My dear friend Kim Swanson is sharing her Mama Story with you today, and fair-warning: it’s a tear-jerker!
To be fair, I am most definitely a crier and pretty much every single story I am sharing with you over these next few days made my eyes water. Kim’s story made the tears spill out for me, because she is a fighter, yet her story is one of surrender.
Kim shares her experience of those moments when the physical sensations are unbearable, or the birth plan goes awry, or when it all becomes overwhelming. Surrender is key there.
But what about when your husband loses his job with a 13-day-old-newborn to support?
Or when you are replaced at your job after maternity leave without a head’s up?
Or when you realize other families are going through the same thing you are and need an advocate?
Then it’s time to fight for what’s right. And that’s exactly what Kim does.
My daughter Marley was due on June 11th, but she decided to take her time getting out. Even to this day, I can honestly say she’s a stubborn little stinker.
It took 1 year of acupuncture, massage therapy, medicine, and prayer before I finally had a little one growing inside of me, almost 10 months in utero, and nearly a week of labor for her to make her appearance.
Monday, June 23rd, my husband, Dave, and I went to our appointment at the Women’s Birth and Wellness Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
I was only 2 centimeters dilated and 55% effaced, so Maureen, the executive director, did a very painful membrane sweep to try to jump start things.
I started having contractions regularly later that day, and slept on and off as they continued.
It was Thursday morning before we were back at the birth center around 5 am.
We tried a ton of positions for comfort but because Marley was turned toward my side instead of facing my back, I had intense back labor.
Dave tried to apply counter pressure and the nurses and midwife helped with heat packs.
Mom arrived and had a TENS unit in her purse which took away the pain almost immediately.
We tried shifting Marley around with crazy dance moves in a warm shower and by wrapping my belly.
The stubborn little booger wouldn’t budge, and the contractions became more difficult to manage, so I moved to the bathtub in our room, aka the best place ever.
Each of the contractions in the tub lasted about two minutes and I only had 30 seconds to a minute in between each one to rest.
This went on for hours, and by the time I was checked around 7 pm, I was only 5 centimeters dilated.
I had gotten out of the tub by now and could not seem to get any relief.
I had hit my breaking point.
I couldn’t keep going like this.
At some point, you have to give yourself permission to deviate from the plan.
The midwife, Emily, said she would support us if we went to UNC for an epidural, so she, Dave, and I all jumped in the car and headed to the hospital.
By 10 pm, I had dilated to 7 centimeters, but when the midwife checked me again around 4 am the next morning, no progress had been made.
I had been on Pitocin since the night before, but it didn’t seem to help.
I fell back to sleep feeling resigned to the fact that I would likely have a c-section the next day.
I was feeling pretty discouraged with myself.
My mom and I talked about what a c-section would be like because she had one with both me and my brother.
But when the midwife checked on me couldn’t believe what she said. I was 9 ½ centimeters dilated, fully effaced, and Marley was in station +1.
The only thing I could think to say was, “Thank you, Jesus.”
Things got moving quickly. While the pressure was uncomfortable, the ability to push and make progress was incredibly satisfying.
About an hour later, at 10:15 am on the dot, Marley was born.
She started crying before she was all the way out and made her first poo almost immediately.
They put the wiggly little miracle on my chest and she started snorting and rooting immediately.
After that long journey, she was hungry.
I was able to breast feed immediately with the help of a nipple shield.
We had trouble with latching, so we stayed 48 hours instead of 24.
We saw four lactation consultants who all gave us different techniques and ideas, but getting Marley what she needed was extremely difficult.
We had such wonderful nurses and staff helping us. They truly cared and were incredibly professional and kind. I couldn’t have asked for a more positive hospital experience.
I can’t reiterate how important it is to seek help! Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. It shouldn’t be something you dread.
Marley and I were able to exclusively breastfeed until she was 9 months old even though I went back to work, and I know it’s because of the support of the lactation consultants at the Birth Center.
After that, I thought the hard part was over.
I thought, “I carried her 16 days past my due date, wasn’t able to have the unmedicated birth I wanted, struggled with getting breastfeeding going. Things must get better!”
I was wrong.
While I was in labor at the Birth Center, I kept hearing Dave’s phone buzz.
That noise was really awful when all I wanted was silence.
What was worse was that he had to keep on answering it. Work. Because I was in labor for so many days, he had to take off more time than he expected when our baby arrived.
He had only planned for five work days off and didn’t have paid paternal leave.
When our baby was 13 days old, my husband was fired.
The guilt and despair on his face is something I’ll never be able to forget.
I remember sitting on the porch with my newborn, holding her, crying, and knowing that I was going to do whatever it took to protect her and our family.
I went back to work part time when she was 5 weeks old—making the trek back and forth to Raleigh from Durham.
I was working at a small nonprofit that worked with families.
They didn’t offer insurance or paid maternity leave, but I was told I would get my full time hours back on October 1st.
However, when October 1st rolled around, I was told I would not be getting my full time hours back and that they were keeping my temporary replacement who didn’t have the experience or education I have.
By this time the hospital bills were rolling in.
We had been paying for full time daycare for a couple of months in order to save a spot at the daycare we loved with the expectation that we would be needing it.
I felt helpless, angry, and betrayed.
I got mastitis. Twice. The midwives said it was stress related.
I had given up benefits and agreed to commute because I believed in the mission and work of this nonprofit.
After thinking about it for a couple of weeks, I gave a five day notice, and I left.
Thankfully, I found part time work elsewhere temporarily that held us over until I found something full time with benefits only seven minutes from our house.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit I dealt with some Postpartum Depression. I saw a licensed clinical social worker to get help.
It’s okay to ask for help.
It’s okay not to be superwoman.
We were fortunate. Our family and friends had given us enough diapers, clothes, wipes, and other supplies to last us for the first four months of Marley’s life.
I know there are others who would have lost everything if this had happened to them.
I still become angry when I think about what happened to my family, but I become even angrier when I think about these other families.
As a result of this experience, I’ve started a ministry at our church called Hannah’s Closet. It’s a boutique-like clothing closet with items for families facing homelessness or other risk factors who have children 5 years old and younger. We’re currently collecting donations and getting prepared for August 1st, our opening day (for more information on services and how to get involved, click here).
Marley’s middle name is Elaine, which means Light, and that is exactly what she has brought us.
When birth didn’t go as expected, my Light finally arrived healthy and beautiful.
When work and finances brought stress, my Light brought me joy, hope, and courage.
And now, because of her, I hope I can be a Light to other parents.
Kim Swanson is a wife, mom, and Social Worker who lives in Durham, North Carolina. She works full-time as the Social Services Coordinator at the local Senior Center. Her professional experience includes working with immigrant families and and homeless individuals with mental illnesses in North Carolina and Texas. She’s a South Florida native who loves the beach and her dogs, Chewy and Stanley. She lives a fairly crunchy lifestyle using essential oils and chemical-free products in her home while baby-wearing and coloring in her grown-up coloring book. Kim is also involved at her church, St. Paul, where she helps with Community Worship and leads a ministry called Hannah’s Closet. In Fall 2015, Kim will be beginning law school.