Sunday, July 17, 2016

My Best Pregnancy and Postpartum Advice

There isn't much I love more than giving unsolicited advice.

I've been meaning to write down some of the tidbits that helped me most during pregnancy and postpartum. This isn't particularly well thought out or organized, but it's Sunday afternoon and I want to go hang out with my super cute baby before the alarm rings to get up for work in the morning, so here you go! I will add extras as I think about them. As ever, please ask questions! I'm all about oversharing these days.

During Pregnancy

Hire a doula
I want to write a novel about how much I love our doula, Tiffany. My #1 piece of pregnancy advice is to hire a doula. Yep, it's extra money, and you'll already be shelling out quite a bit for medical bills, but pregnancy, labor and new motherhood are huge life-changing events and you deserve the support and care. I expected Tiffany's support to show up mostly during labor and birth, but honestly, although she was amazing and totally essential during those hours, the support she gave us then is only a small portion of the support she gave during and after my pregnancy. She has been with me every step of the way and was a critical piece to my pregnancy, labor, and adjustment to new motherhood. It is hard for me to not text her every day telling her how much I love and appreciate her! Hire the doula. Please hire the doula. Hire the doula. Seriously.

Consider midwife care
I switched from an OB to a midwife group at 32 weeks pregnant. I always planned to give birth in the hospital (no option is better than the other--you should give birth where you feel most safe and comfortable!) and just assumed that to do that, I needed an OB. Nope! Midwives look at pregnancy and labor as natural events and see women as totally capable of rocking both with minimal intervention, but are totally trained and capable of handling things when more medical care is necessary. I wasn't sure if I'd end up wanting an epidural or other interventions during labor, but I liked the idea that I would be in the driver's seat in requesting interventions rather than having them pushed on me. I had rotating appointments with each of the four midwives in the practice, so I knew I'd have a relationship with and trust whomever was at Bennett's birth. They spent lots of time with us (an hour at our first appointment, and 20-30 minutes at subsequent appointments) and I want to be best friends with all of them (seriously, there is some mourning that takes place when your pregnancy is over and you don't get to see your team anymore!). Midwife care is really lovely, empowering and supportive care, and I highly recommend going this route if you have the option.

My favorite sources for info
The Panic Free PregnancyExpecting BetterPregnant Chicken, our doula and our midwives were my pregnancy info go-tos. There is a lot of information out there, some of it good, some of it bad, some of it simply outdated. Whether you pick the same sources as me or not, try to pick a few and tune out the rest! It's easy to get overwhelmed. And whatever you do, if you have any complications or weird symptoms, do not google them. Ask your providers and let them tell you what you need to know. Being aware of all the worst case scenarios is not going to protect your baby or make it easier if any of those scenarios actually happen. Be informed but don't be overinformed.

I thankfully had very mild nausea throughout my pregnancy--enough to know things were cooking but not enough to knock me on my back--and I fell in love with the Unisom/B6 combo early. Unisom is an over the counter sleep aid and the primary ingredient combined with vitamin B6 made up one of the only drugs (or only? I dunno.) ever FDA approved for morning sickness. That drug is no longer available in the States, but you can DIY it by combining the two. Of course, talk to your provider before taking, but I found it to be a pretty magical cure for pregnancy related nausea and later, for pretty brutal pregnancy insomnia.

Natural Calm for insomnia
On the insomnia note, Natural Calm, a magnesium supplement, is amazing for supporting sleep. It also helps with leg cramps. I took it every night before bed during my third trimester and only had leg cramps after a few nights of not taking it towards the end. It also helped me fall asleep after all the middle of the night bathroom trips. I found it at Whole Foods but you can of course order online.

Pregnancy pillow
Buy one early and stick it in the closet. The first night you have trouble getting comfortable, you'll be glad to have it.

Nursing bras
Buy a couple of nursing bras before you give birth. You will want to have them ready to go when your baby arrives. I got a couple of soft, unstructured ones from Target, and also ordered a couple of nicer nursing/pumping bras. Save any packaging on structured bras, since your breasts will likely change size once your milk comes in and it's difficult to predict sizing ahead of time. My fancy ones came from The Dairy Fairy and I love them, in no small part because they are combo nursing/pumping and make hands free pumping easy. You want a hands free pumping option. Trust me.

