You know those Mamas you look at and wonder how they seem to have the perfect Mama-work-life balance? Meet Jessica Dreischmeier. She and her husband James live in Northeast Minneapolis in a new home with one of those adorably inviting front porches. Jess works as a mental health practitioner in pediatric mental health and is getting licensed in marriage/family therapy and her art therapy registration. Her story is one that surrounds the notion of Mamas taking care of their mental health after they give birth.
To begin, Jess was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in her early twenties. She and her husband James decided to have kids sooner than they had anticipated because of this. To their amazement, soon after she was pregnant with their first child, Billy. She recalls feeling “lucky because it only took one try to have him and some people don’t have that.” Their first ultrasound showed that she had a bicornuate uterus. This was a birth defect from her reproductive parts that hadn’t fully developed and were now connected at the bottom in a heart shape. Jess remembered not knowing what this meant, but was told it was a good sign she was easily pregnant.
Little Billy came into the world exactly one month early to his due date and was in the special care unit at the Mother Baby Center at Abbot/Children’s Hospital. He remained healthy, continued to grow, and went home within a week. Fourteen months later, Jess was pregnant with their second child. At the beginning, the doctors anticipated that her uterus had stretched during Billy’s pregnancy. This baby was growing in the other horn (side) of her uterus and she would hopefully have him closer to term. Around her 14-15 week check they decided to see if there was any shortening of the cervix and determine if they should put in a cerclage (a cervical stitch). Jess and James headed down the injection route rather than moving forward with this procedure. She would have weekly injections of progestin to help keep the cervix long and the baby safe inside until the time was right.
Much to their dismay, these shots created a reaction and her skin became inflamed and terribly itchy; they discontinued the shots around 23 weeks gestation. As soon as they had stopped the progestin, her cervix was showing signs of early labor: shortening and funneling depending on how the baby would move. She was visiting the doctor every week and was put on bedrest at 28 weeks because the doctors wanted to relieve the pressure of the baby. This meant that Jess was unable to leave her home except for her doctor appointments, which were now twice per week. The doctors told her that if her cervix shortened even .2 cm she would be on hospital bed rest. She shared that her own Mama was “… A savior. She came to my house every day to help me with Billy. He was 18 months old at the time and he needed me and I couldn’t help him. I felt so helpless laying on the couch; there was so much I wanted to do but couldn’t. James was working all day and would come home and it was hard for me to ask for help. I knew I couldn’t risk it though. This was the first time my perspective on mothering really changed.”
On the morning of the 4th of July, she was 33 weeks pregnant and awoke with a stomach ache and overall not feeling well. Her family was coming over for a BBQ and with the 100 degree heat, they filled the kiddie pool. She felt off all day and nothing was sitting right, even trying to go to the bathroom multiple times with nothing coming out. They decided to go to the hospital when her contractions had been 3-5 minutes apart consistently for more than 2 hours. The monitor displayed her contractions but were upside down because their little baby was breached. She admitted, “I remember when we learned (they named him Mac) he was breach earlier in the pregnancy, I told my doctor I really wanted to do a VBAC and we tried multiple times to get him to turn–spending most nights hanging upside down on the couch. When you’re on bedrest you feel so helpless and need to find ways to gain control. I thought this was something I could do to alleviate that feeling.”
Upon their arrival, the nurses and doctor on call sent them home because according to them, it wasn’t time to be admitted yet. Jess recalls feeling that, “In my head I knew we were going to have to go back. I was only 33 weeks along, my contractions were so strong, and with everything that had happened up to this point while on bedrest, I was nervous. When we got home I was literally on my hands and knees in the kiddie pool in so much pain, bleeding while in the shower, and because you can’t eat before a c-section, hungry. We called the hospital and told them what was going on and they told me to drink water, but I couldn’t. James called my mother in law, who is a pediatrician: She’s bleeding and cramping so much she can’t walk… And she reminded us that we don’t need to wait for permission to go in if we are concerned, and that we should just go back. So we did. I cried and hugged Billy that last time and we got in our car and headed to the hospital. James was driving so fast and speeding over potholes. I remember the fireworks going off everywhere!”
There was a new nurse there and she saw her contractions; it was time to check her cervix. Jess remembers watching her face fall as she said, We’re going to have to move things pretty fast… yep, we’re going to need to get you ready for surgery. She felt non confrontational but looked at the nurse and said, “What? I was here earlier today, I’ve been on bedrest with regular contractions and was written off… I called multiple times!”
Jess shared, “I felt like an afterthought because of the holiday weekend. The doctor came in and wanted us to hold labor off until 6:00 AM… but shortly after they moved forward with the c-section and as soon as Mac was out they had the transport machine ready. It looked like a spaceship; they had us sign him over immediately. He was under respiratory distress and not breathing on his own. While they were sewing me up, I was able to put my hand in there and touch him and see him. Mac needed an umbilical catheter; they ended up putting a wire through his umbilical cord into his heart, he was on IVs, wrapped up, and nobody could hold him. It felt so strange having to ask permission to touch your own baby after you have him.”
After family left and James went home to take care of Billy, Jess was in her hospital roomby herself and wanted to be with her baby. Because she was at Abott recovering from her C section and he was at Children’s Hospital, there wasn’t really anyone to help her get there. She shared, “I got halfway there and realized I wasn’t ready to walk. I had to sit down in a random hallway in the hospital and I just cried. It felt so isolating. When I finally made it there they had Mac under the bili lights because of his jaundice so I couldn’t even touch him.” He had been placed in the Level 1 NICU at Children’s and then after a week he was able to go to the special care unit. They were able to have one meet and greet with Billy and his new baby brother, but then after that Billy was not allowed in his room.
He was 5 lbs. 3 oz. and the nurses had named him ‘Big Mac.’ Jess remembers, “…wanting to connect with someone, anyone, but it was so hard because you’re in your own room and you can’t talk to other moms or adults. It would have been really helpful to have some sort of therapeutic community during that time, but I couldn’t take away time from my kid to find it.
Jess’ perspective on this experience is that, “After the fact, all of the things that compounded from that day, I felt like things could have happened another way. But because they didn’t, I held on to that hurt. Maybe if they had listened to me it wouldn’t have happened. After $250,000 in medical bills, we felt lucky that in the end he thrived. It gave me perspective about how the postpartum experience is hard for anybody, but then these kinds of experiences create anxiety and worry that comes with it. Doing my Masters thesis on this topic was therapeutic for me because it gave me an opportunity to justify and validate my experience and how I felt. Women who have babies in the NICU have higher rates of postpartum depression and hospitals just don’t give enough support to new Moms. It shifts from mom to baby once the baby is born, but we just go on and don’t give justice to this huge transition. They need to create more support. I sat there and saw these opportunities; one nurse even shared that she thought they didn’t do a great job helping new moms. Maybe they should set up a coffee time–anything would help to have a chance to share their feelings. It’s hard in any complicated or traumatic birth experience, but then you feel sad for allowing yourself to feel the painful parts of the experience. We need to honor that!”
So Mamas, to anyone experiencing a difficult or traumatic birth experience, make sure you talk to someone. Find anyone who will listen. This incredible Mama shared that, “This brought awareness to the postpartum experiences moms have. Especially the way things have changed in terms of now how we expect moms to still be the caretaker of the kids while also working and getting back to their regular selves right after a baby is born. Validate your feelings, share your thoughts, and know that you are not alone.”
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