Character study

Today’s Writing 101 assignment was to write a character study of someone who has recently entered your life.  I, of course, chose Little Boy.

I see him stirring in his sleep.  The video monitor was his father’s idea, a shiny and expensive piece of technology that past generations had surely survived without.  But I am the one most captivated by it now, watching my son first curl up on his side, then fling both his arms straight out in what looks like an effort to occupy the maximum amount of space.

He is always in motion.  Even lying on his back with his arms tightly swaddled at his sides, he rotated like a sundial and inch-wormed his way across the crib.  Awake, he is a perpetual ball of energy, stymied in his attempts to run across the room by the fact that his infant body has only just figured out how sit up.  But we will be chasing him around the house before long, I am sure.

His approach to the world is that of a dedicated explorer.  Offer him an item and watch his eyes light up, his legs kick, and his arms vibrate with excitement.  The most mundane things become objects of great interest; one week he was utterly fascinated by the presence and feel of his room’s ordinary blue wall.  He runs his fingers through the tags on his toys, over and over, contemplating their texture as though it were a great revelation.

All the while, he is talking.  I have seen some babies lie quietly and play; mine does not.  Long strings of vowels and “fffff”s and “babababa”s accompany his daily life, along with emphatic raspberries and loud shrieks of joy.  He does not yet know what words mean, but he understands communication – he will say something, then look at me and pause, waiting for my response.  He is particularly fond of talking with his father, conversing in a back-and-forth of “aah”s and “oh”s.

Many mothers mourn the rapid passing of the newborn days, but not me.  My son grows more solid with each new day, changing from a mysterious tiny creature into a real little human.  He will be a different person in one year, or five, or ten – a person I greatly look forward to meeting – and yet he will always be my Little Boy.

Some happiness for Easter

It’s easy to get weighed down by negativity, so I figured it was time for another post about the little joys of life.  I love …

… watching my baby sleep.  Recently freed from the confines of the Velcro swaddle blanket, he has discovered the comfort of sleeping on his side.  I find myself staring at the video monitor for minutes on end, marveling at the relaxation evident in his little arms and soft cheeks.

… the beautiful pink roses blooming on the rather scraggly rosebush in our backyard.  (There are beautiful pink – and orange and yellow – roses in my house, too, courtesy of my wonderful husband.)  The backyard is becoming a veritable testament to spring, with several plants blossoming and a new baby mourning dove hatched just in time for the holiday.

… Little Boy’s “zombie baby” impression.  He thinks it’s hilarious when Mommy or Daddy tickle and pretend to eat him, nibbling on his toes, tummy, fingers, and face.  Now he’s trying to imitate us; he greatly enjoys this as it involves trying to put things in his mouth, and that is one of his favorite pastimes.  He gets an adorably crazy look on his face, opens his mouth as wide as he can, grabs the shoulder/arm/ears/nose/hair of whoever is nearby, and attempts to “eat” them.

Where the pro-breastfeeding movement gets it wrong

Little Boy and I have been very lucky when it comes to breastfeeding.  I don’t say that to brag; quite the opposite, in fact.  Our success at breastfeeding is due to little more than luck and genetics.  Sure, I did a few things that helped – attending a breastfeeding class, for instance, and pumping after a few feedings a day once my milk came in.  But I didn’t work harder or want it more than any other mother.  Actually, since things went relatively smoothly for me, I worked a lot less hard than many new moms do.

I like breastfeeding.  It’s cheap and it’s portable, it gives my kiddo the benefit of my immune system, and it means that I don’t have to decide among the 85 different types of formula available at Target.  Avoiding complicated decisions is one of my favorite things.

However, I’m getting really, really fed up with the all the rhetoric surrounding breastfeeding.  There was another round in the news this week:  Breastfed babies have higher IQs!  Breastfed babies grow up to make more money!  Here’s some more guilt if you couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed!

That guilt is a big deal.  I know several women who were unable to exclusively breastfeed despite trying past the point of exhaustion.  I have read the stories of many, many more such women, some of whom cite breastfeeding problems as major factors in their postpartum depression.  The strident pro-breastfeeding messages seem to actively encourage this guilt – I’ve seen discussions on mommy forums where the attitude “I’d like to breastfed if I can, but if not, formula is fine” is dismissed as “doomed to failure.”  Anything less than 100% dedication must mean that you’re going to pull out the Enfamil the minute things get tough.

