I was utterly captivated by Ruthie’s birth stories. A mom of three in a military family, her birth experiences are as varied as you can imagine, but each has shaped her in unique and important ways. She tells of how personal trauma can resurface during labor, how significantly our birth experiences can influence us and our perceptions of mothering, and how real the grief is when a birth doesn’t go as planned; her experience with post-partum depression is equally moving. Perhaps what I loved most is her inspiring message that all mothers have their own story that predates motherhood, and all moms are pretty bad ass! Ruthie is an Army veteran, has a Master of Public Health (MPH), and is a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC)
I never imagined how pervious life experiences would play into the birth of my children.
My birth story begins way before I ever thought about having children. At the young, innocent age of 17 I joined the Army; I joined as a military police. I wanted to do something meaningful with my life. I always thought of myself as a tomboy and the job felt perfect for me. I exceeded expectations. I graduated with high scores and even made it into the Criminal Investigative Division in Hawaii. I went undercover selling and buying drugs. I enjoyed my job and I was having fun! I felt super bad ass! However, I still felt something was missing. I felt this pull to deploy, to serve. I found a military police unit that was going to go to Mosul, Iraq and I volunteered immediately. I trained hard with the soldiers who would be deploying with me.
At the time of the deployment I decided to marry the man who I had been dating who would also soon deploy. I left, he left, and our worlds changed. During the deployment I was a .50 cal gunner and our mission was to train Iraqi police. I liked staying busy and I enjoyed going out every day and working with my brothers and sisters in arms. I developed a bond with the men and women who I was deployed with and I was their sister. We saw unspeakable things that no young adult should ever have to see, but we looked out for each other.
When we went out we had to always be on guard, checking our back, yet when we would come back on base that’s where we could relax. I had a small living space that I shared with a roommate. One night when I came back to my room I had the unspeakable happen. Another soldier had violated me, robbing me of the person I was and who I worked so hard to become.
After the rape I was flown to Walter Reed Hospital. I had received some counseling and later found out that I had suffered from hearing loss. My husband, (who was not able to come home during this time and was still deployed) and I decided that it would be best for me to get out of the military. After meeting with lawyers and different military officials the solider was prosecuted (with a slap on the wrist) and the military brushed this under the rug. I was honorably, medically retired from the military.
After a few years of seeing doctors, going back to school, and lots of counseling, we decided to start a family.
It happened slower than I wanted it to, but within the first year of trying we found out we were expecting! I was happy. I had been in a deep depression and I thought a baby would “fix” everything. Everything went well. My husband was by my side going to classes with me, helping me buy equipment for the new addition. As a first time mom I just thought I would go with the flow. I created a birth plan and had everything filled out; I had even thought about how I would have wanted a cesarean to go if needed.
Once labor kicked in we made our way to the hospital. We found out that I was 5 cm and in active labor. I told them that I wanted some relief and by the time anesthesia came down, I was 7 cm! My labor was text book and we were excited. While in labor and delivery I found out that the two family doctors who had overseen my care were on vacation, so the doctor who was going to deliver me was someone whom I never had met.
After a few short hours it was time to push. I remember lots of people coming in and out and I remember that while they were setting up the room I was not able to move my legs. This very moment sent me back into panic attacks. My PTSD came rushing back because I had lost all control. My husband and a nurse had to hold my legs. My pelvis became a Broadway stage full of light, and the audience: about 25 medical students who were waiting on a performance. I broke down crying. I never wanted to feel violated and out of control again, yet here I was, center stage unable to move my own body.
My daughter was born healthy but I didn’t feel a connection. For all I knew I had just given birth to a cat! It just didn’t feel real and I was disconnected. I was happy but something was off. My husband and I were able to spend an hour with her before they took her from me. I wasn’t able to watch her first bath.
The next couple days I struggled with breastfeeding and since my daughter was born on a weekend there were no lactation professionals able to help. I never thought I would want to breastfeed after I had been sexually assaulted, yet after she was born there was a natural urge to want to feed her. Looking back now this breastfeeding relationship helped immensely with the bond and postpartum period. It took a good month before I felt comfortable breastfeeding her but it was amazing once we got it.
I fell into motherhood and enjoyed it.
I had finished my associates degree soon after and we thought it would be a good time to start trying again for another baby. When my daughter was 13 months old we found out we were expecting again! We were thrilled. I went to checkups with an OB/GYN clinic but I began to hate the clinic. I never saw the same person, the doctors would spend maybe 10 minutes with me, and they discouraged me from continuing to breastfeed my daughter while pregnant. So I looked into other options and found a birth center in the area.
I only had 10 weeks left of this pregnancy but I immediately felt a sense of peace when I walked into the birth center. I met with two midwives and I met everyone who could be present at the birth. I was excited. I was able to forgo any testing that I wanted. I was able to make choices. When receiving care at my midwives I got to play a part in my health. I remember one of the first appointments where my midwife asked me if she could take my blood pressure. She asked me if it was okay to touch my belly. Not once did a doctor ever do this. When we go into a doctor’s office they expect our non-verbal consent to treat because we are there, but by asking me those few questions I felt empowered. I felt that I had a say in what happened to my body.
