By Dr. Karisa Peer
CONFESSION 1: I DID NOT ALWAYS WANT TO BE A MOM
Motherhood was never something that I envisioned for myself. From an early age, I remember other girls in my class carefully holding their baby dolls, brushing their hair, “feeding” them milk, and putting them to sleep. I preferred to bike, play Sega Genesis (Note: It was the early ‘90s), and rollerblade around my neighborhood.
Mothering was a highly valued skill in both my nuclear and extended families. My maternal grandmother had nine children and my great-grandmother gave birth to 13 kids. When I visited my family in Puerto Rico each summer, all of my aunts and uncles would mention that they didn’t need a lot of friends because their family was so large. They had 96 first cousins. Any gathering seemed like a huge party for my mom’s side of the family. Given this tradition, my mother always predicted I would have six babies. Don’t ask me where she got the number six. “Está en nuestra sangre. It’s in our blood,” she boasted.
When I was ten years old, I informed my mom that I did not plan to have children. It was partially because I was placed in a caretaker role for my family. My views were also influenced by certain privileges that I had been afforded. I lived in a developed country, had access to resources for family planning, and was ultimately able to make the choice of if and when I chose to be a mother.
During my childhood and adolescence, my views on motherhood were also limited to the mothers around me. I noticed that many stayed home full-time to cook, clean, and look after their kids. Some of these moms stayed home due to financial reasons (e.g., they couldn’t afford childcare) and others by choice or societal/familial expectations. A large number were taken for granted by their children and/or partners. Other mothers I knew had to work out of necessity; that is, they had to make ends meet. Others chose to work because it was part of their value system and sense of self. Many discussed the frustration of not being able give enough at work and not being able to give enough at home. A lot of this information reified my earlier decision not to have children.
CONFESSION 2: I CHANGED MY MIND
When I turned 35, something weird happened. When I looked at babies, I actually wanted to pick them up and interact with them. I thought about how a lot of my reasoning for not wanting kids was rooted in the fact that I was taught that being a good mother was showing unrelenting selflessness, putting your own needs last, and not complaining about it. At 35, I asked myself: Is this really what encompasses motherhood?
My background is in qualitative and ethnographic research. I put those skills to use and made it a point to meet as many women as I could with children. I met moms who worked. I met moms who stayed at home. I met moms who were single. I met moms who had partners. I met moms who adopted. I met moms who used surrogates.I met moms in the LGBTQI community. I met moms from many racial and ethnic communities. I asked all of these moms what being a mother meant to them. I asked them what they loved about being a mom. I asked them what they hated about being a mom. Overall, the responses were really varied. But something that stood out was motherhood brought out a different kind of love. Not good or bad necessarily…but different. It was at that point that I made a conscious decision that I wanted to give and receive this different kind of love.
CONFESSION 3: PREGNANCY WASN’T A MAGICAL TIME FOR ME
When I was 18, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The OB informed me that it would be more challenging to get pregnant. At the time, it didn’t mean much to me because I was not planning on having kids. When I did make the decision to have children, my doctor confirmed that I would need to undergo fertility treatments.
IVF was not easy. It consisted of daily shots, embryo retrieval, and implantation. Many, many women go through this journey. It can be emotionally and physically taxing and doesn’t always end up how you imagine. Women, for the most part, go through fertility treatments silently. This is why, in 2018, my company, Mother Squad, Inc. will have virtual support groups for women who are going through or went through fertility treatments.
I feel fortunate that I was able to get pregnant with my first round of IVF. However, pregnancy did not start out smoothly for me. Within two weeks, I began to bleed. The doctor diagnosed me with a subchorionic hematoma. Essentially, that is a tear in your placenta, which is where a baby gets its nutrients. The doctor said it would probably heal up if I went on bedrest for a couple of weeks. The tear was very small. Eventually, I stopped bleeding and went back to the OB for another checkup. She cleared me and said the tear had healed.
The next afternoon, I went to my friend’s house for her birthday celebration. When I got home, I had a feeling that something was off. I went to sleep and brushed it off as over exertion. When I woke up, my pants were soaked with blood. My husband and I rushed to the ER. During the wait, I began to detach myself from the pregnancy. I had lost quite a bit of blood and I did not think it was possible for the baby to have survived. Detaching was my coping mechanism to deal with the heartbreak.
The doctors did a transvaginal ultrasound. It was a bittersweet moment. It was the first time we heard the baby’s heartbeat but were also told that there was a tear that covered 40% of the placenta. I had a 50/50 chance of the baby surviving. It was further heartbreak. As a means of not living in a state of constant panic and fear, the only thing I could do was maintain a semblance of hope. I also knew the harsh reality that the baby might not survive.
I had to go on bedrest for a couple more months. The only way I survived the isolation and anxiety was to develop coping mechanisms and strategies to stop my mind from reeling and obsessing. I started going to therapy — virtually. My therapist would call me via video chat. I also tried hypnotherapy.