That’s not true.  And it’s horribly counterproductive.  We should be supportive of all interest in breastfeeding, not trying to make it into an elite club.  Breastfeed for a week?  Good job!  Breastfeed for six months?  Good job!  Breastfeed for three years?  Good job, but it doesn’t make you “better” than other moms.

“Formula is fine” is not only a healthy attitude, it’s the truth.  Let’s take a look at that latest study, shall we?  “The difference in IQ between the most extreme groups [breastfed for less than 1 month vs. breastfed for 6-12 months] was nearly four points, or about a third of a standard deviation.”  Woah, a whole third of a standard deviation?  In my field that would get you laughed out of the room; even results at the level of 2 or 3 standard deviations can be suspect.  Moreover, mean IQ actually goes back down a few points for babies breastfed longer than 12 months (vs. 6-12 months; see the study’s Table 3).  Is anyone jumping up and down to say that mothers should stop breastfeeding after a year?  Didn’t think so.  (On a related note, breastfeeding longer than 12 months is also associated with a small increase in rates of celiac disease.)

For comparison, that same study shows that a higher family income leads to IQs up to 15 points higher, or more than 3x the effect of breastfeeding for 6-12 months.  (See Figure 1 in the study linked above if you’re visually inclined.)  This is a common theme in breastfeeding research.  It turns out that not all women are equally likely to breastfeed; those who do are typically of higher socioeconomic status, meaning they have access to more resources, better childcare (or they have the money to stay home), more educational opportunities, etc. etc. etc.  Their children could be healthier/smarter/whatever because of all those things, not just because of the breast milk.  In fact, when breast-fed kids are compared to their bottle-fed siblings, the differences are negligible, strongly suggesting that family environment is the true key.  Similarly, another study noted that the apparent IQ boost of breastfeeding disappears when you account for mothers’ IQs.

So let’s stop making formula-feeding parents feel like they’re dooming their children to an inferior life.  That’s not what the evidence says at all.

Moreover, let’s stop acting like giving your baby any formula inevitably ruins your attempt to breastfeed.  Yes, it has to be done carefully (and admittedly, it wasn’t done carefully 40 years ago), and yes, nipple confusion can be an issue in the first few weeks, but there’s some evidence that judicious formula supplementation can actually dramatically increase breastfeeding rates.  Plus plenty of parents combo-feed (some breast milk, some formula) for long periods.  It’s not an all-or-nothing situation, and presenting it that way hurts rather than helps. 

And don’t even get me started on the reverence of breastfeeding as “natural.”  Arsenic is natural, folks.  So are grizzly bears.  So is dying in childbirth, and so are high rates of infant mortality.  And yet so many doulas and lactation consultants (definitely not all lactation consultants, but a vocal subset) seem to harbor a bias against modern medicine, the very thing that is keeping those last two “natural” events at wonderfully-low levels.

Just yesterday, I ran across a blog, which I won’t link here, written by a lactation consultant.   One of her posts was a long warning about the dangers of birth “interventions” and elaborating at length about how important the hormones of labor are when it comes to successfully establishing breastfeeding.  The post was directed at moms-to-be, not doctors.  Here you go, moms: one more thing to feel guilty about!  Make sure to suffer through your labor – stay away from that pain relief!  And if you have to have a Cesarean, well, you’re totally screwed.

Again, this kind of attitude hurts mothers.  I had a C-section without ever going into labor, and yet had no trouble breastfeeding.  There is some evidence breastfeeding in the first 24-48 hours can be less successful if you’ve had an epidural (see here, for instance), but the long-term effects are unstudied and there could easily be other confounding factors.  Maybe mothers who ask for epidurals are already less likely to be interested in breastfeeding.

Even if epidurals are the direct cause, no mother should be made to feel guilty about easing her labor pain.  Change the medical culture to ensure epidurals aren’t pushed on women?  Yes.  Encourage further research into pain management options?  Yes.  Limit women’s choices and make them feel bad?  No.

