It’s sort of difficult to look back and reflect on this year. It seems to have been impossibly long and impossibly full of both good and bad. I’ve heard from many people that 2013 lived up to its reputation of being bad luck and ended up being the worst year in memory. Not many people seemed to have enjoyed this year, and I can’t particularly say that I blame them. Obviously, this year brought us amazing goodness, but it was unbelievably hard, too. Cameron, his father, and both my parents spent time in the hospital. I seem to have lost touch with most of my friends. The flood. Oh, the flood. What happened in September this year put a huge crack in me that has forever altered the way I see the place I live–through no fault of its own–and I don’t think it will ever be fixed. I spent more time this year battling my depression and anxiety than probably ever before. Not to diminish the beauty that is my daughter, but her arrival brought with it almost 5 weeks of daily crying and some of the worst self-doubt I’ve ever had.
But there was beauty and wonderful moments this year, too. I celebrated my 25th birthday and Cameron turned 30. We spent three whole weeks in Hawaii, something I think about almost daily. We traveled to North Carolina to witness the union of two of our most wonderful family members. I started working on a new book with my agent, which was exciting despite how challenging it was. And, even though many of my friends seem to have fallen away from me, I grew closer than ever before to my best friend–my husband–and to my parents. Of course, most beautiful of all, my little girl. I cannot wait to see what this year brings us and I am so excited to watch her begin to learn and grow. I know 2014 will bring new challenges but it will bring new opportunities too, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m eager to see 2013 go into the record books and hopefully 2014 will not be repeating any of its bad habits.
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.
Hard for me to even wrap my brain around that one. Every day with Caroline feels like a lifetime. And then it feels like it is flying by at the same time. I suppose that’s how parenthood works.
Caroline is doing pretty good. We think she weighs right around 7 pounds or so now (we don’t have another checkup till 2 months) and she is finally fitting better into some of her clothing! Newborn clothing still fits, but she tends to swim in the 0-3 month clothes. It’s working out nicely though because most times babies get one or two wears out of the small clothes and then they are outgrown, but she is still rocking the majority of her small wardrobe. She usually eats well, though we had a few days of supply/letdown issues and she wouldn’t eat much more than a few sips at a time, then she would get upset and scream and give herself gas and then get more upset because she was hungry and had an upset tummy. So we had to bottle feed her for a day or two just so that she would eat enough to sleep. Luckily she takes the bottle like a champ, which is something I was worried about after reading so many horror stories of babies who refuse bottles. Those issues seem to be mostly resolved now, though sometimes the letdown is still so strong I have to lie back so that she has a little more control.
We still haven’t managed to work out much of a nightly sleeping schedule, and she still won’t go much more than 2 or 3 hours at the most in between feedings. I was hoping it would be a little more than that by now, but then I have to remember that she is still only the size of an average newborn and just doesn’t have the weight to support longer sleeping hours. After about a week of complete insanity at night trying to get her to sleep in the cradle next to our bed that usually led to her sleeping on my chest all night we decided to just put her back in her big crib and suck it up and sleep in her room with her. That seems to be working in the sense that she does seem to like the big crib, and she is even napping in it now instead of in her chair. Another thing I’m glad for and happy we resolved early because I had so wanted to avoid crib transition issues, which seems to be a very common problem. So, most nights we swaddle her up in her baby straight jacket and take it in shifts, since that seems to be the best way for us both to get at least a small chunk of sleep instead of both of us waking up every 2 hours and being miserable all day. Last night we moved our tv into her room so that I could sit up and watch tv during my shift if she was fussy, which makes the time sooo much easier for me if I’m unable to sleep. I have been developing some anxiety about the nighttime hours and I got to a point where I hated to be alone which led to a pretty bad breakdown, but having the television and a distraction (as opposed to just sitting in the dark with the baby while she cries) seems to make a big difference. I’m learning now that everything comes down to finding what works and rolling with it even if it wasn’t part of “the plan.”
Unfortunately Caroline does seem to have some colic issues and becomes extremely uncomfortable and gassy at times. This is not terribly unexpected because I also had extreme colic when I was an infant, to the point that I had to be driven around at all hours of the night and set on top of the washing machine on the spin cycle just to give me (and my parents) some relief. Caroline’s fussiness is not unbearable, and we’re learning techniques to deal with it, but some days the poor girl will become extremely bloated and her belly will get really distended and she will fight and struggle and scream while she tries to pass gas or poop, which makes me feel awful because there’s not much I can do to help her. I don’t think she is having intolerance issues with something I’m eating, because her poop is still a normal color and I have no reason to think she has an allergy or anything like that, nor is there ever any sort of pattern, it’s just that sometimes she seems to get off schedule and she will go an entire day without pooping, then have 4 or 5 huge poops within a few hours like something finally just let loose. We’re pretty sure soon we’re going to take out stock options with gripe water, which is pure freaking magic and does help give her relief nine times out of ten, if for a few hours at least. (And it makes me feel better that it’s all natural and I’m not just medicating her to the gills.) Now that she can hold her head up on her own and turn it both ways we can let her do tummy time or even nap on her belly and that really seems to help the discomfort. All about finding what works.