Don't over accumulate for baby, but don't skimp either
I can't tell you how many times I heard "all you need is boobs and diapers" while I was pregnant. There is SO MUCH stuff available now for babies and it gets overwhelming (and expensive) fast. While I totally subscribe to baby shopping as a way to bond with your pregnancy and baby, you also don't want to end up with a ton of stuff you won't end up needing. Sign up for Amazon Prime so after baby arrives, you can quickly and easily order items as you find you need them. Remember that you won't need most things right away and you will still have the wherewithal to shop after you bring your baby home (says the woman who bought 6 packs of toilet paper in preparation for bringing a baby home).

That said, there are four things I'm REALLY glad we had before Bennett was born: velcro swaddles, gripe water, a swing and a soft baby carrier. These all helped (and still help) soothe Bennett and you want a small soothing arsenal the first time your baby starts crying and won't stop. Also, regarding clothes...babies grow insanely fast and mostly live in pajamas and onesies at the beginning (we are still in that phase almost 4 months in). Baby clothes are the cutest but you really don't need more than 7-10 onesies/pajamas for the first few months. Also, don't buy too many newborn clothes until your baby is born! 0-3 month sizes might work just fine, and you'll get more use out of them.

Oh, and burp cloths. Buy lots and lots of burp cloths. These have worked well for us.

Prenatal yoga
I started going to prenatal yoga around 20 weeks and I LOVED IT. It was a lot of hip circles and very gentle movement, and it felt great to slow down and connect with my body and baby once a week, but what I loved most about it was being in a room with a bunch of other pregnant ladies on the regular. If you're like me, you might feel self conscious talking over much about your pregnancy happenings with your non-pregnant acquaintances, and it was wonderful to have a place where I could share freely and pregnant. It also felt really good on my body, both when I was able to be more active and later on when I started slowing down. For those of you in Reno, I went to Mandy Colbert's class at Midtown Community Yoga.

Walking is absolutely the best pregnancy exercise, especially if you learn to walk from your glutes. It's an incredible way to get your pelvic floor healthy and strong in preparation for labor and recovery. If you are a runner, know you're doing your body a much nicer thing by walking rather than running while pregnant! It's not just a consolation prize for when running doesn't feel good anymore. Check out Katy Bowman's advice here and here for more on walking and squatting during pregnancy for a healthy pelvic floor. I loved listening to old episodes of the Pregtastic Podcast and current epidodes of The Longest Shortest Time while I walked.

Modern prenatal exercise specialists are starting to move away from the kegal and towards the squat as the best way to create a healthy pelvic floor before, during and after pregnancy. Trust me, you want a healthy pelvic floor! Check out the links to Katy Bowman's work above for more info.

Exercise smart
Prenatal exercise is not just regular exercise lite. Lots of other people have said it better than I can, but basically, it's smart to look at prenatal exercise as deliberate preparation for birth and postpartum recovery, not just trying to maintain your regular level of fitness in your usual activities. Check out Katy Bowman and Jessie Mundell for starters.

Write down your birth preferences
I know. Some of you might be totally on board with this, and some of you might be in the "the only thing I care about is a healthy baby" camp. Look, birth is a major life event. Even if you have a great relationship with your provider and are totally on the same page following the discussions you should have about birth stuff like medication preferences, episiotomy, how long they'll let you go past your due date before inducing, etc., your provider is not going to be there most of the time you are in labor and you'll want a quick way to communicate your overall appraoch to the nurses who will be caring for you. Also, if your practice is like most of the midwife/OB practices in this country, there is a good chance your primary OB/midwife will not even be the one at your birth, since practices tend to rotate who is on call. I know writing down birth preferences might sounds fussy, but it's your freaking birth! You are not asking for favors in stating your preferences. It is YOUR experience and you are paying someone A LOT of money to take care of that experience. Yes, everyone's goal is a healthy baby. Of course. But second to that, you really need to think about how you feel regarding some of the labor and delivery options and to make sure the people who will be there when you deliver your baby know what you're aiming for if and where your preferences are possible. You don't want to come out on the other side feeling like things have been done to you without your full understanding and consent, because you don't get a do over. Also, you don't really want to be making those decisions when you are in labor or pushing a baby out of your vagina/being wheeled into surgery.

