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Lots has happened since the last time I wrote. I got really depressed. I got a job. I got less depressed. I started the  job. I’m now stressed and busy, but relatively happy.

The holidays kind of sucked. I don’t really know why, I just got into a well of bummed-outness and couldn’t claw my way back out. At the worst point, shortly before Christmas, I got offered a job as an adjunct college professor. My confidence was at an all-time low but I couldn’t turn it down – I’ve been wanting to teach  for a long time.

So now I’m a part-time professor and still mostly full-time mom. I have a babysitter three mornings a week who ROCKS and lets me get at least some of my work done during the day. Being a professor is kind of like being a mom, too. Yes, you have to punctuate. No, you can’t copy things off the internet and pass them off as your own work. Yes, you have to turn your homework in on time. Bitching aside, I really like it. It’s hard, hard work, but really fun. And vastly rewarding when I see a student make a connection and improve their understanding or skills.

I felt like I had been losing some core part of myself, and my emotional equilibrium with it, and I couldn’t stomach the idea of going back to schmoozing and networking to build up my business again. It seemed sooooo trivial. So the Universe did me right by dropping this job in my lap. It feels like meaningful, important work. Plus it’s nice to have a little income. I’m hoping to eventually teach two classes a semester.

Miss Lillian seems to be making more connections every day. She is much more aware of my moods now – for better or worse – and is full of her own expressions of emotions. She imitates sounds, claps like it’s going out of style, and flirts like crazy.

I can’t believe she’s going to be a year old in a couple of weeks. It’s crazy. This time last year I was big as a whale, not sleeping (how things don’t change), and having a hard time doing things like walking and writing. And living on Tums. The only thing I miss is going to yoga four times a week. And naps. Long, long, multiple naps per day. I miss them. I looked like this:

Did I mention I’m 30lbs lighter than I was then? Yeah. I don’t miss being huge and having somebody kicking my ass from the inside any more. Babies: better out than in!

 

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Four months!

Four months old!

I am actually feeling a lot better these days. I know the hormones are starting to subside because I don’t break into a sweat every time I get stressed out. I still get kind of hot at night, but nothing like it was. And oh yeah, I don’t have a mental breakdown every day or so. That part is key. I still get grouchy, and defensive, and worried, and exhausted, (just ask David!) but I don’t hit the red zone nearly as easily.

So now I can reflect on some of the madness that has been the last 4 months and think about writing more about it. Here’s a tale of self-inflicted crazy from the crazy archives.

When Lillian was about 4 weeks old, I had the really bad idea to weigh her on the bathroom scale. And the scale said she was only 7 lbs, way too low for where she should be. To rewind – she had come in at the 10th percentile for weight and her doctor had warned us it couldn’t go below that, so I was paranoid. She had also lost too much weight when she came home from the hospital, and that was really scary. Also, breast feeding is hard in that respect because you really have no idea how much food your kid is getting. And a friend of mine had had supply problems and her baby was having a hard time gaining weight. Another friend’s newborn had ended up in NICU because she had issues relating to low birth weight. How does all this apply to this situation? Er, it doesn’t really, I was just paranoid.

Anyhoo, I freaked the hell out. Freaked. Out. I was convinced that Lillian was dangerously underweight, dehydrated, sickly, and on the brink of being taken from me and stuck in NICU. (At this point I was seriously sleep-deprived as well.) David didn’t want me taking her to the doctor or calling the lactation consultant and further indulging my panic – he was sure she was just fine. But I got so wigged I did end up calling the lactation consultant. She came later in the week, weighed Lillian, and determined that she was in fact 7lbs 12oz, a very respectable weight gain since her previous appointment. Doh.

The freaky thing was I managed to convince myself so completely that something was seriously wrong when it wasn’t. A freakier thing was how my fear of Lillian not gaining weight and somehow getting “in trouble” for it was really an inversion of my own feelings about my body. I’ve always hated the scale, and while my self-esteem is usually pretty good these days, as is my fitness, I’ve still avoided the doctor because I don’t want a supposed authority figure to tell me I’m wrong or defective in some way. But since I had the baby I haven’t really given a crap about that so much. So here we have a perfect example of how my own issues can be passed on to my kid unconsciously if I’m not careful. Do I want Lillian to worry about weighing too much or too little as she gets older? Nooooooo. I just want her to feel as comfortable and happy in her body as possible. Is it her job to take on my feelings about my body? Oh Jesus no.

Sometimes I still worry. Lillian is smaller than most of the babies in our play group and I have a tendency to compare a bit too much. But I just look at my anxiety and say, “Well, that’s just my old friend Anxiety in another costume, and it doesn’t have any more to do with reality (or with Lillian) than last time when I was fixated on something else.”  It eventually works when paired with some fresh air, or meditation, or a good nights’ sleep. And Lillian is awesome; she’s active and happy and I love her chubby thighs and cheeks. I may be a worrier, but I make good, well-thought out decisions for myself and her.  I have no intention of letting my own crap influence those decisions or how Lillian perceives herself as she becomes more self-aware.

