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Reflections on A Birth Story


Reflections On A Birth Story

The last year has definitely been one of transition. Starting a new business and the pending birth of my first grandchild has prompted a lot of reflection.

In my work with RVA Baby, I’ve been supporting mamas and listening to birth stories that range from beautiful and empowering to harrowing. But even with all of that, I hadn’t seriously reflected on my own birth story.

But then my own story came back to me in vivid color while I was watching a home video filmed in the hospital the day after my twins, now 21 years old, were born.
Honestly, I entered into the childbirth process with complete surrender not realizing that I could somehow influence or shape the process. While studying medicine, I saw a few instances where women were making an effort to own the process but it seemed to be a fringe movement at the time.

In the video, I’m sharing with family how my baby girl, who was born second, was whisked off to the special care nursery before I even had a chance to look at her. Let me be clear, there was nothing life-threatening happening to her. She was breathing on her own and oxygenating well. She just never cried after birth. She was described as being alert, eyes open and looking around. Despite that, she was kept in the special care nursery for 8 hours. I was told that I was not allowed to see her although I was assured that she was fine and just needed monitoring. And, for some reason, I didn’t question it. I had another baby, her brother, who was born first. So for that 8 hours, I spent my time doting on him. He was feisty, nursed like a champ from the start and I was so in love with him.

Well, the repercussions of that 8 hours are huge. Until I watched that old home video, I couldn’t truly understand why it took so long for me to bond with my daughter. I remember the breastfeeding struggles I had specifically with her. I also remember family members commenting that my son was my favorite twin. Because of the loss of those precious hours, I struggled with tremendous feelings of guilt, anxiety and, inadequacy for almost a full year.

Now the cute little girl so affectionately hugging her mommy’s thoroughly pregnant belly in the picture will give birth any day. And, although my birth story was not ideal, I’m thrilled that my daughter is being empowered to own and shape her birth experience and that my granddaughter will come Earthside into a world that will honor her right to do the same.

Having a new baby…. The happiest time in a woman’s life, right? Not always.


Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders are the MOST common complication of pregnancy and childbirth.


The truth is that 1 in 5 women will experience mental health complications, primarily anxiety and depression, either during pregnancy or the first year after having a baby.  These illnesses, known as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders or PMADs, are the MOST COMMON complication of pregnancy and childbirth.

What makes a woman at risk for having a PMAD experience?  Many factors come in to play, including changes in biology, psychology, and circumstance.   Let’s look at a few:

HORMONES are a significant factor for some women.  A pregnant woman’s body is awash in hormonal changes, with estrogen and progesterone increasing throughout pregnancy and plummeting to pre-pregnancy levels within days of giving birth.  At the same time, prolactin and oxytocin rev up to promote lactation and breastfeeding.   These significant hormonal changes are believed to contribute to the “baby blues” which is a transient condition, lasting about 2-3 weeks, during which time new mothers may experience mood swings, irritability, and tearfulness.

MENTAL HEALTH HISTORY is important to consider.  Women with a previous PMAD experience are at higher risk for experiencing PMADs again, as are women who have either a personal or family history of mental health issues.

SLEEP – or lack of it – can have a big impact on some women.  Waking every 2-3 hours for weeks or months on end to feed baby can take a huge toll, especially for women who are sleep-sensitive.

A mother’s inherent PSYCHOLOGY can have an impact.  Women who have unrealistic expectations (about pregnancy, labor and delivery, breastfeeding, motherhood, etc.) or have perfectionist tendencies or struggle with transitions may be at increased risk for experiencing PMADs.

CIRCUMSTANCES in life can contribute.  Perhaps mom had a traumatic birth, or the baby is in the neonatal intensive care unit, or baby has colic, cries all day or doesn’t sleep well.  Normal life stresses – change in job, moving to a new house, sickness of a parent – can seem overwhelming when dealing with a new baby.   Often women work until baby is born and find themselves isolated and alone if they don’t have friends or family available for support.

Fortunately, there is a tried-and-true path to wellness that includes self-care (focusing on sleep, good nutrition, light exercise, and time off to rejuvenate), social support (talking with others who have survived PMADs), talk therapy, and medication when necessary.   Some combination of these four ingredients will help all women recover.

Postpartum Support Virginia provides direct support to new moms and families experiencing PMADs by staffing a statewide “warmline” with volunteers responding to calls and emails within 24 hours, offering FREE peer-led support groups throughout the state, and making referrals to mental health professionals with expertise and training in treating PMADs.

Our motto to new/pregnant moms experiencing PMADs: You are not alone.  You are not to blame.  With help, you will be well.

Learn more about PMADs and Postpartum Support Virginia’s programs at

Contributed by Adrienne Griffen, Executive Director of Postpartum Support Virginia and a PMAD survivor.

Breastfeeding: The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful


The first few weeks after the birth of a baby is an amazing time in a mother’s life. It is also exhausting and stressful.  But just like with everything else in life, we all have very different experiences with our newborns. For example, bonding and feeling connected to baby do not happen instantaneously for all moms, for some it takes weeks. Moms also have varying levels of physical discomfort, fatigue, and anxiety all of which are impacted by baby’s temperament and family dynamics.

Breastfeeding is no different.  Some breeze through the process with no issues while others struggle even with the support of lactation consultants, yucky teas, and fancy breast pumps.  As a pediatrician, I’m a firm advocate for breastfeeding, but even I have to admit that we sometimes do a poor job of balancing breastfeeding advocacy against providing moms with personalized and realistic support. Breastfeeding friendly initiatives are not always “Mom” friendly.  Some are so extreme that they leave new moms feeling bullied, alienated and inadequate during a time which is already very stressful.

The truth is that most moms have some challenges with breastfeeding.  Breasts, just like babies’ mouths, come in all shapes and sizes.  The problem is that sometimes the two don’t match up well.  We try to accommodate this anatomic incompatibility as much as possible by doing things like using breast shields, trying different feeding positions, or treating the tiniest bit of tongue tie to create a better latch.  But, despite all of the interventions, gimmicks, and advice out there, the most important thing a new mom needs to know is that everything is going to be okay.  Sometimes things don’t go as planned.  So, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding, supplementing or bottle feeding formula or expressed breast milk, you are still awesome because you brought this precious life into the world.

My advice to new or soon to be moms is, do your homework.  Then, talk with your partner and your support system to let them know how they can best support your feeding plan.  That may involve letting your partner feed baby when you feel overwhelmed or exhausted, and that’s okay.  Dads, partners, and grandparents love to feed babies, and a rested momma is going to fare far better than an exhausted one.  For others, that might mean giving the baby a pacifier sooner rather than later.  Many moms choose to breast and bottle feed from day one, and that’s okay too.

Take it from me, a breastfed baby is great, but a fed baby is best.  There are a ton of resources out there, but at the end of the day, YOU decide what right looks like for you and your family. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to babies.  So remember to breathe, trust your intuition and enjoy the beauty of the journey.