An Honest Account of the “Baby Blues”

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It’s 2:00am on a Tuesday night. Everyone tells new moms to sleep when the baby sleeps, but it’s pretty difficult to asleep awkwardly half reclined on a pillow with a baby sleeping on your chest, grunting and chortling like a piglet. Yep– it’s one of those nights when baby is adamant she can only sleep in one position and one position only. Of course I could try laying her down but since that has already backfired twice three times in the last two  four hours, I figured I would just accept the reality of this sleepless night and make use of this time to write. I’m just glad that she is asleep.

I can’t believe I made it through the first month of motherhood. It has been inexplicably the most challenging month of my life. Perhaps I’ve had it easy for a while and life wanted to throw me a hard ball?

Let’s start from week one. Recovering from an emergency cesarean section is no easy ordeal, both physically and emotionally. I could hardly move the first few days. It took me about ten minutes to walk the fifteen feet from my hospital bed to the bathroom. When I came home I was stronger but I resented that it would take me a whole minute to get in and out of my bed. I’ve been too used to being spry apparently. Despite being in so much pain, I was trying to wean myself off of my pain medication early due to the severe constipation that the narcotics caused. I’m not one who is shy to talk about poop so I’ll readily admit that it took six days to have a bowel movement – I was crying and praying the last two days that the prune juice and stool softener would start working because it was so uncomfortable. When I finally had a bowel movement, it felt like labor pain….but thank goodness, I have never felt more relieved!

I never imagined that I would undergo any surgery, never mind a c-section. I felt like I had been cut in half and the idea of it was very gross to me. I refused to touch to look at my scar for a week and a half.  My husband finally succeeded in convincing me to tear off the tape off of the scar.

My labor trauma set me up for what experts call the “baby blues” and what I call “the intense experience of recovering from a major surgery, learning how to take of a new human being, not sleeping for 48 hours, hormones going out of whack, suffering from pain, second guessing everything that you’re doing as a mother, dealing with my overbearing parents, and missing my old life”. In my honest opinion, the term “baby blues” is a stupid way to label the intensity of becoming a new mother and only seeks to pathologize the women who experience it and compare them to the ideal vision of women who are able to fall in love with their child right away and feel like everything just comes naturally.

For the first week and a half, it was hard not to associate the baby with pain and displeasure. Every time I nursed her, I wanted to cry from the the blisters and scabs that had developed on my nipples, caused by her biting the tips of my nipples on the first day. Of course, I was in pain meds and couldn’t feel the pain initially. And it took every ounce of effort to pick her up due to not my then dysfunctional abdominal muscles. I wasn’t sleeping much due to her 2-3 hour feeding cycles at night.  Additionally, I had high maternal anxiety at night and could not help from paying attention from every sound she made in her co-sleeper.

Soon after my nipples recovered from the scabs, I developed a high fever one night of 101 degrees. I was scared it was due to an infection from my c-section wound but it turned out it was mastitis (infection of the breast tissue).   Despite my hatred for antibiotics, I had to take them for a week to treat it.  The mastitis symptoms soon subsided…but it didn’t end there.  A few days into my medication use, my baby developed abdominal pain and had an episode of projectile vomitng and diarrhea, which I believe were side effects of the antibiotics.  So began several days of intense researching on how to relieve her discomfort and trying out baby gas drops and gripe water.

All of this happened in the first two weeks of her birth and I felt like the chaos would never end. When I was alone in my attempts to nap, I often cried. Several times I broke down to my husband and cried, “Why is this so difficult for me?” I could not believe that I didn’t fall in love with motherhood as I had expected. I was also struggling with the reality that I didn’t have a easy-going, calm baby that Hypnobirthing had promised me. My baby was fussy, particular, and not a self-soother—not unusual for a baby but just different from what I expected for my first baby.

The lack of sleep exacerbated the crying spells so I was super protective over my sleep and making extra efforts to make sure baby was sleeping well.  Yes, Dr. Harvey Karp (author of “Happiest Baby on the Block”, this included making sure baby was 100% sound asleep when I put her in the crib instead of developing the good sleep habit of making sure she’s still a little awake when I lay her down. That advice was ridiculous to me. My emotional sanity was on the line and I felt I had to do whatever it took to make sure all three of us got sleep during the night.

