Pain and promise: Journey of a millennial first-time mom

To get my daughter out of me, doctors cut me open from the base of my vagina to my anus. Her emerging head tore me up in two more places. My baby’s umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck as she was coming out, so my anaestheseologist literally had to squeeze her out of me, using his arm to crush down into my belly. I felt like I was in a hazing session. I had also apparently pooped.

Giving birth is ugly. It’s bloody, bloody painful, and plain traumatizing for a lot of women, including me. But it’s also beautiful and miraculous. Hearing my daughter’s first cry instantly transformed my world. Having gone through hell, I was inexplicably happy. It’s infinitely difficult to explain why knowing you have brought life into this world makes up for the agony.

The anguish is not limited to giving birth. Pregnancy is also difficult for a lot of women. I loathed my days of mandatory bed rest, when I was cooped up in my house to nurse all sorts of pains – from intense heartburn (like someone lit a lighter in your stomach and squeezed the burning parts) to aching joints and lower back. Internal examinations of my cervix were painful for me, even as I looked forward to the ultrasound sessions during visits to my doctor.

Many times during my pregnancy, I felt I was transforming from my cool, adventurous, brimming-with-potential self into a hermit with no life and no exciting prospects. My condition meant I had to give up days at the gym, possibly career-making field coverage, at times even simple get-togethers with friends all because of a bout of heartburn.

It’s easy to feel trapped when you’re pregnant for the first time because of all the uncertainties ahead. What’s life after pregnancy? Will things ever go back to normal? How will my career be affected? When can I travel again? What’s going to happen to my body?

More than the physical pain and discomfort, it’s the psychological toll of pregnancy that really got to me. A big part of this was the fact that my husband and I never planned for the pregnancy. Up to the moment we found out I was knocked up, we were a pair of yuppies building our careers and planning our next big rock trip. It’s not that we didn’t want kids, but making a family was far from our minds. At that point, we had been married for 4 years and had a vague idea that, if we wanted kids, I had to get pregnant at the age of 29 so it would be a safe pregnancy.

And that’s exactly what happened, without us trying any fancy fertility techniques or offering eggs while dancing the fandango at Santa Clara church.

But because getting pregnant wasn’t planned, a lot of things that were planned appeared about to get railroaded. This made me feel like I had lost control of my life. If a pregnancy could surprise me like this, what say did I really have in the kind of life I would lead? What else would spin out of orbit?

That’s why talking to mothers was like a lifeline to me. Apart from the critical tips on staying healthy while pregnant and making sure my baby was developing normally, I cherished like gemstones the advice on life after pregnancy. I took inspiration from sisters-in-law who became super fit after giving birth, or bosses who achieved career successes and traveled extensively afterward.

People are always skeptical about curated social media posts of the rich and famous showcasing their glamorous and perfect lives. But I found comfort in the tweets and Instagram posts of young mothers like Saab Magalona and Isabelle Daza showing how beautiful pregnancy and a life with children can be. I’m well aware there’s more they’re not telling, that some of the ugly realities don’t get reflected in what they post. But the fact that there is something wonderful to post about pregnancy, so many little things to look forward to, so many ways to be happy and beautiful and confident as these famous women show is an important reminder that motherhood is as much a beginning of something as it is an end to something else.

Giving birth was painful but faster than I expected. After hearing of 12-hour labor and emergency caesarean section operations, I was blessed with a roughly 4-hour labor period and normal delivery. After hearing about mothers getting depressed because their breasts were not producing milk, I was lucky that my breasts quickly went on high gear and my baby proved an impressive latcher.

But post-delivery has also proven challenging. Right after giving birth, I had difficulty urinating and pooping (generalized succinctly in medical language as “voiding”). The sewn up tears down there were making themselves felt after the anaesthesia wore off. Now it hurts when I get up from bed or sneeze. I also walk like a very old person.

My breast milk production has been a success so far but in exchange, I have swollen breasts that hurt when I brush my teeth and leak milk through my shirts.

On top of it all, Dru and I don’t sleep very much because our daughter feeds at odd hours during the night. The precious hours when she’s not feeding and I theoretically could rest, I’m kept awake by all the pains in my body.

All this is not new. Every mother has been through some form of this experience. When I complained to my mother, who bore 4 children, she practically rolled her eyes. “Ganyan talaga (That's the way it is). Just grin and bear it,” were her words of comfort.

Her derision is deserved. Of all the new moms out there, I am definitely not the one who picked the shortest straw. You only have to drop by Fabella Hospital where poor mothers make do in packed rooms and even share beds. Mothers give birth on the street, in train carriages, walk miles to get to the nearest clinic while in the throes of contractions. In many countries, women can’t afford anaesthesia or have no access to facilities that provide it.

While there are mothers who give birth without any help or support from their baby’s father, my husband accompanied me to all the check-ups and all the way to the delivery room. I am lucky in so many other ways – from friends and family who gave all sorts of advice and lent or gave us important baby stuff, to bosses who understood what I was going through.

So what’s the verdict? Is giving birth that beautiful experience everyone tells you it is? From what I’ve been through, giving birth is pain and joy inextricably linked. It is both beautiful and ugly, miraculous and traumatic.

The contrasts don’t exist side by side but contribute to each other. Giving birth would not be as joyful if it wasn’t also painful. It’s like climbing a mountain – the tougher the climb, the greater your sense of accomplishment once at the peak.

When I’m holding my daughter, I am lost in wonder studying every eyelash, every small movement of her mouth, her cute little baby coos. But I don’t want to hide the ugly parts of giving birth to her. I want to remember every agonizing bit of it. Because the pain, as much as the joy, is part of a mother’s accomplishment. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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