As I said above, breastfeeding shouldn’t be a club of martyrs.  Nor should it be presented as though you have to do everything just right or else everything will go wrong.  You can gently guide your breastfed baby into a feeding schedule once your milk supply is established.  Your breastfed six-month-old doesn’t NEED to be fed every 2 hours all night.  It’s possible to breastfeed without sacrificing yourself, and it’s possible to be an excellent parent without exclusively breastfeeding. 

Because when it comes down to it, the question that matter is this: is your baby getting enough to eat?  If yes, then you’re doing a good job.

Cesarean plus laughing gas: Little Boy’s birth story, part 2

Where I left off at the end of Part 1, my stubborn little breech baby had refused all efforts to turn him head-down.  I was already in a hospital bed, hooked up to the appropriate IVs and a low-dose epidural, and it was time to head to the operating room for a C-section.

Getting prepped for the C-section was rather surreal.  I’d never had surgery before, and it was a new experience to be so completely uninvolved in what was happening to my body.  The situation wasn’t an emergency – after all, I wasn’t in labor and my baby was perfectly healthy – so things proceeded fairly smoothly, except for some confusion about which anesthesiologist was supposed to stay with me and which one needed to go assist with some other operation in another building.

At some point, my epidural dosage was increased.  I still had enough control of my lower body when I entered the OR to help move myself from the bed to the operating table.  (I remember one of the nurses rushing over because the other nurse hadn’t properly stabilized the bed for the transfer.)

“This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever done,” I told someone when they asked how I was doing. By that point, I was lying flat on my back on the operating table, mostly naked, with my arms extended – all while processing that my baby was arriving very soon.  “Weird” doesn’t really do the feeling justice.

My husband, meanwhile, was getting suited up and waiting.  He was brought into the OR only when everything was ready and the surgery was about to begin.  We had already agreed that he would stay with me for the birth, then follow our son to the nursery while I was being stitched back together.  Before they wheeled me away to get ready, I’d firmly entrusted him with the responsibility of taking the first pictures of our child.  (He did a great job.)

He sat down at my left side and took my hand.  The anesthesiologist was at my right, giving me some kind of instruction on what to do if I felt queasy.

On the plus side, I definitely didn’t end up feeling queasy.

Here’s what some popular references have to say about what you’ll experience during a C-section:

What to Expect When You’re Expecting: “… you will probably feel some pulling and tugging sensations, as well as some pressure.”

The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy: “If you’re awake, you’ll probably feel some tugging, pulling or pressure as your baby is pulled out. … You shouldn’t feel any pain.”

WebMD: “You will probably feel slight pressure at the incision site, but not any pain. … You may feel a slight tugging sensation as well as feelings of pressure …”

You get the idea.

The anesthesiologist said something very similar when I started moaning and calling out that it hurt.  “You’ll feel some tugging and pressure…”

I no longer remember the exact back-and-forth, but my husband and I had to state quite emphatically that what I was feeling was PAIN and it was NOT OK.

That’s why the anesthesiologist gave me laughing gas during my C-section.

It was excruciating.  The epidural must not have numbed my abdomen far enough up; the pain I felt was all the manipulation of my son that had to happen in order to remove him through a 5-inch incision.  (I didn’t feel the incision itself, thank goodness.  That part at least was numb.)

Even with laughing gas taking a little of the edge off, it was horribly painful.  The anesthesiologist told me that the last option was to put me to sleep completely for the rest of the surgery, but that if I thought I could make it, it wouldn’t be long now before the baby arrived.  I didn’t want to be put under and miss the birth, so I focused on each breath of gas and on my husband’s tightly-gripped hand, with his accompanying words of encouragement.

I’ve never loved my husband more than I did during that surgery.  Laughing gas gets some of the credit, but it was his strength that allowed me to stay awake for the birth of our son.  He told me I could do it, and I did.

What felt like an eternity later, someone said they could see the baby’s toes.  I know they meant it to be encouraging, but it wasn’t.  Toes?  You’ve all been telling me that the baby’s almost out when his toes are only just starting to poke out now?  (Remember, he was breech, so his bottom half would be first.)

