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.

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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.

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…

baby, Fourth trimester, Postpartum Diaries

Postpartum Diaries: Two Months

Elliot is two months old! He got his first major round of shots yesterday at his two-month appointment and he handled it pretty well (although the nurse who gave them was a total ninja and I could have sworn I only saw her give one shot!). He did cry a lot at first, but a little nursing helped and he was just a little fussy later in the day. I had planned for lots of fussiness, so we spent most of the afternoon snuggling. And he got that awesome Wonder Woman bandage (the other leg has Superman).

How I’m Feeling:

I’m doing okay with the whole taking-care-of-a-baby-during-the-day thing. Last week was nice because Dan only had to go to work two days (he had off Monday and Wednesday for a holiday and snow, and had already planned on taking off Thursday for a dentist appointment and some other things), but this week we’re mostly back to the routine. I actually had my first excursion out without Elliot since he was born. I went to the dentist on Wednesday while Dan stayed home with him. Apparently, he mostly just napped and then woke up to have a bottle right before I came home. I was a little worried, but the amount of work Dan has put into helping care for El when we’re both home left me totally confident he could handle it.

Now that breastfeeding is more established, we’ve started introducing bottles of pumped milk in preparation for when he officially starts daycare later this month. The spot we got in the daycare started a month before I go back to work, so we can ease into it, sending him one or two days a week to get used to it, but the one thing is that we want to be sure he’s comfortable with the bottle before then. So I’ve been pumping a little bit between feedings to build up some extra milk to give him for one feeding on days when Dan is home, and then I pump while he feeds El. So far so good, but who knows what will happen to my supply when I’m actually back at work and pumping for at least three feedings per day.

Therapy has been going well. My therapist has even checked in on me via email when she knows something stressful is coming up. And my OB gave me a very low-dose prescription for Zoloft, which I’ve been taking for two weeks now. It’s not clear that it’s helping, but at least the initial side effects only lasted a couple of days. I’ve been feeling a lot better lately, mentally, and it’s probably some combination of the treatment and just feeling seen and supported.

How Elliot’s Doing:

El continues to grow and develop and it’s adorable. He’s sleeping well at night, and we’re currently working on naps. We set up a Pack ‘n Play in the living room so he can nap in a separate area from his play area. He can do half-hour naps with no problem, but longer naps remain mostly elusive (although he napped for an hour after his shots yesterday). But I’ve heard that no matter how well they start sleeping early on, it all changes at four months anyway, so I’ve been pretty relaxed about letting him nap in the ring sling or on me.

He still tends to get fussy in the afternoons and wants to be held a lot, so the ring sling has been a lifesaver for me. I’m getting more confident with him in it by the day, and even made part of dinner the other night while wearing him. This week we haven’t gotten any walks in, but we try to take a couple walks per week at least most weeks, which he appreciates until he falls asleep.

He’s also discovered his hands. The other day when he woke up from his nap, he wasn’t fussing, so I let him stay in the Pack ‘n Play for a little bit and when I looked in, he was just examining his hands. He’s also started “talking” a lot, making “boo” and “goo” and “gah” sounds. He also says “ow” a lot, which I like to think is the sound he thinks his mumma makes because I did say it a lot in the first month of my recovery.

Other than that, we’re just hanging out most days. We still play and “chat” and do tummy time a few times a day, plus he likes his Montessori mobiles. And I try to read him a story at least once a day. He enjoys being around people, especially his parents. Now that he’s gotten his first round of shots, and it seems like flu season is calming down, we might start venturing out of the house more.

As far as his doctor’s appointment, the doctor said he looks great and healthy and very alert. His weight gain has slowed down a bit, but she’s not concerned, especially since he’s still gaining, and getting longer. He’s probably just going to be tall and thin like his parents (especially his dad!). And we even managed to get him weighed without him peeing on everything and everyone this time!

baby, Fourth trimester, Postpartum Diaries

Postpartum Diaries: Six Weeks

Officially, six weeks marks the end of the “postpartum recovery period,” according to my doctor and short-term disability (actually I get a little longer because I had a c-section). And, honestly, I can kind of see why. It’s been a good two weeks and Elliot is continuing to develop and hit new milestones. But really, I prefer the idea of “the fourth trimester” that extends up to 12-14 weeks postpartum. And since I’m taking 16 weeks of maternity leave, I have plenty more time to spend recovering and getting to know El before returning to work.

