Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bed Rest Part 1

Or, livin' on a prayer (and an FFN test)
I don't want to drag this story out unnecessarily, a la "Breaking Dawn" Parts 1 and 2 (Twihards will appreciate that reference...yeah, I'm a dork). But I decided to divide the bed rest portion into two posts, partly because if I didn't it would be one giant "War and Peace"-length post and partly because my time on bed rest really did seem like two different chapters.

I went on bed rest near the end of May, almost one year ago to the day, which is hard to believe! After the experience I described in the previous post regarding that one terrifying night when John was gone, I decided I needed people to spend the night with me on the nights when John was away and people to come over during the day to help with things like meals and cleaning and taking care of our dog, Bauer. (Anyone who knows Bauer knows he is quite the handful!)
Forever in debt

I'm going to take a break from the story here to share one of the many lessons I learned during this whole experience. Being strong, being tough, is really important to me. One of my biggest frustrations during all my health crises has been that my mind has set standards for myself that my body has simply been unable to achieve. For someone who's a big believer in mind over matter, that's a hard pill to swallow. And I know the fact that I'm doing this blog might lead you to believe otherwise, but typically I'm a very private person when it comes to sharing my problems, mainly because I'm embarrassed by my weakness, and I have a difficult time trusting people in general.

But at that point I had no choice. If I was going to follow the doctor's orders, and really listen to what my body was telling me instead of trying to ignore it and push forward like I usually do, then I would be putting my baby in jeopardy. And that was too high a price to pay for my maintaining my pride. I don't have any family in town, so I was forced to reach out and ask for help from friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. The response I received was overwhelming, and incredibly humbling.

Caleb and I will always owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the people who stepped up and helped out. You all know who you are. The friends who, despite having busy lives of their own, came over and stayed the night with me, brought meals, cleaned the house, and stopped by just to keep me company. The people who sent encouraging voice mails, texts and emails. The countless others who continually lifted us up in prayer.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. In my case it also took a village to gestate one. God used this experience to shatter my illusion of self-sufficiency, and to show me the incredible power in sharing my problems with others and asking them for help. The risk involved in making myself vulnerable was worth the grace I received in return.
At 24 weeks, shortly before I went on bed rest.

Now back to the story. The first half of my bed rest, while in some ways scarier than the second half because the stakes were higher, was also less eventful, so I had a fairly predictable routine. I would sleep in my bed, then get up in the morning and move to the living room couch to spend the day there. I could get up to take a shower, go to the bathroom, eat dinner, and occasionally grab something from the fridge, but that was basically it. I could read books for a bit, but since I had to lay on my sides instead of on my back, it got pretty tiring holding up a book on my side. And I couldn't watch the TV because it was downstairs. So the iPhone became my lifeline (and no, Apple didn't pay me to say that). I surfed the internet, read comforting Bible verses, played Sudoku, and sometimes texted or talked to people.

I know to some this doesn't sound too bad, and in comparison to a lot of other things a person can endure, like cancer or paralysis or starvation, it isn't. But please don't ever say to someone on bed rest, "Enjoy your vacation!" as I heard several times. Bed rest isn't rest. It's prison. And it takes a heavy physical, mental, and emotional toll.

For instance, after the first few weeks, my legs started hurting pretty badly, so I had to go get an ultrasound to make sure I wasn't developing a blood clot, which can happen when you're immobile for long periods. Thankfully I didn't have a clot, but I instead found out the pain was likely the result of my muscles atrophying. Awesome.

The contractions were also starting to shorten my cervix further, so the doctor put me on an anti-contraction medicine called Procardia. I didn't want to be on any drugs during the pregnancy (heck, I wasn't even drinking caffeine), but I had to choose which was worse, being on a drug that so far had shown minimal to no side effects on babies, or risk having a baby born prematurely. So I chose the drug. It made me lightheaded and dizzy and caused my heart to race. And of course, I also developed the rare side effect of excessive gum inflammation. But fortunately a family friend of ours is a periodontist and gave me a mouth wash to help keep my gums from getting too swollen. So in short, Procardia sucked. But it was a necessary evil in my eyes.
First (of many) ER trips

I was supposed to have a baby shower in my hometown in June, but I obviously wasn't able to make it there, so my mom and sister still threw me the shower and Skyped me in. It wasn't the same as being there, but it was still fun. Later that day, though, I started developing symptoms of a urinary tract infection. Since it was a Saturday, I called the doctor on call, and he said I should probably come in to L&D so they could run a test since UTI's can worsen preterm labor. I waited for a while because I really didn't want to go to the ER if I didn't need to, but the symptoms got worse so around 11 p.m. John and I went in. It was the first of many ER visits I would make.

The test turned out negative, which was good (I discovered after Caleb was born why I had so many problems with my bladder during the pregnancy, but that's another story). The doctor on call wasn't my doctor, so I had to get him up to speed on my case. After he heard everything, he asked if I would be open to having a cervical ultrasound done while I was there. See, apparently there are two schools of thought on predicting preterm labor. One is to rely on the FFN test. The other is to look at cervical length. This doctor had studied underneath one of the doctors who pioneered the use of cervical length as a preterm labor predictor, and he said that while the FFN is a good indicator of the short term likelihood of preterm labor, cervical length is a better long term indicator. 

The ultrasound confirmed that my cervix was shortening. The doctor said that at the length it was at that point, statistics showed that it was extremely unlikely I would make it to full term, and I would probably deliver before 35 weeks. At least that was better than my current 27 weeks, though still not the news I wanted to hear. But then the doctor told me something that I would take to heart for the rest of my pregnancy. He took my hand and said that I was doing everything I could to take care of my baby, and the rest was beyond my control, so I should just take one day at a time and be thankful for every day that I was still pregnant.

John, my parents, and others had already told me that same thing, but for some reason that advice really sank in at that moment. It's a good thing it did, because you see, the bed had become my mental battlefield, and every minute I laid on it, I faced a choice--savor the blessing of the moment or succumb to overwhelming fear. I had plenty of legitimate reasons to be afraid, as I knew full well what would happen to Caleb if he was born that early. If he lived (which despite the fact that he was past the point of viability was in no way a guarantee), he could live with devastating physical and mental disabilities--cerebral palsy, chronic lung problems, brain impairment, and developmental delays, to name just a few. But rather than focusing on the fear, I fought to focus on the positive. Some days I was more successful at this than others. But every morning, I woke up just thanking God that I was still pregnant, still had another day with my baby safe inside my belly.
Me and Caleb on the couch at 29 weeks

I knew the doctor was right when he said the situation was ultimately out of my control, but it was still very hard for me to accept. I wouldn't call myself a controlling person, but I like to have control--not over others, but over myself, if that makes sense (must go hand-in-hand with those aforementioned trust issues). During my various health crises, I had experienced several crises of faith as well. But after each period of doubt and anger and soul searching, I had come back to three bedrock beliefs that I knew to be true. I believed in God. I believed He was a good God. And I believed He held me in His hand. And so I would come to a point of acceptance that God was ultimately in control of each situation, and placed my trust in Him to work all things out for good in the end.

But with this situation God was taking it a giant step further. Because this time, He wasn't just asking me to trust Him with my fate, He was asking me to trust Him with my child's. And that was another matter entirely. So with that I began a struggle that I now realize will likely continue until the day I die. The struggle to release Caleb from my clenched fist, place him in God's hands, and trust that He loves my son even more than I do and will take better care of him than I ever could. So, yeah, not really a lesson I've learned, but a lesson I'm learning.
Fridays and FFN Days

Every Friday, John and I would celebrate reaching another week in the pregnancy by him getting us takeout from my favorite restaurants. Along with a nice meal, each Friday brought a little bit more relief, even though I knew we were nowhere out of the woods yet.

Aside from Fridays, the other days that I lived for were the doctor appointments, every two weeks, when I went in for another FFN test. I would go home afterward and anxiously await the call from my doctor telling me whether it was positive or negative. And each time, he would call and say, "Well, congratulations, you've bought yourself at least another two weeks!"

People have asked me how I was able to emotionally handle those weeks on bed rest, particularly the early ones when the stakes were the highest. And honestly, I think it was a combination of the FFN's and God's protection. The FFN's gave me some measure of short-term assurance, and God somehow gave me enough peace to keep me from completely freaking out about the situation, which was important because I needed to maintain a calm environment for Caleb.

But then wouldn't you know, after six weeks on bed rest, things took a giant turn for the worse and the safety net provided by the FFN was removed in a way nobody, not even my doctor, expected. So that's where I will pick up next time. Thirty-one weeks pregnant, when we entered the most difficult and most unbelievable period yet in that roller coaster of a pregnancy.

