This week, Jessica Howe, a first-time mama from our Our Seva Motherhood Circle community, shares her bumpy journey into motherhood. During this interview, I personally found so many parallels to my own path that I couldn’t help but be reminded of all the ups and downs of that first year…feeling really grateful I’m on the other side of it all. Jessica’s journey into motherhood feels much like a Hero’s Journey, a story woven with a plethora of unspoken spaces; navigating genetic disorder uncertainty, pregnancy loss, postpartum depression, lack of community support and even the added challenge of navigating the first 40 days with a partner also struggling with their mental health. I want to thank Jessica for sharing her vulnerable transformation, giving all of that rallying me too we desperately seek. <3
Where are you on the path of motherhood – preconception, pregnancy, postpartum (less than 1 year) or forever postpartum (1+ year)? Forever Postpartum
Where does your transformative path to motherhood start?
My path to motherhood was a bumpy road, full of disappointment, heartache, frustration, anger, and pain. We had been diligently trying to conceive for over 6 months with no luck and no signs I was even capable of having a child. We finally went to a doctor and were able to conceive sometime in March 2017 after some medication. We were elated! And relieved! It had finally happened. We excitedly told our parents when we were just over 6 weeks in and had the nod from the doctor that it was a viable pregnancy. Of course everyone was ecstatic.
I can’t remember how much time passed from then but I do know within the next couple weeks I started to feel like something just wasn’t right and something was wrong with our precious blessing. We went back to the doctor to check on things and got the news I so feared was the case. I would not meet this sweet baby, nurture it, care for it, cuddle it, teach it, show how much it was loved, watch it grow… all the things I had been dreaming of, longing for, planning for, and wanted so deeply. Needless to say we were devastated.
I felt like I had lost a huge part of myself, a part I didn’t even know yet but also knew so well.
I also lost a lot of confidence and the abilities of my body. For better or worse I miscarried on my own (without help medically), in the comfort of my home (not that miscarrying is by any means comfortable, emotionally or physically). As I sat on in our dark living room late the following night after getting the news I writhed in pain, sobbing as I’ve only sobbed a few times in my life before. By the following morning it was over. My heartbroken and depressed self went through the day to day afterwards crying randomly at the memory of what could have been and what had happened. It helped my heart to write a letter to the sweet baby we lost. I keep it with the few ultrasound pictures we have.
My husband and I were both anxious to get our plans of parenthood back on track and with only a few more months of disappointment we conceived our rainbow baby! We both were, but particularly me, so nervous we’d have another heartbreak. I was a nervous wreck at every doctor appointment but week after week we continued to get good news and the thumbs up from the doctor. This pregnancy went smoothly with only a trip to the hospital at 6.5 months. Everything turned out fine and baby girl made it full term.
And how was your experience with birth?
A slight twist in my journey to motherhood was that we decided to induce labor for our daughter’s birth. We made that decision a week or so before her due date and I felt I was prepared and ready for her to join the outside world but having a set date, to be blunt, scared the shit out of me! All of a sudden the fact that this was happening, now, which I had totally planned and wanted, became very real. I remember being up crying late at night for a couple nights terrified of what I had gotten myself into. “Am I ready?” “Are we ready?” “Will I be a good enough parent?” “Will we be able to provide her with what she needs?” “How do I get back to being who I was before I became a vessel for growing another life?” “Who am I without this baby in me?”.
Our precious daughter, was born exactly on her due date. Healthy, 10 fingers, 10 toes, a little bit of dark hair, and the cutest little nose. Mama survived too 🙂 Holding her for the first time made my heart explode! All the anxiety I had been feeling the previous week seemed silly now.
Let’s talk about postpartum!
We went home two days later. Still exhausted and recovering from delivery we started our new normal. I was physically in pain as well as emotionally. I was happy pregnancy was over and baby girl was finally here but I also felt like I had lost part of myself again and as a new mom, didn’t feel confident I knew what I was supposed to do or who I even was anymore. On top of all this immediately when we got home, like the very next day, my husband somehow got terrible “baby blues”. I didn’t understand and was so angry! Somehow, I pulled it together and managed to care for our newborn, my depressed husband, and myself (sometimes).
