Category Archives: anxiety

Happy

The other day I was off from work, so I took the baby to meet Cameron for lunch at Costco and do a little shopping. We perused Christmas toys and she ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the twinkly lights on display. She ate all the samples they were giving out and even convinced me to buy a bag of veggie stick chips after being so interested in them. On the way home we stopped at a playground near the house because it was so beautiful outside. Bean laughed while I pushed her on the swings and played in the sand area and went down the swirly slide all by herself.

And I realized, as I was driving home, that I was happy.

This kind of revelation probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was for me. It’s been a difficult year in a lot of ways. Nearly 6 months of unbearable PPD and anxiety that at one time had me terrified to leave my own house, with or without the baby. Trying to adjust to being a new mom among all the other things that life throws you. This summer was tumultuous and honest to God left me wondering if my whole life was about to implode.

So to take a moment and realize that I made it through all of those things and I’m happy now is a bit of a big deal for me. Because pretty much for the better part of a year I’ve been faking it, one way or another. And part of it wasn’t conscious, it was just normal, until I looked back on the situation and wondered how I ever fooled anyone, least of all myself. But it’s better now. I have a job I like and feel confident in. I’m getting closer to finishing my manuscript. Cameron is finally in a job that doesn’t require his attention 24/7. Bean is happy and upbeat and doesn’t need constant attention. Sure my house isn’t always clean, sure we don’t always sit down to a home cooked meal every night. But we’re still enjoying a beautiful life together. And that’s worth everything.

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Formula.

I know, super engaging title. Roll with me.

I mentioned in my last post how hard it was for me to cope with the ending of my nursing career with Caroline and, further, switching from pumped breast milk to formula. I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while, because it’s something that I’ve been struggling with.

I never was one of those people in the “no formula! evil!” camp. I was a formula fed baby and so was my brother and for the most part both of us turned out just fine. Sure, obviously breast milk is #1 because, well, that’s what we’re designed for. Boobies are for milk no matter what the lingerie industry likes to have us believe. But as an alternative, it isn’t as if formula is poison. Similac has been a trusted resource for quite some time now. And I always knew that, but I had pretty much resolved myself to spending the time and energy required to breastfeed for a year–that was my optimistic goal, but I figured absolutely no less than 6 months. Well, I barely got 3 out of the deal, which upset me a lot. Part of it was pride, because I liked the fact that her nourishment came from me. Another part of it was that I liked it–I liked the quiet time, I liked the fact that it was something that only she and I could do. Obviously it started out rough, but I was proud of the fact that we had worked through the hardest moments and after 8 weeks or so we had finally turned a corner–so I thought–and it was all working out. It never really occurred to me that the reason for the colic/discomfort was potentially due to the mechanics of the breastfeeding and/or the fact that she probably just wasn’t getting as much milk as she needed and wanted. It was a nasty cycle that was feeding into itself (no pun intended) and it really didn’t become apparent until it was already in hindsight.

And of course, once we did start bottle feeding and the change was so dramatic, I had to come to terms with the fact that I probably couldn’t nurse anymore, or at least not exclusively. For a while I tried to hold on to our nighttime feeds, but when a week went by and she woke up every single hour at night we started to sense that she just wasn’t getting full. The first night I fed her a bottle, she slept for 4 hours. So there went my last hold out of night feeds. I was pretty well crushed about the whole thing. I felt like this one thing that I was designed to do wasn’t working and there wasn’t a lot I could do about it.

Then, when my supply started to dip and my anxiety peaked again, I found myself sitting at the kitchen counter with 2 ounces of pumped milk and a hungry baby who was ready to go to sleep. And I didn’t have enough milk for the night. In the cupboard was a box of trial-size formula tins that Similac had sent me in the mail before the baby was even born. We still had a couple little bottles of newborn nutrition ready-feed formula that the hospital had sent us home with when she was being supplemented at the very beginning, too. Cameron, of course, didn’t think twice. Add the formula to the milk, he said. What’s the big deal?

