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My Birth Story: Julianna Guill

My Birth Story: Julianna Guill

Trigger Warning: This article mentions loss and/or miscarriage. 

Julianna Guill is a Los Angeles-based and North Carolina-born actress known for her roles as Becca Riley in Bravo's Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce, Jesse Nevin on FOX's The Resident, and well as Christie on the TBS series Glory Daze. Currently, Guill is wrapping post-production on the short film, Silent Date, which she directed and stars Brittany Ross (who also wrote the film) and Martin Starr. In addition to being a skilled tap dancer, singer, and director, she is also a rockstar of a sister, and the mother to the adorable Mabel. 


I think it's fair to say my husband Ben and I were trying, but I didn't think it was going to happen. You spend most of your youth -- at least I did -- attempting not to get pregnant. It was very exciting to me that it actually worked. Then, you cross your fingers for a couple weeks. Especially with the first pregnancy you don't tell really anyone but your sister, your best's so abstract.

I really didn't have any pregnancy symptoms until I was about eight weeks pregnant. I was a little bit nauseous. I was so incredibly tired. But that part of my pregnancy, compared to what my friends had been through, was easy. 

It was pilot season when I found out I was pregnant so I was about to start going out for jobs and I was really nervous. I felt a lot of guilt about not sharing the information, but it was such personal information. There was no way that was going to be part of the conversation. And what was I supposed to do, just sit around and not try to get a job? What if I had had a miscarriage? "What if this? What if that?" So, I went for it and it didn't get a job that year anyway! So there ya go.

I did get a new agent, though, at that time, and I didn't tell them, and I remember that being very stressful for me. I just had to put that anxiety somewhere else and know that, you know, women get pregnant. The world needs to deal with it. Otherwise, we wouldn't have any new people. 

The fatigue in the first trimester was rough. I just couldn't believe how tired and sluggish and sick you could feel. You don't even know how bad it is until it finally starts to go away. In the second trimester, I started to feel a little bit like myself again.  

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Then, around 18 weeks, I felt her move for the first time. I'll never forget because I was in school at the time finally finishing my undergraduate degree at UCLA in psychology (at 30… took me 12 years!) and I had this textbook on my stomach and the textbook kind of moved. It was the tiniest little kick. Almost like a flutter. It took a second for my mind to connect with my body about what it was. It was so special.  

I found out I was having a girl as early as you possibly can. I could not wait a second to find that out. I guess I was hoping it was a girl, and I think, now, I look at that as a really naive thing to hope for. Obviously you have a gut you can't really help how you feel, but knowing what several of my friends have been through on their pregnancy journeys -- I don't know if I'd hope for anything ever again other than just for the baby to get here and to be healthy.  

My pregnancy was as long as they'll let you go in North America. I had a rough go of it at the end. I got carpal tunnel syndrome in both my wrists and had pretty bad sciatica. I just couldn’t sleep at all. And By about 37 weeks you've reached this point where your body is so ready to not be pregnant anymore. I have to believe it's evolutionarily designed to make you mentally ready to have your baby, because if you're intimidated before that... I mean, at that point, you actually don't care at all. You just want her out. 

I didn't go into labor naturally. I had to be induced. Mabel’s due date was September 24th and I was induced on October 6th, but she wasn’t born until October 8th. I had quite a journey! I was pretty disappointed not to experience going into labor naturally — even though I asked my doctor to really let me go until the eleventh hour… She just wasn’t ready to come out! I’m not sure how hard I would fight the second time around to carry a baby past 40 weeks, it’s just so physically exhausting.

I got induced at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. It was like a five-star hotel. For so many reasons, nurses changing over, doctors not being there, not having a bed...a lot of stuff was delayed that evening. 

Eventually they started me on Pitocin to get my labor going, which I had always wanted to avoid. It was my hope that I would go into labor naturally and I'd go as long as I could, and then after experiencing contractions I could decide if I wanted an epidural. That plan just wasn’t in the cards - as plans often aren’t. 

It took a long time for me to dilate. They did this thing that, as long as I live, I will never let anyone do to me again: they put a Foley catheter (Foley balloon) inside of me to help dilate me. Some people's experience of this is totally fine. I've had friends say they really didn't think it was a big deal. For me, it was the worst part of labor. It was just a terribly uncomfortable feeling that I hope never to feel a pressure that I couldn't relieve. 


