October 1, 2016. My doctor performed an episiotomy on me (where scissors are used to cut the woman ‘down there’ to make it easier to push a baby out).
Even though there was so much noise from my hard breathing and pushing after 23 hours of labor, the hustle and bustle of nurses around me, and the loud baby heart monitor going ‘beep, beep, beep,’ the sound of that scissor practically rang in my ears.
I stopped mid-contraction and looked at the male, mid 50-year-old doctor, and said with fear in my voice, ‘What did you do?!’
I had an epidural, so I couldn’t feel the cut, but I heard it. He just stared at me, his face blank. No response. My husband, standing next to me, holding my hand, said, ‘Why did you cut her?! She didn’t give you permission to do that.’
I felt my blood boiling from rage. I could sense my husband’s rage rising too. I squeezed his hand and said, ‘We can’t do this now.’
Even the nurses in the room had paused. They were all looking at me and then at my doctor.
I felt another contraction starting to build. I said, ‘Another one’s coming!’ I inhaled sharply and pushed as hard as I could. I saw the doctor reach in and pull my son, Charlie, out.
Despite trying to be wrapped up in the moment of holding my son on my chest, and saying out loud, ‘He’s so beautiful,’ I could feel that the air in the room was still so tense from the exchange that happened just minutes before my baby was born.
I looked down as I laid there holding my baby and saw the doctor, face in an angry grimace, sewing me up without much care.
Just 30 minutes before I pushed out my baby, my doctor told me, ‘I have somewhere to be at 7 o’ clock, so you better be able to push this baby out soon.’ He said that to me at 5:30 p.m., and he pulled my baby out of me at 6:45 p.m.
You see, I was one of those people who tolerated people and experiences that hurt me. After 2+ years of therapy, I’ve learned that this once unconscious habit (yes, it’s a habit) developed as a result of being abused throughout my childhood.
Being abused as a child by people who were supposed to protect and love me taught me that even people who are supposed to care for me can hurt me, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
After a lot of inner work and therapy, I have now learned that that is a LIE.
Yes, people who are supposed to care for you and protect you CAN hurt you, but YOU DON’T HAVE TO STAY WITH THEM.
Even though my gut said over and over again, ‘This doctor doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t seem like he respects you and has your best interests at heart,’ I let my scared inner child tell me, ‘No, Mia. Stay. So what he’s not very kind or considerate. Do you think there’s better out there?’ So I stayed, and I ignored my gut, and then got hurt.
The traumatic experience of my birth, on top of the isolation from living far from all my friends, plus not having any close family around, and getting no sleep and struggling to breastfeed, all created the perfect storm that was Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.
Even when my son did sleep, I couldn’t get my body to calm down and sleep.
I wasn’t used to talking about my feelings. Heck, I didn’t even know how to explain how I felt, so my rage and sadness and anxiety usually came out in the form of having meltdowns about insignificant things. My poor husband didn’t understand what was going on or how to help me.
That year was confusing, lonely, scary. Even on the days when I thought, ‘I can do this,’ I would get showered, diaper bag packed, and ready to go, and then the anxiety would spike, ‘What if we got in a car accident? What if Charlie started crying and won’t stop while I’m driving? What if Charlie needs to eat when we’re at the store and there’s nowhere to sit and breastfeed? Do I leave my groceries in the middle of the store?’
These questions choked me until I felt paralyzed, so anxious and scared that I’d be unable to move. I would just sit on my living room floor while my breathing felt more and more restricted. There were many days like this.
Flash forward to my son turning one year old. Postpartum depression and anxiety started to lift. My son started sleeping through the night. I started making YouTube videos talking about my mental health journey, which became an amazing outlet for me. I started to feel more like myself, but like a new version—a better, stronger version.
One year later, I gave birth to my second daughter. This better, stronger version of Mia made better decisions. I assured my inner child that I knew what I was doing, and I chose a nurse midwife to deliver my baby in a hospital, and it all felt right and went amazingly well. It felt redemptive in a way to have an amazing birth experience after such a traumatic one.
I felt tired, but whole and happy. But that didn’t last for long.
After my husband went back to work 3 weeks postpartum, I quickly became overwhelmed with taking care of 2 kids, caring for my brother who lives with me (he has Autism and an autoimmune disease), coupled with the lack of sleep, and the difficulty I had to take care of my basic needs, I plummeted hard and fast into Postpartum depression.
My first thought was, ‘It can’t be postpartum depression because I’ve had it before. I’m better now. I’m more experienced, smarter.’
After weeks of crying, feeling paralyzing rage and overwhelm, and even feeling suicidal, I texted the nurse midwife who delivered my daughter. I told her how I was feeling, and she confirmed that I most likely have Postpartum Depression.
This started my journey of connecting with Postpartum Support International and eventually getting formally diagnosed, and then starting weekly talk therapy at no cost to me through the Orange County Parent Wellness Program.
The first visits were amazingly helpful. My therapist came to my house and was so gentle and kind to me. She listened and reminded me that I am doing a good job. She said, ‘You might feel like you don’t love your children because of the depression you’re going through, but I can see how much you love them. Look at what you’re doing right now. You’re getting help. Would a mother who didn’t love her children do that?’
I’ve been going to therapy for the last 6 months, and it has been transformative in a way that I cannot fully articulate. But, what I do know is I feel a massive sense of gratitude. It’s so massive that I literally feel this warmth in my chest when I think about how much I’ve changed in just 6 short months.
Just 6 months ago, I hated being a mother. I thought I made a mistake. I wanted to die or run away. I felt simultaneously unworthy to be my kids’ mother and also angry that I was a mother, followed by feelings of self-hatred for not enjoying what I was told is ‘the happiest days of my life.’
I felt like my Postpartum depression was my fault. ‘Maybe I did something wrong?,’ I thought. I felt broken and unfixable.
None of that was true, but do you want to know what is?
Motherhood is hard. Childhood trauma plays a role in our transition to being parents ourselves. That’s not our fault. Your feelings are not your fault. The worst thing you can do is judge yourself and hate yourself when you’re struggling.
I thought I was unfixable, but in just 6 short months, I’m a new person. I love who I am now. I feel strong and empowered and right where I’m supposed to be. I love my kids, even on the really hard days. I’m still learning to be loving and forgiving to myself, but if I’ve learned anything over the last 6 months it’s to practice self-love, self-care, and self-forgiveness BEFORE I feel ready to. It’s through the actions of self-love, self-care, and self-forgiveness, especially when I don’t feel like showing up for myself, that I learn how to love and be gentle with myself, which then enables me to be loving and gentle with my kids.
This story is for the mother who feels broken beyond repair. You’re not, girl. You’re a fighter. You’re amazing. You ARE what your kids need. You’re worth getting help. You’re worth fighting for it. Help is out there. Just keep searching and keep fighting for the time and the space to work on you because that strength and healing is going to have a positive ripple effect in your life that will continue on through your kids and beyond.
It starts with you. You’re not on this journey alone. I’m walking it with you, and I want you to know that if I can do it, you can do it, too.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mia Hemstad of Costa Mesa, California. You can follow her journey as a maternal mental health advocate on Instagram, YouTube and her website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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