Thursday, December 1, 2011

Battling the Baby Blues

My introduction to mothering was nothing that I pictured. I am typically an organized problem-solver who tackles new situations with the attitude that I will research and learn and tweak until I get it just right. I had all kinds of au naturel mama plans, from breastfeeding to cloth diapering, and spent most of my pregnancy with my nose buried in a parenting book or website. I had experience with kids from babysitting and, of course, watching Supernanny on a regular basis. Everyone kept telling me what a great mom I'd be, and I was confident they'd be right.

Then reality hit.

When we arrived home, I thought I'd be so glad to be in our house, ready to start our life with our little family. My husband and mom were home with me, and my mom would be staying for the whole week, so I had plenty of support and assistance. But I was anything but ready and rearing to go.

How can I best describe what I felt like that day and for the week or so that followed?

I was like an empty shell of myself. I would feel OK when I got up in the morning, but as the day went on, my mind would lock itself into this pattern of negative thoughts: What if the baby gets sick? Hurt? How will I entertain her when she gets older? Will I ever have time to myself again? How could anyone have more than one child? What have I done?

Absolutely everything made me anxious and overwhelmed. At one point, I looked at the water bottle I'd been given at the hospital and thought, "I should put that in the dishwasher." This thought sent me into a tizzy. Something as simple as putting something in the dishwasher! I just felt as though I would never get my life on any semblance of a schedule, would never find the time to do everything that needed to get done, and would never learn to take on all the responsibilities of parenthood well. Worse, I worried that I was doomed to a life of boredom and monotony.

One thing that surprised me was that my appetite was virtually nonexistent. During pregnancy and before, I had a love affair with food. Now, no food sounded good, and not only that, but my body would not tell me when I was hungry. I had to be reminded to eat, and only when I was forced by my mom or my husband would I choke something down. My baby weight was virtually melting off me, but it was not happening in a healthy way.

Of course, on top of all this, my nipples were bloody and bruised and I was finding nursing to be a nightmare.

My poor mother would spend the day with the baby and me and watch as I slowly disintegrated into a teary-eyed zombie by afternoon. My husband would come home from work to his weary, ragged wife every night. We'd go upstairs and I'd cry to him about my fears and anxiety while I took a sitz bath at his insistence, and then I'd lie down in my bed and cuddle up with him, trying to take a nap but failing because my mind wouldn't stop its cycle of negativity, crying until my tears dried up.

Meanwhile, I had this beautiful little girl. I mean, seriously beautiful. And easy, too. As babies come, she was (and is) an angel. The saying that God doesn't give us more than we can handle is so true. If I'd had a difficult baby on top of these baby blues, I don't know how I would have survived. I probably would have ended up back in the hospital.

At no point did I ever resent my sweet little angel, but I also didn't feel toward her like I thought I would. I thought I would just melt at the sight of her and feel overwhelmed with a warm, gooey love. Instead, my love was very objective and detached. I stayed patient and calm with her, despite my tears, but rather than wanting to stare at her for hours in awe, I just wanted to make sure she was cared for and her needs were met. I rose to the challenge of parenthood, but not in the confident, super-mom way I'd imagined.

What was going on to cause this classic case of baby blues?

#1 - Hormones. Before I got pregnant, I'd had a hormonal imbalance. I'd used natural progesterone oil to balance out estrogen-progesterone ratio and help me have a healthy enough menstrual cycle to get pregnant. (It worked the first cycle we tried!) Whereas pregnancy normally makes women feel "hormonal," my pregnancy balanced me out and made me feel more like myself. After childbirth, that balance was drastically altered.

#2 - Exhaustion. I. Was. Tired. I went into labor at 11pm on a Friday night. My daughter was born the next day at 3pm. Needless to say, I didn't get much, if any, sleep over those 16 hours. Nor did I get any during the day as our room was filled with visitors until 11:30 that night. And then I was up at night fighting the breastfeeding battle. And then the next day was more visitors and another long night. When we were finally discharged on Monday, I was learning how capable the human body is of running on an empty tank, and I never had the chance to recharge it - nor did I see a chance lurking around the corner.

I'm the kind of person who needed 8-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep in order to function, pre-baby. No wonder everything overwhelmed me when I had absolutely no energy to do anything. And no matter how many times people told me "nap when the baby naps," I felt like I had to bustle around the house and get things done when I could. Why? Maybe to prove my competence as a parent, maybe to exert some sort of control over my life, but regardless, it all could have waited.

