I was twenty years old when I first set eyes on those two pink lines; initially I was overcome with joy, but then I wasn’t. Regardless of the fact that it was my choice to have a child, I constantly walked in shame with my oversized belly and lack of precious metals on my left hand. What felt like a millisecond of intense happiness quickly faded as I stared intently at my blouse which said U.S. Marines. Thoughts of verbal abuse and belittlement flooded my brain. Up until that point I had been regularly surrounded by men whose views and opinions of me were loud and hostile. I dreaded every second of wearing my maternity uniform because that just labeled me as a slut, whore, typical female Marine.
I worked my ass off when I was pregnant. At 37 weeks I was exhausted. When I presented a letter to my superiors that stated I was to work fewer hours, I was laughed at. I was so tired and burnt out I submitted a request for leave which would take place the following week at which I would be 38 weeks pregnant. I didn’t make it that far.
The morning of my last Friday before leave I woke up at 5 a.m.I pulled my hair back into a bun so tightly it pulled my forehead and eyes back, I looked like a meerkat. I left home at 6 a.m. to get to work as always 15 minutes early for morning formation. At the time I was counting steps; I walked four miles that day by the time I got off at 430. That night my now husband took me to dinner for a final hoorah before the baby. We ended up walking the mall afterwards and got home around 9 p.m. I was awakened from a short sleep at 10 p.m. by a flow of liquid comparable to the Hoover Dam breaking. This is how I began my 20 hour labor.
I wanted to be tough, so I declined meds. Contractions had not started so I was given something to get them going, and boy did they. I endured 8 hours of pain only to hear that I was dilated to about a 3. I couldn’t take it any longer especially after I had basically been up for over 24 hours. I had an epidural and was able to take a quick nap before contractions in my back became unbearable and it was time to push.
The second I met my little Barrett I knew I had never felt a love like this before.
I went back to work when he was 6 weeks old. I was blessed to get him into a fantastic daycare on base less than a mile from where I worked. I cried for thirty minutes the first day I left him and daily thereafter. Up to this point I had never let anyone at work see my emotions. But when I got back the verbal harassment and abuse were terrifying. What was said hurt me beyond repair. I remember rushing to the bathroom numerous times to break down and cry. One of the worst concepts that I was disparaged for was the fact that I got 32 days off of work and that it wasn’t fair to the men that all I had to do was sleep around to get time off. I don’t need to explain the physical pain I faced after giving birth, but the emotional pain of having to leave my child and face scrutiny from my peers was heartbreaking.
I was exclusively breastfeeding and I was only producing about 6 ounces a day at work. Sometimes I would rush to get work done and slip out to take my son some milk. Not only did I face contempt from my peers I was suffering internally; I felt so worthless because I wasn’t making enough milk for my baby.
Many say I’m lucky because I lost so much weight after giving birth. My pre-pregnancy weight was 135, third trimmest was 150, two months postpartum I was 105. I didn’t know it, or I didn’t want to admit to myself at the time, but I was severely depressed. I felt so weak and faint all the time. Sometimes I think the only thing that kept me going was my sweet child.
I continued that routine for two years until my contract expired. I welcomed my second son almost three years after. I began working again in the civilian sector when he was 18 months old. I have battled physical and mental barriers and have never once taken credit for all that I have accomplished. I have always been ashamed of what I am.
It is now my goal to no longer be ashamed of being a mom, a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, for feeding my baby formula, of anything. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has struggled at some point and lost hope. The power comes in that choice of building yourself back up.
I want to hear of others’ stories of struggle because we are all so much alike in our struggles whether we show it or not. It is my hope that other women build each other up rather than break each other down.