And what was the big deal? Well, I had to deal with the feeling that my body was failing me and Caroline. Wasn’t I supposed to continue making enough milk for her? Why was it failing at only 11 weeks? And then there was the fact that feeding her formula was never in my “plan.” Of course I knew that there was nothing wrong with formula. It’s just that it’s expensive, and I figured if I was going to be home with her, breast milk is free. But still, when I added the liquid formula to my pitiful 2 ounces of milk and fed it to her before she went to bed, I heard this voice in the back of my head and it said you are failing. I felt so miserable and like such a horrible mother–and why? I knew that formula is no big deal. And let’s face it, I didn’t have much other choice. My milk was failing, Caroline was hungry, and there was formula in the cupboard. Easy solution.

As the next week went on and I supplemented more and more and eventually finally decided to just start formula feeding her, I thought a lot about what it was that made me feel so bad about giving her formula when I knew there was nothing wrong with it. And I realized that it all went back to the medical professionals I had interacted with since the time I was pregnant. During our childbirth classes, the teacher gave us a gloss-over of the benefits of breastfeeding versus formula, and I didn’t even really think about it at the time because I was planning to breastfeed. But I realized after the fact that her little “Breast is Best” speech was actually a diatribe about the evil horrors of formula and the havoc that it will wreak on the baby’s incomplete tummy. Our first morning in the hospital when she had lost so much weight, I had two nurses arguing over me–literally–about what to do with her. The older nurse was saying, we’ll supplement her with formula, no problem. The younger nurse, a lactaction consultant, was saying no, let her pump colostrum and we’ll syringe feed it to her. And again, I didn’t even think about it at the time, but some part of me was like, why is this even a question? The baby is hungry and tiny and losing weight, just give her the formula. When we left the hospital the nurse had to go to the pediatric unit to find some formula to send home with us so we could supplement like the doctor wanted, because the labor and delivery unit can’t even keep formula in the unit or they will lose their “breast friendly” status. When I went to her doctor about her colic for the umpteenth time and mentioned that she had been refusing to nurse, the nurse told me “usually when that happens you have to force them to nurse because otherwise they will prefer a bottle.” (And that was when I was still giving her breastmilk in a bottle.) Force her to nurse? Really? Is the act of breastfeeding really more important than the overall health of the baby and the mother? Who cares HOW she is getting the breastmilk as long as she is getting it?

So it finally occurred to me: no wonder I felt bad about giving her formula. Every medical professional I had bumped into since getting pregnant had been pounding anti-formula vitriol into my brain. Aren’t we supposed to trust medical professionals? It came to me that I actually had no idea what to do with the formula and I had to look it all up on my own on Similac’s website. There were no resources given to me when I was pregnant about what to do in the event that breastfeeding didn’t work out, for whatever reason(s). I felt oddly comforted by Similac’s website. It sounded inviting, comfortable, and had lots of disclaimers like “We believe breastfeeding is best, but if you decide to supplement with formula, we have what you’ll need.” It didn’t sound judgy. I didn’t find myself at a website saying “You shouldn’t even be looking at this website. Shame on you. Get back to putting that baby to the breast.”

It’s been several weeks now since we made the switch to formula and while I have to admit my stress is way less, I do miss the nursing sometimes. But, I have to look at my sweet Bean and admit that she is so. much. better. She is growing and learning and is happy and I have to remind myself that nobody should give a shit about how I am feeding her and what I am feeding her except me and Cameron. Still, it hurts sometimes when I come across blogs written by mothers who are lamenting the fact that their baby self-weaned at 2 years and how much they miss it. I have to curb my cynicism and my desire to say “You got 2 years out of the deal. Quit yer bitchin’.” I didn’t choose to stop nursing and I didn’t want to, it was a response to necessity, but sometimes I feel like some women look at formula feeders and think we must be lazy or have taken the easy route out. It hasn’t been easy to take this road, at least for me.

So, in those moments when I get nostalgic for the nursing or feel angry with the culture of anti-formula/mommy shaming, I remind myself of my new year’s resolutions and remember to be present and positive, and I think of the positives to formula feeding. I still get my quiet time with her before bed. She still can reach out and hold my thumb while she drifts off to sleep. She SLEEPS! No more getting up every 2 hours at night–this week she slept 10 hours in a row. I can wear whatever kinds of clothes I want. (My favorite hoodie was missing me!) I can go wherever I want with her and not worry about having enough milk pumped for her or having to get home in time to make more. She can stay overnight with Meme and Papi and I don’t have to spend days pumping a freezer supply first. I can drink as much coffee and wine as I want and I can indulge in my clove cigarette vice every so often. You know, all those bad things you’re not supposed to do anyway. (Hey, I’m a writer. When I get stuck, I drink more coffee and have a cigarette. What can I say.)

