Felicity Ann Eubanks Colangelo (36), Ava (4) and Isla (25 months)
Kettle Falls, Washington | Photographed in Portland, Maine
Felicity shares -
"In March 2012 we found out we were pregnant for the first time. We were thrilled, and felt very lucky it hadn't taken long to conceive. At our 10 week visit with the midwife we were unable to hear a heartbeat and became concerned. A week later I went in for an ultrasound and discovered we weren't going to be having this baby. I was shocked and devastated. That weekend was Mother's Day and I wondered if I would ever be a Mother, if my body would be able to carry children. Days later I began to labor. It was so much more painful than I imagined and I was scared not knowing what was happening in my body or how long it would last. I remember thinking this is the opposite of what I want if I have a successful pregnancy and live birth! Having planned for a home birth, I tried all of the birthing techniques I knew and spent a lot of time in the bath tub. For 3 days, every evening I would have a few hours of intense contractions. On the third day, 12 days after the ultrasound, I asked my husband call for an ambulance. I was in so much pain I couldn't move and I was exhausted emotionally and physically. At the hospital I discovered I was only 1 cm dilated and my uterus was full of fluid. My body wasn't able to birth the fetus on it's own.
During my pregnancy with Ava, I experienced a real acceptance of and love for my body for the first time in my adult life. I was proud of the work my body was doing. After she was born, I was able to stay active; I felt strong and healthy. When I became pregnant with Isla, my mental health suffered and I wan't happy in general. I've struggled with depression and overall feelings of inadequacy in all areas of life. My body has changed quite a bit from the second full-term pregnancy and labor, and I have difficulty feeling comfortable in my body and in clothing. I find myself hiding in my clothes and sucking in my belly. I try to focus on being strong and healthy instead of thin. It is so difficult to fight the socially constructed value placed on thinness, and it is imperative that my girls receive healthier messages at home.
As far back as I can remember, I've always wanted to be a mom. Both of my girls were planned home births, though the first didn’t go quite as planned. I had witnessed 2 home births as an adolescent and, after researching my options, I ultimately felt most comfortable with that plan. With Ava, labor began very intensely, without the lead-up of lighter contractions. I was immediately fearful and began doubting my body. After a long labor and over 4 hours of manual pushing, she was born big and healthy. I began to hemorrhage because my uterus was having trouble contracting and the placenta wouldn’t detach. My midwives were quick to act and, with shots of Pitocin and pressure, they got placenta to detach and the bleeding to stop before we arrived at the hospital. The hospital visit, though short, took away my ability to have immediate skin time with Ava. I was surprised that, at the time, the separation didn’t bother me; I was so thrilled to have a healthy baby that nothing else mattered!
The following day, she was diagnosed with congenital hip dysplasia. At 1 week old she was placed in a hip harness, which she had to wear 24/7 for the next 10 weeks of her life. I still mourn not having that skin-to-skin time in the early weeks of her life. In addition, we had a very difficult time nursing. I felt a lot of pressure for her to get milk so each day, after trying for hours to get her to latch without pain, I finally allowed her to nurse with an improper latch. We had a minor tongue-tie clipped, which was pretty traumatic and didn’t seem to make a difference. For the first 4 weeks nursing was almost unbearable. At times, I would express milk and feed her with a spoon or dropper to give my breasts a break. It was a very challenging time. I feel grateful I had an over-abundant milk supply so she was always able to get enough milk, even if the process was painful. I am also extremely glad I didn’t suffer from postpartum depression after her birth.
Pregnancy with Isla was very difficult. I became depressed; I felt angry and irritable toward Ava, and resentful toward my unborn baby. These feelings led to intense guilt. Having stopped working to stay home with Ava, I started to miss my identity as a clinical social worker, friend and wife. I realized how isolating my life was; I’d go days without talking to adults besides the couple of hours my husband was home in the evening. We had moved to Maine when I was 8 months pregnant, so I didn’t have a built-in support network. Thanks to Birth Roots, I did meet other new moms. This was a life-saver, but I struggled not having anyone around who knew me BEFORE I had children. My entire identity had become being Mom. I never expected that to make me sad!
I couldn’t be happier with Isla’s labor and delivery. It was everything I could have wanted and, with the help of my amazing midwives, I could finally trust my body to do what it needed to do. She was born very peacefully in water after 8 hours and less than 30 min of pushing, and my body did all the work on its own. I was able to regain trust in my body and enjoyed cuddling with Isla from the moment she was born. Isla was diagnosed with congenital hip dysplasia before the day was over, which was initially less devastating the second time around, because we knew what to expect. I made sure to make the most of her first week, knowing she’d be in the hip harness after that. It is still sad to know how little skin-to-skin time both of my girls received.
I still struggle with my attempts to re-discover myself in all the roles outside of being a parent. I sought out help and have found relief from the PPD. Even as a former mental health provider, it was difficult for me to identify my experience as depression versus the everyday challenges of being a new mom. As a formerly very patient, easy-going person, I never imagined parenting could be this difficult. I have found it to be the most challenging and life-changing experience to date. I never imagined I’d feel such strong, negative feelings toward these little people whom I love the most. If I'd had more breaks, more balance in the early months, I think it would have made a world of difference. As I make the transition back into clinical social work, my future goal is to work in the postpartum world supporting new families. We need all the support we can get!
Take all the help you can get. Seek out help whenever possible. You will be a better parent if you make yourself a priority! It isn't selfish, lazy, or a sign of weakness to make time for yourself; balance is mandatory for the health of you and your family.
When Birth Roots announced 4th Trimester Bodies Project would be in Portland I was intrigued. I went to the website and read some of the women's stories. They were so moving, I found myself weeping. With some I could relate, and others I just felt so much compassion for their experiences. I wanted to be a part of the movement to help parents feel understood and less alone. The session is on my daughter's birthday, the 4th anniversary of the beginning of my journey as a parent. I hope I can make strides to find acceptance and love for my body again, and I think it's important to capture this moment in time."