One Year After Giving Birth- My Story by Valentina Khan


valantina I sat at the bottom of my stairs exhausted, lost, not knowing what day it was or rather not really caring what day it was. I was the overtired mother, who was still getting the knack of breastfeeding around the clock. Panicking each and every time I heard the baby cry. As soon as I heard his cries, I would think to myself, hurry and grab the boppy, the burb cloth, the iPhone so I could click on the breastfeeding app! Hurry, hurry, hurry….!

My first child was born in March 2013. I thought I prepared myself for his birth. The diapers were stacked, the crib was pristine, his clothes were neatly arranged, the stroller was the best on the market, what else could being a mom be about? This was my naïveté as I entered motherhood at probably not the best time in my life (but when is?). I was in my last year of grad school at the Claremont School of Theology, I also had on my to-do list to take the bar exam and become a licensed attorney should I ever decide to practice, and because my fitness hobby turned into a “job” over the last 4 years, the same year my son was born, my husband and I opened my first brick and motor business- UpLift- body, life, community. Too much too soon? Yes, indeed. Crazy? Absolutely.

The blessings poured down, but I was much too overwhelmed to appreciate anything. Everything was suddenly a big burden. All I could think of was the intensive labor I went through, my tears, and wanting to turn back the clock and cut down the amount of time I spent in the hospital. The doctor, whose bedside manners made me hypersensitive because I felt I was supposed to labor, and labor and labor, and her lack of communication during that time made me and my whole family so nervous, that we thought something would happen to the baby because his heart rate kept drastically dropping. The replay of those moments in my life, took months for me to get over, and put in me in deep silence within that made me frustrated and anxious on the outside.

My son, Dean Valentino, arrived after 36 hours of labor, 2-3 doses of epidural (I still can’t remember the details of the experience), and a induced C-section later. Sure, I’m not the first mother to have had an adventurous birthing story, but for my relatively hospital-free life I felt like his birth foreshadowed my first year with him.

He is a beautiful, sweet, energetic 17- month old now. But our getting to this point was not always so precious and ‘perfect’. Since I’ve become a mother I’ve been immersed in a culture of moms who really make motherhood to be a breeze, snap, easy as 1-2-3 transition into this role. I couldn’t understand how they could just breastfeed in public without getting in the right “position”. Since I literally had to tweak my wrist one way, to prop his head into a certain angle, to get him in the right direction, to be able to feed! It wasn’t a process for me. It was a laborious, extensive feat each and every day, every 2 hours for 6 months, until my body could not give anymore. Literally there was no more milk for his appetite and I could not continue to take mothers’ milk, fenugreek or any other supplement hoping magically my milk would appear.

By the end of 6 months, the freedom began but it came with a heavy dose of guilt as many other moms in my new mom circle continued to effortlessly feed their child well into the child’s double digit month age! These moms amazed me. They are the moms that tote their infants around in their baby carriers while having a pleasant meal in a restaurant, and not a peep from the little one all snuggled in the chest of the mother. Wasn’t their baby going to be crying any moment to be changed, fed, entertained? How did these moms manage being a new mother and joining society once again?

As I sat on my stairs, 3 weeks after his birth, replaying my labor story and getting angrier that I didn’t use better judgment, I remember thinking I am not the same and my life is completely upside down. I could no longer just run an errand, jump into car and drive here and there or resume to teaching my own yoga and dance barre classes. As a matter of fact I did not get in my car one time since his birth. Until when my mom found me on the stairs, and with much concern told me I need to get up, put makeup on, wear something colorful and just go for a ride. It was my mom who helped me tremendously to get my business up and running. Everything from the construction of the studio floors, to putting up mirrors, the plumbing, electrical, all things that I could not even manage to understand, she helped with. Any other time, it would have been very exciting for me, but this particular time, just 3 weeks after his birth I did not want anyone to want anything more from me. Being present, recovering from the c-section and producing milk was enough for me on a daily basis.