Most of all…she is happy. She has been so happy since we stopped nursing and as much as it hurts me, I have to remember that her happiness and health is the most important thing. It would have been incredibly selfish of me to try to continue nursing when it obviously wasn’t the best for her, no matter what the anti-formula doctors and lactivists say. Life is a moving target and nothing is ever black and white.

3 Months

The Bean is 3 months old! Holy wow!

What a month this has been. Easily the longest so far (I know, we’ve only had 3, but mamas, you get the idea.) in terms of the amount of “stuff” that happened. In the last month, I had to make the difficult decision to stop nursing and bottle feed, and though it completely changed our colic fight, it proved very difficult for me to cope with, and I was officially diagnosed with postpartum depression a few weeks ago. I have a feeling this would have happened with or without the ending of the breastfeeding, it was already there, it just so happened that that decision really was the trigger that made both Cameron and me realize that I wasn’t just dealing with the baby blues anymore, and it was time to address it.  I’m on meds and in counseling now, and I am feeling a lot better, but depression is a moving target and I don’t anticipate being off this bus for some time to come.

Anyway, I am happy to say that the Bean is doing so much better with the colic. It’s basically nonexistent now. She really is a changed baby.

I don’t have official stats for her this month, since we don’t have another doctor’s appointment till her 4 month checkup, but we believe she is finally over 10 pounds! She still wears mostly newborn size clothing but is finally able to fit in some of her 3-month clothes. Weirdly, the 0-3 month clothes are usually waaaay too big on her regardless of the brand or style. Her eyes are still dark gray and she has one brown spot on her left eye. Her hair is starting to thin out a little in places, and is lightening significantly (I didn’t realize it till I looked at some of her newborn photos) but she is still rocking the mohawk up front. It is so long now it almost hangs over her eyes!

The Bean is, as of now, a formula-fed baby. For a little while I was pumping and giving her breastmilk bottles, but my supply slowly started to dip regardless of how many times a day I pumped, and it was giving me anxiety (another PPD signal). I was constantly worried about having enough for her or feeling like I had to be home in so many hours to pump another bottle for her. So a few weeks ago I finally just made the decision to switch over to formula (I’d already been supplementing due to the low supply) and I immediately felt better, though I still had to deal with the nasty voice in the back of my head that kept telling me how awful I was and how bad the formula was for her–another post for another time about how I came to terms with that particular problem. She drinks 4-5oz every 4 hours or so, every 6 hours at night, and doesn’t seem to mind the formula one bit. For a while I was continuing to pump a few times a day so that I could give her at least one breastmilk bottle, but it seems like that is about to come to and end since my supply appears to have finally kicked the bucket.

At the risk of jinxing myself (didn’t I say this last month?), she is still sleeping great. At night she has been going 5-6 hour stretches pretty routinely. We get her down for bed usually between 7:30 and 8 and she will sleep usually till 2 or so, have a bottle and a fresh diaper, and crash again until 7 or 8. She has also been napping consistently, typically going down around 10 or 11 in the morning for 2 or sometimes 3 hours, and then again between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. I have (mostly) figured out her patterns, and can tell that if she’s been up for 2 hours or so and is starting to get cranky, it’s time for a nap. In the last week I transitioned her out of her swaddle for nighttime sleep and she now sleeps in her sleep sack (or snugglie as we have been calling it) on her tummy the same as she does for naptime, and it is working pretty much like a charm. I put her in bed with her binkie, her pink froggy, and her nighttime music (usually Enya) and she conks right out. Every so often if she won’t go back down in the early morning I will bring her into bed with me, but for the most part she sleeps nightly in her own crib in her own room with the door closed and rocks it.