The nursing issues continued to get worse and I pumped like it was my job to make sure my baby got breast milk. I was determined she would not be a formula baby. I didn’t succeed. I felt like a failure. It’s a terrible feeling not being able to provide for you baby. Especially when it’s something so natural. I lost confidence in my body’s abilities again. Baby wasn’t gaining weight so just a few days after birth I took her (by myself since my husband was in such a funk) to one of the breastfeeding classes offered at the hospital. It went really well in the class but then when we got home it was back on the struggle bus. Eventually we learned she had a tongue and lip tie (which made me feel like a little less of a failure) and had them corrected ASAP. After that, her little mouth was so sore we just started using bottles and I began pumping, pumping, pumping…Looking back, I regret being so hard on myself. I know “breast is best” but at the end of the day, baby just needs to be fed and happy, and so does mama, and I was not.
The first 2 or 3 months postpartum were some of the most difficult of my life. My husband and I fought a lot. Mainly because the tiniest things set me off, I was so angry, angry at myself, angry at him for relying so much on me, angry things weren’t going as planned.
I was angry she just could not be put down without screaming, just angry at the world (for some reason). Also very depressed, but it took me a couple months to accept that.
They had me take a postpartum depression questionnaire at one of the follow-up doctor’s appointments a 2 or 3 months after birth and my result screamed what I knew but wouldn’t admit, I had postpartum depression. This was also something I had thought was crazy before and would never happen to me. “How could a new mom be so sad? They just brought a beautiful baby into the world!” But there I was, in the same boat I had been judgmental about other moms being in. This also made me feel like a failure again and I was disappointed I didn’t have the strength to pull myself out of it. I decided I would take the helping hand reaching out to me and start medication again. I knew it would help me be a better mom, I would feel better, and I would maybe stop making my husband crazy (haha). I started my antidepressant medication again which I had been on for a very long time prior to trying to conceive. It finally started working and I felt somewhat back to myself. But medicine can’t fix everything and I’m still trying to figure out how to express my emotions and needs in a healthy way to avoid breakdowns, a regular occurrence.
We got baby on a solid schedule which I totally loved, she didn’t at first but after a few days totally adapted. She still couldn’t be put down for long but hey, my arms were super toned and strong! I look back at these days with pride that I made it through but also with regret. I would’ve done so many things differently. I wouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself, I would have asked for help sooner (in caring for baby, myself, my home, and my husband). I wouldn’t have put breastfeeding on such a high pedestal and only pumped when I truly had time that wasn’t taking away from baby. I would’ve taken better care of myself, physically and emotionally. But hindsight is 20/20 so hopefully I can pass some of this wisdom on to mama’s before they make these “mistakes”.
Can you go into a little more depth about navigating your sacred window (first 40 days postpartum), with a husband who was struggling with his own mental health?
Those days were a blur and not enjoyable from what I remember. I was so angry at my husband because he was so on board with inducing baby on her due date, while I took a bit more convincing. He was so anxious for her to be here and then when she was, he totally disengaged. I wanted to respect his feelings and help him through that period but was struggling so much myself with my emotions after birth (happy, sad, disconnected, lost, confused, TIRED, etc.) as well as caring the majority of the time for baby. It was hard to give him any grace when I was pushing myself so hard.
As a woman/mother, what UNSPOKEN SPACES of womanhood/motherhood do you think deserve more attention? Any idea on how to help transform the dialogue to better validate and honor our journeys?
I was completely unprepared and didn’t even consider that my body would “fail” and I would miscarry. Having a baby was somewhat “high-risk” for me due to a genetic disorder but I didn’t think I’d actually lose a child. I felt completely broken and lost and my heart was shattered. Nobody wants to talk about miscarriage when they’re trying to conceive but I think moms-to-be should get more guidance and preparation from their doctor(s) that it is a possibility. It’s not a fun or easy conversation but I think it would help the moms who do end up having to deal with it to cope better.
How do you think being considered high risk plays into your overall mental health and baseline beliefs about pregnancy.
