Postpartum Life

The weeks after baby’s birth are beautiful and totally brutal. There is the incredible joy of the new arrival. There are so many quiet moments caught up in watching this little life. Watching his little fists swat around in a robotic dance makes me laugh. One day soon he will see his hands and look at them in amazement. Another milestone arrived and on to the next.

At two and a half weeks, he sleeps for a couple hours at a time. Every day or so, he does a four stretch. Sometimes this is at night, sometimes it’s not. His face, completely relaxed, lips smushed in a pout is a heart wrencher but also puts me into a full sprint towards the nearest couch or bed. Total joy and totally tired.

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He eats well, something to be thankful for. I am happy when he is full and peaceful, but I do not wake up gleeful at 4 am when it is time to feed again. I don’t want to change his diaper although I am glad it is wet or dirty. I don’t want to uncover my own warm body to fetch him from his bed and fill him up, but I do. It is a gift for me to get to do so and my gift to him. Once we are cuddled up together and I halt his cries, then I remember the simple joy of our togetherness. Although not when he wakes up again 30 minutes later with an unknown complaint, cries of gas or needed comfort or more hunger.

I find myself considerably more patient with those in my life who wear diapers than those who speak in full sentences. I am almost as easily offended as I am tired. I have eaten so many sweets my teeth feel like they’re rotting.

I spend an unreasonable amount of time on the internet during our endless nursing sessions. The first weeks after birth are a tough time to be on social media so much and yet it is hard to avoid when you are desperately trying to stay awake at all hours of the day and night. I look at photos of friends and strangers adventuring across the world, across town, across their neighborhood. At once I am both jealous and totally content. I would love to be galavanting through another country or exploring a trail or cooking a divinely fancy meal.

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This meal will mostly sound like, “Taco! Haines taco! Haines bite!”

But I would also like to be here, just where I am, watching one baby sleep, knowing the other is also resting and will come home soon to blabber on about his day which I may or may not understand. “Haines paint. Elmo music! Mason (insert something unintelligible).” My home is warm in contrast to this rainy, chilly day. I’m sitting at a table I helped my husband make. In every direction I see photos of our family, art that tells the story of our lives.

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Cousin love

There is also a pile of laundry and a vase of flowers that need to be thrown out. I should have wiped the table before sitting down. There are remnants of Haines’ breakfast sticking my sweater to the wood. My breasts are sore and quite possibly leaking. My clothes don’t fit. I am almost always aware of my stitches and the discomfort that increases when I walk or stand for long periods.

Parenting is complicated. It is being thankful and a bit wistful all at the same time as you move between phases of life: childless to parent, baby to toddler, one child to two. But it is undoubtedly the best thing to happen to me. There’s no place I’d rather be.

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Heartstrings

Being a mother is exactly as I thought it would be and totally different all at once. I know I’ve just gotten started on this path but it’s already a whirlwind. I expected to love my baby in ways I couldn’t understand. I expected to feel overwhelmed and sleep deprived. I even expected that I would alternative between hate and love for parenting.

All those things are true and yet I really had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t understand the physical connection I would have to Haines. A friend asked me to describe what it was like to love him and it was so difficult to articulate. I know everything a person can know about him but he’s still a total mystery. I’m tuned in to his babbles and kicks but I don’t always know what he wants or why he’s upset. I don’t have a clue who he is going to be. He could grow up to be a serial killer and yet I just love him. It truly feels like a string has been tied from my heart to his and whenever I think of him I feel the tug. Whenever he cries it tugs. Whenever he laughs it fills up and explodes with happiness.

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Explosion.

The physical connection is more than that. Do you remember making fun of your parent when the car stopped suddenly and they put their arm out in front of you? You laughed because in a real accident their arm wasn’t going to stop you from being thrown forward. You thought it was a silly gesture, but it wasn’t a gesture at all. It was instinct. It’s my hands jumping to protect Haines from his own wobbly head even when he’s secure in his seat. It’s my body being thrown into motion at the sound of his cry. It’s never turned off. If I can hear him my body is alert, ready to go.

