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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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So the last couple of weeks have been filled with lots of stupidly stressful events. Our internet went down for two days. Our refrigerator died right before our trip to California. Our flight from Santa Barbara to LA was canceled (American stuck us in a cab which got us there just in time). And my (tooth) crown didn’t fit on Weds. and had to be broken up and pulled off. Like I said, stupid stressors. Nothing catastrophic, but inconvenient and annoying. Maybe the universe is preparing me for parenting. Let’s see – unexpected delays, unplanned for expenses, yep. Sounds like parenting.

We got back to Austin just in time for some really chilly weather. We even had a little bit of snow today! I know I’m supposed to be warm all the time right now, but I don’t think it’s kicked in yet. I still get cold a lot.

I’m hoping we can make some progress on the nursery this weekend. I need to put a final coat of paint on the dresser and start figuring out what kind of decorative painting I want to do on it. David is going to (hopefully) do a second coat on the walls, and then up comes the carpet. We got our carpet tiles last week right before we left. Another good reason to get the room done is we’ve started getting gifts for the baby and they’re piling up! We now have some of the essentials, which is really nice.

I’m due three months from today, but I’m not officially in my third trimester until next Thursday. I guess that means more frequent poking and prodding from my doctor. And getting bigger. And bigger. I’m fine with the size of my stomach right now. Can it stay this size until I give birth? Probably not so much.

elephantI’ve been asking around and it seems like all parents have one particular gadget that made their lives with newborn easier. So far I’ve heard about the papasan chair, a voice activated white noise and vibration gadget, the ergobaby carrier, and the drop in stroller. My goal is to stay as compact as possible, since babies are always developmentally cycling through everything and then needing new stuff. For example, in the interest of compacting, we’re going to ditch the traditional stroller and just get the drop in and the aforementioned Bob all-terrain. But seriously, if it lets me sleep or function, I want it. Tell me what it is.

When it comes to decorating, I’m allergic to pastels. This poses quite a challenge when designing a baby room. I’m not registering for many decor items because I’m hoping to refurbish or make many of them myself (with a little help from friends and family). The room “theme” (I hate themes) is eclectic with a little modern and some East Indian influence. And elephants. Can’t visualize it? Don’t worry, there will be lots of pictures when it’s finished.

On the pregnancy front I’m doing pretty well. The nausea and general squeamishness are mostly gone, except for isolated incidents. My appetite is better, but I’m still not gaining weight. I’m having intermittent round ligament pain and general lower back soreness, but am still able to walk a good distance so that helps. I have way more energy. I’m sleeping okay, though not nearly as heavily as the first trimester, but I’m having lots of vivid, creepy dreams. I could do without those. I had to ditch yoga this last week because of a conflict, so we’ll see if it kicks my ass this week.

So what gadgets could you have not survived early parenthood without? Leave me some ideas in the comments section!

What baby wouldnt want this?

What baby wouldn't want this?

God help me, I’m starting to have to physically restrain myself from buying kiddie stuff. The link from my last entry, Nerdy Baby, is full of the awesome. I’m going to have to get one of the prints for the nursery.

My mother in law bought me some totally adorable Carter’s onesie sets at Babies R Us today. All hot pink and purple and green with panda feet and things too unspeakably cute to mention.

But then there’s Threadless. I’m sunk. Where you can get this. And this. And this. Help!

Don’t even get me started on books. First, there’s shiny new copies of all the books I loved (and trashed) when I was a kid. And then there’s hip cool new books with Buddhist fables, and board books with Haiku, and Monsters! If I’m not careful I’m going to be dressing and diapering my kid in pages ripped from books because I forgot about everything else I’m going to need. Who needs a diaper pail when you have this?

I think I have some issues to work out.

bobSo today I dragged David to USA Baby to see if we could get a stuff-for-your-kid 101 course. The amount of crap it is possible to buy is more than a little intimidating. Chuck, the owner, was really helpful. I now feel well-armed to make decisions about some of the more essential items. The stroller you see pictured is called the Bob. It’s way cool. We do a lot of walking with the dogs in the neighborhood, and that won’t change any time soon, so this puppy will get a lot of use. It’s pricey, but well worth it. We’re going to get a Graco infant car seat and regular stroller as well. We looked at a bunch of gliders, and are probably going to get one that’s kind of a modern take on the wood glider (I usually hate those). This one is fairly interesting looking and has some great fabrics to choose from. Unless I find something good on Craigslist that’s CHEAP.

Chilean SeabassIn news of the weird, Tiny Josephine seems to not like fish any more. I made some stew with the red fish David caught last weekend on Tuesday and all was well. But last night David grilled some more, and I couldn’t eat it. And then, and this is really strange, we went for dim sum at Chinatown today and ordered a plate of sea bass.  Chilean sea bass is one of the tastiest things on the planet – and I couldn’t eat it! David sure didn’t mind, but what gives? I had no problem with the shrimp, but the bass just tasted off to me. David assured me it was most certainly not. I know I’m only supposed to have seafood twice a week, and I over did it a bit this week, but most weeks I have little to none. Pregnant bodies are just strange is all.

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