In the mean time, here are a couple songs I played on repeat. (John told me to emphasize the word "repeat" when I talk about these songs at the end of every post, as I played them all so many times they started driving him insane). The first, "Everything is Yours," by Audrey Assad, really spoke to my need to trust in God's sovereignty. The second, "Faithful," by Steven Curtis Chapman, encouraged me to trust in the Lord's faithfulness, whatever the outcome. Chapman penned the song, and in fact that entire album, after the tragic death of his daughter, so his lyrics carried even more weight and authenticity for me. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Or, how Emily got her groove back

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." -- Psalms 30:5

As I begin this final chapter of the blog, I first want to thank all of you who have taken the time to read "Caleb’s Story," and to offer your encouragement. I went into journalism and public relations because I love hearing and sharing people's stories. Everyone has an interesting and important story to tell, if you listen long enough and ask the right questions. But while I've been privileged to share some very special stories over the years, Caleb's is the most dear to my heart. 

You could have picked me apart over some of the things I’ve shared in this blog, yet you’ve been nothing but supportive and kind. The postpartum posts were particularly difficult to write, and the minute I hit “publish” I wondered if I had made a mistake. So I was blown away by your overwhelmingly positive responses, and I’ve been so encouraged by the postpartum stories you've shared with me in return.  

Before I describe the road back from postpartum depression, I want to emphasize that this was my journey. In sharing my story I’m not suggesting that if you're suffering from PPD you should do what I did. I'm including specifics in case they're helpful to you, but mainly I just want you to know that you aren’t alone, that hope and healing exist for you, and that even though it might seem like things are never going to get better, this chapter in your life will not last forever.

You will see the sunlight again.  


And now to finish the story! As usual, this post turned out super long (believe it or not I ended up cutting a good portion of what I had originally written). But I have covered so much ground in this blog that there were a lot of loose ends to tie up and topics to address. I tried to do it as succinctly as I could, while still covering all my bases. So the first part will talk about the return from PPD and the second part will bring you up to speed on where we are today. 

I ended my Postpartum Depression post at the moment I picked up the phone to call my doctor and tell him what was going on. I talked to the nurse, who said he was out of the office but that she would leave him a message. Before I hung up she told me that if things got worse I needed to call her back right away. 

To my surprise, my doctor called me back later that night (see, this is another reason he’s the best OB/GYN in the world, although I also think doctors probably take this kind of thing more seriously nowadays because they don’t want to see their patients on the evening news). I immediately started sobbing on the phone as I told him my symptoms. I asked him what was wrong with me and why I wasn’t handling all of this as well as all other women do. Then he said, “I don’t know about that. I see a lot of women, Emily, and you’d be surprised how many feel the way you’re feeling.”  

He said that part of the problem was exhaustion and pointed out that sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique in some countries. He said even women who aren't depressed start feeling a little nuts after a few weeks with a newborn. He also said a lot of what I was experiencing was pretty natural considering all that I had been through. I told him I didn’t want to go on medication unless absolutely necessary, and he suggested I see a counselor before he prescribed anything to see if that would help. He ended the conversation assuring me it was going to be okay. I hung up, less than convinced. 

I had seen a counselor before when I was experiencing all the health problems I told you about in my Prologue post, and I had found talking with her to be very beneficial. I’m an internal processor, meaning I think through things a lot before I talk about them. This wouldn't be a problem except most of the time I never actually end up talking about anything. Instead I stuff and stuff and stuff all the thoughts and emotions down until they become too much to hold inside, and then I explode. So putting myself in a position where I am forced to talk to an objective third party about my problems really helps me process them in a healthier way.   

Unfortunately the counselor I had seen before had since moved out of state, but I called her former practice and asked if there was anyone there who could help me with these issues. The receptionist said they did have someone who treated postpartum depression and scheduled me an appointment for the following week.

Seeing a shrink

As I pulled out of the driveway the morning of the appointment, I realized it was the first time I had left the house for days. I felt a thrill of freedom as I drove down the street and looked at the bright blue sky overhead. In that moment, it seemed as if the world was my oyster. I stopped at Starbucks to get myself a decaf mocha (I was still stubbornly refusing to drink caffeine because I didn’t think Caleb needed any more help staying awake at night), and even getting myself that cup of coffee, which once had been so routine, felt like a huge luxury. 

After I arrived at the counselor’s office and got settled on the couch, I began the conversation by telling her I didn’t want to go on medication unless absolutely necessary. My aversion wasn’t due to any philosophical issues with anti-depressants, but because I had been on one before to try to treat my fibromyalgia (that particular drug had a dual use). The medicine didn’t help my fibromyalgia so I went off of it, and then suffered horrendous withdrawal symptoms. I didn’t want to risk that happening again if I could help it. The last thing my crazy a$% needed was more craziness. 

The counselor said we might not need to go down the medication road, and suggested that for the time being we just talk about things. As she started asking questions and I started talking, I realized most of my thoughts revolved around the breastfeeding troubles we were having. I was obsessed with making nursing work, and that obsession was clouding my vision on everything else and causing me to lose sight of the big picture.  

I wasn’t ready to give up on nursing at that point, but she helped me realize that a child needs much more from his mother than just breast milk. There were a lot of other issues we would unpack in the sessions to come, but we addressed the nursing hang-ups first because there were so many emotions and feelings of inadequacy wrapped up in them and they were exacerbating the disconnect I felt between Caleb and myself. 

So before I left that first day, the counselor gave me a homework assignment to do before my next session. She told me to write down the characteristics that marked the kind of mother I wanted to be, and the characteristics of the kind of man I wanted Caleb to become. She then wanted me to evaluate how many of those qualities had to do with me being able to give him breast milk. This exercise proved hugely helpful. By thinking about and writing down my goals and dreams for Caleb and myself, I could see my role as a mother beyond just breastfeeding. It seems so obvious now, but back then it was a big epiphany. 

At our next appointment the counselor asked how the nursing was going and I told her I was still trying to make it work and just didn’t know how much longer I could keep up my insane feeding schedule. She suggested I set a goal for how long I wanted to continue trying. I didn’t need to stick with that goal if I decided once I reached it that I wanted to continue, but at least setting a goal would help me focus on an end point to the situation.  

She also suggested I meet with the psychiatric nurse practitioner in her office, just to talk about whether medication might help. A couple months later I ended up seeing that nurse practitioner and talking about my options. She went through the different depression and anxiety meds that were safe to take while breastfeeding and prescribed one in case I decided to try it. But she also talked about other things I could do that have shown to help postpartum depression. She suggested I take vitamin D and a stress B-complex vitamin, as well as fish oil or flaxseed oil supplements.  

I never ended up taking the depression/anxiety medicine she prescribed, because the vitamins and other things I did ended up helping me enough that I didn’t need to go that route. Plus, I think my hormones just got the time they needed to get back into balance. But believe me, if the situation hadn’t improved, I would have just said "yes" to drugs. I know several people who have needed to take medicine to help deal with their PPD/PPA and once they have gotten dialed into the right drug and the right dosage, it has proven extremely effective for them.

The first turning point

The counseling certainly was a huge help, but the first big turning point for me came one day while I was rocking Caleb to sleep in my arms. I don’t know why, maybe in that moment my hormones started to sort themselves out or something, but as we rocked slowly back and forth in his dimly lit room one afternoon, I felt the ice around my heart begin to thaw. This is so cheesy, but the only way I can describe it is that it felt like that scene in How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes.

Minutes before I had felt cold and lifeless and empty, and suddenly a sea of emotion flooded through me, filling all the cracked, dry riverbeds in my heart. I held Caleb closer and kissed his soft, pillowy little cheeks while the tears cascaded down mine. 

Something in me changed forever that afternoon. It was the experience I should have had when he was born, but for whatever reason had been delayed until that moment. The connection I had felt with such certainty when I was pregnant was back and it was stronger than ever.  

Things didn’t immediately get better after that. My days still remained mostly cloudy for several months and I still had moments when I felt like I couldn’t go on. But at least I could feel my heart strings vibrating again, and that was enough to keep me going. 

My heart, now laying on top of my chest

What's love got to do with it?

Before I go on I want to share how postpartum depression gave me a deeper appreciation for what I believe to be the true meaning of love. And it’s a point I want to make clear so there’s no misunderstanding. Even in those dark days when I couldn’t feel a connection to Caleb, I still loved him. You see to me, love is most purely expressed through commitment, not emotion. To borrow a definition from Grace-Based Parenting, a book John and I recently read -- “Love is the commitment of my will to another's needs and best interests, regardless of the cost.” 

Don't get me wrong, the feelings I have for Caleb are all-consuming and still surprise me with their intensity. Being his mommy has brought me indescribable happiness and so many magical moments I will cherish forever. Feeling his arms wrapped tightly around my neck as he covers my face in slobbery, open-mouthed kisses.
Smelling vanilla and oatmeal soap on his velvety skin after a bath. Hearing his squeals of laughter as he steals the ball and runs away from our long-suffering Labrador. Seeing the sheer delight on his face as he tips his head back to look at the ceiling spinning above him while we dance and twirl around the living room.

These are the romantic moments that add so many vibrant colors to the beautiful picture of love motherhood creates. But when you step back and look at the entire painting, you see it’s the shadows that most clearly define the light. The tears born from sheer exhaustion, the sigh at the sight of another mess to clean up, the hands covered in poop from a nuclear diaper blowout. These are the brush strokes that add the most texture and depth to the portrait of a mother’s love.