Another eternity later, I heard a baby cry.

“Do you hear that?  Do you know what that is?” someone – I think it was my husband – asked me.

“It’s a baby,” I whispered in relief.

They brought my son, warmly swaddled and topped with a pink-and-blue-striped hat, over by my head for me to see.  His chubby cheeks and button nose matched the face we’d seen in a 3D ultrasound.  I reassured my husband that he could go with our child, that the worst part of the surgery was over and I could make it without him, and they left.

The rest of the surgery is kind of a blur.  It still hurt, but not with the same intensity.  Eventually, it was over and I was wheeled back to the room I’d started out in, where a nurse and her trainee monitored my progress and spent an extraordinary amount of time going over how to enter medications into the hospital’s new computer software.

I thought at first that I should try to avoid additional pain medication (an idea my nurse rightfully thought was a bad one), but the ache in my stomach grew worse and I began to shake.  Two doses of Demerol and a pile of warm blankets helped with the shaking.  The pain, however, remained, prompting the following exchange:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is the pain?”

“Uh… 6 or 7, I think.”

“Which one?  If it’s a 7, we can give you morphine.”

“It’s a 7.”

As I started to feel slightly better physically, I also started to get rather bored.  The nurses weren’t really that interested in talking to me, and listening in on their computer lesson was only entertaining for so long.  Plus I really wanted to see my baby again.  It therefore came as a great relief when they called over to the nursery that my husband and son could come back.

Little Boy had spent the first 45+ minutes of his life snuggled skin-to-skin on his father’s chest, listening to him sing.  Mostly Christmas music, because those were the only songs whose words he could remember.  I love thinking about this – I love that Little Boy had the comfort and love of his father from the very beginning.  When they were brought back to me, my husband pushed the little glass bassinet through the halls himself.

My husband tells me that the best part of that day was seeing the giant smile on my face when they walked in the door of my room.

He has his father’s sense of direction: Little Boy’s birth story, part 1

I came across this article about gentle C-sections on NPR yesterday and wanted to offer some commentary in the context of my own experience with giving birth, but then I figured I should share that experience in its entirety first.  And OK, I just couldn’t resist writing up Little Boy’s birth story.  In the interest of making it a little more readable, I’ve broken it up into two parts.

Early in my pregnancy, I decided that I wanted to try to give birth without pain medication.  Although most of the anti-epidural messages out there are nonsense, epidurals do lengthen the pushing stage of labor, which can indirectly increase your chances of a C-section.  But to be honest, I just really wanted to try “natural” childbirth.  I wanted to see what it felt like (experienced moms, feel free to laugh maniacally here).

So I read up on techniques and attended a natural childbirth class.  My husband and I practiced massage, counter-pressure, aromatherapy, and breathing; we discussed how he’d know when I really meant it if I changed my mind on medication mid-labor.  Our local hospital is extremely supportive of natural birth, so there were no problems there.

Meanwhile, I mentally prepared myself for the fact that anything can happen during labor.  I told myself that I wouldn’t be disappointed if our plans didn’t work out, if the pain proved to be too much for me, or if a medical emergency threw all our planning out the window.  All I could do was give labor my best shot.

The earth shook the day Little Boy turned.  Literally, not metaphorically.

It was late evening when the couch started to vibrate behind my back.  My first suspicion was that the cat was trying to climb up the back of the sofa and attack my ponytail again, but a glance around the room revealed that she was sleeping innocently by the bookshelf.  The weird feeling continued, so I got off the couch and knelt on the floor, at which point it seemed to stop.

Back on the couch some time later, I felt Little Boy vigorously kicking my lower back.  This was a new sensation, as he had previously been showing off his skill at kicking the top of my stomach.  There is a picture taken from the night before in which both his grandmothers have their hands on my belly, feeling his movements.  This new lower back kicking felt different, but not unlike the odd sense I’d had of the vibrating sofa.  Oh, that must have been what it was. 

It turned out that the shaking sofa had not actually been caused by my newly-breech baby, but by an earthquake!  We do not live in an earthquake-prone area; in fact, I’d never felt an earthquake before, which explains my inability to figure out what was happening.

