Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: writing

Week 10: The Baby Weight

You know how you feel when you wake up one morning and you see an enormous zit right in the center of your chin?

You think, Ick. This isn’t how I look.

Maybe you meet someone for the first time on this day that you have this huge zit on your face, you end up thinking, Oh, please don’t think this is the way that I always look. I usually look a lot better than this.

When you’re in the bathroom washing your hands and you look up in the mirror, you think, No… That’s not really me.

That’s how I feel about the baby weight.

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***

At two months postpartum, the uterus is done shrinking. You’ve lost the baby, the placenta, and all the excess fluids. And what remains is officially “the baby weight.”

In this pregnancy, I gained 45 pounds.

Pregnancy books will reassure you not to worry. A lot of women lose up to 25 pounds in the first few weeks!

Ha. Ha.

I’m only down 23 pounds.

Wait… Wait…

Damn it.

Trust me, it doesn’t feel so stupendous when you’re still carrying around another 22 extra pounds.

***

The first pounds are always the easiest.

After the birth, I was already down 12 pounds.

At two weeks postpartum, my body went into flush-the-system-out mode and I started shedding pound after pound. Sure, it was mostly water weight, but God, it felt good every other day to look down and see my weight another pound closer to my pre-pregnancy weight.

This is awesome, I thought. Keep on going!

Then at four weeks postpartum, my weight stabilized. I started walking 30 to 40 minutes every day and I enjoyed that. It improved my mood, for sure, but it didn’t do much for dropping more weight.

Then, at five weeks postpartum, I noticed that most of my maternity pants weren’t fitting very well anymore.  (Okay, one pair of leggings got a huge snag in them and I had to throw those ones away, but nevertheless.)

A good sign, I thought.

So I went to Macy’s and grabbed a few pairs of black stretchy athletic pants. Sweatpants? Perhaps. Yoga pants? Sure. Running pants? I was open to it. Whatever made me feel like I somewhat possessed an inkling of the figure that I had before this pregnancy.

Now, you have to remember, I had no idea what size I was anymore. I hadn’t worn anything but maternity leggings, yoga pants, pajama pants, and dresses for the past six months.

Staring at the sizes, I thought, Okay, be liberal here. Get a size above what you think you are. 

So I did. And I got the size above that one.

I pulled on the smaller size first. When the waistband hit my thighs, I thought, Oh, sweet Jesus…

I should have stopped there, but I thought, Go ahead and see if the second larger size fits.

Another bad idea. I got them up over my hips, but really, who was I kidding? My entire midsection was shaped like a shitake mushroom.

Defeated, I went back out and picked up the next larger size.

At least they’re on clearance. And I’ll be able to use my 20% off coupon that I got in the mail.

“Sorry,” the cashier said, “You can only use that offer on sale and clearance items.”

“Isn’t this a clearance item?” I asked

“Oh, actually this is a Last Chance item.”

“Oh good God,” I said.

“I know, it takes a while to know the different kinds of sales.”

“Yeah, I don’t speak Macy’s.”

“Will you be using your Macy’s card today?”

“Sure.”

After I swipe my card, I see a screen of available offers come up. Oh! There’s the 20% off one!

“Look at that!” I point it out to her.

“Oh, yeah, that won’t work,” she says as she folds my pants and puts them in a bag.

“Why is it being offered to me if it doesn’t work?”

“I mean, you can try, but it won’t work on this item.”

I try. It doesn’t work.

“Well, that’s just cruel,” I say.

“Yeah…” she agrees. “I keep telling them they need to fix that glitch.”

***

I’ve lost the baby weight before.

Okay, all but the last five pounds. But still.

I remember that it took until ten months postpartum for my thyroid to stop going completely bonkers and for all the cardio kickboxing and portion controlling to finally eat away at that stubborn extra layer week after week after week.

I remember telling my husband that I wish I had been kinder to myself at two months postpartum, when it felt like I should just stop caring. The rationale went something like this: You’re not getting much sleep, but at least you can look forward to eating all day.

Another part of me cared tremendously about seizing opportunities to return to my pre-pregnancy physical condition. And when I fell short of my own expectations, I would get upset at myself.

Today, the rational side of my brain tells me, Your body is amazing. You just sustained another life for three-quarters of a year. You gave birth to a healthy baby (without tearing!) and lost 23 pounds in eight weeks. Give yourself a break. 

***

It is hard to keep this all in perspective, but I try.

I tell myself that people don’t usually stare at the big ol’ zit. While we think they’re looking at all our flaws, they’re usually looking at the whole package of who we are. Smile. Confidence. Congeniality.

In the meantime, I’m doing the daily work of exercise and portion control. It’s hard. Especially when I need to get up at 4:00 a.m. to exercise. And all my exercise clothes are tight. And I’ve gone two weeks without any change in weight or inches.

The truth is, exercise improves my mood. So even if I don’t lose weight, I know I’ll keep doing this.

But I’ll still have to acquire a transitional work wardrobe while I’m dropping the weight.

And that means a lot of time in fitting rooms, learning to love myself through this.

Postpartum Levels of Sleep Deprivation

*In the fashion of the “DEFense readiness CONdition

DEFCON 5

When: Immediately post-birth – Day 5 or Day 6

Description: You’ve just labored for God knows how long, so you’re already physically exhausted. But you are riding on a hormonal high because your baby is out and in your arms. At first, you believe that you will be able to rest as soon as everyone leaves your hospital room.

Only, they don’t ever really leave. For very long, at least. So what you end up with are minuscule catnaps that amount to no real rest. You close your eyes and try to drift off, but your brain doesn’t really power down.

