How an Unwanted Episiotomy Triggered One Mom's Crippling Postpartum Depression
A mom of two from California shared how a traumatic birth experience, caused by an ob-gyn in a rush, lead to suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety.
Expectant moms will hear time and again that even when they have a birth plan in place, you can't necessarily predict or control how your labor and delivery will go. But for a mom from Costa Mesa, California named Mia Hemstad, the circumstances outside of her control were an obstetrician's actions that she had not given consent for. The mom of two shared her experience on Love What Matters, explaining how the birth of her first child was a devastating experience that lead to postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.
On October 1, 2016, while Hemstad was in labor, her doctor performed an episiotomy (an incision in the perineum—the skin, tissue, and muscle between your vagina and rectum—made in order to enlarge the vaginal opening and prevent spontaneous tearing).
"Even though there was so much noise from my hard breathing and pushing after 23 hours of labor, the hustle and bustle of nurses around me, and the loud baby heart monitor going ‘beep, beep, beep,’ the sound of that scissor practically rang in my ears," he wrote. "I stopped mid-contraction and looked at the male, mid 50-year-old doctor, and said with fear in my voice, ‘What did you do?!’ I had an epidural, so I couldn’t feel the cut, but I heard it. He just stared at me, his face blank. No response. My husband, standing next to me, holding my hand, said, ‘Why did you cut her?! She didn’t give you permission to do that.’"
Although both Hemstad and her husband began to feel enraged in the moment, they put their anger aside for the moment. "I squeezed his hand and said, 'We can't do this now,’" Mia recalled. "Even the nurses in the room had paused. They were all looking at me and then at my doctor. I felt another contraction starting to build. I said, 'Another one’s coming!' I inhaled sharply and pushed as hard as I could. I saw the doctor reach in and pull my son, Charlie, out."
In that beautiful moment, holding her son to her chest, she could still "feel that the air in the room was still so tense from the exchange that happened just minutes before my baby was born." Hemstad said she looked down and saw the doctor, "face in an angry grimace, sewing me up without much care."
The then-new mom recalled that just before she gave birth to her son, her doctor had said, "I have somewhere to be at 7 o’ clock, so you better be able to push this baby out soon." She wrote, "He said that to me at 5:30 p.m., and he pulled my baby out of me at 6:45 p.m."
Hemstad tied her gut-churning experience to her childhood, noting that after two-plus years in therapy, she realized that she was "one of those people who tolerated people and experiences that hurt me. ... This once unconscious habit (yes, it’s a habit) developed as a result of being abused throughout my childhood. Being abused as a child by people who were supposed to protect and love me taught me that even people who are supposed to care for me can hurt me, and there’s nothing I can do about it." But therapy had showed her that the fact is "people who are supposed to care for you and protect you CAN hurt you, but YOU DON’T HAVE TO STAY WITH THEM."
Applying this to her birth situation, Hemstad observed, "Even though my gut said over and over again, 'This doctor doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t seem like he respects you and has your best interests at heart,’ I let my scared inner child tell me, ‘No, Mia. Stay. So what he’s not very kind or considerate. Do you think there’s better out there?’ So I stayed, and I ignored my gut, and then got hurt."
Sadly, the trauma didn't end there for Hemstad. The way her birth experience had gone, paired with "the isolation from living far from all my friends, plus not having any close family around, and getting no sleep and struggling to breastfeed, all created the perfect storm that was postpartum depression and anxiety."
During the first year with Charlie, Hemstad wrote that she couldn't get her body to calm down and sleep. I wasn’t used to talking about my feelings," she shared. "Heck, I didn’t even know how to explain how I felt, so my rage and sadness and anxiety usually came out in the form of having meltdowns about insignificant things. My poor husband didn’t understand what was going on or how to help me."
During the "confusing, lonely, scary" time with her son, Hemstad remembered that she would "get showered, diaper bag packed, and ready to go, and then the anxiety would spike, ‘What if we got in a car accident? What if Charlie started crying and won’t stop while I’m driving?'"
Following Charlie's first birthday, the depression and anxiety began to lift, according to the California mom. "I started making YouTube videos talking about my mental health journey, which became an amazing outlet for me," she shared. "I started to feel more like myself, but like a new version—a better, stronger version."
A year after that, she gave birth to her second child, a girl. "This better, stronger version of Mia made better decisions," Hemstad wrote. "I assured my inner child that I knew what I was doing, and I chose a nurse midwife to deliver my baby in a hospital, and it all felt right and went amazingly well. It felt redemptive in a way to have an amazing birth experience after such a traumatic one."
But postpartum depression struck again, and this time, Hemstad connected with Postpartum Support International, got formally diagnosed, and then started weekly, free talk therapy through the Orange County Parent Wellness Program.
"The first visits were amazingly helpful," she wrote. "My therapist came to my house and was so gentle and kind to me. She listened and reminded me that I am doing a good job. She said, 'You might feel like you don’t love your children because of the depression you’re going through, but I can see how much you love them. Look at what you’re doing right now. You’re getting help. Would a mother who didn’t love her children do that?'"
- RELATED: All About Episiotomies
Now, the proud mom of two has been going to therapy for the last six months. "Just 6 months ago, I hated being a mother," Hemstad explained. "I thought I made a mistake. I wanted to die or run away. I felt simultaneously unworthy to be my kids’ mother and also angry that I was a mother, followed by feelings of self-hatred for not enjoying what I was told is 'the happiest days of my life.'"
Despite feeling "unfixable," therapy has helped Hemstad feel like "a new person." She elaborated, "I love who I am now. I feel strong and empowered and right where I’m supposed to be. I love my kids, even on the really hard days. I’m still learning to be loving and forgiving to myself, but if I’ve learned anything over the last 6 months it’s to practice self-love, self-care, and self-forgiveness BEFORE I feel ready to. It’s through the actions of self-love, self-care, and self-forgiveness, especially when I don’t feel like showing up for myself, that I learn how to love and be gentle with myself, which then enables me to be loving and gentle with my kids."
She wanted to share her experience to reassure other women who might be on a similar path. "This story is for the mother who feels broken beyond repair," Hemstad wrote. "You’re not, girl. You’re a fighter. You’re amazing. You ARE what your kids need. You’re worth getting help. You’re worth fighting for it. Help is out there. Just keep searching and keep fighting for the time and the space to work on you because that strength and healing is going to have a positive ripple effect in your life that will continue on through your kids and beyond."
Hemstad's resilience, determination, and commitment to mental health is truly inspiring. With hope, her story will motivate other moms who are experiencing anything like her journey to be their own health care advocate and seek the support they so deserve.