Where I live, a breech baby means a C-section, especially for a first-time mother.  But my OB-GYN urged me not to worry: there was still plenty of time for him to flip head-down.  The doula who led the childbirth class suggested some exercises – crawling on hands and knees, bouncing on a fitness ball, laying with my hips propped up – and I tried them all, despite strong reservations about their scientific basis.  I even went so far as to try some decidedly-unscientific methods, like putting ice on the top of my stomach and playing music at the bottom.

In spite of my efforts, Little Boy decided he was awfully comfortable with his head up by my rib cage.  Four weeks from my due date, he still hadn’t re-oriented himself.   There was still some chance he might turn again on his own, but frankly, he was running out of space to do so.  Our last remaining hope was to schedule a procedure called an external cephalic version (ECV, or just “version”), in which a doctor would attempt to manually manipulate Little Boy into turning.

An extra ultrasound and maternal-fetal medicine consultation later, and I had an ECV scheduled for 39 weeks, 3 days pregnant (i.e., 4 days before my due date).  I knew going in that we had at best a 50-50 chance of success.  A compliant baby, and I’d likely be able to go home and wait for labor to start.  A stubborn baby, and I’d be headed straight to the OR for a C-section.

It took a while for me to deal with the idea that I might not even get to try labor.  I was disappointed; I hadn’t prepared myself for this.  I looked up a lot of statistics on breech babies and ECVs and what conditions maximized the chances of a successful ECV and why breech births are considered dangerous.  (One of the biggest risks, it turns out, is a lack of experience with breech delivery.  The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists flat-out mandated C-sections for breech babies from 2001 to 2006, although the “breech = C-section” equation has been around for decades before that.)

In the end, I mostly came to terms with the situation.  There were a few pluses; for instance, if the ECV failed, I’d get my own doctor for the C-section rather than whoever was on-call.  I was still really hoping it would work, though.

The registration process at the hospital was agonizingly long.  I had submitted the appropriate pre-registration forms, but the woman at the front desk seemed to drag … everything … out …  on … and … on … all in an extremely-Texan accent.  It was 5 a.m., I was exhausted and hungry (no breakfast allowed, of course), massively pregnant, and ready to get things going.

We finally made it back to a room, where we waited some more.  My husband and I danced a little, a slow, gentle rocking to pass the time.

A nurse came and hooked me up to the contraption that would monitor Little Boy’s heartbeat while I lay on the hospital bed and waited some more.

I played some FreeCell on my husband’s iPad, and we waited.

The placement of the epidural didn’t hurt.  My mom tells me that getting her epidurals started while having contractions every three minutes was rough, but I wasn’t in labor.  I was about as comfortable as you can be in a hospital gown while 9 months pregnant and desperately wanting to sleep.

Once the epidural took hold, however, I felt like crap.  My blood pressure crashed, making me terribly nauseated.  They gave me something to raise my blood pressure and tipped me slightly on my side, and the desire to throw up slowly went down.

Eventually, I was deemed sufficiently anesthetized for the ECV to begin.  A quick ultrasound to check that Little Boy was still head-up, and it was time.

It hurt.

The level of epidural medication that you get for an ECV is not the same as you get for a C-section.  You’re not supposed to be completely numb, just desensitized enough to relax while the doctor pushes at the baby in your stomach.

I focused on breathing through the pain while the maternal-fetal specialist tried to gently disengage Little Boy’s head from my rib cage and coax him into a somersault.  Two tries, then three, and it almost worked.  I felt the child get part of the way into a turn before slipping back.  The doctor tried again; fives tries, six – but Little Boy just kept turning back.

The doctor’s arms were shaking with effort, but my baby was stuck.  I was given the final say as to whether we were done trying, and I made the call.  Little Boy was going to be born by C-section.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I learn that laughing gas is available in the operating room.

