By Ellen Chavez, a Home Visitor on behalf of the Erie County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and member of the 2022 Class of the Early Childhood Leadership Fellowship.
Ellen was chosen to present her story as part of the Fellowship Graduation in December of 2022. What follows is Ellen’s story as she delivered it to her class.
Six years ago, I was preparing for the amazing birth experience I had dreamed about. I knew this baby inside of me so well: every move, how she reacted to foods I ate, the way she responded to my voice. I was preparing myself for what she would look like, smell like, and the sounds of her first cries …I knew for a long time I wanted a baby and I wanted that moment of meeting her to be perfect.
After many long, painful, and useless hours my body refused to work with me… I remember the doctor telling me the baby’s heart rate had dropped and the next thing I knew I was being wheeled into an operating room. I was devastated while at the same time terrified for my baby….and the last thing I remember hearing was “well, we will have to knock her out.” Then, I opened my eyes in an extremely loud, bright, and freezing room. I felt cold, weak, and exhausted then realized I was half naked and a nurse quickly moved my gown to place a baby on my chest. At that moment I remember thinking, “Oh that’s right I was pregnant and this must be my baby.” Not the picture-perfect moment that I had dreamed of. I quickly felt guilt and shame for those thoughts but also was incredibly confused and sad at the same time. There was a big disconnect for me and maybe for my Annie too.
Fast forward to a short six weeks later… I had to leave my beautiful Annie with my husband who was working second shift while I had to return to my first-shift teaching job. We had no other options if we wanted to be able to keep food on the table because I had already spent three weeks with no pay. I remember feeling the pain inside my body as I walked into my job hating that I was there and not home with my Annie. I realized one night as Annie screamed and screamed and screamed that I was utterly alone, and this was only the beginning. The next months were truly terrifying. The worst night was when my husband Gustavo handed Annie to me and asked me to feed her. I told him NO. He stared at me and said, what? I looked at him in the eyes and said, “I told you NO, I do not want to feed her, you do it.”
Fortunately, I snapped out of this quick moment of a mental break, and I did feed her, but this was the beginning of my husband noticing I was not okay.
After that day, I felt lost, guilty, and confused…I just kept crying and thought it would never get better. I continuously told my husband that I felt I was a horrible mother. I would call him crying while he was at work and when I could not reach him one desperate time, I called my cousin who lived in South Carolina. I was sobbing and I told her the baby won’t stop screaming, but she’s not sick and I have tried everything to try to calm her…I don’t know what to do. I realized in that very moment this is how a person shakes their own baby….
Thankfully I did not do this, but I felt the anger well up inside me and every nerve in my body was on fire telling me to do something as Annie continued to scream and seemed to find no comfort from me or anything I tried. My cousin advised I just put her down in her crib and walk away to give yourself a break. I am so thankful she answered her phone and for the words she spoke to me. She let me know it was okay to put her down in a safe place and breathe. Had she not answered her phone, I am not sure how I would have handled the next minutes of my baby’s screams.
Postpartum depression is a lonely place to be. With no supports, a woman can be lost in her own despair, unable to properly care for her baby. My cousin was my saving grace in a very dark and lonely moment. She picked up her phone…she was there for me.
Today, as a home visitor, I get to be there for other new mothers in the same way that my cousin was there for me almost six years ago. Home Visiting is for women in poverty who are giving birth with many more challenges, barriers, and at times even less support than I had. I am a listening ear to validate, to encourage, and to help mothers find joyful moments with their new baby when the world around them has created obstacles and endless amounts of stress. It makes all the difference for a mother to know they can pick up the phone or that I will be back every week to see her and her baby.
This is why my work as a home visitor is crucial. New motherhood is a joy and blessing, but it can also be hard, stressful, and quickly become overwhelming.