Tag Archives: PPD

How To Talk To New Parents

9 Oct

Social media can be an amazing tool for first-time parents. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and their ilk give housebound caregivers the chance to connect with other people without having to leave their bedroom. They make it easier to find others who are currently in or have been in similar situations. They provide a platform where people can ask for advice, pose specific questions (often of the is-this-normal variety), share milestones and pictures and funny anecdotes, or just flat-out vent about how hard parenting is. Because let’s be real: parenting is fucking hard.

I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend in how some people reply to these social media posts, though – some people (most often people WHO ARE PARENTS) are condescending, dismissive and even sometimes unintentionally (I hope) hurtful in their responses. I’ve experienced this myself, and lately I’ve been noticing that a few of my friends with new babies have been enduring this same unfortunate phenomenon. What I’ve noticed the most is people saying things like, “Oh, you think it’s bad now? Wait until she’s a toddler!” or “Wait until you have two!” or “It’s fine if you can’t breastfeed, you can just give formula!” or worst of all, “Just relax, this is supposed to be a happy time!”

First of all: telling someone to relax very often results in THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF THAT HAPPENING. Also? If a parent thinks that what they’re going through is bad? It’s probably bad! And how is it at all a good idea to respond to someone talking about how difficult things and how much they are struggling with the assurance that things will only get worse? WHY WOULD YOU EVEN SAY THAT? Is that intended to be some kind of warning, like, get out now while you still can? Finally, things like breastfeeding or co-sleeping or having a natural childbirth may not feel like a big deal to some people, but to others they can matter a whole fuck of a lot. I know that when Theo was a baby, breastfeeding him was literally the only thing I felt like I was doing right as a parent. If I’d had to stop, or had been unable to do it, I would have been devastated, and hearing someone downplay or otherwise invalidate how I felt would have made me feel even worse.

So with all of that in mind, I thought that it might be smart to put together a handy-dandy guide for talking to new parents. So let’s get started!

A few things to keep in mind with regards to new babies:

1. Remember that the transition from non-parenthood to parenthood is one of the scariest, most stressful, and most physically gruelling things a person can go through. If you’re a woman who has recently experienced pregnancy, your body is suddenly totally unfamiliar and your hormones are all fucking over the place. If you’re breastfeeding, you suddenly have a baby attached to your nipple every few hours, which, let me tell you, is not a sensation that’s necessarily easy to get used to. Even if you haven’t given birth and are not breastfeeding, just the very fact of having a new baby is physically draining. Like, there’s a reason that sleep deprivation is a form of torture, you know? On top of all that, your entire way of living has completely changed. Everything suddenly revolves around this tiny, helpless little being, and all of the familiar road-markers of your old life have suddenly disappeared. Worst of all, you’re often expected to map out your new life on your own, without much in the way of practical help. There is no real way to prepare for the type of culture shock you will experience when becoming a new parent.

2. Keep in mind that newborns are often terrible. Terrible! Not on purpose, of course, and this doesn’t apply to all babies, but the fact remains that infants are frequently some of the most unpleasant people. First of all, they seem to hate you. They scream all the time, and when they’re not screaming, they’re staring at you balefully. They never smile – not even when you are devoting all of your time and energy to taking care of them. They just take and take and take from you and never, ever give back. If they were a grownup friend, you would dump them in a hot second. You can’t dump your kid, though – I mean, you can, but it’s generally frowned upon. And of course you love your baby and you rationally recognize that soon the baby will start smiling and gurgling and generally being much more pleasant, but neither of those facts mitigate how terrible it feels to be screamed for ten consecutive hours a day. And when you add on the fact that new parents often struggle with things like feeding and getting their child to sleep and whatnot, it becomes pretty clear that the early days of parenthood are not always the magical snuggly bonding time that we tend to get all starry-eyed and wistful over.

3. Remind yourself that all kids are different. Just because your newborn was an angel who slept twenty three hours a day and was a champion breastfeeder does not mean that every baby will be like that. Just because your child was more difficult as a toddler than as an infant does not mean that that will hold true for everyone. For example, I find Theo much easier and more fun as a toddler than he was as an infant. Like, when he is upset, he can now actually tell me what’s wrong! We’ve also been lucky in the fact that Theo is quite verbal, which helps cut down on tantrums and meltdowns. An added bonus of his verbal skills is that we can now have real conversations about real things instead of my having to produce an endless monologue that goes something like, “Do you see the sky? The sky is blue. Blue is such a pretty colour! Your eyes are blue! My eyes are brown! Do you see the doggie over there? The doggie says woof woof! What a nice doggie! I like doggies! Do you like doggies?”

But not every kid is like Theo. Not every kid is this verbal at the age of two and a half, and lots of other children his age are much more prone to tantrums. This is a (relatively easier) age for us, but it isn’t for everyone. All kids are different.

A few DOs and DON’Ts for how to talk to the new parents in your life:

1. DO offer advice, especially if the parent asks for it. Bonus points if this advice is based on your own personal experience

2. DON’T expect that parent to follow your advice. They might, they might not. You are offering that advice because you are friends with that person and care for them, and the future of your relationship should not hinge on whether or not they do what you advised.

3. DO try to be helpful if/when you visit your friend – bring food, offer to clean or tidy, ask if the parents would like you to take the baby out for a walk so that they can shower/eat/have some time together. Feel free to offer specific services or else just plain ask the parents what would be the most helpful for them. Remember that these visits should be more about making things easier for the new parents rather than giving you the chance to cuddle a tiny baby.

4. DON’T tell horror stories, either about your own early parenting days or those of people you know. These types of stories usually aren’t helpful, and can actually be pretty scary.