The inevitability of genetics

To my dearest wee Little Boy:

You were laying on your play mat, deeply engrossed in doing something with a dangling starfish.  I am not quite sure what it was that you were so determined to do – to be honest, I am not quite sure that you were sure what you wanted to do – but whatever it was, it was very important.  I could see the concentration in your face and the effort with which you pulled the starfish into your mouth.  I could hear the effort, too: you are not a quiet concentrator, and your endeavors were accompanied by many grunts and exclamations.

At some point, whatever it was you were trying to do became just too hard.  It wasn’t working.  Your legs started kicking furiously, your face scrunched up in frustration, and you began to sob.  You just couldn’t get this starfish to do what you wanted, and that was so, so terrible.

Watching from across the room, I laughed.  I laughed because I saw myself in you.  Saw all the times I have wanted to pull my hair out over a code that wouldn’t compile (or worse, would compile but produced inexplicably wrong results).  I saw in your frustration all the times I have cried over problems that I couldn’t solve.  All the times that I’ve been angry when I have to re-knit the same rows of a sock three times to get it right.

Then I did what I usually do for myself: I removed you from the situation.  You got some cuddle time with Mama.  A chance to calm down and find something less infuriating to play with.  All was well.

I am sorry, my child.  Not for laughing – you are far too young to be offended by laughter.  No, I am sorry that you inherited my reaction to difficult problems.  There will be many times in your life when you won’t get it right on the first try, and I hope that you will learn to persevere rather than break out in tears.  It is a lesson that I am still learning myself.

My postpartum depression story

It’s taken me a while to write this post, and a little while longer to be sure that I wanted to share it. 

Postpartum depression is a real and serious problem faced by many mothers and fathers.  It can begin up to a year or more after the arrival of a new baby.  If you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum depression, know that you are not alone and there is help available.  Postpartum Support International and Postpartum Progress have valuable resources, including a list of support groups in the U.S. and Canada.

This morning I spent about 15 minutes dancing with my Little Boy, holding him in my arms and twirling to the country music playing on the radio.  I wasn’t thinking about anything else I had to do or worrying about finding the time to do it.  We were simply happy.

Months ago, I was afraid that I would never be able to enjoy time with my child in this way.  I was suffering from postpartum depression, often referred to by the acronym PPD.

I attend a postpartum support group, and whenever a new mom begins attending, the moderator asks a few of those who are doing a little better to tell their story.  It was enormously helpful for me to hear someone else describe going through the same extra-crazy feelings, to know that I wasn’t alone.

This is my PPD story.

I knew I was at high risk for PPD, because I’ve struggled with depression my whole life.  Several months before trying to conceive, I tapered off the antidepressants I’d been taking for years; I wanted to stop them anyway, as I was doing reasonably well and had grown tired of the major side effects.  And it was a good decision.  Things went well for a while.

Then I started having depressive episodes.  I can’t pinpoint exactly when they began, but they were bad by the start of the third trimester and getting worse.  Something small would set me off and I’d spend an hour sobbing on the bed, my brain convinced that it would feel dark and terrible forever.  Legitimately upsetting news (like learning about a last-minute office switch) would ruin three or four days.  I was stressed about getting the nursery ready on time while simultaneously struggling to find the motivation to work on it.  And on top of it all, I felt guilty because I knew I was dragging my husband down with me.

I talked to my doctor – because that’s what the pamphlets always say to do, right?  “If you think you’re experiencing … talk to your doctor.”

“Well, we don’t like to prescribe meds in the third trimester.”  No problem, what about therapy?  “I don’t know which therapists take your insurance.  I’ll have my assistant look into it and call you back.”

The assistant never called me back.  All I got was a couple of super-generic pages of information, most of which weren’t even about perinatal mood disorders.

Little Boy arrived.  By the mysterious ways of hormones, I actually felt better.  Exhausted and weepy and anxious about the welfare of this tiny new creature, but not black with despair.  My OB-GYN asked about my mood at my two-week check-up, and I remember that I said very positive things.  I thought that maybe I was going to be OK.  Maybe I’d taken the worst mental hit during pregnancy.


The initial weepiness seemed to slowly get darker.  I was getting anxious about going back to school at the end of my six-week maternity leave, because I knew I would be expected to get some work done despite being still too groggy to read even the abstract of a paper.  And Little Boy was starting to wake more frequently (which is normal baby behavior as you approach the period of “peak fussiness” at six weeks of age).

