Jericho at 3 days old. Me... Not exactly in baby bliss...
"God, please give me strength in what I know will be the most difficult, trying but glorious summer of my life..." -Excerpt from my notebook, June 1, 2009
Before I got pregnant, I knew I'd be a likely candidate for Postpartum Depression. Call it a hunch, feeling or just knowing myself really well. I am sort of a depressive, anxious person as is and change TOTALLY freaks me out. As a child, I had been known to become depressed over seemingly 'frivilous' changes. School ending. School starting. A new house being built in my neighorhoood. Switching bedrooms with my sisters.
I figured having a baby would be the perfect storm.
I felt as though I was pretty darn prepared for the arrival of Jericho. We knew so much about birth that I almost felt like I practically could have had Jaden be my midwife (midhusband?). I researched how to best physcially recuperate from birth. I knew depression could stem from lack of rest so I tried to simplify while pregnant. Looking back, I can think of 80 different things I should have done, but how the heck could I have known? I had my nursing station stocked with gliding rocking chair, water, books, breast pads and boppy pillow. I had my temporary diaper station set up on our dresser with disposables and a garbage sack for easy disposal. I had a VERY detailed postpartum plan (though I basically threw it out the window after Jericho was born) that included limited visitors for 2 weeks, pampering myself and basically hiding out in bed until I was ready to emerge from my cozy cocoon. My mom would stay for the first week. Jaden's mom would stay for the second. I had a giant Le Leche League magnet with their emergency phone number on my fridge.
For some reason, I never realized that there was a difference between "baby blues" and "postpartum depression". Baby blues effects about 80% of women right about the time our mature milk comes in and subsides around 2-3 weeks postpartum. It is believed to be triggered by the sudden drop in hormones. We get weepy. Emotional. Irritable. Feel trapped, anxious, terrified, nervous. They may feel little emotion when it comes to their new bundle of joy. Even apathy. Even though I had read about emotional turbulance after childbirth, I didn't realize this was such a normal occurance.
What baby blues looked like for me:
It happened less than 24 hours after Jericho was born. It was 10:10pm on Tuesday night. "Well, Jericho is just about one whole day old," my mom beamed. "Ugh. I don't even want to think about that baby..." I thought.
I felt nothing for Jericho except EXTREME paranoia that something awful was going to happen to him. I couldn't change his diaper because the sight of his unbilical cord dangling made me PANIC that he was in pain every time it moved (it wasn't). I couldn't stand the thought of him being hoisted up by his fragile legs to wipe his butt. I was so petrified and yet I felt no emotion for my precious baby. I was overwhelmed with the CONSTANT nursing on scabbed nipples that felt like they had went down a sand-paper slide (Jericho had a faulty latch), nightwaking and just the suffocating thought that I was responsible for this tiny, needy, helpless thing. My pelvis, thigh bones and back all ached from no sleep (and probably labor). I hated my life. I hated having to be the sole provider for my baby's food. I felt endlessly alone.
One thing I never came across in my research: The physical response a mama has to her fretting baby. His cries did something to every molecule of my body. I wish I could say it was a loving urge to hold and soothe my baby. Nope. It was more like every fiber within me yelling, "SHUT THAT THING UP!" I was petrified with every little sound that came from Jericho. I was afraid random grunts were going to turn into fusses and eventually cries which lasted for hours. Colic terrified me and I had no way of knowing how much a baby would cry. (Thank you, Lord, for the world's most relaxed baby. When I say cry, I should say fussed because to this day I think Jericho has only actually "cried" maybe 10 times. He's a mellow man!)
Suffocating is actually a great way to describe how I felt. I was suffocating. Stuck. Stuck in the dark with no conceivable way to even begin looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. I've heard it described as eating so much that you're absolutly stuffed and someone handing you a piece of cheesecake. You're so overwhelmed and overfull that the glory of the delicious cheesecake is lost on you.
"What a beautiful baby! You must be so happy!"
"Well if you like him so much, why don't you take him home?"
Because I tore from birth and my stitches came undone 3 days postpartum, I took a sitz bath every day to aid in the healing. Jaden would undress my war-ravaged, sagging, stretch marked, bloody, exhausted body, I would shuffle to the edge of the bath tub and figure out a way to step over the bathtub ledge and sit without letting my legs spread. I felt pitiful, devasted and broken. Finally alone, I sobbed desparetly every time I got into the bath. I wanted to die.
I have to tell you that even with all of the horror I felt, these feelings are considered 'normal' for a new mama. It's when they don't let up after 2-3 weeks where it starts to seep into full-blown post-partum depression.
Fleeting feelings of hope:
Around the middle of week 2 I was visiting Jaden at work when Jericho started to get hungry. By this time I was nearing being a nursing pro. I found a private area and started nursing. It was a decent day and for the first time I was taking a bit of joy in Jericho; talking and singing to him as I prepared to latch him on.
