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What I never wanted to say…

“These last two weeks have been the most miserable of my entire life”

I was holding my two week old son, swaddled up like a burrito, turned on his side, jiggling him madly as per ‘The Happiest Baby on the Block’.  My husband was aghast at my words.  He looked a little disgusted.  I couldn’t look at him, I was ashamed to have said them, those horrible words, made all the more horrible by being so true.

My Postpartum Depression began instantly after the baby was born. Instantly.  And it was never depression, not in the typical sense.  I didn’t feel down, I didn’t feel detached from the baby, and thank god, I never had any urges to harm him.  It began as irritation. Really, really intense irritation.  I remember hearing the footsteps of a nurse crossing the delivery room floor just minutes after the birth and it was tantamount to fingernails on a blackboard to my ears.  I desperately wanted everyone, including the baby, to go away and leave me alone.  I chocked it up to exhaustion, and to some degree it certainly was, but something else had begun inside of me, something that has robbed so many mothers of the joy of birth and of new motherhood.  I expected sleep deprivation, I expected to feel the loss of my free-wheeling childless days.  I had been prepared for all the possible complications during pregnancy and all the possible complications of delivery.  I knew what terrible disorders and diseases could befall my baby and me, but no one told me to prepare for PPD, didn’t even mention it in my childbirth class.  I was told how difficult it might be to recover from a C- Section or an Episiotomy.  I knew that I might pee my pants for awhile, have stretch marks, a squishy belly, painful intercourse etc, etc… no one told me that I might fall into the darkest, saddest period of my life. No one really talks about it.  So I’m going to talk about it.  Heck, Gwyenth Paltrow did, and I always say, ”Whatever Gwyneth Paltrow can do, I can do”. Minus the movie career, and the rock star husband, and the tallness, the yoga toned body, the Oscar, and the cookbooks.

It began in earnest the day I left the hospital.  My sister, brother-in-law and niece had accompanied me home.  I had been excited to come home, felt happy and hopeful, but as the time of their visit began to dwindle away and I knew that they would soon be gone, I started to feel….dread?  That isn’t the best word, or the most accurate word to describe the feeling, there is no word. I had never felt it before, but for the next few weeks, it was all I felt.   Suffice to say, it was terrible and I felt very, very alone.  Soon after, the anxiety set in. Now, no one has ever mistaken me for an easygoing, laid-back kinda gal, but this was very different.  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think straight, I was consumed with anxiety about the baby, about myself, about my husband.  I missed him, so badly, as if he was away at war and yet I saw him every day.  I became obsessed with the baby’s sleep schedule. Why wasn’t he sleeping longer?  When would he sleep more?  Why did he need to be held to sleep?  Would I have to hold him to sleep forever? I remember my sister saying to me, ”he’s only two weeks old, Heather”.  I could hear it in her voice, she thought I was a freak.  These might seem like standard new mother worries, but I promise you, they were far worse.  I cried hysterically when he wouldn’t take a nap, sobbing to my husband that something was wrong with him.  I called my husband at work crying every day, but I couldn’t put into words what was wrong.  I was so overwhelmed, I eagerly took weekend trips away without the baby, I was relieved to leave him with caretakers that I felt were better for him than I was.  He was the innocent recipient of my stress and it broke my heart to know I was burdening him with it.

And then, there were the visions. Every time I closed my eyes I saw my baby fall.  I tripped on the stairs and dropped him.  I slipped on the hardwood floor and dropped him.  I stood with him on our balcony, lost my balance and watched him fall into the water below and drift away from me. It was torture.  I don’t use that word lightly, it was truly unbearable.  The images were vivid.  I could see it happening so clearly.  I heard every sound.   Every time I closed my eyes, he fell, he fell, he fell.

Thanks to the interwebs, I’ve since learned that in fact, most women who suffer from PPD actually experience more anxiety or obsessive compulsive thoughts/actions, than they do depression.  It’s heartbreaking to think of all the women, throughout the world and throughout history that suffered this way.  I don’t want to get all up on a soapbox, but there is no PPD support group in our community.  There are support groups for mothers of multiples, for women breastfeeding, for parents who have lost children.  All good and necessary, no doubt about it, but not one group for PPD?  None that I can find anyway.  Why?  Please correct me if I’m wrong, I’d be happy to know it.

There is medication though, and you better believe I jumped on that wagon.  I didn’t even think about going natural.  Hell no.  And it worked. That, and a part-time nanny.  My husband’s 60+ hour a week job was not helping matters. By the time my son was two months old, I was feeling pretty much back to normal.  Don’t. Wait. To. Get. Help.  Whatever kind of help you seek, get it immediately.  So much precious time is wasted otherwise.

Should I really be admitting all this, I’ve worried?  Even now, I still feel the shame. I’ve cringed at every word I’ve written.   But why shouldn’t I admit it? The fact is, it was no more in my control than morning sickness, craving ground beef or having sore boobs; all products of the hormones rising and falling and swirling around in my pregnant body.  I want to shout it out for all the women who never could, when there was no solution, no support and no name for the affliction. Talk about it.  Tell your friends about it.  And tell a new mother.

Read more from Heather at her blog: 6:30 and a Glass of Wine

Sleeping Newborn

Last night, after finally putting my baby girl to sleep (pretty much the only time I can truly relax), I proceeded to turn on a mindless romantic comedy and lay in bed. A mosquito buzzed in the movie and sounded so much alike my baby’s cry that my heart skipped a beat and I had a weird tingling sensation on my arms. I realized at this precise moment that my life as I knew it had completely changed. The fact that a mere sound can create such a visceral reaction in my body was so bizarre and real. “Me” and “my” time was no longer the same. I was now fully connected with another creature. After the tingling subsided and I realized it wasn’t her suddenly waking up for some unknown reason, I settled back into my relaxed state.

