Traveling anytime between mid-December to end of year is not on my list of favorite things to do. Being that I live in California and my hometown is in Massachusetts, holiday travel is something I grew very familiar with over the years. And although my son is just under 14 months old, he had already been on 6 plane rides back and forth on trips to Boston, DC, and Mexico City. So when the opportunity presented itself to travel to DC for work, I knew it was something I had to do even though it struck terror in my heart. Yes, we had traveled on planes before with the baby but I had my husband to help then- a second set of hands, eyes, and ears (and emotional support). But my husband's work is very demanding at the end of the year and expecting him to take time off to help me with this would be impossible. No, it was time to put on my big girl shoes and suck it up.
I spent the first half of December pretty much worrying incessantly about this trip. Rocky and I were scheduled to arrive in DC on a Monday and my parents would fly in on Tuesday to babysit while I was in the office. I was eager to get some face time with my colleagues. While I am grateful every day for the opportunity to work from home, it makes me appreciate the time I get to work side by side with others in an office setting. The day of our flight approached and my anxiety was peaking. I reached out to a few friends and my confidence was pumped up again. No matter how anxious I felt, I reminded myself that I had to be as calm and collected as possible to set the pace for my baby when traveling. Fake it till you make it!
We were slated to fly on a red eye, which I prefer because he's generally a good sleeper. My biggest concerns were getting through the airport with all my baby gear and other people acting like assholes. A very kind mom friend of mine offered for me to borrow her Doona which is this fancy transformer carseat/stroller. I always travel with a separate seat purchased on the plane for the baby when possible even though it's a financial pain. Although he sometimes refuses to stay in his car seat, in general it is nice to have an extra place to have him sit instead of on my lap and it makes me feel safer having the option. Per usual, I wore Rocky in his Lillebaby baby carrier to get through airport security. They will almost always let you wear the baby through the metal detector and then ask you to stand off to the side where they will swab your palms to test for explosives residue. It takes a few seconds and then you are on your merry way! I had a very impatient young woman behind us in the line and I could feel some of my anxiety building as she was breathing down my neck. Wearing the baby through security is easier than the alternative but you still have to get your shoes off, laptop/tablets/liquids out of the bag, carseat collapsed and turned upside down on the conveyor belt etc. As you can imagine, these things are easier without a 19 pound human strapped to the front of you when you are bending down. A family of four was ahead of me and after the father managed to handle all his family's gear through the security belt, he turned and asked if I needed help. Without hesitation, I said yes. He then proceeded to manage all of my luggage and gear for me. After we got through the metal detector, the same man got his family and their belongings gathered up and then proceeded to do the same for me. My gratitude was endless at that moment. The first stop after that was the bathroom. I always use the family restrooms when traveling with Rocky because there is more space for your gear plus a private place to manage diaper changes if needed. Peeing while wearing a toddler in a baby carrier should be an Olympic sport and I highly recommend wearing yoga pants to pull off this feat.
People were above and beyond nice while waiting at the gate. It is really good to remind yourself when traveling with a little one that many people around you either have/had children and/or grandchildren and want to see you succeed with this trip as much as you do. We were fortunate enough to sit next to a pregnant woman on our flight and she was an absolute angel when Rocky started crying and refusing to sit in his car seat. I spent the next five hours with a baby sleeping on me, trying to get my body as flat as possible in my seat, and dozing off every now and then myself. Once landing at Dulles, I was reminded of having to take both elevators and a train to get to our baggage. I know people hate LAX but Dulles is probably my least favorite airport of all. I met a nice French family on the elevator and although the father was the only one who spoke much English, we helped each other all get to our baggage claim and they gave me a big thank you before heading out. I called a Lyft for the two of us, got us and our luggage up the ramp to the exit, and we were on our way to the hotel.