How I’m Feeling:

Actually, pretty good. This past Tuesday, I woke up and for the first time since the birth, I felt no pain in my body. Of course, that’s not a constant thing, but I’m starting to have longer and longer stretches of feeling good. When I got over my first trimester nausea while pregnant, I described it as feeling like I had bad days while mostly feeling good as opposed to good days while mostly feeling bad. I think I’m getting to that point.

Last weekend, I went for a walk for the first time since the birth. I discovered that I can put El in the ring sling and walk for a mile or two with no problem. It was particularly helpful because I found a therapist within walking distance who had an appointment available. You see, with my history of anxiety and depression, I knew I was at risk of postpartum depression. And when El’s pediatrician suggested I discuss it with my own doctors after scoring my EPDS assessment, I decided to make an appointment.

The therapist was lovely and had no problem with me bringing El to the appointment and wearing him while we chatted. Plus, I got to see my acupuncturist because they work out of the same center! And since the therapist started out as a yoga teacher (she went back to school to get a degree because her yoga students kept seeking her out for help she wasn’t qualified to give and she wanted to be able to help), she also had some suggestions for yoga classes I could try.

But being active again has helped my mindset more than anything. Being able to get out of the house and not worry about being in pain later is wonderful. Now that I’ve officially been cleared by my doctor (I had my six-week postpartum checkup a couple days ago) for returning to normal activity, maybe I’ll try to get back into my yoga routine, albeit gently. I’m definitely not going to be going back to barre class anytime soon, but at least I can see that going back to barre is in my future, which was honestly a bit tough the last few weeks, as sore as I was.

How Elliot’s Doing:

He’s growing and developing and having a great time. He’s definitely starting to spend more time awake for reasons other than needing to be fed or changed. We can actually play together, kind of. I bought some toys, including a set of Montessori-designed mobiles to help engage him during his awake time, and I also brought down a mirror from our bathroom. Plus, he has a great library of picture books from our friends and family (especially Dan’s mother). The favorites right now are the Black and White series by Tana Hoban, which have silhouettes of objects, either black on white or white on black, to be more visible to a baby’s sight while he’s still primarily seeing contrasts. But as he develops, we have lots of other books to share with him.

I’ve also started reading to him from books. I’ve read a couple Beatrix Potter stories to him, as well as some of my favorite fairy tales from the storybooks I bought for Kindle. While they don’t have as many pictures and he doesn’t necessarily understand the words, he seems to enjoy listening to me read them. He definitely has started responding to our voices. During the day when Dan is at work, I can calm him down by holding him and singing to him more easily than just rocking him.

But probably the most exciting new development is that El has definitely started smiling. He smiles in response to us smiling at him and when he sees certain things. He gave a huge smile at a black-and-white cow toy that a family member gave us for him, so we’ve decided that’s his favorite toy. And he definitely smiles for his mumma and daddy. No matter how frazzled or tired or sore I might be, his smiles warm my heart. Dan says that he feels like he can’t even remember what it was like to not have him around most of the time, and I kind of agree.

baby, Fourth trimester, Postpartum Diaries

Postpartum Diaries: One Month

Elliot is one month old today! And what a month it’s been.

How I’m Doing:

Well, I was feeling really discouraged because every time I started feeling a little better, I’d be a little more active, and then suffer a setback and feel like I could barely move. But around last Thursday or Friday I realized that I actually felt much better. I’ve actually started wearing clothing with a waistband again! I’d been in nightgowns, robes, and maxi dresses for most of the month, so wearing a skirt was a big step. And today, I wore leggings to our pediatrician appointment, which is the closest to pants I’ve gotten in a month.

But I’m still managing to overdo it. I think it comes from being a pretty active person during my pregnancy. It’s hard to grasp that I was five times more able at 40 weeks pregnant than I am now, without the belly or all the extra weight. I’ve been experimenting more with babywearing because my arms get tired carrying him and Elliot likes to be walked around. I’ve come to the realization that the stretchy wrap is going to have to wait until I’m a little more healed because I’m having back pain after a couple days in a row of wearing it for a bit. But the ring sling seems to work better, probably because it keeps the baby weight distributed higher and doesn’t go around my middle at all.

This week marks the last week that Dan will be staying home, so I need to take some time now to try to become more independent with Elliot. I’ve started doing a little more at night, although I still need to make sure I’m standing and being careful when lifting El in and out of his bassinet, rather than being able to just grab him while sitting in bed. But we generally do a diaper change when we feed him at night anyway, so once I take over more of the overnight work, I’ll have to get up anyway.