5. DO listen and make sympathetic noises.

6. DON’T invalidate their feelings. Seriously. Don’t tell them that they’re overreacting or being silly. Don’t make remarks about how the human race could never have survived if every parent was this hung up on the small stuff. Just don’t.

7. That being said, DO remind them that babies grow and change very quickly, that this stage will soon be over and that things will get better.

8. DON’T tell them that you understand their struggle because you have a new puppy and puppies are actually more difficult and time-consuming than babies. Seriously. I wish that this point wasn’t based on a true story, but alas.

9. DO keep an eye out for symptoms of postpartum depression.

10. DON’T tell the parents that they should be enjoying themselves more than they are, or that this is supposed to be the “happiest time in their lives.” Probably it is a super happy time for them, but it’s likely also incredibly stressful and worrisome.

A final note:

Remember that your friends’ experiences as new parents are not about you. This is not your chance to re-hash everything about your own parenting. This is not your chance to show off your knowledge and expertise. What you should be doing now is supporting your friends as much as possible, in the same way that others hopefully supported (or will support) you as a new parent. Your words and behaviour towards your friends should be with their welfare in mind, rather than how you can make yourself look better or smarter. In short, be the kind of person that you would want to have around when things get tough.

And maybe you could even offer to change a diaper or two. Maybe.

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Sometimes I’m Tired Of Being A Mom

4 Feb

“Sleep when the baby sleeps!”

I started hearing it the day Theo was born. Actually, I probably started hearing it way before then, but it’s likely that I didn’t pay much attention. I just filed it under “obvious advice is obvious,” and thought nothing more of it. Of course I was going to sleep when the baby slept. Just like of course I was going to have a natural birth, breastfeed like a champ and have a kid who slept through the night at six weeks. Because, unlike all the other moms in the world, I’d read all the right books, bought all the right products, and participated in a million online discussions about how not to fuck up your kid. I was so set.

I was sure that motherhood was going to be so fulfilling. I mean, yeah, I knew it would be hard, but hard in a being-super-brave-through-tough-times-like-Florence-Nightingale sort of way, not hard in a grinding, miserable, I-hate-my-life way. Surely I would come out of those long, desperate, sleepless nights glowing with motherly love, just happy to have been able to offer my screaming child even a modicum of comfort. Surely I would be happy to sacrifice any and everything for my kid.

Surely I would never, ever resent him.

After Theo was born, people kept reminding me to sleep when he slept. But I didn’t want to; I wanted to stay awake and just stare and stare at this amazingly tiny new human I’d just created. I’d just made an entire new person that had never existed before – how could I be expected to sleep after doing that? Besides, I remember thinking, I’ll sleep later. Because, up until that moment in my life, there had always been a later. Whenever I’d had a long week at work, I’d been able to plan to sleep in on the weekend. I’d been able to look forward to vacations when Matt and I could grab catnaps together between fun activities. I’d always, always been been able to think ahead to a time when I would be able to catch up on my sleep, maybe even take some kind of sleeping aid to ensure maximum restfulness.

When you become a parent, there never seems to be a later when it comes to sleep. You either grab it when you can, or you go without. Not long after Theo was born, I learned the hard way that I couldn’t do the former – when Theo slept, I was too anxious to rest, and when I did finally manage to fall asleep, I was awakened by every. single. tiny. noise he made. I don’t know if it was because I was so fucked up on hormones, or if it was the postpartum depression beginning to rear its ugly head, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t sleep when he slept.

And you know what’s the worst? Not being able to sleep when you are bone-fucking-tired and you know that your kid is going to wake up screaming soon and then you won’t get to sit down for the next five hours.

At some point towards the end of that hazy first week of motherhood, I remember thinking, “When is someone coming to take this baby away so that I can go back to my real life?”

And then I realized that this baby was mine, and no one was going to take him away, and this was my real life now.

With that thought came a bizarre mixture of guilt over wanting to go back to my non-baby life, and blind panic of the “holy shit I have a kid, what the fuck have I just done?” variety.

In all the months I’d spent preparing to have a kid, I’d never fully realized what it would be like to have a kid.

Sometimes having a kid sucks. A lot. I love him, and I love being his mom, but sometimes I’m so tired of being a mom, anyone’s mom. Sometimes I just want to be myself. I want to go back to my old life, the life where I slept in on weekends, watched TV whenever I wanted to, and sometimes spent all day having sex with my husband. It doesn’t help that my life now bears a striking surface resemblance to my old life; I live in the same apartment, wear many of the same clothes, eat the same foods. I even look pretty much the same, except that I’m a cup size bigger than I was (thanks, breastfeeding!). I’m surrounded by reminders of the way I used to live.

It also doesn’t help that most of my friends still, in some ways, live in my old life, staying out late, drinking too much, and going to the bathroom without having a toddler follow them to watch them pee. And I promise that I’m not trying to be all, having a kid is so hard and my non-mom friends don’t get it, but let’s be honest: most of them don’t, really, in the same way that I didn’t get it, either. And I’m jealous that they don’t get it, jealous that they don’t have to watch what they eat or drink or smoke because they’re afraid of contaminating their breast milk, jealous that they can go to bed and not have a whimpering toddler wake them up five times a night, jealous that when they go home at the end of the day, their work is done, while mine lasts forever and ever and ever.

Sometimes I’m so tired of being a mom.

Sometimes I’m so fucking tired. Period.