My alone time as a mother of a seven month old is so precious that sometimes I get so annoyed at even the sound of a text message. “How dare you text me while I’m laying in bed finally!!”. Is this really me? I used to be so laid back, never annoyed, never jumpy or anxious or moody. Being a mother has created new realms of feelings and thoughts in my brain, sometimes I am shocked at my own behavior. (My husband even more shocked). Having a baby has instilled some very raw maternal instincts that make me truly believe in the power of nature. I will do ANYTHING for this child, and my body reacts in such a way that is almost beyond my own control. I find this extremely fascinating and empowering; I am a mother, creator of another creature, and that is a truly awesome thing.

To be honest, there are moments where I miss the “me” time. I miss being able to waltz out the door and not know where I’m going or when I’ll be back. Now, walking out the door I think, “Do I have milk? Do I have diapers? Is she gonna need to nap?” or if I have left her with a caregiver, “Is she okay? Did she eat? Will she sleep? I need to come back soon to breastfeed!!” As the months have passed, I have begun to relax into motherhood and not worry too much. As long as we are healthy, (“we” is the key word here, mothers and their babies are a unit, a shared mechanism) we are fine.

But, as we all know, this work, this new devotion, is all so worth it. I don’t need to explain why, we all know the importance of being a mother, the gifts of having a child. The moments my daughter and I share are unlike anything anyone will ever understand. We are our own little crazy and beautiful world.

And at the end of the day, when I do finally lay down, I feel such a newfound sense of satisfaction. I lay down and sink into a sense of utter bliss. I have been giving of myself all day, making sure my little creature is perfect and happy. And since I know this, I can feel perfect and happy too. And tomorrow is a new day together…

B and C

To become a mother. That was really all I had ever dreamed of and hoped for as a little girl. Those countless classroom writing prompts, What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? A Mommy. There was really never any other answer for me. As I grew older and eventually went off to college, I started to get self-conscious of my secret wish to someday be a stay-at-home mother. I certainly couldn’t declare that as a major, and many of the strong, smart women I befriended and surrounded myself with were all so driven, so motivated to have it all…the jobs, the success, the family, and the role as mother. I jumped on board, looking for a major and a job that would carry me through. All the while, secretly dreaming of the day I would wake up in a sun-drenched room, roll over and see my perfect, little pink baby, curled up next to me in bed.

I feel fortunate that I found my husband and our life fell so effortlessly into shape. We wanted the same things: family, children, a life based on love and togetherness. We wasted little time after our wedding before trying for a baby and were shocked and overjoyed when we found out we were expecting. At the time, my husband was working as a Marine Engineer and would be home for one month, and shipping out for the next. So for half of my pregnant experience, I was alone. Not ideal and definitely not how I had imagined and dreamed it would be. The pregnancy itself was somewhat different than I had expected. I gained a lot of weight, which made me very self-conscious, somewhat irrationally so, and I experienced morning sickness, which prevented me from really basking in that “motherly glow.” My husband missed many milestone appointments like finding out the baby’s gender, being there for the first kicks, taking me in for routine appointments and nursing me through sickness and harder times. But we made it through, keeping our eye on that final prize, our little baby. We had worked his schedule so he would be home six weeks after the baby was born and it was going to be our heaven. Our new little family would be all together, fulltime, for six full weeks. Well, six weeks if all goes to plan and little baby arrives right on time. I didn’t know the secret rule that happens when you get pregnant and have a baby, that rule that if you make a plan, it will, without fail, not come through. You say you’re never going to be a short order cook? HA! You’ll have the pickiest eater! You’ll never push a pacifier? You’ll wake up with a two and a half year old completely and utterly obsessed with a binky. Mark my words, mama’s-to-be, never say never.

I ended up having to be induced at 39 weeks with our sweet son, Charlie. We had gone in for our routine appointment and my doctor noticed I had dropped 3 cm in diameter, a little too much for comfort. An ultrasound revealed I had a slow leak of fluid and there was only one cushiony pocket of fluid left cradling our little boy, so it was time to go to the hospital and for him be born. My beloved doctor, now my dear friend, instructed my husband to drive me to the hospital, register me, then head home and get our bags and things we would need. As soon as she left the room and reality of the situation hit us, I panicked and made it clear he wasn’t dropping me anywhere and we would race home together. We called our friends and family on the way, sharing our exciting news, holding hands and kissing at stoplights, unable to fully grasp just how significantly our life was about to change. I had a somewhat routine delivery. Charlie was pretty well lodged in the birth canal and started to get into distress at the end and we ended up having to use the vacuum. My doctor later shared that it was a sweat-worthy moment and we were very lucky things went so well, but at the time, I wasn’t really aware of how serious the situation may have been. Once that squirmy little angel came out and was placed on my bare chest, I was hooked. Big, navy eyes, purple little quivering lips and a pterodactyl cry I instantly fell in love with. Complete and utter, deep love. I didn’t want to let him go to be cleaned off, checked out and measured. Shortly after he was returned and I had had my third degree tears, rips and mess all sewn up, he was back in my arms, where he stayed for the duration of our hospital stay.

The hospital time is so surreal. The constant interruptions of nurses, doctors, food services, registration offices, etc. at all hours of the day and night…it’s overwhelming and it is exhausting. Everyone coming in to check on you, to look the mother in the eye, are you ok? As if post-partum would necessarily sink in that quickly, that I was going to lose my mind already. I remember feeling so frustrated thinking, yes I’m ok! Stop asking me! Fighting with the nurses to keep him in our room with us, not wanting him out of our sight for even a second in the nursery. The forcing of watching the retched Purple Cry movie – ugh, let’s have a collective sigh for that one. I was ready to go home as quickly as we could.

