Tunnel Vision

In law school, grades were determined by attendance and your final exam.  Miss too many classes and you weren’t allowed to even sit for the final exam.  That little gem has caused countless nightmares for me over the years and I’ve been out of school for ten years now.  Knowing that the entire success of the semester depended upon my performance on a three hour test made me a little nervous.  Given how important the final was, the period after Thanksgiving and up through final exams and again after spring break through finals became known as The Tunnel.

Tunnels exist for you to go through to some other location, but in going you have to travel the dark, rather scary interior that is not very well lit and full of hazards if you dare go too fast.  The promise of course, is that you will emerge on the other side in the light and will have traveled to some new location that you were seeking.  In law school, this meant the end of constant studying, worrying, and the chance to be a normal person again who wasn’t expected to process a semester’s worth of information and knowledge on a three page exam.

I had forgotten from Rex’s newborn phase that this fourth trimester is yet another Tunnel.  I’m hunkered down, plowing through Sweetpea’s newborn days as best as I can waiting for the sunlight (a social smile perhaps? maybe a coo?) at the end of the journey.  We planned a little better for this tunnel, though.  We have more help – both of the family and hired kind – and we also know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that it will get better, lighter and easier.  All I have to do is look at Rex and remember that he too was a squwaking infant not all that long ago and now he’s telling us about his day at pre-school and who was put in time out and then sleeping through the night.

To her credit, Sweetpea is a real treat of a baby.  I never had those snuggly feelings with Rex thanks in part to the whack job of PPD and in part because he was never a snuggly infant.  He was a bruiser of a child even when he was born and not very compact.  Sweetpea, though, is tiny in comparison to her brother in his infant days and is like a feather to carry.  She fits perfectly in the crook of the neck and has extremely kissable cheeks.  Getting to dress her in onesies with kittens is just icing on the cake.

She even has done us the favor of waking up to feed only twice in a night already.  She’s also having more periods of awake time, watching her brother’s antics and following our movements.  Most importantly to me and my anal retentive heart, she’s being rather receptive to getting into somewhat of a routine, as much as a newborn can have a routine.  It was the disruption of the routine with addition of newborn Rex that really threw me for a loop and I recognized the same feelings coming back once we got Sweetpea back home.  But, again, I know this time that a routine will be established, one that has a place for all of the creatures in the house and even some time for Mr. X and I to enjoy each others company over an episode of Game of Thrones.

Rex, for his part, is doing better with the newest addition. We’ve been very proactive in making certain he knows that he’s still important and loved and part of our home.  He loves to supervise sister’s diaper changes from his stool that he keeps by her changing table and is very good at picking out outfits for her to wear when she needs a change.  He likes to kiss her fuzzy little head and then go back to watching Backyardigans.  He still goes to daycare and gets a good deal of structure and stimulation there so he’s not completely wound up at home.  Weekends are still a challenge, trying to figure out how to work everything that we need to do into the day with Sweetpea’s napping needs and Rex’s playing needs.  But I know that it will come.

Just like in law school where the calendar showed the last day of finals and the end of The Tunnel, I can see the end of the transition and can take a lot of comfort in knowing that while difficult and painful, we are not in a permanent state of flux.

Baby Blues After the Non-Baby Blues

Postpartum Progress, that fantastically wonderful Nobel Prize-worthy site about post-partum depression, asked on Facebook yesterday for stories from ladies who had post-partum depression after infertility.  No arm-twisting required here. Pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass and I’ll tell you about what I consider to be one of the more nasty secrets about infertility: the shame of having post-partum depression after you’ve worked for five years to have the baby.

I’ve written before that while I was trying to have a baby, I was very focused on actually having the baby.  I was not concerned with what happened once the baby arrived. Either I didn’t believe that there would be a baby or I didn’t want to jinx the run of good luck that got me pregnant and cooking said baby.   So, no thought whatsoever was given to the post-partum period of life.

And then, I had the baby, the wailing, lung-strong, hungry, tired baby.  The (very normal) baby who woke us in the middle of the night with his fire alarm screams, who spit up on every non-washable surface, who was like the crazy roommate that you question your sanity for inviting into the house.  I felt like I had the world’s worst case of buyer’s remorse but I couldn’t tell anyone about it because I had done just about everything possible to (literally) buy this bundle of joy.