And you know what sucks the most? Knowing that all of this is my fault. I don’t mean so much in the sense that I chose to have a kid (although that is true), but more that I haven’t done any sleep-training, haven’t tried too hard to night-wean and, at 24 months old, still can’t really imagine being away from him overnight. Know why? Because I’m a wuss, that’s why. Every time I think about sleep-training Theo, I think of all the crying that will be involved, and I wince. I’m not the crying-it-out-will-ruin-your-kid-forever type, but you know what? I just can’t. I’m sorry, but I can’t. Hearing him cry makes me feel like every nerve in my body is on fire. And it’s one thing to hear my kid cry because I won’t let him splash his hands in the toilet; it’s another when he’s crying because he just wants to be held, or sung to, or breastfed.

And that’s why my 24-month-old still sleeps in my room and still breastfeeds pretty much whenever he wants at night. Because I am too tired and too wussy to do anything about it.

I’m tired and you guys?

Sometimes I still miss my old life. A lot.

And that makes me feel really awful.

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How We Talk About Mental Illness

10 Nov

Jared Lee Loughner was sentenced yesterday. In August of this year, he pled guilty to 19 of 49 charges, including first degree murder, after going on a shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona. His actions left six people dead and injured twelve others, including former Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Yesterday he was given a sentence of seven consecutive life terms in prison, with no chance of parole. Jared Loughner will spend the rest of his life in jail.

I remember this shooting vividly. It happened on January 8th, the day I was admitted to the hospital on bed rest at 34 weeks pregnant. I spent two weeks in the high risk antenatal unit, with only books and my computer to fill long hours spent in an uncomfortable hospital bed. Because I spent so much time online, I followed the shooting and its aftermath intently, metaphorically holding my breath as I, along with so many other people, waited to see if Gabrielle Giffords would live after taking a bullet to the head during the attempt on her life.

That’s what the shooting was, after all – an attempt to assassinate Giffords, whom Loughner hated for many reasons, chief among which was that she was a woman. In fact, he’d said repeatedly, both online and in person, that women should not hold positions of power. That was why he’d shown up there that day, why he’d brought a 9 mm Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol to a public meeting held in a supermarket parking lot  – because he couldn’t stand the idea of a female member of congress. The thought chilled me, as I’m sure it did many other women.

I’ve continued to keep up with Loughner’s legal proceedings, in part because of the mixture of fear, fascination and revulsion the shooting inspired in me, and partly because, in my mind, this event is somehow bound in the circumstances surrounding Theo’s birth. There was something so strange about sitting in a hospital, doing my best to ensure that a healthy new life came into this world, while someone else worked equally hard to take another life, or rather, several lives, out of it.

I’ve read a lot about the shooting.

I’ve read about Gabrielle’s amazing recovery, and her struggles to regain her mobility and independence.

I’ve read about Christina-Taylor Green, the nine year old who was among those killed.

I’ve read about the other victims, and how this tragedy has impacted their lives and the lives of their families.

Mostly, though, I’ve read about Loughner. How at first he was declared unfit to stand trial after a federal judge ruled that he was mentally incompetent, saying, “At the present time, Mr. Loughner does not have a rational understanding of these proceedings.” How he was given a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and was found to suffer from delusions and disorganized thinking. How, when he finally was deemed fit to stand trial, he was so drugged that he could barely talk. How he still resists being medicated, and has to undergo forcible treatment at the hands of prison officials. How he often doesn’t really seem to understand what happened that day, and has stated in court that he believes that his assassination attempt was successful, and that Gabrielle Giffords is now dead.

It’s pretty clear that Mr. Loughner is seriously ill.

I’ve been reading some of the victim impact statements today, and I’ve been surprised at how some of the victims talk about his illness. Take, for example, what Mark E. Kelly, Gabrielle Giffords’ husband, had to say:

“You tried to create for all of us a world as dark and evil as your own. But remember it always: You failed.”

I found this jarring, to be honest. Let’s be really clear here: I think that Loughner’s actions were, indeed, evil. I know that a mentally ill person’s “world” or mind or whatever term you want to use can certainly be called dark. However, it bothers me that Kelly would refer to the delusional world that Loughner lived in as evil. It also bothers me that Kelly seems to believe that Loughner had some kind of agency over his actions, as if he wasn’t driven by the illness that gripped him body and soul.

Another statement that I read said the following:

“We’ve been told about your demons, about the illness that skewed your thinking.

It’s a painful saga, a tale of missed opportunities and lack of support, of the appalling absence of attention to your behavior. Your parents, your schools, your community –- they all failed you.

That is all true, but it is not expiation. It is not enough. There are still those pesky facts.

You pointed a weapon at me… and shot me… three times.”

While the victim, Ashleigh Burroughs, acknowledges that Loughner was ill, she seems dismissive of his “demons”, demanding, instead, that he answer the “pesky facts” – as if he hadn’t already tried to answer them, only to come up with nonsense, jumbled facts and recollections of the day that are flat-out untrue.

I am not here to criticize Kelly or Burroughs, and I am certainly not here to diminish what they went through. They’ve seen and experienced things that I hope to never, ever encounter. I am not saying that how they are dealing with this is wrong, or that what they said is wrong. What I’m saying is that the way that we, as a culture, talk about mental illness is fucked up.

The things is, this hits close to home for me, because mental illness is something I’ve struggled with. Still do, in fact.

It’s not something I really talk about, ever. I’m deeply uncomfortable even as I type this out, but I want to share this with you, so that maybe you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

When I was in high school, things were tough. I felt sad and hopeless, frequently without any concrete reason. I cried, often, both at home and in public. I wonder, now, if my social isolation lead to this, or if my isolation was a product of how miserable I was. Chicken or egg, right? Certainly both lead to a sort of vicious circle of being alone, then being sad because I was alone, then having no one want to be around me because I was so annoyingly, unendingly down on myself and finally ending up, once again, alone.