In Little Boy’s sixth week of life, he stopped sleeping for longer than 45 minutes at a time.  My husband and I traded off several-hour shifts in an attempt to ensure that both of us got at least a few hours of unbroken sleep, but it was exhausting.  The worst part, however, was the new neighbors.  We’d lived in that apartment for four years and had at least two, maybe three, sets of upstairs tenants, none of whom had disturbed us in any particular way.  One couple had played loud bass for a few nights and then apologized profusely when we’d asked them to turn it down.

The new neighbors were LOUD.  Constantly, incessantly loud.  They apparently stomped, slammed doors, dropped heavy things, and moved furniture every day and night.  We heard them moving around at 3 a.m. when we woke to feed Little Boy, and yet they all clomped around and woke us up at 6:30 every morning.  We heard them over white noise, over the TV, and even over earplugs.

Consequently, every time I lay down to sleep, I was bound to be awakened in short order by either the sound of a hungry Little Boy or a loud BANG! from upstairs.  It got to the point where I could no longer relax enough to actually fall asleep, so wound up was I with anticipation of the next sound.  The anxious thoughts simply wouldn’t turn off.

After a few days of this, I adopted the temporary solution of not trying to sleep at all during the day, so that I might fall asleep late at night from sheer exhaustion.  If we hadn’t been caring for a small baby who needed food at night, this might have been an OK idea.  But as it was, my sleep debt just kept accumulating and I found myself running out of energy to cope long before I ran out of hours to be awake.

This is the really hard part to say.

My Little Boy is a precious gift from the universe and I love him.  I always have and always will.  But during the blackest hours of his infancy, I regretted becoming a parent.  I was afraid that we had made a terrible mistake and ruined our lives forever; I was kicking myself for how much I had wanted this child.  There were moments when I wanted to walk out the door, leave my beautiful son and his wonderful father behind, and start a completely new life somewhere else.

It took a while to process this after I wrote it.  When my son smiled at me after his nap, I felt ashamed, as though he could somehow know that I had been ruminating about this dark time.  I debated deleting the whole post, thinking, ‘That time is past and hidden away.  Why bring it up again now?”  And, “Everything’s fine today.  Are you sure you aren’t being overdramatic about this whole PPD experience?”  And yet… things definitely weren’t fine in the early months.  To pretend they were – to say that it was just a minor thing – to bury it all deep inside – that would be to do a disservice to myself and every other mother and father who has suffered. 

I got help.  I drove across town to attend the only postpartum support group that didn’t meet during working hours.  They pointed me in the direction of a good psychiatrist, and the necessary phone calls were made so that I could avoid the typical multi-week wait to be seen.  Antidepressants take a while to kick in, but eventually you notice that the bad episodes are coming less frequently, and you are no longer dreading challenges but tackling them with calm acceptance.

The neighbors upstairs continued to be total jerks, but the medication made it possible for me to sleep.  Usually.  With a loud fan parked right next to my ear and a pillow over my head.   But the universe must have been looking out for us, because an opportunity arose to rent a single-family house from a friend.  Other amazing friends helped us move, and now we have a separate office, a master bedroom that isn’t under the stairs to someone else’s apartment, and windows that are more than a foot from the sidewalk.  Oh, and a garage.  And a yard.  And natural light in every room.  It’s also closer to school.  Seriously, I love this house.  We had to pay two month’s rent to break the lease on our apartment, which I can say unequivocally was the best money I have ever, ever spent.

As this all was happening, Little Boy got older.  He began to sleep for longer stretches of the night (more on that in future posts) and eventually his naps consolidated into a regular daily routine.   He became increasingly interactive, “talking” with us in an adorable baby voice.  At 3 months, he discovered the ability to entertain himself by kicking at the toys hanging from his play gym.  LIFE-CHANGING DISCOVERY.  Now I could do the dishes while he was awake.

Little Boy is still hard work, but our lives have found their new patterns.  He is a darling, happy, curious, excited little man, and I love watching him grow.  Wonderful moments like the one I described at the beginning happen on a daily basis.

There is hope.