As you can tell by the title…this post has been in progress for a few weeks. And I guess the fact that this is coming out so late is testament to the subheading of the post itself.
The holidays came in with a fury this year. All of a sudden it was December and I was like “HUH?” *Cue feverishly ordering mediocre gifts from a variety of online sources*
As Christmas was approaching all I could think about was last year and how I could have never envisioned the situation I would be in this year. In November 2017 we had a surprise pregnancy that was our 5th total loss. It took us by surprise and was very sad, of course, but I was also so numb from that particular type of pain that I was pretty stoic and emotionless about the whole thing. The part that stood out, though, was seeing the picture on the ultrasound. This was the first of the 5 pregnancies that we could actually SEE. Even though what we saw showed us it was not viable, it was somewhat jarring to actually see something nonetheless.
After that, we decided to take some award money I won to book a trip to Paris. Something to look forward to and take our minds off the craziness. You can read about all this in more detail in previous posts! Another tactic I used to pretend this wasn’t sad was to buy my feelings in way too many Christmas decorations. The justification: We have an adorable new house that we are hosting Christmas in, and we can’t just use my old, beat up decorations, right? I very much enjoyed my time in Target, Home Goods and Christmas Tree Shop buying adorable Christmas things that we probably couldn’t afford.
Of course the house looked cute AF when we hosted Christmas that year. We had a great time having family over that day, but there was this pang of sadness, as there had been two Christmases prior, realizing I did not have the tiny person I hoped and prayed to buy useless gifts they wouldn’t care about for.
I could have never predicted what would happen less than a month later. And I also could not have predicted what would happen 8 months later. When I sat in my living room in a fog of exhaustion in early December I reflected on WHAT A FRIGGIN YEAR it has been and how my December 2017 self had no idea what I was in for-good or bad.
I think the holidays can come with mixed emotions in general. Unreasonably high expectations, over-spending, over-extending, and all of that can lead to a tornado of emotions, for those who do celebrate. For me, added to this, was the stomach bug. Which Liam got the Friday before Christmas and caused fear and worry to rise up to 1000. What if he is dehydrated? How many times is normal to take his temperature? What to feed him and when? And…what if/when am I getting this? Welp, the answer was 10pm on December 23rd when I woke up to THAT feeling that said…oh yes, ma’am, make yourself at home in the bathroom.
I spent all night the 23rd and most of the day the 24th getting sick in the loveliest of ways but also adding on to that the newfound joys of parenthood whilst sick aka pumping with my head hanging over a bucket. Which, ironically, when you’d think that you wouldn’t want to give that milk to the baby you definitely DO because of all the antibodies your body is making fighthing that gross bug. Weird and cool, nature, well done.
Kenny spent all day the 24th cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting the house because we were hosting Christmas dinner with some family members and didn’t want anyone to enter the Vom dungeon and catch this nonsense. Kenny, with his medical knowledge, let me know unless they actually touched said gross bodily fluids-me and Liam weren’t contagious. The only people who would be contagious were ones not yet showing symptoms, but Kenny and my mom seemed to be in the clear. Untilllllllllllllllllll December 26th when my mom came running into the house after an errand and another one bit the dust. Then 4 more family members on the 27th, including my brother and his newly-proposed-to-fiance. And basically Liam was patient 0 and my mom was walking around feeling fine but apparently “spreading the love” unknowingly. ROUGH.
Needless to say, I had those high expectations of this adorable Christmas, with matching PJs and cute pictures and memories (for us because I know Liam has no idea what was going on). But, it just wasn’t quite what I envisioned. I was stressed and weak from not eating for 24 hours and not prepared to host the group I was so excited to host earlier in the month.
On the whole, this holiday, and everyday really, was covered with this grey cloud of emotions I didn’t understand. I had a happy, healthy (minus the short lived puke party) baby boy. A baby I wanted my entire life. A baby that took us three years, many heartbreaks, waves of hopelessness, periods of resilience, and an insane miracle to get. A baby who makes my heart explode every time he smiles, who has a devlish smirk that is definitely going to be a problem in his teenage years, who loves to cuddle and coo and kick and squirm. And yet, I just couldn’t shake this feeling.
