I’m Anxious (and I Need Help)

The first feeling I had as a new mom was, “it is not about me anymore.” After they rolled me out of awake-surgery (which is now and forever how I will refer to a C section) they handed me the person I had felt but never met, and everything became instantly about her. This was deeply affirmed in the weeks after she was born, when I attempted to recover from major surgery by not sleeping more than two hours in a row, wincing in pain for hours a day nursing her, and putting every need of mine after hers were met (and babies need to be taken care of constantly, in one or two hour cycles, repeated indefinitely). When I was wheeled into the hospital for induction, I’d spent nine months taking the best care of myself I ever had, in support of her. Once they wheeled me out, I stopped thinking of myself all together.

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I’ve gotten better at that, recognizing my own needs, in the months since Lu’s birth. For the last couple of months I’ve been cruising: I started sleeping again after switching to formula, I get out often, and I’ve felt happy (in control).

Now, at 4 months postpartum, something is shifting. A couple of bad days have turned into a bad week and a half. I’m wrestling with insomnia and bad dreams. The black cloud of doomsday anxiety that cornered me as a kid seems to be taking up residence again. I feel overwhelmed by the thought of caring for Lucy for another whole day without help, which is one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had, because it’s the only thing in the world I want to be able to do. Maybe it’s just a bad week and a half, but maybe it’s deeper than that. Maybe I need help.

There’s a lot going on. I’m home alone with Lucy in a town where I don’t know anybody for 12 hours a day, her sole care provider. During her increasingly infrequent and short naps, I’m trying to start a business so I can continue to stay home with her. My hormones are jacked up from birth and, more recently, birth control. I threw my back out five days ago rocking her to sleep at 2am (because she’s so good at sleep), and then couldn’t turn my head or neck for three days. I don’t have time to heal because I spend 12 hours a day with a 15 pound jellybean on my hip. I think anyone would have anxiety in this situation, right?

I’m deeply wary of psychiatry, having spent more than a few years over a decade ago on a varying cocktail of pills. I’m also skeptical of new-age therapy, where you sit in a little room on a big brown couch while a woman in yoga pants with certificates in Healing Energy guides you through a visualization of your inner rainbow chakra. Neither of these things have worked for me in the past, so why should they work now? (I realize there are other options, and I’ve tried a lot of those, too.)

I need to make a plan, because maybe this will get better, but maybe it won’t. I’m not willing to sit back and roll with it, because I desperately want to be present for my life right now. I’m not sure what I need, but it’s time to start exploring.

I took a restorative yoga class this morning (and god, my back really feels a lot better now). As I was relaxing into stretches, into my body, I fought the urge to break down more than a few times. The moments that almost made me cry were the ones where the teacher came around and put a blanket over my legs because the room was cold, or a small bolster under my neck for support. They were little physical acts of human kindness and gentleness that I have not allowed myself postpartum, because I’ve given them all away.

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I’ve always felt this disconnection between my body and my brain, but it’s so much more pronounced now. After an incredibly traumatic birth (have I mentioned the AWAKE SURGERY), I hated my body for not allowing me the kind of experience I’d imagined: the one where I’d revel in the unity of my body, mind (and, okay), spirit. The one that wouldn’t be held back the physical and sexual trauma it had known. The one that would Overcome Something and Produce Something and make me feel like a fucking warrior.

But what actually happened is that I had a shitty birth experience, and then I turned down the volume on myself, and turned every sensitivity, every nerve, into a way to provide for Lucy. I’ve done everything to feel good and keep it all together, but now it feels like the facade is crumbling. If I really dig deep, the truth is that I’m in pain. I’ve tried to ignore it and fight through it, but the weird, hurt, damaged child in me is starting to feel like a weird, hurt, damaged adult.

I need help, and I’m going to ask for it.