You pray that once you return home, you’ll be able to sleep. But then, new stressors await you at home, no matter how many people are there to help out. Your life is in flux. The baby warps the fabric of time and space and requires your concerted attention for figuring out how to move through the day in order to keep everyone alive.

And then you’re processing the birth experience, remembering everything that happened. The horrible. The beautiful. The painful. The moments you never, ever want to forget but are already slowly falling through the cracks in your memory.

Then, there are your plummeting postpartum hormones. Your constant need to mop out all the fluids pouring out of you. The postpartum hunger as your body prepares to breastfeed. The afterbirth cramps that continue to pulse in waves.

All of this adds to your mounting anxiety and despair that you will literally never power down again. Although you desperately close your eyes and tell yourself, This is it. Everyone is taking care of everything. I can sleep—You still don’t sleep.

Your mind wants to fall asleep, but your body won’t follow suit.

DEFCON 4

When: Days 7-14

Description: You sleep in one-hour increments around the clock, totaling about 5 hours. You do not reach restorative, REM sleep, but the sleep is deep enough for your brain to put a period to the last segment of time that you were awake. It’s not that you never find the opportunity to sleep. Your body just physically won’t completely let go of consciousness for whatever reason.

Your need for round-the-clock self-care continues, along with your round-the-clock eating which coincides with your baby’s feedings. Your postpartum hormones are still swinging up and down, making you unpredictably emotional.

Sometimes, you just need to cry at 2:00 a.m.

Every time you wake up from a one-hour nap, you feel that you’ve taken a few steps away from full-on psychosis. But after a few hours, when you hear yourself talking, you think, Is that me? Did I say that? Do I sound weird to other people?

You cannot make decisions and you hope no one asks you to do so. Your cognitive processing is at an all-time low. Your head feels warm and fuzzy.

Stupid things make you laugh.

You utter the words, “Oh, sweet, sweet exhaustion.”

DEFCON 3

When: Day 15 – Whenever the baby has only one night feeding.

Description: Small 1-2 hour chunks of sleep at night + 2 naps, totaling 5-6 hours.

You are doing two or three night feedings each night, but it feels like six. Up and down. Up and down. Up, up, up. And down.

But there’s a good side. This is the first time you really achieve restorative, REM-sleep. You begin to dream regularly again, although sometimes you wish you didn’t. Nightmares of losing your baby or discovering your child dead in his crib haunt you.

This is also where chronic sleep deprivation sets in. When you wake up from a good chunk of sleep, you feel restored. It’s deceptive. You feel like you can do anything. Grocery shopping! Daycare drop off! Make my own breakfast! Yes, I can do it all!

But by the sixth hour that you are awake, you are completely spent. This time, your body wants to sleep, but your mind doesn’t. That familiar warm, fuzzy feeling in your head returns and you feel your eyes start to involuntarily close. It happens at predictable intervals, too, because all the sleeping in one-hour increments has trained your body to power down with or without your permission.

1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. is when you feel it. Like clockwork.

1:00 p.m. is not so bad because the baby usually wants to sleep.

But 7:00 p.m. opens a previously hidden door to hell.

Everyone is home now. It’s dinner time. Maybe you have to cook. (Or maybe you just assemble salads and sandwiches, like I usually do.) The daily dishes mount in the sink. The mail comes in. The baby is in the prime “witching hours” of fussiness. He cries, but won’t really eat. He’s asleep, then awake 10 minutes later. Then, asleep. Awake. Crying. Refuses the pacifier. All you want to do is slink away from everyone, miraculously unnoticed and unneeded and bed down in your dark room with the cool sheets to soothe the building heat in your head.

God forbid, one of you gets sick.

That’s when the shit really hits the fan.

DEFCON 2

When: Transitional period of one nightly feeding/waking – no nightly feedings/wakings

Description: This is arguably the most frustrating period of sleep deprivation, simply because you’ve had a taste of the good nights. At this level, you have a bit of an expectation that you will fall asleep and stay asleep for a good six or seven hours. Sure, you’re not technically as sleep deprived as you were during DEFCON 3. But after several days of solid sleep, you begin to believe that your baby has finally dropped the night wakings.

And then it happens. The old familiar 2:00 a.m. wail.

Devastation.

DEFCON 1

When: Whenever your baby has no more nightly feedings or wakings

Description: Besides occasional nights when your child is teething or sick, your child is sleeping through the night and so are you. You begin to forget the horrible sensations of being sleep deprived. Sure, you remember that you hated it, but you truly start to forget the actual sensations of constant sleep deprivation. Sometimes, you tiptoe into your child’s room to watch him sleep so peacefully.

You actually miss waking up in the middle of the night to comfort him.

And then you start thinking…

Hey, maybe we’ll have another?

Nature has a sick, sick sense of humor.

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These Holy Hours

1:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m.

These are holy hours

when the soft rooting of newborn hunger stirs the silence

And weary, warm exhaustion is brushed aside once more

In these holy hours

new life feeds and grows, minute by minute

Neurons connect and thicken

their paths beginning to deepen

Eyes open and drink

swallowing light and one familiar face

Eyes, free of shame and guilt and secrecy

Eyes that stare and stare

Eyes that wonder

These are holy hours

but hours for which no one wants to awaken

save the mother, whose body craves the contact

In these hours

ordinary actions become superhuman feats

witnessed by no one

In these hours, maternal instinct strengthens and sharpens

and all other desires recede

and it is mothers who detect and interpret

even the smallest of signals

In these hours, love is quietly knitted together

one diaper, one feeding, one burping at a time

In these holy hours

two human hearts rest closely together

synchronize and slow

synchronize and slow

the inside, now the outside

These are holy hours

when questions of creation come forth

and the shells of sacred mysteries begin to crack

under the magnitude of these most ordinary of moments

Their rays of light shining through

Revealing new truths in the Whole Story

Beginning of beginnings

These are quiet, still hours

when the rhythm of the present slows

suspended between the past and the future

when memories and hopes and prayers

swirl and mix

creating new galaxies of possibilities.

