Postpartum Diaries

Postpartum Diaries: The Black Dog

NB: This is a post about my experience with postpartum depression and may be triggering for some. In my standing tradition of possibly-unpleasant posts, please enjoy this picture of my cat:

I am, by many measures, a fortunate person. I have a wonderful, supportive partner, a strong family and friend network, and a relatively easy baby. Despite the fact that I had what some might consider a difficult birth, I felt empowered, supported, and at peace with it. I have a wonderful, supportive husband who happily took on all the work of caring for all three of us (apart from breastfeeding) while I was recovering.

So why was I sitting in my bed in the middle of the night, cradling my sleeping child, wracked with sobs?

I felt weak. All I wanted to do was take care of my baby and give my husband the full night’s sleep he deserved after the nights he endlessly rocked the baby in the hospital while I slept. I had to be awake to feed him anyway, so why did we both have to be sleep-deprived, right? I’ve pulled all-nighters before. It’s not going to be forever. I’ll miss this when my baby grows up and doesn’t need me. I should be able to do this now.

What was wrong with me?

I felt like I was failing as a parent. Elliot deserved a better parent than I could be and Dan deserved a better spouse. Maybe I should just leave, so they can find someone better.

And then, while I was sitting there sobbing, Dan woke up and told me something was wrong, but it wasn’t something wrong with me.

I was dealing with postpartum depression.

*          *          *

May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, so I thought it would be a good time to write a little bit about my experiences with postpartum mental illness. I’ve dealt with anxiety and OCD throughout my life, so I knew I was likely to have some difficulty postpartum, but I felt like I was ready. I still was not.

Depression isn’t about what is or isn’t good or bad in your life. It’s about your brain and how it’s working. I knew this going into pregnancy and postpartum recovery. But I still find myself thinking that I’m so lucky, that I shouldn’t be depressed. And while I believe in talking about depression as a way to destigmatize it, I still feel odd whenever I talk about my depression, because I don’t have a reason to be depressed. As I tell people who say that same thing to me, “That’s not how depression works.”

Another reason I’m fortunate is because both my obstetrician and Elliot’s pediatrician are diligent about giving me regular assessments for postpartum depression. Apparently, the pediatrician keeps giving them for up to a year postpartum. And I’ve tried to be honest, even asking Dan to help me answer the questions, in case he’s noticing something I’m missing. So when I got a call from the pediatrician at home the day after an appointment, I had an inkling what it might be about. I was still surprised that they followed up so quickly and thoroughly. I talked with the nurse, got some resources, and then set about getting help. I set up an appointment with a local therapist, and made a note to ask my OB about medication at our next appointment. A couple weeks later, I was on Zoloft and doing well in therapy.

Happy ending, right? Not exactly.

You see, depression and anxiety also aren’t static, especially with the hormonal shifts postpartum, and “getting help” isn’t a single event. I continue to have good days and bad days. I have days where I realize the Zoloft helps a great deal, days where I feel like I could go off it with no effect, and days where it feels like it isn’t helping at all. I can be having a great week and then just suddenly melt down.

The important thing that I realized is that this doesn’t mean I’m failing as a parent or spouse. This doesn’t mean I’m weak. I’m not “resorting to meds” by taking Zoloft — I’m getting the medical help I need for a medical condition.

And, the big one: You can have postpartum depression (and anxiety) even if you have a strong support network. Yes, PPD is more of a risk for women with less support, but support doesn’t mean that you don’t have to worry about it. It’s important that your network knows about the possibility for PPD because they can help you recognize it. As one of my favorite bloggers likes to say, depression lies to you, and when you’re in the thick of it, it’s really easy to believe the lies. Having an outside observer say “hey, that’s depression lying to you” is invaluable.

So if you don’t have someone else to say this to you: You are not the problem. You are not failing as a parent.

You’re a member of a really big club and we’re here for you.

baby, Parenting, Postpartum Diaries

Postpartum Diaries: Four Months

Elliot is four months old and continues to surprise us every day. He’s definitely growing into his personality and has developed a really adorable “serious look” when he meets new people. He’s also started daycare every weekday since I returned to work and seems to be having a blast.

