Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Hanny Ghazi, Paris, France
My husband and I finally conceived a baby a year after our wedding. We were very excited. I have always loved children and for five years had worked as a preschool teacher in my hometown, Bogota, where the mothers of my students told me what a great mom I would be. I answered that I hoped one day to be blessed by becoming a mother. It wasn’t something I took for granted. Somehow, I knew it wouldn’t be that easy.
My pregnancy was a happy time. Always having doubted my own worth and self- image, I felt beautiful and powerful for the first time in my life. I loved how my belly started to become round, how my breasts were growing, and how my whole body was changing with the life it was nurturing within.
After reading Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth, I was hoping for a normal delivery, with minimum intervention and as smooth as possible for me and for my baby. I did prenatal yoga, read as much as I could about alternative ways to manage labor pain, and watched DVDs on birthing. I really did my homework.
The birth didn’t go as planned. After approximately 30 deliveries the night before, I was unlucky to be the last mom in line before the hospital staff could finish their shift and go home. Twelve hours after my admission and 6 cm dilated, the midwife decided to break my waters. After that, a monitor was attached to my belly and I was prohibited from moving. There followed an unfortunate cascade of interventions including an epidural and ending in a cesarean section. Then everybody went home, leaving me completely clueless with a baby in my arms. A baby that had been taken away from me following his extraction, had been cleaned, weighed, given antibiotics, dressed, and put in a transparent box to wait the two hours it would take to stitch me up in surgery.
He wanted to nurse, I know that today as I look at the first photographs of him that my husband had taken. He was sucking his fists and opening his mouth as he looked for a breast that would take too long to arrive.
When I was finally there, the nurse put him on my breast and he just fell asleep. I am so sad to say that I felt nothing then for that poor human being who had been violated and was totally helpless. I just wanted to go home. And I wanted my belly back—my beautiful, round belly in which my beautiful baby had been, the pink, fat baby I had dreamed of throughout my pregnancy, not that skinny little baby that was asleep on me now.
On the one hand, I wasn’t fully aware of what breastfeeding ‘on cue’ meant and, on the other hand, I unconsciously rejected spending time with my baby. In any case, I didn’t offer the breast as often as he would have liked and therefore my milk supply was dwindling rather than growing. The hospital staff fed my baby formula because “he needed to eat.” There was an assumption that he wouldn’t have enough with my colostrum. Besides, the colostrum “tastes bad,” my mom added.
I kept on complaining for months about my c-section, to every visitor that came to admire my beautiful baby and to every health practitioner I saw after the birth. But I was ruining the joy! I should be happy, I had a beautiful baby and that was all that mattered. I should go to the beauty parlor, get my hair done, wear new clothes, my mother-in-law would keep suggesting.
I was thinking with guilt about “why I do not like this baby” and “I am a monster for not liking this baby” while those around me repeatedly silenced my complaints. “You had it the easy way, you were lucky,” a school friend commented on the phone, when listening to my never-ending birth story.
I realized that I was being treated like a child. When the child hurts herself and cries, people often tell her that “it was nothing,” that she must continue playing and “be a big girl.” Our society also doesn’t expect women to feel sorrowful about giving birth. You must get up and forget about it, no matter how it hurts. Eventually you get tired of complaining and move on or shut up, at least. Not only must you refrain from expressing your regret, but the expectation is that you should be happy about the way things happened! Be glad that you didn’t have an episiotomy and your vagina is still intact so you can continue to make love. You are really lucky, don’t you see?
Our society also doesn’t expect women to feel sorrowful about giving birth. You must get up and forget about it, no matter how it hurts.
But the worst of everything was being made to feel not enough of a woman because I didn’t really give birth. You can’t complain, you can’t suffer, you were lucky, you should be happy but, hey, you will never be as strong as the real women who pushed hard to bring their children in to this world. That is what my grandma, one of the people I love most in the world, said to me on the phone a few hours after my baby was born, “I knew you wouldn’t manage. You are too thin and too weak to give birth. You always were, my dear child.”
Postpartum depression and post traumatic disorder share similarities. The more I read, the more I see society’s violence toward women. We are heroic in our survival. Not only do our practices spoil Mother Nature’s design for the continuation of the human race, our civilization keeps on mutilating the mother by silencing her, by not helping her heal, and when breastfeeding, which could help her heal, doesn’t work as expected, that too is taken away from her.
I healed from this birth, partially. I still have tears in my eyes when I think about it but I managed to bond with my baby. Something I was afraid would never happen. I love my son more than anything in the world. He is beautiful and perfect in my eyes and I want to protect him. How did that happen? Through the magic hormones of breastfeeding.
What would have happened if all the problems I encountered with breastfeeding had made me abandon it? Well, I believe I would have become another detached parent raising another unhappy child to adulthood, who would become a part of an unhappier world. But I stopped that snowball of unhappy events. I have the power, thanks to breastfeeding.
Postpartum depression didn’t allow me to bond with my baby for almost nine months. Those times I will never experience again. But at least I stopped blaming myself. I know today that I am a heroine. I managed to become the mother I wanted despite everything that was forced upon us.
It is time we women spoke up about how important our feelings are surrounding the birth of our babies. We should claim our right to the sort of birth experiences we want.