I used to think I was an introvert, but the more I learn about myself, the more I realize that I am a highly sensitive extrovert, raised in the clannish and isolation-minded Pacific Northwest, with a genetic and environmental disposition toward depression, seasonal depression and anxiety.
So now, as I struggle through postpartum depression, I have had to force myself to break away from all of these forces working against my health and healing. Medication, talking with family, taking daily showers and putting on mascara regardless of whether I am going to sit on the couch all day in sweats or not, and, most recently, meeting other moms.
Let’s be honest now, moms make me nervous. Before Baby Boof was born I was really nervous about having to make mom friends, because I am not necessarily intersted in talking about diaper sizes or wearing matching outfits with my child and pushing them in a pram. Moms can also be a judgy lot, and I am just not interested in trying to live up to some sort of mother-of-the-year-award. But my single and married-without-kids friends just don’t “get it” like moms do, so, with some trepidation, I have branched out to meet some moms.
My first solo venture into this arena was finding a local meetup for moms with babies/toddlers in my area. I figured that an event titled “moms with strollers” wouldn’t be that scary, especially since it was 2 blocks from my house, and worse case scenario I get in a good walk and never go back.
What surprised me was how awesome all of these moms were. While I didn’t connect with all of them at the same level, there were a few I could see myself actually hanging out with in the future. And my sense of humor shined through, which is often not the case in a new or strange place (I’m the girl shoveling food in her face at the snack table at parties). The weather was glorious, seeing the sun after “Winter Blast 2012” that we survived last week, was an added bonus. The combination of sunshine, exercise, and good conversation were so inspiring to my mood, that I found myself happy the rest of the day. Perhaps moms aren’t so scary after all?
This is not how Baby Boof looked at our last reiki session. Fortunately, Courtney is lovely and not disturbed by his hollering, and I found myself loving the moment of learning to breathe, in a safe space, through the crying, processing with her the feelings that come up inside of me when I can’t figure out how to help him go to sleep peacefully or get comfortable.
I’m getting to learn how to embrace the present moment without judging it or comparing it to other moments. I could easily have gotten embarassed by his crying this last session because our first session was so swaddled in peace. She sensed that his hips were bothering him, not acutely, but that he was, indeed, growing. And at the end of the session she gave him an animal card reading, and she landed on the Red Squirrel, as the one with a message for him. How appropriate, since it was all about storing up food and preserving energy. I had to laugh since that’s exactly what he’s been doing lately (eating every hour for 8-10 hours at a time), which is hard on my body, but I know he’s going to shoot up soon.
At the end of the session I felt incredibly relaxed and ready to face the rest of the day, which was surprising since I had just spent the better part of an hour with a crying baby!
Boof rolled over a few nights ago and said, “I appreciate how sweet you’re being to him right now,” which was heartwarming to hear, even though I hadn’t even realized that there had been a noticeable shift in my ability to handle the nighttime clusterfeedings/crying jags. My medication is still ramping up, so I hadn’t expected to feel any different for awhile, but as I’ve told many people before, that family members tend to notice the difference long before the ‘identified patient’ notices a real change in mood.
But there have been moments in the past week, where I find myself lost in the smell of his babyness, have stroked his cheek and gotten simply lost in the moment of connection between the two of us. Perhaps I’ve slowed down a bit, especially at night, not frantically reading facebook or online forums, and simply allowed myself to drift in the moment, even when I can’t seem to figure out why he wants the boob AGAIN for the 6th time in an hour.
My midwife, at my follow up appointment, was very supportive of my choice to seek medication. She even disclosed that she had struggled with PPD, and so she understood the irrationality of the feelings and how isolating it feels. I couldn’t be happier with how she has handled my post-natal care, and it was nice to report that I could see myself heading back into the light of the sweet spot.
Boof did it. After a long talk, Boof, with my blessing, called the midwife to seek advice for my-likely-post-partu-depression and the result has been cautiously magical.
