And a little more from Serena Adsit on home birth (mainly, how painful is it?)
Last week, Serena Adsit delved deep, really deep, into her experience with home birth, placentaphagy and spiritual pregnancy. In part deux of our conversation, the founder of Mint Management/model/mother of almost two drops more truth bombs, this time on motherhood — things you may already know, things you may know but have difficulty talking about, things you wish you knew earlier, and maybe a few you wish you didn’t have to know (but you do). First, to continue where we left off the last time — home birth: Just how painful is it? And vaginal delivery: What the *beep* does it do to your pelvic floor? You might want to grab a cushion for this.
“The blur of dealing with a new baby, work at the back of our minds and lack of sleep are definitely contributors to post-partum depression — it can creep up suddenly. I wish for mothers-to-be to have the ability to let go and relax into their fourth trimester rather than feeling the pressure to solve everything and be superwoman all the time.”
It scares me a little to ask the next question, but necessary: How painful was it?
Serena: During the initial phase of labour, the cramping wasn’t painful, it was very manageable. When active labour kicked in, there was a moment when the thought popped into my head to get my ass down to the hospital, because things were getting intense and the pain level was pretty high. I scrapped the idea quite quickly because firstly, I didn’t prepare a hospital bag, and secondly, the thought of going through contractions in a moving car was just too much to bear at that point.
In hindsight, I should have already been pushing, as Evan was probably travelling through the birth canal, but I was still standing up in the shower. The moment I got out, I instinctively squatted at the foot of my bed and started pushing. Within minutes, I heard a loud pop — my water broke. Ginny arrived, and there was no turning back! I pushed during the contractions and rested on all fours in between. I went into warrior mode, and blocked out a lot of the surroundings, so although there was pain, I can’t say now how bad it was, or if I felt the “ring of fire” when the baby’s head crowned.
Within 20 minutes, Evan emerged and I was holding him in my arms. The discomfort and pain instantly disappeared. All I felt was relief and bliss. I did tear though. When Dr Lai was stitching me up, I really felt it. Ow! I still wince thinking about that.
Ouch. =O Ok, let’s move on. So, you’re expecting your second child, now better prepared. Looking back, what were some of the surprises of pregnancy that no one ever told you or talked about?
Serena: Oh wow, this is going to be fun to openly discuss. I was shocked at how your bottom and pelvic floor get affected post-pregnancy, for one. Piles and incontinence become something you possibly have to deal with. With age and childbirth, your ability to hold in your pee gets compromised, and with the strain of having a vaginal delivery, haemorrhoids can be a consequence of that.
I’ve read about the prolapsing of the uterus and diastasis recti where there is a separation of the stomach muscles, so a lot of unexpected changes you weren’t aware of can occur. This is why I firmly believe in the month-long (or more) post-partum care of ‘laying in’, or confinement. When you give birth, there’s a plate-size wound in your uterus where the placenta detaches, so I feel that rest for the mother — with healing foods, body wraps and as little strenuous activity as possible — is crucial. I subscribe to traditional postpartum care (Chinese and Malay/Indonesian especially). It can be tailored to our modern lifestyle, but it’s important that you have the space and time to recuperate and fully heal after delivery without feeling the need to take on the world because we feel that is expected of us.
Did you experience post-partum depression or anxiety?
Serena: I’m an extremely attached mother, which I feel accounts for the closeness I have with Evan. I was very devoted to taking care of him and his well-being when he was born. I exclusively breastfed him for many years so that resulted in him never taking the bottle and co-sleeping with me, using me as a soother. Not the most convenient or comfortable experience, but it was what it was. I carried him everywhere with me in a carrier, so he never liked being in a stroller or car-seat much. I didn’t have a helper then, and it was me and his father doing most of the caring. I remember not going out at night for a year because I had to watch him at home once he went to bed at sundown.
That said, I never experienced post-partum depression or anxiety. All the sacrifices did definitely take their toll on me. I was stretched to my limit, I was extremely tired and very stressed- out. With my second baby, while I’m going to stay as involved as I deem feasible, I’m going to have an arsenal of help around me this time. I’m planning to introduce new systems like early elimination communication. That means tuning in to when the baby needs to pee and poo, and using a small potty when they need to go; cloth diapering to eliminate waste of disposable diapers, and bottle-feeding on top of breastfeeding so the baby can feed even when I’m not around.
I’d like to make a small departure from pregnancy to motherhood. In your last interview with me, you said yours was not a conventional childhood, and you never had adults you could look up to. Has that influenced the way you raise Evan so far, and your relationship?
Serena: I operate from a place of love and instinct, not old familial patterns. I didn’t subscribe to the way I was raised, so I was then free to define how I mother my child. I’m glad none of the grandmothers in my family felt the need to tell me how to raise my son and, likewise, if and when my kids have their own babies, I’ll support them without overstepping my boundaries and infringe on them my way of doing things. Every family with a new baby has their own unique needs and issues, so they are entitled to the freedom to navigate parenthood that in a way that best suits them.
Mum guilt is a very real struggle, especially when the time comes to return to work. For many mothers then, self-care is out of the question because taking five to breathe and take care of yourself feel selfish and add to the guilt. But the truth is, how can you give your child the best of you and be present when you’re running on empty? What are your thoughts on this, and do you think self-care is necessary?
Serena: I think all mums go through a little bit of mum guilt at one point or another. You grow and nurture this little tiny thing that won’t survive without you, so once you start breaking away even just for a little bit, you can’t help but question if your child will suffer in your absence.
It gets easier with time as they age, but the fact is, raising little ones is hard as hell! It takes so much out of you. There will be times when you get so drained that you’re not in the best condition to care for your child/children. So, yes, I think it’s crucial to allocate time to rest, go take a shower or go for a walk. When the time comes to go back to work, we’re lucky there’s fairly affordable child-care options in Singapore, so it’s a matter of figuring out a plan that suits the family best. When I put Evan into infant-care at six months, it was very trying and scary for me because he wouldn’t take the bottle and had to be spoon fed, and he would cry non-stop. In the beginning, I could only leave him there for two hours before having to rush back from work to pick him up. That phase passed, and there will be others. It’s all part and parcel of being a mum. Eventually, we will come round to believe that our kids can actually survive without us being with them all the time.
On the flipside, there’s guilt coming from the work end of things as well. During this pregnancy, I’ve felt so guilty taking time off from work, even now when the baby is almost due. I haven’t officially taken maternity leave, my friends question my need to head to the office, but it still almost feels like I’m letting my staff and agency down for not being available more. I’m really lucky to have this flexibility and the support of the girls I work with, but I can imagine how this stigma weighs heavily on other pregnant or new mums who work. I think we always feel like we need to bounce back and step up right away to see to our work responsibilities or we are letting our bosses and colleagues down.
The blur of dealing with a new baby, work at the back of our minds and lack of sleep are definitely contributors to post-partum depression — it can creep up suddenly. I wish for mothers-to-be to have the ability to let go and relax into their fourth trimester rather than feeling the pressure to solve everything and be superwoman all the time. The truth is, the people in our circle are completely fine with letting us take all the time we need after birthing a new human, but we need to believe that and go with the flow.
How will you take better care of yourself this time?
Serena: I’ve grown and evolved in the past eight years, so have my work and life situations. Now I can rely on my staff to take care of my business, and with more help at home, I’ll have more time to myself hopefully, and not to lose that important sense of self. I’m happiest when I’m creative and can wind down with a good book, so I’d like to be able to fit all that in even while being a mum of two.
All views expressed here are Serena’s own, based on her personal experiences.
If you have any questions you’d like to ask her, leave a comment below, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.