When I thought about it, the three things I felt most besides the joy and love described above since his surprise arrival have been: Guilt, Shame, and Inadequacy. In basically every facet of life, I have been feeling like a failure. The idea that I FINALLY had what I always wanted, what I hoped, begged, wished and prayed for (even though I don’t really pray). What I stabbed myself in the stomach for, for weeks on end-twice. What I truly thought, at many points in time, was not possible. Here it was. Sliming on my shoulder, peeing on my hand, snuggling on my lap and smiling at my voice. So, why was I not feeling only pure joy and elation? Why did I feel like I sucked, at more or less everything? How dare I not ONLY relish in the fact that this happened for me. And that others were still waiting for their miracle.
5 months into motherhood and I’ve felt more joy than I could imagine. But I’ve also felt more guilt, more shame and more inadequacy. This is quite hard to share. More than some of the other posts, even the TMI ones. Because I feel like if I was me, reading this a year and a half ago, I would want to punch myself in the face. I can hear myself thinking, “OK please complain about this perfect baby you have and how tired you are and how stressed you are making it all work when that is the only thing I want”. I am POSITIVE I’ve said that or thought that a million times.
But, this is the truth. I feel like shit. Most days, I feel like a bad mom. Like everything that came natural to me as a kid and teenager when babysitting and playing with cousins, no longer applies. That I feel a little scared when I pick up the baby, realize Kenny and mom aren’t home and I am returning to an empty house because I am just not sure I can handle all the tasks that need to be done by myself. I feel guilty when I realize how much Kenny does on a daily basis, but that I still feel overwhelmed nonetheless. Or that my mom lives with us now and provides endless snuggles and kicking around an orange like a soccer ball on the kitchen counter that Liam loves. And that she holds him in the morning when he inevitably wakes up at 5am so I can sleep an extra hour since I’ve been up forever. That I have 2 grown adults, who both are or seem, more capable of taking care of my baby than I feel, and I STILL feel overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. I feel guilty and inadequate when everyone on the planet asks how Liam is sleeping or whether he is sleeping through the night and I laugh and say no! And then they immediately respond with their tips and tricks and things they read and what worked for them so I feel like I am not doing it right or not doing enough. Or when I see people post on social media about their magical sleeping babies who automatically slept for 8 or 10 hours. Or when I am annoyed we gave him a pacifier, when I originally didn’t want to because I knew it would be a pain down the line or he would get attached to it…but then he started sucking his thumb and we didn’t want that either. Or when the only time I can really snuggle with him is between 2 and 5am, since I am only home with him for maybe an hour or two a day when he is awake during the week, so when he cries or fusses I pick him up and we both fall asleep on the glider. Or when Kenny cuts his nails better than I do. Or gets him to settle faster than I do. Or I see videos of babies younger than him giggling when he hasn’t had that belly laugh yet, and wondering if we aren’t doing enough for his development. I didn’t make him do tummy time enough. We didn’t set up some of his play gyms or bouncy toys fast enough. When Kenny grants me my “sleeping night” once a week on a weekend where I sleep for 8 actual hours (minus one pump session) even though he is also exhausted and doing an even longer commute each day, but that I don’t think I can do the same for him. My baby is happy, healthy, fed well, loved and cared for…and yet, I feel everyday that I am not doing a good job. Not living up to my, or others’, expectations.
I have similar feelings about the rest of my life as well. I feel guilty at work when I have to pump three times a day, run out of meetings, duck out of retreats, rearrange schedules. Even though I am lucky to have a private office and access to a whole kitchen in my suite which I am super grateful for, and even though I am productive in the office with the door closed for a few minutes three times a day. I still feel guilty and like I am not doing enough. I feel guilty when I run out the door at 4:29 and 58 seconds because it takes me 10 minutes to get across campus to my car and then if I drive 5-10 mph over the speed limit and hit no traffic, I get to daycare 5 minutes before they close. I feel guilty that I am not excited when I have to work night or weekend events, even if they are a thing that I actually like doing, because it’s more time away from the baby and I feel like I hardly see him as it is. And I feel guilty when I do work those events, and have fun, but realize the baby has been without me for a long time.
