written by
Lucinda Koza

From Trauma to Mama: How I Transformed into a Mom

Thought Pieces 10 min read , July 6, 2024
girl holding fight like a girl-printed paper beside woman holding plastic pack
Photographer: Rochelle Brown | Source: Unsplash

I gave birth to fraternal twins on April 25, 2023.

On the occasion of their first birthday, I finally felt the beginnings of a sense of clarity about the complete upheaval of my life that motherhood demanded, and just how much work my body and mind had been doing so that I could fully and authentically become Lucinda-as-mother. I decided to write to them in letter form.

Here it is:

When we had a wedding

I made vows to your father about

The possibility of miracles.

Maybe I didn’t know what I was talking about really

But I think what I meant was our marriage being about optimism and faith solidified by commitment and dedication to a common goal, and through that, miracles are possible.

I didn’t know then, but I was talking about

You.

You are both the miracle.

Your father and I, through that spoken vow, used all of our fight, all of our commitment, all of our dedication, faith and optimism we could find to create you. It was the hardest either of us had ever fought for anything before in our lives. When we thought we couldn’t fight anymore, we looked harder inside ourselves into the very corners and hidden parts until we flipped ourselves completely inside out and the miracle was you, both of you, created, alive and growing inside my body.

When we thought the fight part was over, there was some trauma within my body and a doctor had to save all 3 of us at the same time.

The doctor even said I didn’t have enough blood anymore and they had to put someone else’s blood inside my body.

You two were not ready to be born yet but you had to be but it was okay because you were born and you were going to be taken care of in the hospital and the doctors were going to give you everything you needed just like as if you were still in my belly until you were ready to be out in the world.

You are miracles.

Every single one of those 80 days you were in the hospital I visited you and I had to reach further within myself than I ever had before to find strength and endurance faith responsibility commitment innovation creativity nuance belief resilience peace but also progress patience hope emotional intelligence allowing myself to feel grief and crushing guilt without judgment letting regret sweep over me like a black ocean that I didn’t get to hold either of you after you were born wondering if you knew I was your mother wondering if you knew who I was at all wondering if you knew you had a mother watching your vitals like a horse race washing my hands wringing my hands hooking myself up to machines that robotically mimicked you breastfeeding so that I could catch the breastmilk and give it to the nurse to feed to you through your feeding tube because that was the one way I could keep giving you nourishment from my body because it was supposed to be the best possible thing for you because maybe when you had it you’d know you have a mother and it’s me and that’s who I am.

“Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart. Everybody feels the wind blow.” -Paul Simon, Graceland

Like Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, my heart had grown exponentially in size because now it had to be big enough to hold all of my love for the two of you. It was a wound, too; because I had you, but I didn’t have you. My insides were all mixed up. Seven layers of tissue and muscle had been cut wide open, sewn, and glued shut, my babies taken out but not put into my arms; my blood and guts drained then replaced by a stranger’s; a heart that burst with love and broke, again, every day; and it has taken all of the wherewithal the grit the bloodiness the rage the longing the questioning the gall the bones the feet the stomping the backbreaking the soul searching the agony the recoiling the hair falling out the identity transformation fuel both available and not available in all of the heavens to heal and to create another human being, this one being me, Lucinda, your mother. Me, your mother with a clear, unwavering inner voice that does not hesitate. Intuition that will not be questioned. I do not take a second of your existence lightly. To be in your presence is transcendent. You are both the miracle I spoke of in my vow to your father and to myself six years ago.

So. You are now one year old. I take every moment that I can for the four of us to bond and nest, because we need and deserve that: privacy, security, intimacy. It is still not nearly enough. Not even close. Privacy, security, intimacy. Healing.

Consider all of this short for:

Happy Birthday.

Love,

Me, Your Mother.


As it turns out, the back-breaking work of my transformation is scientifically supported.

In an article written by Miranda Rake and published in The Cut, I recognized myself:

[...] matrescence begins with growing an organ — the placenta — which pumps out hormones, some at a pace of 200 to 300 times our normal levels, and some of which are entirely new. This hormonal flooding goes on until the mother delivers her baby, at which point it stops abruptly, causing a dramatic and jarring hormonal drop. As the dramatic endocrine changes rock the body, the brain begins to morph as well. Recent research suggests that matrescence is a time of great cognitive plasticity, or adaptability and growth [...]

Also,

Although it sounds like a recipe for disaster, these changes do not diminish women — or at least that’s what Elseline Hoekzema, a Dutch neuroscientist who has conducted some of the most groundbreaking work on the maternal brain, assured Jones. Instead, Hoekzema understands the changes as a “fine-tuning” — a synaptic reordering that allows for greater efficiency and helps women adapt to their new circumstances. Shrinking, pruning, and restructuring happen in areas related to the brain’s reward system, which is believed to help mothers bond with their babies, and, most compellingly, in the Default Mode Network, which houses the sense of self. In the third trimester and after giving birth, the DMN undergoes significant changes as the mother’s perception of self as an individual comes undone. It reemerges with a new expansiveness, extending the understanding of “self” to include the baby.