The third week was approaching and I was worried that my baby blues still had not subsided.  After all, the literature says that it should only last 2 weeks or else it becomes this other pathologizing term called postpartum depression. Thankfully, I turned the corner the night after my husband poured me a glass of wine and cared for the baby while I slept for a 4 hour chunk, something I had not done since before her birth. I also did several treatments of an energy psychology technique that I practice called “Neuro Emotional Technique” on myself.  I did emotional clearing on issues of feeling lost and vulnerable as a mother, my inability to sleep at night, and the stress of not knowing exactly how to make my baby feel comfortable with her gas pains. I woke up from that 4-hour nap and immediately felt back to normal. I no longer felt like crying at every little thing that happened and stopped ruminating on how much I missed my old life with my husband.

My husband went back to work after three works of being with me, and it has helped me feel more confident in caring for the baby when I’m alone with her. I know her routine and her nuances. I still question a lot of things I do and continue to strategize every day on how to make her more comfortable and sleep better.  But I’m so relieved I’m not feeling so emotionally fragile anymore.  It was a truly scary feeling.

I understand that it may be taboo to talk about the baby blues this publicly.  After all, new parents on Facebook mostly share about falling in love with their baby and photos of what I call “the good times” (e.g. not the photos of babies screaming and crying in the middle of the night or mom’s raccoon eyes). But apparently I read somewhere that 80% of women experience the baby blues, again whatever that means for each individual mother. Why is it that I have never read or heard detailed accounts of the baby blues until I actually experienced it?

I’m so glad that stage has passed and that I’m able to fully appreciate my baby now—even on nights when I’ve only slept two hours because I’ve spent 6 hours either feeding her, changing her diaper, or trying to rock her back to sleep. I would still give anything for her to be able to communicate with me her needs.  But for now, I think I just need to focus on this moment…which is learning to sleep sitting upright with a grunting baby on my chest.

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How My Hypnobirthing Plan Turned into a C-section Delivery

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Deciding on Natural Birth

Before my pregnancy, I never thought it was possible for me to have a natural birth. I knew myself too well–I had low pain tolerance, heightened physical sensitivities, and a body in which I was confident is too small to bear a child. Besides, my mother, stepmother, and nearly every woman in my family had c-sections. I figured that there was something in my bloodline that made it particularly challenging to have a vaginal birth.

However when I first learned I was pregnant in June 2014, I looked into the range of birthing options and ultimately decided to work towards a natural birth. I was displeased to hear how often medically unnecessary interventions are used during labor and wanted to embrace the possibility that I could have a gentle, comfortable birth experience. And so I decided to stick with the approach that I normally use to manage most of my health issues: start with more natural remedies (i.e. natural birth), use modern medicine (i.e. epidural) if they fail.

I enrolled in a hypnobirthing course and for the last four months of pregnancy practiced the techniques diligently. I appreciated how hypnobirthing can help make natural birth a reality for many women–however, I was well aware that every woman’s body is different and so is their pain tolerance. I’ve heard many women’s accounts of childbirth….everything from “it felt like I was being repeatedly stabbed by a knife” to “it was just a lot of pressure but not pain” to “it was orgasmic!” I wished for nothing more than to know ahead of time what it would feel like for me, but since there is no way for me to know, I knew tat pain relief would continue to be an option for me if I needed it.

How It All Went Down

I was fortunate to have had a relatively uneventful and comfortable pregnancy. However, I was physically and emotionally miserable in the last few weeks. I started my maternity leave from work on week 37, thinking (or hoping?) that perhaps my baby will come early. Week after week passed and I was surprised that she had not yet emerged from my petite body. It was very difficult to idle at home as I waited for her. My husband and I were becoming very impatient.

Before we knew it, week 41 was approaching. I had had mild signs of prodromal labor, my cervix was dilated about 2-3 cm, and I had bloody show. In the last few days before her birth, I had received 2 acupuncture sessions and spent the days self-stimulating labor-inducing acupressure points. I also walked several times a day and did many other natural forms of induction. Nothing worked!

On week 41 and 1 day, we decided to give my obstetrician permission to sweep my membranes. I was very conflicted about this because I read accounts that this procedure sometimes threw women into intense labor very quickl–or it didn’t work at all. I was hyper anxious about approaching week 42 and having to be induced with pitocin hence I opted for the membrane sweep.

The actual procedure was very uncomfortable. The obstetrician stuck a finger into my cervix and made circular motions to separate the bag of water from the walls of the uterus. This was supposed to trigger labor-inducing hormones within 72 hours. I had the procedure done on a Friday afternoon around 2:30pm. By the time I came home, I was feeling a mild back ache and abdominal cramping that came in waves. It was a gentle feeling, 3/10 on the pain scale, and lasted for about 4-5 hours. By 9pm, it had stopped.