This weekend Caroline had her first sleepover with her MeMe and Papi without us. We went to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving, and on Friday my parents got us a hotel room down the street so that we could go and have a date night and actually get some sleep. It was great, we went to see The Hunger Games, got takeout and sat in the hotel hot tub and then slept a whole 10 hours in a giant comfy bed. Pretty sure we’re going to attempt this at least once a month because it really helped refresh us and let us get some time together, something that I’d been missing a lot. Somehow, even though we’re basically attached at the hip and spend our entire days together, I have never felt so far away from my husband. And that’s hard, so it was definitely nice to get some baby-free time.
As for me, there are still some challenging days when I struggle to stay positive and not let myself become overwhelmed, but they are starting to become fewer and fewer. I still hate the nights and I worry every time the sun goes down that I won’t be able to handle the crying or the lack of sleep. I also still have some pretty bad anxiety about taking Caroline out of the house and out to the store or a restaurant. Luckily, she LOVES her car seat and loves being in the car, which is a huge blessing because anytime we need to go anywhere, it’s a minimum 45 minute drive. So the car rides are fine, it’s just the being in the store or wherever we are that I tend to get really anxious. Last week we had lunch at Panera and then spent some time in Target grabbing a few Christmas decorations and the only thing I could think about the whole time was what if the baby wakes up and starts crying. I guess I just know that if I’m at home, I know how to take care of her and what to do and where everything is, but being outside of that little bubble still makes me nervous. I know it’ll get better, just like everything else. Soon the nights will be easier and she will sleep longer and we’ll be able to have more of a schedule, which is still something we are lacking.
Despite the challenging days, I’m still amazed every single day at how incredible this little bean is. No matter how much she cries or how frustrated I get, at some point the clouds lift and she gets calm and looks up at me with complete adoration and it’s impossible for me not to just be a million percent in love with her. Sometimes in the mornings I’ll bring her into the bed with me to cuddle for an hour or so and it’s just the most perfect feeling in the world. I love our little family and I love this amazing little person who is becoming more alert each and every day and now will finally get into the time when she recognizes us and maybe will even smile at us soon. I’m so excited for her to start knowing us and interacting with us. I’m so excited to see what kind of little person she becomes!
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!
Yes. 3 nights in a row of calm, collected sleep. For Caroline AND mommy and daddy. What. A. Relief.
I feel like we’ve finally reached some sort of understanding about each other, and started getting a handle on her preferences and what she likes and doesn’t like. I know patterns change and what works one night may not work the next night, but for three nights in a row, we’ve all slept well and it is amazing. I’ve had to learn to be flexible–sometimes she just doesn’t want to lie in her cradle and sometimes she wants to sleep on my chest and that is okay for now because if it works, it works. The little bean is still way too young for forcing patterns or routines on her. The time will come but for now, I have to learn to live by her cues.
I don’t know if it’s because I’ve gotten more sleep or because I finally feel like I have a handle on this whole “mothering” thing (or both, more likely) but things have been so much better the last several days. No crying (from me at least), no meltdowns, no middle of the night freakouts involving my being certain that there was no way I could do this. Apparently I can.
So, anyway. Enough about that. I will celebrate my small victories when I have them and I will embrace the positive days so that when I have a negative, hard day, maybe it won’t feel so hard. In the meantime, here’s what we’ve been up to this week!
I want to first say thanks to all the people who responded to my last post and offered words of encouragement. It really does go a long way.
I wish I could say now that we’d hit some sort of turning point and things were getting easier day by day, but they’re not yet. And I know it’s probably too much to hope for at this point, I know I still have several more weeks before the “it gets better” part happens. Wishful thinking I suppose, because the last week has been rough.
I hate that I feel so out of my mind most of the time. I feel like I’m missing the good moments with my sweet girl–two weeks old already–when I fall into these black holes of exhaustion and uncertainty and who knows where I’ll end up when I finally make it out on the other side. I hate that my days feel like they are ruled by sleeping through the sunshine hours with the hopes of catching a few hours of sleep here and there and waiting for the next time that she’ll need to be fed. I hate looking at my baby in fear every time she starts squawking because what if this is the beginning of a huge meltdown?What happened to my life? What did I even do with myself two weeks ago? I feel so lost and scared sometimes.
