Seleni Institute – We Need More Comprehensive Women’s Reproductive Health Services Like This!

Something caught my attention today.  An article appearing on my Facebook feed about a workshop offered by Seleni Institute this Wednesday, July 31st, titled: “Preparing for Your Newborn,”  which will assist the expectant mom in knowing what to expect in her first days after childbirth.  When I looked at what the workshop will be covering, I quickly realized that it’s way more than what the standard childbirth and parenting classes at hospitals offer.   It offers many things I complain about in my book that are lacking in standard hospital classes–things that are the source of much anxiety to first-time mothers, like how to choose a pediatrician,warning signs and when to call your pediatrician, soothing techniques, and taking a baby’s temperature.  To find out more and to register, click here.  I will have to inquire whether they also cover the startle reflex (the reason why we swaddle) and what to do if reflex, colic, eczema and/or cradle cap occur.

In Chapter 14 of my book, I talk about the changes needed for progress with respect to ending the ignorance about postpartum depression (PPD), ending the stigma caused by that ignorance, and making sure there are enough support services to help new moms and their families.  In this chapter, I provide my “wish list” of what it would take for such progress to occur, one of which is an increase in peer-led parenting and PPD support groups (one example is MotherWoman, which I have blogged about previously, even on Huffington Post).  The other is the establishment of comprehensive women’s healthcare facilities that are founded on the realization that the emotional well-being of the new mother is absolutely essential to the survival and normal development of her child.  Mental health should absolutely be an integral component of reproductive health, whether it be for issues relating to infertility, miscarriage, still birth, child loss or the postpartum period.

I recently learned of such a facility that I wish I could’ve taken advantage of but couldn’t because it didn’t exist when I was having difficulty conceiving, after my first failed IVF cycle, after childbirth and when I was battling PPD.  It opened its doors earlier this year.  Not sure, however, WHETHER I would’ve taken advantage of such a facility back then, before I came out of my PPD knowing what I know now.  Yes, it’s one of those hindsight is 20/20 kinda situations.  Well, knowing what I know now, I want to encourage women to seek such services early on.  Continuing along the vein of what I wrote in my book’s Chapter 14, knowing the importance of and being able to easily access such services are extremely vital if we want to stop seeing women experiencing the kind of bumpy road to motherhood that I experienced.

This facility is the Seleni Institute in Manhattan.  I hadn’t realized until today that the Advisory Board consists of such esteemed individuals in the field of reproductive mood disorders as Dr. Lee S. Cohen and Karen Kleiman, MSW, LCSW.  Seleni’s services include–but are not limited to–the following.

  • Support groups for, miscarriage/stillbirth/child loss, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, pregnancy, new moms, unexpected childbirth outcomes, parenting support/mindful parenting, and body image.
  • A certified lactation counselor providing clinics, classes, workshops, and one-on-one sessions to help the expectant mother know what to expect and the new mother on how to improve her breastfeeding experience.
  • Experienced psychotherapists and social workers on staff to provide counseling on infertility, coping with physical changes during and after pregnancy, infant bonding and attachment, life and career transitions, relationship/marital/partner difficulties, parenting concerns, and body image anxiety.
  • A website offering valuable insight into all things relating to reproduction.  It is filled with an amazing amount of information that, once again, I only wish I had had access to during my IVF cycles, pregnancy, and postpartum period.

The origin of the name Seleni is in and of itself extremely creative and a lot of thought was put into an appropriate reflection of the organization’s mission. In combing through everything on the site, I’m filled with wonder at the promise this organization holds for women, and I really hope to see more organizations like this open throughout the country.  Even better, I would like to see this organization become national!

The Myth That All Mothers Bond Instantly and at First Sight

All mothers fall instantly in love and bond with their babies.  If bonding isn’t automatic and doesn’t happen right away or it’s not intense, then that must mean you’re a bad mother.  Wrong!  This is yet another societal myth that serves to screw with the minds of new mothers. 