It made me overly anxious and nervous. I had done a lot of research, met with genetic counselors, and had blood work done in the year or two prior to trying to conceive to make sure I knew my plan of action since we were going to try and have a child (I had always planned on adopting but my opinions and personal goals had changed over the years). The genetic disorder I have (Incontinentia Pigmenti) is fatal in males and can have serious impacts on females. I thankfully have a very mild case but there are no indicators to determine how mild or severe a daughter of mine would have it. There’s also a 50/50 chance the baby will inherit the disorder each pregnancy. Initially our plan (and I was dead set on it) was to do testing as soon as possible (12 to 14 weeks) to determine if the baby had the disorder and make decisions accordingly (if it were a male with the disorder there’s high chance of late miscarriage which could put the mother at risk).
After losing our first baby my opinion on termination in any scenario totally changed. After that experience I knew there was no way, disorder or not, male or female, I could emotionally survive losing another baby especially if it were my decision.
I feel like a terrible person now for having even considered terminating if I was pregnant with a baby with the disorder but also didn’t want to bring a life into this world who could potentially have so much struggle and low quality of life in their future. I tell myself and honestly believe my first pregnancy was an affected male who would not have survived regardless of me or my body’s abilities but it still made me lose a lot of confidence in myself.
It seems like your experience with miscarriage was a defining moment in your path to motherhood. Did you feel supported by your medical support team and extending resources?
It definitely was and changed my opinions and beliefs in a monumental way. Plans I had firmly made I didn’t agree with or want anymore. My doctor was incredibly supportive and put up with numerous phone calls in visits. My husband was a huge help during this time as well. He, not being the one carrying the baby, didn’t feel near the connection I did to it so was able to be hugely supportive, understanding, and patient with me as I navigated through the sadness and anger. We shared a few cries but he was only wounded by the miscarriage where I was devastated and broken. The only other people we informed were our parents since they were the only ones who knew we were pregnant outside us. My mom was a rock (as usual). It was very helpful to talk through (multiple times) the experience and my feelings with her and my husband in the healing process for me.
How have you built community for yourself?
Unfortunately, I really haven’t. I’m pretty on my own which is why I’m so excited about Our Seva. I have family and a few friends I keep in touch with but no “go to” friend I can really share my feelings with.
If you were speaking to a soon-to-be mama or someone on their fertility journey, what sage words of wisdom would you impart on her?
A quote by Max Ehrmann from Desiderata that my mom would say to us frequently growing up, and still does, has resonated more with my as I’ve gotten older and become a mom –
“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
– Max Ehrmann
This quote has brought me some peace in hectic and overwhelming moments.
And also, to give yourself some grace. Some days being a mom is hard, being a woman is hard, and so is being a wife/sister/aunt/cousin/friend. Just do your best.
Any go-to resources you’d like to share to inspire continued transformation?
What really helped me navigate and cope with the chaotic, difficult, and crazy days early on in motherhood, especially when first trying to get an idea of what “regular life” was going to be now was to get baby and me on a (fairly) rigid schedule. This helped the baby know what to expect next, you’ll know what to expect next, and what came as a bonus, this seemed to really help my little one SLEEP! Obviously, a schedule can’t really be applied right away but after 2 or 3 months it should be ok. We roughly followed an eat-play-sleep schedule with 4 hours between eating during the day.
Join Our Seva Motherhood Circle
In the Our Seva Motherhood Circle private Facebook group, we support one another through miscarriage, unexpected birth outcomes, maternal mental health and relationship struggles on a daily basis. As a community of women, we are on a mission to help shift the cultural narrative around the unspoken spaces of motherhood…no matter what stage you find yourself in. We show up to share from a place of vulnerability, know that our stories give one another the language needed to really stir things up. We focus our efforts with weekly themed discussions around shifting identity, maternal mental health, cultural expectations and our sacred service to motherhood. I’d love it if you join us!
Want to contribute your story?
Email hello@our-seva with “member story” in the subject line and tell us a little bit about how you’d like to share! The question we ask all guests is “What UNSPOKEN SPACES of womanhood/motherhood do you think deserve more attention?”