Re: the "the only thing that matters is a healthy baby argument," I feel very strongly that this is not true. The MOST important thing is healthy baby, healthy mama. But that argument is like saying the only thing that matters at a wedding is that the couple gets married. If you uncle shows up drunk and picks a fight with the groom, then the cake falls in the swimming pool and the bride's tampon leaks all over the back of her dress and the wedding rings accidentally get flushed down the toilet while the father of the bride has a heart attack, everyone would support the couple in being a little disappointed in the experience, right? Good lord, the bride gets validated in being upset if her flowers are wilted. Why are the details of another major life experience--birth--not important? They are. Know they are. Be flexible with your expectations but also know it's important that you understand some of the possibilities and have a team that respects and supports  you. #rantover

As a note, include caesarian preferences. Hopefully you won't need them, but I was really glad we had a section on there addressing surgical birth preferences, like Bennett being brought skin to skin with me as soon as possible (or Harry doing skin to skin if I had been unable), and Harry staying with Bennett when he was taken to the nursery.

Finally, writing down birth preferences forced Harry and me to talk about them, which we might not have done otherwise. This meant we were on the same page and Harry was able to answer questions like, "do you want us to give him a bath?" and "are you circumcising?" while I was away in recovery.

All of my providers were totally nonplussed by our having a printed sheet of our preferences. Try to keep it to one sheet, ideally bullet pointed, so it's quick and easy to read through and reference. Do it respectfully but don't apologize for caring about your care.

After birth

Bring food to the hospital
A lot of births happen at night/in the wee hours when it's not super easy to get food. Also, the food at our hospital was pretty bad, so I had more than one meal of a protein Odwalla and some trail mix. Pack some easy, yummy nonperishables in your hospital bag.

Think about placenta encapsulation
The hormone thing is real. I have a history of depression directly related to hormone imbalance, and I swear taking placenta pills helped keep my baby blues from becoming full on postpartum depression. Even if it's placebo effect, it's really nice to feel like you can do something when you feel a little crazy postpartum. Even if you don't have a history of depression, it's a good idea to encapsulate, since once your placenta is gone, it's gone. Better to have those little pills just in case!

You might love being in the hospital. You might hate being in the hospital. Either way, take advantage of the lactation consultants.
Know this: the hospital can be super rough. We had a steady stream of providers in at all hours doing various tests on Bennett (we requested that all tests and procedures be done in room) and checking on me. What really sucks is that this happens not just during the day, but throughout the night. Both Harry and I were pretty stressed and exhausted by the time we got to go home. A couple of things to know: 1) there might be a sign on your door saying it's okay to come in or please come later (if there isn't one, make one!). Once we figured this out, we flipped it to "please come later" and experienced fewer unnecessary interruptions (like the gal who stopped in to try to sell us photos of Bennett, and people delivering trays of food I didn't want). This won't stop your nurses and doctors coming in, but might reduce some of the other interrputions. 2) You are the parent and you can refuse tests/procedures! Because Bennett was a big baby, he automatically got flagged for diabetes tests, even though my family just makes big babies and we have no history or indicators of diabetes. Some of these included fairly benign heel pricks to test his blood sugar, but some of them required squeezing vials of blood out of his heel one drop at a time to fill a vial, which resulted in 20+ minutes of breathless, horrible screaming. It took me until the third time of them coming in for a vial for me to figure out that I could refuse the test and stick with the heel pokes, and for those I requested that the nurse do the poke while I nursed Bennett, so he didn't even notice them. Yes, the nurse seemed a little miffed, but it's my baby, damnit, and not her call (I should note that I'm well educated in diabetes and felt comfortable with this decision because of that). It can be hard as a new parent to take ownership of the role and remember nobody can do anything to your baby that you don't approve, but it's your baby and you run the show. Trust your instinct.

All that said, even if you hate being in the hospital, the silver lining is the availability of the lactation consultants. At our hospital, a lactation consultant came in the first day to help me learn how to breastfeed and I called them to come in at least twice every day we were there just to make sure things looked right. If a lactation consultant doesn't automatically come in to see you, ask your nurse to send one in. It's an included service and enormously helpful, so take advantage.

Nap every day
I found the "sleep when the baby sleeps" advice hard to follow, since I wasn't always sleepy when Bennett was sleepy, or I had a hard time falling asleep because I'd get anxious that he would wake up right after I fell asleep. When we were in the hospital, one of our nurses wrote "nap every day" on our white board and it became my motto for the first couple of weeks. My mom came over to hold Bennett every day so I could lie down, but if you don't have that option, try to figure something else out. Hiring a neighbor kid to hold the baby, hiring a postpartum doula, taking friends up on their offer to help...make napping every day a priority.