Once we had tucked his teeny body into the seemingly way too big car seat and managed to drive 30 miles per hour home that first night, my husband and I found ourselves completely alone with this new little tiny life. We were suddenly just us three. With nothing to do. We changed his diaper, I tried again to nurse (with no success), and eventually we sat down on the couch and put on a movie. A seemingly easy Saturday night ABC movie, of Dumbo was on. Have any of you watched Dumbo since become a mother? So it turns out Dumbo was a big emotional trigger for me. As I held my three day old baby in my arms and watched a movie of bullying, a mother going crazy for protecting and defending her son and subsequently gets locked in a prison cell, unable to care for him or love him, ahhh it’s horrible!! As I sat there watching this Disney movie I’ve clearly seen hundreds of times with a fresh pair of mama eyes, well, let me just say, I lost it. Emotions ran through me like wildfire. I sobbed, held Charlie close, ordered my husband to turn off this retched movie, then started the waterfall of fear. What have we done? Can we take care of this little life? Who’s checking in on us to make sure he eats? What if he doesn’t ever eat? Could he die from not eating and how long would that take? What if I fall down the stairs while carrying him? What if we don’t have the car seat in right? What are the chances of SIDS? Will he die in his sleep? I don’t dare to sleep! What if I am not holding him and he has SIDS?! I looked at my husband and he somehow looked too young to be a Dad and I felt too young to be a mother. He collected us both, realizing quickly it was time for bed and we proceeded to turn in for our first night at home.

I’d like to say that first night was rainbows and our first morning together was one of sun drenched motherly bliss. Charlie and I never actually slept. Nursing wasn’t happening, my milk hadn’t come in despite the massively, overwhelming size of my breasts and Charlie was unable to latch. At five in the morning I called my sister-in-law crying. I need you, please come over, I don’t know what to do with him. He won’t eat, he won’t stop crying, I don’t think he likes me. She was over in 10 minutes, standing in the bathroom, with the fan on high, his tiny, frantic arms swaddled tightly against him and was fast asleep before I could even wipe the tears of frustration and exhaustion off my face. I tried to put it out of my head that she was able to comfort my new son in a way I wasn’t able to, and instead, stumbled back to bed, thankful for the quiet and desperate to close my eyes.

It slowly got better after that. It’s wasn’t instant and it wasn’t without a lot of work. I still wrestled with crazy irrational fears. I was completely terrified of SIDS and was rarely able to sleep without waking in a panic, checking to see if he was breathing. We almost bought the SIDS mattress alert system, but my doctor cautioned me that it might make me more obsessed and more fearful. He reassured me that all parents are terrified they are going to accidentally harm their child, and he could tell that I loved my son and would do everything I could to keep him safe. My own recovery was very slow because I wouldn’t take the time to take care of myself, which so many new mothers are guilty of. I was numb to my physical pain when I was holding Charlie, which is ultimately a blessing, but when someone would come and hold him so I could have a break and take some time to myself, that was when I would get into the shower and just cry in pain. The stitches, my swollen, stretched, engorged body completely repulsive to me now that it didn’t harbor a precious life inside. It all hurt so much and the only way to stop thinking about it was to focus on Charlie. So that’s what I did. It wasn’t until Charlie was close to two months old and my mother came down to stay with us that she forced me to start taking care of myself. It was amazing what showering, putting on real clothing and blow-drying my hair would do for my confidence, not only my mental well-being. I felt I was slowly pulling myself together.

We suffered through nursing. I went to specialists, consultants, Le Leche groups, and it turns out we needed to use a plastic apparatus called the Nipple Shield because my nipples were inverted and prevented him from latching on effectively and correctly. It was incredibly time consuming, exhausting and I literally spent all day and night working on nursing for the first three months of his life. I guess I didn’t realize how completely insane it was at the time, because that was really the only job I had to do. I realize now, as I’m pregnant with my second little love, that I am not willing to make that sacrifice again. While I completely and wholeheartedly believe that breast milk is the best nutritional gift I can give to my children, there is a new perspective I have in being a mother of a two and a half year old. I realize that while I will live and die for my children, forever, that a happy and complete mother is also a mother who takes care of herself.

It took me a long time to get into my natural swing of things. To find myself again. To have confidence in myself, and my choices as a mother. To not just define myself only as a mother, because as rewarding and as completely fulfilling as it is, there is more to life that I want to enjoy. I want to be a wonderful wife, a lovely friend, a loving daughter and a supportive sister. I want to find passions outside of my motherhood realm that allow me to become refreshed and passionate and come back to my role as constant caregiver with fresh eyes, rejuvenated arms and a bubbling spring of patience. I believe completely that each parent has to find this balance within themselves in their own time. It is not possible to force this readjustment or balance and is only possible when you’re ready to make the changes. It’s sometimes hard to put away those guilt bags and think, I’m doing something for myself right now, because often times as mothers, we’re expected to be self-sacrificing to the end. That if we really love our children, we’ll live only for them. In my life and in my experience (which is the only experience I have the right to judge and share about) that isn’t all this life has to offer for me. I am a mother, I am a woman, I am a wife, a daughter and a friend. I am a lover of music and written words, of warm summer sunsets and cold Maine waters. I love my son and soon to be daughter with a fierce, love that is even more powerful than I could have ever have imagined. But it isn’t all of me. It’s just my most precious, most sacred part.

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My daughter is seven weeks old.  Seven weeks!  How did that happen so quickly and slowly at the same time?  I’m looking at her now as I type this.  She is peacefully sleeping, her perfectly tiny hands resting on her stomach and her pacifier dangling from her lips.  She has changed so much in these seven weeks, I can hardly reconcile the baby she was those first days to the baby she is now.  What an awesome journey.

My husband and I were married five and a half years ago and immediately began building a house the hardest way you can probably imagine.  I thought the house would be finished and we would be moved in and cozy within a  year and then we’d get to the baby making!  I couldn’t wait to become a mother.  Even during the long years that went by when we were building our house and were in no position to start a family,  when I would tell people I didn’t really want children (probably to ease the pain of waiting), I always knew deep in my heart of hearts that this was the only job I really wanted.  My sisters tell me they cannot remember a time that I wasn’t waiting for motherhood.  Last winter, when we thought the end of house building was just beyond the horizon (ha!), we decided to throw caution to the wind and begin trying for a baby.  We didn’t consider the timing.  We didn’t consider anything, really.  We just wanted a baby, and luckily we didn’t have to wait long for that positive pregnancy test.