Be Realistic, Not Idealistic

Before I proceed any further with this post, I want to be clear that I didn’t know and understand enough about bonding to worry about this much in the weeks following the birth of my daughter.  One of my ongoing themes is to caution people against setting high expectations.  The higher your expectations, the more there is at stake; thus, the greater your worries and stress are, the greater the chances you fill fall short of them, and the greater the chances are that disappointment  will be the outcome.  As through much of life and on the job, you need to learn how to manage expectations.  Actually, you need to maintain a realistic attitude.  It’s not really “Hope for the best, and expect the worst.”  It’s realizing that hardly anything in this world and throughout life works out 100% the way you would like. 

Expectations of having a natural, vaginal birth without pain relief; of immediate bonding with your baby; of immediate success with breastfeeding—if you set such high expectations, when things don’t turn out the way you envisioned, the feelings of disappointment at a time when you are both emotionally and physically vulnerable can lead to postpartum depression (PPD).  Why do we set ourselves up to have such letdowns?  Again, if you go in with certain expectations, you’re at greater risk for disappointment if your experience doesn’t match your expectations.  It’s to your advantage not to have any expectations at all, but instead take things one step at a time.  That way, there will be less chances of setting yourself up for disappointment if your experience doesn’t match that of others around you. 

The Myth That All Mothers Have to Bond Instantly and at First Sight

Something else that society has you believe is that all mothers feel an immediately overwhelming sensation of love and joy—an immediate connection—with the baby at first sight.  Does feeling anything other than that make you a bad mother?   No. Does feeling unmoved, unemotional or disappointed at the baby’s appearance when they first see their newborns signify detachment and lack of maternal behavior and signs of depression?  No.  A woman may have certain expectations of how her baby would look at birth, or of how she would feel looking at her baby for the first time.  She may have certain expectations of how she should feel at birth due to what they hear from other mothers and/or seeing photos of blissfully happy mothers holding their newborns immediately after delivery.  It’s not unusual or bad to feel exhausted and numb after having gone through X hours of intense and painful labor.  I remember feeling disappointed that I didn’t feel ecstatic the way some of my friends—not to mention women on television—felt after they saw their babies for the first time.  She is merely setting herself up for a letdown if she doesn’t feel exactly the way she’d imagined she would feel upon seeing her baby for the first time.  She might even be a little disconcerted about the baby’s scrawny, bloody appearance or head that might be a bit misshapen from being squeezed for the last X hours through her narrow birth canal or maybe a “stork bite” on the face. 

Speaking of stork bites, they are a fairly common occurrence.  In fact, per Medline Plus, they occur in up to one third of all newborns.  A stork bite is a temporary birthmark that a baby is either born with or develops within the first months.  Stork bites are usually pink, since they are due to the stretching (dilation) of certain blood vessels.  Stork bites are usually located on the back of the neck, eyelids, forehead, nose, or upper lip.  My daughter had one on one of her eyelids as well as on the back of her neck—hence the term “stork bite.” 

You prepare and long for the moment, picturing it all in your mind in the months leading up to your baby’s birth, in which you will fall instantly in love with your baby the moment she is placed in your arms.  Don’t let the one mother you know or delivery scene on television convince you into thinking that that is a given occurrence with every childbirth.  Not all mothers fall instantly in love and bond with their babies.  Not instantly falling in love with and bonding with your baby doesn’t mean you are a bad mother. Per “Postpartum Depression Demystified” by Joyce Venis, RNC and Suzanne McCloskey (pg 47) “[It] takes time for that special bond to develop.  You and your baby need to get to know each other a bit in order for those strong feelings of attachment to take root.”  If after a few weeks you still feel detached from your baby, you should review my previous post on the symptoms of PPD to determine whether you are experiencing any other symptoms of PPD.  

Without a doubt, there is greater likelihood for a woman to experience “instant maternal rapture” if her childbirth experience goes well (in her opinion), but Susan Maushart (pg 87) in her book The Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes Our Lives and Why We Never Talk About It states:  “A woman who has been ravaged by hours or even days of excruciating pain and anxiety, or one who has been so thoroughly anesthetized that (depending on the drug of choice) either her body or her mind is numb, is hardly a likely candidate for ecstasy.”   Maushaurt continues (pg 86) as follows: “[Recent] studies suggest that bonding with one’s newborn is a good deal more complex than achieving a magic postpartum moment.  The fabled surge of maternal feeling which women have learned to expect in the immediate postpartum period is highly variable, even among women who have experienced the most ‘natural’ of natural births….[and] there is no evidence that an immediate bonding experience is a precondition for the growth of maternal feeling over time.”  Since magazines and books seem to focus so much on bonding, it’s no wonder there is such disappointment when what you read is not what you get—when you don’t experience that same “surge of maternal feeling” that other mothers have reported experiencing. 