When I was sixteen I told my mother about how I felt, and she took me to see our family doctor. He gave me a prescription for Paxil and referred me to a therapist. I hated therapy and stopped going after a few months; the medication didn’t seem to do much, so my doctor increased it, and then increased it again. I couldn’t sleep at night, and I was exhausted all day, sometimes napping on my desk during class. I couldn’t concentrate, and often left my homework unfinished because I was too tired or unfocussed. My grades started to slip, and my teachers grew frustrated with me. One even recommended that I be removed from the special arts program that I was part of. I went from being an A student to barely pulling Cs and Ds and the grownups in my life tsked, shook their heads and told me that I would have to work harder. I failed grade 11 math the first time, and then, the second time around, desperate to pass, I cheated on a test. I got caught. I was suspended. My doctor increased my medication. I didn’t feel any better.

In university, things were initially easier. I had lots of friends, and I was once more getting As and Bs. I forced myself to complete my assignments, working in the computer labs late into the night. My concentration improved, and I tried to be less of a perfectionist with my work – even if I thought something was badly done or incomplete, I submitted it. I turned in every single  assignment on time. I figured that what I’d been lacking in high school was gritty determination; I decided that I could push my way through anything. I thought that if I didn’t succeed at something, it was because I hadn’t tried hard enough.

Then, in third year, things got tough again. I had to leave school due to my financial situation, which was hopelessly snarled after three years of monetary incompetence and inattention. My mood grew worse and worse, and the university clinic doctor frantically tried medication after medication, hoping something, anything would work. Nothing did. I finally received an official diagnosis from him of dysthymia, a mood disorder marked by chronic depression. I started to feel like the future was endless and blank, and that I had no way of getting myself out of this hole. I talked about suicide. My doctor had me hospitalized.

I have literally never told that to anyone other than my mother and Matt until now.

Things got better after that, although I’m not sure why or how. My hospitalization was nearly ten years ago now and, although there have since been some serious dips in my mood, until I was hit with postpartum depression I’d managed to steer clear of that dark place. I even totally went off any kind of medication for seven years, encouraged by a hospital psychiatrist who told me that I wasn’t really depressed, that there was nothing chemical about it, I just had bad coping skills.

I stopped thinking of myself as someone who was living with depression; I told myself that I was just moody, or easily upset. If I had to put a name to what I was feeling, I called it anxiety, which seemed easier and more socially acceptable. Calling what I felt depression made me feel like I was making excuses for myself, and it made me feel like a freak. I refused to us the term mentally ill to describe myself. I went back to my philosophy of pushing myself hard, and then harder when things were difficult. For a while, it worked.

Then Theo was born, and everything went dark, and I couldn’t get out of it.

As part of the postpartum depression program I participated in at Women’s College Hospital, I had to have a monthly meeting with a psychiatrist. My family doctor had put me on Zoloft just before I joined the Women’s College program, and it was up to this psychiatrist to figure out whether or not I was on the correct medication, and what the right dosage was. I gave her as complete a medical history as I could, and then immediately asked how long I would have to be medicated.

“Well, let’s see,” she said, looking back through her notes. “It looks like you’ve had two, maybe three major depressive episodes in your life. You’ll need to be on the Zoloft for at least a year, but I would recommend that you stay on it for five.”

I was shocked. The medication was supposed to be temporary; I wasn’t sick, just fucked up on hormones. I’d thought that I would only be taking Zoloft for a few months, until this whole postpartum depression thing cleared up. That was how it was supposed to work, right? When I told her that, she just smiled.

“I think your old doctor’s original diagnosis of dysthymia was correct,” she said, “and, based on what you’ve told me, I think it’s likely you also have generalized anxiety disorder. This isn’t going to go away once your hormones settle down.”

So here I am, nearly two years after the birth of my son, still medicated and still struggling with my mood. I’ve more or less come to accept this, though. I am a person who is depressed. I am mentally ill.

This is hard to talk about, and what makes it harder is the way our society views mental illness. In the media it’s portrayed as frightening and dangerous, or else as funny and laughable, but rarely as something normal, rarely as something that so many people live with every day. We throw around words like crazy, insane, or psychotic when we’re talking about people whose actions we disagree with. In spite of strong evidence to the contrary, we view it as something made up, or an excuse not to get work done. We want people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and we don’t believe them when they tell us that they can’t. We marginalize and mock the people who need us the most.

Mental illness is deeply stigmatized in our society, and will continue to be so until we do something about it.

When we believe that Loughner had agency over his own actions, rather than being controlled by a serious illness, we contribute to that stigma. When Mark E. Kelly refers to the world view of a schizophrenic as evil, he contributes to that stigma. Hell, the fact that we even use words like “evil” or “demons” to describe mental illness contributes to that stigma.

The tighter we hold this stigma, the longer we continue to have beliefs about mental illness that are untrue and have no basis in scientific fact, the harder it is to talk about it. And the harder it is to talk about it, the more people will go untreated. And the more people who go untreated, the higher the risk of something like this happening again.

Which is why I’m talking about this now.

Edited to add: I certainly don’t mean to imply that all those who are mentally ill lack agency over their actions, or even that that those who do lack agency do so all of the time. I also don’t mean to say that someone who is gripped by mental illness will suffer from it forever. I don’t really know how to talk about this, and I acknowledge that I am probably missing a lot of information, and communicating badly. I apologize for that, and for any offence that anyone might take from this.