Pregnancy was easy for me.  In fact, I spent the first four months insulating and plastering the house just about full time and the next three months working full time as a teacher and plastering at the house on the weekends and after work.  I have a great photo of myself well into the second trimester twenty feet high on scaffolding plastering the second story of our house.   I was nervous about the birth, though.  I knew that it would push me to the limits of anything I had ever done before and I was scared.  To ease my fears, Jason and I signed up for a nine week Mindful Childbirth and Parenting class.  We learned how to meditate, practiced prenatal yoga, learned all about what happens physically and chemically during birth, experimented with pain management and were introduced to breastfeeding.  I left that class with my fears eased–the birthing process was demystified and I was sure that if I couldn’t handle the pain, at least I would not be afraid of it.

As fall turned to winter, and then winter turned to deep winter, my due date approached.  The winds picked up and the temperatures fell to well below freezing.  We live on an unbridged island off the coast of Maine, and these two factors meant that boats were canceled almost on a weekly basis.  I began to feel a little nervous about how the heck I was going to get to the hospital when the baby decided to come.  This was the only time in the whole pregnancy I really kicked myself for not considering the timing of this baby!  What were we thinking:  Giving birth to a baby in the dead of winter when you live on an outer island with unreliable transportation to the hospital–crazy!  I spent many windy nights awake, pleading that she would wait for a calm day.  It turns out she did.

I was in the middle of teaching a science lesson when the first signs of birth began with the sensation I was peeing my pants.  I tossed the dry erase marker in my hand to my long-term sub, Lauren, who happened to be shadowing me that day and ran to the bathroom.  Sure enough, the signs were there that my waters were beginning to leak!  I was in a daze for the rest of the day.  That night my husband and I sat with each other at the dinner table and toasted to the possibility that our lives and our relationship were about to change forever.  We were excited and nervous.  I went to bed that night as the first contractions started.  They grew steadily throughout the night, but never got serious enough to warrant waking Jason.  By 5am, the contractions were steady enough, strong enough and close enough to get up and make arrangements to catch the first boat off the island at 6:30am.  I packed up what we would need for the hospital and grabbed the baby bag while Jason ran out to the new house (no we’re still not in it–soon, though!) to stoke the stove and feed the chickens.  We hopped into the truck and drove down to the dock to catch the morning boat.

It was a stunning morning.  The water was like glass and the sun  coming over the horizon was streaking the sky pink and orange.  She could not have picked a more beautiful day to be born!

Of course by the time we got off the island all contractions and signs of impending birth had completely stopped.  I was so bummed, but also certain that if I ate enough pineapple and walked up enough hills things would get going again. My good friend and doula, Emily met us at the dock.  She spent the entire day with me and Jason trying to restart the birth process.   As the hours went by and nothing happened I felt embarrassed and so confused. The whole island knew we went off during the morning, Emily had rescheduled all of her work for the day–how could I possibly go home without a baby?  As the morning turned to afternoon and afternoon turned to evening, I began to come to terms with the fact that this baby wasn’t coming.  Jason and I decided to sleepover at Matt and Nichole’s just in case and Emily decided to go spend some time with her family.  The rest of the evening I tried to make light of the situation.  I joked around with Jason, Matt and Nichole and even had a glass of wine to relax a bit.    Finally it was late enough to go to bed.  I fell asleep, disappointed.

I woke up just 30 minutes later.  The contractions were back and stronger than ever.  I worked through the first phase of them for about an hour before needing some help.  I woke Jason and we worked together until the contractions were just 30 seconds apart.  At this point Jason mentioned that maybe we should call the hospital.  After the previous day, I didn’t really trust that what I was experiencing was the real thing, but I agreed that we should call.  The nurse encouraged us to come to the hospital.  Jason helped me to the car and we made the 10 minute drive to the hospital.  By then it was 1am.

Once in the hospital things progressed quickly.  I spent the next hour, hour and a half in the tub laboring through stronger contractions while Emily and Jason both helped me by applying pressure to my lower back and wiping my forehead with cool water.  Labor was intense, but I was surprised by what a peaceful experience it was.  The room was dark and quiet and each contractions came in a predictable wave.  As each contraction subsided I was able to relax and connect with my breath.  I kept reminding myself that I was now connected to every other mother on the planet.  I felt so happy!

Then it was time to push.  Jason helped me move from the tub to the bed.  Just as we reached the side of the bed and I put my hands down for support, my water broke.  I remember experiencing such a rush of surprise by the sound and feel of warm water just gushing from my body.  And then the first true urge to push overcame me.  It came from the tips of my toes, rushed up to the top of my head and then bore down on my whole body with such force I could do nothing but moan and brace myself against Emily, Jason and the bed.  It was during this part of the labor that I had to dig deep into myself to find the strength to keep going.  My mind rushed from thought to thought and I said “I can’t do this” more than once.  Of course, I had no choice.  The moments that I remembered to stay present and find the few wisps of peace between contractions were very helpful.  After just an hour of pushing, Lauren, the midwife, shared that she could see the baby’s head!  I reached down and felt her emerging.  With just one more push her whole head was out and one more push her body slipped out into the world.  Giving birth was simply the most amazing thing I have ever experienced.

And then everything changed.  In just one moment, with just one push, our lives were completely altered forever.   Now we began our life after the birth of our beautiful daughter.  If I thought that being pregnant was hard, I realized while laboring that pregnancy was nothing compared to giving birth.  It was soon after welcoming this helpless, precious little being into the world that I realized that if I thought giving birth was hard, it was nothing compared to the journey we were just beginning.

