Postpartum Self Care

The conversations started well before I became pregnant with my son. They came up when people asked me how I felt about pregnancy and about the 4th trimester and about the first year. They came up when one of my friends announced she was pregnant and again when her beautiful baby was born. I was reminded of them when I passed any pregnant woman on the street.

I’ve been having them for years. 4 years, to be exact.

It took me a long time to understand the heart of those conversations. Over time, the shared dialogue about the hard truths of the newborn phase, the darkness felt in that first year, and the loss of self became less about pain and more about understanding and the need for self care.

I was retroactively diagnosed with postpartum depression following my daughter’s birth. I don’t know exactly when my charts were updated, perhaps it was after talking with my OB this time around about the fears I had going into another newborn phase. Perhaps it was after my last pregnancy which ended in miscarriage. I can’t be sure. But I do know that when the nurse in the recovery room read aloud that I had experienced PPD with the last birth and offered to take our sweet baby boy to the nursery for a few hours to love on him so we could get some sleep before going home as a family of 4, I felt seen.

During my daughter’s time as a newborn, the language for postpartum depression focused on sadness and tears. I didn’t have those symptoms. What I had were feelings of anxiety. Obsessive behavior surrounding breast feeding. I felt on the inside the way you feel when you look at a wide-eyed, feral animal in a cage. I felt irreversibly changed. Damaged. Trapped.

I always committed to answer honestly when asked by medical professionals about PPD symptoms but no one seemed to ask just the right question to force me into what felt like a confession. I was unable to offer what I viewed as weakness and therefore consistently flew under the PPD radar.

Fast forward to my second time around:

Postpartum anxiety is now part of the professional conversation. My friends are here with me in this phase of motherhood; they’ve been through it and they’re checking in with me. And I’m open. They’re direct because I’ve told them to be. I’ve tipped them off to my darkest thoughts during my first go as a new mom and I’ve given them signs to watch for in case I don’t recognize those signs in myself. In case I’m unwilling to listen.

The biggest change this time around isn’t in others. It’s in me. I had people who checked in during the first year with Emma and people who pleaded with me to supplement even one night to get some much needed sleep if I refused to ask for help. (Word to the wise: Obsessively setting an alarm every two hours at night in order to alternate pumping and nursing for weeks while your child consistently shows hunger cues and you’re left with mere drops after pumping until you finally wake up one morning with literally nothing to give your child for her next meal is *drum roll, please* INSANITY. Now we both know).

I couldn’t hear anyone the first time around. I couldn’t see it for myself.

I’m a recovering perfectionist, learning to see failure as a step in an ongoing process rather than a condemnation of character. Learning to see it as an opportunity for growth. Learning to see it as a mere fork in the road where one path is now closed for the time being and the other path is just as good albeit different.

Which brings me to back to nursing.

I said I’d try.

I had a traumatic relationship with nursing the first time around but from the outsider perspective, 8 months is respectable enough. You couldn’t see the obsession. The arbitrary measurement of success I had placed upon it. So when I had my first bad latch with baby Freddy and he threw up my very own blood, I felt that anxiety rise but I said I would continue with use of a nursing shield. And the anxiety subsided.

And then my beautiful but sleepy boy began to drop weight so I was scheduled to see a lactation consultant and, to her credit, she did not once shame me for wanting to continue using the shield (a likely cause of weight issues, I came to learn) but instead gave me tips to continue use which involved nursing, then pumping, then immediately feeding what I had pumped. And the newly climbing anxiety began to subside.

Then I actually tried to put into practice what felt so reasonable in her office and it took me 1.5 hours to complete the whole cycle. At which point, I had 30 minutes until I began the cycle again. And so the anxiety began to rise.

When Fred called me on his drive between work engagements to check in, I picked up the phone and immediately began to sob. I felt panicked. Caged. So my husband came home, he took the kids, and he shooed me out of the house to go for a drive. Go to a library, a bookstore, get a coffee. Whatever. And I did. And the anxiety began to subside.

What I’m realizing about self care is that it’s more than simply saying “I will stop before I get to that deep, dark place.”

I didn’t immediately see that I was taking that approach to nursing. “I will try this thing and this other thing to ensure that I can continue nursing even though it is stretching me toward a place I do not want to go. I can still get control of this.”

I don’t believe that I have postpartum depression this time around but I also don’t believe that I need to in order to make self care decisions that may look selfish from the outsider perspective. I am coming to see that self care means allowing yourself more than preventing disaster. It means allowing yourself to thrive.

For me, self care means giving a formula bottle when my supply is fine, knowing that I’m telling my body to produce less. It means nursing only at night, pumping sometimes, and increasing formula. It’s not ideal but it isn’t bad either. It’s giving me room to breathe. It’s taking away some of that anxiety. It’s giving me back control and allowing me to feel whole. And that, my friends, is good.

