For our #WeAreWeCan campaign, we sat down with Ciera Steinhoff, age 26, to hear her story. For the birth of her first child, Ciera had a traumatic experience that didn't go according to her birth plan or as she had hoped. While she was thankful for a healthy baby, she also mourned the moments she didn't get to experience as a first-time mother. Her experience and the emotional challenges that followed have lead her to become a birth advocate for expecting mothers to help them feel safe and heard. Below, watch our video with Ciera and read our interview with her to hear more of her story.
COULD YOU SHARE YOUR STORY WITH US AND TELL US ABOUT SOME OF YOUR STRUGGLES AS A WOMAN?
I feel that my story is one that most women experience in some form during pregnancy/postpartum. I was pregnant, a first time mom, and starting my routine OB visits. During my first trimester, my OB was cold and treated me like just one of the herd. People told me to just accept it and that’s how it goes. But that never sat well with me, so I moved to a new doctor for my second trimester.
When I met this new OB, I was totally shocked. She was the most snarky, unkind woman I’d ever met, let alone a doctor in charge of delivering my baby. I decided to ride out the trimester with her, but as time went on, I was DONE. This OB laughed at my questions, mocked my birth plan, told me that all women are too weak to deliver without pain meds, and that I would fail. She told me that delaying cord clamping would kill my daughter, even though the hospital she delivers at supports delayed clamping. The list went on and on with this woman, and I was not having it.
In week 37, I worked my last Friday at my job before maternity leave. I was going home to rest and nest for my baby, and I was so excited to get that time to myself and with my husband. Monday morning rolls around, and I sent my husband off to work and then I hopped in the car to go to our hospital that was 35 minutes from home. I was going to deliver food to my best friend who was in early labor at the same hospital with the same OB. I had an appointment that morning anyway so I planned to deliver treats to her and her husband, and pop in for my next routine scan.
Well, an hour and a half after my appointment time, I was a new mama. My daughter had spiked a dangerously high heart rate (unrelated to our low protein issue) and the doctor was not able to get her heart to slow down. They pumped me with IV fluids and watched her closely for about 45 minutes while my doctor discussed my options with me. He told me we could wait awhile and not to have my husband leave work. A short while later, my doc was too nervous about the baby's heart rate and he sat down to talk me through the emergency c-section that needed to happen right away. I called my husband to say that he needed to get to us immediately (45 minutes away) because she was about to be born.
I was quickly prepped for surgery without my husband, but my God’s awesome grace, and my best friend was two rooms down from me. She and her husband came to sit with me and pray over us while the OR was being prepared. It was a scary but funny few moments. I was waiting for a major surgery while my best friend did high knee-kicks mid contractions!
I got to the OR, my husband was somewhere on the freeway trying to get to us, and my OB was telling me that they would wait as long as possible, but he may miss the birth. Surgery was well under way when finally my husband was rushed in to the OR. Two minutes later, our baby, Brynn, was born. Brynn was having breathing issues and her heart was still going too fast, so she was sent to the NICU right away. I sent my husband with her to be nearby for any medical decisions and they started to close me from the surgery. My spinal tap didn’t take properly on the right side of my body so I was in pretty intense discomfort until I was given a dose of morphine. I remember very little of my daughters first 24 hours, and I still don’t remember meeting her for the first time. We spent about 4 days in the NICU, but she was quickly deemed healthy with no cardiac problems. They still aren’t sure what caused her heart rate to skyrocket, but we are so thankful that she is perfectly healthy.
I had gone into my pregnancy with hopes of a medication-free birth, plenty of skin to skin, and family around. The only thing that went remotely to plan was that I became a mama. There was an intense amount of sadness surrounding my birth and deep feelings of failure for what my body hadn’t accomplished. Yes, I had a beautiful and healthy baby, but that was not the whole story. There were many intense, hormone-spiked days full of fear. I felt isolated and angry. I felt violated and robbed of the most basic new mom moments. I also felt guilty. I felt like I had no right to be sad or emotionally traumatized by the situation. My daughter was healthy and so was I, so why couldn’t I just move on? Anyone who has ever had a less than ideal birth has been told by well-meaning friends, “At least you have a healthy baby! That’s all that matters!" I am here to tell you, that is not all that matters. Is it the rainbow at the end of a storm? Absolutely.
Motherhood is a wild ride. No matter the birth you have, the experience is life changing. It’s the hardest life transition I’ve encountered so far. There is not enough time or effort put in to caring for new moms. Mental and emotional healing after having a child is almost more important than the physical. It’s okay to not be okay for awhile. It took me months to move through the emotional trauma and fear that came with my first birth. It sometimes still bubbles up, but it's now grouped with three miscarriages and emotional healing from a second birth that didn’t go how I had hoped. There is no time limit on healing.
HOW HAVE YOU FOUND STRENGTH AND SUPPORT THROUGH YOUR EXPERIENCE?
First and foremost, my strength and healing has come from the Lord. God is so good in His timing. Countless hours were spent listening to worship music and pouring through my Bible. Praying with friends and talking through my feelings took up a lot of those early days. My husband was a constant source of encouragement, reminding me that it was okay to need time to heal.
DID YOU FIND SUPPORT OR ADVICE FROM OTHER WOMEN?
Aside from well-meaning friends and family, not really. There is a major lack of support for postpartum women. I’d say the best advice out there is to find a support system before you give birth. Talk to friends and family ahead of time and discuss what help you’re needing. Remind your support system that this new phase isn’t all about the brand new baby, it’s also about being a brand new mama. This also applies to every time a woman has a new baby, not just the first time around.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER OTHER MOMS WHO MAY BE IN A SIMILAR SITUATION?
You are not one in a herd. Listen to your instincts and seek out care from a doctor or midwife that you feel safe with. Birth is such a deeply personal thing. Becoming a mother is intensely scary and every women deserves to feel supported and safe throughout the process. It doesn’t matter if your friends, family, in laws, or partner think you’re overreacting. You NEED to feel safe and valued in your pregnancy and postpartum journey. There is no right or wrong way to have a baby, but you are allowed to expect a standard of care. Just because you are your doctors 12th patient in a day doesn’t mean you have to accept 12th place care. Do not be afraid to seek out care that supports you. Voice your feelings and make sure to find someone who not only listens to you, but comes in to those feelings and helps you through them.
WHO IS A WOMAN THAT INSPIRES YOU AND WHY?
There is inspiration in every woman around me. I find little bursts of inspiration when I watch my friends handle a hard toddler moment in a way I never thought of or uses a phrase that changes how their toddler is reacting. I am inspired to keep my home neat and tidy when I walk in to a friend's immaculate home. I am inspired when I see that friend take immense joy in tidying her home for her sweet family. I am inspired to dive in and try something new when I see a fellow mama start a business from the ground up! There is beauty and inspiration in every woman I encounter, if I take the time to find it.
WHY IS SHARING YOUR STORY IMPORTANT?
This motherhood journey is hard. It is beautiful and the best job in the world, but it’s hard. There are too many mommy shamers and harsh opinions out there. We as women need to stop picking at each other and start surrounding each other in our own individual journeys. It is okay to parent differently than your friend or your in-laws. It is okay to parent different than your own parents! Only you have your babies and only you are responsible for them! Be confident in your parenting journey and take the time to support others around you.