My contractions started to kick up and they were otherworldly. I mean, it was as hard as everyone says it is! I imagine probably more and more intense in moments because of the nature of them, that they were induced and were medicated with Pitocin. At about 12 hours in, I got an epidural and I was really glad I did. I definitely reached a very critical point of, "I'm doing this! I'm doing this! I can…oh, no, I cannot do this for one second longer." 

During those 12 hours before the epidural, I took deep breaths, walked around, held onto walls and railings, held on to Ben. But the contractions were very, very intense. I remember wishing that I was at a birth center in a hot hot bathtub. I wanted hot water so much. That was what I was craving. There wasn't really anything that helped all that much when I was in the thick of it. 

Getting an epidural is not a walk in the park. You can't see what's going on and it's painful. But it's nothing really compared to the contractions you're feeling at the time. I personally was very pleasantly surprised by the epidural because my fear had been that I wouldn't be able to feel the labor at all and that was not true. That was a really unfounded fear. I could feel everything, just no pain. All the pressure, all the movement inside of me…I felt it all. I wasn't numb. I was just very heavy. 

My labor was probably, I guess, a total of about 27 or 28 hours. I pushed for too long and that is a gripe I have with the whole situation. I pushed for about three and half hours and you just don’t know certain things your first time around! You don't know that pushing for three and a half hours is really not good for your pelvic floor. No one shares with you the repercussions of starting to push too early.

I wanted to avoid a C-section if I could and was very grateful to my doctor for helping me avoid one because I was a prime candidate for a typical United States  "Labor-has-gone-on-too-long-Baby's-heart-rate-is-getting-wonky-Let's-just-get-her-out."

My doctor really helped me through that. And eventually, I mean, it was really just by him telling me, "OK, you need to get her out right now," I was able to find the strength to finally push her out. And I really did feel all of that, which was amazing. Feeling a baby come out of your body is absolutely a feeling that stays with you for the rest of your life. It's very much something I can I can go back to anytime I want. 

We did a delayed cord clamping. I highly recommend it. They say to wait as long as you can before you cut the cord so that all the nutrients that reside in there can get to the baby. You're just trying not to lose any of that good stuff. Then, we did skin to skin and they took her into the Abgar testing.

I remember right after the labor, Ben was standing over the incubator with the light and the heat. They were doing all these tests on Mabel and my doctor was still sitting between my legs, waiting to deliver the placenta. Ben was looking over and his face was was just funny because he described it later as like a scene out of Dexter. There's just a lot of blood! Everywhere!

The most magical part of being in that room was the second time they brought her to me, she'd been lying on my chest for about 30 seconds, and she started to wiggle down like a little kitten, like truly the mammal that she is, all the way to my nipple and started nursing herself. I couldn't believe she found her way there. 

 I enjoyed parts of breastfeeding for sure.

Before I had Mabel, I think breastfeeding was one of the things I found the strangest in my abstract imagination. And even now, after being almost two and a half years post-delivery (I breastfed her for 10 months) I now am again finding it a little weird. My feelings about it are recycling. And I know it'll vanish again when I do have another child, but it's bizarre. It’s a bizarre magic and I felt really lucky I was able to do it. 

I had pretty brutal prolapse bladder symptoms afterwards and I didn't know what that was. No one told me. I had to bring it up with my doctor. It felt like that feeling when you have a tampon in and it's coming out. It's that exact feeling, unrelenting when you're walking. And I just thought, well, maybe this is normal for healing? But it went on a little too long and I remember going down a Google rabbit hole and getting very upset because it felt like my body was going to feel this way forever and that nothing could be done to fix this. 

Unrelated to the prolapse bladder (which did eventually heal on it’s own, it just took time!): I was at home, four weeks postpartum, it was my sister's birthday and she was in town staying with us. We had gone on a walk with Mabel, and obviously, at four weeks postpartum, I'm still bleeding a fair amount, but to be honest, I don't really know what a "normal" amount to still be bleeding at four weeks postpartum is! I'd never had a baby! But I felt kind of strange so I called my doctor. They basically said it was normal and keep them posted. 

I lay down on the couch and 20 minutes later, I had soaked through the couch cushion. I went in the bathroom. I was kind of out of it. I sat on the floor in the bathroom, I put a towel under me and I just started hemorrhaging blood.