These are holy hours

When the Divine bends down to offer mother and child

a blessing that washes over them

and pulls them underneath into an ocean of warm sleep

once more.

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The First Week: In Pictures (Pt. 2, How We Eat and Sleep)

Day 5

My postpartum belly continues to slowly shrink. And if you’re wondering what it looks like to wear cabbage leaves inside of your bra, look no further. A little lumpy, but not too bad. I wore the leaves for two days to relieve the pressure and pain.

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Everyone has different sleeping arrangements that work for them. I’m in favor of whatever works for the parents.

Because if the parents have lost their minds, it doesn’t matter whatever positive benefits studies show.

We are following pretty closely to what we did last time. One parent sleeps apart from the baby and gets a full night’s sleep and the other parent sleeps next to the baby in the baby’s room. During the week, Doug gets to sleep in our bedroom without the baby (since he is working full-time.) Then, I take the night watch. During the weekend, I get to sleep in our bedroom and Doug takes the night watch.

I haven’t dreaded being the night watch parent so far. In fact, I think my hormones are demanding it. On Day 4, I thought I could just knock myself out with some Zzquil and sleep for eight hours and be totally caught up on sleep.

Ha. Ha.

My mind had other ideas. It kept playing and replaying images from the birth. Over and over again. And when I wasn’t remembering the visuals, my mind would nurse on the songs on the playlist that accompanied all of the visuals from the birth that will remain with me forever.

Honestly, how could my mind do anything else after experiencing birth?

Birth is such a tremendously life-changing event. In my experience, it far surpasses other milestones like graduations or even my wedding. The only times in my life that approach this level of preoccupation were the times I fell in love. That’s it.

So what does all of this mean?

I basically didn’t fully descend into a deep sleep from birth to Day 5 (February 1st, the last day that I got a full night’s sleep, until February 6th). I “rested.” But during that rest, my senses were amplified. Everything was on high alert. I noticed everything, as if my mind were logging all of the possible noises that could come from my baby and what they meant.

Oh, that snort is okay. He’s fine. 

Now, he’s smacking his lips and eating his fingers. He’s hungry.

He’s whimpering. He needs to be held close.

Oh, he startled himself awake when his arms flinched. He needs to be swaddled more tightly.

It’s a little easier this time to understand what the sounds mean because I know a range of possibilities of why babies wake up. But obviously, this is a new baby and this is an entirely new inventory of sounds. It’s taking my mind time to acquire this new language.

From Day 5-7, I was able to establish a passable sleeping pattern for myself. At least, one that steers me off the road to psychosis. I was able to sleep in one-hour increments and still reach a deep enough level of sleep for my body to partially restore itself. During the night, I was even able to dream in one-hour increments between feedings.

Nevertheless, I’m still not close to being able to drive safely. Would you want someone like this on the road?

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So, you’re welcome.

This is markedly different from my first child, when I went on a 12-day bender with nearly no sleep at all. Not only did my hormones keep me awake, but so did all of the breastfeeding challenges that grew worse over time and never improved.

So this is what is working for us right now. Me, sleeping on the inflatable mattress in the baby’s room, close enough to calm my mind, but far enough away to still sleep somewhat soundly. Maybe it’s just me, but I actually sleep with earplugs in my ears. That’s how heightened my senses are. I can still hear him through the earplugs when something’s wrong.

Nature. Just wow.

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Best friend, “Bear,” holds the first boy among our Monday Night Dinner friends. After six girls. (Just means we’re raising a legion of strong women.)

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We bought these tiny 2-ounce bottles, thinking we would use them for a few weeks. Of course, he outgrows them in two days. Now, we’re on to 4-ounce bottles. I guess it *does* make a difference that he stayed in the womb for an extra week.

Day 6
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Nasty? Yep. After this birth, I’ve forever crossed into the realm of “badass-dom.”

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Collecting things for the baby book

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You know you have amazing friends when this is the card they get you.

I saw this card one night as I was preparing for the night watch and I had to smile. My friend, Suzy, gave me this card for my birthday last Thanksgiving (yep, same day), and it was such an encouragement. I was 32 weeks pregnant and already feeling massive. Wondering how much larger I was going to be at the end. (Thank God, I don’t have the gift of foresight.)

I think she knew I needed to hear that.

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The night watch supplies. Not pictured: Stephen Colbert videos via smartphone.

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When I see his legs crossed like this, I think, “Oh. That makes sense. Now I understand what I was feeling for the last month.”

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3:30 a.m.

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Wide awake, studying my face.

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The “old man” face

Day 7

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Just before I lie down for another 1-hour nap, I see that it’s Henry’s 1-week birthday, right down to the minute.

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For how much walking I did to get labor going, you would think that I would not miss it. Especially some of these mornings have been so cold. But, of course, I do. I haven’t really been outside since the birth (except to take H to the pediatrician).

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Can I just say, this page of the baby book is uniquely challenging. Although, when I posed this challenge to the Facebook hive mind, I got some great ideas for how to inject humor into the bleak and unforgiving reality of the time in which we are living.

My favorite? Use “Donald Trump language” to fill out the whole page.

So that is where we are so far.

And now I’m going to do something daring.

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Here I am, in full postpartum glory.

Exhausted. Imperfect, but authentic. Continuously putting faith in the idea that I have all I need, even though I feel short on everything.

