Post-postpartum Revelations

I never realized the impact my postpartum depression had on the friendships around me until I finally broke out and just let it all out. I had expected people to shut down on me. I expected people to tell me to quit my bitching. What I didn’t expect was the complete compassion that filled my email inbox and text messages of people offering their support and understanding.

“If only I had known!!” Crystal stared across the table at me while we sipped our wine. We had both left our kids, my three and her four, with our husbands so we could get out of the house and enjoy just being ourselves for a while. No noses to wipe or diapers to change. Just two girls enjoying their afternoon.

We sat in the corner of the local winery, totally engrossed in our conversations. With her own four kids, Crystal knew exactly what I had struggled through. She’d been there. She understood. She listened and nodded along as I detailed out every issue I had been fighting for months.

“I get it, Kirsten. I completely get it.” With those small words, I quickly grabbed my napkin to dab at the tears falling down my face.

As I poured my heart out to her, I wondered, would things have ever gotten that bad if I had just taken the time to open up about what I was going through? If I had just reached out to say I needed help, would I have been dealing with the depression for an entire year?

Looking across the table at Crystal’s compassionate eyes, I was sure I had all the support I needed. All I had to do was ask.

The Baby Weight

I’ve been staring at the boxes in my closet for over a year now. Those carefully marked boxes of pre-pregnancy clothes. At first, I was kind to myself. I went out and I bought exactly two pairs of pants in a larger size so I could go back to work – secretly hating myself for being 2 pant sizes larger than my pre-pregnancy weight.

I started out with the idea that I should lose the weight slowly, scared that any dieting would have an adverse effect on breastfeeding. I promised I would lose the baby weight by my birthday, then Christmas, then Keira’s first birthday… Before I knew it, that year had passed and I was still carrying around 15 pounds of weight from a pregnancy long past.

I stared at my closet of poorly fitting close and the boxes up high that I still didn’t fit into. I wondered to myself time and again: At what point do I just give up and buy bigger clothes? Slowly I was convincing myself that my body was already “ruined” by age, by “letting it go”, by waiting too long to lose weight. And with managing a career, a marriage and three kids, I just couldn’t convince myself that I had time to devote to making my body a priority. To be fair, I wasn’t asking to be a size 2. I wasn’t asking to lose 50 pounds. I just wanted to have my body back.

And just when I was ready to give up and go on my shopping spree, my sister-in-law posted a picture of herself on vacation: sporting a brand new bikini and 55 pounds lighter than the last time I saw her.

Okay, I admit. My first reaction was wanting to punch her.

Once I got over myself, I really stopped to think about how great it was that she was able to lose that sort of weight. She has her own career, marriage and two kids, so why couldn’t I do that very same thing? Every road block I threw up as reasons why I just can’t lose weight, her one picture destroyed.

Well, alright, Amy! Game On!

“Enjoyment, Motivation, Focus and Determination.”

What No One Wants to Talk About

I kicked my feet back and forth from the exam table at my final appointment with my OB, months after Keira’s birth. My doctor sat across the room from her chair, her concerned eyes focused on me. “Did you have any questions for me….?”, she inquired.

I looked down at my bare feet beneath the hospital gown and muttered out, “I’ve been having a bit of baby blues lately.” The truth was it wasn’t baby blues I was fighting, but the pure overwhelming postpartum depression taking over. In my moment of strength I was finally admitting the pain I had been fighting for months but I just couldn’t admit to the full extent that it had consumed me. I was ashamed.

She nodded at me and in that moment I saw her transform into a woman who struggled with the same battles instead of the often cold, reserved doctor persona. She explained, “As women, we expect a lot of ourselves. With trying to keep up with a baby, other kids at home, trying to handle a job, you know, Kirsten, I would be surprised if you didn’t have some sort of baby blues!”

Almost immediately the tears began streaming down my face as she continued explaining that what I was feeling was normal. The months of feeling like a small airplane that just was just too heavy to make it off the ground, the aloofness, the hopelessness… all completely normal. I promised her I would call if things got worse. But I knew in that moment I knew I would never call. I had just spent all my courage just to tell her there was something wrong. In that moment, I was sure that if things got worse, there would be nothing they could do for me. I would be completely gone.