Stay in bed for as long as it takes to get the amount of sleep you need
Tiffany gave us this advice and it is so obvious but I wouldn't have thought of it myself. This means if you go to sleep at 10 and your baby is awake for a total of 2 hours during the night and you need 8-9 hours of sleep, don't get out of bed until 8 or 9 the next morning. Hell, if you need to stay there till noon to get enough accumulated hours of sleep, do it. Rest is your priority for the first couple of weeks!

The first two weeks are for bonding, feeding and rest
Plan to rest for the first two weeks. This means lots of time in bed and on the couch. No errands, very minimal chores. Nurse your baby, eat, rest and sleep. Your body has a lot of healing to do and the physical and emotional demands of having a new baby are enormous, even if you feel great. Resting now means a faster recovery, so give yourself and your baby the time!

I went through a rotisserie chicken nearly every day for the first week after Bennett was born. Your body needs good nutrition and plenty of it while it's healing from birth and figuring out breastfeeding. My appetite wasn't great after birth so it was extra important to have a variety of easily accessible and high calorie food around to make it easy to get enough food in. My mom texted me every day before she came over to see what sounded good and would bring that (I know. She is an angel.). When people ask what they can bring you, tell them! They really want to help and bringing you food is a lovely way for them to do it.

As a note, this isn't the time to stock only super nutritious foods. Yes, nutrition is critical and you want to eat as many nutritious foods as you can, but calories are important too, both for healing and lactation. I ate lots of chicken and lettuce sandwiches, lots of salads, lots of berries, lots of oatmeal, but also lots of chips, ice cream and plenty of cake. It would have been hard for me to eat enough calories of only healthy food, and my body needed both the protein/vitamins/minerals AND the calories to support healing. Also, you just gave birth. If you need a better reason to eat cake, you need to reevaluate your celebration mentality.

Invest in straws
Every single time you sit down to nurse your baby, you are going to realize you are thirstier than you have ever been in your life. You know what's a pisser when you've finally got your baby latched on and nursing? Changing ANYTHING in your posture that might interrupt that latch, including tilting your head back to drink water. Straws are where it's at. I like these metal ones, but you do you.

Night sweats, omg
Um, I felt super prepared for the weeks of bleeding, but I was not in any way prepared for waking up every night totally soaked (like, even my shins) in cold sweat. My pillow got soaked, our sheets got soaked (on that note--my mom came over while we were in the hospital and put on fresh sheets, then changed them every few days during the first couple of weeks--HAVE SOMEONE DO THAT FOR YOU. IT IS HEAVEN.), my hair got soaked. I've got nothing as far as a solution, just giving a heads up, though I will say this: keep a towel by your bed (yep, you might be wet enough to need to towel off), keep the thermostat a little higher than usual so you don't get too cold from the persperation, and keep a spare pair of pajamas by the bed so you can change out of your wet ones when you wake up in the middle of the night to nurse. It will end eventually and then you will forget it ever happened. Yay for non existent new mom memory!

Set up the crib in your room
I spent an inordinate amount of time researching basinetts and hating the idea of spending money on something we'd only use for a few months before I realized we could just set up the crib in our room, then disassemble and reassemble in the baby's room when the time came. The bonus to this (famous last words) is Bennett will already be used to his crib when it comes time for him to sleep in a separate room (not that I'm going to be ready for that any time soon).

Breastfeeding might be easy for you
I feel like all I read during pregnancy about breastfeeding was either how much it sucked or how blissful it is. I'm somewhere in the middle. I haven't had pain with breastfeeding (at least not now while he's toothless!), but I also sometimes struggle emotionally with having to stop whatever I'm doing when he's hungry and being always on demand. I just want you to know not to worry about breastfeeding! It might be tough, but it also might not. Know your resources but don't worry too much until you know what you're dealing with.

Get a breastpump and start pumping early
Harry being able to feed Bennett sometimes or even me being able to give him a bottle when I'm feeling touched out is a godsend. Knowing Bennett had been taking a bottle at least once per day since his second week also helped ease the transition back to work, since I didn't worry about him taking a bottle while I was gone. I started pumping immediately after getting home from the hospital to help get my milk supply up and have continued to pump twice each day since (once after his morning feed, when my supply is highest, and once before bed). We also introduced a bottle super early (week two), which worked for us since Bennett is a little piggy but know some lactation consultants recommend waiting a little longer to avoid nipple confusion. I can't say this enough: being able to let someone else feed your baby is a huge relief sometimes, even if you like nursing!