It is a love that wages unrelenting war on self-centeredness I didn't know I had. A love that both fills and empties me. A love that lights up my life even as its refining heat burns painfully through all my impurities.

A love that will forever bind my heart to Caleb's.

And to his daddy's.

I've talked throughout this blog about the many ways John has loved and supported me: through the health problems, the pregnancy, the delivery, and the PPD. And I can't proceed with the rest of this final chapter before first saying that none of what I'm sharing here, NONE of it, would have been possible without him. 

I've always known the measure of the man I married, but the events of the past couple years have brought out further depths of John's character and his unconditional love for me. And seeing how hands-on and doting he is with Caleb has made me fall in love with him all over again and enabled me to appreciate another layer of who he is as a person.

That appreciation runs even deeper when I remember that John had a terrible example in the dad department. His own father was physically and verbally abusive and wielded the Bible as a weapon in an attempt to manipulate and control the family. Yet thanks to the love of a wise mother and the hand of God on his life, John never lost faith, and he never gave into the temptation to wallow in bitterness or to continue the damaging cycle with his own wife and son.

Instead, John maintains the most incredible work ethic I've ever seen and he continually looks for ways he can be a better husband and father. He is the kind of man who still opens the car door for me eight years after our first date (and yeah, I'm the kind of woman who digs that sort of thing), who brings home flowers "just because," who frequently took the midnight shift when Caleb was a baby so I could pump and go back to sleep, and who delights in being the one to give Caleb baths, put him into his PJ's, and tuck him into his crib at night.

I thank God every day for this man of mine, and the events of the past year have also helped me better appreciate what it means for us to love each other. To quote a line from a poem I came across recently, “Romance is dancing in the moonlight, gazing deep into desired eyes, but love is saying, ‘You’re tired, honey, I’ll get up this time."

Having a baby changes a relationship. Raising our son together has bonded us in a special and unique way, and it also has put our marriage under incredible stress at times. While we still don't fight all that often, we have had more arguments in the past year than the previous seven combined. And whereas in the past we could devote all our time and attention to each other, now the majority of that attention is devoted to Caleb (as it should be).

Similarly to how it took me some time to settle into my role as mom, it also has taken us time to settle into this new parenting dimension of our relationship. We are still very well matched, but if we aren't careful, our marriage can quickly devolve into a mere custodial arrangement in which our communication revolves around trading tasks and talking about things like poop color and consistency. It requires work to keep this from happening, and we've had to work harder on our marriage than ever before.

A real break through came when we read, How Full Is Your Bucket, which showed us how helpful it is when we focus on positives instead of negatives with each other. We're also realizing the importance of carving out time to spend together as husband and wife, not just mom and dad.

So thanks to a lot of communication, prayer, and self-sacrifice, we've never loved each other more, or better, than we do now.

Okay, guys, enough with the mushy stuff!

Chalet Des 'Rents

Okay, well enough with this lovey dovey crap, right? Let's get back to the story. After that afternoon in the rocking chair, the second big turning point came when we visited my parents in late October. Caleb was just shy of two months old and since John needed to take a business trip near my parents’ for several days, we decided Caleb and I would travel over with him and stay at their house while he was working in the neighboring city. The thought of traveling across the state with a newborn was daunting, but the prospect of having my mom’s help was plenty enough incentive to make the trip. 

Staying at my parents’ brought the respite I desperately needed. Becoming a parent myself has given me an even deeper level of respect and appreciation for my own parents, and I can’t tell you how nice it felt to have my mom take care of both me and Caleb in the old, familiar comforts of my childhood home. She cooked meals, watched Caleb while I pumped so I wasn’t stressed about getting those darn things in, and even got up with him all through night so I could just pump and go back to bed.  

It’s amazing what a night or two of better sleep can do for a person’s spirits.  

When my parents said goodbye to us at the airport, my dad handed me a note of encouragement, as he often does, and with a big hug and a cheery smile said, “Sweet ol’ Emmie, everything will be okay,” as he also often does. Then as my mom reached out to hug me, I couldn't hold it in anymore and started to cry, so scared to go back home and reenter the nightmare I’d been living. As I stood there, a frightened and unsure new mom holding her infant son, my own mother held me and whispered over and over in my ear, “You can do this, Emily, you can do this.”  

My parents’ unwavering belief in me has always been a crucial guiding influence on my life. I wasn’t convinced their confidence would prove well-founded this time around. But thanks to the rest and help I received at Chalet Des Mom and Dad, at least my tank wasn’t running on empty anymore.  

Putting on my oxygen mask

I continued to see the counselor occasionally over the next few months and we worked through a variety of issues…too many to chronicle here. But I will mention one thing we talked about because I suspect a lot of moms can relate to it. It’s called “the oxygen mask theory.”  

See, I thought being a good mom meant completely sacrificing my own needs all the time, but in explaining the oxygen mask theory the counselor helped me realize that I wasn’t going to be able to take care of Caleb if I wasn’t taking care of myself, too. There’s a reason the flight attendant tells you that in case of emergency you need to put your oxygen mask on first before you attend to your child. This goes against every instinct you have as a parent, but it makes sense. If you’re unconscious or dead, you’re not going to be able to help your child. Or anyone else for that matter. 

Around this time I also started reading What Every Mom Needs, a book my mom had given me when I was back home. I don't know if every mom needs the things it talks about or not, but I certainly do. And reading it both validated the needs I had been trying to ignore and supplied me with some practical ways to meet them. 

Once I accepted the oxygen mask idea, my counselor and I discussed specific ways I could go about getting “Emily” back. She told me that to help with the feeling of being trapped I should try to take Caleb outside every day, even if only for a few minutes. (Funny how even a walk to the mailbox can feel like a mini-vacation when you’ve been cooped up inside for so long.) She also encouraged me to create small goals for myself and then concentrate on them one at a time, in order of importance. This exercise helped me focus on the future and on concrete steps I could take to address my problems. Separating them out also helped make my situation seem a little less overwhelming and hopeless.

And so I think I will follow that model to explain the rest of the recovery process. All my issues were so wrapped up in each other that it’s hard to draw clean lines between them, but it’s easiest to explain each one separately. So, here we go! 

Cornered in the nursing mother's room

Nursing was my biggest priority at that time, so it was the one I concentrated on first. Since I shared the rest of the breastfeeding story in the Postpartum Part Two post I won't rehash it here. For those who didn't read it, I'll make a long story short and just say that nursing never ended up working out for us so I kept pumping to get Caleb breast milk until he was seven months old.

After I published that post about our nursing struggles, I got to thinking that I might have unintentionally canonized myself as the patron saint of pumping. So I want to clarify that I pumped that long for reasons and under circumstances that were my own and it doesn't mean that anyone else in that situation should do the same.

And while it might be true that in the end I don't regret what I did, if I were shooting completely straight with you I'd admit that pumping also fed into some of my biggest weaknesses--fear, pride, and perfectionism. I was afraid that if Caleb didn't get breast milk he wouldn't be as healthy. I was proud of the fact that I could tell all the Judgy McJudgersons that I was still getting him breast milk. And I was determined to do it perfectly, pumping for every. single. feed, come hell or high water.

Pumping, for all its merits, cost me precious, irretrievable moments bonding with my son. And the stress I allowed myself to feel over it ruined some of the moments we did have together.

And that part of the pumping saga will always make me sad.

Okay, so now that I've gotten that off my chest (is that a pun?), one thing I didn't mention in the breastfeeding post was something I wanted to share here, because I think it's applicable to more moms than just those who haven't been able to nurse. It's the story of the time I received grace in a place I least expected it…the nursing mother’s room at church. 

One Sunday late that October, we made it to church for the first time since I had gone on bed rest. The loud music during worship time scared Caleb and he started crying so I took him out to the foyer, where one of the greeters said, “If you need it, there’s a nursing mother’s room right down the hall.” He was trying to help, but the last place in the world I wanted to be was in was a room full of women nursing their babies. I could already envision the shocked and judgmental glances they would shoot my direction when I got out Caleb’s bottle and started feeding him Satan’s Milk. 

But I did need a private place to settle Caleb down, so I swallowed my pride, sought out the mother’s room, and was relieved to find it empty. After rocking Caleb to calm him down I started preparing his bottle, and wouldn’t you know, in that moment the music leader’s wife walked in with her son, who was the same age as Caleb. She sat down in the rocking chair facing me and barely had enough time to put on her cute little nursing cover before her baby latched on and went to town. I tried to avert my eyes from the scene in front of me, so foreign to my own experience, and to ignore the sharp, familiar stabs of jealousy. 

We got to talking, and I, feeling like I needed to justify why I was feeding my kid with a bottle, told her the Cliff's Notes version of our nursing struggles. I don’t think she could quite get her head around the fact that a child wasn’t able to nurse, but God bless her she didn’t immediately start preaching to me about the sins of formula. Instead she looked at me with complete conviction and said, “Just remember, Emily, that God made you to be Caleb’s mama, no one else.”  