It was exactly 1 month later when my mom found me again on the stairs, and this time crying hysterically. I was behind on writing my graduation final paper, I was told that my graduation had to be pushed back by one year, my Arabic teacher was giving me assignments I could barely understand, I had a grand opening scheduled in a couple months with no staff hired and no plans on how to run a brand new boutique fitness studio, and still, I was going around the clock and this time the baby developed colic so his crying turned into screaming fits when the sun would go down, and my nerves were shattered. Was this motherhood? How in the world have women done this so many billions of times before me? Why would they do this over and over again? This became torture and all I could do was cry. My mother’s advice was for me to go see a doctor and go on medication. Medication? This was coming from a holistic type person who avoided doctors and medicine like the plague. I just looked at her blankly, thinking she doesn’t get it. She had one child, went back to work after 6 weeks and my grandmother raised me. She hardly remembers what it was like raising me. Suddenly I felt so alone. This was all my fault. Too much too soon, and now I’m barely surviving and the world expects me to be a happy, cooing mother. And I was not.

I never went to the doctor to talk about how I was feeling. I didn’t want to fall into that ‘category’. I know it is normal and some very honest friends spoke to me about their own challenges after giving birth and how medication to help deal with the anxiety and depression helped them tremendously. Though I appreciated their honesty so much, I just wanted to ride it out. I started to venture out of my house more and visit my soon to be business. I started to take the baby for walks, and even turned to acupuncture to help me cope with the stress. I listened to my music to block the voice in my head. Those little things helped me “cope”. But the anxiety each and every time I left my baby to attend to my own life or the guilt associated with not breastfeeding anymore still made me sad.

About 8 months post partum, the light at the end of the tunnel became more clear. More and more mothers I spoke with admitted to having the baby blues, or in more severe cases post partum depression. Because I had a strong support circle, the symptoms of helplessness, anxiety, fear, sadness, and being overwhelmed slowly started to clear away. Once I was able to accept and deal with everything on my plate, I became more excited at the thought of motherhood and accomplishing other things in life. I accepted that graduation would be pushed back from May 2013 to May 2014. I accepted that the bar exam will always be there, and my time to take it is not now. I opened my arms to my business and maneuvered my teaching schedule so that it worked out with my time so I could be present for my son.

KahnEverything slowly fell into its place but it took a well over a year for me to finally get my groove back. I walked through this last year of my life in a foggy daze. I could barely put a sentence together I was so tired, and now I can actually sit down and type my past year’s experience. Coming to this point is a huge accomplishment for me. Last year this time, staring at the computer screen would give me anxiety and drain me. Now 17 months later, I am teaching full time at my studio, and working to make it the best community hub for families to come together. I graduated although I was last in the line and walked in without my robes and hat (that’s another story)! I get to spend time with my son and enjoy these moments, and when the time is right and I can devote myself to my studies again, and sit for the California bar exam. Why? Because I am a woman, a mother, a fitness enthusiast, a community builder, an interfaith lover, and I can do anything I put my mind to. Everything hard is temporary and can be overcome with the power of positive thinking. I thank my husband, mother, grandmother, aunts, father, and dear friends who helped me regain my strength to accept all my roles and to enjoy wearing all my hats again. As for baby No. 2…can wait. I’m in no hurry.

Valentina Khan is a graduate of the Claremont School of Theology and a law graduate. She is the owner of UpLift: body, life, community and the co-founder of i am jerusalem, a non-profit organization. 

 



Categories: Body, Childbirth, General, Healing, Motherhood

Tags: , , , ,

21 replies

  1. Another hehetero woman lording over the greatness of giving birth to sons, oh joy, I am so fascinated sick with this nonsense. Will this boredom of het privilege and patriarchy never end? The very worst thing women do to the planet these days is to add more children to the seven billion plus world, but hey, they’re hetero they produce, they destroy planet earth.

    Like

    • Turtle Woman, I respect your right to your opinions, and the right of others for theirs. Sometimes I, too, wish we could ship all the men off to another planet (Mars, maybe?), but I also have a father whom I love, and without whom I wouldn’t be here. I also have an adult son who is struggling to figure out how to be a man in this crazy world of ours. I’m glad there are gay people in our world, but I have lesbian friends who have decided to have children, too. I recently read that many countries are having lower birth rates now, and I think that Mother Earth will find a way to lower the human population all by herself. I’d rather focus on the issue of patriarchy, rather than ranting about women who hang out with men and have male children. Not all men are bad, and not all lesbians are good.

      Like

    • Thank you for your comment, I responded below.

      Like

  2. The first photo looks like an infant, but in the second one, the boy has found your heart and his niche in the world. Congrats to you both.

    Like

  3. You have a lot of interesting elements in this piece, but are you sure you are telling the story you want to tell? As it is currently written, your story comes across as, “I bit off more than I could chew, I got depressed and lost it for a while, but in the end I pulled myself together and I triumphed!”. I think this undercurrent of triumphalism is what is ticking off Turtle Woman.

