Archives for the month of: January, 2014
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Photo courtesy of papaija2008 / freedigitalphotos.net

Physically, my pregnancy was easy. I felt, even at the time, that the baby was only giving me what I could handle, which, especially in the beginning, wasn’t a lot. Offered his dream job, my husband Brian had moved a five hour drive away to an idyllic rural community, while I stayed in the city, and shacked up with my sister to avoid hermitude. The time was right for a long-awaited baby, so we figured that I would figure out how to make the move when I got pregnant. Getting pregnant took only a few months, but during that time, my father in law was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he passed away the week we found out our happy news. I was able to work out a new job and a work-remotely deal, and after an initial training period moved to join Brian at the beginning of my third trimester, ready to leave the emotional strain of the last few months behind.

When I arrived, I was happily greeted by Brian’s new colleagues. But in his grief, he hadn’t managed to meet many friends over the year he had been there alone. When I moved in, working from my home office, we had a few friends, but were much more alone than I was used to. So although we had taken a full-day childbirth class in the city, we signed up for all of the classes our rural hospital offered—to get to know the staff and facilities as well as meet other new parents.

My labor was most notable for being unexpected and quick, about two weeks before my due date. When we arrived at the small rural hospital, we found that another baby had just been born, so the main labor and delivery room wasn’t available, and the staff was in a tizzy at having two babies coming at the same time. After a short, intense labor, the doctor gleefully exclaimed “it’s a girl” and put our new daughter, Laurie, on my chest. I knew, rather than felt, how much I loved her, or would.

Over the next few days, as I worked to learn how to feed Laurie and meet her needs, I also struggled to trust myself with her. I felt that my main job was to feed her, and couldn’t manage anything more. Brian became in charge of diaper changing—I was too afraid—as well as everything else. He even sat up with me at night when I fed her. Around day four, I woke up early one morning and snuggled her on my chest on the couch, realizing I hadn’t held her yet aside from nursing.

As my milk came in, she proved to be quite skilled at nursing, regaining her birth weight by the time of our follow up visit. While that meant I never had the stress of worrying about her growth, it meant that there was never enough food in the world to keep me from being hungry. I realized later how much that hunger affected me, that the shakiness I felt in that first month in particular was from constantly being hungry and not realizing it as I frantically sought to take care of Laurie, never myself. I cried every day, never trusting that she was thriving and that I would be able to provide for her. I went to her first doctor’s appointment with a list of ailments I was sure she had, and didn’t believe the doctor who told me I was wrong about everyone of them based on her healthy weight gain.

We were hours away from family, and the friends that visited were all new friends, not trusted ones I could cry to and admit my fears. And I seemed to have a bunker mentality—I didn’t want either of our families to come visit in the first few weeks, I wanted them to wait until I had my act together more. So I was alone, unsure of myself, and constantly, unconsciously hungry. I was afraid to leave the house, feeling that Laurie was a fragile flower who needed to be watched at all moments, waiting for a crisis that so luckily never came.

Brian is a teacher, and so was able to spend the first month home with us in August. Thankfully, as I really wasn’t trusting myself alone with Laurie yet. The first time I went out with her alone, a half hour drive to pick up our farm share, I was a basket case. I was nervous to be driving, nervous in case she would cry and I wouldn’t know what to do, unsure of how to deal with her and the world around me at the same time, afraid everyone would see what a poor mother I was. And so I nervously awaited the day Brian would have to go back to school and I would be trusted alone with her for hours at a time.

My salvation came a week before that, in an e-mail. The message came from the father of the baby born the same morning as Laurie. We had met that couple at a few pre-natal education classes, and had liked them, and had chatted with them a bit while we were all in the hospital together. His message said that his wife Sue was looking for new mom friends, would I be up for a walk. As I got to know her, I realized she was a still obviously dealing with the crisis of new motherhood but also up for the challenge, and seemed to be functional. She suggested we go for a walk with our girls. At that point, in week four, it had not occurred to me yet that it would be ok to take Laurie out for a walk by myself. Literally just getting out of the house and into the fresh air cleared my head, but I hadn’t realized it was ok to do that until she gave me permission. And not only was Sue dealing capably with the same issues I was, but she also had a four year old daughter. She gave me the confidence that it was ok to leave our home and interact with civilization again, and that it was ok to feel stressed without letting it overcome everything—after all, she was doing it with another child! I came to view her both as a friend that I enjoyed spending time with and a trusted resource that had already gotten one wonderfully charming daughter to preschool, so must know what she was doing.