For me the hardest part of this experience so far is the loss of my former self and the birth of a new version of me.  I don’t know how to describe what this process has been like so far except to say that it feels like a slow surrender.  The first stage of this surrender came after the first week of the witching hour.  From the very first week of her life, Luciana has suffered from evening colic.  Every evening starting around 6:30 and lasting between three and five hours, our little girl screams uncontrollably.  Her face turns bright red, her body becomes as stiff as a board and her steel blue eyes seem to plead with us to do something to help her.  We swaddle her, play white noise, bounce and rock and dance, hold her on her belly or on her side and hold a pacifier in her mouth until she realizes it is there and begins to suck.  Our efforts to sooth her work to calm her crying, but she is still stressed, and short, violent bursts of cries continually slip out of her throat throughout the night.   It is utterly painful for all involved.

When this behavior first began Jason and I fought against it.  We complained about it and felt frustrated.  One night, during a particularly frustrating episode, we looked at each other and said “What did we do?  This was a mistake.”  After days and days of growing frustration, we finally realized that this was just how the next period of time was going to be and there was nothing we could do about it.  After we realized that the coming days, weeks and possibly months were going to be like this in the evening, things began to shift.  We stopped trying to eat supper together and instead took turns soothing our baby and eating.  We stopped thinking that we would get to bed at any predictable time and we started taking turns caring for her and sleeping.  As this surrender to our little baby continued, we also began to recognize that our frustration with her during this time became less and less and our compassion for her grew and grew.  There are certainly still times that we are frustrated, but we have learned to support each other during those times and we are getting through each night bit by bit.

Surrendering to this baby has not been easy.  It’s been exhausting and trying.  In fact, to find strength to make it through this, I began to pray.  I’m not a religious person and my prayers are not to any God in particular.  In fact, they are probably prayers to myself more than anything else.  I pray for strength, patience, and the mindfulness to cherish each moment with this little baby–even those during the witching hour and those in the middle of the night when she wakes up for diaper changes or feedings or just because.

I’m not sure if this surrender is complete yet.  There are definitely times that my frustration level boils up unexpectedly and I need to take a break, but things are getting easier.  I’m finding deeper pools of strength and patience than I ever realized I had within me and I am falling in love with my baby more and more every day.  It is true that I instantly felt love for my precious baby, but somehow that love grows infinitely stronger every day.  Even when I’m exhausted, sore, frustrated, and sobbing, my love for this little human overwhelms me.  It’s a love like I’ve never experienced before.  I now also recognize how quickly she is growing and changing.  Where before I just wished and wished for her to develop so things would be easier, now I try not to wish these moments away.   At night, before I fall asleep and the baby is sleeping next to me in her cradle, I gaze at her and try to remember each detail of her sweet expression, her little fingers and toes, the way that she breathes and moves her arms when she begins to stir.  In the middle of the night when she wakes up to nurse and I cradle her in my arms  rocking back and forth I now recognize that these hours in the middle of the night are my favorites.  I’m sure this is the beginning of my own transformation, but so far, I like this new version of me and I’m open to the continued surrender.

Looking back on the last seven weeks I know now that I wasn’t prepared for this life after birth.  But then again, is there anything that could have prepared me?  The first weeks were the most challenging of my life.  This whole experience continues to be the most challenging of my life.  But I guess that’s the thing with parenthood.  Yes, the sleep deprivation, the uncontrollable roller coaster of emotions, the discomfort of breastfeeding, the loss of independence–all of those things are really, really hard, but somehow, even with all of that, this experience is also the most intensely amazing, loving, beautiful and wonderful of my life, too.

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When I first heard about Life After Birth I was immediately interested. I read Nina’s breathtaking, honest and beautiful story and was touched. I remember thinking, “Wow, she looks so strong and happy though”. It made me really think about women, or maybe just me, but the need to make everyone else think that eveything is ok. Yes, I just had a baby and my life is amazing and awesome, but my life has also forever changed. Sometimes things are not ok.

I knew I wanted to contribute to this project but I wasn’t really quite sure what I wanted to say. I didn’t really think I had a postpartum story. Everyone that was a part of my life during the 9 months of my pregnancy knows that I hated every minute of it. I was tired. I cried all the time. My moods swung faster then a kid on a swing set. I snapped at co workers, friends, and my poor husband. At the end I felt huge and often told my husband I felt frumpy. I took naps at work under my desk on a yoga mat after lunch because I just didn’t have the energy to stay awake for the second half of the day. I was uncomfortable and hot (thank you super hot June and July!). But then, July 25, 2010, after a batch of kidney stones and a weekend in the hospital, my beautiful baby Tyler was born. He couldn’t be more perfect and I couldn’t have been more happy.

I spent another two days in the hospital and then went home with my husband, our new son and my mom. I had fully prepared myself. I prepared to cry alot for no reason. I prepared to freak out and wonder, “what the hell have I done?”. I prepared for breastfeeding to be the worst experience of my life and to hate every minute of it, but to deal with it because I knew that’s what was best for my son (in my opinion). I was prepared to watch for signs of depression and then not let it get too bad. Maybe it’s because I work in the mental health field and so I’m used to seeing the new moms come in for help, or maybe it’s because everyone drills it into your head that you might be depressed after having the baby, and its ok. Days went by, my husband went back to work, my mom went home and Ty and I figured out our little routine. I had a home health nurse come in weekly to check in on us and make sure we were ok. Everytime he came, it was always the same, “we are great, things are going so well, I’m really happy”. Breadfeeding was amazing and I loved every minute of it. I wasn’t crying too much over little things and I loved being a mom. All the things I had worried about never happened. So when Nina asked for stories for her project I didn’t really feel like I had one to tell. My life was good… and then it hit me this morning. I typically get upat 3:30am to run, I spend from 4-530 or so running 5 days a week before work. This morning I dragged my butt out of bed, feeling tired but knowing that I wanted to go to the gym. I got there, ran 2 miles and decided to go home. I just wasn’t feeling it. My head wasn’t in the run. So I went home and tried to get some more sleep which I was unsuccessful at. I laid there in bed thinking about Nina and this post and my running when it finally hit me, I realized what has plaqued me even to this day since Tyler was born.