This feeling of being ready to spring into action is something I’ve repeatedly described as feeling “on”. It may be the thing I didn’t understand the most before he was born. I knew my hearing would become attuned to all his little noises and I’d heard of leaking breastmilk when the baby was in distress but I didn’t understand… the absence of an off switch.

Have you ever been to a networking event or a conference where you’re expected to mingle with people you don’t know? I don’t excel at this. I plaster a smile on my face, introduce myself and shake some hands but the anxiety of having to talk to strangers never leaves me. I hate it. When the event is finally over, my shoulders gradually draw down away from my ears and I can relax. The exhausting act of being on your best behavior and speaking to others whether you want to or not gives me the same sort of feeling “on”.

Except with a baby relaxing is a learned skill. It doesn’t just happen at bedtime. When Haines was first born and my mother or Tyler would tell me to go take a nap I would lay in the bed and cry. I would cry and cry and imagine they weren’t taking good care of him. My mother and my husband may be the last people on earth that wouldn’t take good care of him. It was insane but I couldn’t turn my off switch. No matter the circumstances, I couldn’t relax.

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Thank goodness this has gotten better or daycare would be a disaster.

 

Maternity Leave: A Welcome Change that I’m Completely Freaking Out About

My maternity leave ends next week. I feel completely and totally torn about it. There are many things I’m looking forward to. They include:

  • Using both hands to eat my food (rather than holding a baby in one arm and dripping a sandwich onto myself with another).
  • Talking to adults on a regular basis. Every day I feel eagerly await Tyler coming home only to have very little to say when he gets home. “What did you do today?” “Um, took a walk. Did some laundry. Changed some diapers. Didn’t lose my mind?” Communicating takes practice.
  • Using my brain! I will have actual work to do. I will have to write emails that make sense, solve problems and advise others.
  • Exercising. We have a gym at work that also offers lunchtime classes. I’ll easily be able to run, take a class or use the workout equipment without cutting into my family time.
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To cuddle or not to cuddle? To cuddle. 

There are also many things I am freaking about.

  • For 40 hours a week our itty, bitty baby is going to be with someone else. Someone who seems very nice but who I don’t actually know. When he fusses will she comfort him? Will she talk or sing to him like I do? Will he get all that needs (which admittedly is very little because he’s an itty, bitty baby)?
  • After 12 weeks of struggling in the absence of any structure, I will be moving back into a fairly rigid environment. Baby must be dropped off by whenever in order to get to work on time and must be picked up by this time in order not to pay a fee. I will have to put on clothes, brush my teeth and generally look appropriate. IN THE MORNING! This seems impossible.
  • What if my brain doesn’t work? I wrote a letter recently that included the sentence “Pregnancy and a newborn kills my smarts.” I didn’t write it to be funny. That’s just the way it came out. Now I’m going to have to write at work? Oh good. This should go well.
  • I truly lucked out being on maternity leave during this particular winter. It was filled with 70F days. We’ve taken many walks and explored a lot of our area. Even though I like my job I don’t look forward to going back to a windowless office that used to be a closet.
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Don’t get me started on all the smiles I will be missing! 

Of course, I was lucky to be able to even take maternity leave as so many mothers can’t. I work for a business that is large enough to have to offer FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and we are able to afford to take the time. At times the lack of income was stressful (then again, I tend to freak out about money all the time) but we were generously helped by our families and friends who brought meals, helped with groceries and generally offered their support. While I wish moms in the US had the options that many other countries have regarding leave, I recognize that the 12 weeks I was able to take, though short, was still a gift.

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Haines and I have been spending these days with a lot of cuddles, long walks and an upcoming visit from his Nana this weekend. I’ve also been making a playlist for the munchkin as I try to improve my bedtime song repertoire. I welcome suggestions if you have any! (I know it needs more ladies. I’m working on it!)