We began trying to get together as often as we could, generally about once a week. Listening to how she had the same struggles, I gained confidence in myself, realized how much of my anxiety was caused by my constant hunger, and began living outside of my own head. I reached out to another new mom to go for a walk, hoping to pay the favor forward that Sue had done for me. At that point, I realized Laurie and I were going to make it. Which isn’t to say I haven’t still obsessed, worried and cried needlessly, but the totally enveloping fear had subsided. My lesson was that it really does take a village, or at least someone else to share powerful emotions with. As other friends have had their first babies, I have told them in plain language how rough the first weeks can be, that it’s ok to cry anytime, make sure to eat enough and try to take some care of themselves, and have friends on call for when things get dire, including me.

We have now, a year and half later, moved yet again. I love Laurie more than I could have imagined in those first dark days, as every day she becomes more of a person, more herself and farther away from baby. Her belly laugh chases clouds away, and even her new toddler tantrums are still charming. As I contemplate a sibling for Laurie, I am actively building a network of mom friends that I hope to be able to count on if I need help again, and offering my help to them. Writing this renews my commitment to give myself permission to struggle without despairing, to forgive myself for when I do despair, and to forge a community to help me through the crisis. New motherhood is scary enough, no one should ever go through it alone.

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I thought the weight of my 6lb 12oz daughter could have crushed my chest. Literally, I felt the weight of the world was now on me. This tiny human with her entire world in my hands, and I wasn’t interested or up to the challenge. I changed my mind about being a mommy but it was too late. I was tired and just wanted to sleep.

They told me I would be in love her the instant I saw her and that simply wasn’t the case. I loved her but I didn’t feel the bond.

The next few weeks were filled with terror, tears and loneliness. Had my mother not been there to help me I’m really not sure how I would have even gotten out of bed. I couldn’t eat, and I certainly wasn’t sleeping.  I lay in my bed crying and cold for days. I felt despaired. I felt I had lost my husband. For so many years it had been us.  Now this little baby had thrown my world upside down.

The pressure on my chest didn’t seem to lift even when I wasn’t holding her. It seemed to be there 24/7 and I couldn’t breathe.

Mommy friends would ask to meet her but I couldn’t be seen by them. I felt alone and ashamed. After all, what kind of mother feels this way about their infant daughter? She was helpless and needy and crying. Everyone said it would get better someday. And it did.

She became my world, my sweet loving little angel that I thank God for everyday.

3 years later I got up the courage to have another baby. This time When they placed him on my chest I was elated. I DID love him and I COULD do this!

24 short hours passed and the depression hit like a ton of bricks. It came fast and furious.
How could I handle two children?? Bella needs me so Tom will have to take are of the baby. I don’t have time for him, I would think.

Once again I couldn’t eat or sleep and spent my days crying. Holding Bella in my arms rocking her like a baby.

I found myself at the doctors office after 2 weeks of this. As the doctor wrote my prescription for Valium she placed her hand on my knee. I looked at her through my red swollen eyes and she said “Are you going to be alone with the baby? Is there someone who can watch him for you?”
I knew then that she felt I might harm my child and I will never forget that moment. I felt like a monster.

Slowly time began to heal my anxiety. I slept a little more, ate a little more and life moved forward. With the help of Zoloft, Valium, a postpartum therapist and loving family unit eventually I pulled out of my very lonely dark place.

My beautiful angels are now 5 and 1 and I am the happiest mother I could ever dream to be. They are the most wonderful joys of my life. People ask me all the time if I’m going to have another baby, and I tell them the truth. I tell them about my postpartum depression because no one really talks about it. I tell them I won’t have another baby because I don’t believe my family can go though that pain again, I know I can’t.

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I thank God everyday for those 2 little blessings and now when I feel their warm little bodies against mine I know I’m right where I should be. Home.

I became a reluctant mother five years ago this month. I was never someone who wanted children and when my husband and I first got together, neither did he. After living together for four years, about when he turned 35, something shifted for him. He began to want to have children. To really want children. This posed a serious issue for our marriage, by far the most serious we’ve ever faced.

We argued, we fought and I cried many tears. I absolutely could not envision myself as a mother. I am very close to my own mother and I had a very happy childhood so it’s not as if I had a negative view of mothers in general. It just was not something I saw fitting into my already very full life.