Around 11:15pm, I was watching TV on my couch when my first REAL contraction happened. This was way more powerful than the prodromal labor contractions that I had felt previously. It was about a 6/10 on the pain scale. I walked over to my husband and told him “it’s happening!” The third one hit a few minutes later and I knew I was in for something much more intense than I had ever anticipated. I did not have a gradual progression of intensity as I had expected. By the fifth or sixth contraction, the feeling of pain was at a 7 or 8 and was coming about every 5 minutes and lasting almost a minute. At some point during the hour I was laboring at home, I started collapsing to my hands and knees every time a contraction hit me.

Every woman’s sensation of labor is different. The easiest way for me to describe what a contraction felt like for me was the fist of gravity trying to rip the baby out of me all in one pull. I tried to breathe through each one and use my relaxation techniques but to no avail. It was terrifying and I dreaded each upcoming contraction.

I asked my husband to pack up our bag to head to the hospital and I told him in advanced that I was going to ask for an epidural. We arrived at the hospital to be admitted to triage. I was thoroughly pissed that they would ask a woman in labor pain so many questions that they had in their system already. I also had to endure another 2-3 hours of contractions until a room was available. At this point, with each contraction, I had rolled up my husband’s sweater and bit into it with each wave. He seemed relieved that I stopped trying to bite into his leg!

Once the anesthesiologist administered the epidural, I was immediately relieved and laid back comfortably on my hospital bed. The next moments were hazy to me but my husband gave me his account of what happened. Minutes after I was given the epidural, my blood pressure dropped dramatically (my blood pressure is normally very low) and so did the baby’s heart rate. The nurses tilted my bed backwards to send blood flowing to my head and was squeezing the IV bag to get fluids into my system. Before I knew it, they were rolling me upstairs to the operating room as they explained to me that the baby’s heart rate had dropped for several minutes and that I may need a cesarean section. I was too numbed out to have an emotional response–I only knew it was serious because I was surrounded by doctors and nurses, and they were going back and forth on what they should do.

Finally, at one point, the primary doctor saw that the baby’s heart rate had stabilized to a normal level and did not see a need for a cesarian section at that moment. I was wheeled to another room and, seeing that I was 9.5 cm dilated and baby was not low enough for me to push, I was asked to wait until it was time for active labor.

I was immensely relieved at the news and rested comfortable for about an hour in my room as they monitored the baby’s vitals. All of the nurses on the floor were on edge because the baby’s heart rate continued to drop with each contraction. At one point, the nurses were getting ready to wheel me back to the OR before the doctor asked them to give me some time to try pushing the baby out. I was effective at pushing and they continued to monitor her heart rate with each contraction and push. Her vitals looked dire. Finally the new doctor told me that a c-section was the best option for me with the least risk.

Of course my husband and I consented to whatever the doctor thought would be best for me and the baby. This didn’t keep me from feeling very stressed and worried about the operation. I knew that most C-sections are uncomplicated but I still had a deep fear that something would go wrong and my body would not be able to tolerate it. I was shaking very intensely due to both the labor hormones and pure fear. I asked my husband for my headphones and music so that I could relax as they prepared me for the operation room. As soon as I started listening to music, I broke down, cried and told my husband that how scared I was. He consoled me and reassured me that the staff were going to take care of me.

They wheeled me over to the OR and hot tears were still pouring down my face. The anesthiologist stood by my side as they tested my pain sensation and assured me that I was going to meet my baby in about twenty minutes. Soon my husband was allowed in the room and they hung up the drape by my chest so that we could not see the operation.

Surely, after some tugging and pulling at my abdomen, we heard a cry. I saw her face and I was so happy to see that she was okay. Travis went over to the side as they cleaned her up. He then brought her over to me. I gave her many kisses. I was so joyful and relieved to finally meet her.

My Thoughts Now

My daughter Sky is two weeks old now and I am feeling almost fully recovered from the surgery. The recovery process and first few days of learning how to care for her were very difficult. I often found myself drifting back to day of her birth and ruminating on how scary the whole experience was for me. I also couldn’t stop wondering what I could’ve done to have made labor a better experience. If I didn’t have my membranes swept, would the contractions have been less painful? Would I be able to tolerate a second birth without an epidural? And considering that my body did not tolerate the epidural very well, would I ever be able to give birth again without an c-section? All questions I’m not able to answer unless I can travel back or ahead in time. For now, I can only absolutely grateful that both Sky and I made it through that experience alive and healthy.

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