How I’m Feeling:

Well, I returned to work last week and I have to say, the anticipation was much worse than the reality. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t want to go back to work, but since we’ve been paying for daycare for the last month, I couldn’t really afford to take off much more time. I was kind of a mess the weekend before I went back, but I knew he did well at daycare because we’d been sending him a day or two a week for the last month. That really helped my peace of mind as I wasn’t worried about him as much as just missing him. And being back at work has been great. I’m rediscovering how much I love my work and reconnecting with coworkers. Plus, so many people I encounter on my daily commute welcomed me back that I felt so missed and appreciated.

That said, I was dropped right back into the middle of our most hectic time of year. It’s our organization’s annual meeting and that means a lot of early mornings for me. Thankfully, I’ve done okay with my morning routine, and I’m grateful that Elliot has been pretty cooperative with his sleeping schedule so that I’ve been able to get out on time the last couple of days. I’m a little worried I’m going to crash before the end of the week, but for now, I feel like I’ve gotten through both the initial return and the busy period. Tomorrow, we take him to the pediatrician for his four-month checkup, which is a bit of a break for me because I won’t have to commute in.

The main thing that has helped me stay balanced during this transitional time has been my yoga and meditation practice. I talked a bit earlier this month about restarting my yoga practice last month, and this month I also restarted a regular silent meditation practice. Yoga helps wake up my body while meditation helps focus my mind. And when I started having some anxiety over pumping, I was able to use meditation to help relax.

Speaking of pumping, it’s only been a week, but so far I’ve been staying on top of Elliot’s milk needs at day care. Pumping is a weird break time, but it’s just become part of my new routine. And the hospital-grade pump my work provides is pretty awesome (I actually think I got a little too excited and may have set it a bit high last week, which caused some issues). I have my fingers crossed that that stays.

How Elliot’s Doing:

Elliot is generally a happy little guy. He’s still quietly observant of the world around him and loves to watch things happen. He loves watching me make my tea in the morning and is intently interested in the pour over coffee when we go to Vigilante Coffee on the weekends. He’s been going on more outings with us as we become more comfortable taking him out. We’ve been looking for a new house, so he came out to look at houses and we even stopped for lunch in a restaurant with him in tow with success.

He’s also started rolling over on his own, so pretty much all the time is tummy time. And he’s started playing with toys from his tummy as well as grabbing them while on his back. His physical development is really cool to watch and it looks like he’s already trying to figure out how to crawl (he can get his butt up off the ground and kind of does a little inchworm crawl). Dan and I are getting a little concerned that we need to start thinking a little more about how to keep him safe when he becomes mobile because that’s going to happen sooner rather than later. He also figured out how to get his legs over the edge of the bassinet, so we had to move him to a Pack and Play for the night while we ordered a crib!

Finally, Elliot and Sophie are interacting more. She’s become a little braver and more interested in coming near him to investigate, and he’s started reaching out to try to touch her and has become more interested in watching her. Luckily, she’s a very gentle and patient cat, so hopefully they make friends soon.

childbirth

On Having a Doula for a Medicated, Hospital Birth

“Totally worth it.”

That was what Dan said when I asked him recently what he thought about hiring a doula. If you’ve read Elliot’s birth story, you know that it did not go entirely to plan, and that there were a few curveballs even beyond what you might expect from an induction. And through it all, I relied on my husband and he relied on Jenny.

I know that there’s still a feeling among pregnant women that a doula is only for women who are planning an unmedicated birth and want to avoid allopathic medical interventions, but I wanted to talk a little about my experience with hiring a doula without being fully committed to unmedicated birth. Yes, I prepared using Hypnobabies and would not have been upset to have a totally unmedicated birth, but I also know myself, and know that I do not deal well with discomfort. And from our first consultation Jenny and Rose of Silver Spring Doula made it clear that they were here to support my birth, however that may go.