Her softly spoken words sank down deep, hitting the doubt and insecurity that lay at the very heart of my grief over not being able to nurse and applying the balm those wounds had desperately needed.

That morning in my least favorite room of the church, I suddenly remembered that I believed in a God who doesn’t make mistakes. The breastfeeding problems, the PPD, the whole kit and caboodle, had all been under His control. So despite all my second-guessing, no one was better suited for the role of Caleb’s mother because the God of the universe had handpicked me for the honor. And yeah, I wasn’t perfect. So what? Caleb was everything I wanted, and I was the mom he needed.

And we were meant for each other. 

So to wrap up the nursing section, I will just say that I still struggle with insecurity, sadness, guilt, and jealousy over the whole thing. But at least I can now say that breastfeeding doesn’t define me as a mother. Over the course of his life, Caleb is going to need so much more from me than the milk I gave him in his earliest days. And sure, breast might be best, but there are going to be lots of instances where John and I aren’t going to be able to give Caleb the best in life…the highest quality education, the safest car on the road, the most advanced health care. We can only give him our best, and as the old cliché goes, trust God with the rest. 

Made for each other

It takes a village

In talking about the road back from PPD, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank all the family, friends and co-workers who helped me in those first few months with Caleb. Not only did they make it possible for me to continue pumping as long as I did, they also very likely kept me out of the nut house. 

One of the things I value most in people and in relationships is authenticity, so I'm incredibly grateful to have friends who keep it real with me. They are friends who, when I revealed the mess my life had become, showed up with a broom and a hug. They are people who, despite their own busy lives, brought meals, watched Caleb so I could pump and sleep and sometimes actually take a shower, and even spent the night with us when John was away since that’s when the anxiety attacks got so much worse. One friend even traveled across the state to spend the week with us when John had to take a longer trip. Other friends and family members who couldn’t be with us physically sent over encouraging texts and emails and sent up a boatload of prayers. The list goes on and on. 

There’s a reason they say it takes a village to raise a child. And I'm grateful I learned early on how valuable it is to have a good support network as a parent.

Counting my blessings 

While we’re on the subject of gratefulness, I will add that gratitude made a big difference in battling my postpartum depression. I’m not saying that thankfulness is the cure for PPD or that being grateful took away all my problems. But it did give me a different way of looking at them as well as something else to focus on besides them. 

It gave me the invaluable gift of perspective.

Living in America, where we devote a good deal of resources to building and maintaining our comfortable lifestyles, I often forget that Jesus didn't promise me life would be easy. In fact, He promised it would be hard. So instead of expecting that life should be a breeze and then feeling uniquely afflicted when it's not, I'm learning to accept that hard times will come. And as a result, hopefully I will eventually become less resentful and unsettled when they do.

Meanwhile, as I started obsessing less over our nursing failure, I remembered just how many things we had to thank God for. Against all odds and by the skin of our teeth, Caleb had been born full term. He immediately entered a loving home with parents who could care and provide for him. I have a loving husband, a supportive family, and incredible friends. 

For most of the world’s women and children, this is not the case. Last October, right in the thick of my depression, a documentary based on one of my favorite books, Half the Sky, premiered on PBS. I watched it in very short increments, but even seeing snippets of those women's stories helped me start putting things back in their proper perspective.

True, times had been tough for me lately, but at least I had the necessary resources to deal with my problems. And at least those problems didn’t include things like sex trafficking, slavery, maternal mortality, and gender-based violence…the kinds of horrors daily endured by so many women and girls around the globe.

Then things got more personal after my sister-in-law and her husband returned from Kenya, where they visited an orphanage, Gates of Hope, that the whole Proffitt family supports. As I looked at pictures and videos of the children, full of so much joy in the face of such incredible hardship, and heard that they were eager to know how we were doing, well I was just blown away. These kids in Kenya had been thinking about and praying for me, far more than I had been thinking about and praying for them lately, and their faith and compassion both humbled and inspired me.

So then I also started considering the plight of people in my own city. All the women and children who were suffering from abuse, poverty, health issues, and myriad other crises, and who didn’t have as many options or places to turn for help as I did. 
I don't mean to invalidate my own or anyone else’s suffering. There's a facet to pain that can’t be quantified or compared and we all face problems that are real and legitimate. I’m just saying that when I’m hurting it’s easy to turn inward and forget the world around me, which really only leads to loneliness and despair. So when I instead turn outward, I find my pain has given me better eyes to see the pain around me, a deeper empathy for those who are suffering, and a stronger resolve to do something about it. 
A few of the beautiful Gates of Hope children

My hips don't lie 

In my postpartum post I also mentioned the problems I was having with my pelvis. At my six-week postpartum appointment I told my doctor about these continence problems and pelvic pain, and he said if those problems persisted much longer I would need to see a urologist. I didn’t want to go on drugs or have surgery to try to fix these problems unless absolutely necessary, so I started trolling the internet for answers (what did we all do before Google, anyway?). Through that research I learned about pelvic floor rehab and its postnatal applications.  

By the time November rolled around the problems weren’t improving so I did some more searching and found that one of the main hospitals in town had a Continence Center that was run by physical therapists who specialized in pelvic floor rehab. I called my doctor, who made the necessary referral, and then scheduled an appointment. Making time for weekly physical therapy sessions on the other end of town was the last thing I wanted to do, but I also knew that I couldn't keep peeing my pants as often as my kid was. I had to put on my oxygen mask. 

After her initial exam, the therapist pulled out a model of a woman’s pelvis to help explain what was going on. It was like that “Don’t Do Drugs” commercial with the egg in the frying pan. She said, “Here’s a normal pelvis.” Then she stretched the model out and mangled it all up and said, “This is what carrying your baby that low for so long did to the muscles, organs and joints in your pelvis.” I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. But I still don't regret a single second of the time Caleb was able to stay put in my belly.

Over the next several months the therapist worked with me on a variety of exercises and pain management techniques. I’ll spare you the gory details (hey, when has that ever happened?) but suffice to say that while some things will probably never be completely fixed, physical therapy did wonders for me.

Now obviously, this stuff is the height of TMI, but I wanted to share it because I've since talked to other women who have dealt with some of the same things but have had no idea this kind of therapy exists. So I
know there are those among you who have been suffering through these issues in silence, and I want you to know that there's hope, and you might not have to wear Depends from now until y
ou die! 

Looking past the looking glass

"The key to beauty is always to be looking at someone who loves you." -- Julia Roberts

Once I got my pelvis back on track, I was finally able to start working out again. In March, I went to the gym for the first time in nearly a year. While it wasn’t pretty and I didn’t do much, it was a big step toward feeling like myself again since exercise has always been such a big part of my life.

I’ve only made it to the gym a few times since then because it’s hard to get there with a baby. So I've mainly worked out at home when I get the chance, with the help of a few weights, some 10-minute workout videos I found on YouTube, and the Tracy Anderson's Post Pregnancy Workout DVD I bought off Amazon for $10. (Which is awesome, by the way, if you can get past the celebrity endorsement interview with Gwyneth Paltrow, in which she insists that "every woman, e-v-e-r-y woman, can make time to work out every day." Seriously, Gwyneth, I want to still love you, but you need to stuff some more kale in your mouth and shut up already.)

As soon as the snow cleared last spring, I also started taking long walks with Caleb in the stroller. I hate running and I don’t have a jogging stroller anyway, so they’ve never been more than just walks. But we have a great time, and Caleb's smiles and laughs provide great motivation as I push him up our neighborhood's gigantic hill, listening to sweet pump-up jams like Katy Perry's "Roar."

While I have regained a lot of my former strength and can now fit into my old jeans again, I'm not going to sit here and brag that I've gotten my body back. Because the truth is my clothes will never fit quite the same way, my once-flat stomach will probably always have a bit of a pooch, and my skin is very likely going to stay kind of squishy.

And you know what? That's okay.

Thanks to Caleb, I look at my body differently now. Before the pregnancy I had somewhat of an antagonistic relationship with it, always pushing it to go faster during my competitive swimming days and then getting so frustrated with it during all the chronic health problems. Now I can see, though, that the value of my body doesn’t depend on how it performs but on the simple, unchanging fact that it has been made in the image of God. And its beauty doesn’t hinge on how closely it adheres to standards set by my time and culture, but on the degree to which it resembles the body of Jesus, used in the service of others. 

I know it sounds trite, but it's true.

A blog post I read awhile back, "These Are The Lines Of A Story," really resonated with me because the writer so beautifully expressed what I'm trying to say.

"We journey from a seed in our mother’s womb until we are planted in the grave with ever-changing bodies. Time scratches out its passage across my looks and the looks of all those I love. All our lives, our bodies manifest evidence of an existence marked by gains and losses. We gain and lose pounds, muscle, bruises, teeth, and hair. We lose elasticity and gain wrinkles. We gain scars. Our bodies process and carry our experiences, not without complaint, but with an unfailing perseverance that is worthy of both gratitude and honor."