After maybe a half hour of solitude, I started to feel a bit lonely and got lost in my dark thoughts, again. Luckily, Jericho finished nursing. I burped him, changed him, put him up on my shoulder and was eager to get back in the company of people. HA! Jericho began squirming. That turned into fussing which turned into full blown crying. He was rooting around my shoulder. Hungry AGAIN?! "Are you flippin kidding me?!" I wanted to scream. I repeated the whipping out the boob (no song this time), latched him on and grudgingly kicked back for another half hour. Burped, changed, and got ready to emerge into people-hood. Nope! Jericho spit up down my front, apparently creating a gigantic void in his tummy and wanted to nurse again. This time for an hour. I was devasted. I didn't have my phone or even a book with me. I sat there feeling used and hopeless. I didn't feel as though I had what it took to live my life as a walking boob. I didn't even want what it took. I was broken all over again.
The INTENSITY of the horror I felt did, thankfully, let up. I think about week 3, right around the 4th of July. I still felt close to nothing for my baby. I still felt as though my life was over. The hopelessness and overwhelming exhaustion still governed my days. But my hormones seemed to level out and I was in, for the most part, stable condition.
With the help of my lactation consultant, nursing was starting to hurt less and I learned the proper use of a pacifier. And it was only after a good, full feeding. She showed me that when Jericho was full ("milk drunk" Haha), he arms dangled and his eyes were droopy. He was one satisfied boy! He still had a high desire to SUCK, however. So, we started giving Jericho a pacifier and it was a HUGE relief! (I lost the resolve to ONLY use it after a full feeding and I currently have an 9 month old who is hopelessly in love with him paci. Next baby will be different. I like to think so, anyway;-)
Postpartum depression and anxiety:
After the first few weeks my fears escalated. I kept seeing myself dropping him. Or lifting him so high his head would hit the blades of the fan. My dogs eating him. I could see horrible and gruesome things SO vividly. A friend who also battled PPD told me that she had this with her baby, too. She would pray and know that these visions were not of God. She would just let them go instead of obsessing about them. This worked beautifully for me. I am eternally thankful for this friend's support.
I felt a dullness and emptiness with my daily life. I still wanted OUT. I desparatly did NOT want to be left alone with Jericho. I felt no joy. No thankfulness. I had to sleep with the Office or Monk playing on my laptop to escape my thoughts and have company during the night nursings. I hated my house and being home. I felt as though a gruesome thing had happened there and being home brought a flood of sorrow. We went to stay with Jaden's parents for a couple of weeks when Jericho was a month old. I just had to get out. When I told my friend I felt this way, she empathically told me it was because a gruesome thing HAD happened in my house: my horrid feelings and emotions. My mind had linked them to my house and specifically, my bed. Just realizing that made a difference. She told me that to put an end to these thoughts, she had to rearrange her bedroom to make it seem new and uplifting again. I planned on doing that but just by planning and becoming aware I started to be ok being home again.
A new normal
After about two months, I realized that we needed to establish some sort of a pattern in our day. I wanted to be home and establish a good nap routine and perhaps some normalcy to my life. I started staying home for much of the day. My feelings of dread started to subside. At two months old, Jericho started sleep 7 (!) hour stretches. Nursing was beginning to be a breeze. My bones stopped hurting and I bannished my friends from The Office: Jim, Pam, Michael and Dwight from our bedroom :-). I still felt little for Jericho and had moments of sheer panic and terror, but things were definetly looking up. I was able to sing and talk to him. He started giggling and 'telling stories'. We had a trip to Arizona planned for the next month and I was ready to be somewhere else.
Nope. We're back to square one
Things got progressively better leading up to our vacation. But, two days before we left, Jericho woke up after 4 hours instead of 7. I thought it was just a crappy fluke but he did it the next night. And the next. In fact, 4 hour stretches became his LONGEST stretch. He rebelled against sleep the entire Arizona trip. All had gone to crap. I broke down again. I felt like I was under a dark cloud with the rain coming down like in the comics. I was hopeless. I became consumed with the "WHY?! Won't he sleep? and HOW?! Can I make him sleep?" After returning home, I POURED over every baby sleep book I could get my hands on. I was obsessed. Consumed with "baby sleep". I started keeping a "sleep journal" which essentially governed my life. I jotted down every nap, night waking, what I had eaten that day in a desparate attempt to find answers.
Meanwhile, Jericho's night stretches were decreasing. By the middle of October (he was 4 months old) he was sometimes waking up every 1.5 hours. He stopped sleeping during the day. He quit nursing to sleep. It took a forever long "Jig" of bouncing, twitching, butt patting and shushing to get that boy to sleep. Jaden, in a very kind attempt to give me a night off, let me sleep in the other room while he attended the baby. Jericho woke up 2 hours after being put down and Jaden tried for another 2 hours to get him back to sleep. He gave him baby tylenol and tried every rocking proceedure in our repetoire but nothing worked. That was all my mild mannered but emotinally and physically exhausted husband couldn't take it anymore. He ended up punching a hole in the wall.