There’s a cliche saying that I grew up hearing in the Southern Baptist church. God, I really hated it when people said it. But I cannot deny the truth of it in this moment.

They would say, His grace is sufficient for me.

In other words, Trust that God will give you what you need to pull through.

I’m doing just that.

What Bleeding Taught Me About Trump’s America

Betsy DeVos. The refugee travel ban. The Syrian War. Trump/Bannon. Alternative facts. The war with the press.

It’s just so much that it nearly paralyzes you.

Then part of you thinks, Hey, it will be okay. Things will work out. They always do. Let’s just see what happens.

To that voice in your mind, I say this:

Fight.

Fight like hell.

Fight for your life.

Fight for the future of this country.

Don’t listen to that voice. Don’t be lulled into thinking that things will take care of themselves.

This country is bleeding. We are bleeding.

It’s true that if we’re healthy, the bleeding will stop on its own. But does it seem like we’re healthy? And if you feel like things are okay, are you blind to the signs that you see from everyone else?

Do you see the pain of others or do you blame them for their pain? Or worse, do you belittle their pain?

Do you realize that you are bleeding? Or will you allow yourself to bleed until you’re too weak to fight anymore?

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about blood loss in the past few days.

Just a week ago, I suffered from a postpartum hemorrhage.

I was afraid something like this would happen. I even wrote about it in my book, Becoming Mother. Dissatisfied with the difficulty of having an unmedicated labor in a traditional hospital setting, I decided to give birth in a natural birthing center attached to a hospital for my second birth.

Sometimes, people would ask me if I would ever be interested in a home birth.

Here’s what I wrote:

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Eerie.

To lose that much blood moves your mind into a place of limbo, caught somewhere between reality and dreams. Awareness and unawareness. The physical and the spiritual. You become light. Hazy. Detached. Almost as if you’re drifting off into sleep.

But it doesn’t feel quite right.

It feels like you’re leaving something behind.

Let me take you into those moments just after it happened to me.

At first, it’s uncontrollable shaking. I’m so, so cold. Nurses cover me with heated blankets upon heated blankets, but still I shake and shake. Then, the weakness. I can barely lift my head from the pillow. The nurses won’t let me walk to the bathroom, so it’s the bedpan for me. Once. Twice. Three times. Four times. With all my strength I push my hips up so the bedpan can slide underneath me.

When they finally let me stand, each of them takes an arm and helps me to my feet. They tell me to look up, not down. They ask me if I’m ready and I say yes.

“Actually, let’s wait on that,” one of them says. “Your lips are blue.”

Then, the fogginess. I can see my husband talking to the nurse, but I don’t immediately understand their words. My understanding is on a several-second delay. The nurse tells me to drink the entire contents of a giant plastic cup of water. I don’t know what to do with it until she puts it in my hands. Using both sight and touch, my thoughts finally click into place. I should drink this.

My husband asks me if I want to eat. I say yes and he hands me the menu. I hold it for a moment, my eyes seeing words that I know are food, but that I don’t understand. Turkey hot shot? What is that? Salmon… is a fish. Salad… Vegetables. Side items are… oh, like fries. Dressings… are for salad. 

The menu falls against my face and I doze off.

But when the food arrives, I eat like a mo-fo.

My husband feeds me bits of burgers, fries, carrot cake, cheesecake, salad, juice, more juice, water, soda, salmon, broccoli, pizza, waffles, sausage, fruit cups, and more. I eat it all and with each bite, a breath of life comes back to me. My mind opens and clears. Voices make more sense.

I feel myself coming back.

The next day is deceptively good. The happiness of new life and the excitement of going home overshadow how hard it is to walk and move from one place to another. I tell myself that I’m already doing better than after my first birth. Look at you move! I praise myself. I didn’t tear this time, so I can sit (mostly) comfortably.

I continue to eat and eat and eat. Chicken, kale smoothies, lamb, mushrooms, baked potatoes covered in butter and salt, granola bars, bananas, apples, thick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spoons of peanut butter straight from the jar.

It makes sense later on, this hunger. For fun, I check my Fitbit stats during labor. Look at this.

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I know what you’re thinking. The peak must have been during the pushing phase.

You. Are. Wrong.

That period of peak heart rate happened when I started to hemorrhage. As blood poured out of me, my heart pumped more and more blood to keep delivering oxygen to the tissues and cells that were under attack.

It began after I delivered the placenta. My midwife noticed the bleeding wasn’t slowing. She massaged my uterus. A nurse gave me a shot of Pitocin in my right thigh. Another nurse was prodding my left arm, trying to get an IV started as my tiny veins rolled and rolled. I apologized to her as she stuck me and dug and dug and dug for the vein. Stick after stick.

When the Pitocin didn’t work, the midwife gave me Cytotec.

But I kept bleeding.

The nurse finally got my IV threaded. Pitocin and fluids entered my veins.

But warm blood kept flowing out of me.

If you’re cringing in pain, don’t. All that bleeding was completely painless. My body sent me no signals that I should fear it.

What my body did feel were all the people trying to save me. The nurses, poking and prodding me with needles and IVs. The midwife grinding and massaging my uterus to help it contract. It was those who were working to keep me here that I protested against. My body didn’t understand that those pains were signals of my salvation.

I asked my midwife how much I had lost so far.

“500 ccs is what we usually want to see… You’re probably at 1,000 right now.”

And I kept bleeding.

More uterine massage. I groaned. I moaned. I looked for my baby, but I couldn’t see him. I heard my husband talking and figured that he was the one holding the baby.

I must assure you that I wasn’t afraid when any of this was happening.