Let’s take a step back now to ask the question “What is bonding, really?”  Does bonding occur only with breastfeeding?  No! If this were true, then does it mean that everyone who doesn’t breastfeed doesn’t successfully bond with their babies?  No!  Does bonding immediately occur upon first sight of the baby, and as you take him/her into your arms after delivery?  No!  Then what is it?  Bonding is close interaction with your baby which includes holding, infant massage, singing/reading/talking to and playing with him/her.  All these important types of interaction stimulate the baby’s cognitive/emotional/social development. 

I can’t say it any better than Shoshana Bennett in her book “Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression” (pg 53):  “There is no one magic moment of opportunity when bonding must happen….Even if your depression or anxiety has made it difficult for you to care for your baby, it’s never too late.  Bonding is a process of familiarity, closeness, and comfort that continues for years.”  It’s this connection that you have to focus on, not whether or not you breastfeed or were not yourself when you had PPD for several weeks.  Don’t let books, magazines or other moms tell you that your baby will bond better if breastfed.  Keep in mind that there are plenty of children all over the world who drink formula and are perfectly happy and develop close and loving bonds with their mothers.  Bottom line is, if you love your child and show affection to that child, you will bond.   If you are like me and missed a period of bonding opportunity while depressed, once you are out of that PPD fog, let go of what’s already past and make the most of your time with your baby going forward. 

Missing out on the opportunity to bond with—in other words, responding to the baby’s cry through comforting, holding, feeding and communicating—your baby immediately after birth for whatever reason, due to complications from birth for the mother (as with happened to me) and/or baby (jaundice, physical defect), does not mean you will fail to bond properly.  Don’t let the image of bonding at birth become an obsessive thought.  I mean, think about it…what about adopted children?  They don’t stand a chance with bonding with their adoptive parents? 

I’d like to end with this.  PPD that is not treated can prevent attachment and bonding, which can only reinforce feelings of failure—a vicious cycle, of which there are many when it comes to PPD!

Forget the Myths, Here are the Realities of Pregnancy, Childbirth and Postpartum Experiences

Pregnancy is NOT always a smooth, easy and blissful experience

Pregnancy is always a smooth, easy and blissful experience.  Not only that but  you (and your skin) are supposed to “glow.”   Nah, don’t you believe that for one instant!  Grant it, there are those who experience one or more births that most women can only dream of having.  You will occasionally hear about births that progressed so quickly and easily that no pain relief, episiotomies, or stitches even, were needed.  I have a friend who said that labor started so suddenly while still at home that she just gave birth there.  Where all it took were some intense contractions and a few pushes, and it was all over.  Within minutes, baby was contentedly breastfeeding. They couldn’t even wait for help to arrive.  Now, that’s a childbirth experience that can’t be beat! 

In terms of pregnancy and its associated physical challenges—like nausea, vomiting, water retention, difficulty sleeping in the later months—Susan Maushaurt (pg 50) in her book The Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming a Mother Changes Our Lives and Why We Never Talk About It says:  “We fight off our symptoms with a grim determination…..and get on with it, to show the world….that pregnancy is no big deal, really.”  Maushart describes how her nausea, which was triggered by practically every smell and so severe and debilitating, and yet she was “as likely to publicize it as [she] would a bout of bed-wetting.”  Like Maushart, I experienced nausea a lot.  In fact, I was nauseated by every little smell for the entire duration of my pregnancy.  Unlike Maushart, I wasn’t afraid to tell people.  I told people at work, I told my friends, I told my family.  Why would I want to hide this information from others?  It seems that Maushart, along with countless other women, choose to keep quiet due to fear of being judged as not taking it like a woman.  It seems that if we were to dare complain about any aspect of pregnancy and postpartum, we would be branded a failure.  Deep down, we compare ourselves with those women who glow and love every minute of being pregnant.  What we all need to realize is every woman is unique and so every woman’s pregnancy, circumstances and therefore childbirth experiences will be different.  Some experiences will be great, while others won’t be.  That’s just reality.

