My Story, by Victoria

I am a mother of two, a lesbian, and I experienced birth trauma and postpartum anxiety. My experiences as a lesbian, a parent, through my former wife’s pregnancy and my pregnancy and postpartum, have led me to where I am today. And while many aspects of my parenting journey are similar to many, there are aspects as a lesbian parent that make it quite unique.

I birthed our second child. Our first was now 4 years old, my partner gave birth to her, and I remember being instantly bonded to her when she came into our world. That was not to be my experience with our second.  My labor did not go as planned and we found ourselves in a hospital away from our midwife, who we had carefully vetted and chosen because she was affirming of our 2 mom family in a way that society, individuals, and even our own families were not. We checked in to the hospital on Friday morning and our baby was not born until Monday (at 43 weeks!). We went through many providers and nurses, helping us at the most vulnerable time, none of them vetted, none of whom we knew where they stood in their support of us as a family.

After our son was born, 3 days and many, many interventions later, the nurse, who had been with us for 8 hours, showed us to our postpartum room and happily pointed out to my wife, “there is the dad’s bed” and smiled. This would eventually lead me down a spiral to wondering how the traumatic experience of my son’s birth could have been caused by what was now apparent homophobia from the staff that had been caring for us through a hard-unplanned hospital birth.

I am a social worker so I knew after the long and upsetting birth experience I needed to get to my therapist to process what happened because my mind kept spiraling on the events and I couldn’t sleep. So a week after the birth I was in my therapist’s office, baby in tow, telling her why I was there, telling her about my experience. Her response: “At least you have a healthy baby”. 

That simple phrase conveyed a message that was loud and clear: what right did I have to complain? It instantly shut me up. I knew I should be happy. We both made it out of the birth “healthy” physically. I felt so much shame for my feelings and as a result, bottled them up. Apparently, I must be an outlier. I remember holding my son and feeling nothing. I knew I should feel something for a baby I tried for 3 years to conceive. But I didn’t. What was wrong with me???

I stopped going to therapy. When I saw my midwife she asked me, “Are you happy?”  I lied and said yes, because I had gotten the message I was supposed to be. I am a well-informed MSW, I knew about PMADs, I even knew I was at risk, but between the hospital staff, who invalidated my feelings and made me feel incompetent, and my therapist, I internalized all their messaging and so I lied. There was something incredibly wrong with my maternal instincts, I felt so much shame and absolutely alone. 

My seeking help was stalled for months because of these messages, because no one told me how common these feelings are, because no one told me it wasn’t my fault. Finally, at 4 months postpartum at the urging of my wife I scheduled an appointment with Penny Simkin who did birth processing. She listened to my story, asked me questions, and then she told me I had gone through a traumatic birth. She validated my experiences and gave it a word: trauma. It was huge. What I was experiencing had a word, it was ok to be upset about the birth. 

It is hard to explain the impact of sitting with someone who greeted me with validation and empathy and naming what happened: a trauma. That was not a word I had associated with the birth. But my body and mind had known it all along: that my experience was off, that those caring for us at the hospital had done problematic things. As a result of that meeting, I was sent on the road to healing, I finally found a new therapist, one who was trained and experienced in perinatal mental health, and I found out I wasn’t alone, I was not a bad mother.

After my experience, I deeply understand the value of peer support, it has informed my career and volunteer choices. Knowing that other parents need to know that someone is listening, someone understands, and someone is there in the vacuum of solitude that a PMAD can create, I decided to become a postpartum doula which I did full-time for 8 years until 2018 when I became a part of Perinatal Support WA. I currently manage our state-wide Warm Line, where we utilize peer support. Since 2020 I have volunteered with PSI and facilitate the Queer and Trans Parent Support Group. 

That feeling of being utterly alone and broken never left me. I have healed from my experience but I can still access that place 12 years later, and that is why I am here today doing this work. I could have been set on the road to recovery that first week after my baby was born if the providers in my life had provided some education on perinatal mental health, if they had taken the time to talk and listen to me. This is why Perinatal Support Washington is so important to me. We train providers, anyone really who comes in contact with parents in the perinatal period. We train therapists and provide therapy to the community. And we know the power of peer support, the power of telling another parent who has been there the truth of how you are feeling, disclosing the hard hard stuff. The power and release one feels when someone says to you are not alone, you are not a bad parent.