Friday, December 13, 2013

The good, the bad, the ugly side of being a new mom

I feel like I've unintentionally become an attachment parent. I don't subscribe to any parenting philosophy or style, because each family and each baby is different. What works for one kid might not work for the next, or won't work for your friend and her baby. I grew up hearing my parents talk about how different my siblings and I are, and how they had to do everything (like disciplining us) differently for each kid. Sending one of my brothers to his room as punishment worked; sending another brother did nothing because he'd just quietly play with his toys, no sense of punishment. As an observer of human nature, it seems obvious to me that I should become a different parent based on my child's needs, not on what some book says, no matter how well researched. So when people get so up in arms about their parenting style being "the best", I find it more than a little ridiculous. Just yesterday I was hanging out with a friend, who currently has a 2-year-old and an infant just a few weeks older than mine. I was bemoaning the fact that I can't ever seem to put Baby down because she either wakes up and starts screaming or, if awake when I put her down, starts crying within five minutes. Oh, there have been exceptions. We've gotten her to sleep in her cradle about four times for a couple of hours each, but only if she was really, really deeply asleep when placed in there. Usually I know I have just a couple of minutes to go to the bathroom and pee. If I'm really lucky, I can do something like put in/take out my contacts or brush my teeth before the screaming starts. I haven't written anything in almost a month because the few minutes I have free are inevitably spent doing laundry (diapers need to be done every couple of days), or doing the dishes, or taking a freaking shower in the ten minutes before she wakes up and needs to be fed yet again. I'm currently typing this courtesy of the Moby, so Baby can sleep and I have hands free. (Laundry is going to be started as soon as I'm done writing.)
So I was telling all of this to my friend and she nodded in sympathy. Her son, the infant, is the same way. Apparently their daughter slept in the crib like a champ right from the start, but their son needs to be held to sleep. So currently, we're both bed-sharing with our infants. I'm torn. Part of me panics about the (slightly) increased SIDS risk. I check and double-check that she's got enough space to breathe, that none of the blankets can fall or get kicked onto her face, and Shane does the same. (I've woken up a few times to find him bending over us in the eerie glow of the nightlight as he checks on us.) I wake up every time the dog shifts, although she's been very good about the baby. Better than expected, actually. She's anxious, of course, but very gentle with Baby. I've had to worry more about her stepping on my incision as she climbs across the bed to snuggle with Shane. Usually, that's how we sleep. Shane and the dog cuddled together, me with the baby. And really, if this is what we have to do to ensure that we all get to sleep, then so be it. I have to say, I'm sleeping much better now than I was for the first few nights, when I tried to get her to sleep in the cradle. Not that it worked. I'd put her down, start sliding into bed, and she'd wake up. I slept more in a chair in the living room than I did in my own bed for most of the first week. When I did manage to get her to sleep in the cradle I still panicked about SIDS, only I'd have to actually get out of bed to check on her. I woke up every time she shifted, and at every little noise she made. Now it's easy enough to put a hand on her little tummy and determine that, yes, she's still breathing, or that she's just fussing in her sleep and will go back to sleep, or that she's waking up to be fed. When she needs to be fed, I grab an extra pillow I keep by the bed, prop myself up a bit, and feed her right there. It's not exactly restful, but it's much better than getting out of bed every time I need to nurse her.
And that's another thing I didn't expect to have problems with: breastfeeding. I remind myself all the time that of course it has taken a while for my milk production to ramp up. After everything I went through with labor and delivery, of course my body has needed time to heal itself before providing for another as well. I'm finally feeling like my milk supply is almost adequate for our needs, though. Almost. We're still supplementing a little bit of formula, but not nearly as much as we were. And a little bit of it is because Shane's leery of using the small amount of breast milk I've managed to pump. Baby hasn't gotten the hang of using a bottle yet, which flows too fast and she ends up choking a bit or spitting out whatever's in her mouth. So for the supplementation the public health nurses gave us a feeding tube. I can snake it into the side of her mouth when she's breastfeeding, and get the stimulation that my body needs to signal "hey, produce more milk!" Shane uses it with the pacifier, snaking it through a hole in the side and into her mouth. (No, there've been no problems with "nipple confusion".) But, you have to prime it by sucking a bit into the tube before getting it into her mouth. Generally whoever is doing this gets a drop or two of formula in their mouth (tastes horrible, by the way) and the idea of doing the same thing with breastmilk just grosses Shane out. He's even laughed at me when I pump, because it does look a little weird. "I'm sorry, it's just odd to see my wife...milking herself."
