Maya Enista Smith is the Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation. Led by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, Born This Way Foundation was founded in 2012 with the goal of creating a kinder and braver world. And there’s no one better suited than Maya for the job. As the mother to Hunter (7 and a half) and Logan (nearly 5) and mentor to so many young people throughout the country, she practices what she preaches on a daily basis. Here, her labor stories.
A couple of weeks after I got married, I had lunch with a friend of mine who was in the midst of a four-year long infertility struggle. At lunch that day, she told me that she was pregnant. It was this huge thing because she had been trying for years and I was so excited for her. And I remember going home to my husband, Dave, and telling him that this friend of ours had been trying for so long and that we knew we wanted to have kids, so what if it took us that long to try, too? We should probably get on it.
Then we got on it and I got pregnant a second later. Turns out I was scared for nothing.
Dave and I had a work trip in California and we flew the red eye back and I threw up the whole flight. I fly all the time for work, so it was a very weird reaction for me to be throwing up that much--and it wasn't like the flight was turbulent or anything.
We got off the plane and went home. Dave went to bed and I went to CVS. I knew something was off. I got a pregnancy test, came home, took the test, woke Dave up and told him I was pregnant. Then we jumped up and down and got really excited.
It depends on your choices, but I had spent a lot of my life at that point trying not to get pregnant. So, when I did, it was like, "Oh! That's how that's supposed to work!"
Keeping the secret was the hardest part. Miscarriages are very common. I was fortunate enough to not experience that, but we didn't want to tell anyone until we were in the safe zone.
In the beginning, I would just feel queasy in the morning. I couldn't jump out of bed the way that I used to. I had to take a minute. I was clearly not in charge of my own body anymore, but I was never super sick.
I found out about the gender. Dave, and I had the doctor write it down for us so that we could open an envelope together. I read the piece of paper, find out it's a boy, and I turn to Dave:
"Have you ever been in a fight?" He's like, "Yup!"
I called my brother: "Duncan, have you ever been in a fight?"
I hung up the phone and go back to Dave's office and ask, "Dave, do you think our son will get in a fight?" He replied, "Yup."
Dave is a little brother with an incredible older sister. I am an incredible sister to my amazing little brother. I was certain that we would have a girl first and continue the older girl reign, and so I was a little bit thrown by an older boy. But he is the sun and moon and stars.
I was induced five days early. My blood type is RH-negative--it's the thing where your blood is trying to attack your baby--so I had to get shots every day. I found out pretty early on and it happened with my second kid, too.
Because of that, there is a bigger risk of blood clots with those shots. With both of my kids, I was induced and that took a little bit of the drama out of it. I picked a day and both times, Dave and I woke up at 5:00 a.m., went to go get donuts for the nurses, and then went to the hospital.
I had written out birth plan like so many new moms do. I was like, "this is the music that I want to have playing when the baby is crowning." And my doctor looks at the birth plan and he goes, "Do you want a healthy baby? Me, too. Let's call that the birth plan."
He exuded confidence, like he had done it a million other times. I remember feeling pretty calm. You get to a point in pregnancy, and it's a very individual realization that nobody else can be with you on where you realize this is only going to end one way: a baby is going to come out of me.
It's fun with the parties and the presents and the kicking and all these things. I remember one time I was a little bit freaking out about it and my little brother gave me that arrogant male response. He said, "You know, you're not the first one to have a baby.” Oddly, that really helped me. Women do this all day, every day and much more inconvenient conditions than this incredible hospital.
The labor and delivery unit is the only place where your intense pain is everybody's joy. So I felt like it was a really lovely place to be in the hospital. After we checked in, they gave me Pitocin and then broke my water. The punch line of Hunter was that he was 10 pounds and one ounce. It took him a long time to figure his way out of my body because he was so large. I was in labor for 17 hours.
I didn't really feel much in the beginning. It was a slow build to contractions. When the contractions started, it was very painful. I just remember you could see the contractions coming on the monitor, so Dave would warn me, "Contraction coming!"
I hadn't decided if I was going to get an epidural going in, but this sweet nurse came in and she said, "You're not going to get a gold star. If you came in here and you had told me you wanted a natural birth and you were prepared for that, I would absolutely support you, but I also want to tell you that you don't have to. This pain that you're feeling right now? We can make you go away."
So I got an epidural and then it was just smooth sailing. I know there are so many horror stories from my friends and the universe of birth and labor and anesthesiology and all those things. I had a flawless and immediately effective epidural.
They were waiting for me to be a certain amount dilated for a while and the doctor and Dave, i found out later, were having conversations about the fact that I wasn't where I needed to be. They needed to get the baby out. I was about to have to get an emergency C-section, but the last time they checked me, they said we were ready.
And then all of the sudden, this quiet delivery room--they, hit the lights and brought out tables. It felt like 10 more people came in. Now it's starting.
I pushed for about an hour and a half an hour, but half an hour in Dave comes up to my ear and he goes, "I know you're making the face and making noise, but nobody believes that you're pushing. You have to actually push. I know you're pretending to push, which means that everybody else knows, too."
I think that's probably the first time I got nervous. Dave is the calm to my storm. He was very much, "You can do this. We're gonna do this. Let's have a baby." And that's when I started pushing for real. I actually don't know how long I pretended to push versus really pushed.