Motherhood (or, a few things that I’m ashamed to admit)

3 Nov

Sometimes I wonder if I was meant to have kids.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Theo. I really, really love him. He is the greatest. I mostly can’t imagine what my life would be like without him. So let’s be really clear on all that stuff right now.

But sometimes I just wonder if I’m really cut out to be a mother. Like, I think I might just have the wrong personality for it?

It’s not that I think that I’m a bad mother; I think that I’m a loving, attentive parent. When Theo’s around, I spend my time interacting with him, reading and playing and doing puzzles. We sing songs and give each other high fives and plan our imaginary trip to France (or at least, Theo points out France on the globe and yells out Mimi! Mimi!, the name of the French teenager who used to babysit him, while I tell him how great the shopping and dining are). It’s fun, I guess, but I’m just not sure I really get enough joy out of all this. I mean, I am supposed to enjoy it, right? Not just endure it?

I do enjoy some of it, of course. But a lot of it is mind-numbingly boring. Are mothers supposed to find their kids boring? Jesus, I mean, I sound pretty awful here, don’t I?

In many ways, this age is a lot easier than when Theo was an infant. But when he was pre-verbal, I could at least pretend that we were interested in the same things. Lecturing him about feminist rhetoric or telling him long, complicated stories about my favourite historical figures would earn me the same look of wide-eyed interest as reading Goodnight, Moon or singing him the alphabet song. As long as I kept up that sing-song baby voice, or used funny accents, I was golden. The Second Sex, in case you were wondering, sounds great when you alternate between a crisp upper class British dialect and a slow southern drawl. Now that Theo is talking, though, he has definite opinions on what he does and doesn’t like. For instance, he’s really into tractors; unfortunately for me, he’s not so much into Henry VIII.

I tell myself that it will get better. It’ll be easier when he’s older, when I can really teach him about the things I love, like history and science and bad 80s sitcoms. I like that kind of thing; even now, I love taking him places where he can learn something new. For example, he’s probably the only 21-month-old who can point out the lute at the local museum. As soon as he sees it, his eyes light up and he starts shrieking, lute! lute! like a maniac. We talk about how the lute is a lot like Matt’s guitar, and how people used to use it to make music; he seems to understand, and my heart swells when I realize how many new things I help him learn on a daily basis. I think I’m good at that kind of thing, you know? I mean, lute-splaining in particular but also teaching things in general.

Much of the rest of parenting I just find to be grinding and dull, and I feel like I spend a lot of my time alternating between trying to find ways to keep Theo entertained and following him around saying, no, no, no, stop as he attempts to destroy my house. Mealtimes and diaper changes often turn into a power struggle, and by the time they’re over I nearly always feel like a total pushover, and then wonder whether or not my tendency to give in way to easily will result in my kid being a spoiled brat. When I’m home alone with Theo, more often than not I’m counting down the minutes until Matt walks through the door. On weekends, when my friends are making all kinds of fun plans, I’m envious of their freedom and spontaneity. When Monday rolls around, I’m thrilled to be able to pack him off to daycare, and I celebrate by having a quiet coffee all by myself.

One thing I hear a lot about mothers who have nannies for very young children, especially live-in nannies, is, why did she even have kids if she doesn’t want to raise them herself?

I wonder what they would say about me if they knew the truth.

I always thought that I wanted more than one kid, but now I’m not so sure. I’m not sure I ever want to be pregnant again, and I dread the possible recurrence of postpartum depression. And to be honest, I found having an infant really fucking hard all on its own; I honestly can’t imagine what it would be like to have an infant and a toddler. I get tired just thinking about it. I know friends who have done it, friends with two or even three young children, and they make it seem easy. When I look at them, though, I think, better you than me, buddy.

I guess I might just be too selfish to be a mother, or maybe too lazy. It’s possible that I value my quiet personal time way too highly; it’s possible that I flat out don’t have enough patience or endurance for this type of thing. Whatever it is, it’s something that’s wrong with me, not with Theo.

I love Theo with all of my heart. I love him so much, often more than I ever thought possible.

I just don’t always love how he’s changed my life.

How To Have A Good C-Section (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love major surgery)

26 Oct

I woke up the morning of January 8th, 2011, and lay in bed, waiting for Theo to kick me good morning. I was 34 weeks pregnant, and this was our wake-up ritual: he would wriggle around like a maniac, and I would spend a few minutes lying on my side, rubbing the outline of his body and telling him what we were going to do that day. Sometimes he would stick his feet in my ribs, and I would tickle his toes. Sometimes he would take a big stretch and I would try to map out how he was sitting inside of me.

That morning, though, I didn’t feel anything.

No big deal, I figured; he was probably asleep. Surely it wouldn’t be long before he was awake and kicking up a storm.

I had a bagel and coffee for breakfast and then lay on the couch with Matt, waiting for the caffeine to pass through the placenta and jolt Theo awake. We were watching a movie, but I couldn’t concentrate on it; all I could think about was the absence of movement inside of me.

I tried everything I could think of to get Theo to move – I drank ice water and lay on my side, poked and prodded him until I worried that I might be bruising my baby in utero, had Matt put his mouth up against my belly and talk to his son. Nothing worked.

We decided that we should go to the hospital.

When we got to the labour and delivery ward, I had to sit and wait for a bed to become available. Then we discovered that I hadn’t properly registered, so Matt had to go back down and re-do the paperwork. I was becoming increasingly anxious, and I was frustrated that the nurses didn’t seem to share my sense of urgency. Finally, they got me into an examining room and asked me where my OB usually found the baby’s heartbeat. I said it was loudest on the left side of my belly, so they put the doppler there.