There were many times in those first few months when I wanted to give him back – back to whom I couldn’t articulate. I just wanted to return him, say “Sorry, made a mistake, lost the receipt, please take him back, he’ll be so much more happy elsewhere,” and we’ll go back to our regularly scheduled programming.   I would feel terrible for having these thoughts, and then feel doubly terrible because I had wanted this experience so badly. Talk about a vicious cycle.  Bad thought, bad thought for having the bad thought, rinse and repeat.

It never occurred to me at that time that having been through infertility I would be more prone to having post-partum depression.  If I even began to think about having PPD, I quickly concluded that I wasn’t allowed to have post-partum depression after infertility.  Yes, I wasn’t allowed because I had begged to be a mother.  Rex wasn’t an oops or even a timely planned baby.  He was way overdue by the time he did arrive so much that I was afraid he wasn’t going to show at all.  So how on earth could I then have the feelings that I was having?  This could not be a rational world where I was allowed to have these thoughts and not be utterly ungrateful.

It took me a  long time to recognize that I wasn’t ungrateful for having Rex.  I was normal.  I was a normal new first time mom who had been through the wringer for longer than recommended and was still trying to find that new comfort zone.  And, I had PPD.  And the PPD was treatable.

I’m so much better now.  There were so many moms who told me that it would get better and I thought, “maybe for you!” but they were right.  It got so much better.  I really enjoy being a mom now and I think I’m pretty darned good at it, too.

Honey, Hand Me the Vinegar

I had heard that the first year of a marriage after a child is born can be tough.  I didn’t give it much thought at the time.  We were too busy trying to have the kid, so I wasn’t going to worry about what would happen when we had the kid.  I also figured that our marriage had already been Tested by so many things – a full house renovation, a hurricane, two kittens, five years of infertility, two miscarriages, a rescue dog – that having a baby, something that we wanted so badly, couldn’t possibly put us asunder.

Then we had Rex.  And my husband went from being my partner to being  another child constantly needing something and not helping.  At least, that’s how it felt at the time to my PPD-addled severely hormonal whack jobbed brain.  As the sleep deprivation and depression worsened and the laundry and dishes piled up, what had worked in our marriage before as an equitable distribution of the chores turned into an exercise in score keeping and endless events in the Most Tired Olympics.   It drove me crazy that he would come home from work and go on and on about how hard his day was and (I perceived) wanted my sympathy when I had been taking care of our son all day, which was the hardest thing I had ever done in my entire life, thank you very much.

Via Flickr Creative Commons by alsjhc

I see now that we were both thrown for a terrific loop when Rex was born which should not have come as much of a shock as it did.  We dealt with the curve ball in our own ways, which for all other major tests had worked fine, but for this one didn’t work at all.  One problem, of course, is that I wasn’t coping hardly at all with the loop and Mr. X was left trying to cope for both of us.  When I did try to cope I turned to keeping score on who did how many chores, how many hours of baby care, how many night wakings, etc. so that I didn’t feel like I was the only one doing anything.  I would build these ‘babycare points’ and try to redeem them for chore duties such as taking out the trash (yay! something easy that doesn’t scream!) or grocery shopping just to be able to do something that I knew I could do and do well.  I also desperately wanted to feel normal, at least for a little while.  How awful is that?

And, I felt like Mr. X was contributing to the problem, not helping.  I began impersonating a snapping turtle when I was around him.  I had an over abundance of frustration, anger and just sheer angst fueled by PPD and sleep deprivation that I would take out on him.  I couldn’t (and never had even a whiff of desire to) take it out on Rex.  In the 20/20 rear view mirror, I see that he did the absolute best that he could considering he had a hormonally challenged wife suffering from PPD, a job to hold down (including a job transfer that was foisted on him the day he got back from his paternity leave) and a newborn who did the usual typical baby things like screaming, explosive pooping and erratic sleeping.  And, bless his heart, he loved me anyways.  He must have been just as frustrated as I was but he kept holding us afloat.

Even in those dark days, though, I never told Mr. X how I felt.  I could see nothing good coming from that and I knew deep down in that tiny little sane place in my brain that I was really, really out of whack and not seeing things as they really were.  But, I did a lot of thinking and soul searching.  I addressed a lot of my long standing issues, issues that had been around long before Rex arrived on the scene but that I could ignore and still have a relatively easy life.   Now, though, everything was on the table, including how I would treat Mr. X.  I decided to make a conscience effort to just be kind to him.  No matter what.  No matter what question he asked, no matter what he messed up, no matter anything.  And, it’s been working.  It’s also been coming back to me.   I can tell he’s thrilled to have his wife back.  I’m so glad I could get back to him too.