Then the Hunter came out! Dave held him first. The thing that I remember most starkly about birth -- and I'll figure out how to talk to Hunter about this one day-- I remember he was in the warming tray and Dave was standing by him, and Dave says, "Maya, that's our son!"
I literally said today, "Welcome to the fucking party." From that comment, I remember instantly feeling like that wasn't how I was supposed to feel. Dave and I had taken every class. We read every book. We talked to everybody. We were over-educated about childbirth and those early months...CPR training and all of those things. But, nobody, nobody, had ever talked to me about postpartum depression in any other term other than "Baby Blues."
The first three or four months of Hunter’s being alive were probably the hardest of my life. Hunter is my favorite human being in the world now, and I know now that what happened is very common, but nobody told me before and I want other moms to make sure that people talk to them about it.
I just couldn't stop crying. I didn't want to do anything for the baby and it wasn't because I was tired or overwhelmed. I was just a little bit numb. And I felt so alone because the world was spinning around me with all of this emotion around this new family. Dave continued to be like the kindest, most supportive human being. But my emotions simply didn't match his.
He told me later that every night he would Google "When do I get my wife back?" He would reach out to other people and ask them for advice, and through that, because Dave and I don't have family around where we live, through the urgency of it all, we learned a lot about postpartum depression and about the things that were helpful to me and the things that were not helpful to me.
I think the clouds started lifting probably with Hunter was two and a half, three months in and then I would say by six months I was ready to go to Target with the little dude.
Part of the pressure that I put on myself was breastfeeding. I remember the day Dave first gave him a bottle I realized, "I don't have to be the only one. It's not just me responsible for this human being."
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We couldn’t ask for 3 more fearlessly kind, passionate, and brave leaders 💞 #Repost @mayabtwf ・・・ My whole career until @btwfoundation had been about convincing people that the voices of young people could make a difference. I found witty, creative and desperate ways to try and prove what I knew to be so fundamentally true to lawmakers, funders and the media. One day my phone rang and I heard that these incredible, powerful forces of nature wanted to start a foundation and they wanted to center it around the fact that young people are building a kinder and braver world. They used confident, present tense, powerful language that recognized the challenges that we were facing but led with kindness, hopefulness and resilience. I signed up, immediately. It is and will forever be the privilege of a lifetime to work for someone who uses every platform, every microphone, every moment - publicly and privately - to remind the world that kindness can save lives, that stories heal and that the world needs us to be our true, authentic selves and that we each deserve to be met with community and compassion. Next up, she teaches me how to play poker because she is amazing at every-f*cking-thing she does. While I learn about the rules of Texas Hold 'Em, please consider supporting our work at Born This Way Foundation - through a donation, by following us on social media and inviting your friends to connect and most importantly, by committing every day to building a kinder, braver world.
I didn't breastfeed for very long because I was not well. I didn't end up taking any drugs, although I know they work for a lot of people. I really think that I got through it because of Dave and his support. I do have a psychologist and always suggest one for people. I'm a big fan of therapy.
I always knew I wanted to have a second child, even with the postpartum I had with Hunter. As hard as the postpartum was, the benefit of the relationship that I had with Hunter immediately...it just made me know I wanted another one. Plus, Dave and I have such close relationships with our own siblings.
But I was definitely scared--scared to feel that way again. We talked a lot about how to prepare our lives, both with support and time. One of the biggest changes that I made was related to work.
I had taken three months off of work when Hunter was born. For me, work is a place where I get a lot of validation. To take me away from the thing that, I, at the time, did best in the world and give me this new role, something that I've ever done before and seemingly kind of sucked at was very hard for me.
So when my daughter, Logan, was born, I took two weeks off to kick it on the couch, and then she and I and her incredible nanny, Rachel, went back to work. Logan and Rachel came to New York with me when she was seven weeks old. There are pictures of Logan at a meeting at Facebook when she was three weeks old.
I was a second time mom, so I knew to keep breathing. But also, I got to go back to the thing that I loved quicker. I think if I had gone back to work sooner with Hunter, I would have felt it was going to be okay. That life was going to be okay.
I remember laying in bed and crying and Dave would ask me what I was crying about and I would say, "I just want to go to brunch. I just want to go to a meeting." I just thought I had broken my life. I just thought I would never do those things again. I think if I had tried to do them sooner, it might have shortened the time that I felt that way.
With Logan, I remember telling people that I was going back to work and them responding, "That sucks that your place of work didn't give you enough leave." That couldn’t have been further from the truth. If I had wanted to spend the next 10 weeks with my kid, they would have supported me. But for me, I needed to go back to work. For me. And I feel like women don't have a space to say that kind of stuff.
I did not have postpartum depression with Logan. I also think having Hunter, who at that time was this spunky, excited two and a half year old, really loving on his sister made a huge difference. Watching that relationship develop is the best thing in the world.
The work that I do at Born This Way Foundation involves building a kinder and braver world and making people believe in themselves and the power of their voice, how to better love each other and build community...and all those things are personified in these two people. For me, every time I give a speech, every time I talk about our work, I literally see the two of them.
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