You forget.

I just had a baby.

I had climbed the highest mountain I had ever attempted in my life and I had pulled both of us up by fingernails of sheer will and grit. This birth was nothing like my first, which had been a thirty-six hour humbling of body and soul that felt more like spiritual possession.

No, this birth was a struggle. From beginning to end. This birth was a seemingly impossible task that required me to engage and confront over and over again. (Don’t worry: I will write more about this later.)

So as I lay there on the bed, painlessly bleeding life out of me, I was not afraid.

What I was feeling was relief. Peace. Profound gratitude. Love. All covered with the surprise that I had just given birth to a boy.

Then, finally, the drug that works: methergine.

***

The seriousness of what had happened to me did not fully set in until the next day. My husband told me that he could tell from the expressions on the nurses’ faces that the situation was getting tense. That we were probably only minutes from a true emergency.

But hey, I had come through and I was fine. Right?

All’s well that ends well. Time to move on and forget about the whole thing.

After all, I had another hurdle to overcome: establishing breastfeeding.

But just like the last time, inverted nipples and poor milk production have their way with me. Every few hours, I try something new. In the beginning, I use a nipple shield while my husband drops formula from a syringe onto the shield to encourage our baby to not get frustrated and continue to feed. Sometimes, my husband feeds him with a bottle while I pump. Sometimes, I just pump between feedings. Then, I try to get him to latch without the shield.

I don’t realize it at first, but I’ve started to lag behind in my eating and resting.

It’s not something I do on purpose. It happens naturally as my mind focuses on what we can try next to continue breastfeeding.

Then comes the Dreadful Day Four Postpartum. The day when my body starts to register the absence of my placenta, which just days ago was flooding my body with estrogen and progesterone. But now, like a baby rooting for nourishment, my body cries out for that hormonal lifeline that is no longer there and will never return.

This is when the shit hits the fan for me.

At first, I’m doing okay. Marveling that I’m not the sobbing, crying mess that I was with my daughter. After my first birth, I would be tearful and weepy all day long. But it’s different this time. I tear up every now and then, but I’m mostly composed and collected. Is it because of some different hormonal cocktail that I’m experiencing because I had a boy instead of a girl?

But at the end of the Day Four Postpartum, I’ve decided to stop breastfeeding. I climb the stairs to where my baby boy is sleeping in the bouncer, and I have to stop to catch my breath. My Fitbit reads 116, 115, 117, 114, a fat-burning heartrate. I hold onto the walls and allow my breathing to slow.

Then I see his face and it’s over.

The crying starts. The choking sobs build and I don’t make an effort to push them down. I close the door and let it out. All of it. I let all of the thoughts surface. All of the memories of when I stopped breastfeeding my daughter come forth, as clear as the day they happened three years ago. I let them come and talk to me. I let every doubt and fear and reassurance express its voice.

I don’t deny myself the right to feel any of it.

These are my emotions and I’ve learned that I need to let them out.

One voice says:

You shouldn’t give up yet. We have so much breastfeeding stuff! Pillows and the pump, nursing pads and bottles, lanolin lotion and nipple shields. Your milk is coming in this time. Give it a chance!

Another voice says:

You did all you could. It’s okay. You know he’s going to be fine. You know it. And fuck anyone who even subtly holds this over your head. They don’t understand. 

But the loudest voice of all says:

Sharon, seriously. You cannot do this again. Your body cannot go through that hell again. This is the last baby you will give birth to and hold and care for. Don’t you dare rob yourself of the joy of enjoying your child. 

That final voice is right. I know it.

But, God, it still hurts.

I call for Doug and he holds me while I cry. But now the afterbirth pains have skyrocketed because of the weeping and I’m moaning in pain. Doug leaves for a moment and I’m in the bathroom, feeling a tiny stream of blood falling from me. And when I stand, a golf ball sized clot falls into my hand.

That blob of jet black jelly now stains my skin blood red.

I shudder.

I call for Doug.

***

But it gets better.

The next day, I’m relieved that the weaning has begun.

But then the tiredness has returned. At the baby’s first doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician comments that I look really pale.

In the car on the way home, I review my hospital bloodwork that was drawn on the day after the birth by accessing my on-line records. My hemoglobin and hemocrit are way down. I read a brochure about life after a postpartum hemorrhage and I understand that I need to take this more seriously.

I need iron. I need to eat and eat and eat. And rest and rest and rest.

So I do. Eating and resting is what I do.

After I make breakfast, I’m completely spent. So I eat and sleep. Then I rise and I shower. I sleep again. I get up and eat lunch. I rest on the couch and talk with my mother. I sleep some more. I eat a huge snack and I sleep again. I let my friends bring food and I eat and eat more. I sleep.

I do not do the dishes.

I do not do laundry or even pick up my clothes.

I don’t take out the garbage or get the mail.

I forget about any plans to go on a walk anytime soon.

Instead, I conserve and gather my strength.

Every time I eat, I feel life coming back into me. I feel my body swallowing life whole and absorbing it.

I feel reconnected. I feel my mind hook into awareness and reality.

I start to crawl back to the living.

***

This is what I want you to understand about blood loss: it doesn’t just get better on its own.

You have to know that you are not okay. But to know that you’re not okay, you have to rely on more than just your instinct to respond to pain.

Bleeding is painless. It’s the wound that hurts. It’s the attempts to stop the bleeding that hurt. And once the bleeding is over, you can still be slaughtered by it if you don’t equip yourself with enough armor for the battle. If you spend too much of your energy preoccupied with things that don’t ultimately matter, you have halfway lost that battle. And once you realize that you are too weak to fight, it will be too late.