The reality is that—and you seldom see any of this unless you’re deliberately on the lookout for such information—about 15-20% of pregnancies fail to carry to term, per Ruta Nonacs in her book A Deeper Shade of Blue: A Woman’s Guide to Recognizing and Treating Depression in Her Childbearing Years (pg 84).  Many women suffer from repeated miscarriages.  With each miscarriage, there is grieving and the more a woman grieves and the longer the period of grieving, she becomes increasingly more vulnerable to depression.  Studies show that women with recurrent miscarriages (and/or infertility) experience clinically significant depression. Needless to say, it is very difficult to cope with a loss at any point, whether it’s a loss during the first trimester, later in the pregnancy, at childbirth (stillbirth or death from preterm birth), or up through a few weeks postpartum (neonatal death).  You wouldn’t think that it would be possible to feel an emotional connection within the first few weeks of pregnancy, since there is nothing about an embryo that resembles a baby yet.  For me, even the few weeks during my first pregnancy was more than enough time to become emotionally invested.  When I found out it had to be terminated due to what they referred to as an ectopic pregnancy, I was devastated.  I can’t even imagine carrying a baby to term only to have the baby die.  That has got to be one of the most devastating experiences any woman could ever have to endure.

Each woman is different in terms of their ability to cope with and move beyond a loss.  Some are able to cope and move on relatively quickly.  For others, the experience is so devastating that they may not be fully able (or willing) to let go of the pain and memory of their loss, and fall into depression.  These women should seek professional help to help cope with their loss and move on with their lives.  It really helps to share your feelings with therapists who, unlike friends, family, colleagues and neighbors who—despite good intentions may unintentionally say something that hurts your feelings—make for non-judgmental and supportive listeners.  It isn’t good to keep all your feelings bottled up inside.  Grieving and getting a certain amount of emotional support from others are components of the healing process.  It’s best to deal with grief as it occurs rather than letting those negative feelings accumulate and stay unresolved over time.  At some point, your body and psyche may get to a point that they can no longer hold back depression.

Women who have had previous experience(s) with miscarriage and/or traumatic birth experience—including, but not limited to, having a stillborn baby—will tend to experience high anxiety levels, due to great fear of yet another pregnancy loss, during a subsequent pregnancy.  High anxiety levels make it difficult for a woman to enjoy her pregnancy.  Women who have had to endure IVF cycles and/or repeated pregnancy loss—e.g., miscarriage(s), stillbirth(s)—have experienced much psychological trauma to get to this point and are considered high risk for a perinatal mood disorder.  There is a correlation between feelings of loss and the age of the mother, how long she has been trying to conceive, and whether there were previous pregnancy losses, which in turn lead to feelings of failure and inadequacy, not to mention higher anxiety levels and stress, which can cause a woman whose body and brain are already challenged by hormonal fluctuations to become depressed. 

Let’s not forget that pregnant women can become depressed—this is referred to as antenatal depression.   In fact, approximately 1 out of 10 women experience antenatal depression, though many cases are undiagnosed.  Per Postpartum Depression Demystified“by Joyce Venis, RNC and Suzanne McCloskey (pg 59), untreated cases of depression during pregnancy have a 50% chance of worsening after childbirth.   Depression during pregnancy generally does not go away once the baby is born.

So, in short, while it’s true that mothers who are fortunate enough to have smooth pregnancies each and every time they have a baby more than likely feel that this is a true statement, pregnancy is NOT always a smooth and blissful experience. 

A smooth pregnancy does NOT mean a smooth postpartum period

I had a relatively smooth pregnancy so the thought never occurred to me that I could possibly develop PPD.  Unfortunately, a smooth pregnancy does not always guarantee a smooth postpartum experience.  You could totally love being pregnant and loving every minute of the pregnancy but still end up with PPD.  If you find that a number of the risk factors in my post “Risk Factors for PPD” apply to you, you could still fall prey to PPD despite how well your pregnancy went.

