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.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Baby

Daniel Egan Ackerman entered the world on June 19, 2011 at 10:51 pm. He weighed 8 lbs, 10 ounces, measured 22 inches and had a 15 inch head, which I’m told is very big. (I didn’t need to be told.)

In the twenty minutes I hope I have before he needs to eat again, I'd like to capture something about the first three weeks of his life.

Challenge number 1: Recovering from labor and delivery. Not that I expected to be up and at ‘em immediately after birth, but neither did I expect to be completely incapacitated for almost two weeks. When I was really struggling on day three or so and called the midwife, she asked what I had been doing since I’d been home. I described what seemed like nothing to me, and she said, “When I say, you’re not supposed to do anything, I mean, you can go up and down the stairs once a day. Otherwise, you need to be resting. And nothing else.” Oh. Wow. Actually doing nothing is not something I'm good at, but I tried.

Once I figured out some pain management and my glorious mother-in-law scrubbed my bathroom so I could take warm baths, and I began just resting, things began SLOWLY to improve. Today I took a thirty minute walk with Daniel, which is the most physical activity I’d had since the birth, and it felt good. Slowly slowly I’m starting to feel like myself again. Looking like myself? That’s a whole other issue.

Challenge number 2: Breastfeeding. Good lord, it is hard. It’s better now, much much better. But for weeks one and two, it was painful and difficult. I feed him at least every three hours, and for the first two weeks, at least three feedings a day would be a 45 minute production, just to get him started eating. There would be screaming and crying, swaddling, shushing, swaying, a hair dryer blowing for white noise, Carl and I both trying to get him calm enough to latch, and then if it didn’t work, the process would be repeated. I’m thrilled to say that seems to be a thing of the past. Daniel and I have figured out together how to get him latched, and that happens pretty quickly and easily now, almost every time. Thank God. Because being on call 24/7 is challenging enough, without your patience being severely tested 3-6 times a day. Add to that sleep deprivation, nipple pain and hormones and wow. I really understand why women can’t stick with breastfeeding, especially if they don’t know how much better it gets after two weeks (for most people.)

Challenge number 3: Still looking pregnant. I don’t want to write about this, but I will for the sake of education. I didn’t know I would still look so pregnant in the weeks after his birth – like 6-7 months pregnant. Again, I didn’t expect to have my old body back immediately, but neither did I expect that MULTIPLE people would ask me when my baby was due. If you don’t already know this, please take it to heart. NEVER ASK A WOMAN IF SHE IS PREGNANT. Just don’t do it. I was struggling enough in those first weeks without then having to process feelings about how my body looked. Literally just getting out of bed was physically hard, and then I have to feel fat on top of it? Not cool.

Happily these weeks have been filled with joy too. Seeing my little man’s face makes me smile. When he’s awake and alert, staring into my eyes, I feel wonder unlike any I have ever known. Some of my favorite moments of the day now are feeding him, feeling his warm body snuggled up to mine, his little hands and feet stroking my skin. I soak in the joy he brings to others, the love showered on him, the wonder felt at seeing his little person.

We have received a river of kindness since his birth: people dropping off meals, sending flowers and gifts, coming for visits. My mom has fed us, done the laundry, rocked and comforted Daniel. I don’t know how we would have gotten through those first weeks without her. My in-laws showed up with new pjs for me, an SU hat for Daniel, and lots of love and laughter. Our neighbor appeared one night just as we finished dinner with the most beautiful blueberry pie I’d ever seen. The kindness sustained me as much as the food, and I accepted it all with a grateful heart.

I can’t wait to see how my son (what? I have a son? This still seems unreal.) How he grows and develops, what kind of person he is. But I’m trying to not get ahead of myself, trying to enjoy this phase, one day at a time, for what it is.