how i got this baby

The Mom Who Found Support in Unexpected Places

Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.

Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

When Jen got pregnant, she decided to use midwives for her prenatal care. With midwives, Jen believed she’d find an atmosphere of respect and acceptance. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite the case — to the point where she began asking her male partner to accompany her to appointments. Jen discusses wishing she’d chosen differently for prenatal care, the difficulties she encountered setting up maternity leave (despite working for women), expected and unexpected sources of support during early parenthood, and what she thinks people should know about postpartum depression.

On the beginning of her pregnancy. My partner and I had been together about six years when we decided we wanted to actually start trying. It took us about six or eight months, which felt like forever, but once I was pregnant — it was just a really easy pregnancy. I didn’t have morning sickness, no major food aversions. I was a little tired, but I was active and healthy. It was not bad at all.

On regretting her prenatal-care choice. After the glucose test in the third trimester, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. To me, it felt like a huge failure, even though it’s nothing you can predict or prevent. My care providers were a group of midwives and unfortunately, they made me feel like shit. When I was initially diagnosed, they told me I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t exercising enough — even though I was going to the gym three times a week, walking regularly, biking to work, hiking, and backpacking. In their eyes, I just couldn’t do anything right. That was when I realized we’d picked the wrong people to handle my care.

I ended up with midwives because I got sucked into this notion that the medical community wants to give you an epidural and a C-section and to get you out of the hospital as soon as possible. They aren’t going to let you bond with your baby, or do anything “healthy.” I had a friend who had two births with midwives and recommended this practice in particular — they came highly recommended, actually, by several women I knew.

But from the start, I didn’t feel quite right about them. I only felt good about one of the midwives — there were three of them, but you just saw whoever was there when you came in. Right before I got diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I’d been wondering if we should switch. I hate to admit it, but this practice was convenient — I could walk, it was on the way home from work.

My whole thought behind going with this midwifery was that they would be open-minded and respectful. I got none of that with these particular women — they questioned every choice we made and were very pushy, about things like having a doula (which we didn’t want). They out-and-out asked if we were going to circumcise our son, which, in retrospect, is none of their business. They’re there to supervise the birth and what you do afterwards is your business. But they made it very clear they were not supportive of our choice to circumcise.

Finally, I had to start having my partner come to appointments with me, because of how much they nitpicked my decisions. I thought that was funny — for all their bluster about being feminist, they only respected my choice once a man was present.

On being pregnant at her workplace. I work for two women, neither of whom has children. When I started working there, I was replacing a woman who’d left to stay home with her kids. After I started, my other female co-worker intimated that my two superiors weren’t great about maternity leave. My son was born in November, and I let them know I was pregnant around Memorial Day. I sent an email and a formal letter, and it took them two full days to acknowledge it. We kept trying to arrange a meeting — which just kept getting pushed out and pushed out. We didn’t actually meet about my maternity leave until about a month before my son was born.

It was awkward — I felt like I couldn’t start to hand off work or plan or anything, because I didn’t know what they had in mind. I was eight months pregnant, and still didn’t know what was going to happen. They did give me everything I asked for, but it felt very begrudging. One of them asked me if I was coming back to work. I answered her, and I did come back to work. But now I’m like, she can’t ask me that — it’s illegal.

Setting up my maternity leave just felt like a huge bother, that they didn’t have the time to deal with what’s a pretty important part of the world: to have children and continue on. Everyone assumed because I worked for two women it would be great. But it just wasn’t — it felt like everything I asked for (12 weeks of leave, a longer lunch hour) was a huge imposition. And it’s not just about me — my co-workers didn’t know what was going to happen, either. This wasn’t a good situation for anyone.

On an unexpected development. I went into labor at my desk, on my last scheduled day of work. I started having regular contractions at 10 a.m. I didn’t want to leave until everything was done, so I stayed. Right before leaving, I called the midwives and asked if I should come by, since I was close to their office. They said no, that there was no way the baby was coming today. But by the time I got home, my contractions were three minutes apart. I called the midwives again. They said, “You can talk through your contractions, so there’s no way this baby is coming.”

Once my partner got home, he called the midwives — and they said, “Okay, fine. Bring her in.” We went in, and found out I was 8.5 centimeters dilated. When we went upstairs to the birthing center so I could push, they discovered the baby was breech. They’d told me he was in the right position.

Instead of pushing, I had to try to stop the contractions. I couldn’t push, and had to just breathe through the contractions. Try telling your body that when you’re 9.5 centimeters dilated. Throughout all that, they loaded me up into an ambulance and took me to the hospital. At the hospital, the midwives were horrible — they were disrespectful to the doctors and nurses, and they talked shit about the hospital system the whole time. The doctors were great; they listened to me and respected my choices. The nurses just ignored the midwives.

