My Challenging Birth Experience: A Post-Dural Puncture Headache, Breastfeeding Complications and Postpartum Depression

First-time moms beware: If you’re scouring the internet for stories on what to expect during child birth (trying to ease your nerves), this may not be the one you want to read.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This story is to enlighten moms on what can go wrong during labor and delivery, but know you can and will get through it.

What happened is definitely not the norm. But it happened to me.

My labor struck like lightning. It came on fast and lasted a total of only seven hours. I felt my first real contraction at 11:30pm, thought I had time to shower, regretted that decision (too painful to stand) and then my fiancé drove me to the hospital.

By the time I checked into Labor and Delivery at 12:30am, I had contractions coming 1-2 minutes apart and was 9cm dilated. I barely had time to receive my epidural before pushing.

Like many other first-time moms, I was very fearful of a needle going into my spine. However, my contractions became so painful that they instantly overpowered my fear. Bring on the epidural!

Dealing with a Post-Dural Puncture Headache

The anesthesiologist administered my epidural and I started feeling instant relief from the contractions. However, my happiness was short-lived when she told me I leaked spinal fluid and may feel “a headache”.

Looking back on that, all I can do is laugh, and laugh and laugh …

Because calling it “a headache” is like comparing menstrual cramps to labor contractions. Or like full-blown food poisoning to a tummy ache. Or better yet, like having “a headache” to taking repeated blows from Mike Tyson.

This type of headache is very uncommon. Somewhere between 1 in 500 women having an epidural will develop a post-dural puncture headache.

Without getting overly scientific, here’s the essence of what it means. Laying flat on your back, you feel like you have an awful migraine. Sitting up, you feel like you’ve been rammed in the head by a truck. It’s pain to the point of nausea and nearly passing out.

Now imagine having to care for a newborn like this.


Thanks to my post-dural puncture headache, I had to be transferred to another hospital to undergo a blood patch procedure. Basically, they take your blood and inject it over the leak in your spine. Yay for having another giant needle in my back.

I was taken away from Cole after only the first two days with him. While I was away, my milk supply came in, and I had no clue and no way to express the build-up.

I developed what my fiancé lovingly described as “porn-star boobs”. Horribly, horribly botched porn-star boobs.

They were lumpy, rock-hard boulders on my chest, and the slightest touch sent pain riveting throughout my already aching body.

The irony is that the best way to relieve the build-up in your ducts is by massaging the milk out of your breasts. So now I was recovering from labor, a spinal procedure that left me temporarily immobile and chronic head pain while trying to feed a hungry newborn with the pain of engorged breasts.

A “Nipply” Situation

I’ll never forget the irritated expression on her face when she asked me, “Do you know you have flat nipples?”

I put a huge amount of pressure on myself to breastfeed. I was pre-equipped with a Medela Freestyle Breast Pump and determined to give my baby the best source of nutrition possible.

Right after Cole was born, the hospital’s lactation nurse paid me a visit. I was having trouble getting Cole to latch on properly, and it didn’t take long for her to diagnose the problem.

I’ll never forget the irritated expression on her face when she asked me, “Do you know you have flat nipples?”

Well, no … I didn’t. Sorry?

This meant she had to fetch me a contact nipple shield, which I was warned I’ll only be provided one of since its such a “hot commodity”.

The only way Cole could latch on was with the contact nipple shield. It allowed me to successfully breastfeed despite my flat nipples, but it still wasn’t without difficulties. It had to be positioned exactly right, cleaned after every feeding and keeping track of it was a pain for someone who couldn’t move (it looks like a nipple-shaped contact lens). But it was the only way to breastfeed aside from pumping.

Postpartum Depression

This is a hard topic for me. I don’t think I fully understood the extent of my emotional blackhole until I was on the other side of it. It was a culmination of everything that had happened to me up until that point, festering and spreading.

While I was in the midst of the storm, I had no choice but to grin and bear it. I felt like I was in the eye of a hurricane, eerily calm (more like numb), but everything around me was being blown to hell. Until the storm finally made landfall …

No sleep. Can’t move. Pain from every crevice. Baby screaming. No help. Be a perfect mom. Baby screaming. More pain. I’m a miserable failure.

I cried harder than I’ve ever cried before. I thought things like, “It’d be easier if I wasn’t here” and “I want it all to end”.

But a stronger voice inside me said, “Cole needs a mom”. And so I endured it all, because that’s how tough a mother’s love can be.

I was aware of what postpartum depression was at the time, but I was too proud to admit my mental state– even to myself. I didn’t want to be labeled weak or defective. But looking back, I was a textbook case.

For me, the turning point was around three months postpartum. By that time, I was coming down off of pregnancy hormones, I stopped breastfeeding, the pain had subsided and Cole began sleeping through the night. For the first time since I got pregnant, I felt in control of my life again. I felt like me.

This Too Shall Pass

I’m here to say that I endured some of the toughest challenges new moms face, and I survived. Time truly heals all wounds.

I could have eased my suffering sooner had I realized that I’m not alone. Thousands of other moms experience what I did. Do not feel ashamed because your experience isn’t what you see portrayed all over social media. While some people may read this and gasp — sometimes it’s OK to put yourself above your baby. He needs you healthy — mentally and physically — more than anything.

One thing that always gets me through challenging times of my life is a particular book I’ve read over and over — The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. Regardless of your personal beliefs, this book shows you how to defeat day-to-day anxiety, insecurity, anger and discouragement through more mindful, positive thinking. For me, it’s an excellent reminder to smile more and appreciate every moment — a perfect read for moms.

If you’re experiencing challenges like these right now, just know you’re not alone. You’re fighting a tough fight, and you will be stronger for it. And please, don’t hesitate to reach out if you need a helping hand.

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