While I was fully prepared to be a mental head case after birth, I was not prepared for what being pregnant and having a baby would do to my body. I’ve been lucky enough in my life to be a small women (5′ 5″ 125-130 depending on how much ice cream ive had). I’ve never battled weight issues and always been prefectly content with my body. I had no problems laying on the beach in a bikini in the summer or running in shorts and a sports bra. Growing up in the theater I’d even change in front of a crowd of people back stage with no problems. I ate what I wanted and felt blessed to have a good metabolism. I knew my body was changing during pregnancy but I really expected it to go back to its normal self after Ty was born. Hello reality check… wrong! I gained 50 pounds while pregnant topping out the sale at 180. After having Ty and all the water weight etc was lost I was still sitting there 30 pounds heavier then when I started. Hmmmm. I still felt frumpy and hello hips and stretch marks, where did you come from? These are not qualities I was exactly excited to share with the world when I went to the beach, or out for a run. These were the things that didn’t just go away magically after Ty was born. For a long time I just dealt with it. I never said anything to anyone. When you’re a fairly small women, telling people that you feel fat or don’t like how your body looks, you don’t often get positive or sympathetic feedback. Its typically something like “you’re so tiny, stop complaining”. Yes, they were right, I am small but I’m also different now. My body is different now and it feels really weird. For this reason I just chose to keep my thoughts to myself. I almost felt bad for thinking so negatively of my new body. When people took pictures of me I tried to suck in my stomach as best as I could because I felt like I still looked like I was 3 months pregnant, 12 months after I delivered. I joked about it with friends, but I still wore maternity tank tops and shirts for a long time. I dressed frumpy because I felt frumpy. This was (and still is) so weird to me because I’ve never felt this way about my body. I’ve always been comfortable and now my body has changed and it’s not going to ever be the same one I had before I got pregnant. It really took me a good 2 years to finally come to terms with this. To talk about it with my best friends and to be honest that I didn’t like what I looked like for the first time in my life.

I really had no idea that running is something that would be so beneficial to me in so many ways, it ended up being a huge blessing in disguise.  I didn’t get into running until shortly before I got pregnant (Infact, the day after my first half marathon I found out I was pregnant). I stopped running entirely when I got pregnant and took it back up again after I had Ty. It was my “me” time. It provided me clarity and time with my own thoughts. I’ve never have and still don’t run to loose weight, I run because I love it and I love the freedom it brings to me. However, as I started to get more serious about it, I started running more. I went from running 20 miles a week to 50 miles a week. I started running marathons and ultramarathons because I loved to push myself. Run faster then I did last time or further then I ever had before. Personal success that made me feel good. The more I ran, the more the pounds I shed and before I knew it, I was back to pre baby weight. I wanted to scream outloud, I felt so great. It took me a solid year and a half to get there, but I did it. I’m sure it would have come sooner if I had put down the ice cream and french fries… but hell no. I felt like I was starting to get control back over my body. Since then, I’ve maintained the same 127lbs but I’m losing inches and I’m starting to feel better about who I am and what this new body of mine looks like. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I now have hips that aren’t going anywhere. I still have that little baby gut with stretch marks and putting on a bikini still freaks me out a bit, but I’m getting there. Like I said, these were feelings I’ve never had before and I didn’t really expect them to hit me like they did.

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Today Alona Maya and I were playing in her makeshift fort.  We were in and out with giggles, running around the blankets, Alona (15 months old) jumping on me throwing her head back with laughter.  She leans in: “Mama”, and kisses me right on the lips.  I melt, into the yummiest love puddle, filled with pure joy in my heart..

Was it always this way? No.  A resounding No.  Time had it’s way with us, the universe with it’s playful choreography, somehow got us to this place.  I look at my fiery, energetic toddler and it amazes me that it has only been 15 months.  It feels as though we have been on a wild & challenging journey forever.  Though the fog is so far behind me.. as I type and recall, how quickly I can imagine that thick fog; life after birth.

Before my daughter was born, I was a practicing licensed massage therapist with a specialty in prenatal, a certified yoga teacher specializing in pre & postnatal, and a strong advocate for educating/supporting pregnant women and their choices in childbirth… “I got this!” I thought.  I was so insanely over prepared for my homebirth, I almost felt empowered to labor unassisted.  I thought about the baby, my baby, so abstract and inconceivable.. I thought it would all just come to me.  Right?

My birth story (a long story made short):  With my midwife, her assistant, my husband Isaac, my rockstar doula, my birth tub, we were ready. Ready for the marathon.  My water broke at 11:30 PM on Sunday, December 4th and my contractions started about a half hour later.  The next morning contractions had slowed – we went to an accupuncturist, took a walk in the park, walked up and down the stairs, nipple stimulation (no sex because of the ruptured membranes).  By Monday afternoon’ish, the transition from early labor to active labor was not a gradual progression, but much more dramatic than I had expected and learned.  I rode out each contraction, trying to breath & rest in between.  The labor continued hour after hour, in bed, in the tub, on the floor, on Isaac, on my Doula, on the couch, in the shower, on the toilet, and pretty much every other square inch of my house.  The contractions began to steadily increase in length and frequency, and got worse (or should I say more “intense”). Sometime Monday evening my midwife checked me (a rather harrowing experience on its own) and declared that although I was 90% effaced, I was only 3 cms dilated!  This was a pretty serious blow.  I was still healthy and the baby’s heart rate was fine (and remained fine for the entire labor) so we all just kept going.  The midwife had me in a variety of difficult and painful contortions.  It was too much, I thought I would be here forever, drowning.  Despite all our learning and preparation, I think what I was least prepared for was the sheer amount of time that things could go on for.  I just kept going, one contraction at a time.  At some point they gave me tea with some vodka to try & rest a little..