The flight back was trickier and was not a red eye. The main reason I despise Dulles is the two insanely long security lines they manage for such a large airport. I had given us ample time but the holiday travelers and the security chaos proved troublesome for us. It was SO hot while waiting in line and I could feel the baby sweating against me in his carrier. Lunchtime was fast approaching with no end in sight to the lines so I fed Rocky a granola bar which he proceeded to spit out all over the floor and himself. I was picking up a clump of wet granola from the ground with a baby strapped to my chest and a backback in our stroller in front of me and an airport employee said "maam, please move" for me to inch up half a foot in the line and I snapped "I am doing the best I can!" Not my finest moment especially since she was just doing her job, but also, give me a break can't you see I have a pissed off sweaty kid attached to me and I am picking up his half chewed food from the floor? My cheeks were flushed and Rocky started crying and kicking his legs and I could feel myself wanting to give up and cry. Two nice men in the line next to me offered for us to go ahead of them since their line was shorter. I definitely fought back tears and accepted with thanks. The younger man of the two said "See? One person can make a difference" and I think I may always remember that moment. They helped me get all our gear on the security belt, we zipped through the metal detector, and then it became a mad dash to the elevator and train. Rocky was hungry and nonstop crying and by the time we made it to our gate, we had 20 minutes till boarding. The lines were long for food so I grabbed a Lunchables and some string cheese which my cranky son then ate up hungrily back at the gate. We pre-boarded when they called families with children under the age of 2 and when we got to our row, a young woman was sitting there already. She helped me get the car seat in to the row (car seats always need to be in the window seat and never in exit rows fyi) and she told me that she was a med student who had just finished her pediatric rotation. It was an absolute blessing. She played with my son, helped me pick up his messes (flashcards on a plane turned out to be a terrible idea as well as the moment when my baby decided he would throw the lunch I had bought us all over the floor). Sticking post its to the back of the seat in front of us proved to be a good activity and letting him stand in the aisle for a bit was helpful too. There was a toddler in front of us who really was putting her poor mom through the ringer so I offered her a granola bar which seemed to go over well. Rocky finally fell asleep on my lap and I transferred him to his car seat where he napped for an hour. I bought lunch for the med student angel to show my appreciation and told her she would be a great doctor. After 6 very long hours, we landed back in LA and I felt such extreme relief. I let the mom sitting in front of us know that she did a great job and she replied back the same to me. I hugged our med student friend and told her how much her help made this really difficult experience easier on me. She said something to me I will try to always remember: "Parenting isn't easy for anyone. If it ever feels too hard, remember that."
All that being said, here are my tried and true tips for traveling with a toddler:
1) baby carrier throughout the airport, especially security, is a lifesaver
2) use the stroller as a luggage cart for your carryon when wearing baby
3) things that worked to occupy time on the plane: post its, Peppa Pig and Sesame Street on the tablet, lots and lots of snacks
4) things that didn't work on the plane: flashcards, an awkward tray of airplane food
5) call the hotel the night before you arrive to request and secure an early check in
6) accept help when people offer it to you and don't be afraid to ask for it either
7) people probably will be nicer than you expect
8) remember during the shitshows and the meltdowns: this will be over soon
In the end, I learned that I spend a lot of my parenting on autopilot and don't really realize just how much I do every day as a mother. That I am stronger and more capable than I think. And most of all, that if I could do this, I can probably do anything!! Flying solo with a one year old during the holidays: Achievement Unlocked.
My son turns 6 months old today. SIX MONTHS OLD. First of all, wow! Babies undergo so much transformation in just six short (and very long) months. Know who else has undergone a bunch of transformation in those six months? Me!
Life with a newborn feels like forever ago. Sleepless nights. Pumping every three hours. Anxiety and sadness through the roof.
Six months ago: I was bleary eyed and writing down how many ounces I pumped, how many ounces the baby drank and when, how many wet diapers he had, how many poopy diapers he had. Six months ago, I was scared my son would fall out of his swing or bouncer, scared to take him out of the house, scared to hurt him when I changed his diaper, scared to hurt him when I gave him a bath. I would wake up multiple times a night and place my hand on his chest to make sure he was still breathing. I would reach my arm over his bassinet to hold him and sometimes pull him into bed with me in the morning to cuddle and sleep.
Six months later: I am fairly well rested, some days better than others. I no longer nurse so pumping is old news. I sometimes change him and wonder when his last poop was. I put him in his swing while I take a shower. We go on walks and to museums and even Disneyland! I change his diaper in public places like a pro. I give him a bath every night and he kicks his legs and splashes the water all over the mirrors. I have lost 31 pounds of pregnancy weight with only 10 very stubborn pounds to go. We did the Happy Sleeper sleep training and after two nights, he was sleeping the whole night through in his own room. It's taken me a month and a half but I no longer stare at the baby monitor and I sleep through the night now too. I tried to bring him into bed with me once recently for a nap and he was not having it. I guess he really is an independent guy now!