If I’d known four weeks before that he was breech, I could have planned for a C-section. But we were in the middle of it, so all I could do was sign the paperwork and try not to have contractions. Once the epidural kicked in, it was such a huge relief — I didn’t have to control my body anymore. I stopped having the urge to push. I stopped feeling pain. I remember the last contraction I had before the epidural kicked in, and it was like, he was coming. It felt like I was going to have a breech baby vaginally whether or not anyone wanted me to.

On her early postpartum days. Once he was born, he was fine. He was totally healthy. I was fine. But right out the gate, we had issues with breastfeeding — which I think is pretty common. By the time we left the hospital, he’d lost 9 percent of his birth weight. They said that was okay, but that whatever we did, we shouldn’t give him a bottle. Which is just asinine. But we listened to them, because we were brand-new parents. We went home and did everything we could. His weight went from the 50th percentile to the 8th.

It was one of the rainiest winters on record. I couldn’t go outside with the baby. He was tiny, and I couldn’t breastfeed in any normal fashion. I developed postpartum depression pretty quickly. I felt so isolated and horrible — they just don’t prepare you for how shitty it feels when it hits. Still, there was all this pressure — just keep trying to breastfeed — from the lactation consultant, the midwives, the pediatrician, even though his weight had plummeted.

There’s so much pressure to breastfeed at any cost, but it feels like there’s so little concern for the mother’s health. But if I can barely stay awake, if I’m having thoughts about dropping him down the stairs because my life would be easier — what good is that doing anyone? We weren’t bonding; I was hating life. I would cry for like 90 minutes every time my partner left to go to work in the morning.

On who supported her decision to stop breastfeeding. Finally, my mom came back to visit and she was like, “This is crazy.” I just stopped breastfeeding. We gave him a bottle. For him, it was like a switch flipped. He started gaining weight; he slept better. He’d been one of those babies who, if he wasn’t eating, he was crying — and then to realize that he’d been crying because he was hungry … it was heartbreaking. Now, he could eat as much as he needed, and it wasn’t a fight and he wasn’t exhausted. I didn’t realize how much energy it takes for babies to breastfeed, but apparently it takes a lot. He became a totally different baby, once he could just suck milk down out of a bottle.

We’ve made such a 180 degree switch from formula to breastfeeding — and we’ve even ingrained it in men. It wasn’t just the doctors; it was also my partner. One of the things I’ve learned is there’s research online to support any opinion. He read a lot of stuff online about how bad it would be to stop breastfeeding. We did a lot of late-night fighting about whether I should keep trying to breastfeed or switch to formula. It just goes back to that idea that it’s so rarely about what’s best for moms. There’s very little thought about what’s best for moms being best for kids.

My mom and my sister were both very supportive. But in the end, the person who really helped me was my aesthetician. She doesn’t have children, but she sees a lot of moms and she was just like, “You gotta do what you gotta do. You can’t make yourself crazy by trying to do everything perfect.”

On having postpartum depression. We got through it. I ended up seeing a social worker, for what was essentially talk therapy. By the time he started day care, I was just starting to feel competent — and like I actually liked him.

But it was not an easy task. It was probably six months before I really started feeling better. Even now, it just lingers. It’s just there. Nobody tells you that it hangs on like that, that it can still be there for a year. It can really affect every aspect of your life, in ways people just don’t talk about.

When I went through postpartum, I was embarrassed, which I think is pretty common. But now, I don’t hold anything back. I’m happy to talk about it. I volunteer with a local group and lead a support group for parents. We’re required to talk about postpartum mood disorders. I’m happy to talk about it, to field questions from people who feel like they’re in a bad place. It can’t be a secret. It’s too big of a deal.

On deciding whether to have another baby. My partner and I always thought we’d want to have two kids. Going through postpartum made me have — well, I don’t know if they’re second thoughts, but it really made me want to know we’re ready. Trying to support a newborn and a toddler when you feel like you live in the bottom of a well — that’s not easy. My mom experienced postpartum when she had my sister. I was only 3.5, but I remember that. It’s not that I blame my mom — she didn’t have a strong support system. I just don’t want my son to have those same memories.

If we do have another baby, we’ll go into it being aware of postpartum. And I’ll know that I have a doctor who listens to me — the midwives didn’t listen to me. The doctor I have now listens. She specializes in VBACs — a vaginal birth after C-section, which is what I’d like to try. She also recommends that new moms try breastfeeding — she’s not militant about sticking with it if it doesn’t work. With her, I found the open-mindedness and respect that I thought I was going to get with midwives. I don’t think all midwives are crappy. I think there are a lot of women in the midwifery community doing really important work. I just think these particular midwives let righteousness get in the way of what I wanted and needed.

I mean who knows — if I get pregnant in six months, my choices might change. But the biggest thing, for me, is knowing that I’ll be listened to and respected.

The Mom Who Found Support in Unexpected Places