Silence.

I started to cry. Matt tried to say something to calm me down, but he had tears in his eyes, too. The nurse frowned and moved the doppler around while the continuing silence made me sob harder and harder. This must have only gone on for a few seconds, but it seemed like hours. I was sure that Theo was dead; I pictured having to call my mom to tell her that her grandchild wouldn’t be born alive. I pictured myself having to be induced and delivering a cold, white baby.

Finally, way over on my right side, the nurse found a faint but steady heartbeat. The nurse smiled and said that she’d known all along that he was fine. I still couldn’t stop crying.

The nurse brought in a portable ultrasound machine, since I still wasn’t feeling Theo move. As she moved the probe over my belly, she asked me if I knew that he was breech. No, he’s not, I said, he’s been head down since 26 weeks. In fact, I had seen my OB three days earlier, and he had confirmed that the baby was head down. Not anymore he’s not, said the nurse.

They brought in the on-call doctor who confirmed that no only was Theo breech, he was footling breech, one of the rarest fetal positions and the most dangerous to the baby. On top of that, his umbilical cord was hanging down by his feet, which meant that, if my water were to break, he would be at high risk for a cord prolapse.

They hooked me up to a contraction monitor and told me that I was having strong contractions (none of which I could feel, by the way). They checked my cervix and I was 2 cm dilated and 100% effaced. Not a big deal, they said – some women dilate early. Two hours later I was 5 cm dilated.

At 34 weeks pregnant, I was in labour with a baby who wanted to meet the world feet first.

They wanted to do a caesarean that night. They would have, too, except that two emergency c-sections came in, tying up all the operating rooms. While we waited for an OR to open up, I sat in my bed and tried to use Jedi mind-tricks to stop my labour. Think calm thoughts, I told myself. I stared at the printout on the contraction monitor and willed the jagged lines to smooth themselves out. I stared at my belly and willed Theo to stay put.

Whatever I did must have worked, because by the time they checked my cervix again, I was still 5 cm dilated. My contractions continued, but were definitely less frequent than before. I made a deal with the on-call OB – if they would agree to delay my c-section, I would stay on bed rest in the hospital until I was full-term and/or my cervix started dilating again. She wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but she agreed to admit me for the night and check with my doctor. Luckily, he was a super cool dude, and when he came to see me on Monday morning he said he thought I’d made a good suggestion, and was totally fine with me hanging around the hospital until whenever.

This gave me some time to figure out what I was going to do. Up until this point, I’d planned on having a natural birth; I’d read books like Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth , Martha Sears’ Birth Book and Henci Goer’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide To A Better Birth. I’d looked forward to giving birth, imagining that I would have some kind of mystical earth goddess experience; I’d been weirdly excited to know what real contractions felt like. I’d spent months participating in online pregnancy forums, decrying the medicalization of childbirth and the deplorable c-section rate in the western world. I hadn’t even read anything about c-sections, because there was no way that I was going to have one.

Except now I was.

I started to look for online resources for moms who were having caesareans but still wanted the whole touchy-feely earth goddess experience. I discovered, to my chagrin, that there weren’t many. Most people seem to think that a good birth and c-sections are diametrically opposed. Many people in the natural birth community are very, very anti-caesarean (one woman even went so far as to send me a video of a midwife delivering a footling breech birth, like, hey, thanks for your support), and many of those who support the medical model of childbirth tend to see birth as something that you just endure and get through, rather than a positive experience. I think that it’s totally possible to have a c-section and still have a good birth.

I’ve put together a list of things that worked well for us and resources that I found helpful:

If You Are Having A Planned Caesarean:

1. Educate yourself. This one is huge. Read as much as you can about c-sections, both about the procedure itself and what recovery will be like. Talk to other women who have had c-sections, and ask your OB for a run-down of how the procedure typically happens at your hospital. It’s also a good idea to read about the possible emotional effects of a c-section.

2. If you plan on breastfeeding, consider contacting a lactation consultant (the nice thing about being in the hospital was that the lactation consultant came to me), or else join the La Leche League and talk to women who have had similar experiences. Find out what kind of resources your hospital offers breastfeeding mothers – for example, mine held a breastfeeding class twice a day and had a lactation clinic. Make sure you get yourself a nursing pillow, because I promise you that you will be SO THANKFUL for it. Also,there are some good resources online here and here and here.

3. If you plan on breastfeeding, do so as soon as possible after surgery. I was able to breastfeed in the recovery room, less than half an hour after my son’s birth.

4. Make a birth plan of what you would ideally like to happen. You can ask for things like playing your own music during the surgery, doing skin-to-skin in the OR, and delaying (or even forgoing) the application of the eye gel. Remember that it doesn’t have to be the mother who does skin-to-skin – your partner also has some important bonding to do.

5. Eat really well at your last meal before your surgery (this will typically be 8 hours earlier). Make sure you get a lot of protein and that whatever you have is really filling, because they won’t let you eat afterwards until you fart (not kidding).

6. If you are having a c-section because your baby is breech, consider trying an external cephalic version. I wasn’t able to do this because I continued having contractions right up until my c-section (and we discovered during my surgery that I have a heart-shaped uterus, so it wouldn’t have worked anyway), but it’s definitely worth trying.

If You Are Planning On Having A Vaginal Birth

1. Educate yourself about c-sections anyway! It won’t hurt, and you’ll be prepared in case you do need one.

2. Include a “Caesarean Contingency Plan” as part of your birth plan. Sure, chances are that you won’t have a c-section, but if something goes wrong, it’ll probably go wrong pretty quickly, which means that it would be better to have what you want written out ahead of time.