This month, patterns and favorites really started to emerge. We have a daily schedule pretty much locked down that involves getting up, sitting in her booster seat on the counter for a morning bottle while I have my coffee, usually a short snooze in her chair, then some playtime on her mat, and then a nap. After her first nap she gets up, has a lunchtime bottle, more playtime, (if it is nice out we will take a walk or run an errand) and then another nap. We are still ironing the kinks out of the evening routine, since she usually gets tired before we are able to put her to bed (I have rehearsals 4 nights a week so sometimes nailing down the right bedtime is wonky), but she is typically good throughout the dinner hour and then goes to bed. We learned this month that she adores Michael Jackson, and sometimes now if she is being fussy we will throw the “Smooth Criminal” video on the tv and dance with her and she is happy as a clam. Most music will engage her or calm her. She loves her pink froggy, her hanging birdy toy and her plastic keys the most. When she spends time on her playmat now she will reach up and grab the birdy, which I was super stoked about. She can hold onto her keys if I hand them to her, though she hasn’t quite figured out that when she moves her arm, the keys go with it, which has resulted in smacking herself in the face a few times with them. She also smiles all the time now. At her toys, at us, when being tickled, she’s just a smiley girl. She isn’t quite giggling yet, but she does have a definite sound that indicates she is amused or excited.

She still isn’t too crazy about having her clothing changed (onesies that go over the head are pretty traumatic), having her nose sucked out, and long rides in the car, though those seem to depend on the day. I recently took out the infant insert in her car seat and she did pretty okay the next time we were in the car, so maybe it was an issue of not fitting right. I have finally started to overcome some of my anxiety about taking her places by myself, so in the last couple of weeks she has visited Babies R Us and the grocery store. She even got to wait in line in the post office with me for the first time.

Hours before our Broncos Superbowl excitement came to a crashing halt

I love my little Bean and can’t wait to see what this next month brings! If we get a nice day of weather we might take her down to Denver to visit the zoo or the aquarium for the first time. Part of my dealing with the PPD means getting out of the house and taking her places more often so that I won’t be so terrified of it–like I said, moving target and all that. In the meantime, I have a stack of boxes that means I need to start packing up this house. (Still no word on where we might be going to but we need to be prepared for a fast transition.) Yikes.

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, a video!

“A Good Problem to Have”

The future of human-cat relations

This is a post about breastfeeding. Pass it over if you feel so inclined.

The first night Caroline and I spent in the hospital after her birth was tough. Really tough. Cameron and my mom went home to rest because we thought, well, they’re only 2 blocks away, and more than likely the baby will sleep most of the night anyway since that’s what she’d been doing all day. That’s what babies do their first few days, they sleep. I had the nurse there for support, we figured it was a decent solution to allowing some of us to get some sleep. The second Cameron left the hospital, Caroline started wailing. And she pretty much never stopped the whole night. I held her, I cuddled her, I walked around the room with her, I changed her and I tried to feed her, pretty much my entire arsenal of things I knew how to do less than 24 hours into my career as a mother. The nurse would come in occasionally probably to make sure that I wasn’t passed out in the bed ignoring her because she was crying for so long. She helped me re-swaddle her and gave me a different binkie to try and checked her to make sure her temperature was okay. Because my milk wasn’t in yet, feeding her was still a challenge, but boy did I try. All night long. When she first came out at only 5lbs3oz, we were instructed to feed her every 2 hours on the dot, which I did (or attempted) dutifully and happily. It was the first sign for me that breastfeeding was going to be a challenge, but I was still too tired (and too hopeful that it was just “the first night”) to read the writing on the wall.

The next morning when the pediatrician came in to do a checkup on her, instead of being told that she was doing well and we could go home that day, he told me that she had lost 9% of her birth weight in little over 24 hours. She had dropped all the way to 4lbs11oz which is preemie, might need to go to the NICU territory. In case you’re not familiar with what’s considered normal, doctors expect babies to lose about 10% of their birth weight in a week before they start gaining again. Naturally this was a little distressing, but not the end of the world, and the doctor told me that he wanted us to stay an extra day to make sure she could put some weight back on. I held it together till he left the room and then immediately started bawling in front of the nurses who, bless them, were very supportive. I was overtired, physically exhausted, hormonally overloaded, and alone–Cameron was still on his way over with coffee. Most of all I was worried about my baby. Since I was still only producing colostrum at that point, the nurses said we would try to supplement her with some formula so that she could get a few extra calories out of every feeding and that when I could, I would pump to try and help bring the milk in. We fed her formula by syringe at first, and then the nurse whipped out a supplemental nutrition system, basically a supply line that fed formula into the corner of her mouth while I was nursing so that we were killing two birds with one stone–she was nursing and helping bring in the milk AND getting some extra calories. Luckily, the next day when the doctor came in to look at Caroline, she had gained back 5 whole ounces–he’d expected one at the most, so this was extremely encouraging, and he allowed her to be discharged that day.