Love for the One I Love

I feel bad for fathers. Well, not usually. At this particular point in parenting when we are figuring everything out I often feel I am taking on the heavier load in childcare. I’ve told Tyler before that sometimes I resent him between 10pm and 7am when he’s snoozing away and I wake at every little baby noise. (I don’t know if it’s connected but he’s begun to be more aware at night. Ha! )Perhaps dad radar must be developed while mom radar turns on the moment the child enters the world and instead must be fine-tuned. Dear ears, please stop waking me up for his every little noise!

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I’ve heard recently men say they found the first months of fatherhood easier than expected. It hurt me to hear that. My hormones are all over the place which has put my emotions on a constant rollercoaster (because pregnancy hormones weren’t enough??). Although we just recently crossed into six-hour stretches of sleep with our baby, previously I hadn’t slept through the nights in months just due to how incredibly hard it is to get rest at a certain point in pregnancy. Also, six hours never feels like enough. During the day I am breastfeeding or pumping every two hours. If I naively think I can skip a pump I am engorged, leaking, and wildly uncomfortable. Plus there’s the stress of finding daycare and preparing to go back to work after my 12 weeks of leave. So, this is all easy for dads*? I recognize that some burdens are difficult to share, but in any context in which your partner is struggling you should find a way to support them. That’s what partners do. For example, I am typing this while I sip a chai latte at a coffee shop. I am all by my lonesome and plan to be here as long as I want. Thank you, baby daddy, for recognizing the importance of this and many other things.

*In the context of this blog I am referring to fathers involved with heterosexual relationships involving childbirth as that’s the family dynamic I’m involved in. 

Fathers do seem to miss out on one of the best parts of becoming a parent I’ve experienced thus far- community. I don’t see men reaching out the way women do to lend a hand or check in on their friends who are new parents (perhaps because life with newborns is so damn easy?!) The women in my life, childless or mothers, have reached out time and time again to bring me what I’ve needed most: company and an extra set of hands. Over the last month we’ve benefited from multiple meals a week from my coworkers easing our days and giving us extra time to enjoy with our newly expanded family. Every week I’ve gotten texts just touching base and saying hi, helping connect me back to the world. In the last few weeks I’ve had visitors from across the state, the country and even Canada.

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Wilmington friends loving on this little one. 

The fact that they would take time off work, rearrange their plans, and pay for plane tickets all to see us and our little one is so incredibly wonderful in itself. I hadn’t expected how incredibly special it would feel to watch my friends interact with Haines, but every cuddle and smile goes straight to my heart. Watching them show love for the one I love takes all my words away.

There have been times over the past  year that I have felt far away from my core support group but these are just a few of the friends who have worked to make the distance smaller. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

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Hiding under this blanket is a baby who hates the sun.

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So much love all the way from Texas. 

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College roomies out for a boat ride with a baby who is not sure what to think of us. 

 

Where is My Mind?

I’m totally losing it. I don’t think it’s shocking that a woman with a 7 week old baby would feel like her creativity is missing. But it’s been missing for a long time.

I first noticed it when I was pregnant. During the first trimester I was too tired to care that I hadn’t written anything and my craft supplies were collecting dust. In the second trimester I spent my extra energy canning. Three batches of tomato jam, one applesauce, one apple butter, one pasta sauce, strawberry syrup and strawberry jam later I found myself in the third trimester. There is no extra energy in the third trimester. Everything I had went to keeping my job and eating (I gained most of my weight then, which is not how it’s supposed to go!).

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Now I have a newborn. At 7 weeks we wake up at least twice a night and his preferred spot is in my arms. So no, I don’t have a lot of extra energy for writing blogs, writing letters, creative thinking, cooking fun meals or arts and crafts. And yet it feels so much more extreme than that. When I have a few moments to myself, I have no idea what to do. I have found myself just sitting on my couch staring off thinking, “What do I like to do?” “What do I need to do?” Tyler told me to get out of the house and take a break. I had no idea where to go.

Much of this can be contributed to my recent monumental life changes but I think it’s more than that. It’s not just Haines that’s blinding me, it’s the media. It’s the morning news, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It’s watching the Today show in the morning while I try to wake up and automatically reaching for my phone every time I’m sitting for a few minutes with nothing to do. Considering the number of times Haines eats a day, that’s a lot.