I am a very pragmatic person and thought it sounded very new-agey but hypnotherapy helped me deal with a lot of the anxiety I faced before, during, and after the pregnancy. This toolkit is what I deeply feel helped save my sanity during the pregnancy. I learned to focus on the present moment, to breathe properly, and to not try to control everything in my life (this was my tendency).
I was then diagnosed with placenta previa, which is essentially that your placenta is too low and labor can happen prematurely. Again, I was told to rest.
I was all rested out. At this point, I was well into my second trimester and very frustrated. I saw ads of pregnant women doing yoga, running, and glowing during their pregnancies. My ad during my pregnancy should have been a mattress commercial. The spot where I laid down actually started sinking in! It was a big change for me. Before the pregnancy, I had always worked, exercised, and kept busy. Even with meditation and all those coping mechanisms — it seemed hard to fathom that I would need to stay home resting for longer.
It took me a while but the thing that really calmed me down was talking to other women who had been through the same experiences. There were friends and friends of friends who reached out to me. They normalized something that doctors could not normalize because of their clinical approach.
“It sucks,” they concurred. By acknowledging this fact, I felt more at ease. They also pointed me towards good resources that helped me get through bedrest — such as good books, funny TV series, movies, website forums of women who had been through similar experiences, and much more. This made the months move a little less slowly.
I finally had my baby in November and we were very grateful that she was healthy. I was also very happy to NOT be pregnant anymore. I was ready to move on from the pregnancy and enjoy life again. Yet, I didn’t realize how different life was going to be after the baby arrived. Having had to detach myself from the idea that the baby was actually going to 100% be here, was a great coping mechanism at that time. Yet, once the baby was here, I had a “oh crap” moment because I hadn’t given myself the time to acknowledge that my life was going to be really different post-baby. I would not be getting my “old” life back after bedrest.
CONFESSION 4: WHOEVER SAID, “HARD PREGNANCY, EASY BABY” LIED
My daughter was born at the end of November. I think back to that time and it was a blur. I remember lots of bleeding, swelling, exhaustion, hormonal changes, and surges of anger towards everyone around me. NO one had previously bothered to tell me how hard it would be post-baby. All of the articles and everything you read kind of stops at the delivery. You are oftentimes left in the dark.
I was completely unprepared for the fact that I was expected to dive into taking care of this little person when I hadn’t even processed that 1) she actually made it earth-side and 2) that I wasn’t getting my old life back exactly as I had left it before bedrest.
This was honestly a hard pill to swallow. I am a great mom. My child is fed, clean, and showered with attention. I did all those things from the beginning. Yet, I did it in a way where I was just going through the motions. So, I didn’t fully emotionally connect to my daughter. It took me a good three months to truly accept the fact that she had made it. I was in shock that a baby was able to survive given a 50/50 chance of survival.
What also made it hard to connect with my daughter was that she cried for hours on end during those first three months. She was colicky and no remedy seemed to help. I thought back to when someone during my pregnancy told me, “Don’t worry. You know what they say… Hard pregnancy, easy baby.” It was total BS. My daughter was not easy. The colic made her very uncomfortable and the only way for her to communicate that discomfort was to wail for hours.
I went back to therapy during this time because I started showing signs of postpartum depression. I felt guilty that I couldn’t connect to my baby. We had been through so much together and survived it. Why couldn’t I look into her eyes lovingly and feel my heart warm up? I look back now at the situation from a distance. Some advice that I got from other moms, which helped is 1) This is a finite amount of time, it won’t last forever (Note: Sometimes it feels like a day is a year.) and 2) Not everyone connects to their baby immediately. It depends on your personality and how you attach to others in general.
These two pieces of advice helped me stop putting so much pressure on myself. I was able to relax a little more, so I could enjoy those short moments when my daughter wasn’t wailing her head off. We were actually able to start getting to know one another better. But it took a good 4 to 5 months.
CONFESSION 5: IT ACTUALLY HELPS NOT TO DO IT ALONE
What I discovered during these isolating experiences during pregnancy and those first couple of months with my daughter is that connecting to other new moms who are going through the same experiences is crucial. It de-stigmatizes when we feel guilty that we aren’t doing something “correctly” or that it’s not “good enough.” You discover that you are just all constantly learning as you move along through motherhood.
These experiences are what inspired me to create Mother Squad, Inc. I am passionate about the fact that women should not be made to feel worthless or invisible when they become mothers. Rather, we can support one another during the process.
Most mom groups out there focus on the mom and the baby (and oftentimes more on the baby). Mother Squad’s mission is to help the mother during that first year of motherhood. As a community, we chat about sleep deprivation, physical and emotional changes, and shifts in relationships with friends and family. We do this through video chat groups facilitated by licensed therapists. The therapists are there to provide the educational info the group would like to know more about. We are driven by your needs. The best part is that we are online, so you get to meet and see people via video chat from all over the U.S. and from the comfort of your home.
My daughter is now 10 months old. I know that the support of other moms helped me. It still does.
Do you want to join our community?
Mother Squad offers video chat support groups for new moms, which are facilitated by licensed therapists. We believe that mothers are even stronger together. You can also see more of our stories on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Dr. Karisa Peer
Founder, Mother Squad, Inc.