My Fourth Trimester Project - by Kelly
My son, Silas Arlo, was born on a warm April day in Illinois. Unseasonably warm, in fact. He was gorgeous, healthy and everything we ever could have hoped for. My labor was long, but mostly uneventful and, since here was our healthy, happy boy, no one realized that something very wrong was happening – to me. I did not sleep for nearly 36 hours after my son was born. Anyone who has had a baby will know that this is almost unfathomable. However, when you have Postpartum Anxiety and you’re afraid that sleeping will cause your baby to stop breathing – you stay awake.
Nearing my 36th hour of hyper-alertness I began to suffer symptoms of exhaustion. My blood pressure raised (we were still in the hospital due to Silas having slight jaundice), I began to have chills, and irrational panic started to set in. My son was crying at one point and I couldn’t determine what he wanted, so I called the nurse in. She asked me if I’d checked his diaper. I had not, and sure enough, he’d passed his first bit of meconium and needed a change. I was mortified that such an obvious thing had slipped by me. I worried and that worry has been my primary emotion for almost 3 years. Unfortunately, due to so much misinformation, it took almost 3 years to get a postpartum anxiety diagnosis. More on that later, though.
Eventually, we went home where I was able to rest a little in between breastfeeding every 2-3 hours. The next 3 months are a blur of ecstatic joy, fear, tears, frustration, awe, love and more joy.
The pain I felt with breastfeeding was unbearable at times. I survived the first weeks of breastfeeding with the help of lanolin ointment, my brilliant and amazing husband who always knew the right thing to say and the right way to comfort or encourage, and the words of my mother-in-law’s best friend, which turned out to be some of the best advice I was given when it came to breastfeeding. She told me to “just give it 5 weeks, I promise it gets better”. So, when I was sobbing on the couch at 2am with cracked and bleeding nipples, I repeated that advice to myself. I promised myself that I would take her advice and give it at least 5 weeks before I gave up. Miraculously, at 5 weeks it got so much better that I could have kissed her. What was once something I dreaded, became the beautiful bonding experience that I always thought it was supposed to be. The pain stopped, our latching got better, and it just started working. We were able to breastfeed until almost his first birthday when I took some cough drops for a cold which contained menthol. I didn’t realize that menthol can devastate milk supply and it completely dried me up. No amount of fenugreek or oatmeal helped me to regain my supply. I’m happy with what we had, though. I’m sure 5 weeks is a relative number, but she couldn’t have been more exact for me. So now, when I have friends who come to me for help or advice, I tell them to “just wait 5 weeks, or somewhere around there, I promise it gets better.” Try to remember that even the longest nights are only moments, and they will pass.
The last 4th trimester hurdle for me was my return to work. In the U.S. it’s unfortunately often expected or required, for moms to return to work after 6 weeks. Though I desperately wanted more time at home, and in fact would much prefer to be a stay at home mother, we could not afford for me to take any more time off, much less for me to quit work altogether. So at 6 weeks, I returned to work. We had researched and interviewed extensively for our childcare provider and ended up with a licensed home day care practitioner whom we love and trust. She encouraged me, before going back to work, to bring him by for just an hour a few times while I went to get lunch with my husband. It allowed her to have some time with him and allowed me to get used to the idea of him being there. The first time I dropped him off, I cried all the way to my husband’s office. The next few times were easier, and when I went back to work the first time, she spent the day texting me pictures of him and little updates. Her kindness and encouragement carry me through the days, even now.
Anxiety for me has been the real beast. I am still in talk-therapy to deal with my anxiety, which surfaced almost the moment my son was born, and things are much better now. I realize now that much of the terror and anxiety I felt in the 4th Trimester and indeed for the last 3 years, were not normal “mommy fears”, nor was it “baby blues”. I’ve never been depressed, and I don’t have Postpartum Depression, for that is not the only mood disorder that new mothers can experience, it’s just the most widely known. I encourage new mothers to talk about how they feel. It can be hard to determine what is normal and what isn’t normal in such an emotional time. So, be vocal about where you are at emotionally, mentally and physically, and if something doesn’t feel right, seek the help of a professional. A great resource, which helped me tremendously, is http://www.postpartumprogress.com
The 4th Trimester was a reality check for me, as it is I believe for most mothers. We owe it to each other to be honest about how it can feel, and then to encourage, nurture and hold up our sisters as they experience the rawness of joy, but also the confusion and vulnerability that is so common for this time. It is a beautiful, wonderful moment, but mothers should know that it’s okay for it to be scary and hard, too."
Kelly Bauer, 29 year old Mama to Silas, Step-Mama to Caiden and Freelance Writer in the Chicago area
Find me on Twitter @kbauerwrites