Ezra Jack Phoenix: A Post-birth Story
Since having Ezra and processing all the things that have transpired with close friends, I've heard more people respond with "me too!" than I would have ever guessed. This thing that happens to so many mamas after birth is heavy and not many care to explore what's just below the surface. This is supposed to be the most joyous time of our lives after all, who wants to be the Debbie-downer who admits that it isn't always? I was very hesitant to share as this process has been very raw, but I'm constantly seeing how postpartum depression isn't often expressed or given the support it really really needs. If my story can help another mama not feel alone and maybe seek out support too, then hells yes to sharing what is often not or considered "taboo".
"The middle is messy, but that's where the magic happens." - Brené Brown
I am in the birthing room listening to worship music. Singing, pacing, inviting peace & Holy Spirit into the room. I'm trying to conjour up faith as I don't feel it at the moment. "God of miracles come we need your supernatural grace to ...nothing's impossible, your the God of miracles.." sings out of the speaker and I along. Followed by "I will remember That there is nothing You can't do For You are God, You are good..."
I'm hearing myself sing the words while internally doubting them as I say them. "Is God good?, Do miracles happen?" Mind you, I'm also physically contracting, my body preparing to birth life. How very very different this birth already was from my fervently prayerful birth with Harper. There wasn't an on/off switch that happened, I didn't feel a woosh of God's presence leave in the face of my doubt but labor was very, very difficult. As though the grace & ability to breath through contractions rested in my belief, stripped away by my doubt. I was bare. Each contraction was immensely painful. I have only my previous birth to compare it to, but at least 10 times more painful, I would say. At one point I had the urge to yell "Fuck You God!" the physical pain was not only the pain of childbirth but almost as if I was manifesting the pain of loss.
Two years prior an incredible woman died from the evil that is cancer, the year following one of my oldest friends was hit by a car & killed, and just a month prior to being in that room a friend who had immense impact on my life, died in a motorcycle accident. God of miracles? Eff that. I had no proof from experience that God was any such thing.
So much rage. I raged on and birthed a beautiful baby boy. To which I thought in my mind "figures." God told me I was having a girl. (Or at least I thought He did.) (Whoever "He" is.) What I kept imaging in my minds eye through each contraction was my baby girl I was about to hold. "Figures" was the last thought I had before simultaneously being overwhelmed with a sense of joy that I birthed LIFE and shame that I had an ounce of disappointment in gender.
My active labor and delivery was only five hours long, much shorter than with Harper's, yet I was left with a feeling of shock like everything had just happened TO me instead of my body and mind working together. It was as though within the trials of labor my mind, body, and soul that used to breath as one, were separated.
What you just read is the manicured version of what spilled over when I had my first session with my angel of a therapist. You see, just three days after I birthed Ezra, Tyler went back to work for an all-day shift. Just three days. I didn't think much of it at the time, sure I knew it would be hard but this was my second baby, birth went smoothly (physically) and we had friends bringing us meals for the next few days. It would be hard, but it was necessary.
The days past and loving people (some I had never even met!) brought us meals. We had more practical support than I would have thought having just moved. One afternoon I sat down to write my birth story for a few friends back home. Whenever I would get to the actual birthing part, it was black. Almost like I could see it happening in my minds eye but as if I was looking through textured glass on a bathroom window. I know I didn't in any capacity handle birth "well". I tried to start backwards and it was almost worse so I skipped over it entirely writing "I pre-labored, we had pizza went to the park, etc went to the birth center and five hours later had a baby." Zero details except the mention of a much faster labor than my first, with Harper.
That same week, I had a legit meltdown. Ezra wasn't latching, crying out for food, Harper kept trying to kiss Ezra while I was trying to nurse and out of frustration I shoved him back. The stress of it all found all three of us crying and a 911 dial to Tyler at work. He came home for his lunch break and helped me get resettled (thank God for an understanding boss) and the rest of the day went smoother. That following Sunday (marking a week and half since Ez entered our life) I had a major anxiety attack. My palms were sweaty, I felt extremely nauseated and could not for the life of me put my finger on why. For someone like me who relies heavily on her intuition, to feel all out of sorts causes even more anxiety.
Does Ezra need to eat or sleep?
Do I need to eat or sleep? (Both!) When will I get time to do either?
Have I drank enough water?
How's my milk supply?
Quickly it all spiraled into the most throbbing fear...beginning again by myself the next day, Monday, when Tyler went back to work. Our family-of-four weekend was drawing to an end. I admitted to some "baby blues," too afraid to admit to anxiety and/or depression.
This happened every Sunday for a few weeks with smaller moments throughout the week. I lay in the bath one Sunday after a particularly mean outburst aimed at Tyler (caused by said anxiety) and I sobbed as I realized I was not okay. The tears came even more heavily when I realized I had yet to call Ezra "Ezra" I most often referred to him as simply "the baby". Post bath, Tyler held me as I admitted I might be suffering from some postpartum depression. The next day I had a follow-up with my midwife and spilled all the beans. She gave me the number of a therapist specializing in postpartum depression and days after that I was sitting in her office.
It was in an old Victorian house broken up into offices, homey and warm --- much different than what I had imagined. My new therapist met me in the upstairs lobby which I guessed was the original living room. She was tall, short hair with bangs cut across the high middle of her forehead. I don't know that I immediately felt safe with her but I have never felt anything so dark and thick like this depression and I wanted it gone, solved. So I didn't fight any questions, beat around the bush, I was raw and weepy as began with what I could remember which was surprisingly a lot. Mostly what I led this essay with.
What I learned that first session was 1. Labor was fucking hard, so is motherhood. [And well worth an appropriate F-boom drop.] 2. I had a slight existential crisis during labor, questioning the very existence of God whilst pushing out life. 3. I felt a heavy amount of shame for being bummed I didn't birth a girl. No freakin' wonder I was having anxiety attacks and bouts of depression. Thankfully I had read Brené Brown's "Rising Strong" the months leading up to E's arrival so saying yes to the very uncomfortable process of integrating trauma felt like a no-brainer despite my insides that were yelling "noooo!!!"
Two months into meeting literally twice a week, I didn't have much to share. It had been a really good week and I realized I wasn't plagued with the heaviness I had first walked into her office with. She says it's "post-traumatic growth" I'm seeing. I suggest that maybe I'm all better and maybe I don't need to see her anymore. (Insert all the laughing emojis.)
It's been six months postpartum and I'm not "all fixed" like I thought I'd be, for the main reason that I learned healing is not linear. Rather healing is about learning to hold sacred space for myself. I know this to be true because the "bad" days (or as I like to call it "gone days") get farther and farther apart...but they still happen. Most days though, without an ounce of hyperbole, I love my life. I've never been happier, more alive, more free or more me.
And to touch on my bond and connection with Ezra: On one of those first few visits with Lisa she suggested intentionally saying his name even if it felt unnatural. Within that month he became my sweet Ezra, my love for him overflowing. He is everything I never knew I wanted.
On my birthday, at 2mos old, he he gave me the sweetest gift. I was nursing and he unlatched and smiled his first smile. I didn't burst into tears, or feel something big shift. It actually felt quite natural. I more became aware that all is well and my soul felt settled. It goes without saying that these days my heart aches from how full it is with love for both my boys.
*all photos by Meghan Klien Photography taken at Birthroot Birth Center