By 5AM on Tuesday morning, contractions had progressed to around 90 seconds long with a minute or less in between.  I started to voice doubt, I felt as if I finally lost control in the unrelenting ‘undertow’, over and over.  I was checked again, and at only 4 cm.. Isaac & I cried, shocked & defeated.  The midwife told us that we should consider transferring to the hospital, that a “therapeutic epidural” might have the effect of causing my cervix to dilate rapidly.  It would serve as a specific function in the labor instead of just relieving pain.  My water had broken 30 hours ago, and hospital policy is 24 hours.  We were healthy, me and the baby, with a strong and steady heart rate.  A decision made by me while barely able to listen to one full sentence as another wave crashed into me.

With a taxi blaring evangelical talk radio, we made the 10 minute trip to the hospital.  The twin challenges of transition-like contractions and the feeling of defeat and failure that came with transferring was unbearable.  Things were difficult at the hospital when we arrived as well.  They split up our birth team, we had to deal with rude obnoxious nurses, and the whole experience was just everything we had hoped to avoid.  Once I got the therapeutic epidural, there was a rapid and dramatic shift.  I caught my breath, took a one hour nap, and dilated 10 centimeters.  With the support of one hospital midwife, one homebirth midwife, one rather obnoxious nurse, and my dear Isaac, I pushed our baby out millimeter by millimeter for three and a half hours.  (We were lucky that we ended up with a fairly progressive hospital midwife, but nevertheless there were some real challenges about being in a hospital; staff laid on the pressure, constantly watching the monitors and threatening an episiotomy, even when mama and baby were strong and healthy.)  At 2:00pm on Tuesday December 6th, Alona Maya was born.  We smuggled out the placenta, and got the heck out of there within 24 hours.. we were home.

Home.  I entered with my newborn, having spent the night alone with my new baby in the hospital, without Isaac.  I swatted away every nurse who tried to pry my baby away from me.  They wanted to take her from me it seemed almost every hour for various things, I never let her go.  I wouldn’t let them bathe her to wash the precious vernix from her skin.  I think I recall at one hazy hour them taking her for a minute to check something – I was so weak.  I counted the seconds before they would release me.  (I had no fresh clothes or anything of my own, we had never packed a bag in case of a transfer)  When I got home, I couldn’t walk (from the pushing, and some stitches from natural tearing) and anywhere I walked I was reminded of the trauma I had endured for the past 3 days.  Letting other people hold my daughter was nearly impossible for me.  As the days went on, a sweetness and light entered our home as we got to know our baby girl, though I still held her close, tried to nurse, skin to skin, wearing her, naked day after day, unable to fully let anyone else hold her.  I hated visitors, I wanted to throw my phone out the window, I didn’t respond to emails… I wanted to take my cub and my partner, and hibernate in a cave together.  I wanted to be left alone to heal and nourish each other.  My need to protect was strong, I wanted to run away far from anyone who knew me.  I didn’t want anyone to know she was born.  It felt too raw and precious, we three had been through something no one could understand, we had traveled to a different reality.

Nursing became a great challenge.  Alona was tongue tied, and breastfeeding was torture.  I was engorged and crying, I was so underslept, hungry, and vulnerable. (Isaac was truly incredible in all of this, he was my fellow lion.)  We got her frenulum clipped which was nearly impossible to handle, watching your baby being held down to snip her tongue.  I almost passed out.  Thank Gd we did it, as our nursing relationship would have never flourished.  Breastfeeding became easier (for lack of better words) and as 4-6 weeks rolled around, Alona began to cry, a lot.  She wouldn’t stop crying, and she was in pain.  My midwife told me to keep nursing and cuddle, but Alona wouldn’t lay blissful and cuddle.  She hated to lay down, she cried and I began to shatter.  I continued to stop using my phone, I lost a few friends (even still)  connecting with people was the hardest thing to do. Alona screamed and cried while awake, and slept on me when she collapsed.  At 7 weeks old, her colic/reflux (at that time we had named it) was as bad as ever.  I bounced on my birth ball every day for hours, we did craniosacral, I cut out every food that could possibly irritate Alona’s digestive system.  It was all so painful and unrelenting.  I wrapped my baby into my warmth, braved the winter and traveled between three different mom support groups.  Alona and I would pace and find our rhythm around the room while listening to other mothers.

Then one day, with a dramatic shift, we started to lift above the fog.  Alona and I started to have moments of tenderness and alertness, there were smiles between the hour of crying and bouncing.  As we rocked and danced our way towards 4 months, there was a calm and steadiness, and I could see past the fog.  Fast forward months of both challenging and beautiful moments.  We cherish our community of wonderful like minded mothers and babes from the support groups.  We still don’t sleep through the night, but it’s livable.  The crying is now something I understand, and through sign language or her expressive face, I can be present with my girl and attend to her needs.  We play and learn together, I smile as she learns the world through bold movements and voice.  My expanded heart drops when she is brave and falls or runs too fast.  I still hold her close, and she is my little cub.  Although she’s still not the greatest fan of a good long cuddle.  We nurse and I hold her feet and brush her hair with my fingers in awe of our ordeal.  I wonder, will she read this story?  Will she remember?

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I spent my life anticipating motherhood. I looked forward tremendously to being pregnant and having children. My husband and I were very lucky in that we conceived easily, the first pregnancy “stuck” and was a smooth and healthy experience. I felt and looked good throughout the pregnancy which boosted my confidence about having an “easy” birth experience. To prepare we took a mindfulness class, in which we meditated, practiced yoga, and discussed the realities of labor, delivery, breastfeeding and the early stages of parenthood. I read countless birth stories, each one getting my adrenaline pumping and the excitement of my son’s impending birth almost too much to bear.

BIRTH

My due date came and went, and then we found ourselves at a 41 week appointment discussing labor induction. This isn’t at all what I had hoped (and planned) for. I wanted to labor at home for as long as possible. I pictured it being at night, we would call my dear friend who was also serving as my doula. Her boyfriend would heroically bring her from their outer-island home to ours on his boat. We would walk in the moonlit field behind our house to coax out the baby inside me.