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Holiday Treats Come Early

One of my coworkers walked past my desk today with two boxes on her way to the lunch room. “There’s pie,” she said as she passed by. Pumpkin and apple. I have no idea what it was for but it looked delicious.

And then our conference rooms were overbooked and not appropriately scheduled which meant our scheduled 2pm (you know, that time when you really start to hit that post-lunch wall and count down the seconds to closing time) was moved from a perfectly sterile lobby conference room to the lunch room. Our VP of Ops was finishing a plate when we walked in.

I just finished my 2nd round of Whole30 this week (read: “yesterday”). And while I definitely did a better job with reintroduction this time around, I still managed to sip a paper Dixie Cup worth of champagne on the same day as my gluten reintroduction. And okay, I did have a sip of IPA the day after gluten reintroduction at a Lions game too. And wouldn’t you know it? Something didn’t quite sit right. By Whole30 standards, I still didn’t get this reintroduction thing quite right (why must I continue to self-sabotage?) but I definitely learned some lessons.

Pie before the holidays? Holiday treats come early, folks! I can just see the writing on the wall. Suddenly Melissa Hartwig’s “Is it worth it?” becomes “Why not?” and the decision is made before I even ask the question. I’m elbow deep in stuffing, marshmallow sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, washing it down with copious amounts of red wine and yes, I’ll take a side of ice cream to choke down the pie crust that I’ve never ever liked in. my. entire. life. but continue to polish off of plates because it’s there; thank you.

Then the writing on that wall goes from bright pink and bubbly, sugary sweet, to black and jagged. I’m weighted by remorse. And perpetual tiredness. And irritability. And sore joints. And elevated stomach issues. And, well, weight.

Yeah, about that…I’ve lost 20 lbs since May.

I know know it’s not about the weight (I turned to Whole30 to address health issues that allergy testing and blood work couldn’t shed light on), but I need to keep saying that out loud; it helps me remember where I was and what choices I made to get to today. And really, I say it so my decisions make more sense to the people around me. Because very few people will understand ordering a dry baked potato but so many of us can shake our heads “yes” at the thought of getting back to our fighting weight.

My advice to you? Keep that reminder in front of you. Post it somewhere publicly, if you have to. But don’t eat the pie before the holidays.*

*Disclaimer: That is, of course, unless you responded to “Is it worth it?” with a true and emphatic “Yes!” (If that’s the case, I am judging you for deeming a superstore pie as worth it but YOU DO YOU, BOO.)

Life has been a little hectic lately.

Life has been a little hectic lately. In the last 7 weeks or so, I have worked in inordinate amount of overtime. Do you still call it overtime when you’re a salaried employee? Not just a few late nights here and there or a few early meetings but multiple days’ worth of time. Leading up to our project launch, I was in the office for a 14 hour Saturday backed up to a 17 hour Sunday and back in by 7:30am on Monday (but only because I slept through the 6:00am scheduled start).

I have never before and hope to never again experience the kind of exhausted, not-enough-eye-drops-in-the-world, mental/physical/emotion strain of that kind of timeline for a project launch. Take it from me, you should never attempt to launch before you’ve completed your mock launch activities.

But my project team and I did it. We’d been preparing for an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software implementation. We were already using a previous version of the same software but instead of looking at this change as an upgrade, we pulled out all of the data that had been erroneously entered over the past several years and sifted it out. We remapped table keys. Restructured business processes. Rewrote code and reports and work instructions. And despite a few misses that we’ve worked to clean up over the last two weeks, this project has been considered an overall organizational success!

But can we zoom out a little?

I’m exhausted. Still, almost two weeks later. My husband, who pulled all of the weight of family life during this period, is now fighting off his first illness of Autumn. My house is full of tiny fruit flies from a misplaced can that wasn’t properly recycled during my usual cleaning routine because, well, there was no routine. I worked out this past Saturday (taking it slow) and it nearly killed me. Fast forward half a week and I pulled a muscle playing with my daughter; my body is wrecked. And my beautiful little girl wants “Momma, Mom, Mommy, Mom, Momma. Did you hear me calling you, Mom?”