I feel bad about my body and the way I look and feel physically. I’ve struggled with body image and weight issues since puberty basically. In my early thirties I had several years of a commitment to healthy habits both in fitness and nutrition that had great and longer lasting results than I’ve had in the past. But, the emotional rollercoaster of the fertility journey we were on, and my crutch of emotional eating coupled with long periods of time being put on a ‘no activty’ regiment due to fertility treatments or pregnancy concerns resulted in weight gain and long breaks in those habits. When I was surprised with this pregnancy last January 18th, I was the heaviest I had been in 8 years. I was sick of feeling like crap, so Kenny and I had been doing 2.5 weeks of clean January and I became a dedicated spinner at my local gym. But, once that test came back positive, even though I KNEW it would have the same result as all the others (but it didn’t!), I was put on pelvic rest for the remainder of the first trimester (aka no activity besides walking) and the only thing I seemed to be craving to eat was carbs. While I was lucky after the first trimester to have a remarkably pain-free, symptom-free pregnancy, I was always afraid and always more cautious than necessary-resulting in less activity than I wanted and less adventurous eating as well (Read: bagels and grilled cheeses mostly). In my third trimester I had gained as much weight as they wanted me to gain with about 10 weeks left and was basically yelled at by an old, male doctor I was seeing because mine was out sick, with no compassion, to stop eating all carbs and sugar, drink only water, and eat about half as much as I had been OR ELSE I would have a HUGE baby and it would hurt. A lot. Luckily, I suppose, he came 6 weeks early and was a “comfortable” 4lbs 9oz so Dr Jerkface’s fearmongering was for not. But alas, his comments stuck with me. And after several failed attempts at breastfeeding, but then some success post the 4th lactation consultant, I have been doing a combo of pumping/nursing 7+ times a day. An activity I was told would help lose weight due to the caloric output, but HA. Not really. In total, I’ve lost about 18 pounds since delivery. Not everything I gained over pregnancy, which was on top of a heavy version of me to begin with. Not to mention some dedicated stretch marks, that despite all the vitamin E and coconut oil and scrubs and cocoa butter, still made their way all over my lower abdomen and seem to be committed to staying for a while. Being a chubby, exhausted, stretch mark covered milk machine is not the sexiest I’ve ever felt. And this leads me to my next area of inadeqacy.
Despite feeling all heart-eyes-emoji at how adorable Kenny is with Liam and how naturally he has taken to the whole fatherhood thing. Albeit a little jealous. There have been very few romantic inklings on my end.
On top of feeling like:
You don’t quite feel like:
And, that makes me feel bad too. Just logistically, we’re like two ships passing in the night. Literally and figuratively. We tag each other into shifts to be “on duty” in the overnight hours so each of us can get a few hours of uninerrupted sleep which is (a) awesome because I know a lot of nursing moms can’t do that and (b) means we’re never in the same place at the same time to even acknowledge each other’s presence nevermind give affection of any kind. It makes me feel like a bad wife, on top of questioning my mothering abilities. I am sure things in this arena will shift over time, and I know we won’t feel like our old selves per se, the relationship and family has changed in many good ways that are just different. But while we won’t feel like our old selves, I am hoping for a day where I feel like some version of myself.
Then there’s just the overall feelings of failing at household and life tasks. Before Liam, we pretty evenly split up all the household tasks and chores. Now, almost all of the things that once were mine, fall on Kenny, because I just can’t ever seem to get to most of it. And, he does all the dishes, laundry and most of the cleaning graciously and without making me feel bad. But that doesn’t mean I still don’t feel bad. Even the things I’ve always done, and continue to technically do, like manage the finances (or lack thereof, because daycare AM I RIGHT?) and do the grocery shopping/meal prep have taken a turn for the worse. We’ve been eating out a lot because where is the time for this stuff. Eating worse, and spending money we don’t have. Vicious Cycle like whoa!
Truthfully, I am just struggling. Even with lots of help and support. Even though my husband is a super involved and helpful dad who has arguably taken to the job better than I have. Even though my work is flexible. I want to be happy. I want to savor every moment because he’s already growing so fast. I can’t believe he is 5 months old, and we’ve had to pack away three sizes of clothes already. I can’t believe he can magically hold his own bottle and sit up in a chair and rolled over the other day. I don’t want to miss anything and I don’t want to regret not enjoying things because I am too busy feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and and just, well, shitty.
While the rest of this post was written over the last few weeks in chunks, this next part was added after listening to a fellow Quinnipiac Alum (Go Bobcats!) podcast, Ali on the Run. Ali is a writer, blogger and podcaster. She talks about running, which is not my thing, but she is honest and funny and I love her style. You should check it out. She recently had a baby, and while our experiences were different, we do have some things in common including issues with breastfeeding and turning to pumping primarily or exclusively and our babies being small and arriving in a flurry. I love reading her IG posts and following her story because it’s always real and full of humor, but I don’t typically listen to the podcast since it is a lot about running and running is just not my jam. But, the episode this week was just Ali talking about her experience as a mother the past few months and I found myself nodding a lot and saying ‘omg yes’ a bunch. Not everything is the same, but I felt a lot of solidarity in her comments.