After talking to my favorite midwife, explaining my episodes, she prescribed me my favorite anti-depressant and encouraged me that I was an “amazing mama for recognizing this.”
I don’t know why that means so much to me, it it did.
So, I braved the snowstorm and drove, solo (for the first time, leaving baby Boof in his daddy’s hands) to the pharmacy to pick up my medication, to begin a hopefully-new chapter in this whole parenting challenge.
It comes out of nowhere, and yet, in retrospect I guess there are signs and symptoms of the spinning. Like when you’ve been drinking tequila shots all night, thinking you’re doing fine, and then BAM on the dance floor you are suddenly completely wasted and you wonder to yourself “how did this happen?” Of course, there ARE warning signs, but it’s hard for me to see them in the moment. The ramping up of my irritability that becomes more than sleepy, middle-of-the-night frustration at a poor latch and moves into an uncontrollable, unexplicalbe anger-bordering-on-rage,that makes absolutely NO sense, and leaves me despondant, detached, with feelings of incredible guilt after the episode passes.
It didn’t start out this way. There was a mostly blissful bubble, punctured by perfectionism and my desire to be the best mom ever, get my kid to latch on without a nipple shield, exclusively breastfeed to get him back up to birth-weight (rather than supplement with formula given by our pediatrician), to lost the baby-weight, to be up and around entertaining people post-partum like a combination of Wonder Woman and Betty Crocker. I had showered a mere 1.5 hours after birth, was wearing mascara and eye-liner during our first pictures with baby, and had an awesome amount of energy in the first few days that felt brilliant.
There were a few little moments of irritability that left me concerned enough to at least mention it to my midwife and husband that I was afraid I was heading into a tunnel. Nights were particularly bad, but not always bad. That’s the dangerous part of all of this, is that there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the nights with spinning thoughts, irritability, despair, guilt and the nights where I nurse with ease and we go about our sleeping business with relatively little interuption, 1.5 or 2 hours at a time, before we begin our little routine of nurse-burp-change diaper-nurse-burp-sleep, again.
So last night, when I woke up and the only language I could must were “fuck yous,” I handed the little one to Boof and curled up in bed. I thought of dying. I thought of running away. I thought that everyone would be better off without me. I felt worthless and detached and angry. And then I felt sad. And my thoughts spun rapidly out of control down this horrible rabbit hole into a nightmare of Wonderland proportions. Though I am experienced with depression and anxiety, I have not felt this level of despair in years. And then, after almost an hour, it went away and I nursed with ease, and slept like a rock (until we did our routine again). My humor and sweetness and ability to communicate returned as switftly as it left, which should comfort me, but actually scares me more than anything.
Because, when drinking tequila shots and getting out of control wasted is a choice, and while I can’t necessarily know if 8 drinks will cause that out-of-control drunk space, I can know that 1 drink, or 0 drinks, will not. But this feeling of spinning isn’t caused by alcohol or drugs. It is something more sinister, inside of me, that turns on and off without any apparent reason. Though I suppose I can begin to analyze the ramp-up to the point at which I had to hand our child over because I couldn’t be quite sure that I was safe enough for myself, let alone to be a mother.
And just like being drunk, the incredible next-day embarassment and walk of shame, facing my husband who triaged the situation, lingers inside my mind. Human guilt and mom guilt colliding as I wonder “what the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I get it together?”
Today I read an article over at that resonated with my soul. I have practiced yoga, off and on as most things go, since I was in high school. While I have been mostly off in my practice, as far as asanas go, I have still managed to employ ujayii breathing techniques, some meditation when my Buddha self reminds me that monkey-mind isn’t all their is, and an asana on occasion (mostly to counteract my horrible posture, which is now worsened by the nursing slouch).
So I have googled “yoga for new moms” in hopes to get a list of asanas to ease the body and mind aches that have set in over the past few weeks of new motherhood. And so I came across this article, which wasn’t as much focused on the doing of asanas, but put perfectly into words the experience of caring for my infant that is now out of utero.