We’re all a little drained from the chaos. And to be honest, there’s no way we all would’ve made it without these things right here:

  • My Tribe
    • Friends who continue to pour into me when I go dark. Friends who continue to text or Snap without a response. Friends who send flowers to work for encouragement.
  • My Husband
    • Who allowed our roles not just to flip flop, but to completely shift onto him. Who put his career behind mine for a period. Who bit his tongue – a lot. And who continued to encourage me even if he felt like I should be waving the white flag.
  • God
    • For putting those people in my life. For continually tapping me on the shoulder with scripture or songs about being a light or a door for others to experience his goodness. For keeping me from completely morphing into a troll at the workplace.
  • Whole30
    • For categorically denying my desire to stress eat. For minimizing the impact of skipped meals, small meals, or late meals on my system. For giving me the energy that I needed to make it through a 17 hour shift at all, let alone without getting sick immediately following. For giving me something else to commit to when the project felt all consuming. For teaching me ways to cope without food.

So really, this post is a gratitude post for those things that kept me going. At work, we passed the project launch, cleaned up the few misses, and we’ve already started sliding back to normal. But me? I’m changed. I’m exhausted and more experienced and more filled with gratitude. It took overtime and high stress and looming deadlines to remind me that my focus is really on people, and that includes me.

Thank you, tribe and Freddy, and God, and Whole30, for shaping me during this time. For showing me grace. And for teaching me about my priorities and the balance that leads me to my best me.

Without you, I am a lesser me.

Looking Back at 2016


I’ve struggled to put this past year into words. It’s been the worst as a whole with the brightest spots of beauty, joy, love, and grace perfectly placed to create a #2016bestnine.

In truth, the moments were much more than posed pictures. They were divine intervention. God’s hand placed heavily on my heart, proclaiming his presence.

In a nutshell, the following words to describe the year are:

Miscarriage. Surgery. Allergy tests. Blood work. Stitches. Autoimmune disease. Scleroderma morphea. Exhaustion. Toxic work environment. Four-day work week. Husband’s dream job. Grandpa’s strokes. Weight lifting. Growing friendships. Toddler musings. Biltmore touring. Lifeline leading.

Miscarriage

We had a miscarriage at the beginning of the year. It felt so perfectly timed to have kids 2.5 years apart but while it was still a vague reality, we had a haunting miscarriage.

(I have tried pouring it out into words several times this year but it’s so much easier to write about the gory details of birth than death…)

It was never viable so I don’t even know if I can call it a death. Isn’t that something? A molar pregnancy. It’s characterized by extremely high levels of the pregnancy hormone (at 7 weeks, my hormone level was that of a full term mom of twins), excessive bleeding, and a risk for cancer-causing cells.

I thought the effects of a normal pregnancy were awful but a molar pregnancy is 100x worse. A week after the miscarriage I was still throwing up constantly which was a warning to my doctor to order some blood tests.

The office called me twice the day after my blood was drawn and left a message to tell me I needed to come into the office immediately. That’s where Fred and I learned about the possibility of a molar pregnancy and what that meant for us.

Surgery

I had an ultrasound without pictures to show. I had more blood drawn so the hospital could get blood reserved for my surgery; it’s standard procedure with a molar pregnancy due to the risk of excessive bleeding but I was already low in blood volume from the week prior.

I lost a liter of blood in surgery. I don’t know how much I lost the week earlier but it was a lot(I learned through all of this that most miscarriages don’t look like the scene from Carrie. Live and learn!)

I also learned that when you lose a lot of blood you don’t feel quite like yourself for a long time afterwards. When everyone else has moved on, you still drag. Mostly physically but that affects you emotionally as well.

Oh, and the risk of cancer-causing cells is monitored post surgery with 6 months of weekly blood work. Which means you don’t really get to grieve the loss after surgery because you’re still in it for half a year. It’s exhausting.

—————–

There was so much good in the year but the bad seemed stacked up. I mean, it was. It overlapped. It overwhelmed.

God was with us the whole time, reminding us of his promises, bringing people into our lives to speak his truth. But still, 2016 was hard.

I’m looking forward to leaving it behind me.

Let's get serious.

I say it every day for those of you who know me, but I’m really going to start exercising and eating healthy…starting Monday.

This is my public testament so that if I fail to do so, you can mock and ridicule me for my inability to follow through with my word. Cool?

See the thing is, I’ve maxed out on the scale as of today. I always said if I hit a certain weight, I’d turn talk into action. Well, guess where I am? Funny thing is, I’ve never been so forgiving of my body as I am now. It’s kind of awesome, in a way. Not that I should rejoice in my poor diet and general lack of exercise, but it’s nice to be able to look in the mirror, sigh, chuckle, and say that I really did enjoy that last beer among friends rather than hate the way I look.

That being said, it’s time to bite the bullet. Get healthier. Why not? I want to continue going out with my friends until I’m 90. Longevity requires good health. So Monday. It gives me time to prepare and set up a schedule that I can follow. Wanna join me?

Something to think about: Words. In the receipt of them, we give them the power we want them to have. I’m choosing to put my faith in actions. Just something to think about.