Silver Spring Doula consists of doulas Jenny and Rose, who have together attended more than 200 births as doulas. They also both have children of their own. Rose is a certified Hypnobabies instructor and actually was the one who pointed me in that direction when I expressed that I wanted some way of coping before getting to the hospital. She’s also a bereavement doula and was particularly helpful as I went through a pregnancy after loss. Jenny is a former actor and singer and I’ll admit, I gravitated towards Silver Spring Doula simply because Jenny’s bio spoke to me. Also, our cat likes both of them.

I will admit that I did not do much research or due diligence in choosing a doula, which is strange for me. But, as I mentioned before, Jenny’s bio clicked for me, and when we met Rose at our initial consultation, I was sure these were the doulas for us. We did our community prenatal class with Jenny and had Rose as our primary contact doula for our private prenatal visits, but Jenny was the one who attended my birth (I very narrowly avoided having the backup doula, which would have happened if I’d gone into labor on Christmas Day). Throughout my pregnancy, Jenny and Rose helped me feel more comfortable and gain confidence that I could handle what was coming. And they lent me the Spinning Babies Daily Essentials, which was absolutely key in my physical comfort in the last month or so of pregnancy.

Fast forward to the hospital. I’d been doing my Hypnobabies study, and Dan had gone over his Hypnobabies material and read The Birth Partner. We felt pretty confident and prepared for my induction. The first night was easy, and we decided we’d wait until I started pitocin to ask Jenny to come to the hospital (we were texting with her the whole time). By the time she got to the hospital, my water had broken and my contractions had intensified and I was already beginning to think it was time for an epidural.

Jenny came in and chatted with Dan and me about how I was doing, and made sure I had had enough to eat (I didn’t really have any desire to eat anything besides the approved clear liquids, but I did eat a lot of homemade gelatin). We talked through getting the epidural and she hung out with me and helped calm me down during contractions. Dan definitely picked up on what she was doing differently because when she had to step out during the actual epidural placement, Dan took over and mimicked a lot of her techniques.

Then she came back in and suggested I get some sleep while I had to lay flat. Once I was able to get back up, she helped me into a side-lying position that would still encourage Elliot to descend.

And then the epidural started to fail.

I first noticed that my left hip was starting to feel more uncomfortable. We thought maybe it was that the medicine was pooling on my right side because of how I was laying, so Jenny helped get me flipped over. When that didn’t work, she went to work advocating for me. Now, most of my friends’ epidural stories are of the “epidurals are magical” variety, but one friend of mine had a not-so-magical epidural experience, complete with nurses who refused to believe her when she knew something was wrong. Well, Jenny was my advocate while I was too busy coping with the now-increasing pain (they’d hit maximum pitocin while I was still feeling the epidural, so when it wore off, I was at almost twice the dose of pitocin from where I’d been when I first asked for the epidural). Dan was free to sit with me and help keep me calm through contractions while Jenny stayed on the nurses about my pain.

I honestly don’t know if we could have convinced them to redo the epidural if we hadn’t had Jenny there. They were certain that I just needed more medicine in my line because it’s very common for epidurals to wear off, but not so common for them to fail like mine did entirely.

Then, almost 36 hours after I’d gotten to the hospital to begin the induction, it became apparent that Elliot still wasn’t descending and I was stuck at 8cm dilated and -2 station. Jenny sat with Dan and my doctor and me as we discussed my options. She agreed that it wasn’t too early to consider the c-section because she’d seen the heart rate decelerations Elliot was having when I tried to lay in any position that encouraged him to descend.

Unfortunately, Jenny was asked to leave before I came back from the OR, but she kept in contact via text and came to visit while I was in the hospital to see how I was doing. And she came by the house for our postpartum visit the week we got home from the hospital. She even helped Dan and I figure out the stretchy wrap, thus starting our babywearing journey, and suggested that I look into getting a ring sling to help keep him off my incision.

She’s continued to keep in touch via email and has been a great source of support through all stages of my journey into motherhood. I hope that by sharing my experience with her I can convince others that a doula is not a frivolous expense, even if you’re having a medicated, hospital birth. I would argue that a hospital setting makes a doula even more necessary, as it was helpful to have someone who had experience with birth whose only job was making sure Dan and I were comfortable and supported.