I remember Ben standing there and saying "this feels like too much." I started nursing Mabel because I know that’s something that can stop blood flow a little bit. Then I called the doctor.

"You're probably fine. I don't want you to go to the emergency room and sit there. But. how much blood is it?"

"Well, there's a towel under me and it's completely soaked in blood."

"Okay you need to go now!"

So my sister, Ben, Mabel and I all drove to the emergency room. They did an ultrasound and found that I had this quarter sized piece of placenta still in my uterus that my body thought it needed to expel. It was trying to get something out that wasn't going come out on its own because my uterus had contracted too much for it to get it out. 

The next day, I had to go and get a D&C for this piece of placenta. They give you these two very long shots into either side of your cervix. I didn't want to go under because I was breastfeeding, so I got these shots, unmedicated, into my cervix. I just thought to myself: This is fucking nuts! Of all the things I've been through, I can't believe I'm back here at this doctor's office getting this procedure. 

It was awful. I was just so, so tired. I do think there was some relief because I would imagine that my prolapse bladder was not healing as fast as it would have had my body been fully recovering. My body was sending signals of not recovering. I think I was relieved knowing what was wrong. It was just extremely painful. It was scary. And I was very glad when it was over.  I felt like once that was finally over, I really started my postpartum recovery. 

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Snug as a bug in a towel.

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I had serious postpartum depression and anxiety. It hit me at two different times. When Mabel was about four months old the postpartum anxiety really kicked in. I had some difficult, irrational fears mostly focused on her getting hurt or drowning.

I started carrying scissors in the glove compartment of my car because I was worried about what would happen if I went off a bridge and was submerged in water and my door was stuck and I couldn't reach her to get a car seat. But if I had scissors, I thought maybe I could cut her out and push her out the window even if I couldn't get out. Just really, really challenging stuff to work through because the logic isn't there, but the fear is SO REAL.

That was a struggle that sort of worked itself out for a bit. I didn't really talk about it that much except with my therapist and my husband — though when I did talk about it, it was difficult for me to articulate the enormity of the feeling. I did go back to work around that time and pretty intensely, so I was distracted and creatively fulfilled in a way that put me back in touch with myself and little by little the anxiety started to subside. But then when I stopped breastfeeding Mabel around 10 months, I was hit with a very severe postpartum depression.

My hormones changed again and even though I knew it could happen, I was in total denial about it. And because I wasn't in a place to address it, it went past postpartum depression and really took a depression dive. It took me getting to the bottom, but once I was there I realized I absolutely had to help myself, and find a way to let others in. So, I started going to therapy more. I got on an antidepressant for about six months and started being much more open about what was going on. 

A big part of my postpartum depression and anxiety was that I could not figure out how to have an appetite. It just wasn’t there, and it was such a sad and confusing part of the experience for me. And that turned into something that definitely was one of the only things I felt I had control over, and it spiraled from there. I had to do a lot of work to come back from that, especially in a very image based job where left and right people told me, "you have never looked better," and on the inside I was thinking, "I am lucky to be alive because of how depressed I am in this moment, but you think I look great now? What did I look like before, when I actually FELT great?.. NOT my best?”

That was a really mixed signal for me and navigating that was hard. Eventually I had conversations about it with my husband, my friends, and my therapist, and as I got my depression under control, and began to recognize myself again - my thoughts and feelings, my sanity - sure enough my appetite came back, and I got my health back on track. But I think parts of me are still navigating the long-term effects it has had on me and my self-worth and my attachment to work and my attachment to image. 

I absolutely love what I do. I love acting. I love producing. I'm getting into directing. This is a career in which I've been really lucky to find extreme satisfaction. But there is a realization that has come with motherhood for me, that I am able to let things go a lot faster than I was before Mabel was here.

The challenges are still there. None of that has changed. There are always going to be hurdles at every level in the entertainment business - in any business. If I choose to stay in it, that's what I'm signing up for — levels of rejection are mountains that you have to climb, but for me, I'm climbing them with a lot more perspective on what makes me feel fulfilled at the end of the day. And that's definitely my family and my friends - my relationships. 

Now, Mabel is two-and-half years-old. They're so uninhibited at this age that you find yourself trying to meet them on their level of inhibition and releasing your own preconceived notions of what's okay to discuss openly. What we can or should or would normally be uncomfortable with, they aren't. That's been a fascinating part of everything. Seeing the world anew through her eyes is the greatest gift. 

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