    But is this the story you want to tell? Is there something more subtle going on that perhaps you should try harder to pull out from your tale?

    Like

    • Turtle Woman is perpetually ticked off and her comment doesn’t belong on this piece at all, IMHO. This is a vulnerable story. It is also a “hero’s journey” narrative in which triumph *absolutely* has a place. And, finally, it is a 1,000 word essay about an entire year of someone’s life–to tell someone to “pull something more subtle out of the tale,” is just, wow. I have no more words. As someone who has worked with pregnant and birthing women for ten years, I am very disappointed in these comments from FAR readers who seem to not *get it* at all. :( Childbirth, how women experience it, and how it impacts their lives is a feminist issue. Sharing feelings about its impact on a public platform is tender and vulnerable. As a mother (yes, of sons) for 11 years now I found much to identify with in Valentina’s story and I thank her for writing it and being brave enough to share her truth with this community of readers and writers.

      My next scheduled post for FAR is also about childbirth (my FAR name is Molly, but the account I use to comment is my primary wordpress account), so steel your nerves for another “triumphalism” based account to come soon! ;)

      Like

      • Thank you, for sharing your story of dealing with motherhood challenges in your own way.

        Like

      • I look forward to your story, Molly. Sometimes I watch the BBC program “Call the Midwife” and hear women giving birth proclaim that they hate their husband, will “kill” him, and in the middle of child birth declare they don’t want to “do this”! People get called heros for running into a burning building to rescue someone, but I don’t think we fully appreciate the strength required to give birth, to love, to care for a baby totally dependant on you.

        Thank you for sharing your story Valentina. I’m glad you had a strong support system, and as Fran wrote above, the photos tell a story.

        Like

      • Well, what I thought was interesting about her story was that her mother gave her a very modern diagnosis, “You have post-partum depression” and a modern solution, “Take a pill.” Her grandmother might have given her an old world diagnosis, “You are trying to do too many things at once, you need to prioritize.” and an old world solution, “This child is far to precious to fall between the cracks of your chaotic life, I’m going to take care of it.”

        I don’t mind triumphalism, but I am easily bored by it. Nevertheless, it is your story, tell it the way you want.

        Like

        • I’d like to read more about her mother’s reaction too! That part caught my attention. My point was that it is a lot to expect of someone uncover a multitude of lessons/life learning/reflection when the point of the post was a 1,000 word look at an entire year of someone’s life. There is simply only room for a broad skim/overview in that context and there is a rightful place for triumph at the renegotiation of the dramatically altered boundaries of one’s life, especially when uncovering capacities and recognizing one’s own capability.

          My upcoming post is about an understanding of capability/capacity too in the context of a mothering life that often spins very fast.

          Like

      • Thank you for your support. I also responded below to all of the comments.

        Like

  4. Thank you all for your comments. It’s my first time back in over two years and quite frankly, I wasn’t sure what I would write about out the gates. Of course my current state of being a new mother has been in overarching theme these last 18 months, so I thought I would roll with that storyline.

    I want to thank Talk Birth for being a supporter and for getting it. This blog was more of a platform to share my story of my first time/ new mom experience- the good and the bad. Talk Birth understands, that given a limited word count, keeping it brief yet descriptive enough was the point I was trying to make. Call it triumphalism or hehetero as Turtle Woman referred to me as. It is just my recap, clearing my mind, sharing in the honesty of my journey as a mother, and juggling my new life. I did not want to just drop everything for the sake of motherhood, I still wanted the business, the education, the career, and did not want to complacently fall into the “stay at home mom” roll- hence the depression, guilt and everything else associated that inspired me to share my story thinking other strong willed mothers or women in general could also relate to it.

    Yes, this type of blog can be rather boring, as reader NMR pointed out. Especially if your context is one that is far removed from children, male partners or husbands, child rearing and career juggling. Or just plain boring even if you are a mother! Another birthing/ new mom story (oh joy!). I understand where you’re coming from. That’s because things are a little boring and slow paced for me right now. It takes me forever to get any task done and I only have a short window of time to get anything done! Im telling myself its just a temporary rut im in until my son is off to montessori or preschool, then perhaps I will be a more open in my mind and ready too explore the topics I once found interesting.