I still haven’t ventured out of the house except for doctors’ appointments, although we have some appointments to tour daycare centers later this week, which should be interesting. I’m hoping I can keep El in the ring sling to minimize his exposure to germs (although I doubt it’s much more risky than the waiting room at the pediatrician). And eventually, I will get out to take a walk in the neighborhood, even if it’s just around the block.

How Elliot’s Doing:

Still growing. At his checkup this morning, he’s still firmly tracking the 45th percentile for weight, despite the fact that he’s been feeding for less and less time. I guess he’s just very efficient at nursing. He also got a shot, which he did not like, but he got over. He did spend the first bit of the car ride home looking grumpy in his car seat, but he fell asleep and wasn’t any worse for the wear.

He’s also started focusing on objects and faces. He looks at us from further away, and will even pay attention to books and toys. And he’s started smiling at people and things. I picked up a stuffed cow toy to show him during tummy time (because it’s black and white and high contrast) and he broke out in a huge grim when he saw it. He’s also started smiling at us when we smile or talk to him. It’s really exciting because it feels like he’s becoming more engaged with the world.

We’ve started getting him toys and showing him some of the (many) books we’ve received as gifts. I got a baby gym frame to hang things from and some Montessori mobiles. The gym hasn’t arrived yet, but I experimented with holding up the Munari mobile for him today and he was entranced for five minutes.

Obviously, we’re still in the eat-poop-sleep-repeat phase of newbornhood, but it’s really cool to see the occasional glimpses of the baby that is to come. Oh and he officially weighs more than the cat.

Current Stats: 9 lbs. 11 oz., 21 3/4″ long

baby, Fourth trimester, Postpartum Diaries

Postpartum Diaries: Two Weeks

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve done a weekly update. Last time I checked in, I was 41 weeks pregnant and looking at an induction in a few days. I’ll be posting my birth experience next week, but I thought I’d start by sharing how our first two weeks with Elliot have been going.

How I’m Doing:

So, the postpartum period (or “fourth trimester,” as it’s sometimes called) isn’t just about baby development. It’s also about maternal healing. And I’ve definitely found the postpartum healing period more challenging than I thought it would be. I was completely unprepared for how much pretty much any normal daily activity would hurt with my c-section incision. The first week was mostly spent figuring out how to cope with reduced mobility. Dan has been invaluable, doing pretty much everything except feeding the baby.

I’ll be honest, I’m extremely frustrated that I can’t do almost anything. Earlier this week, I ended up back at the doctor for a last-minute appointment because I was having so much pain my lower abdomen. The doctor said I’d probably strained something, and given where I was hurting, I’m pretty sure I hurt myself lifting Elliot out of his bassinet at night. So I had to pull back even further and rely on Dan even more, which didn’t help the frustration (or the fact that we couldn’t really take shifts at night).

But we’re slowly adjusting and figuring out a sort-of routine. And Elliot is obliging and letting us sleep for a few hours at a time overnight, rather than staying up all night cluster feeding the way he did the first few nights at home.

How Elliot’s Doing:

Well, little guy seems to be having some congestion the past couple of days, but he seems mostly content and healthy. After several days of hourly feeds overnight, he’s calmed down, probably because he finished a growth spurt.

In the hospital, we had some trouble with him losing weight too quickly after birth, so we supplemented a little bit of formula after feeding him at the breast, but the day after we got home from the hospital, my milk came in, and he started refusing his formula supplements. When we had our first pediatrician checkup, he’d started gaining weight again nicely, and we were given the green light to go back to exclusive breastfeeding. At our two-week appointment this week, he’d already gained back to his birthweight (and then some!) so feeding seems to be going pretty well.

Over the last couple of days, we’ve noticed that he’s been a lot more alert and interactive during the day, instead of only waking up to fuss because he’s wet or hungry. His umbilical cord stump still hasn’t fallen off, so we’re being careful with tummy time, but I do occasionally put him on my chest to practice holding his head up and pushing up a little. He has remarkable neck control for a newborn and has since birth (he was holding his head up during skin-to-skin in the recovery room).

He’s also starting to noticeably outgrow his clothes. I think he’ll be out of newborn sizes fully in a week or two, though I’m glad we got newborn-sized clothes because the larger size was slightly too baggy for my comfort while sleeping. But our growing little guy is growing like a weed. As precious as these sweet, sleepy newborn moments are, I’m excited to see how he develops over the next months and years.

Current Stats: 8 lbs. 3 oz., 21.5″