NB: This is not a sponsored or paid review. I have not been given any incentive to write this post other than my own good experiences and all thoughts are my honest opinion.

baby

Adventures in Babywearing

Those of you who follow me on Instagram might have noticed that Dan and I often wear Elliot, especially for walks, or around the house. What started as a passing interest during my pregnancy turned into a full-blown necessity when it became clear that Elliot loves to move and I was not strong enough to carry him around in my arms as much as he wanted. Since Dan and I have both gone through a few iterations of babywearing carriers, I thought I’d share our experiences and talk a little bit about the styles we each prefer.

We started out with stretchy wraps, as many parents do. We were fortunate enough to be gifted both a Moby and a Boba wrap from some generous friends, and our doula helped us figure out how to tie the wrap during her postpartum visit. Dan was immediately excited about wearing the baby because it usually fell to him to walk Elliot around the house while I was recovering from my c-section. I was less enthused by the stretchy wrap because I couldn’t really handle anything around my middle without it causing pain for many weeks.

So I got a ring sling. The ring sling was amazing because it puts absolutely no pressure on your abdomen, and, once I had a friend show me how to use it, I still find it the quickest way to get Elliot up and into a carrier when he’s being fussy around the house. I purchased two linen slings from Sleeping Baby Productions and I would absolutely purchase them again (I bought one, loved it, and bought a second when she had a sale on because I wanted a backup for when my first was in the wash).

But my favorite way of wearing El for longer periods of time, such as our daily walks, has got to be the woven wrap. It is, of course, one of the more expensive ways to babywear, but I found a beautiful 100% cotton woven wrap from Little Frog for under $100, shipped from Poland. I use this wrap in a simple front wrap cross carry for all our outdoor walks now. The wrap is supportive enough that Elliot doesn’t try to kick out of it like he sometimes does with the ring sling, it distributes his weight evenly across my back so I don’t end up with a tweaked back, and the woven material doesn’t sag or stretch out as we walk. And they’re super gorgeous.

We both decided that we don’t love the stretchy wraps. The stretch makes tightening a bit more forgiving, but that also means that they sag and feel less supportive. I once went on a walk with El in the Moby wrap and by the middle of the walk, his wiggling had stretched out the wrap to the point where I basically had to carry him home. Dan decided he prefers a soft structured carrier. We got him a Boba 4G, which he wears around the house in the evenings. Since we’re different sizes, I let his carrier be his (plus, I tried it once, and I’m not a huge fan of it).

So those are our favorite babywearing methods. I’m looking forward to experimenting with more carries with my woven wrap as El gets bigger and more developed. And maybe I’ll treat myself to another woven wrap sometimes (or ask for one for Mother’s Day!).

yoga

Yoga Diaries: March

When I was about six weeks out from my c-section, I tried to start up my yoga practice again, but found that my body had changed more than I’d expected. On the first day of March, nine weeks postpartum, I decided I was going to get back into my yoga practice and I made a deal with myself to try to practice every day of March.

As the month went on, my practice flowed and changed like my body and my feelings about myself. I didn’t quite manage every single day, but I made a good start. In restarting my practice, I’ve started re-forging my relationship with my body and myself, and I wanted to share my thoughts as I move forward from this new beginning, through my yoga practice. So I’ve decided to start a monthly Yoga Diary to document my new yoga journey.

This month, I mostly focused on rebuilding my practice and listening to what my body needed on any given day. At first, I started falling into a sort-of schedule of a more vigorous vinyasa-based practice on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with more restorative practices in between. But as I battled illness and dealt with two of Dan’s work trips, I found myself coming back to my original plan: to listen to my body. Some days I didn’t feel up to a vigorous practice, even though it was Monday, and other days I was ready to move more because I’d been sick, even though it was Tuesday.

I also had to find modifications for my postpartum, post-surgery body. Backbends are still a bit too intense on my lower abdomen, and I’m not doing full planks down to the floor. But on the whole, I feel a lot more confident in my body since restarting my practice (more on that later this month!).