    You were right about my grandmother having an old world approach, because she does. My mother (on a side note), is a tough cookie. A one child only type unproclaimed feminist, engineer career woman. She is your renaissance girl from Iran. She immigrated with her family in the 1970’s and vowed to be the keeper of her younger siblings in this new land. Her number one priority was school. After she graduated as an engineer her priority was her career. Naturally after giving birth to her first ( and only) child she was not going to stay home and waste her hard earned immigration journey, education and lifestyle change from Iran to America to be a stay at home mother. So yes, she has a modern view on motherhood, but in retrospect her advice throughout this last year has also been to sit back, and to enjoy this temporary and fleeing time with my son…perhaps her priorites have once again shifted.

    Lastly in regard to reader NMR’s comment, the story I wanted to tell was simply what I told. It was one heck of a year. I could not get a hold of my emotions, and motherhood was not cracked up to what I thought it would be. I began to curse (figuratively not literally!) women who made it seem like a breeze and had multiple children because they believed motherhood and childbearing to be so easy (and beautiful). I had too much going on at once, and could not wrap my arms around anything other than the new life that was given to me. Looking back now I can write about it. Be honest about the darkness, and now feel grateful I am no longer in that troubled state of mind. So yes, I suppose triumphed. Or rather, I am triumphing daily through the challenges of being the mother who wants it all. Boring to some, but extremely exciting for me.

    Turtle Woman, I really didn’t think I would get critiqued by a feminist. I actually was gearing up for the natural type mothers to chime and say that maybe I was being too weak as a mother and not appreciating the beauty of motherhood enough.
    Rather the first comment was from you saying that the very worst thing women can do to this planet is give birth in this already overly populated world (not verbatim). I couldn’t agree more with the fact that our planet is overpopulated. But you can’t knock down a woman’s desire to procreate. I was terrified of pregnancy, birth, and infants in general. But the desire to carry a child inside me, nourish it and be it’s caretaker was a feeling that was bigger than myself and it happened after years of ‘just saying no’ to wanting kids. It felt like the Universe told me it was my time to bring in the next generation. So cheesy. But true. Don’t know what else to tell you. I’m not one to have more than 1-2 children and I’m open to sponsoring or even adopting an orphan to fulfill any other motherly urges I may have in the future. I care for this planet as I care for my child. I’m not interested in overpopulating it, but I am all for keeping the circle of life in motion. And to me that is what my son represents.

    Talk Birth, I am looking forward to your post.

    Thank you all again,
    Valentina
    (Please excuse any typos, its dark. It’s late. I only had this brief window to read all the posts and write back.)

    Like

    • Valentina:

      First, I thought your post was heartfelt, and translated your confusion, challenges, doubts and hesitations in that first year very well. Trying to describe emotions and emotional states–especially if they involve the roller-coastering hormones of pregnancy and post-partum–is difficult, and requires the courage and honesty to get near the painful sources of the emotion. I thought you did that.

      I also enjoy “Talkbirth’s” comments: having “walked the walk,” I think she’s entitled to “talk the talk.” :-)

      One thing does bother me just a little. I detect a slight undercurrent of…not contempt, exactly, but a mildly patronizing tone toward stay-at-home moms. And I think this is a feminist issue.

      Our daughter (yes, Turtle Woman, I’m a married “hehetero” woman), who had a lackluster school career, bombed out of her first semester of college, and disappeared for a year (which we spent in dread of a phone call from some police agency or coroner’s office) has now been a happily-married mother of two boys–and expecting a girl in January–for almost four years. She has found her vocation in home and hearth. She’s great at it: far better than I ever was. She’s neither “religious” nor “spiritual” in any conventional sense, but her family is, in a way, her sacrament. It’s a joy to see (yes, TW, even though she’s a “breeder:” but you can at least rejoice that the next birth will bring another woman into the world). I’m very grateful.

      While I suspect that our daughter will become restless when the nest starts to empty, and will look for other avenues of expression (she has a very popular small photograpy business, which she fits in
      when she has time). I’m sorry to see any feminists–especially feminists interested in religion–overlooking the possibility that stay-at-home moms are a valid art form, too, and that the domestic can, without being at all patriarchal, be a holy and whole choice.