I’ve also talked to a lot more parents since the early days and realized that the milestone/percentage tracking thing is a bunch of bullshit. My kid is not a demographic. She’s an individual and she may be smaller or bigger at any given time depending on her activity level, growth spurts, sleep, eating schedule, and basic genetic makeup. I understand that tracking her growth over time can show trends and give us an idea if there are problems, but it seems just ludicrous how much attention is paid to this stuff in the first few months. Her doctor warned us that she had to stay in the same percentile (or go up) at her first appointment. What the hell? She’s going to be smaller sometimes and bigger sometimes. What about when she starts solids and her calorie intake drops for a while? What if her growth slows down for a little while? Should we really have to look at all this stuff with a magnifying glass before it can ever indicate anything? It turns out I know a lot of people whose kids were in low percentiles (myself included) and turned out just fine. And anyone who sees Lillian can tell she’s thriving, so the growth charts (and our pediatrician who I’m about to fire anyway – story coming soon) can just suck it.

I’ve been debating how frank I want to be on this blog about some of the crazy postpartum stuff I’ve been going through. I tend to keep my tone some kind of combination of chirpy and sardonic, and a lot of what I’ve been through over the past few months really doesn’t fit with that. Nor can I write about these experiences and make light of them with a clear conscience. This is some serious shit.

The postpartum period is no freaking joke. Sleep deprivation is used as torture by the military. All new parents are subject to it for weeks or possibly months, and everyone just laughs it off. Or they say asinine things to you like “Why don’t you sleep when the baby sleeps?”

Add on to that something nobody really talks about which is this crazy hormonal shift your body goes through for God knows how long. I still have night sweats and I’m almost three months out. For the first several weeks I broke out into a cold sweat, had heart palpitations, and generally felt wretched. The mood swings that come with them are epic.

Add in the reality that you’re now responsible for the survival of a helpless human being and you have no training and no experience. This is not a recipe for confidence. What you do have is a whole lot of dogmatic, vastly contradictory advice from friends, family, health practitioners, and the dreaded internet. It’s enough to make anyone, no matter how well adjusted, good and crazy. I’m a worrier and a rule-follower, so wading through all this crap while trying to figure out what makes the most sense for Lillian and us is wicked stressful.

Another problem is how the medical community and our society treats this period. Nobody wants to be stigmatized and diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. But in reality every new mom I know, myself included, manifest at least a few of the “symptoms” associated with it. But what if you don’t want to think of yourself that way, or you don’t want other people to think you’re sick? You hide how you’re feeling or repress it. This is obviously not good for your kid, and seriously not good for you.

I wrote about how I lost my shit during the first couple of weeks. I didn’t write about how much more I lost my shit after that, and how I still can’t hold my shit together for more than a day or two at a time. I have a lot of experience dealing with emotional turmoil. I’ve been treated for anxiety and panic attacks in the past, and I have a bunch of good, healthy coping mechanisms that keep me on the right track. But when I had the baby most of those things were derailed. Meditation is hard to come by when you’re caring for a newborn, as is exercise, sleep, good eating habits, and socializing. Medication is not my favorite way to cope, and it is no substitute for an emotionally and physically healthy lifestyle.

The hormonal stuff just sucks. It SUUUUUUCKS. Right at the point in my life when I need to be able to use all my wisdom, experience, and maturity I seem to have reverted to teenagerhood. Most of the time I’m rational and even tempered, but I unpredictably become enraged or despondent and I often don’t see it coming. Once it sets in I’m barely functional. My self-esteem takes a nose dive and I spend a lot of time crying and feeling helpless. The last time I remember feeling like this I WAS a teenager and one brief period in my life when I was on the pill. Yay hormones!

While it’s interesting that much of this emotional bedlam is probably hormonal in origin, it doesn’t help much with the “What the fuck do I do right now?” aspect. How do I build a whole new set of coping mechanisms while learning how to be a parent and under the 24 hour pressure and stress that it entails?

Do I take medication? Well, yeah. I went back on a low dose of Prozac. It’s enough to keep my anxiety from turning into panic, but not enough to stop the unfamilliar waves of depression. But I really don’t want to have to deal with weaning off a larger dose when the hormonal component of this shit is likely to pass in the next couple of months or so. I also have been taking Ambien to sleep, but I’m starting to wean off of it. I don’t sleep as deeply when I take it and I think it makes my insomnia worse when it wears off in the middle of the night. It was useful for a while but I’m kind of over it.