My favorite pose this month has been viparita karani, or legs up the wall pose. I end most of my practices with this gentle inversion. On days when Elliot won’t nap consistently, I will sometimes set him to watch while I practice and if he gets fussy towards the end, I’ll hold him on my belly while I lay in my final pose. We can connect quietly, while I feel the tension release from my lower back and shoulders.

This month has also been about learning how to fit yoga practice into my current life. While I’m the type of person who thrives on routines and schedules, we don’t really have a schedule for Elliot, so I have to take my time when I can, usually during naps, or occasionally when he sleeps later than I do. I have to let go of my preconceived ideas of what “counts as practice” and allow myself to consider ten minutes of poses while on the floor with him my daily practice. I have to find time for myself and make time for myself by asking Dan for his help when he’s home. It’s been an exercise in self-care, more than just physical exercise.

Next month, I’m curious to see how returning to work at the end of the month affects my practice. I might not be able to practice every single day, but I’ll definitely work on ways to make space for yoga during my work day.

baby, postpartum, Postpartum Diaries

Postpartum Diaries: Three Months

Elliot is three months old! We’re officially at the end of the so-called “fourth trimester” and I can definitely see it. Sadly, this also means that I need to start thinking about going back to work next month. I’m definitely not ready.

How I’m Feeling:

This month, I got back into my yoga practice and we started venturing out of the house more. I also got the chance to see how I deal with parenting by myself while Dan took some trips out of town. It’s nice to get out more and be able to take some time for myself during the day. It’s not so nice to have to do the bedtime routine by myself!

My incision is almost completely pain-free now, though it will get irritated by clothes or the occasional body product. I imagine that will linger for a while, but for the most part, I don’t think about my incision as much during the day. I definitely think about it while I do yoga, though, since I’ve noticed that I feel the pulling in my lower abs when I try to do back bending positions. So I’m taking it easy and listening to what my body wants to do.

Obviously, I’ve also been carving out more time for writing this month. There have actually been a few posts this month! Elliot is taking more predictable naps, which means I get a little guaranteed downtime during the day. Unfortunately, I sometimes don’t know whether he’ll nap for 45 minutes or two hours, but such is life. I generally try to prioritize getting a snack and a cup of tea first, and then use any remaining free time to decompress.

I will say, I’m not missing work at all yet (though I miss my coworkers a little). I know plenty of people are eager to go back to work and get a break from being alone with the baby all day, but I’ve rather been enjoying it. I suppose that comes with being a little introverted and more than a little lazy.

Also, Elliot started daycare this week. We were able to get a spot at convenient daycare, but they would only hold the spot until now, so we had to start paying a month before going back to work. So I figured it would be good to send him a day or two a week to get used to it (for both of us). He seemed to enjoy it, but I was a bit of a mess for most of the day. That said, by the end of the day, I was more used to the idea of him being at daycare, and realized that he was handling it fine.

How Elliot’s Doing:

El continues to grow and develop. This is our first month without a pediatrician checkup, but I can tell he’s getting bigger every day! He started outgrowing his 0-3 month clothes a while ago and has started officially wearing 3-6 month sizes!

He’s also doing great at tummy time, and even seems to be enjoying it for longer. I’m seeing a little personality shine through, especially when it comes to exploring new things. I had to leave him on the floor with a toy nearby when I had to go to the toilet a couple weeks ago, and while I was in the bathroom, I heard him grabbing at the crinkly leg of his stuffed dragon. He’s started reaching out and grabbing for things, and has definitely started trying to put more things in his mouth.

He has also started tracking things with his eyes. He’ll watch a toy if I move it back and forth while we’re playing, and he loves to look for me in the mornings when Dan is changing his diaper. I’m excited to watch him achieve these milestones and see his development!

I’m also noticing that he is starting to need more quiet and dark during his daytime naps. He stays awake longer when I take him for walks, and I’ve started taking upstairs to the bedroom for naps so he sleeps longer. I have my fingers crossed that this is the beginning of the so-called “four month sleep regression” and that we’ll have time to figure things out if he stops sleeping at night before I go back to work. Plus, we’re probably going to have to move him out of his bassinet sooner rather than later…