Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Over the Rainbow

Week 8 postpartum. Daniel is sleeping from 11ish until 4ish every night, waking up to eat, and going back to sleep for another couple of hours. Breastfeeding is no longer excruciatingly painful, though we still have a few challenges. Daniel will drink from a bottle, allowing me to be away from him for more than three hours at a time. He still sleeps a lot during the day, but also has longer periods of time when he is awake, alert and HAPPY! I love happy Daniel. He gives huge gummy grins, kicks his chubby legs, and squeals in delight. We’ve even heard some preliminary laughs. (And since he has two hilarious parents, I’m sure the laughs will get bigger.) But my favorite current trick is the noises he makes in response to questions. As of right now, life seems pretty manageable. Which feels miraculous to me. Why, you ask?

Weeks 3-6:
In week three, we traveled to Syracuse. Though I cherished seeing our friends and family, the trip unfortunately coincided with a four night stretch of Daniel not sleeping for more than an hour at a time. There was lots of screaming, inconsolable crying (and Daniel made some noise too.) By day two of almost no sleep, I called my best friend, sobbing, to ask if she thought I had postpartum depression. Her answer: “If things continue this way, you could talk to someone, but I think you’re just exhausted.”

She was right. It was complete and utter exhaustion. I thought labor took a lot out of me—and it did—but four days with almost no sleep and an inconsolable child takes a whole other kind of toll. After a six hour drive home from Syracuse, arriving at 8 pm, Carl had a weeklong workshop starting early the next day. I woke up to a house with no food, worse—no coffee, and a screaming child. I put said child in the car seat to take him for a walk. As I tried to get out the door, Nalu scrambled out and ran down the block. I left Daniel on the porch to grab the dog, somehow got her back in the house. Realized the strollers were folded up in the kitchen, not on the porch. I struggled one of them out the door, Daniel still screaming the whole time. And when I couldn’t figure out how to get the stroller open, found myself shaking it and shouting, “WHY DOES GOD HATE ME?”

Not a great start to my first week alone with Dan.

Thankfully, I had lined up some help for the week. My friend Jan showed up that afternoon, allowing me to lie down for thirty minutes. I called Best Friend again, detailed what the few days had been like, and she showed up later with every brand of pacifier she could buy. Up until this point, the only thing that calmed Daniel was sucking on something, but he wouldn’t take a pacifier, which meant one of us holding a finger in his mouth when he wasn’t nursing. That might not sound exhausting, but trust me, it is. When Daniel took a pacifier later that day, and lied in his bassinet for a few minutes, quietly sucking, I felt a glimmer of hope. (I hadn’t realized that some babies prefer certain brands.)

Being without Carl that week made me realize something was wrong. The pediatrician was less than helpful. “Babies cry. Babies get gas.” Okay, yes I know that, but it shouldn’t be so much that you need two parents to comfort him around the clock. Mommy instinct (and desperation) drove me to seek help from a breastfeeding support group. But after two hours of listening to problems that I couldn’t relate to—how much solid food can my baby eat, should I still breastfeed after a year—I wanted to scream, how do you keep your kid from crying for more than an hour? I started to pack up, but Dan, my little fire alarm, went off, drawing everyone’s attention, including the facilitator, who asked if she could try to calm him down. Yeah, good luck I thought.

She swooped him out of his car seat, put him over her shoulder, and magically, he quieted. At her prompting, I described the crying, the sleeplessness, and the crazy weight gain, which led her to diagnose me as an overproducer of milk. Apparently, if you make too much milk, the baby only gets the sweet and sugary foremilk, not the creamy satisfying hindmilk. So essentially, Daniel had been hungry since birth. No wonder he was cranky.

Luckily, the solution was easy—feed him on the same side for six hours before switching. She said I should see a big difference in him within two weeks—“He’ll be like a different child.” When I reached my car I burst into tears, a mix of frustration, relief and hope. Within two days, he was markedly happier. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, breastfeeding group.

With that resolving, I had time to realize how much pain I was still having while feeding him. That sparked another two week process including a home visit from a lactation consultant, a pediatrician visit, days of internet research, a visit to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, the snipping of Daniel’s frenulum to separate his tongue from the bottom of his mouth, and a learning curve of Daniel figuring out how to properly suck. Good lord.

In the midst of this, Carl went away for a week for work. I went to the shore with my parents for the first four days. When my mom had to leave I literally wanted to cling to her leg and beg her to stay, but I didn’t. How hard could being by myself with him for 24 hours be? Well. Hard is the answer. We hit bottom when I walked him to church, looking for a serene 30 minutes, and he started screaming bloody murder as soon as we arrived. I took him outside, did everything I could to calm him, but then scrambled into the bathroom and fed him while sitting on the toilet, which finally succeeded. Four hours later when two friends showed up to stay the night, I said, “I have never been happier to see anyone in my whole life.” And I meant it. Who knows what was wrong that day? I was stressed, Daniel was stressed, eating was still hard and there was no relief for either of us.

I had help for the rest of the time Carl was away, and we managed alright. Though when Carl’s flight was delayed several hours I realized how I was holding on by my fingernails. “Please God. Please please please let him get home tonight.” He did, to my immense relief.

The really good news is that after six very very hard weeks, with Carl back, and feedings easier, all of the sudden, Daniel-care felt amazingly easy. Delightful even. Sure there are still occasional tantrums, but they seem to be getting shorter and further apart. We know much better how to calm him now (the vacuum helps if he’s really worked up.) And the occasional bout of “passionate crying” (as my diplomatic BF put it) feels easy, comparatively. Best of all, happy Daniel appears so frequently now, making unhappy Daniel much easier to take. We’re all entitled to be unhappy, but it shouldn’t be 85% of the time.

So now that my little man is getting enough to eat, of the good creamy milk, and it no longer hurts to feed him, and he’s sleeping well, life feels really blessed. Carl said, “Maybe God makes the first six weeks so hellish so the rest of the time doesn’t seem as bad.” I don’t think God works like that, but I do feel very grateful for the quiet, serene moments we have now. I feel extremely thankful for rest, for time to write, for vacation. On Sunday night, after eating a gorgeous meal with my family, during which Daniel slept the WHOLE TIME, we saw a rainbow arcing across the sky (pictured below.) The next day I stood up on my surfboard for the first time since being pregnant. I think, just maybe, we are over the rainbow.


Kate said...

Julie, just reading this stressed me out a little...which reinforces my decision to have dogs and not babies;-) Glad things are calming down and you guys are settling into a flow. He's awfully cute! And some day you can get back at him for all the crying by embarrassing him in front of his prom date.
P.S. I think he looks like your Dad in this picture.

Julie Owsik Ackerman said...

Thanks, Kate! I'm sure you're a great dog mommy. I've already started collecting embarrassing evidence for the future - Exhibit A, this blog entry.

Katie said...

Oh cousin, I could have written something similar to this. My children have not made me a lover of infants. I love toddlers, I love kids (teenagers are still a ways off). The baby days were hard, stressful and mind-numbing at times. I once set Aubrey in her car seat, turned on classical music and sat in the bathroom and cried for an hour. We get through all the bad on toothless grins, snuggles and those monents when nursing and they gaze up at you and you know you are their world. Here's to a grand new adventure!