My best pumping tip: you do not have to wash all the parts each time you pump. Throw the parts in a ziplock and toss it in the fridge between pumping sessions, then sanitize the parts at the end of the day.

Incidentally, we have been using these bottles with the #1 nipple (even now that age-wise, he could go up a nipple) and they have worked great. He's had no difficulty switching back and forth from me to bottle.

Learn to nurse lying down

You will figure it out
New parenthood is a huge learning curve, and it is super hard sometimes, but a lot of the time it feels totally normal and natural and lovely. Whatever you're dealing with, know that it WILL change. I read once to give everything three days, since things can change that fast with a new baby. Three days  of dealing with whatever is manageable. Have patience with yourself, your spouse and your baby. Before you know it, you will be packing away the newborn clothes and marvelling at how quickly your baby is growing and changing. As adults, I think we lose the frame of reference for how fast newborns turn into infants turn into toddlers and children and and and. I won't tell you to soak it all in, because sometimes you won't feel like soaking it all in and that's totally okay. But when you do feel like soaking it in, notice that urge and take some time to honor it. When you're just surviving, remember to reach out for support and to take the best care of yourself you can manage. The wonderful thing about new motherhood is some of the tougher parts blur away in the rearview mirror and the memories, even the tough ones, turn kind of sweet. You will be great.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Eight Weeks

My baby is eight weeks old today. My sweet, beautiful, chubby baby who wakes up every morning with confused, gummy sleepy baby smiles. We are still getting to know each other but I am, without doubt or reservation, his mother.

It was nearly a month and a half ago when I wrote that things were not easy, when I felt scared about my ability to adjust, when I felt I had been tossed up in the air and had no idea when, where or if I would come back down.

I think I felt compelled to write--beyond my own need for transparency--because I wanted to share that there is no dichotomy in motherhood. I had unconsciously accepted that either you get postpartum depression or you are giddy with joy, that either you love your baby or you don't, that you're a good mother or a bad one. And of course (OF COURSE) that sounds silly, but only when it's brought out into the light. When it lives amidst all the other unexamined truths we hold, it doesn't sound silly at all. I thought if I had allowed those ideas to guide my expectations of becoming a mother, perhaps somebody else had, too.

I've spent a lot of time over the past month and a half trying to figure out how to come back to this space with a tidy conclusion, but I haven't been able to figure out how to do that in a genuine way, probably because I am so far from any kind of conclusion about this transition. I am still so very much in it (though with a different balance of emotions, namely, much more joy and contentment), and probably will be for a very long time.

What I can say is this: I am me again. Although part of me now includes being a mother, that new piece feels as though it's always been here, oddly. It's true what they say about feeling as though you've always known your baby (at least for me--it might not feel that way for you, and that's just as okay as the other).

Here is where I would stop if I wanted to leave this tidy. We are doing wonderfully. This baby is incredible (and of course a genius). We decided that my husband would not take summer classes this season so we are all home together, which is a once-in-a-lifetime situation and something I am so grateful we are able to do, for many reasons. We spend so much of our days mesmerized by the things Bennett does and I am in awe that only two months ago he was living inside me, had not seen anything of the world, and now he is doing amazing things like smiling, holding up his giant head, learning to laugh, to roll over, etc. I have felt the deep ache of missing him when he is asleep only two feet from me. I spend a lot of time with him strapped to me in a baby carrier, only because I need several hours each day where his heavy weight is close to my heart and where his head is close enough that I can bend down to smell it whenever I want.

I think part of what made the beginning difficult (among many things that made it difficult) was that the feeling of falling in love with this baby was not familiar to me as the feeling of falling in love. And of course it isn't, because falling in love with our children might be the only time in our lives where the loving will be forever. When we fall in love with other adults--when we fall in romantic love--while we might hope for permanency, we know we can always step away, perhaps forget that person, try again with somebody new or decide being in love just isn't for us. But I will love this child forever, no matter what, no matter the pain and worry that will come with being his mother, no matter who he turns out to be. So it makes sense that, whereas I am very much in favor of throwing oneself fully into the high of romantic love, this kind of falling in love carries with it a different entrance, though admittedly every day it feels less and less like I have a choice in how I love this child. It is incredible how full and how fragile this feels.