The next few days were a struggle as my body adjusted to nursing and milk production. On top of the super painful nipples every time she latched on, my milk came in so crazy fast I was engorged almost immediately and spent a good 2 or 3 days in severe pain that left me crying pretty much every time she nursed. Once at three in the morning I got up and had to put hot washcloths on my chest just to get some relief. I also have an overactive node or gland or something under one of my armpits near where the milk ducts are, something that has been an annoyance pretty much all my post-puberty life, and when my milk came in, this thing swelled up to the size of a chicken egg and stayed rock hard for three days. Misery. Pure misery. I remember at one point saying to Cameron that if this was going to continue, there was no way I’d be able to breastfeed for an entire year.

Since then the engorgement has gone down (thank goodness) but breastfeeding has still been a challenge pretty much every day. Caroline is gaining plenty of weight and in fact is surpassing the doctor’s expectations–at her last appointment she weighed around 7lbs8oz–so that’s good, but pretty much every nursing is a complete crapshoot and could go one of two ways: perfectly fine, or completely terrible. I have occasional oversupply and a near constant overactive letdown, and if you’ve ever experienced that you know how frustrating it can be. One of the lactation nurses at the hospital told me it was “a good problem to have” and I wanted to ask if she was kidding me. I know that it’s probably preferable to having low supply or some other issues, but in no way is it a “good problem to have.” It’s a miserable, horrible problem to have and I think it’s the one thing that’s contributing the most to my baby blues, more so than the colic even.

Here’s a basic rundown of how nursing goes. If it’s a good session, she feeds for 5-7 minutes on one side and that’s all. I offer the second side but usually she is not interested and I end up having to pump. Her doctor says that because she is so efficient at nursing and gaining so much weight that this really isn’t an issue, so I figure I’ll take it. If it’s a bad session, it’ll go something like this: I put Caroline to the breast. She latches on perfectly and nurses calmly till the letdown happens, which I can sense because both my nipples feel like they have binder clips clamped onto them for about 10 seconds. I can also tell it’s happening because it’s at that point that the baby starts choking and gagging and unlatches, then starts to scream. Then let’s not forget the milk that ends up everywhere because I have turned into a garden hose with no valve. The crying and constant latching/unlatching means two things: Caroline is not eating, and she’s swallowing air which is giving her gas and contributing to the colic–and usually it means she ends up spitting up whatever milk she did get in the first place. It’s a horrible cycle and gives me miserable anxiety pretty much every time I have to feed her. I’ve tried just about everything that’s been suggested by the lactation consultants and that I can find online, so no advice please, and in any case nothing that I’ve been trying is working. When we get really desperate we decide to pump and bottle-feed her for a few weeks until she can handle the amount or my body regulates, but usually by a few hours into this plan I end up so miserable that I put her back to the breast again because I can’t stand the bottle (not to mention she doesn’t love it either, so bottle-feeding sessions are usually just as stressful as nursing). It’s just not the same and let’s face it, issues aside nursing is just easier than bottle-feeding especially late at night. I don’t have to keep track of pumping all the time and I don’t have to spend time heating up a bottle, I can just feed her. Or try to, at least.

