As I write this, we’re sitting waiting for Hurricane Irma to hit. Writing about the hardest period in my life (the postpartum period) seems fitting to do while we wait for one of the worst natural disasters to hit. #eyeroll. This is a long post, and full of heavy stuff, but I think I’m only starting to feel okay because of other moms who’ve walked alongside me and shared their stories. So here’s mine. I so, so hope it helps another mama know she’s not alone.
I’m three weeks postpartum today, and I finally feel like the fog is starting to lift—if the fog was a toxic, deadly fume that came with total sleep deprivation and anxiety like none other.
I’ll start at the beginning and work my way towards today…
Emory was born at 9:43am on Sunday, August 20th after a borderline traumatic labor experience. But there was a magic to the hour or two following her birth; her daddy and I were smitten, she was beautiful and healthy, and I was unbelievably thankful to have the pain of labor behind me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end of things.
You always hear stories about how in love you fall with your baby as soon as you see them. And there were definitely feelings I’ve never experienced, and I would’ve definitely given my life for that sweet child immediately, but there was not this beautiful afterglow of labor where I spent time ooh-ing over every feature, falling in love with her and feeling this immeasurable bond. In fact, none of that happened. I had a pretty significant tear that required some extensive suturing, I was exhausted beyond all understanding, and I was emotionally starting to process what had unfolded and how we didn’t get the home birth I had so wanted.
Within a few hours (I think?) we were moved upstairs to the mother & baby unit. We said goodbye to our sweet nurses, and said hello to a new set that were…well…less than that. I mean they were nice, but our L&D nurses really set the bar high.
Once we got “settled” into our new room, things started to really hit. My hormones were plummeting, and as someone who suffers from anxiety disorder to begin with, I was starting to get super emotional and scared over everything. Was Emmy breathing? Was she cold or uncomfortable? And mostly…was she eating?
We had latched her on within an hour of birth. And by “we”, I mean the baby nurse. I honestly don’t even remember it. But let’s just say, it did some damage. And when we tried again once we were in our new room, she refused to latch to my other breast, so we went back to the damaged side and, not surprisingly, did even more damage.
Emmy was going 6-ish hours between “feedings” and my anxiety was skyrocketing because I knew I wasn’t doing something right. The night nurse had me try a nipple shield, which actually just messed up the other breast instead of helping. I was still in a huge daze and would watch her sleep, picturing the clock ticking by each minute that she hadn’t eaten. Eventually, the lactation consultant came by and her words were, “Oh man, your nipples look terrible.” Thanks. So comforting.
Since Shands is a “baby-friendly” designated hospital (super pro-breastfeeding, pacifiers are a no-no, and formula is definitely not the standard), we knew breastfeeding would be pushed hard and fast. So to hear that we needed to start supplementing her was kind of shocking. Since I had so much trauma to my breasts already, there was no way we could keep trying to get her to latch. So that started a cycle where I’d pump to stimulate milk production, hand express what little colostrum I could get out, feed that to Emmy via a syringe, and then finger-feed her formula (using a syringe to feed her through a feeding tube against my finger, so she’d still have to suck for food). It was exhausting and emotional and painful.
Once the pediatric team came for her 24-hour evaluation, they weren’t happy with how little she was feeding. There were talks of us having to stay another night until we could figure it out. The pediatrician mentioned a lip/tongue tie, but she didn’t think Emmy had that issue.
But the lactation consultant did.
And so began the battle of whether or not we needed to “fix” a tie that did or did not exist. Eventually, an OT who was also a lactation consultant came in and cast the deciding vote–that she did not have an issue and was just too tense to feed. We were to try and coax Emmy to relax her shoulders, but my tissue was still too traumatized to even attempt feeding her at the breast.
Eventually, we were told we could be discharged, as long as we saw our pediatrician and a lactation consultant the next day. I was exhausted, emotional, scared, and just had a general feeling of malaise. My parents and sister came to visit us in the hospital, and I just remember feeling so sad. For no real reason. I wanted to go home and I didn’t want to go home. I was so scared that Emmy wasn’t okay. When the nurse came in to do her heel stick, and Emmy wailed, I sat on the bed next to her holding her hand just weeping. I felt like I could throw up. I knew it was just a little prick, but I felt every cell in my body writhing in anxiety and fear.
I was also surprised at how much pain I was in physically. I remember hearing that once the baby is born, you go from “a ten to a zero on the pain scale.” As my cousin said, I’m calling bullshit on that. It was so hard to walk to the bathroom, and even sitting up hurt.
Finally, around 7pm, we were “discharged” and told we needed to wait for the transport team to wheel us out of there. Our nurse gave us an insane amount of information, from everything on SIDS to when to call 911 to “bonding” with your baby.
Then shift change happened, and we were forgotten about. We waited for over an hour for the transport team to come, and they never did. We kept asking, but we didn’t have a nurse assigned to us anymore since we had been “discharged”, and we just sat in our room waiting. I started sobbing. I was so tired, hadn’t slept, and was slowly being consumed by a fear and anxiety that was growing like weeds. I couldn’t stop crying. Matt finally took Emmy and walked down the hall (a MAJOR no-no) which caused the nurses to freak out immediately. Which, frankly, was exactly what he wanted, and told them they needed to find someone to get us out of there ASAP.
