Erika Sánchez

Birth Story #12 Erika Sánchez
From and living in Barcelona

When did you become a mother? 
The 25th of June 2019, after 3 years trying to conceive.

Was it a premeditated decision? 
Totally. When I met my partner we knew we wanted to become parents soon. As a queer couple we had many things to consider: who, when, how, where.

Why would you say there was so much to consider?
In the first place, as a queer couple it is not easy to get pregnant, obviously. We had to talk about it. That was an easy decision, because I always knew I wanted to gestate, give birth and breastfeed. That was something Doreen didn’t have the need to go through. Then you need to decide the method. We tried home insemination, because we thought that would be the most intimate way. It was very nice, but didn’t work. Later we tried 3 IUI intrauterine insemination in a clinic in Berlin. Unfortunately, they didn’t work neither. IVF was the next step. We decided to try reciprocal IVF, which meant that they would take Doreen's eggs and inseminate them in me. I would carry, gestate and give birth to the babies. The procedure was done in Spain, because in Germany it was not legal. All in all, it felt like a lot to consider and so many choices to make.

Was this the reason why you moved to Barcelona?
We tried to get pregnant in Berlin. Our economical situation was better there and everything was set. The idea of a German maternity leave was way more attractive and helpful than a Spanish one. As it didn’t work out, we thought about changing the method. Reciprocal IVF is not legal in Germany. There are just a few countries where it actually is. Being Spain one of them, we decided to give it a try in Barcelona. First we were still living in Berlin. Somehow it felt stressful to calculate the timings of work, the flights, etc… so after I got pregnant and suffered a spontaneous miscarriage, we decided to move to Barcelona to continue with the process of our parenthood here.

How did you live the miscarriage? Changing countries sounds like a life-changing decision after such experience. Was it easy to take it?
The miscarriage is by now one of the hardest moments I have experienced in life. Still today, after having 2 kids, it’s painful. I think about the baby too often, we named her baby Alma. It's been already 4 years. She will always be with us. Even if I was not that far with the pregnancy, I developed such a strong bound. We even wrote her a song. I guess after 2 or 3 years trying to conceive, when we got the first positive, it felt very special and very emotional.

What is your approach to Motherhood? 
I always wanted to be a mother: the caring one, the loving one, no yelling, a lot of communication,.. However, as I became mother of twins, I realised it was not as idyllic as I had imagined. I try to be that mother, that person, but it’s impossible not to lose it sometimes, even if afterwards you feel guilty and like a “bad” mother. I think we suffer too much pressure, from us and from the society.

Where do you think that this idyllic mother idea comes from?
On one hand, from my mother. I have very good memories of my childhood. We always had a close and special connection. I remember being little, maybe 4 years old, sitting on a bench with her and talk about life. I always felt she was a good example to follow.

On another hand, all the media and the society… they bomb us with those pictures of beloved mothers, who are quiet, relaxed, always with a smile on their faces and tones of patience. I always imagined me that way and I just discovered that I’m not that balanced person, at least not right now. I try my best, but sometimes I lose it and I need to disappear inside a room and close the door for 5 minutes. We do have a lot of communication. We talk a lot, sing and dance, but they are 2 babies, now toddlers, with a strong character. That is something that I love, but also makes it challenging. They have strong opinions and will. We want to give them as much freedom as possible, but they are wild kids, those that will run and scream and touch everything inside a shop, that will challenge you in the street trying to run across the road. I was such a quiet and responsible child, so was Doreen. Somehow I was expecting they would be the same. They are perfect as they are, even if that means breaking down some mind walls for me. That’s something that I'm working on. We are all different and precious creatures, each one has different needs… my kids need very clear limits and tones of emotional support and affection. Maybe I didn’t picture myself as a mother working so hard on limits and being strict in that way.

Can we talk about your pregnancy? How do you remember it? 
My pregnancy was very good in general. Of course after the miscarriage I was scared. The entire first trimestre I was bleeding, it wasn’t easy to handle, but Faro and Cora were here to stay. By the time I was 6 months and a half I had to be extra careful and slow down. At 34 weeks we went to the hospital because I thought I was loosing amniotic liquid. They told me I was having contractions. Lucky me I had barely felt them. I had to stay for a couple of days receiving drugs in order to stop a possible early birth. In the end, they scheduled the birth. I was 37 weeks pregnant. In Spain when you have twins you usually don’t go further than the 37th or 38th week.