Right now, I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.

Right now, I’m fighting to bring myself back to independence. Part of it is because I didn’t appreciate my own condition. Part of it is because I neglected to understand my own limitations. That instead of pouring energy into nursing, I should have been strictly eating and resting.

Right now, I fight for myself and for my son and we are slowly winning. I look down at his face.

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And I think, we are going to be okay.

But not because things naturally become okay.

Far from it.

We will be okay because I’m recognizing and engaging this weakness and tiredness. I’m conquering it with food, food, more food, and rest.

I am not sitting back and assuming that my body will naturally take care of itself.

This is a struggle.

The same is true of our country. If we sit back and assume that our county will be okay because God blesses the USA and screw everyone else in the world, we are in for destruction.

Things don’t naturally become okay. We need to work for it.

But when I read the news, do you know what I see?

Hope.

That’s right. Hope.

I see so many of you fighting. Protesting. Calling our senators and representatives. Even my husband now has Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown on his speed dial and is planning a group meeting to sit down to talk with our U.S. House representative.

Many of you are responding to the pain of watching your rights and freedoms threatened. The right for every child to access good public education. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. The right for every American to have health care.

These battles are good and just.

But we need to vigilantly search for the ways that we are painlessly bleeding.

Where is our attention and what are we missing?

Men, do you fight for women’s equal pay?

White Americans, do you speak out against racial profiling?

Cis-gender Americans, do you squash the laughter when someone points at a transgender person?

U.S. citizens, do you fight to create a welcoming environment for those who are fleeing war and systematic killings on par with the Holocaust?

Christians, do you seek to understand your Muslim brothers and sisters? Or do you paint them all with the same broad brush of suspicion?

Which wounds do we not feel or see yet?

When you can’t see your own wounds, you need to be willing to hear when others tell you that you need help.

Because we need you. We cannot afford to blind ourselves from the truth of what is happening.

Because we are fighting for this future.

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We are fighting for this planet because, in the end, this is what we truly leave behind for our children and grandchildren.

We are fighting against insatiable greed for power and the deceit that feeds it.

We are fighting because we see ourselves in those who are fleeing war and displacement and fear.

We are fighting because we understand that it’s not such a crazy reality to imagine that we could be the ones who are fleeing next.

We are fighting for the future.

For life.

For love.

This world still smells like everything I hate

But I’m learning to love, ’til that’s just not the case

And all my friends, they feel the same way too

We look inside the mirror, and all we see is you.

The water’s still rushing and the blood is still gushing

From the wound you left inside.

….

My eyes have seen the glory of your love

And I won’t turn back this time.

No I won’t turn back this time.

The First Week: In Pictures

As can be expected, my ability to write is greatly diminished right now. And that’s totally fine with me. Self-care first. Instead of putting effort into writing, I’d like to just show you around my world in the last five days.

The Last Day of Pregnancy: February 1, 2017, 41 weeks and 3 days

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Birth: February 2, 2017, 1:27 p.m.

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Minutes old. Skin to skin.

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Life-saver. I suffered a postpartum hemorrhage, but my midwife and nurses were able to control the bleeding within the first hour of delivery. Thank God for modern medicine. 

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Putting on my Warrior hat to breastfeed after the birth.

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Day 1

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Getting ready to leave Family Beginnings, a natural birthing center attached to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. They. Are. Marvelous.

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Temporary living quarters while Doug finishes the baby’s room. 

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Self-care ain’t pretty sometimes.

Day 2

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Day 2 profile

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My viewpoint, post “nap.” So hard to sleep soundly.

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Day 3

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Day 3 Profile: Breasts actually feeling milk come in this time. Feeling a bit hopeful in this moment.

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Can you see it? Just barely? That is what 20 minutes of pumping yields. It won’t even drain into the vials. Baby has a good latch, but I have to use a shield to get a good latch. But he gets frustrated when hardly anything comes out. Can’t really blame him. Poor guy.

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How small, he starts.

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Yawn.

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Stork bite on right thigh.

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Looks just like his sister in the first week. I will show a side-by-side comparison someday.

Day 4

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Day 4: Weaning. As my breasts fill and ache, latching is more difficult and the pump won’t relieve it. I try having him latch without the shield. Awful. So awful. Baby is doing well with formula, and I’m tired of working to overcome these barriers. So I am utterly done with breastfeeding forever. And you know what? That’s okay with me. We’re not having any more kids after this one, so it’s time to stop stressing and just enjoy having a baby.

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Day 4 Profile

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Nipple shield with last bits of milk still on it. 

Day 5

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First doctor’s appointment. Henry receives an excellent bill of health. “You look pale,” says the pediatrician. “You should take iron to help with the breastfeeding.” I tell her that I started the weaning process yesterday and he’s exclusively on formula. “Well, he’s doing great. Can I get you some free cans of formula?” Thank God for choices and supportive pediatricians. I leave without the same feelings of guilt that I had with my first child. 

What’s not in these pictures?

All the people who are supporting me.

My husband, who has spent the last month painting and installing lights and shelving in not one, not two, but three bedrooms.

My mother, who has been watching the baby during the day while I have been sleeping and recovering from the blood loss. (I’ve got the night shift.)

My friends, who brought over bagels and scones and muffins on Day 2 and sat with me. Small reassurances that even though crazy things like birth and recovery happen, life goes on. And it’s all beautiful and holy.

My church, who lifted me with their prayers.

The postpartum period can be incredibly isolating and lonely, but all this help has made it just a little easier.

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So much beauty in the world.

41 weeks, 3 days: Ranting and Raving

Forget anxiety and fear of the imminent pain of childbirth.