Point of Origin

Ferreting out the root causes of my PPD has helped me immensely in dealing with the thoughts and feelings that I’ve had.  I got the idea from Brooke Shields of all people.  I read most of her biography, Down Came the Rain, and despite not being a model, Princeton grad or Hollywood actress myself, I found that Brooke and I have a lot in common: we both suffered through infertility, miscarriage and PPD.  So, I found her book very helpful, particularly the process that she went through to identify the root causes of her PPD.

I’ve thought long and hard about what caused my PPD, particularly in the middle of the night while rocking Rex back to sleep and being half asleep myself.  Here is what I have discovered.  Some of it will sound very familiar, other parts not so much.

1) The Mother of All Hormone Hangovers: I vaguely remember hearing in Childbirth 101 class about the sudden drop in the hormone cocktail once you give birth, and frankly I think I was actually relieved because I was pretty tired of the hormones at that point. They wreaked havoc on my joints, my head, my GI tract, and my emotions.  I was one cranky lady toward the end, and lot of it had to do with those wonderful hormones.

So, how is it that I could still feel like crap after they had gone? How is that fair?

2) Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes:  Nature abhors a vacuum. I abhor change.  Both are constants.  And, what does having a baby do to one’s life in literally an instant? Change it. Big time. Like every conceivable (ha!) facet of said life.  Intellectually, I knew this.  Emotionally, I really thought that people were making it sound a lot more awful than it really was.  They were right.

Here I was with an 8lb ball of Change and I was struggling mightily against his current.  I wanted something – anything – of my old life back because this new one was completely alien to me.  At one point, I wasn’t even sure I was in my own home – everything looked the same, but it was completely unfamiliar.  Being the geek that I am, I also couldn’t help but feel like I was in that episode of Star Trek where Kirk is in an alternate universe and they are all bad – including fabulous Evil Spock!  I was waiting for Mr. X to sprout a goatee overnight. He didn’t shave for a few days, but there were no goatees.

While I hate big life changes with every fiber of my being, I do eventually grow to accept them.  With this one, it was a matter of just plodding through each day and recognizing that I was still there, this was still happening and I had better get used to it. Who knows, maybe I would even begin to enjoy it. The shock of the change has worn off and there is enough now of my old life interspersed with this new one that I no longer feel like a stranger in my home.

3) What Does this Nipple Do Again?:  One of the quickest ways for me to get really upset is to be put in a situation where I have to accomplish something and I have no freaking clue about how to do it.  Add screaming infant who depends upon you for his very life and the pressure is really, really high.  We took Baby 101, and practiced swaddling and changing the diaper – on a plastic, non-moving, non-screaming baby.  In the hospital, all of a sudden we were expected to do this on a squirming, screaming, red-faced little infant who did not care that you had no prior experience.

That was just the tip of the iceberg.  We didn’t know how much he should eat or how often he should poop or even how much he should sleep.  We were clueless to the highest degree possible.  We overstimulated that child for a week easily before someone explained to us that babies get overstimulated super quick and once they do, you have an easier time getting an active volcano to stop than a screaming overstimulated, tired baby.

What is amazing is that I am usually extremely well informed about just about every major thing in my life.  I research and read anything I can get my hands on, but up until we brought Rex home you would not find a single tome about parenting in my house.  Why? My infertility.  I refused to allow myself to even look at parenting books let alone read one lest something terrible happen and we have no baby.  So of course, when it came time to deal with the real thing, I didn’t know which end was up (well, almost. I could tell one end from the other, even though liquids came out of both ends sometimes).  Mr. X was equally clueless.  I was shocked that they let us take Rex home from the hospital.  Didn’t my look of utter panic give them any clue?

4) The Power Struggle: I hesitate to add this one, but I know that it played a part.  Since both Mr. X and I were clueless, it meant that we had to learn the quick and dirty way with on-the job training and boot camp.  I assumed that we would be doing this equally.  It became pretty clear rather quickly that Mr. X was very uncomfortable with holding, handling and doing pretty much anything with Rex.  It was not for lack of desire – it was because he had never done this kind of thing before and didn’t know what to do.  My inclination in those situations is to just do it and see what happens.   His inclination is to opt out.  Unfortunately, with an infant, you can’t opt out (much as you’d like to sometimes).  So, I would ask if he could do some task just because I really needed a break and he would get this look of combined panic, pain and general discomfort which would make me feel even worse.