I still hear the critical inner voices sometimes, but instead of listening to them I'm working on treating my body with nothing but respect and gratitude. After all, God performed a miracle through this busted up jar of clay, and I get to look that miracle in his bright blue eyes every day. The reflection I see there, not in the bathroom mirror, is what truly matters to me now. 

The man in my mirror

Snapping the measuring sticks

As I shared in the postpartum post, another reason I lost my identity when I became a mother was because I kept trying to wear everyone else's. I felt like I wasn’t a good mom because I wasn’t this mom or that mom and I sure as heck was never going to measure up to my idea of the Perfect Mom. But as I’ve talked to other moms, I’ve realized that none of us really measures up to the Straw Moms we’ve created in our minds.  

So you know what? One day I lit a match, used all the measuring sticks for kindling, and set fire to my Straw Mom. And as I watched her burn to the ground, I felt a huge burden lift off my shoulders. I could finally stop trying to be like other women and just focus on being the person God made me to be.  

Once again, a couple blog posts really helped me in this area (man am I ever eating crow for all the times I used to make fun of this whole "mommy blogger" phenomenon). The first, “Quit Pointing Your Avocado at Me,” basically encourages women to make the Mommy Wars disappear by refusing to participate in them. The second, “Mom Vs. Mom: The War I Didn’t See Coming,” encourages moms to stop imitating and judging each other and instead combat our insecurities by embracing our identity as people whom Jesus loves unconditionally.

Now, I'll admit that while I'm trying to run my own race, my stubborn competitive streak still gets the best of me sometimes. I still struggle with sizing up the progress of my fellow runners and still indulge in occasional pity parties when it seems they've been given an easier course to run. But with time, I'm slowly getting better at fixing my gaze straight ahead and minding my own danged business.

Marching to the beat of a different drum

As I also shared in the PPD post, another part of my identity crisis revolved around the fact that before Caleb, a lot of my identity had been rooted in my sense of accomplishment. As the months passed and Caleb got older and we all got more sleep, life started feeling less like one long Groundhog Day. I also got to know Caleb better, which enabled us to settle into more of a rhythm. (As my mom says, parenting books can help, but in the end each child writes his or her own book.) And I also was able to start this blog and take on some freelance writing jobs, which gave me the opportunity to use different skills and flex writing muscles that had begun to atrophy.

While life feels a lot less like running on a hamster wheel now, I'm still someone who needs to feel like I'm making a difference, so at times I still struggle with feeling like I'm not actually accomplishing anything. Doing and redoing the same things can make it seem like I'm just spending my days building sandcastles, only to see them get washed away by every evening tide. 

But at least now when I'm in those moments, I can look at the big picture and remember that in these early years of taking care of Caleb, John and I aren't building sandcastles. We are laying a foundation. For the love and care our son receives from us now will affect his physical, mental and emotional well being for the rest of his life.

And thanks to another blog post I read awhile back, I also now believe that all the small, seemingly insignificant aspects of child-rearing not only making a difference to my child, but to God.
The post is titled, "On Momotony and Sacred Work," but I think it can speak to anyone who acts as a child's primary caretaker, not just moms, and it can apply to whatever tasks take up a person's day, not just childcare.

Thanks to that blogger's wise words I now
see the sacred in simple, everyday tasks, and I find comfort in the knowledge that the loftiness or lowliness of the particular activity doesn't matter so much to God as how faithfully I am doing it...and all the other things He has called me to be and do. And when I approach life as though even the most mundane activities carry lasting meaning, I can derive purpose and even wrest satisfaction out of otherwise mindless activities like washing bottles and scrubbing out spaghetti stains and trying to put a diaper on a moving target as he tries to squirm off the changing table (okay maybe not that last one, that crap's still straight up annoying.) 

And you know, when all is said and done, this really is a short season of life. There will be others for John and me to do things like sleep in, spend more than two minutes on personal grooming, and go on a date whenever we darn well please. The days with a baby can be long, but the weeks and months really do fly by, so I want to savor all these moments (even the ones that make me want to run screaming out of the house with my hair on fire) while they last. Because this short, crazy, wonderful season will be gone before we know it.

And it won't be coming back.

Still a lemon, just less sour

Okay, just one more loop for me to close before I start wrapping up this novella of a post. 

In my prologue, I shared with you about how all the health problems had left me feeling like a lemon. And in the PPD post, I revealed that the preterm labor, the difficult delivery, and the postpartum depression had left me completely broken. 

Well, I could wrap this whole thing up with a nice, neat bow and tell you that I've found the secret to turning all my lemons into lemonade. But the truth is, in many ways I'm still a lemon. Because in many ways, I am still broken.

The difference is that I’ve begun to see that brokenness differently.  

A few years ago my mom introduced me to the writings of Joni Earickson Tada, who was paralyzed in a diving accident as a teenager and has since become a prolific writer and speaker, particularly on the subjects of chronic pain and suffering. I have since read two of her books, When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, and, A Place of Healing, and this year I've been working through one of her daily devotional books, Diamonds in the Dust. She’s become one of my favorite writers, and her words continue to comfort, convict, and inspire me.  

On the subject of brokenness, Joni writes this (and I paraphrase): If you study broken glass in the sunlight, you can see that it’s full of a thousand different angles, each one picking up a ray of light and shooting it off in a hundred different directions. This doesn’t happen with plain glass, like a jar. The glass has to be broken into many pieces to reflect that kind of light. 

What’s true of shattered glass is true of a broken life. The breaking process is excruciatingly painful. Quite often it is ugly. And a life in pieces can seem like it's ruined forever. But given time and prayer, I’ve found my world shines more brightly than if the brokenness had never happened. Because when I allow God’s light to fall upon those dark, broken places, He produces something truly beautiful. He uses the broken pieces to reflect His light in a thousand ways I couldn’t before.  

As Joni writes, “The color and dazzle of light sparkle best through things that are shattered. Your life may be shattered by sorrow, pain, or sin, but God has in mind a kaleidoscope through which His light can shine more brilliantly.”

Where are they now?

Okay, enough about me, let’s bring you up to speed on the real star of this blog! Caleb is now a happy, healthy, highly active 15-month-old, who fills our home with laughter and the constant pitter-patter of busy little feet. Each stage brings its own joys and challenges, but he really is at such a fun age right now. 

John and I sometimes joke that we should have named him Samson, because physically he is the strongest kid we know. That strength serves as a daily reminder that God sometimes very specifically grants prayers requests, since our mantra during the pregnancy had been, “Please, Lord, make him healthy and strong.”

Our strong little Samson

And yet the name “Caleb” still really does suit him best, because the strongest thing about our son is his heart. He
is highly inquisitive, and he is as sweet as he is strong-willed. He has the world’s best smile and the most tender, loving spirit. He's the kind of kid who notices a child crying in the corner of a crowded room and brings him a shoe (he's crazy about the things), then gives him a hug and kiss.

This sweetheart of a boy is my most precious gift, and being his mother will forever remain my greatest joy and highest privilege.

The bed rest days are behind us, but I still worry about Caleb. I probably always will. Motherhood has brought healing to my life in many ways, but I will always bear the wound that comes from having a heart that now walks around outside my body. In that, I am no different than scores of mothers throughout the ages for whom each new day brings fresh reasons to weep for someone else's children and fear for our own.

So even though the anxiety attacks are thankfully behind me, at times I still feel terrified. John and I are raising our son in the shadow of Sandy Hook. In an age where bullies, predators and pornographers can exploit and ensnare him with the click of a button. In a scary world indeed.

I can't let my concerns over what lies around the corner control me, or Caleb. I have to choose faith over fear. As William Blake once wrote, “He who binds himself to a joy, does the winged life destroy; but he who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternity’s sunrise.”

For if my pregnancy with Caleb taught me anything, it's that I will never be able to completely protect him from harm. I couldn't even when he lay nestled in my womb, closer to me than he ever will be again. I can't now, as his eager little feet begin toddling away from my arms. And I certainly won't be able to once he sprouts the wings that will carry him away from the shelter of our home.

The other day that cheesy Michael Bolton song, “Go the Distance,” from the movie, Hercules, came on when I was playing a Disney mix for Caleb. It immediately made me tear up (admittedly that doesn’t take much these days) because it brought to mind my own strong little Hercules and my biggest dreams for him.  

John and I can’t shield Caleb from every storm in life, but we can give him some things to help him overcome the obstacles and finish the race set before him. We can give him the lasting security that comes from knowing he is loved unconditionally, by us and by God. We can give him the sense of significance that comes from knowing his life has meaning and purpose. And we can give him the strength that comes from being able to rely on a resilient Hope that can withstand even the most difficult trials. These are the things my parents and John’s mom imprinted on our hearts, and the gifts we want engrave on Caleb's to carry him through life long after we are gone.