Bennett has grown out of the clothes he wore during his first few weeks of life. His 0-3 month sizes don't fit him anymore. This, more than anything, made me realize I don't have time to overthink any of this unless I want to miss most of it. We are in this together, growing togther, learning together. We are both just in the thick of it and there is no stopping the show to practice or perfect. Somehow I found comfort in the realization that it all changes so quickly, and that we made it out of one stage without me having any idea what I was doing or, probably, being a gold-star mama. That I brought myself to that stage exactly as I was and we still made it. He still saves most of his smiles for me. He still would rather sleep on my chest than anywhere else. He knows only me as his mama, and his trust helps me continue stepping deeper and deeper.

After I shared that the adjustment to motherhood was hard for me, so many other mothers (SO MANY) came to me to say they had felt the same. They struggled with the identity change, with initial uncertainty with their decision, with anxiety, depression, boredom, not always liking their babies, marriage strife, etc. etc. ETC. Seriously. So many things we struggle with. So many more things we will struggle with over the coming years, but so many deep joys, too. All of those feelings are part of the same and dependent on one another. We get to feel deeply only if we aren't picky about which feelings show up when.

I'm not (quite) enough of an egomaniac to believe that me sharing my path will make anyone else perfectly comfortable being in the thick of it. I imagine, no matter what, that if you struggle, you will probably feel lonely and not very good at least part of the time you are in that struggle. But if there's any part of you that can hear this, know you are doing it perfectly. There is no right way. Your relationship to yourself, your child, your spouse, your life is unique. There is no dichotomy, no good or bad. There is only the in-between, there is only the way your are doing it, not the way you should be doing it.

Also, when they say it gets really does. It is beautiful and hard and complicated and wonderful, and sometimes it just feels totally boring and normal, except with a baby, which is its own kind of great.

To all of you who offered wine, walks, love, an ear, your own experience, your support...thank you. I trust I would have landed on my feet anyway, but the community that comes out of honesty and vulnerability is a treasure that never fails to stop me in my tracks.

Before I gave birth, a friend stopped me to share a dream she had before she birthed her first child many years ago. In this dream, she saw a group of women. From the group, one approached her, and with the great power that comes from joining together in truth, she told my friend, "we are with you." At the time, I assumed my friend offered this to me as I prepared to birth my son, but now I realize its scope was never intended to be confined to just one day, but rather for that day and all the days after.

We are with you.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Back in the Middle

We are settling in.

Two days after writing my last post, I woke up feeling happy. Just like that, the weight lifted, as if somehow overnight I had stopped teetering on the edge of what used to be and stepped into the new. It's much easier to live with both feet planted, ready to take steps forward.

There's always so much more to write when things don't feel easy. When they get easier, there's less to report, and I often don't return to share the good news, having moved on to other things. But in this case, I wanted to revisit this space to put into words what I wrote only in faith last time: it gets better.

I think what I was going through was at least in part attributable to a big hormone dump (what many would call "baby blues," though I despise that name--way to infantilize a very hard and very common female experience) rather than full-blown postpartum depression. This makes me very, very lucky (though any time in the first year is fair game to develop PPD, so we're not completely out of the woods yet).

That said, I think a few things helped it pass a little more quickly than it otherwise might have. Far and away, I think what helped the most was being honest about what I was feeling and thinking. Telling my mother, husband, friends, providers and you that mourning was a big part of my new mom world. Nope, this wasn't pretty. It didn't fit with my deep defensive desire to portray an "I've got my shit together" image. I felt a lot of shame about being handed this beautiful gift and essentially crying about all I (felt was) lost in the trade. I felt even more shame about not feeling immediately consumed by love for my son, both because I felt he deserved a mother who was head over heels for him, and because, well, that's just now how you're supposed to do it. I was doing it wrong and I wasn't capable of doing it right.

Which, of course, is total bullshit.

First, let me say, I love Bennet more and more every day. I've started to miss him when I put him down to sleep and I spend an inordinate amount of time every day kissing his face and snuggling all the sweet little bits of his chunky self. I love him, I love these moments, and I am so relieved that switch was flipped, because there were moments when I wasn't sure it was going to. Because there isn't a cultural story for the process into motherhood taking time--it's supposed to be intant, instinctive. Because it wasn't that way for me, I didn't have the reassurance that I would still get there.