What do you recall about the birth?
The babies were the entire pregnancy heads up, so twins with heads up just meant c-section. I had time to process that I wouldn't have the natural vaginal birth I had wished. During the c-section, they tied me up to the bed, I felt like being crucified. At that moment I didn’t give much importance to it. As time went by, I have realised how it has affected me in several ways. I basically felt tied up, doing nothing actively. They opened my belly and took my kids from inside of me, while I couldn’t see or feel anything at all. It was a cold and non-emotional birth. My blood pressure was so high afterwards, that my partner had to leave with the babies and I had to stay in the room alone with a doctor waiting for my pressure to decrease. It took about 45 minutes. I wasn’t able to hold them for 45 minutes.

When you were finally able to hold them, what did you feel? 
Honestly, I don’t know. I was so overwhelmed and anxious after waiting for so long. What I remember is that I wanted to be quiet, not seeing anyone, no loud noises… I wanted to lay there almost in silence with them for a long time, longer than what we actually were given. I wanted to be there staring at their faces, their little fingers, starting to get to know them.

In which ways would you say that the birth has affected you?
At first I felt ok, I didn’t think much about it. As time went by and I could find some space for me and have time to process it, I realised I didn’t feel good about the way the birth had been. I’m deeply happy that they were born healthy and that after 2 days we were able to go home. Still, I felt disconnected during the birth. I was doing literally nothing. It made me feel like a bad mother. The doctor took the decision to tie me up to the bed. They said they do that in all c-sections. To me, it felt violent and aggressive. They justify it saying that this is just in case you would get nervous and need to move. Is that enough reason not to be able to touch your kids the moment they are born? Not to be able to touch their faces?

How was the postpartum process? 
It was hell. I mean, as days go by the love for your kids grows as you get to know them every time a little bit more. That was magical. It’s still like that.

Our situation was very tough because of the feeding. They were born with little medical conditions that made it difficult for them and for us. I tried to breastfeed them for about 3 months. By the 8th day, they started vomiting most of what they ate. We had to hold them always vertical, even if it was 1 hour after eating, so that they wouldn’t. Every time she had to eat Cora would start crying, because her esophagus was hurting. I would have to go to a quiet room with her, sit on our bed and jump. She liked it, it would help her fall asleep and she would be able the eat. That was the only way she was eating. It was hard and it was painful for me after the c-section. The paediatrician didn't take us seriously since she was still gaining weight. But it wasn’t healthy, specially the relationship she was building with food. Fortunately, we managed to find a specialist who recommended us to medicate her. From that moment on, at 3 months old, she was finally able to eat without suffering. The vomiting continued until she was seven months old.

I was lucky to find a mothers’ group. The woman in charge was also a kids’ nurse with twins herself. It felt like a big relief to meet her and them, to feel that I was not alone in this process. We would help each other by listening and holding each other's space. Little by little, step by step, motherhood has become easier and more enjoyable, more pleasant.

What has been easier than you thought? What has been harder? 
To set up timings with the twins was easier than I thought. It was very smooth and organic, we were very lucky. When they were 2 months old we started to bring them to bed by 7 pm until 8 am. Of course they were waking up in between to eat or just looking for a hand or the pacifier. From the beginning we tried to establish routines. That helped the four of us a lot.

Many other things were harder. I guess because, as many women, I had idealised motherhood. Breastfeeding was hard, they were actually reacting in a very negative way when I was trying to breastfeed, they rejected the nipple and that was tough. It was also hard to feel I needed external help. To realise that I was not not able to manage everything by my own and to face that your are a bomb full of hormones. Sometimes I cried and I still do, because I feel so lucky. Sometimes I cry because I feel it is too much and I can’t stand to hear one more yelling.

The Covid-19 pandemic got us stuck at home when the kids were 8 months old. My partner had just began a new job and she needed to be completely focused, that meant I had to stay alone with the them: feeding them, putting them to sleep, etc.. I guess because of their medical condition when they born, Faro and Cora developed a kind of needy personality. They needed arms all the time, both of them, which is ok, but it was not easy to manage in a healthy way for me. It’s very complicated to find balance for everyone. The isolation at home, the change of routines, not meeting certain people anymore… it was hard for them too. They could feel everything, babies are like sponges and can feel how you feel. That was a very difficult moment for us.

How long did it take you to feel a bit better?
I’m still working on it, little by little I feel better with myself. The relationship with my partner also changed, we have suffered a lot throughout the journey. Sometimes I feel it made us stronger. Sometimes I believe everything we are going through -all the stress, being so tired, sleepless- is breaking us as a couple. We are working and healing day by day. There are good days and there are bad ones.

Did your relationship towards your mother change after you became a mother? 
I found in her many answers and understanding. She helped us a lot, but the relationship didn’t really change. We were already close before and got closer during the postpartum. She wanted to be very present and we needed the help, even if it was hard for me to feel I needed external help with anything.

— Photos: Silvia Conde