn’t always going to be THIS hard!” I was a wreck. Poor Tim was so patient and encouraging. I swear I married a saint.

And, unlike many mothers I’d heard of, I didn’t have an immediate connection with our baby. I loved him and I never, ever wanted to harm him or myself. But, I definitely remember having thoughts from time to time during that first month like, “I wish I could undo this. What have I gotten myself into? Is life ever going to be the same? Why did we do this? I want this nightmare to be over.”

I had a post-op doctor visit the second week after Russell was born, and I just cried the entire time. I remember asking the doctor, “Is this normal? Why is this so hard? Why am I so sad all the time?” She very kindly sat with me for about 20 minutes while I just cried, and she reassured me that, according to her, I was “completely normal.” That being sad after a baby’s birth is part of the deal – she said I had “The Baby Blues.” She told me she had a nickname for the first couple of months after a baby’s birth: “The Dark Time.”

That’s exactly what it felt like. Dark. Another friend of mine left me a voicemail that same week – a friend who had had a baby earlier that same year – and she said, “I know these first few weeks can be completely insane and bewildering.” She was so right. I felt lost, and confused as to WHY this misery and depression has been so normalized by society. I remember thinking, “If this is the case, why didn’t anyone warn me?!”

And to make matters even more complicated, I loathed breastfeeding. I know that’s an incredibly non-politically-correct thing to admit these days, but it’s the truth. It hurt. Both my breasts and my incision would scream in agony when I fed Russell. We had “latching issues.” And because of his stint in the NICU, I had milk supply issues from the get-go. I also hated that I was the only person who could feed our child.

There were times when I was so tired and would have paid a million dollars for someone else to get up in the middle of the night and tend to his hunger cries. But, I remember feeling SO GUILTY at the thought of feeding him from a bottle – let alone formula - because it had been beaten into my brain by American society throughout my pregnancy that he HAD to have breast milk for the first year. Anything other than my own milk would be like feeding him poison.

So, I will never forget my first “outing” with Russell. Around the third week, Tim encouraged me to take a walk across the road from our house over to the Target shopping center so I could get some fresh air. (Of course, I made it as far as two blocks before I looked down and saw I’d leaked breast milk from both sides down the entire front of my shirt. But, luckily I’d brought a cardigan with me – so I threw it on and thought, “I’ll be damned if anything stops me from getting out today!”).

I went into Target and was pushing Russell around the baby section, just looking at clothes and toys, until I came to the formula aisle. I felt how I think a pubescent teenage boy must feel when he tries to sneak a peek at nudie magazines in the local 7-Eleven for the first time. It felt so naughty, but I couldn’t help myself! I picked up different packages of formula, read about how they worked, and dreamed of what it would be like to just “mix a bottle” and not have to rub lanolin on my bleeding nipples anymore. But, I put it back. I couldn’t do it. Not yet, anyways.

I made it: 8 weeks of breast milk, 4 at the breast, 4 pumping. The final straw was one night when I was pumping while Russell was asleep, Tim walked in and caught me in tears (again!). I was in agony. And when he flipped the lights on, we could see that the milk I was pumping was pink – I had streams of blood flowing into the pump along with the milk. Enough was enough. Tim encouraged me to stop the madness. The next day, I went back to that formula aisle, bought a canister and never looked back.

Now, here I am, almost nine years later. I am a mother to an incredible, healthy 8-year-old boy with a heart of gold, a powerful mind, and an amazing imagination. Little did I know when Russell was born just how much he and I would go through together during his early childhood years that would bring us closer than I ever thought was possible.

Last year we lost my husband and Russell’s beloved daddy to an 18-month cancer battle. The Universe granted me the gift of being able to be by Tim’s side when he needed me most, just as he had been there for me during this difficult period of life. There is no more beautiful exchange of love that I can think of than that. And through it all, our son Russell became our rock.  

When I look at Russell’s birth photo now the emotion that immediately springs to mind is “awe.” I am in awe that this tiny person who came out of my womb is growing into a man. I pray he’ll lead a fulfilled life. I would do anything for this boy because this photo shows how much “a piece of me” he truly is. And for that I am eternally grateful.

To any new mother out there who might be struggling in the early days in a similar way, please know that you are not alone. Even though it doesn’t feel like it now, it DOES get easier. You will feel like yourself again – or, better yet, you’ll become an evolved version of yourself. It won’t always be that hard. You will sleep again. You will get your body back (well, kind of!). And that tiny baby who you find so hard to read in the beginning will turn into an amazing person that will light up your life and transform you into a “mom.”

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