The childbirth experience is subjective and unique to each woman.  What one woman deems as a good childbirth experience may be completely different from another woman.  What is satisfying to one woman may be disappointing for another.  Some women may view a good birth as one in which the baby came out fine, despite the long and painful process.  Some may view a good birth as one that is completely “au natural,” in which no pain relief is administered and the baby is delivered vaginally.  Yet others may view a good birth as one where there is very little pain, or pain that they can deal with, thanks to the invention of the epidural.   Increasing numbers of women are even opting to have caesarians despite the lack of medical necessity and out of preference for being in control and able to decide what day to have the baby and minimize the chance of any complications.  Ultimately, it’s the woman’s perception and satisfaction of her childbirth experience that matters and key to starting off her postpartum experience on a positive note. 

For some, unfortunately, a disappointing childbirth experience increases a woman’s risk factor toward postpartum depression—particularly if there are any complications like an emergency caesarian, pre-term birth and any medical problems of the baby resulting with a stay in the NICU.   Many women long, hope and prepare for a natural childbirth experience.  In other words, no medical intervention of any sort.  A vaginal delivery with no epidural, no forceps, nothing.  Just plain endurance, willpower and heavy-duty breathing exercises.   What they don’t plan for—baby in breach position or other unforeseen medical emergency for the mother and/or baby—are the times an emergency caesarian or other medical intervention may be required.  For these women, not being able to have the birth experience they had hoped for can cause a tremendous sense of loss, disappointment and grief.   It’s situations like this that it’s best to adopt a realistic attitude of hoping for the best but realizing that anything, really, can happen. 

If you read my recent post about my childbirth experience, you’d know that I had to lose my uterus due to a rare complication called placenta accreta (where the placenta grew into my uterine wall) only 3 days after having my baby.  I would say, without a doubt,  that that experience paved the way to my PPD.  I wouldn’t say that that experience alone is what triggered my PPD, since my PPD didn’t start until the 6th week postpartum.  Needless to say, when you experience a complication like that, which not only takes a lot out of a person physically since it’s a major surgery with 4 units of blood loss—this being only 3 days after childbirth, another big deal physically—on top of the hormonal fluctuations, sleep deprivation, and daily procedures in the hospital, your body is not in prime physical condition, is it?  I was planning to treat all this in a practical and matter-of-fact sort of way and move on.  Put this all behind me.  There was no way for me to even know that in just 6 weeks’ time, I was going to get blindsided with PPD.   Something I could not just snap out of all by myself, without medical intervention. 

The following are just examples of obstetrical complications leading to a traumatic birth experience…. the types of experiences we hope never to have but in reality do happen to some women: 

  • Emergency caesarian (especially after having had no pain relief and enduring many hours of labor)
  • Baby going into distress during or after delivery
  • Inability to see or hold the baby immediately upon birth
  • Extremely difficult and long labor
  • Baby requiring surgery to correct a serious congenital defect
  • Husband not being there with you
  • Last-minute change in OB/GYN delivering your baby 

The disappointment of falling short of your birth plans, frustration of this unexpected turn of events, inability to do more for your baby, and/or lack of control can be too overwhelming, too much to bear for a new mom whose hormones are already topsy-turvy and “playing tricks” on her emotions. 

Hear No, Speak No, See No….

Those who’ve been fortunate enough to have smooth and stress-free experiences lack empathy for those who don’t have such experiences.  After all, empathy comes from personal experience.  On the one hand, without going through a difficult pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum experience yourself, there is no way for that person to know what any of that’s like.   On the other hand, women who have had negative experiences with pregnancy and childbirth, such as ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, and infertility, generally do not talk about these experiences with others for several reasons.  After all, who wants to hear bad news?  Even if you think that someone else would be understanding, chances are you are reluctant to burden someone else with heavy news and/or you don’t feel they can empathize or know what to say to you.  People are generally inclined to stay away from awkward situations.  Because people don’t openly discuss their difficult pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum experiences, the public is only aware of the smooth, easy and blissful pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum experiences.  It’s natural to feel you’re an imperfect mom when things don’t go smoothly because you only hear good things from other moms.  Or you simply want to hide the fact that your birth experience was not as good as you’d hoped it would be.  Unfortunately, this only supports the notion that all pregnancies are smooth, easy and blissful experiences.  Not to mention, it also makes women like me who have infertility issues, as well as pregnancy, delivery and postpartum complications ask themselves the question “Why me?” and feel worse that they are being deprived of positive experiences every other mother seems to be enjoying.  This only makes them feel more alone in their experience than ever.

