Archives for posts with tag: Breastfeeding
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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.

The Inconvenient Truth about Postpartum Life

1. The physical, mental and emotional challenges
Obviously, labor took a lot out of me. And the sudden and complete lack of sleep on top of that hasn’t made recovery any easier. Add to that the physical challenges – painful stitches healing (tip: witch hazel pads, seriously), shrinking uterus pains (although I love the fact that I’m already back in my pre-preg jeans – go breastfeeding!) and most unexpectedly – lochia. Loads and loads of lochia. Lochia that lasts for weeks, no matter that some claim it clears up in days (tip: Buy big packs of depends-level pads, trust me). Mentally, I’ve had to adapt to a complete shift of priorities from ME to SOMEONE ELSE. It doesn’t matter what I would like to be doing at any given moment – James wears the pants now. Actually, having a moment to blog is blowing my mind right now. I’ve definitely also had my share of “holy shit” moments of complete emotional wreckage, and not a whole lot of forthcoming touchy-feely support at home (husbands…yaknowwhatI’msayin’?). It’s been a lot to handle in one short month.

2. The no-sleep thing is really no joke
This is one truth I was pseudo-prepared for, if only because I was dreading how completely useless I get when I don’t get enough sleep at night (and have always found it near-impossible to nap during the day). While newborns do sleep most of the time, it is in weird, random spurts that don’t necessarily line up with when you would like to also sleep. I know, I know – “sleep when the baby sleeps.” But when baby James sleeps and I am starving, I’m going to take the opportunity to make myself something to eat. Or do the necessary daily load of laundry (cloth diapers!). Or let the dog out. Or make a phone call, send an email or write a blog post, so I feel somewhat connected to the outside world.  Or pee. I do occasionally manage a power nap, but for the most part, I’ve just had to adapt to weird, random spurts of sleep, especially at night. I’ve been doing a lot better with the lack of sleep than I thought I would (although I do still fantasize about a 7-hour stretch)…and it feels nice to actually have a REASON to be tired, not just exhausted because I’m pregnant.

I find that what works best for me is to do my super-productive stuff first thing in the day, and then take it really easy the rest of the day (possibly with a single power-nap at some point). Streaming seasons of TV shows on Netflix has been a godsend. Lately, Butch (who normally stays up later than me) has been hanging out with James downstairs during the first round of nighttime sleeping (aka, “the times between feedings”). That way I can sleep undisturbed for 2-3 hours upstairs without keeping one ear open for his cries. We plan on introducing the bottle this weekend, so the plan is for Butch to take care of that first nighttime feeding as well, which will possibly give me 4-5 undisturbed hours of sleep – heavenly!

3. The  baby will get upset over NOTHING, and you must try EVERYTHING to make him happy
With James, usually it’s the indignity of being changed or wanting to feed for the millionth time (I swear, it has been one continuous growth-spurt since birth), but there are times when he’s having a meltdown for who knows what reason. If baby James is upset, I first try the boob, for either feeding or comfort (more on breastfeeding in a minute), and that usually works. But sometimes there’s no solution besides running the gauntlet of “maybe THIS will work” hijinks – check the diaper, up on the shoulder for a burp or for a narrated tour around the room, try some exercises for gas, sing a lullaby (acoustic versions of rock n roll hits), take a ride in the swing, make a variety of random noises and try a variety of random dance moves/bounces…etc, etc.

This applies to sleeping in the sense that, if James suddenly refuses to settle down in the crib that he was perfectly fine with a week ago, I must humor him and let him sleep curled up on my chest. This of course results in a lack of restful sleep for me…but HE’S happy so who am I to argue? I know this “in-arms” time is fleeting, so I’m trying to enjoy it, even when it’s inconvenient.

4. Breastfeeding has been a lot more challenging, but so much more rewarding, than expected
I went to the breastfeeding class. I did the research. I watched videos and read articles online. The first feeding immediately after birth was magical, despite James being born with a tongue-tie (which was fixed the next day). Outwardly, his subsequent latches looked perfect, even according to the hospital nurses, but feeding from then on was painful. And over the next week, as my nipples became cracked and sore, the pain got worse. Something was not right, but it was hard to place, since outwardly it still looked good. I started by assuming that James just couldn’t seem to open his mouth wide enough to latch in a pain-free way…unless he was wailing with impatience, and I obviously didn’t want to wait to reach that point every time. I scoured the internet, which naturally resulted in worse-case-scenario self-diagnosis: Thrush. Mastitis. Posterior tongue-tie. The word on the breastfeeding message boards were that it shouldn’t hurt at ALL, if done correctly, from day one (yeah, right!).

Luckily, a good friend is the head of the local La Leche League, and was kind enough to take my incessant phone calls, answering every question, helping me put aside the worse-case-concerns, and most importantly, offering encouragement. After 2 solid weeks of pain, I was very close to throwing in the towel and just pumping…or even going to formula. But I stubbornly persisted, eventually finding tips and links via Kelly Mom that resulted in a pain-free latch (tip: “feed” your boob to baby like a hamburger. A boob-burger). Now the biggest challenges with feeding is James’ instant impatience, habit of straining out an intense poop while feeding (while twisting around on my nipple!), gassy-ness (possibly due to a strong-letdown – we have “burping breaks” during feeding that seem to help) and the fact that he’s a HUGE baby, so I’ve had to create my own way of holding him that is not very text-book. But no more pain! I’m so glad I stuck it out, since breastfeeding is a very special way for us to bond and be close.