Within ten minutes, we were finally wheeled out. Matt went to go get the car, and I held Emmy, still sobbing, wondering why this wasn’t this magical “going home” moment I so often saw. It was past 9pm, and was dark and silent and hot out. While waiting for Matt with the car, the nurse who had wheeled me down proceeded to tell me about the last mom who had to wait 2 hours to get discharged and how it was even worse for her because her baby had just died.
I think I broke at that point. I stopped crying and just fell into myself. I was terrified putting her in the car seat, and cried all the way home because I didn’t know if she was breathing or not. When we got home, I got in the shower and had a complete panic attack. I felt like I was losing my mind. I vividly remember wanting to climb the walls, wishing Emmy would just go away so we could have our old life back. I didn’t want her anymore. I just wanted Matt and I to be able to crawl into bed and snuggle and watch TV, not deal with our crying baby who I didn’t even know how to feed.
I didn’t want to hold her. I didn’t want Matt to hold her either, because I wanted him to hold me. But she was hysterical (um, who wouldn’t be at less than 2 days old and in a totally new place and pretty freaking hungry). Thank God for my sweet husband, who turned a steamy shower on and sat on the bathroom counter for three hours with her because the steam and noise calmed her down.
I laid in bed feeling like the worst mother on the planet. I couldn’t calm my baby, I couldn’t feed her, I didn’t want to even hold her, and my poor husband –who was also sleep deprived–was now being forced to sit for hours on end on our bathroom counter. Just writing it makes me sick to my stomach.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such a combination of fear and anxiety and sadness. I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t stop crying. I would just shake and feel like I was going to vomit. And it didn’t stop.
The next day I knew something was wrong. I knew I wasn’t doing okay, and that I needed help. I’d cry and cry and cry each day, because I just couldn’t do it. Unknowingly, we weren’t feeding Emmy enough because we didn’t know anything about formula feeding, and didn’t know that we needed to be quickly increasing her feeds. God had his hands on that girl since she somehow didn’t starve.
Our pediatrician saw us the day after we got home, and helped us understand that we needed to feed her more. And gave us the contact information for an amazing lactation consultant, who came to our home the next day, after giving me tips on how to quickly heal my damaged nipples.
When she arrived, she got Emmy to latch immediately. It was a miracle. We did a weighted feed: For perspective, we were feeding Emmy between 5-10mL of formula at each feed. From one feed at my breast, she ate 68mL. 68!!! Poor baby really was starving.
I finally felt like I was doing something right. Emmy didn’t scream after eating, her color was less red and she was totally calm and drowsy after eating. I wish I could say our breastfeeding journey was magical from that point on, but it wasn’t. It’s still full of pain and exhaustion and not knowing if she’s eating enough, but I think I’m too traumatized from our early induction to formula to switch.
About a week and a half postpartum, when Matt was back at work, I was still in the throes of reeling anxiety and finally decided I needed help. We made an appointment for me to see a nurse practitioner at UF, and she quickly adjusted my anxiety meds and got me a referral with a psychologist. Within two days of the adjusted dosage, the tunnel vision started to lift and I felt like I wasn’t drowning. I even made it a few days without crying! Things started to look up.
You’re probably wondering if I suffered/am suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety. None of the practitioners I saw thought so, they just thought I was dealing with the normal (albeit terrifying) thoughts and emotions that come with the postpartum period, but that because I suffer from an anxiety disorder, those feelings were amplified and I wasn’t processing them well.
We’re three weeks out today and let me tell you, it’s still hard. Really hard. Nothing prepared me for this. I think I knew I’d be emotional. I knew breastfeeding would be hard. I knew I’d have a physical recovery. I knew I’d be sleep deprived. I knew things would be scary.
But what I didn’t anticipate was having every moment in time where I felt all of those things at once. It is simply engulfing when you’re sleep deprived, anxious, terrified, in pain and trying to keep your new baby alive. There’s no room to breathe.
People tell you “you’re doing such a great job!” and “you’re a wonderful mom!” and you just want to slap them because sure, that’s really sweet, but you don’t feel like either of those things. You feel like a terrible mom, and someone just telling you otherwise doesn’t exactly help.
So what am I doing that is working? One day at a time. Stay on my meds. Reach out for help when I need it. Let Matt take an early morning feed so I can sleep a little more. Get out of the house. Write about it. Pray. Let other mamas hold me up and listen to their stories. Know I’m not alone.
I keep praying that each day, each week, it gets a little better. A little easier. And I hear it will. But for now, I’m sitting trying to remember all of the “things that work” tactics as we sit with our sweet newborn, awaiting one of the worst hurricanes to hit Florida in the last 25 years. Nothing like a little natural disaster to keep the postpartum period interesting, eh?
If you’re a new mama, and feeling any of these things, please reach out. I want to hold your hand and walk with you. I’m still in the weeds, but we can be in the weeds together. We can do these hard things, I promise.