Last night at the height of Caroline’s 6-hour refusal to sleep when she spit up all over me at 3 in the morning, I actually said out loud, “I can’t do this.” I wish I could say exactly how horrible that makes me feel as a mother, as a person.
Of course I can do it, of course I can. Not like I have much choice anyway, but of course I can. But sometimes…sometimes it feels impossible. Mostly it’s at night, when I am desperate for her to sleep even for an hour somewhere other than on my chest in the reclining chair. The night feels so much longer than the daytime and there comes a point when I just have to hand her over to Cameron and let him take her for a few hours, which makes me feel like I’ve failed because nothing I did worked. He takes her to the other room or downstairs and leaves me to get some sleep, but I can’t even sleep then because I just keep thinking about how awful I am.
I don’t mean to write this with the intention of creating a pity party or looking for sympathy. I mostly just needed to get this out somewhere, but it just so happens that I know I will receive some encouragement in return from mothers who have been where I am, and I really need that. I can only repeat myself to my bewildered (and so, so supportive) husband so many times. I cried so much last night that my body is sore. I know it gets better. I know the first 4-6 weeks are the hardest and after that it will start to turn and I will see the light at the end of the tunnel…it just still feels like that tunnel is very, very far away.
But in the meantime I’ll throw this picture in…because it makes me laugh and I really need that right now.
Whoever came up with that was obviously not a new mother. And especially not a new mother trying to breastfeed an underweight newborn who vomits said breastmilk all over mom right before bedtime.
(Did I mention said new mother is already feeling like she’s barely holding it together? You probably catch my drift by now.)
Yeah, that was my night last night. Caroline had been fussy most of the day and didn’t seem to be feeding very much (only a minute or two at a time and never taking both sides) but it’s so important for her to put on weight right now that any sign of hunger I try to give her the boob. I was starting to get frustrated and nervous and worried, most of all, that she wasn’t getting enough food, so I was already in a pretty bad place by the time the evening rolled around. I was in tears before dinner was over so we decided to go up to bed early since we were both obviously tired. We got upstairs, got ready for bed, and I fed Caroline one last time and she got really fussy. I swaddled her, tried to burp her and shush her, and nothing was really working, which of course only frustrated me more. Finally I decided to use a technique from Happiest Baby on the Block and turned her on her side and jiggled her a little–and she projectile puked all over the bed and the floor, which was pretty much the straw that broke this hormonal camel’s back. I turned to take her to the bathroom (what for I have no idea) and she threw up again all down my shirt.
Cue some absolute hysterics. And I mean hysterics. I had no idea what to do so I just sat down on the edge of the bathtub and started bawling until Cameron came in and took her from me and put her in her crib. Then he took me into our room to try and settle me down. It’s not like I was taking the whole thing personally; it’s not like I was thinking “my baby hates me so she’s puking all over me.” I was so upset and worried that she wasn’t getting enough to eat if she was throwing it up. I was worried that she was sick or something–you know, all those first time mom freakouts. After about 15 minutes of the mother of all meltdowns we finally went back to the baby’s room and crawled into bed–conveniently, she had been fast asleep since barfing all over me. She slept from about 8 till 11, and then unfortunately was up every hour till 2 or so, when she slept till almost 6:00. It was a rough night and she kept fussing every time we put her down. We tried her chair, thinking she might be wanting to sit upright, but no dice. She only seemed happy when she was being held, which meant we had to hold her until she really passed out and then we could put her down. So, for that 3-hour period it was pretty rough. She would wake up and make these noises like she was struggling to burp or pass gas or poop, none of which she was doing when we picked her up and tried to burp or jiggle her. My rope was already so thin and I just kept saying “I don’t know what you want!”
Anyway. The struggle to balance out the hormones has been challenging so far. For some reason, it’s always worse at night. Maybe it’s the time change and the fact that the sun goes down at 4:30. I feel like if I nap during the afternoon, I’m wasting good daylight time that I really need to feel normal. It’s hard. Caroline was fussy part of the day today, though perfectly calm when we went to the library for story time, and this afternoon she had (according to Cameron) a huge poop, and since then she’s had some solid feeding times and slept through most of the afternoon, so maybe she had to pass something through her system and that’s what was making her upset the last day. I don’t know. I think that’s part of what is exacerbating my hormonal craziness, is the not knowing what she needs when she’s been fed and has a dry diaper and otherwise doesn’t seem to need anything. I know it’s just part of the deal, I know she’s supposed to still be in the womb so she’s still doing a lot of growing and I just need to deal with it and get through it–but that’s my rational side talking. My irrational, hormone-filled side sees her crying when I can’t tell what’s wrong and is sure that it’s because of me, because I’m a horrible mother and she’s sick and isn’t gaining enough weight.
I just have to keep reminding myself that this time will get better and I have to take everything one day at a time. And more importantly, that I’m not a bad mom.