Birth Trauma Survivor and Maternal Health Advocate

"Some people think that doctors and nurses can put scrambled eggs back in the shell." Cass Canfield

I wasted a lot of time that I should have spent sleeping staring at my naked body in our bathroom mirror. I stared at my stomach, which was still bloated and in an odd football shape. I stared at my legs and feet that were swollen with fluid. I stared at my breasts. They had grown from a 32A pre-pregnancy to a 36DD.  I used to joke about getting breast implants and now I had a full rack for free. They were big, round and hard. I was actually proud of how fake they looked. Sometimes I fantasized that I was a Playboy centerfold airbrushed to perfection showing off my new breasts to the world.  The reality was that even in their glory, my new breasts were sore, raw and swollen from Miss J’s constant need to be fed every hour.  I needed a break. One morning while Miss J and Bobby were both asleep, I decided to try out my brand new Medela Freestyle Breast Pump.

For all of you breast pump novices out there, the Medela Freestyle is a lightweight electric pump that allows you to pump breast milk hands free. There was a picture in the pamphlet of a woman sitting at her office desk pumping while typing on the computer.  Well if she could do that at work while typing away on her computer, I felt reassured that I could handle pumping at home sitting on my couch. I read through the entire instruction manual. My pump was fully charged and ready to go. In fact, I had brought it with me to the hospital but it never made it out of my suitcase.

I had all of the necessary accessories and a new vocabulary. Breast shields. Breast shield connectors. Breast milk bottles. Breast milk storage bags. Membranes. Tubing. I unclipped the flaps on my nursing bra and began to assemble this contraption. It was very awkward looking. How in the hell was this contraption dangling off my breasts going to stay up without me holding it? I needed a live visual so I sat at my desk and logged onto the Medela website.  I watched several step-by-step videos on how to assemble the hands free pump. I turned it on. And I waited. There were two phases. The first phase simulates when a baby first goes to feed from the breast, they suck fast and light to stimulate milk production. The second phase is the expression phase. The pump simulates this phase, when after milk starts to flow, babies breastfeed with a slower, deeper suck, bringing out more milk faster. The motor made a series of strange sounds and suddenly I yelled out in pain. I had the speed up too high! I felt helpless as I watched my poor nipples being vacuumed up roughly into the breast shields.  I shut the motor off.  I decided to give it another try, but not before taking the time to go and look at myself in the mirror and have a good chuckle at the milk bottles dangling off my nursing bra.

After re-watching the videos I realized that I could easily adjust the speed of the vacuum on the pump. I turned it on again. It took a few tries before I found a speed that felt tolerable to me. Luckily the pump has a memory and saves the speed settings for future use. The vacuum started and after a couple of minutes I began to see white beads of liquid emerge from my breast ducts. There’s that liquid gold baby! Liquid gold is what our childbirth educator, Mary, called breast milk because it has so many nutrients. After a few minutes, milk began to squirt from my right breast, drops at first and then full streams. I watched it flow into the milk bottle. Somehow I hadn’t secured the shield properly on my left breast and so the vacuum effect wasn’t as strong. No milk came out at all. It pissed me off so I dismantled the shield and bottle on my left breast and watched the right one fill an entire eight ounce bottle of milk. I was proud of myself.  I shut off the pump and held the bottle of milk in my hand for a few minutes. The milk was warm and had a slight yellow tint. I sniffed it and my curiosity got the best of me so I stuck my finger into the milk and tasted it. It was syrupy sweet. No wonder Miss J couldn’t enough of this stuff! The thought of using it as creamer in Bobby’s coffee to see if he could tell a difference between that and his beloved french vanilla Coffee Mate crossed my mind. (No, I didn’t do it). I put a lid on top of the bottle and put it in the fridge. I was going to attempt to bottle feed Miss J later that night.

Bobby and Miss J were still sleeping. I sat at my desk again and logged onto the internet. I clicked on a few of my favorite parenting websites. I sat there like a zombie staring at the screen, reading but not absorbing anything.

The phone rang. It was Dr. B. He called me every day.

“How are you?” He asked.

“I’m good. Um. Just finished breast milk pumping. Now I’m reading.” I replied nervously.

“You’re good?” He knew I was lying.

“Well, the baby is good. Bobby is good. I am, you know…ok.”

“Are you sleeping?”

“No. I can’t sleep. I’m afraid to sleep.” My throat was beginning to get a lump in it and tears were starting to fill my eyes.

“When is your next appointment to see me?”

“In a couple days. But I’m not seeing you, I’m seeing Dr. Chinn.”

“Why did you book with Dr. Chinn?” He seemed a bit disappointed.

“ I can’t see you right now. There are things that I want to talk to her about woman to woman. I don’t want you to look at or touch my body. I don’t want to talk to you about my body right now.” The feeling of his arm inside of my body up to his elbow, massaging my uterus and trying to get it to contract had not left me. I thought about it all the time.

“I understand. There is something that I wanted to talk to you about before we get off the phone.”

“Okay. What?” I love Dr. B but I wanted the conversation to be over.

“You’re a very strong person. I’m proud of how you handled everything that happened to you. I want you to know that what you went through is no different than a soldier who goes to war and comes back with the wounds to prove it. I mean it. I want you to take this very seriously. I think you might have PTSD.

“I don’t hate my baby.”

No, you’re confusing this with PPD. PTSD is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m going to speak with Dr. Chinn. When you come in for your appointment we’ll have a plan in place to help you in any way you need. I’ll also give you a list of some good therapists to speak to about PTSD”.

Therapists? Oh shit, he thought I was crazy.

 Dr. B went on to explain a few of the traits of having PTSD.  I was hesitant to agree with him at that moment but I knew he might be right.

Now I realize how ignorant my comment about PPD above was. At the time I had no idea what PTSD was and I knew very little about PPD (post partum depression). All I knew was that I was a sleep deprived new mother, replaying the gruesome details of a terrible ordeal over and over again in my mind every day, all day long.

Every time I shut my eyes all I saw was the vomit and the blood.




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