I’m so beyond being nervous or afraid of what comes next.

Now, I’m just pissed. I’m downright angry.

If I want to give birth in the birthing center that I’ve chosen, I have to give birth by 41 weeks, 6 days. That gives me until Saturday. After that, I’ll have to go to the regular maternity ward and play by their rules.

Just like last time.

Which is what I was trying to avoid.

I will literally take whatever contractions come my way if it means this is the last day that I’m pregnant. 

F— this pregnancy! I’m so over it!

I will die pregnant. I know it. Labor will never start. Ever. And I’ll be that one crazy case where the pregnant woman just dies because her body splits open because the baby keeps growing. 

I simply cannot believe this has not happened yet. What is wrong with me? Why? WHY?

The most frustrating thing? I’ve had four times when contractions have started and then just stopped.

And I’m not talking Braxton-Hicks contractions. I’m talking full-on, labor contractions. Sometimes 4 to 8 minutes apart for several hours. They last long enough for me to get excited, to gather my things, to think about plans for the rest of the day that include going to the hospital.

And then? Nothing.

They just stop.

WHYYYYYY??????

And then, I get this email from Babycenter.com.

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Just shoot me now.

Are you kidding me, Babycenter? I never told you my baby was born. So you just automatically send these emails? Are you trying to piss me off? And what if my baby were stillborn?

This is the worst. I despise living in this constant state of suspension. I don’t tend to be a control freak. My job as a teacher requires me to constantly practice the art of flexibility.

But this is too much.

You think it feels like a long time since Trump became president on January 20th? Tired of processing bullet after bullet that he’s shooting into American democracy?

Now, imagine adding the additional mental burden of realizing at the end of every day that you will, once again, have to find a way to sleep with an enormous pregnant belly, tossing and turning every 45 minutes until the sun rises.

And being pumped full with as much estrogen as a non-pregnant woman has in three years of her life.

February 2nd is Groundhog Day. And how perfectly appropriate. I feel like I’ve been living my own personal Groundhog Day since January 22nd.

So, I’m at the end of my rope. If the point of me waiting this long to have a baby was to teach me a lesson in patience, I’m beyond that lesson. I’m not learning anything anymore.

Now, I’m just pissed.

41 Weeks: The Answer is No. And Yes.

No, I haven’t had the baby.

No, I’m not going to ask to be induced.

No, the baby doesn’t seem to be huge. Just average-sized.

Yes, the baby is healthy. So am I.

Yes, I’m positive they calculated my due date correctly.

Yes, I’ve tried that. And that. And that.

Yes, I’m losing my mind.

Yes, this is eating into my maternity leave now.

Yes, I’ve had some signs that I’m getting ready.

But no.

No real, regular contractions.

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***

This last week has been an interesting combination of nice and awful.

Nice, because my mom is here, helping with our daughter, running errands, and just helping the hours pass. With Scrabble and Penny Press word puzzles.

Nice, because I haven’t had to work. My daily responsibility is to get my daughter to daycare. And take walks.

But it has also been awful.

Starting with the fact that this last week was the first week of Trump’s presidency. What a week… Can anyone process all the garbage that’s coming out of the White House right now? I feel like every day this week, there has been something else that threatens fundamental American principles, values, and norms. (Please tell me I’m not the only one.)

And then there’s the thought that my mind returns to about every other minute of the day: I’m still pregnant.

My mind spins on and on.

Why in the hell is this baby still in there? Am I not walking enough? Am I not eating enough? Is it because I’m drinking decaf coffee? Is it because I have some undiagnosed hormonal imbalance? Is it because I’m 35?

Oh, you’ll go into labor earlier with your second one, they all assured me. The second time is much easier. Your body still has the muscle memory from the last birth. It will happen a lot sooner and faster this time.

Ha.

Ha.

Maybe I should have had my membranes swept at 39 weeks to speed the process along. Maybe that’s the reason I went into labor earlier with my first child. My doctor swept my membranes–without my consent, might I add–at 38 weeks. It still took me until 40 weeks and 4 days to go into labor though, and another day to actually give birth.

So I ask myself, What is so different about this time?

I keep comparing this whole experience to what happened to me with my first baby. I can’t help it. I’m looking for patterns and signs, aligning them with last time, and then making estimates.

I’ve lost six pounds of water weight. Should be another two days.

Or

The baby has moved down further. Probably just another week.

Then I blow past my estimates. Over and over again, I’m disappointed.

Every morning I wake up, and I tell myself to start fresh. I go for a walk in the darkness of the morning. Enya sings to me and I feel understood.

Winter has come too late
Too close beside me.
How can I chase away
All these fears deep inside?

I’ll wait the signs to come.
I’ll find a way
I will wait the time to come.
I’ll find a way home.

I tell myself that today is a new day. Today might be the day. I tell myself that tomorrow, maybe, we’ll be through this birth.

I tell myself to imagine my future self, reaching back through time, shaking me by the shoulders, telling me to not wish away these last moments of pregnancy.

I tell myself that once this birth is over, I will likely mourn its passing.

I tell myself to enjoy this time with my mom.

I tell myself that all I have right now is this moment.

This day.

I tell myself that even though my mind craves the certainty of falling back onto my previous experiences, in my heart I know this birth will be nothing like last time.

I tell myself, Just one more afternoon.

Then, Just one more night.

Then, Just one more morning.

Today could be the day.

Week 40: Ticking Time Bomb

Tick, tick, tick.

I knew it was possible that I would go beyond my due date again. I went to 40 weeks and 5 days with my first child.

But who really wants to believe that they’ll be put through that again?

But, here we are.

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So what do you do when you’re past your due date?