The biggest one being…I have not been to a doctor, yet, but I do think I may have post partum depression. It’s really hard to admit and even harder to type in a public forum. I always thought of PPD being women who felt disconnected, hurt their babies, or worse. And I didn’t relate to that at all. But, I’ve had a couple moments of the last few months where I was drawn to look it up on my phone and see if any of the other symptoms resonated. And, many of them did. www.seeppd.com has a list of symptoms which include: Worrying or feeling overly anxtious, crying more often than usual (which is a lot for me anyway lol), frequent feelings of anger, having trouble concentrating and the two most resonant ones: feeling moody, irritable or restless and presistently doubting your ability to care for your baby.
When I went for my follow up appointments at my OBGYN right after birth (since I gave birth out of state) and 6 weeks after, they had me fill out the generic PPD questionnaires which I answered honestly. Do you think you will harm your baby? No. Do you cry more than usual? Yes. But nothing on there triggered any concerns from the doctor at the time because they never mentioned the surveys again. Truth is, the biggest hurdle we had while I was on leave was breastfeeding issues. Once I figured out a system that worked and came to terms with mostly pumping that was ok. I was exhausted but I was home most of the time and could take naps and get some other things done from time to time. Going out was a whole thing, but I enjoyed the chance to get out once in a while.
The real struggle came when I went back to work, and that’s when I started to notice the symptoms even more. The stress has just grown exponentially, and the sleep has been even less because there are no chances during the day to catch up on what you missed overnight. Plus just the logistics of going back to work, child care, etc., have thrown many more things on my plate when my plate already looked something like this:
I remember reading about Chrissy Tiegen having PPD after her first child because I’ve been mildly obsessed with her since she started dating my first-husband-in-my-head John Legend. (Also, as an aside our babies look remarkably alike so, sorry Kenny, this one might be a Legend!). Knowing she had IVF, thinking how hard it must be to feel that way going through that when you put yourself through this crazy science experiment for weeks/months because you wanted a baby THAT bad. But, here I am. And, now, I can relate.
It’s pretty scary to put this all out there. But I know hearing from Ali, I felt a little reassured that there are others who are madly in love with their little ones and still struggling more than the regular new mom stress and exhaustion. And I don’t want anyone to be worried about me! I am always reflecting and working on things and even when I feel like I simply can’t, I somehow do. With a lot of help. There are also a bunch of things I’ve already started doing:
-I called the doctor to set up an appt and hopefully get referred to a therapist that specializes in new moms so I can work through some things, potentially confirm what I already think, and figure out a plan of action
-I joined Weight Watchers. I’ve had success with the program before, mostly because I am always more mindful about what I put in my body when I am tracking it and because I need reminders to pay attention to portions. I have the appetite of an offensive lineman, always have. I typically ate 7 hot dogs as a 7-10 year old on St Patricks Day at the Irish Club like it was nothing. And was a twig. So on the WW train for a little while now. So far, so good. Just want to prioritize treating my body well, which has not always been the case!
-I’ve gotten back to the gym the last couple of weeks, even if it is only a couple of times a week for now, and I feel like I’ve never seen a gym before, it still feels good
-I’ve been doing some guided meditiations for stress relief and anxiety
-And…I’m trying to be nicer to Kenny. He bares the brunt of my anger and irritability. And, while I find his reactions to my freak outs sometimes, well, irritating, he has constantly supported me, attempted to take things off my plate and tried to reassure me that I am doing a good job even when I am too upset to believe him. It’s not his fault that I feel like crap and can’t make sense of it. And, it’s not my fault either.
I love my little family. I am soaking up all the smiles and all the snuggles (even at 3am) and all the milestones. I’m trying not to compare me or us to others. And trying to enjoy the moment.
But, people should talk about this stuff. The same way I felt as though I wished I knew before I struggled with fertility about the folks in my circle who had as well. I feel the same way now. So, I am hoping someone out there can relate to this, even though this is the scariest thing I’ve put on the internet thus far.