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Mama Said There’ll be Days like This

The past few days I’ve felt sort of… off. I haven’t been sleeping at night, and I just got some new birth control installed that (I think) is messing with my hormones, and the sheer volume of Diet Coke I’ve consumed is enough to make any normal person completely schizophrenic. (By the way, I’ve since cured my sleep problems by not playing Donkey Kong 3 for two straight hours every night before bed, in case that is also why you can’t sleep). But I’ve been feeling downright crappy, and that kind of low energy and minimal patience thing is really, really exacerbated by a tiny baby hanging around that requires your attention for 12 or 14 hours a day.

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Here’s my advice for getting through the not-great days:

1. Let yourself feel bad, and remind yourself that you won’t feel like this forever. Feeling sad has a way of overshadowing everything, and if you add to that a flair for drama (ahem, not that I have that), you’re basically on the first flight back in time to your fourteen year old self, who thought that every little feeling was relentlessly permanent. Your baby is not going to “pick up on it,” and if they do, they’re not going to remember it.

2. Embrace your fourteen year old self. Do you know what infants love? Bikini Kill. Or Weezer, Ani DiFranco, Heavy D and the Boys, or whatever else you were into when you were fourteen. You should listen to that, and read some zines. Babies don’t know what anything is anyway, and Baby Bikini Kill is so much cooler than Baby Einstein.

3. Eat. All naps should be devoted to consumption of dessert items or carbohydrates. Wear a moomoo or elastic waist pants (which, actually, I recommend you wear every day).

4. Get out of the house. Go to the mall and buy some stuff on sale (preferably accessories, shoes, home stuff, cute baby things- nothing that forces you into a dressing room). Take a walk outside and let your baby sleep in the stroller. Visit friends. Go to the library and borrow a bunch of very low-brow magazines. (Also, get one issue of the New Yorker or the Economist and then don’t read it, but just feel kind of smart when you see the cover on your bedside table).

5. Forget about the schedule. Let your baby nap as much as they want. Let them eat whatever. Try to figure out how they can amuse themselves so you can take a minute to focus on US Weekly. Don’t beat yourself up about anything. Let it all go.

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(On a serious note, I want to say how incredibly grateful I am that I’ve had bad days since Lu was born, but no over-arching postpartum depression. I had a lot of problems with depression growing up, and I really believed I would suffer again after birth. While I was pregnant, I starting seeing a psychologist, just so I’d have someone to turn to after the birth, just in case. Postpartum depression is so unimaginably scary to me, and I can’t say enough about how much I admire the BRAVERY of the women pushing through and past it. You are the best.)

What I’ve learned so far through my short stint as a mom is that one of the biggest things I can do for myself and my baby is to forgive myself. All day long, in little and in big ways, I’m working on releasing myself from my own unrealistic expectations. We all want to be completely attentive parents, who make every moment of their kids’ life a stimulating learning experience. We all want to feed them organic baby food that we grind in a platinum, wind-powered food mill while reciting Emily Dickinson and teaching them the difference between a sonata and a concerto.

But actually? I’d rather teach her that we all have shitty days, and we forgive ourselves for that. We forgive ourselves for the chocolate bar(s) we ate for lunch. Sometimes, we take extra naps, and that’s okay. I want to teach her that mom does not beat herself up a million times a day for all of her many perceived inadequacies, and neither should she (once she knows what that means). We can actively learn to love ourselves every day, in whatever weird state we’re in. Binging on Netflix can be healthy, too, as long as we own it. The baby’s life will not be ruined because you need to escape with an episode or five of the Bachelorette.

The first best thing you can do for your family it to remember to take care of yourself, whatever that means.

Sleeeeeeep

Sleep is the holy grail for pregnant women and new moms. We talk about it in hushed, reverent tones like it’s heroin and we’re all jonesing for a fix (Are you getting any? Where can I get some of that? Is it good?).

My sleep problems began during pregnancy. For my entire first trimester and part of the second, I was commuting 4 hours a day and working 10 or 11. My day started at 5:00am and ended around 10:00pm, when I’d eat a frozen meal on my couch and stare out at the Real Housewives of Something with purple zombie eyes, shoveling forkfuls of flaccid organic lasagna into my mouth. I’d head to bed after that, where I’d stare at the ceiling and listen to repeats of This American Life for hours. “This is just preparing you for new motherhood!” people would say about my insomnia. (Someone should write a book about what you should not say to pregnant women, and this should be the second item, after “OMG are you still pregnant???”)

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Eventually, I transferred my job to be closer to home, which helped with the insane hours, but the insomnia remained. Becoming a walking vessel for hormone soup (aka getting pregnant) made me realize that I had been taking all of the normal activities of daily life for granted. I literally could not imagine how I’d ever been able to eat things without wanting to puke, go to the bathroom EVER, or sleep at night.

After Lucy was born, I tried to breastfeed. That meant that every two hours for 24 hours a day, I’d latch a screaming purple goat onto my body and let her terrorize me until she drew blood (some women love to breastfeed, but I was not one of them). When I wasn’t able to breastfeed (because I was trying to heal), I was pumping every two hours instead. Even when my husband would take the night shift, and be with our daughter for 5 or 6 hours in a row so I could “sleep,” I’d have to wake up every two hours and pump for half an hour while I groggily soaked in an episode of Friends.

Have you ever seen Homeland? You know the scene where the CIA is questioning a terrorist, and their method for getting him to talk is to blast loud music every time he almost falls asleep? Replace the loud music with a screaming infant and bingo. And that guy didn’t even have barf on his clothes and shit in his hair.

To moms out there who have ever or are still breastfeeding: you guys are TOUGH. Olympic athletes don’t even train that hard. You’re like millions of all-natural Hulk Hogans.

Around two and a half months, I got her on a schedule. I want to share a little bit about that, because I hear a lot from new moms who are seeking any and all suggestions about where they can find their next sleep fix. This is what worked for me, (though every kid and every mom are their own unique snowflakes, and we are all doomed unto the apocalypse for offering mommy advice, because nothing will work for everyone forever).

Another side note: one of my very coolest friends ever, R, has a son who has actively REFUSED to sleep since the moment of his conception. I would like to hereby induct R into the hallowed halls of Sainthood, because she still manages to get dressed every morning (AND cleans her house, and makes beautiful drawings).

Lucy and I follow this schedule: EASY-Schedule-Cheat-Sheet from here.

I take a lot of liberty with it. For example, I let her nap for however long she is tired (instead of letting her “cry it out,” which I have no problem with, theoretically, but it’s just not for me). Some mornings she naps for two hours, and sometimes (okay, most of the time) for 45 minutes. I trust her to make up that time later in the day, and she does.

I also need the freedom to be able to leave the house every day, so she takes naps here or there in the car, at Target, or in the parking lot of Dunkin Donuts where I accidentally might buy half a dozen donuts and a box of Joe and make an afternoon of it. I’m not one to say, “I can’t eat 12 donuts today because I have to be home by 1pm for Lucy’s nap.”

But I do follow the scheduled feedings. According to my pediatrician, the two biggest things you can do to get your kid to sleep through the night are:

1. Make sure they eat enough during the day. (So when I have a 6 oz bottle scheduled, I try my best to make sure Lucy eats 6 oz, even if it’s over the course of an hour).

2. Don’t let them graze. You want to get them used to going for a stretch without eating, so they can go at least 8 hours at night (by 3 months) without eating. This means don’t let them have a little bit of food all the time, instead of larger feedings at greater intervals.

In addition to eating, I enjoy mathalete tournies, coding, and World of Warcraft

“In addition to eating, I enjoy mathalete tournies, coding, and World of Warcraft”

Lucy is now 4 months old. She gets between 25-30 oz of formula during the day, plus a little vegetable puree. We put her to bed at 7:15pm, and she goes right to sleep. We wake her up at 11pm for a dream feed, and put her back to sleep. She wakes up around 7:00 am.

Granted, much of her ability to sleep through the night is pure luck on our part as parents. I don’t think you can take a baby who refuses to sleep, or is colicky or whatever else, and put them on a schedule and expect magic. But for those lucky moms who are almost there, like I was, and need a little nudge to get those really life-changing extra Zs, this is what worked for me.

Another thing I can’t recommend enough is finding other moms you can talk to about this stuff. My neighbor-friend down the street has read all the parenting books, which I have not (because I literally haven’t read a single one- aren’t you glad you’re reading my advice column?). She has a daughter who’s just a little older than Lucy, and has faithfully figured out all this parenting stuff just ahead of me and then told me all of her brilliant secrets. This particular schedule was one of her magnificent finds.

Please share if you have any other tips for me! Especially if they involve how to achieve optimum weight loss through an all-donut diet while watching 9 hours of t.v. a day and still raising a well-adjusted genius.

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5 Things New Moms Should Do

*The below applies to new moms past the first few weeks, because the first few weeks are reserved for extreme sleep deprivation and newborn purple raisins that scream so loudly, inexplicably, and consistently that you question your very existence.

**If you have twins or more than one child in general, disregard the below. Congratulations. To me, your life is one very extended episode of “Naked and Afraid.” I have no idea how you do anything, and you are the best.

1. Do something creative every day. You don’t have to be an artist and it doesn’t have to be good, but make something. Make a healthy 20 minute meal that you’re proud of during a nap, or figure out how to sew something. Write in a journal about how insane you feel. Take the XL t-shirt you still fit into because you still look pregnant (anyone?) and write “OH MY GOD DON’T TALK TO ME” across the front in puff paint and draw a little emoji that is crying. Make a little effort until it comes naturally for you to take a little time each day to do something that makes you feel productive, cool, and like yourself again.

For example, a Kim and Kanye watercolor, which took 3 naps

For example, a Kim and Kanye watercolor, which took 3 naps, and is not good

2. Don’t feel guilty, about anything. When your kid is napping, don’t feel guilty about lying in bed and playing Candy Crush for an hour. Don’t feel like you should really be cleaning the house instead, even if giant dog hair tumbleweeds are blowing across your dining room floor, which is what my house looks like. Don’t feel like a bad mom because you let your baby watch 20 minutes of Baby TV on Hulu Plus at 5pm because your partner’s not coming home for three more hours and you need a damn break. Don’t feel like you have to serve a side salad with a frozen pizza. Remember, tomato sauce is a vegetable.

3. Don’t try on your pre-pregnancy pants and don’t go pants shopping. The expression “muffin-top” will take on new meaning, and should really be changed to “enormous bakery scone on two toothpicks.”

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Your baby should be the only one in formal wear

4. Ask for help. Need a break? That’s okay. Ask your mother-in-law to come for a few days and spend some time with your spawn so you can really devote yourself to crushing candies. Tell your partner after they come home from a long day of work that they need to watch the kid for the rest of the night. Take three hours off on a Saturday to go see Pitch Perfect 2 alone (wear your elastic waist maternity pants and get extra butter on your popcorn, please). You deserve a break, so take it.

5. Don’t doubt yourself and don’t over-google. It takes a few weeks or months (or years) for the new-parent instincts to really kick in. Until then, try your hardest to trust your gut. You know how to take care of this baby. You won’t know right away how to tell the difference between a hungry cry and an “I shit my pants” cry, which is normal, despite what the internet says. The internet will always and forever tell you you’re doing it wrong. Is your baby breathing? Then you are the best. It is totally normal for babies to cry/ not sleep/ be weird looking. You googling it is only going to make you also become weird looking, because your eyeballs will eventually pop out of your face in frustration and hate. Don’t google.

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