This became a real problem when he went back to work and I stayed home with Rex.  I was of the opinion that if I had to be home with an infant who demanded constant attention, the least I could expect would be a break when Mr. X got home.  He didn’t really see it that way, mainly because he was still rather clueless when it came to infant care and had spent the whole day at work.  A whole day at work then sounded like a day at the beach to me – no infant to be constantly on the watch for, no mind-numbing television, and no stealing food on the sly before said infant wakes up.  I would have killed to be at work.  But, the balance of power for getting a break was not in my favor since I could sleep during the day (rather difficult when you are on pins and needles waiting for the baby to wake up and you have no idea what you are going to do in that situation) and was not expected to be conversant with adults on complex topics in a work environment.

We both underestimated what the other was doing and this contributed to the feeling on both sides that the other was not fully appreciating what each had gone through.  All he wanted when he got home was a break and all I wanted when he got home was a break. Unfortunately, we couldn’t both have our way at the same time.

In the end, we both gave a little – he became more comfortable with Rex, I wasn’t as on edge at the end of the day (thanks to Grandma who would come over for a few hours each day).  Rex, for his part, also helped by getting a little more predictable and helpful in letting us know what he needed and when.  But, I was disappointed by him and that really saddened me and added more to my overall difficulties.

Knowing now what I do, I can see that it was a perfect storm a-brewing when we brought Rex home that would cause me to have PPD.   I’m just so glad that others saw it, talked about it and helped me through it.  I’ll still have little moments, but they are just that – moments.  And, every day, I have more moments snuggling with Rex where my heart swells with love and I want to just breathe him in for as long as possible.

Let There Be Light

I cannot begin to express my thanks to all of you who took the time to comment on my last post – all of you helped me see that I am not alone, crazy or ungrateful because of these thoughts that I’ve been having.  Once again, the IF community has been a source of get comfort and support. Thank you, thank you.

Since Rex* was born, I have been seeing my therapist and taking Zoloft, since it is approved for nursing mothers.  But, the sadness, the feelings, all of it was still there.  So, I dug a little deeper after I made that post.  I began to read accounts of other women who have suffered PPD and found myself nodding vigorously at the thoughts that other women were having.  It felt so good to hear other women vocalizing what I had been thinking and to know that those thoughts are classic manifestations of PPD.  I finally realized the extent to which I having problems and I began to look for ways to help myself feel better.

One of the first things I did was wean myself off of pumping.  Rex has been having formula from day one, but I was also breastfeeding.  Once it became clear that he was a grazer and I would likely spend up to 12 hours a day with him attached to my boob (2, 3, even 4 would be fine, but not 12 – that would really send me off the edge), I switched to pumping so that he could still get all of the benefits but I would be tethered to a machine for 20 minutes and not to a baby for hours on end.  I realized that one of the big factors that was causing me problems was the feeling that my body still wasn’t mine – it belonged to Rex since I found out I was pregnant and it was still his even after he was born.  Stopping pumping let me get control of my body again letting me eat, drink, etc. whatever I wanted and it felt so good.  Rex got a good four weeks straight of breast milk which under the circumstances was the best I could do.

I also have talked with my OB and she has turned out to be a great resource for help and support.  I had my 5-week post-partum visit with her last Wednesday and she prescribed me progesterone cream to help and ordered blood work to test my thyroid and Vitamin D levels.  Both could be a potential aggravating factor.  The results should be in next week.

Perhaps the greatest help she gave me, though, was to tell me that I needed to go back to work sooner than I had planned.  And she is absolutely right.  I need that intellectual pursuit right now to help me feel more normal – because that is what is most difficult for me about this whole process. I don’t feel like myself yet.  But, getting back into things I did and enjoyed before I had Rex has really been helping me get back to that feeling of normal.  I really think that going back to work will help move this along. Rex will head into daycare at a wonderful facility on site at Mr. X’s office.  He will be well taken care of and I will be able to have the time and distraction that I need to be a better mother to him.

I don’t know when I will be free of my PPD, but I’m taking it one day at a time.  Still.

* Rex is the name I have chosen for our little one on this blog.  He truly is king in our household.