I’m a mother of two. This means I’m tasked with nurturing and raising two vastly different people with unique tendencies, emotions, needs, joys – everything. I feel exhausted at the thought of meeting all these needs; but in truth, my girls’ differences excite me to my core.
The excitement stems from amazement. I’m amazed that two people with the same parents can be so tremendously unlike one another. I’m even more amazed that these defining qualities are present as early as pregnancy and through each labor story.
For a long time, my first labor and postpartum experience kept me from listening to my desire for a bigger family.
I feared I’d have a similar experience and knew I couldn’t handle that twice. But as it turns out, two people mean two polar opposite experiences – and for that I am forever grateful.
Our first daughter, who is best described as a fantastic force, came into the world after a wild and semi-chaotic, two-day labor which led to severe postpartum trauma.
My contractions started painful but manageable and remained 15-20 minutes apart for a full day. Nearly 24 hours into this early labor, I had an anxiety attack because I was certain she’d never come. Meanwhile a handyman worked vigorously to clear out the moldy pipes in our kitchen, which we’d conveniently discovered the day before. The house was chaotic. The mood was frantic. I felt empowered at times, but sudden bursts of disruptive anxiety rocked my confidence.
At hour 40, we left the house. I punched the car window with every contraction and screamed at my husband for hitting every pothole and bump imaginable. My OB insisted we go into the office first to confirm labor. There I had to labor in a crowded waiting room with 20+ strangers staring at me while all the physicians were on their lunch break. Finally we arrived at the hospital and were met by an OB I’d never seen or heard of before. I felt very confused about who she was but didn’t have the energy to ask. My doula handed her my birth plan while I yelled, “START WITH NUMBER 7!” Number 7 was the one that said something like, “If labor has been more than 24 hours and I’m exhausted, administer epidural.”
By that time I was about 42 hours in and desperate for rest. I was losing sight of the joy that would come (somewhat) soon because my nerves and body were shot. Almost immediately after the epidural kicked in, I started shaking violently, which only subsided when we turned the medication off. The labor continued to be messy in every way, and this messiness continued for several weeks.
I thought my water broke multiple times only to be told again and again that I just had a lot of bloody show. Eventually I felt pressured to let the OB break my water. Everyone but my nurse seemed inconvenienced by the length of my labor, although technically nothing was wrong.
At hour 47, Amelia was born. They placed her on my chest, and she instantly pooped all over me – the mess carried on.
She was perfect and wonderful, and sadly I was too tired and emotionally drained to feel present.
The doctors and nurses buzzed around the room and abruptly took her from me to examine her. Again, there was nothing wrong – it was just their standard procedure, and it felt like absolute mayhem.
The mess continued well into my postpartum journey. Beginning two weeks after Amelia’s birth, I began to suffer from postpartum hemorrhaging. I went back into the hospital several times; was sent home from the ER without receiving an exam; was written off by several doctors; encouraged to do a careless, in-office procedure that caused the worst hemorrhage yet; and eventually received a proper D&C.
My husband managed and mastered everything other than nursing while I lost weeks with my girl. The circumstances led to severe postpartum anxiety caused by unrecognized labor and postpartum trauma. While my relationship with Amelia naturally caught right up when I was physically well, my mental journey to recovery was long and, in some ways, is ongoing.
After 2.5 years of parenting this incredible human, we were finally comfortable thinking about having another baby. Considering the circumstances of our first run, we didn’t arrive at this discussion lightly. Through prayer, trauma counseling, a new OB practice, a different hospital, you name it, we felt confident we might have a different experience. It felt worth the risk to try.
My second labor and postpartum experience have been nothing short of redemptive.
Our second daughter, who can only be described as a calming light, came into the world after a peaceful and intuition-filled labor.
My contractions started strong and unquestionably real. They were 15-20 minutes apart but 2-3 minutes long from inception. I hopped in the bath while my husband called my mom to come stay with Amelia and I had three contractions within 20 minutes. It was time to go, and I felt overwhelming joy and unexplainable peace.
On the way to the hospital I played a centering song on repeat and envisioned the moment I’d hold my child. The contractions slowed down again to 15 minutes apart. We arrived to a very quiet hospital around 12:30a and were greeted by a midwife who we loved and trusted implicitly.
When she checked my cervix, I was only dilated 3 cm. My midwife told me I could walk the halls, take a shower, or do whatever I needed to while I waited. My contractions remained 2-3 minutes long and 15 minutes apart, and I thought for sure I was in for another very long labor. I clutched onto my husband’s arm and rocked back and forth with every very long contraction. Then with great peace and certainty, I decided I’d like to try an epidural so I could be energized and present for the birth of our daughter.
We settled into our Labor and Delivery room, and the epidural was placed. At this point it was 2:00 am, and I was ready to hunker down and rest. Since my contractions had not changed, I assumed my cervix too was unchanged. When the nurse checked me, however, I’d progressed to 7.5 cm. We were all shocked and elated.
One hour later, I felt a burst of water and called my midwife in. “Your water broke, and you’re at a 10. Let’s push.” We’d been at the hospital less than 3 hours. Still, my contractions were 2-3 minutes long and 15 minutes apart.
My midwife looked at me and said, “this is a perfect labor.” It felt that way to me, too.
Even as I pushed, my contractions remained that far apart. I’d work harder than I knew possible to push, and then we’d all take a 15-minute break to talk. It was strange, therapeutic and full of laughter – really, laughter.
At 4:00 am, just 4.5 hours after my labor began, Bonnie was born. Our midwife put our daughter on my chest, and I felt complete and total euphoria. I heard myself laugh-crying and couldn’t stop kissing her head. My husband looked overjoyed instead of terrified, and we both just wept and thanked God for this redemptive labor experience.
The midwife and nurses all cleared out and let us have alone time with our sweet baby. It was quiet and spiritual. A full hour later they returned and asked us if we were ready for her exam. I felt like I was living these beautiful moments for both of my girls – the moments I’d been robbed of in my first experience. My second labor restored me to wholeness.
This peaceful vibe continued throughout my hospital stay. I felt fearless and overwhelmed with gratitude. I felt cared for and comforted. I felt the joy and strength that all women are entitled to when we bring children into the world, and always.
I’m 11 months postpartum, and this round has been complication free and defined by very real joy. I’m exhausted as any new mom should be, but I feel healthy and deeply happy.
My girls came into the world entirely differently, and my girls are entirely different. Seeing what this can be and feel like, I do mourn the time lost with my first baby. I am, however, confident this restoration will allow me to be present for both of my children in the exact ways they each need.
All photos by Jessica Rockowitz Photography