Time to say goodbye

Okay, well it's high time to wrap things up, huh? As I said in the Prologue, I wrote this blog for a number of reasons. It has been a valuable tool in helping me process some very tangled thoughts and emotions. It has been my gift to Caleb, so that he will always have a record of his earliest days. And it has been my love letter: to all the people who helped and prayed for us during that time, to the husband who remains my rock and my puzzle piece, to the precious son whose incredible life story is only beginning, and to the God who truly makes all things possible. 

But ultimately, I wrote “Caleb’s Story” because it's a story of hope. Whether you’ve been reading this in the midst of a health crisis, a scary and difficult pregnancy, a battle with postpartum depression, or some other trial that has left you feeling lonely and hopeless, I want you to know that you’re not alone. And while it might seem like the dark days are here to stay, I truly believe there is a Light more powerful than any darkness that befalls us.

Weeping may endure for one night or a hundred, but joy will come in the morning. 

"The Couch Chronicles"

So in conclusion, I don’t know where Caleb’s story will take us next. But I have faith in the One writing it, and I'm so excited to see the pages unfold. And since the Christmas season is now upon us, I’ll close with the words of Matthew 1:23, “And they will call His name Immanuel, which means, ‘God is with us.’” 

In keeping with tradition, I will leave you with two songs. The first, “Our Hope Endures,” by Natalie Grant, has become one of my theme songs in life. The second, “Wedding Day,” by City Harmonic, is one I heard for the first time several months ago, and it immediately struck me as the perfect song to use to end this blog as it tells the larger story of which Caleb, John, and I are just one small part.

You guys are the best. Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Postpartum Depression

Or, postcards from the edge 

Wow, it’s crazy to think that the events I’m about to transcribe happened this time last year, in late August and September. It seems like just yesterday, and also a lifetime ago. Back when I launched into this blog I seriously wrestled over whether to write this post. The bulk of this story has focused on my pregnancy with Caleb, so on one hand it would make sense to end it with the delivery. But for me, as for many other women, the effects of the pregnancy lingered long after Caleb was born. So in that sense, ending the blog with his birth would be telling you a half-truth instead of the whole story.
It has taken me a long time to write this chapter, partly because for a while after I finished the last post I still wasn’t sure if I would go through with this one. And then after I finally decided to write it and was nearly done, Blogger decided to crash and delete everything. A meltdown ensued. Tears shed. Curses uttered (okay, more like yelled). Wine and chocolate consumed.  

But Blogger issues notwithstanding, this post was just plain a beast to write because there were so many moving parts to incorporate. That’s why I decided to write a post within a post. This one will deal with the postpartum depression (PPD) and anxiety and physical challenges I experienced, and this "Postpartum Part Two" post will focus on our struggles with nursing (since I figured not everyone would be interested in reading about breastfeeding, but I know there are women out there who, like me, appreciate knowing they aren’t alone in the battle of the boobs).
The greater difficulty in writing this part of the story, though, is that it has required me to go back and relive the darkest period of my life, a time I had gladly begun to bury in the past. What I'm about to share with you is intensely personal. Despite the impression you might have formed from all I've shared up to this point, I'm very much an INFJ and have the Myers-Briggs test scores to prove it. And I know full well that by sharing these things with you, I'm opening myself up to speculation, misunderstanding, and outright judgment.  

Yet while it's extremely difficult to relive the trauma and scary to make public my most private thoughts and emotions, even more sacred to me are Caleb's feelings. 

I am keenly aware that Caleb will be able to read this blog someday. In fact, that's one of the biggest reasons I wrote it, so that one day he would be able to read the full details of his special story. But I would never want him to read this post and think that what I experienced in those first few months after his birth was about him. It was not. It was about me, and about things that were going haywire with my hormones, not my heart. So Caleb, when you read this, please know that your mother loves you very much. I always have, from that first moment in the acupuncturist's office when I discovered you. And I always, always will.

Now introducing...the light of my life

Now you might be thinking, "Well if this is such a personal matter, why is she sharing it at all?" Good question. I'm sharing it because when weighing all my misgivings against the possibility that reading this part of the story might help even one person, I decided it was worth it. 

And I'm sharing this part of the story because, in my opinion, not enough of us women do.  

Back when I was battling postpartum depression and anxiety and struggling with breastfeeding, I felt completely and utterly alone. And yet when I started sharing my struggles with a few close friends and began reading the blogs of other moms, I discovered that some of them had gone through eerily similar experiences. So then my big beef became, "If so many of us have gone through this, why hasn’t anyone told me about it before? Why doesn’t anyone talk about it?" 

Moms can be each other’s loudest cheerleaders and harshest critics. We are mothers in an image-obsessed culture, and I will readily admit that I am as guilty of feeding into it as anyone. But I have learned over the years that despite our carefully crafted appearances, we are all fighting a personal battle of some kind. Sometimes the life that looks most put together is the one most profoundly falling apart. So while it's true that nobody likes a Debbie Downer and discretion is the better part of valor, if we only project the rosy and at times unrealistic side of motherhood, then we perpetuate a damaging cycle and do each other a grave disservice. 

So I’m talking about it. Because after all my complaining I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t. 

Let me be clear, though, that as it was not my intent to scare people by sharing all the gory details in the labor and delivery post, this post isn't meant to frighten new or expecting moms. I don’t want to scare you. But I also don’t believe in hiding the ugly parts to shelter you from what "could" happen, because then if it does happen you might be left unprepared and feeling like you’re the only one experiencing it, as I did.  

Okay then, enough with introduction, am I right? Time to put Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” on repeat and do this thing!

Warning signs

I left off the last post right after I had delivered Caleb, when he lay nestled on my chest for the first time. What I didn't mention was that a few moments after I saw the doctor lift him out of me, one of my first thoughts was, "That's not my baby. That's John's baby." It was the weirdest thing and to this day I don't know why that thought went through my head. Maybe it was because even then it was apparent that Caleb looked a lot like his daddy. But whatever the reason, my brain could not make the connection that the baby I had loved and cherished and cradled inside me so long was the same baby who now was crying and squirming and immediately making his needs known. 

Then in a flash, the nurses plopped this baby I didn’t recognize on top of my chest and said what in my still foggy mind was a jumble of phrases that included "he's hungry," "skin-to-skin contact," and "need to start nursing right away." When it became apparent that Caleb and I were struggling with this whole nursing thing (which women are taught to believe is SO natural) the room became a blur of different strangers squeezing my boobs this way and that and contorting Caleb in different positions to try to get him to latch on.
Wait, you want us to do what now exactly?
After several nurses tried to help, all by offering different and mostly contradictory advice, they said we'd need to meet with a lactation consultant. Of course, it was a weekend and she wouldn't be in till Monday. So in the mean time they said I would need to start pumping to try to make the milk come in faster. When I pumped that first time, which I quickly discovered was more art than science, I had no idea that the pump was going to become my chosen instrument of torture for the next seven months. 

Meanwhile, Caleb was jaundiced and very sleepy. We had to wake him up to try to get him to nurse, which usually ended up being an hour-long exercise in futility. Once in a while he would miraculously latch, but within minutes he would fall asleep or give up. On top of that, I was hurting so badly from the perineal tear I could barely move, so John had to do all the diaper changing and tending to Caleb when I wasn't trying to nurse or do “kangaroo care.” 

Even in those first few days it was obvious to me that John was transitioning into his role as dad much more smoothly than I was transitioning into mine as mom. He was happy to change diapers and help me nurse and do anything that needed to be done. One time I awoke from a nap and looked across the room and saw him with his shirt off, carefully cradling Caleb against his bare chest as the nurses had instructed him. I'll never forget his next words. Still looking down at his infant son he said to me, "Everyone says he's perfect. I know he's not, but he's everything I want." 

Talk about heart melting! Meanwhile there I was, thinking that everything I wanted was a new ice pack, some more painkillers, and a big dinner.

Two peas in a pod
By day two, the doctor and nurses said we were going to have to start giving Caleb some formula because he hadn't had a bowel movement yet and it was important he start getting the jaundice flushed out of his system. I DID NOT want to give him formula. I had always planned to breast feed, and while I knew that sometimes there was an adjustment period in getting things figured out, I had assumed that it would work out for us. Both John's mom and mine had breast fed their children at a time when it was only beginning to come back into vogue, and my whole life, whenever I pictured myself as a mother, nursing my baby was a natural and assumed part of the picture. But I also knew that if we didn't start getting nutrients into Caleb it would spell trouble, so I agreed to it, thinking this was just a small bump in the road on our way to breastfeeding bliss. After all, several of my friends had experienced difficulty in the beginning and had to give bottles to their babies, and nursing had always worked out for them in the end. Why would our story end any differently? 

Every feeding period it seemed like a different nurse would come in and try to help me get the hang of it. One nurse, noticing how gingerly I held Caleb, said to me, “It seems like you’re terrified of your baby.” The words shamed me, because she was right. I was terrified. And I felt completely inadequate for this task suddenly thrust upon me. 