I don't like reading all the advice--true as it may be for the sharer--that includes some version of "you will feel totally overwhelmed with love for your baby," or "you will feel exhausted and overwhelmed and happier than you ever thought possible," because they show only one way to feel about the experience. Guess what? It's okay if it takes awhile. It's okay if you generally struggle with change and thus struggle with this change (it usually takes me months to adjust to big life changes--even sought-after ones like graduation, new jobs, marriage, home ownership--why in the world did I think this change would be so different?). It's okay if you need to get to know this new little person a bit, to get to settle into this new relationship, before the feelings come. A friend gave me some very good advice when I was in the thick of it: "It is wise to ask yourself, what in the fuck just happened to me?" Because WHAT IN THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED TO ME?!

I know we're supposed to be hard wired as women to adjust from not being mothers to being mothers in seconds. Perhaps the most significant changes of our lives and we're not allowed time to adjust or to use our brains to decide how to approach the new phase because, as we all know, women are born to be mothers.


So, in short, I had to give myself permission to do this my way, to let the process take its course. I had to remind myself that Bennett basically cares about my giant, bountiful, sore chinchas and having a safe place to sleep (or 15 safe places to sleep, as the case may be). He was not evaluating me against all the other mothers he could have had.

I'm going to repeat that: your baby is not comparing you to all the other mothers. Your baby is not judging you. Your baby is not disappointed that he got you.

It was also really important for me to make it okay to pass off some of the baby care, like having his dad give him a pumped bottle in the evening when one more nursing session would send me over the edge, or waking his dad up once each night to change a diaper. I'm completely capable of changing a diaper, but I needed that act as tangible evidence that keeping this baby alive and cared for wasn't on my shoulders alone. I needed to let my mom come over to hold him so I could nap or (cue the mommy police) lie in my bed to mindlessly scroll around social media on my phone. I needed to leave him in his swing for awhile every morning (also called by one friend, his neglectomatic) so I could shower and put on lotion and blow dry my hair and sometimes even put on blush and mascara.

I needed a little space. New mothers aren't supposed to need space. We're supposed to live in the glorified world of "I haven't eaten a meal with both hands or showered even though I get spit up on my three times every day and I haven't slept more than 3 hours a night or put on real clothes since I don't know when." And this isn't me saying any of those things are wrong. This is me saying any way you make the experience of new motherhood feel true to you is good. Not just acceptable, but good. Rockstar level, even.

So we are doing much, much better. Sure, we have our moments, like when it took five tries to get Bennett in his carseat without screaming so I could go restock groceries, or how he is consistently absolutely starving and pissed when my milk supply is lowest right before bed, but too, we have our moments, like when he does a goofy uncoordinated smile-face over and over again while I'm holding him, or when he falls heavily asleep on my chest, or when he sleeps for 2 hours in the morning allowing me to do things that remind me of me. We are definitely moving into the new normal.

Oh, also, watching a hilarious TV show that reminds you how amazing it feels to laugh is a very, very good remedy for the baby blues. Catastrophe is at least 60% responsible for getting me over the hump.

And, though I'm not sure this all was as thought out or directed as it could have been, I'm leaving it at that.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The First Weeks of Motherhood (I'm not The Madonna)

I've sat down a few times to write the story of Bennett's birth, but I realize this morning it feels more honest to write about how hard this feels right now.

Two weeks ago last Sunday, three nights of stop and start labor culminated in an unplanned surgical birth. Although that probably sounds hideous to most people, it was by far the most beautiful, profound experiences of my life. It wasn't an emergency ceasarian, which I think helped. We had time to labor, time to try different approaches, time to decide it was time.

Two weeks ago tomorrow, we brought our baby home after an exhausting hospital stay. We sat on the couch and watched garbage Netflix and were grateful to sleep in our own bed. We set alarms to go off every three hours through the night to make sure our sleepy baby, who gave us a dehydration scare in the hospital, ate enough to keep his little system going.
My husband woke up the next morning to study and attend classes all day, as he has done every day since, faithfully toughing out these last few difficult weeks of having to be both student and new father.

My mother came over, as she has done every day since, to hold Bennett as I took an after-lunch nap and to attend to the chores my recently cut-open self wasn't physically able to keep up with (which was all of them).

I spent the day in bed, letting my body heal while also spending hours nursing and holding this tiny new being.

I thought we had it down. At one week postpartum when I couldn't stand looking at the same four walls for one more minute, I took my first walk outside, strapping Bennett to my chest in a snuggly baby carrier. I felt a million times better both physically and emotionally and decided we were through the worst of it.

We made it to the routine doctor's visits. We're getting sleep that's on the good side of normal for a newborn. I can sit up by myself. Nursing is going nearly as perfectly as I could have asked, which I do not take for granted.