      Like

      • Onoosh,

        Thank you for your comment. I have an utmost respect for stay at home moms because it is not a job that naturally befalls anyone. It takes a special kind of patience, a certain kind of finesse, and a lot of self sacrifice to be one. Since it wasnt in my ‘game plan’ pre-baby and now I am living like one (part time) I see how hard it can be but also how very rewarding. I feel blessed daily to be able to care for my son until I feel he is ready for full time school. I am grateful I can see his milestones and not just hear about them. I am taking it all in and just enjoying this stage in my life one day at a time. Full time stay at home moms with multiple kids especially are my heroes!

        My context is one of a successful brood of females from both my mother’s and father’s side. All are working mothers, educated professionals who are very successful. I grew up in this type of environment. Even my stay at home grandmother of 5 children took it upon herself to get her GED when she immigrated from Iran. She never wanted to hear her children say ‘oh you don’t understand, you’re not educated here’! Can you believe that?

        So all the lovely ladies in my life are major go getters, and I too have the same ambitions but I have slowed down a bit and am not as tenaciously going after my career. I have my business which keeps me busy but it is created to be part time so I can spend more time with my son. All this is a change of pace for me. And I still deal with the guilt of not working as an attorney which I worked very hard to become, and then when I leave the house I have the guilt of not being with my son! It’s all still a balancing act for me. I’m hoping it will get better! Thank you :)

        Like

        • Valentina:

          Thank you for your very prompt reply! I knew you weren’t slamming motherhood as a career, but I do think that more…outer-directed…women, and especially someone as accomplished and full of energy as you are, sometimes give, at best, a passing nod to stay-at-homes.

          But I DO understand your balancing act, and the guilt it can manufacture. My mother was an R.N., and did things a nurse-practitioner does today: I remember a year she spent at home, and although she baked GREAT cookies, she wasn’t a happy camper. And I was all ready to get another M.A. when I was thrust into motherhood by the arrival, from another life, of our daughter!

          I had to laugh at the story about your grandmother, though. Mine (on the Armenian side) was just the opposite, refusing even to learn English, and refusing, too, to let my grandfather into the house when he came home with his beard shaved off! ;-) The rest of the family took to the challenges of life in America more readily.

          Suffice it to say I’m on your side regarding the tensions and stresses of educated women and the home fires. But I nevertheless honor all those who, like my daughter, are having a grand time staying home with the kids. :-)

          In the immortal words of Dory in “Finding Nemo,” “Just keep swimming, swimming…keep swimming…” and, in your case, keep writing!

          Like

  5. I liked your posting and I was surprised that it received any backlash. Thank you for sharing it. I have a 6 month old son and can relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed and exhausted. I still notice how hard it is to leave the house. No longer can I just grab my purse and go. :) It’s a huge change. I also had trouble breastfeeding and decided to go with formula pretty early in. I went through guilt about that but did not want to spend the first few weeks or months of my son’s life struggling and being miserable. I wanted to solely enjoy being with him. I did not have post-partum depression but I have OCD and managing it was a challenge. Post-partum depression can be such a struggle for new mothers and there is a lot of stigma. I think it was very brave that you spoke of it. Being too busy does not explain post-partum depression. My friend suffered from it and she was solely at home with her son. And she was ashamed of it. More of us need to talk about it so it takes the stigma away. Thank you for being candid about your experience.

    Like

    • Dear India,

      Thank you for your comment. Not enough mamas talk about the challenges, and if they do it is brief followed by a smile or laugh to shrug it off. It seems so stigmatized to talk anything negative about motherhood. There are so many positives that the negatives get overshadowed, and thank goodness for that. But the negatives are there and for me were so prevalent it stalled my life a little. Feeling down, feeling inadequate, helpless, lost are all things we need to talk about more. I don’t want to harp on the hard parts, just share in the stories to help get through it would be good enough. Instead many brush it under the carpet.

      Like

  6. Valentina,
    Thank you for writing this and for being honest about your struggles with motherhood. I do not have children, but I saw what my nieces went through when they had children and I was shocked at the way mothers are constantly being judged and criticized, and they in turn judge each other.

    Like

    • Yes, Linda. Mothers may not outwardly vocalize it, but it appears to me there are judgments that are passed around if your parenting style is different from another’s. I don’t get it. Parenting is hard enough, and by adding the element of outside scrutiny it really can take you over the edge if you are sensitive to it. I recently read the book The Four Agreements. I am trying to implement the four points: 1. be impeccable with your word, 2. don’t make assumptions 3. don’t take things personally, 4. always do your best. I suppose just using those as a guidelines has helped quite a bit. Thank you!

      Like

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: