Wednesday, August 29, 2012

the first two weeks

I'm just going to put it out there: the first two weeks postpartum were the worst in my life.

After an uneventful pregnancy, and a pretty quick labor and birth, I was wholly unprepared for the anxiety and difficulty of a newborn. Partly due to hormones, partly due to exhaustion, and partly due to complete and utter overwhelmingness of the entire new person experience, I am so grateful that we are firmly past that initial stage. I had breakdowns almost every day. One low point was my sobbing hysterically at Kaiser Newborn Club in front of all the nurses and new moms because I was so despondent over how things were going. Another low point was when I bawled to Whit to hide the photo of us from Ted and Whitney's wedding in the drawer because looking at it while trying to feed Linnea only made me mourn the ease of our pre-baby life.

I felt completely blindsided by this, because no one has ever spoken explicitly to me about how terrible those first two weeks are. I think it is a combination of blurred memory, sleep deprivation, and that you switch to survival mode and have almost zero time to reflect on what is happening to you and your life during that time. The first two weeks are a black box of experiences that no one hears about.

If I had to pinpoint a single cause, it likely would be the initial (difficult) attempts at breastfeeding. While in the hospital postpartum, I had requested breastfeeding assistance from a lactation consultant. Unfortunately, there was only one LC available (for 30 women) on my last day, and so I only got a 10-minute consultation with her. I had not realized how inadequate this would be until later. By the time I went back to Kaiser two days later for Linnea's follow-up assessment, I had severe nipple trauma (with a fissure along the nipple border), and breastfeeding had turned into a dreaded, resentful experience. I spent the first 8 days of Linnea's life trying to get things fixed: three trips to the Kaiser Newborn Club, a private consultation with an LC at Day One (totally worth every dollar), and a La Leche League meeting. On the other end, Linnea was feeding what felt like constantly, I was trying to pump to increase supply, and I was terrified that she wasn't getting enough food (even though I rationally knew it was ridiculous, since she was back up to her birth weight within 9 days). We had to bottle feed her expressed breast milk a few times because her feeding hurt so much, which made me feel completely crushed with guilt. Single events from day to day felt insurmountable, and I feared every difficulty would be permanent. Whit and Nordis spent a lot of time trying to build my confidence, which had mixed results. I was so stressed that I dropped down to ten pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight by the end of the second week.

This was mostly my fault; I had assumed breastfeeding would be challenging, but I think I also assumed that things would eventually resolve on their own. I did NO preparation for the process of breastfeeding. I didn't have any idea that it was something that needed to be taught to both the mom and baby.

Finally, I started reaching out to my network. I invited Evelyn over for a pep talk. Things she told me that helped a ton:
  1. The first 2 weeks kind of suck.
  2. Breastfeeding is really hard for lots of people.
  3. It will get easier as the baby grows and her mouth gets bigger.
[That last point cheered me so much because it introduced the concept that things can change/improve because of something tangible.]

Erika and Pree also came over, commiserated, and gave me a ton of additional advice/tips, which helped so, so much in reassuring me. And if Nordis hadn't been here for 2 weeks to help out, I think the entire thing would have broken me. I am grateful to have had the support that I did.

Currently, breastfeeding has resolved itself, but I'm finding myself bored by the afternoon. I keep dragging Linnea out to new mom support groups, breastfeeding support groups, walks to the drugstore/grocery store, etc. I also don't feel totally bonded with Linnea yet (something that I am assured of by other moms is totally normal until the baby starts responding to you). However, when she started acting fussy, not sleeping, and feeding constantly yesterday, I knew that she was going through a growth spurt, and could take it in stride. This is a huge improvement from her prior growth spurt at 10 days and I panicked that I was starving her. I can see things a little more rationally, and am looking forward to things getting better soon.

P.S: I revisit these three posts on Ask Metafilter to keep myself from feeling like a total monster.
[although it seems like most people seem to hit a wall during weeks 5-6, to which I am not looking forward]


Molly said...

Oh, Madika. I wish I had realized things were that hard those first couple of weeks. I tend to give people lots and lots and lots of space (you know, in a subconscious attempt to be the opposite of those people who are overbearing in trying to help in every way possible). But I wish I had come and visited. Can I come visit you next week? I'll email you.

Juicy J said...

This was like reading my own diary, Madika. My mom had to go back home to Salt Lake a day after I gave birth, my husband had to go back to work 2 days after. Breastfeeding was a nightmare for me but unlike you, I didn't use the resources provided to me and the anxiety of her not eating enough combined with the bleeding and painful nipples drove me to bottle feed. I completely stopped breastfeeding at 2 months and I felt so guilty that I was borderline depressed. Just remember that it all gets easier and the more you get to know the beautiful Linnea the more you will bond with her. I love my daughter more and more each day but it's been quite a journey getting here. I'm so glad to know that I wasn't the only one feeling all of these feelings!!

madichan said...

Thanks, ladies.

Molly, I don't think it's a bad instinct to give space during the initial phase, since usually folks are trying to bond with their newborns. I also think I wouldn't have been in a state of mind to absorb much supportive comments (because even the nurses at Kaiser couldn't really break me out of my funk).

J, I had no idea! It seemed like you had adjusted so well from the beginning with everything. I think that's where the issue is: it's like the initial postpartum period is like The Time That Shall Not Be Named. I'm sorry that you had that experience. And yes, I totally believe that things will get better! I love seeing photos and videos of you and Thora together!

Juicy J said...

I thought the same about you! I read this and was completely shocked. Goes to show that childbirth and the first few weeks of being a parent can rattle even the coolest can. I was a paranoid mess. I was alone, full of anxiety and unsure of anything I was doing. I hated being alone because I would obsess over worst-case senarios and yet I hated anyone besides my husband being near my child (seriously, I freaked out the first time my dad came over to see her because I was obsessing over him coughing in my house and infecting her with some dreaded disease). I was a wreck!!! At around a month and a half things got easier and I relaxed. I got her on a schedule that we still live by today and she has been sleeping through the night (well, not every night, teething and growth spurts are a bitch) since she was 2 months old. You will get this. You know what's best for your baby and the more she gets to know you, the more she'll work with you. If you ever need some advice or someone to talk to, I am a fountain of baby knowledge at this point!!!