Archives For Pain

A friend wrote me the other day to thank me for posting brave things on this blog. We had a lengthy discussion about abortion afterward. We both agreed that we were ‘pro-life personally and pro-choice politically’.

There’s a lot of debate going on about abortion these days, as some American states are trying to strip those rights from women’s bodies and women all over social media are fired up about it. I LOVE when women get fired up.

But I am not a politician. I have zero desire to start a political debate with this post.But I do have a huge, burning desire to get women talking about their own experiences with abortion.

Same as anything human rights related, I believe the more we talk about our personal experiences, the more we can affect positive change. If we keep hiding these realities that women go through, we increase the stigma around them- and even worse, we continue to suffer in silence, believing we are alone. I don’t want that for any woman.

So here’s my story.

I had my abortion September 1, 2005 at the Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary at the age of 19. The fetus was 7 weeks, 4 days.

I had the abortion because I was in second year of university; the baby was unplanned, I still lived in my Dad’s basement, and in order for a baby to work, I would have needed to feel 100% confident that my family would stand by me and help support me in my new life as a young mother still living in her parental home.

I did not have that support.

While acting as if the choice was mine to make, my family hinted fairly obviously that abortion was the only logical choice (“You’re going to ‘take care of it’, aren’t you?”). And my boyfriend at the time, while incredibly sweet and caring, said “I’ll stand by you, whatever you decide.”

To give a 19-year-old girl who just found out she was pregnant all the decision-making responsibility is too much. A girl in that situation needs options laid out for her. A professional. A therapist. Many different females’ points of view and advice. I didn’t have those things then.

So, at 19- on a family summer vacation, surrounded by male family members and no mother figures, and immersed in many sound bytes such as ‘surely she’ll ‘take care of it’ and ‘our family doesn’t ‘do’ teenage pregnancies’ …  I made the decision to terminate.

I had my abortion September 1, 2005 at the Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary at the age of 19. The fetus was 7 weeks, 4 days. The ultrasound tech did my ultrasound pre-dilation and curettage (D&C), which is common practice, (gotta make sure there’s still a fetus in there before you start the procedure), and I asked her if I could see the image of my baby before I was wheeled into the operating room.

I know in my bones and my soul and my heart and my everywhere that even at 19, scared shitless, already in a hospital gown about to wheeled into the operating room, that I 100% would have made the decision to keep the baby if she had have just let me look at it.
Once.
Just once.
I asked her if I could see the screen.
She said no.
I asked her again, a little more forcefully this time.
I was 19. 
I didn’t know how to advocate for myself very well yet at 19.
I’m a force to be reckoned with now, but at 19, I didn’t know how to Demand that this older woman show me MY OWN fetus that she was looking at, on her screen.
I was laying down on the bed. 
Her computer screen faced away from me. I couldn’t see it from that angle.
My baby’s image was on it.
The image that would have shown me its beating heart- she had it in front of her- I just needed her to swivel her screen so that I could see it.
She said no.

I still Hate that woman, to this day, for denying me the right to look at my OWN fetus before she turned off her computer and went to tell the doctors that I was ready.
When I asked her the third time in a now very sad and shaky little voice if I could please see it, she said: “There’s nothing there to see. If anything, it just looks like a gummy bear.”

(Side-note- by the grace of God, my first ultrasound for this little baby Sadie that lays sleeping beside me right now, was coincidentally, at Exactly 7 weeks and 4 days. 
My abortion ultrasound was on September 1, 2005.
My Sadie’s ultrasound was on August 28, 2018.
13 years later, I FINALLY got to see what my baby looked like at EXACTLY 7 weeks and 4 days-
And I BAWLED tears of joy when the ultrasound tech in Canmore said:
“Would you like to see its heartbeat?”
A 7-week, 4-day old fetus HAS a heartbeat, looks NOTHING like a gummy bear, and was and is just about the most magical, coolest damn thing Ryan and I have Ever seen.)

Sadie’s First Photo: 7 weeks, 4 days
Us after her first ultrasound and seeing her beating heart for the first time

Back to September 1, 2005.
That stupid woman wouldn’t let me look.
So she told the doctors I was ready.
They knocked me out.
They removed the fetus.
I woke up.
I was in pain.
I cried.
I put on a giant maxi pad.
My boyfriend at the time carefully and lovingly walked me to his vehicle.
We drove home in near silence.
I was in pain.
We went down to my basement bedroom at my father’s house.
The rest of the family was still on vacation.

It was just us.
In the basement, in the dark. 
Crying and sleeping.
I told him I thought it would take a week for me to heal.
(Haha. 19-year-old me. What a girl. It’s been 14 years and I’m still healing.)
University started September 8th that year.
So I gave myself 7 days to grieve.
We stayed in the dark. We cuddled. We napped. We watched movies. We didn’t go out. We didn’t tell our friends. We didn’t really talk about what we were doing or feeling. We grieved to the best of our young abilities.

Then university started back up, so I told my grief to stop.
Grief doesn’t work that way.
It’s not ‘convenient’. It doesn’t stop or start when you tell it to.
It just hides and comes back in other forms.