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Milk drunk baby

I want my brain back, but that means learning to do nothing again. To sit with my thoughts, even if nothing comes at first. To take walks without music or podcasts. Deleting Facebook from my phone. And for the time being make lists so I can remember what’s going on! I know Haines will be impeding the situation for quite a bit longer but maybe I help find my mind little by little.

In the meantime:

  • I’m reading The Sun when I need help staying awake in the middle of the night instead of looking at my phone.
  • I’ve deleted the Facebook app from my phone so I can’t easily access it.
  • I will be making an effort to get outside every day. (If anyone has any tips for hiking with infants, I see this in my future…)
  • I will sit and do nothing sometimes simply to let my mind move itself rather than have outside influence.

One thing at a time, y’all.

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Get outside!

6 Weeks Postpartum: We’re Going to Make it After All

(R.I.P. Mary Tyler Moore)

We’ve made it six weeks. Surprisingly the time has passed more slowly than I expected. I’ve been asked quite frequently how I’m doing, how motherhood is and so on but I have no idea how to respond. This is a strange new world and I’ve barely tapped the surface of it means to be a mother. How I’m doing rests entirely on how Haines is doing. If he eats well then I am happy. If he sleeps well then I am rested. If he cries and fusses then chances are I will cry and fuss. (Well, if he cries a lot. It’s not as though I cry every time his pacifier falls out.) It’s a very different existence when your demeanor rests entirely on how someone else is doing. I think in any other situation this would be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. In the world of newborns and perhaps parenting in general, it’s just normal.

In some ways I feel that I am also just starting out in the world, same as Haines. I have a new identity and new way of a life. Together we’re taking one step at a time.

Exercise

Haines has accidentally rolled over twice now (his arm was stuck underneath in a weird way that helped)! He’s lifting his head pretty regularly as well.

At my postpartum check up I had lost 27 of my 42 pregnancy pounds. 15 more to go! Hopefully I don’t have to lose all of those to get back into my jeans. I’m trying to walk every day. There’s a trail near my house that is a four mile loop and we do this regularly. I’m hoping to incorporate some other forms of exercise here shortly.

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Our first trip to Hugh McCrae Park

Sleeping

I am a champion sleeper but Haines is not. Typically he gets up twice a night which is pretty tolerable BUT he “talks” during the night. The snoring is fine. The occasional squeak is fine but all sorts of squeaking and other weird throat noises is not the easiest to tune out.

Nutrition

Haines is a champ eater. We’ve been incredibly lucky that breastfeeding, while not always fun, hasn’t been particularly difficult. He learned to latch quickly and I learned to help him quickly as well. Many of the women I know talk about breastfeeding as something they enjoyed particularly because no one else could do it. It gave them a special connection and an excuse to have their own time with the baby. I’m not all that crazy about being the only person who provides food to Haines. I love when Tyler or our of our parents gives Haines a bottle. Watching them get to have that time is incredibly special. Plus shouldering cluster feedings and eating in the middle of the night on my own isn’t sweet. It’s tiring. Of course these feelings may evolve as I go back to work and this becomes the majority of our short time together.

Many people told me I’d be insatiably hungry while breastfeeding but it’s not been as bad as while I was pregnant. I’m struggling to let go of my sweet tooth. Ice cream, cookies, candy, doughnuts… I can’t be stopped.

Sanity

Haines isn’t a particularly fussy baby, a fact that has directly contributed to my mental health. That being said, maternity leave is a strange alternate universe. One on the hand, I never think about work. I don’t miss it. I don’t have to convince myself to stop checking my email. It’s barely on my radar. BUT I miss structure. I’m a creature of habit. My day needs something to give it shape. If I’m not going to be drinking cocktails by the pool all day then I want to know that today is Monday or Tuesday or what have you (I don’t actually know what day it is).