Instead, 4 days before my 42 week mark, my husband and I “checked” into the hospital to begin a round of prostaglandin suppositories followed by a shot of morphine to help me sleep through the night. I was disappointed and relieved by the turn of events; this baby had to be born and though we tried everything we could at home (walking, yoga, spicy food, sex, CASTOR OIL, red raspberry tea, resting) my body wasn’t ready and the statistics are persuasive enough that and induction felt like the right thing.

I woke up in the morning with mild contractions, but I was still walking and talking and eating and laughing. The midwife decided to up the ante with a pitocin IV. This caused more intense contractions, but they were disorganized, coupling, and not very effective. They were still a lot of work to get through and this is when I felt my real labor began. I spent time that day in the tub, but mostly hanging on my husband and moaning through each contraction. By the evening I was exhausted and still only 5 or 6 cm dilated, so the midwife thought I should try to rest. I was having severe lower back pain and opted for a sterile water injection which was UNBELIEVABLY painful. But, my back didn’t hurt after that and with another shot of morphine, I was able to get some rest that night.

In the morning my cervix had dilated to 7 or 8 cm and now stuff was getting really real. I was in the zone and thinking only about my contractions and how to get through each one. I felt calm and focused. I hung on my husband again all day long and moaned and sat in the tub. Around noon I asked when I could start pushing and the midwife said if I thought I was ready then I could start right then. So I did. I pushed in the bed, I pushed in the tub, I pushed squatting and I pushed hanging on a railing. Pushing was exhilarating, but by far the most exhausting thing I have ever done. Because of the pitocin IV the baby was being monitored throughout the labor and for the most part his heart beat at a steady 133-ish bpm. At some point during this first round of pushing, his heart beat dropped and the midwife and nurse had looks on their faces I will never forget as they had me lay down on my side on the bed and take oxygen. I remember looking at my husband with tears in my eyes thinking, “When and how is this going to end?”

After 2 ½ hours of pushing and little progress I asked about getting some pain relief. My contractions were coming so close together that I was in constant pain from them and couldn’t feel when one started and one ended. I was so exhausted. The midwife thought getting an intrathecal (like an epidural but allows feeling in the legs and the ability to feel pressure) would be timely. Two anesthetists arrived shortly thereafter and gave me the injection in my spine. The relief was so incredible I immediately started cracking jokes and had an entirely renewed sense of hope. However, I also realized that I had barely slept in the last 48 hours and I couldn’t push forever so I talked to the midwife about a caesarian delivery: when they would make the call, if my husband could hold our baby as soon as he was born, when I could start trying to breastfeed, etc.

After about an hour of resting I could start to feel the contractions gaining intensity again and I wanted to try pushing while the pain was still somewhat numbed. With the OB surgical team scrubbed in and ready to deliver at any moment I pushed and pushed and pushed until another  2 ½ hours had passed and my baby was born.

LIFE AFTER BIRTH

My very first thought upon the vaginal delivery of my baby was physical RELIEF. No more contractions, no more “ring of fire.” I observed the well-being of my boy, lying healthy and large at 8lbs 11oz on my chest, but felt no immediate rush of emotion toward him. He was here. Healthy. Great. Now I want to eat, hydrate and get some rest.

The first few days in the hospital turned my world upside down. I was emotionally all over the place, crying almost constantly. I didn’t want to connect with people; even my family and friends. It took us 3 days to name our son. I could barely walk I was so exhausted from the labor.

Truth be told, I was absolutely terrified. I thought we had made a huge mistake. I couldn’t believe that anyone would want a baby. I kept searching for understanding in people’s eyes, but everyone just mooned over Caleb’s health and robustness and were so proud of my stamina during the labor. But I was struggling with breastfeeding, extreme fatigue and couldn’t find the spark of connection with my baby that I thought would come naturally if I followed all the “rules” of bonding. I was breastfeeding, doing lots to skin to skin contact, cuddling him in our hospital bed. Of course I loved him and would already do anything to protect him, but what I really saw when I looked at him scared me to death. He was ceaselessly needy and a total mystery.

I was very happy to leave the hospital after 5 days, though things didn’t get much easier. I got Caleb to sleep during the 45 minute drive home and just sat next to him in the back seat completely shell-shocked. I cried. My husband’s mom and sister were staying with us for 2 days after we got home which was so wonderful. They cooked food, were quiet like mice, and my mother in law did her best to ease my fears about breastfeeding and being a new mother in general. I dreaded the moment they left: my husband and I alone in our house with this tiny creature squalling for food, sleep and comfort. I began realizing how long it would be before I got to sleep more than 3 hours at a time, watch a movie, have a night out with my friends. These thoughts made me nauseous and panicky. Just like that, it was if the person I was before Caleb was born had never existed. How could I not be grateful for our perfect, healthy baby? What was wrong with me? WHAT HAVE WE DONE?

3 days after we got home, my nipples cracked and bleeding, I began to feel very ill. I took my temperature and had a low grade fever. I called the hospital and spoke with my midwife. she asked if I had any red splotches on my breasts and indeed I did: mastitis. What was already extremely challenging for me was rendered almost unbearable by this infection. A part of me hoped she would say I had to stop nursing. Another part of me hoped I would have to be hospitalized. Then I could finally rest. Someone else could take care of Caleb. It took 20 days of antibiotics (during which time I worried about yeast infections, thrush and exposing my newborn to so much medicine through breastfeeding) to clear up the infection. However, by then nursing was getting way easier. In fact, everything was. I was beginning to understand my baby and read his cues and cries like Dr. Sears said I would. At about a month he gave me a smile. I have been head-over-heels in love ever since.

What I experienced was not postpartum depression, anxiety or psychosis. What I experienced is commonly referred to as “the baby blues,” but I feel that this phrase does little justice to the depth and profundity of what I went through. I know that not all women struggle as I did, but I believe that many do. I think through sharing stories and we can give strength, hope and comfort to other families have similar experiences.