Still, it’s been hard. Really hard. We usually get in a pattern of having a good few days and then a regression happens and she will go back to having problems again. The problem for me is that my brain sees a cause-and-effect pattern: I feed her, and she immediately cries, which means I’m not doing a good job. I know it’s not rational and I know I have little control over the issue, but it’s not easy to cope with. It also means that she is not eating enough to get a full stomach in one sitting, so she still at nearly 6 weeks old sleeps maybe 3 hours at a time, and most days I end up feeling chained to the couch because she has to eat a little all the time instead of eating a lot occasionally. And naturally this snowballs into a lot of other issues that have been hard to cope with, the baby blues chief among them. I guess I thought by now something would have “clicked” and we would have figured it all out and gotten into a pattern, or something. All the people I know who recently had babies say their little one is giving them 4-6 hours of sleep at night and everything is going fine, but I’m still up with her pretty much all night, sleeping in a different bed from Cameron because it’s too hard for us to both be awake all night long, and I’m getting more and more frustrated and upset every day. It’s exhausting when something you spend so much time of your day doing doesn’t go well. I have days where I want to give up breastfeeding altogether because why spend so much time being miserable, and others when the idea makes me break down because I need that time with my little girl and the idea of doing anything else means I’ve failed (again, not a rational idea, but it occurs to me anyway.)

Anyway, as we approach Caroline’s 6-week birthday all I can hope (and hope and hope and hope) is that maybe we’ll turn a corner soon and breastfeeding will become easier, because at this point I don’t see it lasting nearly as long as I’d hoped because there’s simply no way I can continue like this. And that makes me desperately sad. Still, most everyone we’ve talked to say that the first 6 weeks are the hardest and it does, despite all odds, get better after that. So I have my fingers crossed, because at this point it’s really about all I can do.

I was trying to get a smile…all she would give me was a pout!

Learning to Be Alone

I know, I know. Sounds like a strange title coming from a new mother. I know most days in my near future will be spent begging for time alone to drink a hot cup of coffee or go to the bathroom alone. But that’s not necessarily what this post is about.

I was thinking about something that’s been repeated to me about this phase of Caroline’s life. She is learning to be outside the womb. She is learning how to deal with being hungry, being wet, being cold, being sleepy. All those things that she spent almost 10 months taking for granted (as it were) in the womb she suddenly has to learn how to deal with. She has to learn how to deal with being away from me–even if it’s only for a minute at a time.

So while I was thinking about that, another thing occurred to me, and it’s something that I feel isn’t often discussed with new mothers, but that I think could help explain some of why baby blues and postpartum depression happen.

Sure, Caroline is learning how to exist on the outside of my body. That makes sense. But I am learning how to exist with her outside my body, too. I am learning how to exist alone. As an individual again. For almost an entire year of my life I was never alone, ever, no matter what. I always had her inside me, always felt as though I was coexisting with her even before I could feel her somersaults and jabs and punches. I always had somebody with me, even if I did not know her as I know her now.

Does this make any sense or am I a total nutjob?

I keep trying to explain to Cameron that when I feel anxious when I am away from her, it has nothing to do with my trust in him. I know perfectly well that he is more than capable of taking care of her, feeding her a bottle when she is hungry, changing her when she is wet…of course I trust him. He’s a great daddy. I’m not anxious because I don’t trust him. I’m anxious because I have forgotten what it’s like to be alone. And it’s not like I want to be away from her–but in the times that I want to leave her with Cameron and run to the grocery store or visit a friend or do SOMETHING without her…I don’t know how to relax. Don’t know how to not think about her. I literally get shortness of breath when I leave the house alone. Last weekend, at my parent’s house, we left her with my mom and dad upstairs for a few hours and went downstairs to take a baby-free nap and I could barely sleep because I felt like a part of me was missing and it just didn’t feel right. And she was only a floor above me.

I know that this time will pass. Soon enough I will relish and look forward to my time alone. Soon enough I will allow myself to let someone else take her for a while so that Cameron and I can go to a movie or go to a restaurant by ourselves. It isn’t that I don’t trust the wonderful friends who have been offering to watch her so we can have some baby-free time, it’s just that I can’t be without her for that long. And that’s hard to explain right now, I feel rude when I tell friends that it’s okay, thank you very much but no thank you…just yet. It’s taking baby steps, no pun intended. Today Cameron forced me out of the house to spend a couple hours with a friend, and it was hard and I really didn’t want to go…but I needed to. I needed to trust me again, trust that I can exist on my own. It’s an aspect of this postpartum journey that I never, ever anticipated. Nobody ever warned me that I could or would feel this way.

Still, like I said…baby steps. This will get easier and I will learn how to be alone again. And I will actually enjoy it too!