Archives for posts with tag: Expectations

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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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?