Monday, August 22, 2011
Part III: Adjusting to Motherhood
This is the third and final part of my series about my struggles with my pregnancy, c-section and adjustment to motherhood.
When I was a child I loved to play house. I enjoyed taking care of my baby dolls and “cooking” on my toy kitchen set. I also loved playing Barbie’s. I was lucky enough that a friend of my mother’s had given me a Barbie Dream House. Barbie and Ken were a happily married couple with their daughters Skipper and Stacie. Ken kind of just sat there, or he was busy at work (working being across the room next to a teddy bear.) Barbie was the mom, busy taking care of everyone.
Yes, I wanted to be a mommy someday, but it wasn’t something I thought about all the time. It was when I turned 11 years old, and my brother and his wife had their first-born child that the “I want to be a mother” instinct really kicked in. It was either the birth of Emma or puberty kicking in that drove this desire, but I’d like to think it was my niece.
I loved helping take care of her. She was such a delight to be around. (Still is, of course.) She had a smile that could light up a room and the most adorable, soft, chubby cheeks that I just wanted to smother with kisses. I loved to be around her and I also loved everything that came with babyhood: The bottles, the sippy cups, the clean smell of Johnson and Johnson’s baby shampoo. The Nick Jr., the Sesame Street, the Disney movies. The rattles, the pacifiers, the fresh smell of Dreft. The rocking to sleep, the new wobbly steps, the drooly smiles and the squeals of laughter at a simple game of peek-a-boo. The thrill of childhood Christmases, the excitement of Halloween. Oh, I could go on and on and on.
I was on the brink of my teenage years yet I wanted to fast forward beyond high school so I could get started on this adventure. I would spend my days in high school dreaming of what my future children would look like with my boyfriend. (Because, you know, we were for sure going to get married someday. I had a promise ring and everything!) I remember during my dark years of college working at Wal-Mart. I would be nursing a hangover after a wild night of debauchery and reveling in my life of being a single, pretty 20-something. But when a woman would come through the line with her small children and I’d scan baby food, formula, a Halloween costume and a small toy as a reward for being a good girl, my heart would ache. I wanted to be that woman. I would gladly give up my life of partying, staying up all hours of the night and being wild just to have my own little house with pumpkins out front, a husband to cook supper for, and children to cherish.
God blessed me by giving me the grace to change my life and meet my true soul mate. But even when we were engaged and I'd go to garage sales and see a baby swing, or my friends would start having babies my heart would burst with the desire to have a family.
My vocation was wife and mother. Simple as that.
My heart was filled with pure joy when I got my very first positive pregnancy test. I was embarking on a journey that I was born for. I was ready and willing to sacrifice my body, time and energy to this new life.
My heart was broken into a million tiny pieces when I learned I miscarried my precious baby Gus. How could this have happened? This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I was heartbroken and devastated. My dreams and hopes had been dashed to nothing.
When I got pregnant for the second time and got pass the first trimester, I felt a tiny bit of relief from the fear of miscarriage. As my due date got closer and closer and closer I realized that I was finally going to become a mother.
About a month before my due date I started to get a tad worried. I had been pregnant for so long. I was used to being pregnant. Being pregnant was my thang. I was always going to be pregnant, right? The fact that I would indeed being giving birth to this child was just something I couldn’t wrap my head around.
I was used to being around babies. I had two nieces and a nephew who were once iddy biddy babies. I had babysat babies. I had friends who had babies. Dealing with babies wasn’t a big deal for me. I wasn’t nervous about becoming a mother until it dawned on me: having my own baby was going to be majorly different than just being around one.
This point may seem obvious to others, but when this realization hit, I got scared. I was usually good at calming other babies down, but when worse came to worse, and nothing I did was helping, I could always hand the baby over their mom or dad. I had experience spending multiple days in a row with a baby when my nieces or nephew would come spend time at Grandma’s house, but in the end, they always went back to mom and dad. This baby I was carrying inside me would be with me all. the. time. It was up to me to always, ALWAYS be there for this child. Sure, I’d have my husband to help, and my mom would be spending the first few days with us after the baby was born, but this new responsibility was a bit overwhelming.