Do I exercise more? Yes, when I can. I’d love to do a yoga class every day but since I don’t have a live-in nanny that’s not on the menu. Postnatal yoga can be frustrating,  I’m lucky if I get half an hour of vinyasa in before Lillian needs changing or feeding or soothing. Not a lot of bang for the buck, though it is nice to socialize with other moms and babies. I’ve been taking walks while wearing Lillian in the Bjorn. For weight-bearing exercise it’s great, but it’s hell on my back and shoulders. She’ll eventually grow into the Ergo and that will be an improvement. We’re also getting a fancy stroller that I may eventually jog with, so we’ll see how that goes. Luckily exercise is something that helps with anxiety AND depression so the more I get, the better. It’s just that any activity is now about four times more complicated than it was before. Many activities are just plain impossible.

Do I reach out for support? As much as I can. I see my therapist and go to group therapy, both of which have been invaluable. But it’s not enough. I don’t have time to call or see my friends like I used to, and many of them don’t have time for me. I also can’t meet people out for lunch right now because anything I don’t cook myself may make my kid have bloody diapers and let me tell you, that is not a good thing when I’m struggling with anxiety and depression.

To add to the fun my therapist is moving away at the end of July. This totally sucks, and I’m experiencing a lot of dread over it. She’s been especially helpful during this period when I need support – not advice, judgment, or obligation. I’ve always had a hard time accepting support, and she’s really helped me so her leaving is not a fun thing.

I have a group of new mamas I meet with and chat with over email. They’ve all been great, and we’ve really helped each other out a lot, I think. Our play dates are a bright spot in my week.

My husband has been amazing. He’s been present, supportive, and incredibly loving. He’s an amazing dad, and we learn from each other all the time. I am so incredibly grateful that in our relationship we choose to see our differences in temperament and perspective as an opportunity to learn rather than as a threat. Every day one of us learns something new about the baby and teaches the other one, and we get collectively smarter. This is awesome.

While the last few months have been probably the hardest in our marriage, in some ways they have also been the best. I trust him more now than I ever did before, he’s stuck by me no matter how unhinged or miserable I’ve become.  The hardest part has been letting him take care of me, letting him bear some of the burden without drowning in guilt and remorse. When I get depressed I feel like I can never do enough for Lillian and for him and that all my efforts come up short (this is a habitual thought pattern I’ve had for much of my life). Allowing him to take care of me when I feel this way is a struggle, but it’s been an amazing lesson, too. I think I’m beginning to realize for the first time in my life that I’m worth taking care of, and that I deserve help when I need it, and that it’s okay to ask for and receive it.

My inlaws have been incredibly helpful, especially during the first few weeks when I just couldn’t get my shit together. They still will babysit at the drop of a hat and love spending time with the baby. I also just interviewed a doula/nanny who will be helping me out on an as-needed basis. I’m really looking forward to having a little free time to do stupid shit that has no other object than making me feel good for a little while. I’ve been struggling with guilt over not spending every moment as productively as possible. Things get pretty chaotic when there’s a new human being in the house who can’t talk or walk and stuff like dishes and laundry and grocery shopping get a wee bit backed up. So the idea of getting a massage or going to yoga by myself seems alarmingly decadent and unwarranted. Except that I desperately need some me time to recharge my depleted batteries.

On the flip side, I’ve also come to realize that people really aren’t offering help unless they genuinely care about what I need and want. Sometimes I’m offered things that I don’t need or want, and then made to feel like I’m unreasonable or ungrateful if I don’t accept them entirely on the other person’s terms. For example, one person I know loves to offer advice that isn’t useful or interesting to me, and then argues compulsively when I respectfully decline to take it. I seriously don’t have the energy for this shit right now.

Drawing healthy boundaries is never easy, and is more stressful and draining when my energy and self-esteem are on the low side. Sacrificing my peace of mind in order to take care of the feelings of someone else is something I do reflexively, but it’s just not possible right now.

To sum up, postpartum depression or anxiety or whatever you want to call it is some serious crap that I’m going to bet most new moms experience far more than anyone wants to admit. The cocktail of massive life change, horrible sleep deprivation, and huge hormonal shifts constitutes a shitstorm no one can imagine before it happens, and no one has the innate capacity to deal with when it does. Our society sucks at this stuff and either stigmatizes or minimizes what most new moms are going through every day. I’m still struggling to find the right balance and the right kind of support to just get by. I love my kid like crazy, but I haven’t grown all the mental muscles I need yet to deal with the new responsibility and pressure. I know I’m a strong, resilient, healthy person, but this has tested me in ways I never imagined.

If you or someone you know is struggling after having a baby please encourage them to ask for whatever help they need without shame. The expectations we have of ourselves when we enter into parenthood are often unattainable and unreasonable, and we need all the considerate, meaningful help we can get.

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