Needless to say, I eventually changed my mind. I love my husband very much and I’ve known since the first time I met him that we could build a very happy and fulfilling life together. I could not imagine my life without him and I came to the conclusion that our marriage was not going to withstand a life without children. So, very slowly, I changed my mind.

And of course, I became pregnant almost immediately. I was completely in shock. Even though I was having unprotected sex, I just assumed it would take a long time. My mother had a terrible time getting pregnant with me and I somehow imagined that my hesitance to become a mother would play into my biology. Nope.

Physically, my pregnancy was simple and straightforward. I was never sick. I am a runner and I continued to run until I was about 5 months pregnant, then I hiked and did yoga. I was tired, like every pregnant woman, but all that clean living gave me glowing skin, thick, shiny hair and a radiance that I always thought was a myth about pregnant women. However, I really hated being pregnant. I didn’t really feel like I could say that, not in such strong words, because at 30 I was surrounded by friends trying desperately to get pregnant without success. And since I felt so good physically, it seemed petty to complain about being sad all the time.

Looking back, I think it was much more than just “being sad.” I think I was clinically depressed. I had never heard the term prenatal depression. My midwife, who was wonderful in all ways, kept telling me that it normal to feel blue or listless when pregnant but I was not fully sharing the extent of my misery with her or anyone else. It was a grueling, day in day out, feeling of hopelessness and emptiness. And, it was completely out of character for me. I’ve always been full of energy and life. I’ve always been the one who wants to do more, do it again, do it better. Until I got pregnant.

My husband was very supportive and I know it was a long year for him too. We joked about my overwhelming sadness when we could and he just let me be sad, without trying to cajole me into feeling things I was not feeling. I lived with a weight and a level of fear and paranoia I have never known. I felt unsafe all the time. I felt like someone, usually the strange man I would encounter while hiking, was going to attack me at any moment. The fear and anxiety took away all my pleasures in life, namely being outside alone, and left me feeling like a mere shell of the person I had been just months earlier.

Still, the baby grew and I grew and I just counted the days until I would be longer be pregnant. I knew, even then, that I would be an OK mother if I could just get to the other side of the darkness that engulfed me. And as if the universe just wanted to twist that knife a little more, I went 15 days past my due date before I went into labor.

I had my daughter at home at 12:30pm on January 16, 2009 on the coldest day of that winter. It was -25 when the second midwife showed up around 2am. I labored hard from about 2am until 6am when I started pushing. And, as if a physical manifestation of my reluctance to be a mom, I pushed for six hours. Yep. Six whole hours. I could actually see her head for about 4 of those hours but I could not make any progress. It was beyond maddening and it was exhausting. At the time, I kept refusing to think what I could not help but think…that the birth was slow because I was reluctant. That it was my fault.

Once she was finally born, I learned that the umbilical cord was wrapped many times around her neck and that it was preventing her from coming out. In fact, the cord tore on the inside once she finally did emerge and it was then that I understood why it felt like a part of my insides were being slowly torn apart. They were.

But, this is a postpartum blog and here’s my postpartum story. It all got better. Almost immediately. My spirits lifted and I kid you not, within hours of giving birth, I felt great! Sure, I had the issues that every new mom has. I was tired. I was learning all sorts of new things. I was getting to know my daughter and how she sometimes cried for no reason at all. But, the crushing sadness of pregnancy was completely gone. I was overjoyed to have my life back.

My journey into parenthood has been remarkably easy and smooth ever since. My daughter is strong and healthy and was an “easy” baby, compared to some. My husband and I settled into our new roles as parents and we are probably happier than we’ve ever been. I have seen no glimpses of that darkness and since we don’t plan to have another baby (No, really this time. He got a vasectomy) I hope to never encounter depression like that again.

There’s a lot of pressure to be a happy pregnant woman, especially when everything about the pregnancy seem right. We were happily married. We owned a house. We had good jobs and lots of support from our friends and families. I was healthy and the baby was healthy. But, I now believe that prenatal depression is a very real thing. Had I known, I may have reached out for help. I may have been more honest about the extent of my misery and the depths of my pain. I may have found relief, through medication or therapy or something. But instead, like so many people who battle depression, I just
suffered through it.

My daughter will turn five in just a few weeks and I love being her mother. When she is older, I will talk to her about how depression can come upon you, even when you are not expecting it, and that it’s OK to talk about it and ask for help. Then, I will hug her and think how lucky I am to have had the experience I did and to have emerged on the other side.

                                                                      mabel sledding