In this week’s episode of Colugo’s podcast Today We Tried, Christy is joined by Team Colugo’s Emily Juchau and Dr. Jocelyn Fitzgerland, Urogynecology & Pelvic Reconstructive Surgeon. The inspiration for this episode came from the viral response to Emily’s Reel where she shared the moment she came home from the hospital with baby #2 with a catheter from a birth injury. Read on to hear Emily’s perspective on what the response to her Reel meant to her.
On February 9th, 2022, I posted a Reel to Colugo’s Instagram profile of the day I came home from the hospital with my son Luke which ended up going viral. We were filming to capture the moment my one and a half year old Henry would meet his younger brother. What I didn’t realize is that it would become a documented moment that perfectly captured how poignant childbearing can be. I had complications in the hospital that resulted in me coming home pajama clad carrying a catheter and hobbling up the stairs.
The Reel captures the beauty of seeing our children meet for the first time, but what might not be as obviously visible is the crippling anxiety I felt at the time - the fear that I was physically broken in a way that would never recover. It’s difficult to describe how challenging it can be to hold space for both the joy and anxiety in that moment, and how overwhelming it was in the months afterward. I was honored to share my experience, in the hopes it would help other mothers facing birth trauma - both physical and psychological - feel less alone, but even now, watching that Reel back over a year afterwards, I still feel a little sensitive. I still want to look away. When the video went viral, I hadn’t fully healed physically or emotionally from the birth trauma, but I was healed enough to give a message of hope.
Watching something go viral is thrilling. The numbers tick up slowly, you start responding to comments, and DMs, and then you see the comments turn from English, to Spanish, Italian, etc. then, it cycles back through English - it’s a gradual process that takes months. That is months of people commenting on one of your most private moments, but also months of sweet comments of solidarity, well wishes, DMs of other moms sharing their experiences. Then, eventually when the numbers tick up to an inconceivable number - my Reel ended with the same views as the entire population of the state of Florida - it becomes abstract. It might as well be 21 people instead of 21 million.
Like most experiences in life, I would describe a personal Reel going viral as bittersweet. All the warm comments, mothers cheering each other on, sharing their experience - those are the sweet moments that create the moments of connection I had been hoping would come out of sharing the experience. The negative comments remind me that life is imperfect, and we as people are all struggling to feel loved, secure and seen. All those comments about my husband not helping me up the stairs probably have more to do with that person’s experience of misogyny than my husband excitedly bounding up the stairs.
I remember when I first posted the video, it was like everyone was seeing me naked. I chose to post it anyway in the hopes that it would make even one mother with a similar birth story feel less alone. I even had one mother write telling me the only person who knew she came home with a catheter was her husband. She never knew anyone else had gone through it. Shame breeds in the shadows, and as any new mom knows, there are a lot of shadows where you’re sleep deprived, exhausted and think you’re supposed to be basking in some kind of afterglow. In my experience, what is missing most from the experience of early motherhood is a sense of community.
We live in a culture where mothers are expected to do it all - have children, heal quickly so we can get back to work, read all the parenting books, have a healthy dinner on the table, read the news and be caught up on the latest reality show, oh, and don’t forget time for self care. So many of us end up feeling overwhelmed and alone. Ashamed of birth complications, our bodies, our inability to smile and say, “As soon as I saw my baby for the first time, I was full of the most incredible love!” We rarely live in communities where women circle around one another providing love, warmth, acceptance and nurturing during a time when we feel most vulnerable. I hope in some small way, sharing my story helped other moms feel seen and loved on their own journey and that it can become part of a larger conversation around women’s mental and physical health.
I think what becoming a mother and enduring birth complications has taught me most is empathy and a sense of kinship to other women, along with a sense of responsibility to make sure our voices and stories are heard, that we are looking out for one another. It’s wanting to make sure other moms aren’t alone, whether that’s dropping off a cookie to a friend after a three-day holiday weekend (always rough with little ones home from school) or organizing a play date with another mom who could use some time socializing with a fellow adult, or donating to causes that help women. It’s also talking openly about my experience and not lowering my volume just because there’s a man present. Men need to know what we go through to appreciate our reproductive rights and what our bodies and minds go through during childbirth. Just because women have been doing it since the dawn of time does not mean that we should be taken for granted.
And most importantly, I just want other moms out there to know they’re not alone. We need each other so desperately. While government policies have a long way to go in supporting mothers in the ways we deserve - longer maternity and paternity leaves, reproductive rights, better access to high quality healthcare and additional postpartum resources for the physical and emotional wounds incurred - as women we can push for these changes together, and provide safe spaces, in person or through social media, to share our stories and support one another.
For more on Emily’s story and expert perspective from Dr. Fitzgerald on how women can advocate for themselves postpartum, listen to this week’s episode of Today We Tried here.