I thought each day would continue to be better than the last, but yesterday, as I sat in my midwife's office for my two week checkup, and after sharing that I have great support, that breastfeeding is going great, that baby is sleeping, that the pain of my incision is almost gone, I finished with, "and I love my baby and am totally devoted to his well-being but...I'm don't feel in love with my baby. And I'm not sure if that's normal." And I cried, and as she reached out and looked me in the eyes and said, "I'm worried about you." I realized I wasn't doing myself any favors by trying to convince myself and everyone around me that this isn't incredibly fucking hard in a way I coudn't fathom before being in it.

And there is so much shame in it being hard, because it's not the image of motherhood we hold in our culture and because it feels so shitty to feel or say anything negative about the experience when you are one of the lucky ones who gets to hold your own baby. There is no room to talk seriously about how long the days and nights are, how unprepared we were for the intense loss of identity we undergo in taking on a new one, how deeply we miss being valued for our brains more than our boobs and our ability to soothe a tiny screaming dictator in his third hour of crying. There is no room to talk about how the life we spent the past 30 years building was important and valued unto itself, not just in preparation for the role of motherhood. There is no room to talk about how this experience can be both profoundly overwhelming and profoundly boring at the same time, or how many minutes we let the baby fuss in the middle of the night while undergoing an internal debate of how pressing the poopy diaper really is, or whether it makes one a bad mother to hope the baby will magically go to sleep even though it's been 4 hours since he ate and you know that's already pushing his limits of how long he can go without a top off. There is no room to talk about the thousand different ways there is to step into the role of mother that don't in any way resemble The Madonna. The "how are you/how's he sleeping/how many hours a day do you spend staring at him" round of questions don't invite these conversations and it feels very dark in the shadows.

I thought about waiting to write until this had passed. It feels safer to write from the perspective of "it gets better!" than "I think/hope/have to believe it gets better." In truth, I know it will get better. All of us have many examples of times we had to learn a new way of being, and we did it. In my own experience, these periods of change always result in a me I like better and I have no real reason to suspect it will be different this go. I write in this place of vulnerability, as I usually do, because I find healing in it. Turning the ideas into words gives me some space from them. I write also because, although I know I'm not alone in this, I want to know I'm not alone in this. Your reassurance, stories and encouragement are welcomed.

I write because, if you know someone who recently became a mother, yes, coo over her baby, ask if he's sleeping, how she's feeling. But also ask what is hardest about her days, about the transition. Ask if she's cried and what it was about, and please don't let her brush it off as "just hormones." General questions allow too much room for glossing over the grime. If you struggled, share that with her. Tell her how old your baby was when you started feeling better. Give her permission to skip the equivocation, to avoid reassuring you that everything is really fine. Tell her you know she loves her baby and that she can both be a devoted mother and also spend a lot of time feeling unhappy or blank. Complex experiences are part of being human; there's no need to fit our experiences into a single (or any) box. Tell her if you think she is depressed--it can be incredibly difficult to call it when you're in the thick of it, since the story depression tells you is it's always been this way. Tell her you'll be over this afternoon for a walk. Bring a bottle of wine (yes, yes, alcohol is technically a depressant, but I swear drinking it with a good friend ameliorates the effect).

I write because, if you are soon to be a mother, before giving birth I want you to ask your support system to plan to check in with where you are emotionally at least several times per week after the baby arrives. Know you might feel totally awesome at some hours of the day and like you're losing your marbles during others. BE HONEST when people you trust ask how you're doing. Find some support groups ahead of time--new parent support groups, breastfeeding support groups--whatever will put you around a bunch of other people in the same phase of life. Get a list of therapists on your insurance and stick it on the fridge. Find a way to get help for at least the first two weeks (my daily naps are my saving grace and they absolutely would not happen without my mom coming over to hold the baby for an hour). Know there is every possibility that you won't end up needing any of this. Know that if you do, you'll be glad to not have to figure out what resources are available. Finally, know that just because the baby blues, postpartum depression and the nameless in between are relatively common experinces does not mean they are to be toughed out. Call it early and get support, even if that's just a mandatory family walk and talk when your spouse gets home each night.

I write also because if you are with me in this place, I want us to remind each other: This is tough, but we are tougher. Let's give ourselves and each other permission to be exactly where we are. Perhaps this is not what we hoped or expected to feel in the weeks after our children were born, but it is beautiful and rich nonetheless, and someday soon, these weeks will become a memory, as everything does.