I went ahead and nursed him back down and with my teeth tightly clenched, I took over my duties as nightwatch again. Alone. Since I didn't want to move my stuff out of the other room but had to be with the baby, I moved Jericho's cradle swing out of the living room into the room where I was. He slept 6 hours straight but it was lost on me. My nerves were so fried from the obsession, anger at my husband and resentment of my baby that I developed horrid insomnia. Night after night I watched the clock move in warped speed. I was so desparate for sleep that I couldn't sleep. I usually went to bed around 10,woke up at 1 or 1:30 and didn't fall back asleep until 7 or 8. The baby woke up at 8:30. The worst was when I had 8 solid hours of insomnia. I was a walking zombie. I was jittery and all my bones hurt. When I closed my eyes, the image of what I was just looking at was so burned into my retina that my eyes might as well have been open. I didn't have energy or care to eat. Somedays my 5 shot mocha would be all I would ingest until dinner.
We ended up moving Jericho to his own room because I was convinced his little noises were keeping me awake. It didn't work because then I became GLUED to the baby monitor. I had to turn the monitor all the way down, turn our fan on the highest speed for white-noise and make sure I went to bed before Jaden so I could fall asleep without the monitor. It may not have cured my insomnia but it felt good to not have to tip-toe in our own bedroom and panic over every snore out of Jaden. Jericho kept his own room.
And I kept reading those sleep books. "Let him cry-it-out" "babies should always go to sleep feeling as though everything's right in the world" "break the baby of pacifier and nursing to sleep" "babies are born with an innart need to suck. let them suck to sleep" " 4-6 month old babies need 12-14 hours of sleep" "4-6 month old babies need about 18 hours of sleep" Every book contradicted the last books. I was a mess.
I also became obsessed with "later". When he was born, "later" meant 3 months old. When Jericho's 3 months, life will be better! When he was 3 months, it was 6 months. I just wanted to fast forward through baby-prison and get to better. I obsessed with numbers. I had to know his exact age and where we were on the "later" scale.
I couldn't handle Jaden being gone. EVER. I wanted to beg him not to leave me alone. He didn't get it. Every Thursday he got home super late because he traded out mechanic work with a local tattoo artist. There I was absolutely miserble, not even getting my share of the necessity of sleep there he was all gung-ho about satisfieing his "tattoo itch". I seethed with resentment. Life stopped when he went to work and I wouldn't start breathing again until he got home. It wasn't fair. He resented my intense need for him. We got into many fights. He felt helpless and confused as to help me. He was overwhelmed and burdened.
Finally, by the grace of God, three breakthroughs happened right before Jericho turned 5 months. I had Bowen therapy done to ease "Anxiety and Insomnia," I realized Jericho DOUBLED his consecutive sleep hours when he slept in his cradle swing and I finally got my hands on the right book, "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby". Oh, and I started taking Motherwart for maternal anxiety and sleeplessness.
If you have read my birth story, you know I believe Bowen is highly responsible for my smooth delivery. This is the true testament to the amazingness of Bowen therapy: after one one hour session, BOTH Jericho and I slept 12 hours STRAIGHT. It was a turning point. My insomnia has never returned.
Even though I DO NOT agree with the Cry-it-out parts of "Healthy Sleep Habits..." I love this book. The author, a sleep scientist, beats the dead horse with, "DO NOT ever(!) let your baby become overtired!" After reading that book, I realized, that at precisely the same we traveled to Arizona, he became too alert and aware of the world to put himself to sleep for a nap! He went from sleeping anytime and anywhere to hardly napping at all. In fact, there were days where he simply did not nap. Or he would nap for 40 minutes only to be kept up for another 7 hours. He was horribly overtired. The extra cortisol running through his body made for turbulent nightsleep, as well. A nap routine and letting him sleep in his swing got immediate, amazing results!
After the Bowen, I felt restored and more peaceful. I still had days where I felt hopeless. I still felt a bit of a disconnect with my baby. I wanted to be thankful for him and love him the way parents do but he kind of just seemed like a pet to me.
This kind of brings me to where I am today. Jericho is 9 months and a week and a half old. I am okay. I am FINALLY madly in love with my little boy. I am finally thankful and feel as though my life is better with him in it. I think this happened when he was 6 months old. I just threw out my "sleep journal". His nighttime sleep habits have been hit-or-miss. We had a night a week ago where he woke up at 2am and just plain didn't go back to sleep. I feel like I can handle it now, though. I know it will end and I have a new perspective: time flies!!! He will be a year before I know it and I will honestly miss these days.
I still have a hard time being without Jaden. I still have anxiety. I'm starting to mellow out a bit ever since a few diet changes. I now take 2 tbs of cod liver oil daily. I'm also drinking Kefir and Kombucha and trying my best to avoid white sugar. Life has become 'normal' again.
Oh, I have days where I feel as though I am being held together by a thinning thread but I know myself well enough to know it will be OK again soon. And I know I have God's promise of joy as long as I'm looking up!