Hand off responsibility of raising your children. Let Grandma take center stage. Send your kid to daycare without an ounce of guilt. If you can’t do either of those, turn on the TV and embrace the zombification of your kids because it’s preserving your sanity.

Walk. Because it’s the only exercise you can really handle at this point. And moving at least 30 minutes a day gives you a better chance of going into labor.

Do yoga. Practice your breathing. Get in some good down-dog and butterfly poses.

Lie on your side. Because it takes the weight out of your back and pelvis. Which now feel like jelly.

Avoid people. Or at least the people with whom you have to engage in small talk. You don’t want to constantly think about the fact that you’re beyond your due date. But it’s the only thing on everyone else’s mind. Don’t get pissed about it. They either can’t help themselves or they don’t know what else to talk about with you.

Read. Start books that you don’t mind if you don’t finish. Because you probably won’t.

Nap. This is the best part. By far. Especially since you’re only sleeping in 45 minutes increments throughout the night now. Because you need to pee, or shift sides, or eat at 3:00 a.m. (Because, of course, the baby is hungry again.)

Google the probability of going into labor on this particular day. I liked this website. I currently have a 57.93% chance of going into labor today. Tomorrow, the probability increases to 61.79%.

Do puzzles. This one is driving me nuts right now. But I’ve got a feeling I’m ready to bust this case wide open.

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Write. Whatever you want. Without much thought. Because it’s mostly about passing time and not so much about imparting words of wisdom.

Be still. Honor the beauty of silence and suspension. Because soon the day will be full of crying and cooing, dishes and laundry, visitors and friends.

Let go of the perpetual need to accomplish. Because soon “accomplishing” will have much, much different definitions than it does today.

 

Week 39: What We Learn From Pain

I’ve been thinking a lot about pain this week.

Probably because I know that, very soon, I’ll be in the presence of the Mother of all Pains.

Labor.

I bow in its presence.

What’s that saying? Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know?

In that sense, labor is a devil that I know. But let’s be honest. It’s been three years since we’ve spent any time together. And having known labor, I’m left speechless.

I know its power.

I know that it will require every last piece of my strength and my will.

And I know that won’t be enough. I’ll have to go deeper into myself, into my reserves that I haven’t had to use for years, just to hold on to the belief that I’ll make it through.

Because that’s the only way that I can transform from a doubtful, anxious human being to a powerful vehicle that brings new life into this world.

That’s what labor does. It transforms you.

***

This weekend, I was reminded of just how transformative pain can be.

In Glennon Doyle Melton’s memoir, Love Warrior, she says this about pain:

What if in skipping the pain, I was missing my lessons?

Instead of running away from my pain, was I supposed to run toward it? …

Maybe instead of slamming the door on pain, I need to throw open the door wide and say, “Come in. Sit down. And don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.”

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Glennon spends most of her life running from and numbing pain through bulimia and binge-drinking. When her husband confesses that he has been cheating on her for years, she is thrown into a crisis that she feels she cannot solve on her own. She finally enters therapy so she can figure out how to pull herself and her family through their quagmire.

In the most poignant moment of her memoir, she finds herself in a hot yoga class. While other women express that their intentions for their yoga practice are to “embrace loving-kindness” or to “radiate sunlight to all creation,” Glennon says that her intention is to “stay on this mat and make it through whatever is about to happen without running out of here.”

As she lies on her mat, she allows the pain of her life to overwhelm her. She sees memories of all the things that have hurt her and she imagines all the terrible things that might still happen. While everyone else participates in the yoga session, she lies on her mat, weeping. She allows herself to feel all the pain that she has been running from and numbing herself from feeling.

At the end of the session, her yoga teacher tells her,

That–what you just did? That is the Journey of the Warrior.

***

I cried when I read that. Because it is exactly how I felt after I gave birth the first time.

I felt that I had just confronted all of my weaknesses and flaws, all of my fears and failures, all of my doubts.

And I had come out on the other side.

Alive. Whole. Transformed.

Before giving birth, I feared that I wasn’t strong. That I was too weak. Too inexperienced. That I wouldn’t know my own body more than my doctors. That when push came to shove, I would get out of the way and let someone better handle the hard stuff.

I feared that that’s how it would probably be when I became a mother. That I would smile in deference and listen to everyone else who knew better than me about what was best for my child.

That I wouldn’t cause problems by raising my concerns.

That I would continue to be “the good little girl.”

That when my time would come, I would numb the pain so I could listen to the doctors respectfully, follow directions like a rational person, and push on command.

Even though I so desperately wanted to be that woman who wouldn’t be squashed and silenced by norms…

I suspected in my heart that that’s exactly who I was.

Another woman who would believe the limitations that everyone else had decided for her.

***

In her memoir, Glennon echoes similar thoughts.

I realize that I have allowed myself to see it all and feel it all and I have survived…

I’d been fully human for an hour and a half and it had hurt like hell. It had almost killed me, but not quite. That “not quite” part seems incredibly important.

Accepting pain rather than running from pain is not a mainstream sentiment in our culture. We’ve built an entire culture around numbing pain. Not just through medication, but through addiction. To drugs. To alcohol. To possessions.

And addiction to distractions.

Smartphones and constant Internet access have helped to create these personal mini-universes, free from empty moments in which we might otherwise feel boredom or pain or discomfort.

But what is the human experience when we don’t allow ourselves to feel pain, whether it’s physical or emotional?

When we don’t allow ourselves to feel the pain, we rob ourselves of a rich understanding of who we are and what we can overcome.

As Glennon Doyle Melton puts it,

Don’t avoid the pain. You need it. It’s meant for you.

Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.

Bring it on.

I’m ready.

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