Breighl Robbins is a Boston-based mother to three-year-old Phyllis and the founder of Ebi, a plant-based postpartum care brand. "Each of the products on Ebi are rooted in postpartum traditions that you'll see in many cultures around the world," Robbins tells us, "like warming herbal drinks that rebuild the blood and deal with fluid loss, herbal baths, Abyanga, which is a form of Ayurvedic self massage that uses sesame oil…" Every product sold on Ebi addresses a specific need of a new mom and aims to provide wholistic postpartum experience. Here, she shares her birth story.
I felt excited when I found out I was pregnant--like I knew I was ready to be a mom. I guess you never really know that you're ready, but I was mentally as ready as I could be.
It was amazing watching my belly grow and I loved that, but I was pretty sick throughout my pregnancy. I had lots of swelling in my legs and was quite fatigued for the first two trimesters. I found out I had preeclampsia [ED NOTE: you can read more about preeclampsia here], which really wore on my body. That’s one of the many reasons I'm so adamant about self-nurturing. You really, really, really have to invest in yourself in a mindful, conscious way.
There are signs that are typical in a woman with preeclampsia, like seeing floaters and having a splitting headache on one side of your head. I didn't have any of those things and I didn't really have any of the risk factors either, which include being older, overweight, or being a smoker. I thought I was just pregnant and was supposed to feel kind of "blah."
When I went in for my third trimester appointment, my doctor did some tests, which came back with readings that were off the charts! That’s when I found out, at thirty-three weeks, that I had preeclampsia. My husband, who was actually in residency at the time, was there and getting off a 24-hour shift at the hospital. He came to join me for my appointment. We thought we were just going to the doctor, going home to watch TV and then going to bed. Instead, we were taken up to Labor and Delivery and everything started rolling from there.
I definitely had previously had a vision for my birth. I wanted a water birth. I wanted candles. I wanted essential oils. I wanted to playlist. Because preeclampsia is very dangerous, all of those things kind of go out the window. As my cousin told me, you can do all the planning in the world, but every birth is different. That was definitely true. You just have to be present and be where you're at and do the best you can from there.
I was under the influence of lots of medications, so I wasn't thinking very quickly. It was so insane, but I felt safe because I had amazing doctors. I think that's very important. There's the maternal health crisis in this country and then there's the Black maternal health care crisis. I'm a Black woman and had a really amazing Black female physician who was doing her fellowship in obstetrics and gynecology. She was just amazing. I felt like I had the right team. Everything just kind of lined up.
It wasn't the birth that I expected, but I think it made me a better advocate for Black birthers in this country. I got a taste of what it's like when something goes wrong and you lose control. And it doesn't matter who you are. Just look at the experiences of Serena Williams or Beyoncé. This is something that affects everyone and everyone should be paying attention. For resources, I like Ancient Song Doula which has a lot of resources regarding Black birth and the account Black Mamas Matter Alliance.
View this post on Instagram
#MamasDay2020 reminds us that Black mamas are fighting for the maternal health care they need, immigrant mamas are fighting to keep their families together, trans mamas are nurturing their families, and Indigenous mamas are leading their communities. Share this art by @patty_berne and @micahbazant to honor the mamas in your life. #BlackMamasMatter @fwdtogether
During labor and delivery, my husband was in the room, as well as my doula and my mother-in-law. They all really wanted to be there and it all happened so suddenly. I was given Pitocin. Late morning hit and it was go time.
Labor was painful, but also amazing. Even under the influence of my epidural and the gas, I did feel very connected in that moment to everything that was happening to me. It felt like everything was aligning. I felt really, really good about my birth, and I think that's in part because of who was there and who was in charge of my care on the physician side.
I thought I labored for a lot longer than I did, but the entire process was very quick. It was only about fifteen minutes, total. I was just completely in love the first time I saw Phyllis. She was so sweet and so tiny and so beautiful. I just felt so grateful that she was here.
They had to take her to the NICU. Someone else--either my husband or his mother--did skin-to-skin first. After I was feeling better, they took me down to the NICU so that I could do it, too.
I breastfed and I pumped and enjoyed figuring out what I needed to eat to keep my production up. I was definitely worried about her size and development, so just being able to do what was the best thing for her felt good.
I was very fortunate to have support around me: a great doula, my husband, my mother-in-law, and a night nurse because Phyllis was so small. But during the process of my postpartum there wasn't really anyone telling me, "You need to make sure you're taking care of yourself."
Months in, I found myself underwater as far as how I felt in my state of well-being. My hair was falling out, which is very, very common during postpartum and my skin was a mess. I had postpartum melasma and dark spots on my face, which hadn’t been a problem since I was fourteen. I wasn't being mindful of my diet. I realized that if I didn't find balance, it just wasn't going to work--that in order to be the best nurturer for Phyllis, I had to make some room for me.
I've always been a generally healthy person. My background is in public health and before I started my company, Ebi, I ran an integrated wellness center at one of the hospitals here in Boston.
I relish my role as a mother and as I was thinking about what I wanted to do next career-wise, supporting mothers was definitely a big part of that. I started doing research on the postpartum period and realized that our country is in the middle of a maternal health crisis that we're still trying to dig ourselves out of. I decided that I wanted to start a company that focused solely on the needs of new mothers because it's such a critical touch point in a woman's life and deserves more attention than we give it.
The message that we receive from society is that you're supposed to kind of just like get on with motherhood. You have your baby, take your maternity leave, and just bounce back to being exactly who you were before. That's not really how it goes. Having a baby changes you physically. Birth is traumatic, even if you have a relatively smooth birth and it’s important to take time to mourn the person that we've lost and identity that is no more.
We need to take time to appreciate, acknowledge and celebrate bringing forth new life and really heal and get acclimated to our new bodies--because it is a really new body.
And, in doing this, know that it will make you a better nurturer for the people who depend on you. That includes your child, of course, but also your partner, your neighbors, your wider community. Ebi is really just a medium for getting in touch with that inner nurturer that we all have inside of us.
Phyllis is three-years-old now. She's really into riding her scooter and eating ice cream. We spend lots of time outside, swimming in her new inflatable pool.
She's very much her own person. She's a combo of my husband and I, but she's way more extroverted than both of us--uber social, very alpha, in your face, but extremely sweet.
I think sharing birth stories is super important. I feel like there's more of a dialog now around postpartum and more discussion around the healing and support that needs to take place on a physical, mental and emotional level for women.
I've realized that postpartum never really ends. You're always postpartum, even after the medical definition, which is the first six to eight weeks. It's a process that you just keep going through. You have to stay present and engaged in the process because things are constantly changing. Staying engaged with yourself and giving yourself your best so that you can give your best to others is the most important thing I've learned.
Interviews and stories on hillhousehome.com are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.