Unfortunately, it’s human nature to avoid wanting to hear about problems you have during delivery and/or the postpartum period—as I unfortunately experienced firsthand. People only want to hear what they want to hear, which is that your experience was like any other mother’s experience.  They don’t even want to hear the details of how the labor and delivery went.  They just want to hear these 6 words:  “Mom and baby are doing fine.”  This is what I refer to as the “spare me the details” effect.  Same thing whenever you ask anyone the question “How are you” and you expect the answer to be “Good, thanks.”  People don’t want you to go into details, especially if they’re negative in any way.  I always get this strange look from people whenever I provide a response that’s in any way negative.  It’s almost like, how dare I provide a response that isn’t within the socially acceptable “Good, thanks.”

Empathy seems to be the key that gives people the understanding and realization that others need help and support, that all is not always peachy keen.   You learn from life’s experiences, which motivate people to do certain things.  Why do you think I do what I do?  To help other women, so they can be empowered with knowledge.  Ignorance is NOT bliss when it comes to things like pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum experiences.  Be in the know.  Also, it’s best going into labor and delivery not having high or certain expectations, since you won’t be setting yourself up for disappointment.  All you should and can do, really, is to hope for the best and be as knowledgeable as you can about the REALITIES of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum experiences—including PPD!  After all, PPD is the #1 complication of childbirth.

Sharing My Less Than Perfect Birth Experience

At about 4:30 AM on Friday, December 10, 2004, my water broke.  The first thing that came to my mind was “Oh no!  I’m not ready for this!  This can’t be happening already! ”  I woke my husband up and told him what had happened.  I thought maybe, by some chance, this was all just a false alarm.  But we paged the doctor anyway.  When he called back, we informed him that my water had apparently broken.  Much to my dismay, he told us to meet him at the hospital.  I hadn’t even packed the hospital bag yet, which my husband had warned me many times to do.  Somehow, and I don’t remember any of this, we threw a hospital bag together in a big rush and off we went to the hospital.  I experienced mild trepidation about getting the epidural, but I was not obsessed about it.  So when the time came to get it, I just told myself it had to be done to spare me the intense pain from which I wanted to be spared.  The labor and delivery went fine, but immediately after my doctor delivered my baby girl into my arms, he had a look on his face that I’ll never forget……………………………

My placenta would not come out. 

After waiting an hour, the doctor proceeded to try to manually manipulate it out.  Even the epidural couldn’t help with the pain from what he was doing.  So they moved me to the OR where they proceeded to administer painkillers through my IV drip, all the while trying to manipulate the placenta out by hand (yes, a hand all the way up you know what) and then by a long suction device similar to the procedure for a dilatation and curettage (D&C).  I was trying not to scream, but a few times couldn’t help it.  The doctor finally gave up.  He told me he’d schedule an MRI for me the next day, before doing anything further to determine the exact problem.  He explained that one of two things was the problem.  Either my large fibroids (and I had quite a few) were preventing the placenta’s movement out or this was a case of placenta accreta, which is a rare complication where the placenta attaches to the wall of the uterus.  I had a sinking feeling it was the latter and way more serious of the 2 possibilities.

Turns out, they couldn’t squeeze me in on Saturday, so they put me down for Sunday.  In the meantime, I was only allowed to eat ice cubes.  I had to get a blood test at least a couple times a day for the next five days.  Evidently, the technician on duty on Sunday was not the one who usually handles abdominal MRIs.  Basically, he was not familiar with the appropriate protocol, so the entire 45 minutes of my being in the MRI — hooked up to the IV drip and morphine, bleeding from the episiotomy and peeing uncontrollably every time I stood up — was for nothing.  I couldn’t believe I had to go through the same exercise the following day.  The doctor told me that I may have to undergo surgery to get my uterus removed if the MRI proves my doctor’s fears of placenta accreta.  In this situation, the placenta cannot just be cut off, the entire uterus would have to go too.  In preparation for the possibility of surgery, the doctor was not comfortable with my low blood count, so he insisted I receive 2 units of blood.  That sent me into a panic because that would mean I’d get someone else’s blood.  Because I feared I could get AIDS from a blood transfusion, before going into any surgery, I would’ve preferred to store my own blood.  That is what I’d done for my dermoid cyst removal back in 2001.  But this time, I wasn’t prepared.  I refused the blood, which only angered the doctor.  I finally gave in, but only after several crying episodes where not only was I afraid I wouldn’t make it through all this, but that I’d lose my uterus.  A part of me would be gone forever.  I would never be able to have kids again. 