This is important to articulate because there is very little understanding of how to support the postpartum woman. Women in general, historically, have been dismissed, taken advantage of, and owned; their agency and autonomy trampled on. Medically, women are much less likely to be believed when they complain of pain, or complain of anything at all. In her book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick , Maya Dusenbery

[...] shows how women suffer because the medical community knows relatively less about their diseases and bodies and too often doesn’t trust their reports of their symptoms. The research community has neglected conditions that disproportionately affect women and paid little attention to biological differences between the sexes in everything from drug metabolism to the disease factors—even the symptoms of a heart attack. Meanwhile, a long history of viewing women as especially prone to “hysteria” reverberates to the present day, leaving women battling against a stereotype that they’re hypochondriacs whose ailments are likely to be “all in their heads.”

I know how what kind of a body-and-brain transformation pregnant and postpartum women are experiencing -- I experienced it, but only knew of the science behind it after the fact. This means I did not know how to advocate for myself and for the process I was undergoing. New mothers need to be empowered by her community, not undermined and disrespected and certainly not treated like they are “hysterical” or that something is wrong with them. New mothers are in the midst of a beautiful, phenomenal biological change. Who is anyone to interfere with that? Give her the utmost respect for growing a human in her body and then delivering that human unto the world. Give her the space to find her voice as a mother. Give her everything that she needs -- space, privacy, boundaries, and respect her wishes as the mother. She is in charge. If she needs help during this vulnerable time, infuse your acts of help with respect and empowerment. Support the transformation. Make it easier for her.

My ‘fourth trimester,’ I felt invisible, not taken into account, not listened to, not respected. People grabbed my babies out of my arms and I didn’t know how to protect them or myself. I wanted bonding time with my babies that I had so sorely missed. I wanted privacy. These were my babies and I was their mother -- if these same actions were done to a lion with her cub, the lion would attack. It’s in our very nature as humans and protective instinct as mothers.

The autonomy of women is chronically dismissed, disregarded, and robbed from them. Boundaries crossed. When they are vulnerable, support needed is so rarely given. Here is something women have a right to: CONSENT. Not hazy, vague consent, not the absence of “no,” but enthusiastic consent.

The RAINN website defines enthusiastic consent:

Enthusiastic consent is a model for understanding consent that focuses on a positive expression of consent. Simply put, enthusiastic consent means looking for the presence of a “yes” rather than the absence of a “no.”
Enthusiastic consent can be expressed verbally or through nonverbal cues, such as positive body language like smiling, maintaining eye contact, and nodding. These cues alone do not necessarily represent consent, but they are additional details that may reflect consent. It is necessary, however, to still seek verbal confirmation. The important part of consent, enthusiastic or otherwise, is checking in with your partner regularly to make sure that they are still on the same page.
Enthusiastic consent can look like:
Asking permission before you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this OK?”
Confirming that there is reciprocal interest before initiating any physical touch.
Letting your partner know that it's okay to stop at any time.
Periodically checking in with your partner, such as asking “Is this still okay?”
Accepting an answer of “no” without asking again
Providing positive feedback when you’re comfortable with an activity.
Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”
Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level (see note below).
Consent does NOT look like:
Refusing to acknowledge “no”
A partner who is disengaged, nonresponsive, or visibly upset
Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more
Someone being under the legal age of consent, as defined by the state
Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol Pressuring someone into sexual activity by repeatedly asking or using fear, intimidation, or coercion.
Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past

In this context, enthusiastic consent is being explained relative to sexual activity. However, all of these definitions apply directly with how to treat a new mother with a new baby.

I was, and have been, accused of being ‘negative’ in my process of regaining control of my voice and my boundaries. This is so incredibly toxic, because shaming or making a new mother feel ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ for expressing anything other than rainbows and butterflies discourages her from dealing with these issues and moving forward through a healing process.

There is also a toxic idea that one must let go of anger immediately and as soon as possible. To this, I say:

It is okay to have experienced trauma. It’s okay to say it out loud. It doesn’t make you bad or make you a bad parent. It makes you someone who is dealing with things in a healthy way, and promotes that same way of being for your children. Secrecy and shame is a killer. Consent is everything. I will not perpetuate a culture in which women are silenced. It is my job as a mother to be bold and loud in the fierce protection of my children. Now that my identity has, scientifically, expanded to include my babies, harming me is harming them and harming them is harming me. Period.

parenting mental health pregnancy