3. Make sure that your partner is clear on what you want if you need a c-section – in the craziness of the OR, you’re going to need them as an advocate more than ever.

For Everyone

1. Allow yourself the time to mourn the birth you didn’t have. Some women feel that they’ve “failed” if they end up having a c-section; some feel that they haven’t really given birth. Talk about your feelings with your partner, and remind yourself that your experience was just as important and valid as anyone who had a vaginal birth.

2. Keep in mind that women who have c-sections are at a higher risk for postpartum depression. Make sure to watch yourself carefully for any of the signs and talk to a healthcare professional immediately if you think you might be showing some of the symptoms.

3. Take all of your medication on time. Trust me, you will feel way worse if you delay or skip a dose. The vast majority of medications are safe for breastfeeding; if you’re not sure, ask your doctor, nurse, pharmacist or La Leche League leader.

4. Hold a pillow against your incision whenever you cough, sneeze or laugh. I don’t know why, but this helps.

5. Take a shower as soon as you are feeling up to it. It will be the best shower of your whole life.

6. Accept help. If you have someone willing to do everything for you, let them.

Theo’s birth wasn’t what I had planned for, and it wasn’t the birth I would have chosen, but it was still good. I sometimes think that this was my first real lesson in parenting: the idea that not everything would happen on my own terms, that there would be times when I was not in control of the situation, but could still try to make the best of things.

So no, Theo’s birth wasn’t ideal, but I do think that it was the best birth that it could have been. And I’m thankful for that.

If you follow the simple steps that I have outlined above, then you, too, can look this happy while having a giant gash cut in their abdomen.

If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to add them in the comments!

An Open Letter to Nicola Kraus (or, another day, another angry-making article)

18 Sep

Dear Nicola Kraus,

So! I understand that you have discovered the one single method of parenting that works for everyone and you are proselytizing this fact via the Huffington Post. Well, that is good news! Please, tell me more!

No, but seriously: I find articles like yours incredibly difficult to read. Not only is the tone rude and condescending, but the content is full of assumptions and misinformation.

First of all, let’s talk about a few personal pet peeves that I have with regards discussions surrounding attachment parenting:

1. Dr. Sears did not come up with attachment theory. John Bowlby did. Doctor Sears may have popularized the idea and coined the phrase attachment parenting, but it’s a concept that’s been around since the 50s.

2. I bet that you actually practice attachment parenting, even if you don’t want to call it that. In fact, I guarantee it.

The basis of attachment theory is this, which comes from Bowlby’s seminal 1951 work, Maternal Care and Mental Health:

… the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.

Keep in mind that in the first half of the 20th century, women were getting a lot of not-so-great advice form doctors. They were told to put their babies on a schedule as soon as possible, feeding them only every three or four hours instead of whenever the baby was hungry. They were advised not to pick up their crying babies for fear of spoiling them, and there was also a pervasive belief that crying strengthened the lungs. I have a friend whose grandmother was instructed to wheel her infant son out into the garden every day and let him cry for half an hour. While her baby cried, she would sit at the table and weep because she hated it so much. But she still did it, because her doctor had told her to.

Attachment parenting, by contrast, suggests that you respond to your baby’s needs in an appropriate and timely fashion. Which, I am guessing, is probably something that you do.

Breastfeeding, cosleeping, babywearing, etc. are not necessary for attachment parenting. They’re tools that can help form a bond between parent and child, but they aren’t by any means required. Your friend Dr. Sears says the following:

AP is an approach, rather than a strict set of rules. It’s actually the style that many parents use instinctively. Parenting is too individual and baby too complex for there to be only one way. The important point is to get connected to your baby, and the baby B’s [his term for the set of tools mentioned above] of attachment parenting help. Once connected, stick with what is working and modify what is not. You will ultimately develop your own parenting style that helps parent and baby find a way to fit – the little word that so economically describes the relationship between parent and baby.

So even Doctor Sears says that you need to go with what’s best for you and your family.

I guess that what I really want to say with you is this: I’m happy that your kid is a great sleeper. I’m happy that you found a method that works for you. But what you should realize is: every child and every family is different.

For instance, my kid? My kid is 19 months and still sleeps in my bed, which I’m fine with. He didn’t end up there because I had romantic ideas about forming a bond with him. We have a crib for him. He hated it.

From just about day one, my son point-blank refused to sleep in his crib. He would fall asleep after nursing, I would swaddle him back up and gently (so gently) lie him down in his crib. Within ten minutes he would be screaming. I tried everything – waiting until he was deeply, deeply asleep to move him, putting him down when he was drowsy but still awake, keeping his spot in the crib warm with a heating pad – nothing worked.

On top of that, I was struggling with postpartum depression in the early months of his life, which was made much, much worse by my lack of sleep. Even if I had been comfortable with the idea of letting him cry it out (which I wasn’t), it would have meant several days of even less sleep. The idea of that would have made me cry, except that I already spent most of my time crying.

Once my son started sleeping in my bed, I found that it actually helped with my anxiety. For one thing, it was easy for me to check on him during the night to make sure that he was still breathing. It also made nighttime feeds easier – they were no longer this big production of getting him out of the crib, getting the nursing pillow in place, feeding him, then getting him back to sleep, putting him back in the crib, etc. Once he was in my bed I literally just had to roll over to nurse him and then roll back over once he was done.