I figured I’d have time to deal with this new found nervousness. Nesting would kick in soon. I would work through these feelings in no time. Easy peasy.
Well, Mother Nature had other plans. I didn’t get the extra few weeks to figure everything out. Boom, boom, boom- it all happened so fast. I got pre-eclampsia, had a 2 day failed induction and a c-section. Boom, boom, boom- I now had a baby.
It was all very surreal to hold my baby in my arms. This baby had grown inside me for 9 months. This baby was half my husband, half me. My flesh and blood. My vocation had finally come to fruition. So why was it so hard to bond with my son?
Dealing with stubborn pre-eclampsia that wouldn’t go away after delivery and having a c-section that left me devastated probably had something to do with the difficulty of bonding. I know that my c-section was necessary, but it made bonding difficult. I didn’t see my child come out of me. They didn’t even lift him over the sheet or anything right after he was born. They took him to get cleaned up right away. It’s hard to describe my feelings when they brought him to me. I automatically thought he was cute and was happy he looked so healthy, but I didn’t really “feel” anything. For all I knew they could have opened a drawer of babies below the operating table and picked out one for me.
Thankfully when I got back to my room I was able to breastfeed fairly easily. He and I were learning together. We were on the same team. I thank God Almighty that I was able to breastfeed with no problems or else who knows what bonding would have been like.
The more I looked at my son the more I saw his daddy’s features in him. I felt more at ease and the notion of them just handing me a random baby from the New Baby Drawer went away.
It was still difficult to come to terms that this child had been side me for 9 months. He is not how I had pictured him. I wasn’t even sure if the name Joe was right for him. I felt like I was naming someone else’s kid. It just didn’t seem right. This might sound silly but while I was mourning the loss of the birth I wanted I almost felt like I was mourning the loss of the child I thought I would be having. I was so upset with myself for not being happy at this new bundle of joy.
Dealing with my dangerous high blood pressure presented a huge challenge. I was barely able to take care of myself- how was I going to take care of a newborn who demanded a ton of care? I felt like a failure as a mother. I wasn’t able to get out of bed to change Joe’s diaper due to bed rest. I couldn’t get up to pick up my son; I had to have others bring him to me. After a while the doctor suggested I take a sleeping pill to get some rest in hopes of lowering my blood pressure. That meant I couldn’t nurse Joe at night. Thankfully that Good Ol’ God of ours came through and blessed me by having my milk supply come in fairly early. I was able to pump enough that they only had to supplement with a tiny amount of formula. But as they rolled him out of my room in his bassinet I broke down. He should be with ME, not in some florescent-lit nurses’ station. He shouldn’t be in a nursery. He should be with ME, right next to me in our dimly-lit room, safe and sound. I felt like I was abandoning him. My heart broke.
Then the hormones came rushing through. I remember the moment it happened. My brother had driven 2 hours to come visit me. He couldn’t stay very long, but just the act of him coming to see us and show his love and support meant the world to me. I remember after he left I felt awful for not talking to him very much. I was just kind of there in a catatonic state. I’m sure he understood but I felt horrible. I felt guilty and sad. I broke down (again) and I could just feel the overwhelming feeling of sadness and bone crushing exhaustion. When my mom asked me what was wrong all I could get out between sobs, slobber and snot was “He’s. just. so. nice. for. coming. so. far. and. I. barely. said. anything. and. I. love. him. so. much. he’s. just. so. nice. what. the. hell. is. wrong. with. me??? WWHAAAAAAA!!!!” I could feel the hormones just floodin’ along in my body. I was nutso.
I know of some women who are very nervous to leave the hospital after their baby is born. They like having the nurses there to take care of things and help out. I could not be more ready to leave that place. Of course, I had been in there for 6 days, most of which was spent on bed rest. I was ready to get to the comfort of my own home.
I thought perhaps the bonding would pick up once we got home. Joe would be sleeping in the bassinet we got him, not some hospital one. He would be wearing the clothes we got him, not the “Property of Fitzgibbon Hospital” printed onesie he had on the whole time. I guess I thought the bonding would magically begin, but it didn’t.