In order to differentiate between the days I have tried my best to schedule something for every day. That has included inviting friends or coworkers for walks, having visitors, and exploring different parks or walking paths in town. Haines is only likely to be a good sport about our activity if he’s being pushed in a stroller. Some days this does the trick, others I feel totally without purpose. If my day has no purpose, what the heck am I supposed to do with it? Yes, cuddle and spend time with this sweet baby. And then what? Also, life with Haines is much easier inside the house than out and about but sticking close to home has a tendency to make me feel trapped after too long. The more I venture out the clearer my mind feels and the more myself I am.

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First attempt using Moby wrap. 

Survival Tips

Be prepared! My diaper backpack is kept fully equipped at all times. I try not to go anywhere without extra burp cloths, blankets, outfits, diapers, wipes and a pacifier. If we could get close to a feeding time and I might not want to breastfeed, I stick a bottle inside a wine freezer pack and take it along with us. I’m not great at being discreet while breastfeeding and I don’t always want to let everything all hang out.

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It looks like this except not nearly as pretty/fancy. 

Leave the house! If I can’t socialize every day then I still have to get out and about. Any place with a pathway to push the stroller is on the list to be explored. Once I get better at baby wearing all sorts of new areas will be open to us!

Talk it out. Tyler is really good at recognizing when I need a break but vocalizing the struggle is more helpful than just relying on his intuition.

Acceptance. Life with a newborn slows everything down. I have to accept the new pace and even relish it. This little guy makes it hard not to.

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Reflection: Growing Pains

2016 might be the most hated year ever. (It’s hard to say though since I’ve only been around for the last 30. Surely the years of the black plague top this.) Despite that I’ve heard many writers online say that while as a whole 2016 was the worst, personally it was a great year. For me, I would describe it as a positive year but overall it was a year of growth.

First off, I literally grew a person. It’s not often you get to use “literally” correctly but I really did. I have the traumatic childbirth memories to prove it (plus a baby).  Growing baby Haines was challenging in unexpected and totally predictable ways. The physical parts are trying- the fatigue, feeling physically weak, being sore in the third trimester, the discomfort of your organs moving to new places in the first. I hated having to slow down my lifestyle and feeling like I couldn’t do the things I enjoyed. Having those few months of discomfort and living in a body in which I felt little control taught me to be more aware and have empathy for those who deal with these issues on a daily basis.

I was surprised to find the social aspect challenging. While I loved discussing pregnancy and parenting with friends, answering overly personal questions to total strangers was frustrating and monotonous. And it didn’t help that many of my friendships have always included a shared love of beer. When one of your favorite social activities is visiting breweries and you’re pregnant, you’ve just damaged your social life.

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My last drinks before we knew about Haines.

Emotionally I struggled with bridging from a pre-pregnancy lifestyle to parenthood. As brain mushed from hormones so did my desire to be creative or try new things. My interest in the world narrowed severely as our little household began to feel like more than I could handle. Even now I have a hard wrapping my brain around all that is going on. Then again, I don’t think I’m the only one.

Second, I became a parent here in the last few weeks of the year. Childbirth followed by a taking a 2 week old to the ER were growing pains that I don’t need to repeat for quite some time. (Of course now baby Haines is teaching me how to handle his first cough/cold which I’m also not pleased to learn about.)  As an unexpected consequence of becoming a parent I’ve also learned that this little guy gives me strength I wouldn’t expect. No, I don’t sleep through the night now but surprisingly, it’s okay. Our trip to the hospital was terrifying, but also, it was okay. As long as Haines is here with us, everything seems doable. Even when it’s terrible.

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Professionally, I also evolved. For the first time I was in a position where I was speaking with high-level executives professionally on a regular basis. After years of experiencing anxiety with public speaking, I became my company’s Toastmasters club president, an organization dedicated to my top fear. It is with that same new confidence that I forged relationships and created programs that I’m proud of. It is also what allows me to feel comfortable taking 12 weeks leave to be with Haines. Thank goodness for that.

I expect 2017 to also be a year of growing pains… and perhaps every year going forward. We are still learning to get through the day and before I know it I will have to learn how to go back to work. I don’t have any resolutions for 2017 but I hope to learn about balance, who I am as a mother and a partner and my son.

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Photo credit: Zachary Sprague