by Sara BatesSeptember 05, 2018
Three and a half years ago, I became a mother. I thought I was as prepared as I could be (expect the unexpected and all that), but I had no idea how much I didn’t know. During my pregnancy, I read all the books, downloaded all the apps, and always knew exactly what fruit my baby was the size of each week. I knew that I wanted to breastfeed, but I had no idea if I would actually be able to or not. I knew that postpartum depression was common and treatable, but I didn’t really know what were the warning signs.
The funny thing about breastfeeding is that you can’t really prepare ahead of time. You can take the class and practice holding a doll, and that might make you feel better, but it doesn’t really prepare you. You may even somehow get how important the latch is (aka the baby’s position on your breast), but you don’t have a baby to practice latching with (your baby hasn’t been born, and the idea of practicing with someone else’s baby might not sit well with everyone). And even if you could practice latching in a calm environment with an experienced baby, it’s a totally different thing when you have a tiny, hungry, screaming baby that you just want to feed so they’ll be happy and quiet.
Breastfeeding did not come naturally to me or my daughter. I saw a lactation consultant in the hospital, but I wanted so badly to succeed at breastfeeding that I told her everything was great and didn’t mention that it felt like I was nursing a piranha. Finally, after a few weeks of breastfeeding pain, I made an appointment with another LC at the hospital, packed up my baby and tried to time it right, so that my baby would be hungry, but not freaking-out starving for the appointment. Then, the LC gave me some generic advice about a deeper latch and I went home. It still took a few weeks to really get it down, but finally we did. However, the questions just kept coming up. “How do I start pumping?” “Why is my nipple red?” “Why is my nipple white?” “How do I wean?” I had no idea who to ask these questions to. My OB? No, she brushed me off like she was done with her job. My primary doc? No, my questions seemed too specialized. A lactation consultant? Expensive and time-consuming, especially if I ended up paying for that and a doctor’s visit. There was a breastfeeding group at the hospital that I went to in the early days, but it met during work hours, so I couldn’t go after I went back to work. I ended up doing my best with google, and thankfully didn’t have any infections that needed treatment.
Meanwhile, in the weeks following my daughter’s birth, I started to notice a pain in the butt. Literally. I called my doctor and she recommended sitz baths. So, every day, twice a day, I would make myself a sitz bath (for those unfamiliar, you pour some epsom salts into warm water and soak your tush) and read a book for 10 minutes. After a few weeks and no progress on the pain, I called my OB again. This time, I went in to see her and she recommended hemorrhoid cream. I googled hemorrhoids, and didn’t think the symptoms matched very well, but I’m not a doctor, so I tried the cream. Again, no progress no the pain. Now, it was time for my 6-week checkup. After my exam, she gave me estrogen cream. Again, no progress. Now I was getting desperate. I had been in intense pain for weeks, and it wasn’t getting better. And worse, I was losing confidence in my doctor and didn’t know who else to ask. I didn’t even know how to describe it other than pain. I was too embarrassed to ask friends or family, especially since I assumed it was not normal. Finally, someone on a facebook group mentioned a pelvic floor physical therapist, so I went on their website and found some information that seemed promising. I made an appointment and the day I went was the first day I felt some relief. A year later, and my pelvic floor injury was healed.
Fast forward two years to the birth of my son. So much was different about this experience. He caught on to nursing very quickly (who knows how much of that was due to my own expertise and how much was his instinct/insatiable appetite). I also saw my PT within a few weeks of delivery, so that treatment only lasted 2 months, instead of 15. Another big difference was that I was offered a 4-week mental health appointment, which I attended. During this appointment, not only was I screened for postpartum depression (like I was before at my 6-week check-up), but I was also screened for anxiety, which I didn’t have this time, but recognized the symptoms from my first postpartum experience. I had no idea postpartum anxiety was a thing! All those sleepless nights, the unexplained weight loss, the thinking about SIDS 24 hours a day, the weighing my daughter (who was thriving) every week for months, finally made sense. No one told me before that, while common, anxiety like that is not normal and could be treated.
There were so many things that came up during the year or two after childbirth that I didn’t know who to ask. Neither my OB nor my primary care doc seemed like they were very familiar with all the things that happen postpartum, and when I went to them with my symptoms, they couldn’t accurately diagnose me or even refer me to someone who could. It was so frustrating. I felt so helpless and I didn’t know where to find information. All the books after the pregnancy books are focused on the baby’s growth and development. What about me?
The more I started to share my story, the more stories I heard from other moms that had similar experiences. One mom had taken the postpartum depression screen, had clear indications she had depression, and was told by her doctor “you’ll be fine” and therefore didn’t get treatment until years later. Another mom had urinary incontinence for decades after giving birth because she thought it was a normal consequence of childbirth and no one ever told her it was treatable. There are also many stories of postpartum struggles in the news right now, thanks to celebrities like Serena Williams, Beyonce, Adele, and Cardi B. I’m so glad that people are finally starting to recognize the problem, that women aren’t getting the information and treatment they deserve. The next step is to work toward a solution.
That’s why I decided to start a company devoted to helping new moms navigate the ups and downs of life after childbirth. MamaMend is the digital health companion that provides personalized, affordable, and fast answers to health and wellness questions so that new moms can get the knowledge they need and the treatment they deserve.