I remember nursing him and I’d notice that I would never look at him. I’d be zoning off, staring into space. It wasn’t that I resented or hated him or anything- I never once had aggressive feelings toward him; I just felt disconnected.
I would read books and articles about how you should talk to your baby and interact and cuddle a lot during the first few weeks. You should read to your baby, sing to them, show them pictures, etc. After reading that I felt like a soul-less monster. When I would change his diaper or hold him I wouldn’t talk to him. I never sang. I felt silly. I didn’t have anything to talk about. I kept imagining what it must be like for Joe looking up at me- to see a non-smiling mom-zombie. He probably thought, “Ugh… this lady’s my mom?” I didn’t know what to do with him all day. He was a newborn and let’s be honest- they are kind of boring. I felt guilty if I left him in the swing for too long or on the floor on a blanket. Even though I didn’t feel very connected, I had this fierce internal instinct to protect him, even if it meant from boredom.
I remember one day while nursing Joe, I decided to just talk. I talked about everything. How his daddy and I met, my favorite seasons of the year, who his family members were, and so on. I'm pretty sure I started sobbing and apologizing for being a boring mother. As time went on I noticed that I would start chatting a little more while changing his diapers. I finally felt comfortable enough to start singing him lullabies.
Maybe it was those first few weeks of new mommy-hood that got in the way of bonding. I had never once before been solely responsible for a new human being. I was figuring out breastfeeding and getting used to leaking and my Dolly Parton-esque boobies. And boy, was I just plain tired. I don’t even think tired is the right word. I don’t think there is a right word to describe just how tired I was.
I remember people asking me how I liked motherhood. I wanted to beam and get all excited and gush about how much I loved being a mommy. All I could manage was small smile and a “Oh, it’s great.” I didn’t talk about how I was learning how to dodge projectile vomit or the constant fear of SIDS. I didn’t talk about how a shower for me was like a mini-vacation and shaving was a luxury.
There was no one magic moment where the bonding just clicked. I do remember one day while I was holding Joe when he was probably about 6 weeks old. I remember feeling the tension lift from my shoulders. I must have been rigid and tensing my muscles for 6 weeks straight! I finally felt relaxed and felt like I could manage this whole mother thing.
Each day got a little better. Each day got a little easier. Each day my heart grew in love for my son. Now I just can’t get enough of my Joe. I smother him with kisses and can’t stop looking at him. I miss him when I am away from him. My heart breaks when he in pain. He always makes me laugh and smile no matter how grumpy I am. The stranger they handed me in the hospital has become my pride and joy, my whole world. My heart bursts with love for my child.
Looking back I still get surprised at how hard it was for me to adjust to motherhood. It was truly the hardest thing I have ever done. I wasn’t expecting it to be easy. I mean, I had helped create a new person and now I was in charge of taking care of said person. That’s a big deal. But I just didn’t realize how hard it would be. I knew there would be a nice cocktail of post-partum hormones to deal with and that I would be especially vulnerable with my history of depression. But I thought that since I wanted to be a mother with every fiber of my being that it would be a little easier.
The thought of baby #2 scared the bejesus out of me for months after Joe was born. I wanted to run for the hills screaming just thinking of the possibility. I knew that since I was breastfeeding there was a possibility that my fertility wouldn’t return for a long time, but I was nervous about relying on ecological breast feeding as a means to space births. To my surprise my fertility returned when Joe turned 4 months old. I was actually relieved because I could start charting again and feel more confident about what’s going on in my fertility world.
When Joe was about 8 months old I started getting a touch of baby fever. Then one of my best friends had a baby and it was all downhill from there. I have an ache in my heart for another baby. My uterus is like, “FEEEEEED MEEEEE!!!!” I feel like I can physically and emotionally handle another pregnancy and bundle of joy. I want to give Joe the gift of another sibling. However, the time isn’t quite right yet financially, and NFP has worked beautifully for us in avoiding pregnancy. (SHOCK! GASP! WHAT?! NFP WORKS?! NO WAY!!!)
I had been looking forward to pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood for many years. Nothing of either of these three came to be what I expected. But God hands us challenges to shape us into being better. I feel that because of these experiences I have had I am better equipped to be the best mother I can possibly be.