After drinking from the bottle a few times, Caleb's digestive system started working. On Monday, the lactation consultant came in and met with us. She talked about the importance of breastfeeding and said that kids who are breastfed get sick less, have lower rates of obesity (because apparently the fat in formula goes to their body and the fat in breast milk goes to their brains), have higher IQ's, are less likely to get leukemia (and who wants to give their kid cancer?) and are more likely to find lasting love and create meaningful lives for themselves (just kidding on that last one). 

After she finished preaching to the choir, she tried to help us nurse. But even she was flummoxed by the situation. Eventually we were able to get Caleb latched on, thanks to a nipple shield that my Mom had to run out and buy at Babies R Us, and while he didn't nurse for very long, it felt like a small victory. The lactation consultant said, "Stick with it. Ninety percent of women give up on breastfeeding, but I can tell it's really important to you, so keep at it." Ninety percent of women give up? I was shocked at the number. After all, most of my friends were breastfeeding their children and it had worked just fine for them. So I was 100 percent certain that I wouldn't be among the 90 percent of my fellow females, who in my mind must not have cared enough or tried hard enough to make it work. 

Meanwhile, I was still struggling to even get up and walk. One time when John was out of the room and Caleb started crying, I tried hobbling over to change his diaper. My “you-know-what” felt like it was going to fall right out of my giant mesh underwear, and then to make matters worse I suddenly felt the urge to go the bathroom. But before I could limp over to the toilet, I went. All over the place. I called the nurse and she came in and helped clean me up (God bless nurses. Seriously.) Then she told me that a third degree tear can sometimes cause continence problems…at both ends. Continence problems? What the @#$%?! What to Expect When You’re Expecting didn’t say to expect this! 

That afternoon as we packed up to leave the hospital I wondered how in the world I was going to manage all this at home on my own. Thankfully I had John and my mom, but this whole “being responsible for the life of a tiny human being while I can barely control my own bodily functions and can't seem to figure out how to feed him” seemed incredibly daunting.

Are you guys sure you know what you're doing?

From the mountain to the valley 

After we arrived home, I rapidly descended from the mountaintop of my miraculous pregnancy to the deepest valley I’d ever known. The suddenness and severity of the fall shocked me. Everyone expected me to be deliriously happy, and I did, too. But instead I was deliriously crying all the time. So while during the pregnancy I had felt like Peter, walking on water, now I felt more like Elijah, drowning in sorrow just days after my greatest triumph.   

If you’re not familiar with the story, Elijah was a hero of the faith and one of the most powerful prophets of the Old Testament. He raised a boy from the dead and caused fire to rain down from the sky in an epic showdown with the king’s false prophets. And yet instead of rejoicing after that spectacular victory, Elijah dove into a deep depression. He walked down from the mountain, found the nearest cave, and cried out to God in despair, battling serious self-doubt and even contemplating suicide. 

I remember hearing this story in Sunday School and thinking, “Man, what an idiot!” This guy had just seen God do truly incredible things and instead of being happy he was wallowing in self-pity? How was that even possible? What an ingrate! 

Yet as I found myself fighting my own battle with overwhelming doubt and despair, so soon after seeing my own set of miracles, I began to really relate with Elijah. It was a very humbling realization. But through it, I now understand that sometimes the higher the mountain, the deeper the valley afterward. And sometimes the deadliest enemy we fight is the enemy within ourselves. 

I want to make clear, though, that in comparing my depression to Elijah’s, I’m not suggesting that PPD was something within my control or something that I chose. But you know what? Maybe it wasn’t something Elijah “chose” either. I think it’s worth noting that when dealing with Elijah’s depression God didn’t begin by slapping him upside the head and telling him to “snap out of it.” Instead he gave him time to rest and then came to him in a whisper. Not a shout.

A pain in the rear

Okay, but enough of the soapbox, let’s get back to the story. People don’t talk much about the fact that the pain from the delivery can persist long after the baby is born. Thankfully while I was pregnant I had read this both hilarious and informative post, "Happily After Giving Birth -- 10 Things They Don't Tell You," from one of my favorite bloggers, Pregnant Chicken, so I was somewhat prepared for the post-natal scene, but nothing could have truly prepared me. The tear was so painful I could barely move, and let’s not even get into the bathroom situation. I had been taking painkillers, but the lactation consultants told me they might be making Caleb sleepier and decreasing my milk supply so I stopped taking them and relied solely on liver-destroying amounts of ibuprofen, which weren’t cutting it. (A doula later recommended a natural herbal painkiller called Arnica Montana, which actually did take the edge off a bit).  

On top of that, the bed rest was still taking its toll. Caring for a newborn after spending three months in bed was like going from 0 to 60 in nothing flat. A few days into it my feet and legs were hurting so badly I wondered what in the world was wrong with me. And then I remembered, “Oh yeah, I haven’t used them in three months!” 

I talk about all this more in my "Postpartum Part Two" post, but basically I spent my first weeks with Caleb fighting him to nurse for an hour, then pumping, then going back to lay in bed because it hurt so badly to sit up. But I couldn't sleep because I was so distraught over everything. And then 45 minutes later we started the whole cycle over again. After spending months in bed during the pregnancy, it felt like I had just traded one prison for another. 

I felt trapped. 

John and my mom fed Caleb his bottles, changed him, and rocked him to sleep. I would hold him sometimes to do skin-to-skin contact, which helped a little with the bonding, but then we would try to nurse again, which consisted of him screaming in frustration over not being able to latch or not getting out enough milk. So nursing created more of an antagonistic relationship between us than anything. But breast milk was really important to me, both for my health and his, so I continued to pump him milk, which other people then mixed with the hated formula and fed to him. As a result, I felt like one of those cows you see at the state fair hooked up to the mechanical pumps, mindlessly pumping and then retreating back to my stall. Completely disconnected from the feeding process.
Got Milk?

As the days went on it became clear that my lower half wasn’t healing correctly, so I went back to my doctor and he examined the whole unholy mess and discovered one of the stitches was actually pulling further at the tear rather than mending it. Once he fixed it I immediately felt a little better. Not, “Hey, let’s go on a bike ride!” better, but at least I didn’t require assistance to walk back to the car. 

I continued to have significant problems in my pelvic region and months later ended up having to go to physical therapy, but I’ll save that part of the story for the next and final post of the blog.  

Suffice to say for now that my physical injuries, along with my fragile emotional state, left me completely shattered. I felt unfit to be a mother, and that conviction, more than all the physical pain, was what really killed me.

Baby blues

People often refer to PPD as "the baby blues.” I don’t know why, maybe it’s an effort to take away the monster’s teeth. Because to me PPD felt much more black than blue. I can only describe it as hopelessness. And hopelessness feels like being dead inside. It is the death of your spirit, rather than your body. I tried fighting the despair, but it was like I was mired in a swamp and couldn’t untangle myself. I was desperately struggling to tread water, to keep my head above the surface, but every day the weights shackled around my ankles grew heavier.  

I was drowning. 

Not only did I feel disconnected from Caleb, but I felt he was disconnected from me. I had always heard about babies only wanting their moms in the beginning but it seemed like he was content as long as he was being held and fed by someone. It didn't matter who. If he even recognized I was his mother, I felt like he didn't care. There was one exception to that, though, and I will never forget it. One time he was crying and crying and neither John nor my mom could settle him down, so I climbed out of bed and went into his room and sat in the rocking chair and the second my mom handed him to me, he immediately quieted down and relaxed in my arms. It was the best feeling in the world to think that he wanted, that he needed, me. I could scarcely believe it, but I desperately wanted to. Yet the moment passed as quickly as it came, and the doubt rushed back in to take its place.

The crazy thing was, even though I felt disconnected from Caleb, I KNEW I loved him. It’s hard to describe but it’s like my heart is a violin and each person I love has a string. I knew Caleb had a string because I had felt it vibrating so strongly during the pregnancy. But the second he was born, the music stopped, and I didn’t know how to start it up again. In the blink of an eye I went from feeling inseparable, both physically and emotionally, from my baby, to feeling like someone had placed him in a rocket ship and sent him a million miles away. 

Sometimes I thought I could hear a couple of notes playing, though. Hearing Caleb’s cries twisted something inside me I didn’t know existed. I felt his pain. And when he’d push his feet against my stomach while I was holding him, I recognized the movement. They were the kicks I had cherished during the pregnancy, the signs that my baby was alive and well. And when I sang “You Are My Sunshine,” to him, the song he always kicked to in the womb, he would stop whatever he was doing and look right at me, and I could swear he recognized it. So I was grateful for these pinpoints of light that would occasionally pierce the dark, but the darkness remained. 

A moment of light in the darkness
I prayed and prayed to God, pleading with Him to bring back my feelings for my baby and to make nursing work for us. I had gotten used to Him answering "yes" to our prayers during the pregnancy so I thought He’d answer "yes" to this one too. But as day after day went on with no answer, I fell deeper into despair. God was nowhere to be found.

Have you ever hit rock bottom, only to find, to your horror, that the bottom is giving way?