I went back to university.
I stopped talking to all my other friends.
I found it hard to give a single shit about so and so’s make-out sesh with Timmy that weekend, or how so and so’s manager at Chili’s was a real cow and wouldn’t let her have Saturday off for Kate’s party.
It’s not that their concerns didn’t ‘matter’- they very much did- it’s just that those were not the concerns I had rolling around in my head.
My concerns were: ‘what is the meaning of life?’ ‘Is there a God?’ ‘If there is- why do shitty things happen?’ ‘Am I bad person?’ ‘Did my baby have a soul yet? If it did, where did it go?’…
And when those are the questions in your head at 19, you find it hard to relate to your other girlfriends. 
So I found religion.
Religion was talking about those bigger questions.
Life. Death. Souls. God. 
Forgiveness.

It was then that I began my life’s chapter as an overzealous, newfound, born-again Christian. That phase lasted about a year and a half and there were some really good points to it, but I am no longer an overzealous born-again Christian. I am an Emily, who loves and believes in God as she always has, but no longer needs to love God and other people in a militant and accusatory way.

At the end of May 2005, 9 months after the abortion, I suddenly broke up with my amazing boyfriend who loved me very much because ‘Jesus told me to’; I told all my family members they were ‘going to Hell because they hadn’t accepted Jesus into their hearts’, and I stopped talking to all my closest friends except for one because ‘they were all sinners. That was the beginning of my first bipolar episode, but that’s a story for another time.

In that same year, post-abortion, I went back to university like I promised my family I would, and I went from a solid B student to a consistent 4.0 GPA. One of the Biggest reasons I terminated my pregnancy was because “Kreibergs don’t have teenage pregnancies” (My uncle’s words) and “Kreibergs go to postsecondary and become academics. We Kreibergs are a family of high-achieving academics” (My father’s words).

So in that post-abortion year, I held a 4.0 GPA with a full six-course per semester load, worked three jobs before, during and after school, broke up with my boyfriend and became an evangelical Christian. I moved out of the apartment that my wonderful boyfriend and I had recently moved into, and onto the couch of a dear friend of mine who had recently just become a born-again Christian as well. While she brought her questions about Jesus and faith to her Christian friends and family, I delved into books. I spoke to no one. I left the house never. I lost 20 pounds in 2 weeks.

I spent all three months of that summer in a basement suite on a pullout couch that was now my bed, devouring every single book I could find on all the major religions of the world. I wanted to know about sin (when I killed my baby, had I committed one?), forgiveness (if there was a loving god, could even baby killers be forgiven?), faith (how to get it), love (what was it? Did I even know anymore?), and the afterlife (where had my baby’s soul gone and when could I get to meet him/her?).

To put it very bluntly- I went off the complete deep end.

Years later, in therapy, a therapist asked me if I thought I had Post Abortion Stress Syndrome (PASS). According to Psychology Today, PASS is the “name that has been given to the psychological aftereffects of abortion, based on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
https://www.google.ca/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/somatic-psychology/201010/post-abortion-stress-syndrome-pass-does-it-exist%3famp

There is much disagreement in the psychology community as to whether PASS actually exists-

To say that it does means that abortion is jarring enough to some women that it gets it own corresponding psychological term and treatment-
And to say that it doesn’t get its own psychological term and treatment is to negate the many traumatizing experiences of women like mine wherein which having an abortion was an incredibly damaging psychological experience.

Here’s what I have to say that is personal and not political about abortion trauma:

If anything that I have written about my abortion experience triggered a response in you, and you want to check out the signs and symptoms of PASS, the following is a link to a quiz on a really supportive online community where other women can go to safely discuss their post-abortion experiences.

https://www.afterabortion.com/quiz.html
XO, Em

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In Canada, we talk a fair bit about postpartum depression. And thanks to ongoing mental health campaigns such as Mental Illness Awareness Week, we are beginning to talk more openly about mental wellness.

But when it comes to postpartum, I fear we might be pushing the psychological aspects of postpartum to the detriment of the physiological aspects.

According to an article called “The Postpartum Period” on parenting website aboutkidshealth.ca:
“The postpartum period is commonly defined as the six weeks after childbirth. This is a very important time for both you and your newborn baby as you adjust to each other and your expanded family. In the first few hours and days after childbirth, you will experience many changes, both physically and emotionally.” (https://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/Article?contentid=414&language=English)

The article has some great descriptions about the bodily changes that accompany the 6 weeks following birth, as well as some mental changes to know about, such as postpartum depression.

Well- here is where I went Seriously wrong in my preparation for labor.

I spent HOURS of research on postpartum mental phenomena such as baby blues, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.

Every time I heard the word ‘postpartum’, I put a mental health word after it in my mind.

Someone would say “You think labor is going to be hard? Postpartum is the real battle!”

In my mind that would translate to:
“You think labor is going to be hard?
Watch out for postpartum depression.”

Every time I was in a birth class, I would hear the presenter say ‘postpartum’, and I would think ‘I must protect my postpartum mental health.’