The way that my husband and I parent isn’t for everyone. I get that. I try to be respectful of the way other people raise their children, and I think that by and large I’m pretty successful. As long as your kid is healthy, happy and well-fed, I think you’re doing a bang-up job. I would really appreciate it if you could extend me the same respect.

Oh, and by the way? When you let a 12-week-old cry it out, you are not teaching them to self-soothe, you’re teaching them that no one is coming to comfort them (and, by the way, there’s a world of difference between those two concepts). Science is behind me on this one. Science is awesome!

I totally agree with you on one thing, though – parenting is really fucking hard. The hardest part is that you have no idea what you’re doing, and you have to make important decisions on the fly while operating on little or no sleep. But the thing is, everyone is trying to do their best working with whatever they’re given. So why are you making people feel badly about the way they parent, when you already know that they’re doing their damnedest? How is your judgment and condescension helpful in any way? Just a few things you might want to think about.

Anyway, for the record, I don’t think that attachment parenting has made my kid clingy, or, you know, overly attached. In fact, I think the opposite is true: he’s so confident in our bond, so certain that I’ll be there to help him when he needs it, that he feels totally comfortable running off and doing his own thing. He’s happy to take off without looking back, because he just assumes that my husband or I will be close behind him. Because we always have been.

Sincerely,

Annabelle

p.s. You should maybe advise all of your sex-deprived friends to try getting it on in rooms other than the bedroom. The living room couch or the shower are two good suggestions. Tell them to be creative! If they really want to fuck, I’m sure they’ll find a way.

Theo, trying to claim the whole bed for himself

Further Adventures in PPD (or, why I might be sort of grimacing in your baby shower pictures)

28 Aug

I mentioned in my last post that we went to a baby shower this past weekend. This is actually the first of several baby showers that I have to attend over the course of the next month.

In order to mentally prepare myself for this baby shower, I did what any normal person would do: I put blue streaks in my hair. I thought that this would make me feel punk-rock, like I was someone who was capable of kicking ass and taking names. Instead, it made me feel sort of mermaid-ish, or else like a devotee of the Drowned God – not necessarily bad things, but also not really what I was going for.

I find baby showers, and many things baby and pregnancy related to be fairly nerve-wracking. My reasons for this are twofold:

1. It brings back all the old whoa I am such a shitty mom feelings from Theo’s early days. I look at pregnant women and I think, I bet she is better at being pregnant than me. I bet she is one of those people who did all those fancy scientific things like figuring out when she was ovulating and how long her luteal phase is, and totally planned her pregnancy based on what astrological sign she wanted her kid to be. She probably did not go in a hot tub or sauna while totally unaware of her pregnancy, and I bet she didn’t do crazy things like rock climbing and hiking in the Rockies. She probably carefully counted the days from the time she had sex until she could take a pregnancy test, and then wrapped up the pee stick in a fancy bow and gave it to her husband and then they cried tears of joy while holding each other in the moonlight.

2. I am really, really, really fucking jealous of anyone who can take the occasional moment to sit back and enjoy their pregnancy, rather than wondering if the alcohol content of the de-alcoholized wine they used to make the stew they are having for dinner will have serious adverse effects on their baby. I am so jealous of women whose main concerns are how swollen their feet are, or if the nursery will be ready in time. I’m sorry, I know it’s petty, and it’s something I’m working on, but still: it’s there, it sucks, and I want to acknowledge it.

There is something in my brain that switches into bonkers PPD mode whenever people talk about things they’ve given up during their pregnancy, like caffeine, or sweets, or anything fun that I didn’t give up. I think, oh shit, I didn’t sacrifice enough. I am not a good enough mother.

A few months ago, I went into a full-on tearful rant at someone after they talked about choosing not to have ultrasounds because they think that they’re bad news for fetuses. What’s especially funny about that is that while pregnant I was already aware of the concerns some people have about prenatal scans, and I actually did a fair amount of research on it. In the end, I felt well-educated on the issue, and drew the conclusion that I would prefer to have ultrasounds. But when she started talking about the choice she’d made, it was like the logical part of my brain just shut down. It was like, sure, look at Theo, he is fine and healthy! But what if not having ultrasounds could have meant that he was even more fine and healthy?

So much of my PPD has been about what if?

So much of it has been dangerous lines of thinking, like, if only I can stop making mistakes and just do everything perfectly, I will stop feeling this way. It is my fault that I feel this way, because I can’t stop fucking up.

When people talk about these choices that they’ve made, what they are really trying to do is communicate to me how they feel about their pregnancy, and maybe have a dialogue about what it’s like to be a pregnant woman in an era where we are  faced with so many (often confusing) choices. But somehow all I hear is, you’ve failed as a mother.

So what’s the solution? I could do what I ended up doing this weekend, namely pleading a headache midway through the shower and escaping to my room to cry. Or I could just try to avoid anything baby or pregnancy related (hah). Or I could grit my teeth and smile, and then later feverishly google things like “possible effects of c-section on baby’s future cognitive development”. None of those things seem like particularly good options, though.

I guess the thing is that I have no idea what to do, other than keep on keeping on, taking one day at a time, and all those other trite clichés. It’s possible that I need to learn to ask for help more frequently, or else try to explain myself better to the people around me. Perhaps I should get this shirt, in hopes that it will deter people from telling me any pregnancy/baby stories that might set me off.

Maybe one lesson that I can take from this is that a lot of parenting is going to come with this feeling of, I have no idea what I’m doing, or, even more accurately, I feel totally unable to handle this but, somehow, I have to.

Anyway, any tips, advice or commiseration are truly appreciated.

Oh, and feel free to compliment my awesome hair:

Image

It may not be very punk, but it still looks pretty rad, no?