That night, the nurse came in to attach a catheter to my other arm for the blood transfusion.  She wasn’t as good as the nurse who inserted the other catheter.  Because my left arm already had a catheter for the IV drip and antibiotics, they had to find a way to insert one into my right arm.  The clearly visible vein was way over-used by the nurses taking my blood daily.  So the nurse went for my wrist…..and missed.  Then she went for my hand……. and missed.  By that time, I was delirious.  They had to get someone else to try, and luckily, she succeeded in inserting it into a vein that you can barely see at all.   Fortunately, I have no fear of needles or I never would’ve survived all this (and my IVF cycles, for that matter).

Next morning came.  Inside, I was a wreck.  I was starving.  I was still on a diet of ice cubes.  But I maintained my composure the best I could.  This time, the regular MRI technician was on duty.  With difficulty, I slowly got out of my wheelchair and onto the MRI platform.  I was in the MRI for about 90 minutes this time, trying to stay as still and as calm as possible throughout the entire procedure, following the technician’s instructions on when to breathe and when to hold my breath.  Fortunately, I am not a claustrophobic or they probably would’ve had to knock me out just to get me into the MRI.  It was nothing like the CT Scan that was performed on me years ago, which uncovered the fact that I had a dermoid cyst rather than cancer. 

That afternoon, the doctor performed the surgery on me to try again, this time with the aid of general anesthesia, to remove the placenta.  The doctor warned that I could hemorrhage on the table, and if that occurs, I would need additional units of blood and an emergency hysterectomy would need to be performed.  At that point, I was tired of being upset, tired of all the procedures – the MRIs, the catheters, the bleeding, the inadvertent peeing, the daily blood work, the temperature readings, and my lousy diet of ice cubes.  I was numb.  I went into the operation trying not to think about anything but surviving so I can go back home with my husband and daughter.  I was praying I would come out alive.  The anesthesiologist administered the anesthesia and by the time I counted to 3, I passed out.  When I came to, it was 2-3 hours later and I was in the recovery room.  The surgery itself took 2-3 hours.  I was extremely groggy and experiencing throbbing pain in my abdomen.  Not sure if the hysterectomy had occurred or not, the first thing I did was feel for stitches.  And there they were.  They had had to remove my uterus.  I felt so, so sad at that point.  The doctor then appeared and explained what had happened.  I had hemorrhaged and needed 4 units of blood.  At that point, fear of getting someone else’s blood was no longer that big a deal.  What was done, was done.  The fact of the matter was I could no longer have another child. 

Though I can’t say what living in hell is like (and I hope I NEVER do), I don’t know any other way of expressing how I felt during that miserable week.  I lost track of how many rooms I had to stay in….there was the delivery room, a few hours in a recovery room, followed by a room in the maternity ward, then one night that felt like an eternity in what to me was like hell (that’s where I nearly cracked) in the recovery wing of regular surgery patients (where the nurse in charge was — pardon me for saying this, but – a bitch), and I was finally moved to another room in the maternity ward where I stayed the last 3 nights.  For the most part, the nurses in the Maternity section were truly sympathetic and helpful.  These nurses were definitely a step higher than the nurses in the recovery wing with respect to sensitivity to the new mother.  I can recall the first nurse that helped me was like Florence Nightingale….an exemplary nurse.  And the last nurse was truly sympathetic for me and helped me as best she could.  I regret not writing down their names at the time so I could thank them after I went home.  All the nurses in-between, however, were not particularly sympathetic, kind or caring, despite the evidence written all over my face at how miserable I was feeling.  They appeared to be all about just doing their job, callous probably from dealing with patients day in and day out.  No one was particularly pro-active about stopping for even a minute to ask me how I was feeling that day, lend an ear, see if I needed anything.  My stay in the recovery wing was hellish not only because I couldn’t see my baby while I was there but also because it was nearly impossible to get a nurse whenever I needed one.  What was the call button for, if no one ever responded to it?  I had to get my husband to search for one each time I needed something.    Needless to say, but I’m going to say it anyway, it makes all the difference in the world when nurses are warm and caring both during and after delivery, checking on you frequently and anticipating your needs during your stay at the hospital.