#3 - Sheer change. Having a baby is perhaps the most life-altering thing a person could ever do. Before she was born, I had an idea of what being a mom would be like, but that's all it was - an idea. No amount of reading, research, or classes could have prepared me for the realization that we had brought a new person into the world for whom we'd be responsible to raise. I suddenly realized that unpredictable and scary things would happen to her. That I'd have very little time to myself anymore. That I was going to have an infinite amount of things to learn about her development and needs. That I was going to make mistakes. For a person who constantly desires predictability and routine, this was the opposite of exciting - it was terrifying.

Objectively, I knew I had the baby blues, but I couldn't simply tell myself that's all it was and to just get over it. It was a very real problem that was manifesting itself physically, emotionally, and mentally in an all-encompassing way. But, eventually, things did get better, and here is what I attribute it to.

I talked about it. My mother and husband were the rocks I leaned on. They let me voice my fears and negative thoughts and helped me to feel like it was understandable I felt the way I felt. Instead of bottling everything up inside and fighting a silent battle, I was able to put my feelings into words. They would give me a realistic perspective or just hug me and let me cry.

I got help. My mom actually took overnight care of the baby for a few nights. She got up with her when she cried, gave her bottles, changed her diapers, and allowed me to catch up on my sleep a little bit. When my husband would get home, he'd go into daddy mode and lift some of the responsibility off my shoulders. I felt a little guilty allowing others to care for my child, but that guilt was countered by the knowledge that I could not be a good mom to my daughter if I had nothing left to give her.

I gave up nursing. This is not something that I necessarily recommend because we all know "breast is best." But for me, nursing was a major stress that was sending me over the edge. Each time my daughter would nurse, I'd curl my toes in pain and she would cry because she wasn't getting what she needed. Switching to bottle feeding - expressed breast milk and supplementing with formula (and as I write this, now exclusively on formula) - gave me the solace of knowing my baby was getting nourished, and it also allowed others to pick up some of the feedings. For a person suffering from the baby blues, being the sole source of nutrition for another human being and not being able to satisfy that nutrition adequately was the straw that continually broke the camel's back. Read more about my decision here.

I tried new things. It was so awesome to have my mom with me, but I was also sort of using her as a crutch. I was letting her change, feed, and dress the baby. I spent lots of time worrying about things like driving the baby, taking her places, and bathing her. As I've actually started doing these things - taking her to the grocery store with my husband, giving her a bath on my own, driving her to the post office, taking her to church, simply staying alone with her - my competence has increased by a million.

I wrote things down. After a few days, I realized that things might feel a little less overwhelming if I would write down her feedings and diaper changes. It helped me pick up on patterns and gave a feeling of structure to our life.

I used a Moby wrap. Being able to wrap my baby on me and go about my business around the house made me feel like a million bucks. It helped me realize I could spend quality time with my daughter and keep her content while still being able to manage our household. I cannot recommend baby slings/carriers/wraps highly enough!

I allowed time to do its thing. Time sorted my hormones out. Time has helped me get to know my daughter better with each passing day. Each day is an accomplishment. As I write this entry, I'm confident in my parenting abilities and excited about what lies ahead with our daughter. Things still worry me and I still have negative thoughts from time to time, but I spend way more of my time feeling those warm, gooey love vibes and crying happy tears instead of tears of exhaustion, worry, and anxiety.

This was definitely an unexpected battle, but one that I finally won. Looking back, I should have relied more on my relationship with God. I knew that objectively, but I felt I didn't even have the mental resources to pray. Regardless of whether I actually made it around to asking, I know he was working on me and helping me through. And now that my tank is slowly but surely recharging, I will remember to rely on him and let him "go before me always" as I continue raising my little girl.

1 comment:

  1. Jennie, thanks for posting the link to this blog on your FB. Reading through all your entries really takes me back to the first few months with Ben... and it was HARD. I don't think anyone can ever adequately prepare a first-time mother for just how life-changing and life-SHATTERING an event it can be. I'm sorry you've had such a rough time of new motherhood. I'm sorry that your nursing relationship with Aubrey didn't turn out as you envisioned.
    I wish I could visit with you just to give you a hug or sit and listen. I am thinking of you and I'm only ever a phone call or FB message away!