The week following that appointment, I felt more grounded; it seemed her pep talk had helped me put things into perspective. My plane was finally making it into the air, only to be pushed back down to ground by the cloud of depression in the weeks that followed. I gave up on my friendships. I gave up on trying to be the perfect mom, the perfect employee, the perfect wife. I gave up on happiness. Instead I fluttered through each day in a fog, never knowing if one day I might wake up.

There would be days where I say on the edge of the bed and stared at the wall. The thought of any sort of housework left me in tears and frusterated. Friends that I confided in tried to help me through it but nothing ever seemed to be enough to jump start me back.

Almost a year to the day after Keira’s birth, I finally started to notice myself change. The clouds were clearing and life was finally starting to fall into place. I marked the calendar, curious if this was just another upward bump, cautiously wondering if the depression would just return to rear its head as the weeks marched on. A month later, I realized…. It hadn’t. I had finally shaken that pest from my life.

Perhaps it was the job change or reconnecting with friends. Maybe finally forming a routine with the children or getting more than 5 hours of sleep each night. Either way, I finally came to a point where I could finally say to myself: “Everything is going to be just fine.”

Finally Healing

I sat on the couch, casually folding clothes as Keira played on the floor. Keira circled her static jumperoo, a toy she has not played with in months. I called over to Jason in the kitchen, “you know, I think we should have bought the jumper that hangs in the door jam instead. I think it would have lasted longer and she’d still be interested in it.”

“I think you’re right. We’ll know better for the next one,” he teased with a wink.

I glared at him as he chuckled and I continued folding the clothes. Then I stopped and thought about it… that was the first time since Keira was born that the thought of having another baby didn’t cause my heart to jump and my pulse to race as I flashed back to Keira’s birth.

For months, my thoughts on having a baby were limited “only if we’re adopting!” The memories were still fresh in my mind of the last couple weeks of pregnancy with the painful false labor. Reviewing the “failure” of a natural birth and the subsequent difficult recovery from the caesarian left the wounds too open to even consider the thought of going through it again. With every next step Keira took in her development, my mind was set that THIS would be the last time I experienced this milestone. Keira was the end of the line.

Eleven months later, my body is (very) slowly returning to my pre-pregnancy stage. The wounds, both mentally and physically, are healing. And as I again start to feel the ownership of my body returning to me, the thought of having another baby is no longer unbearable.

Instead, I’m finding myself at a new cross road where there’s determination behind the question of whether to have another baby. If (and that’s a big if) we ever have a baby, I want to prove to myself that I can indeed have the ideal birth. I’m strong enough to make it through natural childbirth. I wouldn’t put my head in the sand without looking into all the elements that would contribute to a healthy birth. A midwife that would monitor the position of the baby. A doula to coach me through progressing labor. Maybe even hypnotic therapy.

Jason and I may not be at that point to decide whether there’s a #4 in our future. But I’m glad I can finally say that I no longer have the cloud of labor fear impairing my judgment.

Baby Milestones and the Working Mom

I was sitting in an all-day meeting when I saw that Jason was calling my cellphone for the third time. I started to get antsy. Was something wrong at home? Did the boys get in trouble? Did I forget something at home? Finally, I snuck my cell phone under the table to text Jason, “What’s up??? I’m in a meeting.”

“Your daughter just took 5 crawling steps!”

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaa! I silently beamed with pride that my daughter had gone to the next step of her babyhood: mobility. My second thought: Oh crap. The house isn’t baby proofed. And then the third thought: We need to go buy baby gates!

What surprised me is the thought that never even went through my mind: “Oh no… I missed it.”

When I first went back to work, I had adamantly told Jason that I didn’t want him to ever tell me when Keira says her first word, walks, crawls, does something cute… I didn’t want to feel the mommy guilt of missing out on those major milestones. My theory was, if no one tells me it happened, it didn’t happen. And instead I would be content to experience these little milestones when I was home with her.

Somehow, that idea went out the window. I’m constantly getting messages and pictures during the day to find what new “tricks” Keira has learned. Crawling. Saying “Nana”. Eating fresh bananas. Learning that Keira has “helped” with laundry by pulling them off hangers and trying to eat her pajamas. Instead of the mommy guilt I thought I’d feel, it’s those little texts that get me through a rough day. It’s those cute moments that remind me of the precious moments I have waiting for me when I walk through the door.

Okay. So I missed out on the first crawl. But that’s okay. She hasn’t stopped crawling since and I’m not missing a moment while I’m with her!