Mind you, my diet was restricted to delicious ice cubes for most of my time at the hospital.  I think it was during my last 3 days that I graduated to fluids (e.g., juice, tea, salty beef or chicken broth and jello) and on the last day, I was allowed to eat a couple of delicious hospital meals! All this time, I was trying not to “shoot myself” with morphine.  I was rigged up to the morphine drip and all I had to do was push the button to get some.  If it weren’t for the moments where the gas movements hurt so much it felt like sulfuric acid was burning a hole slowly through my abdominal wall (it was such a searing pain), I never would’ve needed the morphine past the first night.  I hate having to depend on medicine!  Antibiotics, though, are different.  They’re needed to ward off infection.  The nurses gave me a bunch of Percocet to take for pain, but I never touched a single one.  To this day, I’m not even sure if the searing pain that felt like a hole was being burned into my abdomen was caused by gas.  The whole experience made me all the more anxious because I didn’t know what was causing this pain and how long this would go on for. 

To this day I cannot understand why they always had to come in during the middle of the night to take my temperature and sometimes blood.  I’d be sleeping and they’d come and wake me up.  Didn’t they understand how important sleep is to a new mother?  I was never able to get a block of 5 hours of sleep during that dreadful week in the hospital.  At that time, I had no idea the lack of adequate deep sleep and constant interruptions by hospital staff would set me up for PPD.  Hospital staff should be instructed to allow a new mother to get at least 5 hours of sleep at a time.

All this time, I had to keep my chin up the best I could, knowing that I had a newborn to try and breastfeed.  Despite my brave attempts, I wasn’t very successful.  With the help of the lactation consultant that would come by once a day, I was able to successfully get the baby to latch on and suckle for a little bit.  I was surprised that I was so willing to let a stranger come to the room, grab my boob and manage to get my daughter to latch on.  It felt great to be successful those couple of times, but it was to be short lived.  I couldn’t keep this up with all the procedures I had to undergo.  I definitely couldn’t do any breastfeeding the time I was not even in the maternity ward.  By the time we left the hospital, my daughter was already suffering from what they called “nipple confusion.”  I’d already lost precious bonding opportunity with everything I had to go through at the hospital.  Failing at breastfeeding would be a second failure of my one and only childbirth experience.  And I hadn’t even left the hospital at that point.  After leaving the hospital, I gave breastfeeding my best shot for as long as I could manage it, despite my weakness, sleep deprivation and iron deficiency from all the blood I had lost in the surgery.  

I will never forget how, during the seven long, tortuous days at the hospital, my husband was by my side the entire time, sitting/sleeping in a chair next to me. He barely took care of himself during this time, all grimy, unchanged and unshaved.  Though, he did venture to go home to check on the house, not to mention make sure Bunny had enough hay and water, once every other day.  Along the way, some nurses felt so bad for him that they tried to accommodate him the best they could.  When I was stuck in the room from hell in the Recovery Wing, he wasn’t allowed to stay in my room, but the maternity ward was kind enough to find a room for him to stay in. 

It’s interesting how the pain from labor does not keep most women from having more children.  It seems that women have selective memory with regard to their childbirth experiences.  I would say that it’s our desire to have, and love of, children far outweighing the dread one fears of labor pains.  Despite my PPD experience, if I still had my uterus, I’d want to have one more child.  If the placenta accreta hadn’t occurred, I would’ve proceeded with another IVF cycle, regardless of the fact that I’d be at least 42 years old when having the baby.

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Now that you have an actual story from someone who survived a not-so-pleasant–to say the least–birth experience (not to mention how tough it was for me to get pregnant), my next blog post will be my gripe on why there seems to be the prevailing notion that pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum are all smooth, easy and blissful experiences.