Everyone kept telling me to hang in there, that it gets better in a few months. But I didn't have a few months. I didn't have a few days. I was hanging on by a thread, and the thread was unraveling. 

Missing person 

In addition to feeling disconnected from Caleb, I felt disconnected from myself. A couple weeks after Caleb was born, I remember looking in the mirror for the first time in days and not recognizing the person staring back. Her hair was dirty, her eyes were dull, her once athletic body transformed into a blob of fat and stretched out skin.  

I didn’t know where Emily had gone. Truthfully until that moment I didn’t realize she had left. Life had become one unending Groundhog Day…feed, burp, change diaper, freak out about something, do laundry, repeat. Pregnant Chicken put it best when she described motherhood as “perpetual motion with a generous layer of guilt and self-doubt spread on top.” I don’t know what exactly I thought taking care of a newborn would be like, but it wasn’t this. I mean I knew it would be hard, but it was so. much. harder. Maybe part of the problem was that during the pregnancy I fought to stay positive by focusing on all the good things to come, the precious moments cuddling with my baby and seeing him smile and hearing him coo (which turns out doesn’t happen for a couple months, who knew?).

But really, I don’t think anyone can prepare you for how exhausted you will feel taking care of a baby. Actually, exhausted is an understatement. And since I thought that being a good mom meant totally neglecting my own needs all the time, my tank remained completely empty. But a car can’t run on empty for long without breaking down. 

And I was broken. 

I’m someone who derives a lot of my identity from what I do. I like to set goals and cross them off the list, map out strategies and see them through, and receive a pat on the back for a job well done. But taking care of a baby is more like running on a hamster wheel than in a marathon, and figuring him out is more like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube in the dark than follow directions on a map. And he certainly won’t pat you on the back for a diaper well changed. So I felt like a duck out of water, which took me by surprise because I thought I would take to motherhood like a duck to water. 

This “out of my element” feeling, along with the nursing problems, left me with zero confidence in my ability as a mother. I was failing at the one thing I wanted most.  

And I hated myself for it.

Snooki envy

The cruelest part of it all was it wasn’t like I was a teenager or a party girl who wasn’t ready to settle down. I've had many dreams for my life, but being a mom has always been the biggest. On top of that, I had prayed so hard for months for Caleb to be okay. I knew darn well there were people who would kill to be in my shoes, who were dealing with fertility issues and adoption hang-ups and sick or disabled kids. And here I was holding the answer to my most fervent prayers, this sweet, beautiful, perfectly healthy baby, who just wanted to be held and whose cries were soft like a kitten’s meow. (Thank God he didn’t have colic, otherwise, I think I really would have had to punch my one-way ticket to the funny farm.) So seriously, what the heck was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I shake this overwhelming sadness? 

To make matters worse, I kept comparing myself to all the other moms I knew and all the ones I didn’t. I’ve always used a hundred different yardsticks to measure myself against others. Turns out motherhood is the biggest stick of them all. And by my estimation, I was never going to measure up. 

I looked at my friends, my Facebook feed, the other women in the doctor’s office, and all I saw were moms who seemed like they had it all together and were just so “goo-goo gah-gah” obsessed with their babies. Heck, even Snookie, who had a baby right around the time I did, was gunning for “Mother of the Year.” One early morning as I sat pumping at the kitchen table after another failed nursing attempt I read a magazine article in which she talked about how she had totally changed and loved being a mom and wanted a million more kids and oh by the way had lost all her baby weight already.  

Now I know very well Snooki could have been lying her tanning bed butt off. She could have merely traded her Cosmo at the club for a flask in her diaper bag. But regardless, in my fragile state at the time, as she waxed eloquent about the joys of breastfeeding and her newfound domestic bliss while I sat crying in the dark attached to a cold, unfeeling breast pump, she might as well have poured a bucket of salt from her old margarita glasses directly into my open, gaping wounds.
Jersey Shore no more?

A word to the husbands 

Fortunately the PPD never got to the point where I was in danger of hurting Caleb or myself. Nonetheless I honestly believed John and Caleb would be better off without me. Someone, anyone, could take better care of them than I could, and I felt so badly they were stuck with me as their wife and mother. Looking back I know that sounds crazy, but I was absolutely convinced of it at the time. And yet I knew I wasn’t going to do anything to remedy the situation. I wasn’t going to “end it all” or run away and abandon my family. So I felt hopeless, because in my mind there was no solution to the problem. 

I was the problem. 

A few months after Caleb was born I read this post by a woman who talked about her journey through PPD in her blog, Hysterically Ever After. The post really spoke to me, especially the part where she talked about the effects of PPD on her marriage. Like her, I’m grateful to be married to someone who is committed to giving me all the support I need, as I am to him. During all this turmoil, I desperately wanted to be the woman John fell in love with…the girl who was smart and engaging and warm. But I didn’t know where she went or how to find her, and to be honest I didn’t have to energy to look.  

So if you’re reading this as the husband of a woman suffering with PPD, I would just encourage you to be there for her. I know that’s probably a confusing statement; whenever I say that to John he responds, “Okay, but what does that mean?” For me at that time, it just meant being patient, being available to listen, being willing to do what it took to help me find my way back. Like she says in her post: 

“You can’t be the solution, but you can help her find it…Let her know that whatever she is going through is okay. Remind her that you will be there, that you are her rock. Even if she pushes you away, just be there. She needs you…While she is struggling to find the woman you fell in love with, you need to be the man she fell in love with.”

Panic at the disco

In addition to depression, I was also battling intense anxiety and something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder. All the fears and panic that somehow were held at bay during the pregnancy came out after Caleb was born. I guess when you suffer trauma you have to pay your psyche’s piper at some point. There would be moments I would be holding Caleb and all of a sudden a flashback from the pregnancy would hit me and I had a hard time calming down and coming back to the present. Or I would climb into the tub for a sitz bath to soak my mangled lady parts and would suddenly panic, remembering those nights when I sat in that same tub and begged God to take away the contractions. 

The PTSD was a result of my bed rest experience, but the postpartum anxiety, I discovered, was closely linked with the PPD. While you don’t hear much about PPD, you hear next to nothing about PPA. Yet if me and the women I’ve talked to are any indication, it can be more common than the depression. 

I’ve never really dealt with full-scale anxiety before; I’d had maybe one instance where I had what could be considered a mild panic attack. But after I had Caleb, I started having panic attacks nearly daily, especially at night. They weren’t as bad as I’ve heard they can be. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack. But I felt like I was constantly being squeezed in a vice, and when the attacks came my body tensed up, my heart raced, I couldn't breathe, and my mind started obsessing over irrational fears about Caleb. 
Sleeping peacefully next to me the day before my first major panic attack

The first bad attack was the night before John left to go out of town for the first time since Caleb was born. Since he had to stay off the road the last month of the pregnancy, he had to get back to work the week after Caleb’s birth. Fortunately my mom was here and my dad was on his way, but the night before John left, as we were laying in bed while Caleb slept noisily in the bassinet next to me, I started freaking out big time. How was I going to take care of him without John there? How was I going to be able to try to nurse without him helping me? What if something happened to Caleb? What if he stopped breathing? What if I went somewhere and accidentally left him at the house? 

I don’t know why, maybe it was the result of how scared I was to be alone during the pregnancy, magnified by my physical disabilities and the nursing problems that left me feeling unable to feed my own baby, but the thought of taking Caleb by myself overwhelmed me. I felt it was too great a responsibility to bear on my own. 

John tried to assure me that things would be fine, that he hadn’t been much help anyway and I could handle things without him. But I couldn’t calm down. So I just kept quietly sobbing there in bed, gripped by anxiety and despair. 

I was terrified. 

The next bad attack came the following week, when John’s sister and her husband were in town and helping me with Caleb while John was gone again. I was pumping in Caleb’s room that evening when I suddenly had to go to the bathroom. I didn’t make it there in time. My sister-in-law took Caleb so I could get cleaned up and then try to take a nap. But when I climbed in bed I felt the panic rising again. I finally called out to her and she came in and sat on the bed, holding Caleb while trying to talk me down from the ledge. She’s a social worker so she’s familiar with this kind of thing, and after she helped me calm down she suggested that maybe I call my doctor and tell him what was going on. I didn’t want to reveal to anyone what I was going through, but I also knew that if I didn’t get help I was going to end up in the hospital. I couldn’t keep going on like this. 

The next day I picked up the phone and called my doctor’s office. They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For me it was more like a crawl. But I was on my way, and although the tunnel turned out to be very long indeed, I would eventually find my way back to the light.

Brighter days ahead

And that’s where I will leave things for now (sorry this was such a depresso post; I promise things get better). In my next and final post of "Caleb's Story," I’ll share my recovery process and then bring you up to speed with where we are today. 

In the mean time and as usual, here are a couple songs. The first, “New Song,” by Audrey Assad, was one I listened to a lot during this period of my life. The second, “Need You Now,” by Plumb, was one I only heard a few months ago, but I wish I had known about it back then because it so perfectly describes how I felt at the time.