It is something I have known cognitive for awhile, that humans give birth much earlier than other primates, to accommodate for our brain size, but the practicality of this is my day-to-day reality. Whereas other primates have the luxury if giving birth to toddler-formed “infants” who are much more self-sufficient (can cling to mom and walk and communicate), we humans have sacrificed this development for big brained helpless babes who require many months of out-of-utero care. And so, here we mothers are, caring for our babies that technically should still be gestating.
For me this is hard. My pregnancy was relatively easy and my birth as smooth as one could hope for. And here is this little person that I am responsible for, even though my brain/heart haven’t completely put the pieces together that he-was-what-was-inside-me. Sometimes he seems to have dropped from the sky and I am somehow supposed to know what to do with him now that I can see and hear and feel him with my senses, rather than the vague movement inside my belly. My body knew what to do when my mind did not, and so here I am, trying to muddle through this process of still acting as a womb, while recognizing this being that is no longer truly part of me.
So while the list of asanas was beneficial, and I plan to utilize them in my attempt toward a more intentioned yoga practice, it was simply reading that I am not alone in this post-delivery gestational period, that was truly powerful.
Today I had a fabulous mom-baby Reiki session with the lovely Courtney Putnam over at Rising Bird Healing Arts. I love getting body and energy work done with her, especially during times when I am prone to anxiety, depression or body aches. During our session I had several insights:
1) I feel a tremendous love and peaceful connection to my baby Boof.
2) my chest felt to be a source of tremendous strength, and the image was of Haystack Rock, strong and peacefully weathering storms and sunny days. Not trying to be anything but what it is…existing in the moment. This strength resides in me, in my heart chakra, and connects me with my babe.
3) two bird images came to Courtney during our session, the penguin and the pelican. She read to me from the bird signs book, and the pelican symbolized spontaneity and the penguin, purpose.
These two images are meaningful to me, as I sift through the feelings associated with being 4 weeks into new mommyhood. The pelican, as I researched later, in mythology, is associated with motherhood sacrifice, with this belief that mother pelican would stab their chests to feed their young if needed. While this doesn’t necessarily translate to spontaneity, it is meaningful to me, as I spend hours on the couch, or in my bedroom, nursing my sweet little boy.
And penguin. Well, penguin cannot fly like other birds, which is how I am feeling….a bird with wings that cannot fly… I wonder if penguin look to other birds and wonder what its like to fly, as they poor along, looking for their purpose (to be the best penguin they can be, in the cliche sense). But penguin have a lot to offer as far as parenting goes (watch March of the Penguin if you don’t believe me). What do penguin think about in the frigid cold as they sit for months on the egg, keeping it warm? Probably the same crazy things that I think about when I am holed up inside and baby Boof is clusterfeeding for hours at a time.
From the time we got pregnant I knew that we were going to co-sleep, and so I registered for an Arms Reach Co-Sleeper, and explained to my friends and family the benefits of co-sleeping and that NO we were not registering to a crib, that baby Boof would sleep in our room indefinitely and then would transition to a toddler bed when he was ready.
I was prepared for co-sleeping. But what I wasn’t prepared for was bed sharing, where the baby sleeps IN bed with mom/dad rather than right next to the bed in the co-sleeper. But, when baby Boof was born, I could not put him down. For the first week he slept on my chest in a kangaroo way, all pouched down in my stretchy tank. And then he grew 2 inches and his legs flopped over my side, so he slept all snugged up to my bosom. And I loved it. But I recognize safety issues, and also wanted a little more sleeping room throughout the night. So, almost a month in, and baby Boof is now sleeping 3 inches from me in the co-sleeper, and honestly, he has made the switch without any fuss. Mama, on the other hand, misses the sweet feeling of his breath on my neck and the little sigh he would give as he snuggled his head up under my chin. Or, like the other nightclub, when he was crying, and reached his little arm out of the swaddle, touched my neck and then fell asleep. It’s sweet moments like this that I will miss as he moves into the co-sleeper for good, and eventually his own bed.
The benefit, though, is getting to sleep on my stomach again, after a year!