My mother flew in when I was 39 weeks and labor began that night. I felt panicked as we made our way to the birth center but once I got there, there was peace.
I heard the water running for my tub and everyone who I wanted at my birth was there; my mother, daughter, husband, photographer, and midwife. That was it. I made myself at home and jumped immediately in the bath tub.
My midwife left my husband and I alone to labor. I dug deep into myself during the labor. I remember meditating on an opening flower. It was surreal as it did not seem as bad as I thought it was going to be. My husband was kneeling by my head while I rode each contraction. I found a rhythm and things progressed fast.
After just an hour, my cervix was complete. Lights were dim, yet I was scared. I started to panic as pain started to rush in. I felt pressure that I had never felt before. This is the one point that I thought I could no longer do this and needed to go to the hospital. My midwife told to me reach down and touch my baby. I didn’t really understand at first but she guided my hand down and for the first time I felt hair and an ear. I was amazed at what was going on! I reconnected with my body; I found power in this. I had no idea who was inside me but it was a baby and it was up to me to deliver this child. I heard whispers from my husband who was my personal cheerleader.
It hurt. It’s an indescribable feeling when a baby is released from your body, but it is also a relief.
I was able to catch my baby and bring it up to my chest, I was overjoyed with emotions.
The first thing I said was “I am strong! I did this!”
We then opened up the baby’s legs and saw it was a boy! I was crying tears of joy! I enjoyed looking at my son in the warm water while my husband, mother, and daughter looked over my shoulders. We stayed in the water until I felt ready to get out. We all lay in the bed, I ate some food and we all peacefully slept. After about four hours of sleep I felt ready to go home. We stopped at Dunkin Donuts for breakfast and our neighbors welcomed us home! That afternoon I went outside to watch my daughter run around and play. It was the best day of my life! It felt great to move around in my own house and be able to sleep in my own bed!
It is good for a man to watch the woman he loves be strong during labor. I felt my husband looked at me differently. He saw a strong, powerful woman. After my son’s birth I felt a connection. I immediately loved this child and breastfeeding followed after very well. Everything was perfect. His birth empowered me. I felt like I could do anything. I felt bad ass again!
My son’s birth sparked me to become a Certified Lactation Counselor and even go on to finish a Master’s of Public Health. As military we moved after his birth to an area that was very remote. We wanted more children but were hesitant because I wanted a home birth and we were unsure of where I would give birth as the only options were hospital births or unassisted home births in the area. I became pregnant after a couple years and soon found out my husband would be deploying either before or shortly after I gave birth. We lived 12 hours from my hometown so we decided that I would move myself and two children to my parent’s house to give birth at my parent’s house.
The pregnancy of my third was a lot easier. I had morning sickness but I was a seasoned parent, so I knew a few tricks to help me get through. I worked with a midwife and also with a nurse practitioner to receive care in both places. I declined all testing and I was at a peace about what would happen; hospital birth was not even an option in my mind. I was excited and I really enjoyed being pregnant.
At 37 weeks I said goodbye to my husband and traveled home. I met many times with the midwife and waited for this baby. I was enjoying preparing for my home water birth and being home with my parents. My “due date” came and went and my husband got word that he would be deploying soon. If he was stateside he would be able to Face Time to watch the birth, yet if he wasn’t he would completely miss the birth.
I was getting worried and tired so I thought about trying to start labor myself. I took castor oil and labor began that evening. After a few hours of labor my midwife told me I was 8 cm and that I could get into the pool. We Face Timed with my husband but things slowed down.
I labored all night in my parent’s room. Things felt different than they did with my son. The midwife called in another midwife to help. They both tried breaking my water and late that night I had regressed from 8 cm to 4cm. I refused to go to the hospital as I knew my body could do this. I showered, ate, and eventually the midwife and birth team left so that I could labor on my own.
My support was gone and I panicked. I soon started vomiting so my midwife came back but told me I wasn’t making any progress. I then decided to go to the hospital. I was scared, and once doctors/nurses started coming in to touch me my mind went back to the 19 year old who was raped.
I again had an epidural as my cervix was swelling. This epidural led to Pitocin, and I felt nothing. The physical pain was gone but the emotional pain was roaring. The hospital was respectful of my wishes and did not allow any males in the room, but the doctor’s still need lights, they need to monitor you, they have protocols that need to be followed. Here I was lying in bed with no control about what was happening to me. My daughter was able to be there for the birth and my husband was able to watch over face time.
During the birth I did know that I wanted to touch my baby and place my child myself on my chest. While my baby was coming out the doctors saw the hand emerging first and this is most likely why labor stalled for me. I remember feeling the baby’s head again and I started to cry. Not because I was excited or that I wanted to meet my baby, but I was thinking that I did not want to be here. I did not want this baby to come out. I was not ready to meet this child, not like this. But baby came out and my daughter announced that it was a girl. I felt nothing. I looked down and felt no emotions.
I heard chaos as people were talking, rushing to wipe her, and checking her. So much was going on I didn’t even realize that I delivered my placenta. I was then moved to the mother and baby room. Everyone was tired so they left and I was alone with my third child.