I do think I could have benefited (and perhaps have experienced less pain) from a little more private time right after the birth to get the breastfeeding down (along with all the other “new-parent” tasks)…which brings me to my next point.

5. Other people are, understandably, majorly interested in the baby…
…in meeting the baby, holding the baby…and that’s great! Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave room for a lot of concern for the new mom. I know myself, and the level of space I need, so I did insist that the first out-of-state visitors stampeding towards our door at least not STAY with us. In hindsight, I should have also insisted that we get at least a week (possibly 2) before visitors parked in my living room for 12 hour stretches. However, since all of our extended family lives out-of-state, I’m sure it would have been considered selfish for me to put off these visits. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the excitement surrounding the birth, and how anxious everyone was to meet the little guy…but I should have given myself the gift of a quiet, stress-free time to figure things out. I deserved that. And from now on, I’ll be putting the needs of my little family first, regardless of outside opinion.

And for anyone offended by the bluntness of #5, please reference this perfect list from Offbeat Families of some simple courtesies new-baby visitors can follow.

6. I am a lot better at this than I thought I was going to be
I love kids, especially my friend’s kids. But before now, I had little to no hands-on experience with newborns. I had never even changed a diaper! And while there are still plenty of moments (or days) of complete teary-eyed despair at how incompetent I feel, they are becoming fewer and farther between. Instincts really do kick in and it is possible to get into a groove, even with a 1 month-old who barely has a feeding schedule at this point. As the weeks go by, I’m sure this confidence in my own abilities will grow. And when those difficult days happen, I need to just take a deep breath and look into this little face:

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It’s worth it.

To read more from Corinne, please visit her blog A Green(ish) Life.

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My baby girl was completely unplanned. I was finishing my 5th semester of college when I found out I was expecting. Thankfully, 6 weeks later, my husband and I got married (over winter break from school) and two weeks after that I returned to school 3-1/2 months pregnant. I was due during summer break, which meant I could return to school without taking time off. It sounded like a better idea before I gave birth. On July 28th, 2012 after 27 awful hours in labor with various complications, I gave birth to my baby girl, Ruby-Mae.

Due to all the complications Ruby had to spend nearly two weeks in the NICU. By the time I brought her home I had just two weeks until my senior year in college began. I cried my first day back, it was awful! I couldn’t focus and all I wanted to do was be home with her, but I knew how important it was for me to finish school. Thankfully my mother in law quit her job to stay with Ruby (what a blessing!) and that made it easier. After a few weeks I was in full swing but it was absolutely exhausting, I never slept, and since I was nursing I would pump overnight, and in the mornings and evenings breastfeed her. Let’s not forget that I had to make dinner for my husband and make sure everything else was taken care of. It was just plain awful!

Two months later, still in school I found a job and added that to my already crazy life, I cried almost every night because I was exhausted and simply wanted to be home with her, but that wasn’t possible at the moment. Nor did I have any time for myself. Though it was the most difficult time of my life, I’m glad I did it because I graduated in May, and since then I’ve been working part time and enjoying quality time with my daughter! I didn’t miss a thing. It was all worth it! My husband was super supportive and helped me as much as he could. It only made our relationship stronger.
For all the moms out there who want to return to school or work, I say do it! It’s possible, you find the strength from somewhere and you do it!  AND it doesn’t make you a “bad” mom which was something I learned to grasp.

© GenBug

Hey Nina,

I’m hoping like hell that you guys are full of newborn baby bliss and that everything is going really really well. BUT, just in case it’s not – and you’re wondering if you will ever sleep again or ever not cry at the drop of a hat – I wanted to reach out to you to let you know – YOU ARE NOT ALONE and IT DOES GET BETTER!

Caleb will eventually develop a routine – he’ll eat well, sleep well, coo at you, smile. He’ll stop having problems latching, or with spitting up, reflux and gas. He’ll stop screaming for hours on end… He WILL be everything fantastic you ever imagined he would be.

Your nipples WILL stop hurting. They may go through several stages of bruising, bleeding, maybe even mastitis, but nursing does get easier.

You WILL sleep again, although not for a while. The good news is – in just a few short weeks you’ll forget what is was ever like to sleep for more than 3 hours at a time and you’ll just pop right out of bed without so much as a groan when he wants to eat. And then, before you know it, he’ll be sleeping through the night.

You WILL get your body back and your old clothes will fit even better than they did before. Your hair will stop falling out, your boobs will belong to you once again, and if you’re like me, just about then you’ll miss being pregnant and do it all over again!

Your marriage WILL survive this. It has never ceased to amaze me that just when a couple should be leaning on one another the most – through exhaustion, frustration and excitement – the stress makes you resentful, and short, and angry… On many occasion in the early weeks of each of our children Goat and I said “are we going to survive this? Will we ever be more than just our kids’ parents? Will we ever stop fighting over the smallest things because we’re so tired?” And so far, we’ve survived and those conversations have subsided… Harass Joanna to watch Caleb for a few hours so you guys can have a date night and just reconnect.

Your house WILL be clean again, the laundry WILL get done, the thank you notes written, the visitors will end… It DOES get better. So chin up, keep snuggling that precious baby boy, and if there is anything I can do to help – please say so.

Like I said, i really hope that none of this applies to you, and if it doesn’t then it is probably WAY too much of an overshare on my part… I just feel like there is so much “they” don’t tell you about having a newborn. So when you get home and you’re exhausted and overwhelmed and feeling inadequate – you think you might be the only woman in the world who ever felt that way. But you’re not. That is – if you do feel that way… .

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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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.