The Death of Exclusive Breastfeeding

Exclusive breastfeeding is out the window.

It started with my recent work trips.  With traveling overseas, pumping during the workweek just wasn’t possible. While America doesn’t have the greatest family-supporting laws, one thing it does do is support the ability for mothers to pump in the workplace. Not so in Europe. (Of course, Europe always supports mothers to stay home longer with their babies so the need isn’t as prevalent.) I would have to wean myself.

I had stocked the freezer with tons of milk, knowing I’d eventually have to travel. With my last trip, I was able to bring home milk and replenish. This time, I wouldn’t be able to bring milk home due to the crazy itinerary we had planned. And as I counted out the milk I had saved in the freezer, I realized I was short. I wouldn’t  be able to keep Keira on 100% breastmilk and would be introducing formula at 7 months old.

In the days leading up to my trip, I weaned partially with sadness.

I  was unsure if this would kill my supply completely. Would our breastfeeding relationship be damaged completely? I felt guilty for having to introduce formula after all my hard work of trying to keep her exclusively breastfed. While I congratulated my supplementing friends for giving their babies even just a little breastmilk, I was simultaneously chastising myself that I should have done more, pumped more, not traveled, etc, etc, etc.  In my mind, somehow I had equated the introduction of formula to be my failure as a mom.

As I returned home, I found my supply had indeed been damaged. And so had our breastfeeding relationship. Where we used to have effortless nursing sessions, now Keira would scream and hit me and pull away from me when trying to nurse her. I tried pumping more. Drinking beer. Oatmeal. But it wasn’t enough to support her completely. Supplementation with formula continued.

After a couple days of this fighting, I initially resigned myself in melancholy that I wouldn’t get back what was lost. There were ways to get back the supply but the time effort needed was more than I could do with three kids and a demanding job on top of the Christmas stress. And at the age of 7 months, I told myself, there were only a few more months left until formula would even be needed. I reasoned that I was being selfish for forcing the nursing relationship on Keira when she was ready to move on.

What I found, though, was that Keira would not give up the morning nursing session. Now I find peace in knowing that it’s the one time of the day where her and I can spend that moment together. While we may have moved on from exclusive breastfeeding, I’m still providing her at least partially with the antibodies she needs through the morning feedings and pumping through the day. The antibodies may come in the form of a bottle mixed with formula but breastfeeding is not completely over.

Having It All

I came across a journal I had written in November of 2008, back when it was just the boys, Jason and I:

“I want everything. I want the job, the kids, the husband. I want to be able to impress colleagues at work and then come home and make a gourmet meal. I want to have a Masters degree and my kids excelling in school. I want people to come over to my house and see a stylish, clean, and fun home. I want Christmas Shopping done in November so December can be spent making Christmas candies and cookies for all my friends and family and I want my kids to go to school feeling happy towards me as their parent.

However… I’m realizing that there’s a point where you have to prioritize what’s the most important. My photography is already out the window. I haven’t touched my camera in probably 6 months. Next was the house… so what if I still have folded clothes in the living room and sorted dirty laundry laying in the sun room. But that’s still not enough…

I’m looking forward to the day when I can look back at this year and think how far we’ve come and everything we were able to accomplish through all the chaos. This, too shall pass.”

Wow. Two years later, and I could have written this exact same journal entry today. I have always dreamed that motherhood would be different. Somehow I expected that I could travel the world as a CFO of a major corporation and still be home to make cornish game hens and prosciutto wrapped asparagus for my family.

Oh, but that’s not where we are today. No – today I’m lucky if I get a chance to make ANYTHING. In fact, since the moment that I was pregnant, Jason has taken over 95% of the cooking in the household! (And I’m thankful he’s turned into a wonderful cook!) Often nights I’m pondering how other families handle it. How do most working couples find the time to get done what they need to get done while still making time for their children? How do you find a balance between your lives as adults and your role as a parent?

Oddly enough, reading my old journal entry gave me hope. Because what’s not written in here is the time in between. There was indeed a time when we had life under control and we were able to just enjoy our roles as parents. I never did really pick that camera back up – except to take pictures on the big occasions – but the important thing is realizing that we will again find our groove. Maybe having a baby can shake things up for a while, but I’m confident that someday soon we’ll be back on the horse to ride the chaos!

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