This doesn't really make me sound like an attachment parent, does it? I had an epidural, rather than suffering through the pain after about 20 hours of labor, a C-section, and worst of all I supplement with formula. Go ahead and gasp, judge me even. Do it. The attachment parenting that I referred to is the fact that I hold my baby for roughly 80% of the day. The rest of the time, Shane's holding her. We're working on putting her down more often, but she's not a fan. I got her to lie on the floor next to me for a few minutes while I tried to do some quick exercises to help my abdomen.
I really, really didn't expect breastfeeding to be so hard. I'd read up on it and so much of what you read follows the "it's natural, therefore it's easy!" line of reasoning. And I'm sure that for a lot of mothers and babies, it is. If baby starts with a good latch and Mom's milk supply comes in on time, piece of cake! My milk took almost a week to come in, and even then it was a slow start. I thought I knew what to look for in a good latch, but apparently I didn't so we had to deal with that. Once I got help for it it took Baby less than a day to learn how to properly latch, but until then it was incredibly painful to feed her. I had big sores on each nipple where they were bruised and even, at times, bloody. It cleared up within a couple of days of getting a good latch, but it was not fun to deal with.
The fact that my milk is just barely or not quite keeping up with Baby's needs is frustrating to me. A little bit of the supplementation at this point is simply because Shane wants to give me time to sleep. I go to bed early and he takes over baby duty, then when he's ready for bed he wakes me up and hands her off. The rest of the night is spent nursing and co-sleeping. However, I did get a pump a couple of days ago so we should be tapering off the need for formula soon and I can still get the sleep I need. We just need to teach her to eat from a bottle as well now, too. Currently, she's a bit too greedy and almost chokes herself unless we pull it away every couple of sucks.
It has been incredibly helpful to read online about other women's less-than-perfect breastfeeding experiences. I'm not alone! I'm not the only one who broke down into tears doing what's supposedly "natural and easy"! It also shows me how lucky I am in how supportive the people around me are. When I was feeling the lowest, that first week, when I'd cry nearly every time I had to feed her, my mom was here to hug me and tell me that I'm not a failure. I don't know what I would have done without her. I also have the amazing public health lactation nurses, who were amazingly helpful and understanding and who visited my house so that I didn't have to take Baby out in the cold. I might have given up without them showing us the right way to latch and what's normal. Last, I have another breastfeeding mom to hang out with, commiserate with, and laugh with. Every new mom should be that lucky.
What's not helpful? The breastfeeding propaganda, and the number of people who get so high and mighty about breastfeeding. I came across one story (I won't bother linking to it because I'm still pissed) in which a woman basically said that supplementing is a sham and that no mom truly needs to do it. She fought the system, everyone else should too! Good for you lady, and screw you. I couldn't watch my baby lose any more weight, and supplementing was the least bad option. I still hate formula, but it's better than starving my child.
This time of year has never been so tough on me, but without my routine I have more time to focus on how dark it is. When I wake up, I have no idea what time it is, except that if it's starting to get light then it's sometime after 9:00. With my crazy sleep schedule, and with the complete lack of any routine at this point, I sometimes feel a bit disassociated with reality. Not in a dangerous PPD type of way, I just feel a little odd sometimes because I don't know what day it is or what time it is. I'm still taking one medication (an iron supplement to help regenerate all of the blood I lost) and I have a hard time remembering each day if I took it three times, or only twice? Was that today or yesterday that I last took one? I should write it down, but finding the time and energy to do so hasn't been high on my list of things to do. Hell, I'm lucky if I get a chance to heat up leftovers to eat while breastfeeding Baby. I think that my most impressive feat as a new mom was to make dinner while breastfeeding the other night. I'd laid her down and, amazingly, got enough time to chop all the veggies before she started screaming for food. So it was more a matter of putting it all together, but still. Wandering around my kitchen with Baby in one arm, latched onto my boob, and dumping veggies into the pan with the other and then stirring, adding spices, etc. Yeah. I felt like a badass.
So that's the bad and the ugly. The good part of being a new mom? Do I even need to say? Sometimes I get irritated that I have to spend basically my entire day holding Baby, but at the same time I know that this stage is very fleeting. Babies develop so much in the first year that she'll be almost a different creature by this time next year. So I'm trying to enjoy it, and it's really not that hard. She's wonderful, and beautiful, and I am such a lucky mom.