And that’s Totally true- you DO need to know about postpartum mental changes. You Do need to know about things like the baby blues and how long they last and the difference between them and postpartum depression.

Those are Super critical things to be aware of- but that was my slip up- and I am willing to say- possibly our Entire western culture’s slip up when we discuss postpartum, and in how we treat postpartum mamas in those 6 weeks after birth.

It’s NOT All Mental.

SO MUCH of postpartum is about the BODY.

I can only speak to what I know- which is a traumatic first-time vaginal birth with an epidural, forceps, and a front to back episiotomy.

And what I know from that experience is that the question I Really wish people had asked in my postpartum period was not: “How are you doing??”

But, instead:
“How is your vagina??”

I know that sounds crazy, but hear me out.

As a type 1 bipolar person, sleep is integral to my mental wellbeing. I was on tenterhooks about the potential lack of sleep I would experience as a new mom, as were others around me in my care group.

In all of my pre-baby prep, I safeguarded against ‘postpartum’ by making a sleep schedule with my husband and family members who were set to be at my house round the clock for the first 4 weeks post-birth.

Super cool theory- but in practice, sleep was a goddamn unicorn.

NOT because I didn’t Want it- and not because people weren’t providing care for my daughter so that I could get some sleep-
But because I had a FRONT to BACK slice between the bottom of my vaginal canal to the beginning of my anus.

Does That sound comfortable to you?? In bed, afraid to move, not able to sleep on my side like I normally do because of the pain it put on my perineum, wearing my husband’s boxers, bleeding profusely into a giant diaper pad and crying by myself in the dark.

I was NOT prepared for that.

As a non-breastfeeder due to medical reasons, the day that my milk came in was another Giant postpartum bodily change that I was not expecting.

In the space of 5 hours, on day 5 postpartum, my breasts went from B cups to DD cups. They throbbed and pulsed; they were hot to the touch. They became firm. Then they became rock hard, with pebble-like extra hard clumps that felt like stones. I began to panic. I stuffed my too-tight sports bra with freezing cold cabbage leaves, then packed it tight with frozen Lansinoh gel packs and tried to go to sleep.

For both of these conditions, I was instructed to take a combination of Advil and Tylenol every 4 hours. So even if I had managed to sleep, I was setting an alarm to take my pain meds every 4 hours. The days I didn’t take my meds every 4 hours in order to get more sleep, I Really regretted it.

Pain. Constant pain.
Pain in the most intimate parts of your body.
Pain when you pee. Pain when you poo.
Fear when you sneeze. Fear when you get into a vehicle that you will sit down too hard on your aching bits.

It is those physiological factors that make the mental health questions So difficult to answer.

In our society, when your cashier at the grocery store or your teller at the bank asks you “How are you doing?”, you are meant to smile and say something positive in return.

“Fine, thank you.” “Good, and you?” Something nice that makes the question-asker happy.

This is absolutely NOT what the postpartum mama needs to be asked.

You know when a cashier asks you that question on a day when someone you know has just died, or you just found out your husband got fired, or your day at work just really sucks balls??

And someone innocently asks “How are you doing?” And you lose your shit?? Crying all over the place, apologizing, choking back tears? On a crappy enough day, when someone asks you that question, you feel self pity even if you weren’t pitying yourself before they asked that question.

The postpartum mama lives in that in-between space All. The. Time.

She is overjoyed that she has a newborn baby- and she is likely in so Much pain. And that’s only if she has physical distress. If she is experiencing postpartum depression on top of all that recovery pain, that question is beyond loaded and way too hard for a sleep-deprived mama to answer.

Which is why I’m begging people reading this post to think of better questions for postpartum mamas.

If you know the mom really well- here are some suggestions:

– Vaginal birth: Your baby is so cute. You look great. How is your vagina?
– C-section: Your baby is so cute. You look great. How is your recovery?
– Adoption: Your baby is so cute. You look great. How are you adapting?

If you don’t know them well enough to ask about their lady bits, you can just ask “How can I help you?” Or “What do you need?”

A hot meal brought to your doorstep and left there, or someone doing your laundry for you can be the Best postpartum medicine.

But Moms are heroes from the moment they become moms- we will not share our pain.

We will grin and bear it and answer your “How are you?” question with “Great, thank you,” just to keep you happy.

Unless you tell us it’s okay to Not be okay.

Unless you let us tell you that our vaginas hurt like the pain of 10,000 lightning bolts and then you let us fall to pieces in front of you.

11 years ago when I worked at a daycare in the toddler room, I congratulated a postpartum mama on the recent birth of her 4-week old daughter. She was having a rough day and she rolled her eyes and said “The baby is cute and all, but I have a few words for you. Two-inch
episiotomy.” Then she thought better of it and said “but let’s not talk about that.” And I let it go. I was 22 years old. I didn’t know what to say.

And now- as a postpartum mama myself- with my own 33-day-old, 2-inch episiotomy that’s almost recovered-
I want to talk about that.

I want all of us to talk about it.

XO, Em

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