I cried because I didn’t feel anything.
I didn’t love this child.
I didn’t want this child.
I wanted my husband yet he was leaving.
It was hard yet I knew breastfeeding would be the only thing that would save this relationship and bond. But it was hard (we later found out she had a third degree lip and tongue tie.) That first night alone was hard. Nurses would come in and without asking, pull up the bed sheet, push on my stomach and look between my legs. I know this is protocol but it was a violation of my privacy. I felt stupid, incompetent, and embarrassed.
I couldn’t leave the hospital and I was told that I had to report to the nurses when I fed, how often I fed, and I wasn’t allowed to sleep with her. I hated being there, being monitored; I wanted to leave. Doctors and nurses kept asking why I was so sad, and most all of them told me “well at least you have a healthy baby”. Social media would also tell me this, and I ended up getting off social media for this reason.
Why wasn’t it ok that I was sad? Why wasn’t I allowed to feel this sadness and mourn the loss of my homebirth?
Yes, I was happy my child is healthy, but birth is also just as important. I got robbed of these hormones in my body. I got robbed of a birth-high that I longed for. I left the hospital within 24 hours since my midwife could do all other testing at my house. I brought my daughter into the house yet I wanted nothing to do with her. Depression set in and it was hard. My oldest daughter was happy to hold her and excited. I wanted to be that excited and happy, yet I wasn’t.
Four days after her birth my husband was on the plane. Breastfeeding was going horribly wrong, and I saw so many breastfeeding professionals that I ended up having to tube feed her until she could have surgery to correct her lip and tongue tie. I had been doing a lot, trying to keep myself busy because I didn’t want to deal with the depression.
I couldn’t bear to look at my daughter. I kept myself busy so my mind wouldn’t go to certain places. I fell into a deep depression. I was also bleeding, a lot. I passed golf ball size blood clots yet I didn’t even care to take care of myself and slow down. The night my husband got on the plane to go to Iraq, I was back in the hospital for hemorrhaging. They gave me medication to stop the bleeding which causes horrible contractions, but it saved my life.
A week after my daughter was born my brother, mom, and sister helped drive myself and children all back home. They stayed a week then left. I was left with three children and my husband was gone. I felt embarrassed and defeated; about my birth, about my depression, and not wanting this child. It was a rough place to be emotionally. I saw my OB who prescribed an antidepressant and I saw a counselor.
My daughter had surgery to correct the lip and tongue tie and has been breastfeeding great ever since. I was advised to stop breastfeeding though so that I could take stronger medications, yet I am hanging on to the fact that breastfeeding helps with bonding more than any medication can.
These past six months have been hell. I never thought birth would go this way yet it shows that I am never in control of what happens, but I can control my attitude.
Every day is still a struggle. I cannot say that I have this overwhelming feeling like I had with my son. I honestly do not feel even a bond, but I do love her and I know as breastfeeding continues and the soon arrival of my husband, that a bond will develop. I am also hanging onto the fact that hopefully one day I will get my homebirth and feel empowered again.
Birth is a life-changing event. Ask any aged mother about her births and she can remember everything about them. How we treat our mothers defines how they mother and their attitude towards being a mother. Birth has become such a medicalized event that we are robbing this experience from women. Women can feel empowered. Birth should be an active participation with the mother and her birth team. Women should be allowed to have a say in what goes on. She has a right to be informed, educated, and be able to make decisions. Home birth may not be for everyone and that’s ok, but mothers should have a choice.
And if something does not go as planned it should be acceptable to grieve. The goal should not be just a happy and healthy baby. What about mom? What about mental health?
I have friends who enjoy having an epidural and have planned for that. I always wonder if they know what they are missing out on, but I have seen success in having medication to help with pain.
Birth is painful, messy, and chaotic but it’s also beautiful and natural. My unmedicated birth was amazing but each one of my births is a story and has shaped me into not only the mother who I am today, but also the person. One day I hope to get the homebirth of my dreams, but after everything I have been through I know, no matter what, I am strong enough to get through anything.
I still struggle, and after having my third child I have realized that I may never totally “heal” from what happened when I was younger. I need to find new ways of coping with my PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Friends, family, meditation, and exercise are what are getting me through these rough times. I have realized that a mom is really a pretty “bad ass” person! All my births have taught me things about myself and that I am strong. I can do things that a man cannot possibly do and I am slowly taking back what was taken from me.
All my births were different, yet now that my oldest is five years old we have a strong bond. The strength of our bond wasn’t determined in how she was birthed. Yes, I think bonding initially would have been easier if I’d had her without medication, but it would not change the outcome. Both my two oldest children have different bonds with me and that’s because they are different people. Personalities are different with every child, and I know this will hold true with my most recent child.
My advice to other moms is to educate yourself, plan for everything, and if something goes differently than what you imagined, rely on your support team.
Birth is out of our control and if things go bad, know that it is okay to feel sad. It’s normal.
Learn the signs of post-partum depression. If you have it, do not be ashamed to get help. You do not need to suffer alone, and what you are feeling is 100% normal.
And lastly, love yourself.
It’s way easier said than done, but give yourself time to love yourself and enjoy that baby!