He has gone from a little baby who moved like a very slow marionette to a chubby one who jumps up and down in his bouncer and rolls around like a madman when he's on the ground. We laugh together every day now. He happily enjoys eating food and expresses discontent if we are at the table eating without sharing. He gives me kisses on the cheek and reaches out to my husband and I to hold him. He communicates in babbles, blowing raspberries, happy shrieks, laughing, and grunts. He understand jokes. He pets the dogs. He is just already a super cool kid.
I didn't know I would love being a mom as much as I do. Experiencing his (and my own) transformation makes every day new and interesting. I have been scared to let him grow up but six months feels really monumental to me. I feel excited to see where he goes and who we both become. Time is not going to stop for me and pregnancy and motherhood have taught me that flexibility is key. I'm beyond happy to have this chubby little baby as my guide.
The end of an era: I am no longer pumping and my baby has transitioned full time to formula. I am not sure what happened. At about 4 months postpartum, I began what feels like another rollercoaster ride of hormonal changes. I am losing SO MUCH HAIR and I have read enough and talked to enough new moms to know this is normal but it still sucks. It doesn't look so bad when my hair is down. Except my son has discovered pulling my hair is SUPER FUN so I have to wear it up all the time which means everyone gets to check out the bald patches on either side of my scalp. Rejoice! In the end, it is just temporary and my hair will grow back and none of that matters when I have a baby demanding my attention!
In addition to hair loss and smelling like vomit all day, all that postpartum anxiety has seemed to come rushing back with a vengeance. And then it happened. My milk supply took a severe nosedive. I used to be so confident. I was pumping about 36 ounces a day and John was drinking about 30 ounces so I always had milk to put in the freezer. Then he hit a growth spurt at the same time that my milk started to decrease and wouldn't you know, the freezer stash was depleting rapidly before my eyes. I couldn't keep up. It was frustrating and, while it seems like a dramatic word to use, it felt scary because this was his food!
My goal was to feed John breast milk for the first six months of his life. I pride myself on usually achieving exactly what I set out to do. My pregnancy was emotionally way off base from how I anticipated it to be. My labor and delivery was WAY off the mark. Breastfeeding was a variation. I felt so desperate to make something go the way I planned. So I got down to business. I baked lactation cookies. I took a supplement that made both my son and I have horrible gas (that was short lived). I ate expensive lactation treats like Boobie Bars and Emergency Brownies. I drank teas. I ate so much oatmeal that I felt like puking from how full I was. I rented a hospital grade pump. I power pumped (20 minutes on, 10 minutes off, 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off, 10 minutes on- an hour of pumping). I added a middle of the night pumping session back in (UGGGGGH zombie mode). I had one amazing day where my spirits soared as I pumped the full 32 ounces John needed. Then it became 30. 27. 24. 20. you get the picture. I would pump and eat oats and drink tea and pump and cry and pump and thaw another freezer bag and pump. At John's pediatrician checkup, she asked me "does the word formula hurt your soul?" I laughed because she just seemed to get me. She very rationally explained how formula was not as evil as I thought it to be and that supplementing would help me relieve my stress (as she stated, "I LOVE RELIEVING STRESS.") And it clicked for me then. I loved relieving stress too. I remembered this meme I saw once that said something to the effect of doing your best does not mean driving yourself crazy. DING DING DING. The lightbulb went off.
So I started supplementing and my milk continued to drop. And can I just tell you, my baby was all about the formula! He responded really well to it. It made it easier for us to get out of the house the more my pumping sessions dwindled. I was able to spend more time with him because I wasn't chained to the pump. I felt sad about it but I realized that sadness was really more about me. He liked the formula. He wasn't hungry like when he was getting milk that wasn't full of fat. And bonus: the formula had iron in it for him. All his vitamins were there. He didn't care about anything as long as he was well fed and I decided I shouldn't either. After all, a well fed baby is a happy baby and a happy and healthy baby is all that matters. Shortly after he turned 5 months old, the milk stash was gone and he was transitioned fully to formula. I stopped pumping because I was only getting an ounce a day. I had fallen one month short of my goal in the end but we now can spend more time together and go more places without me being stressed about it. When one door closes, another door opens. His face still lights up when he sees his bottle and I still get to cuddle him and feed him. It continues to only go up from here. I am really looking forward to our next chapter together.
So life has been really fast paced lately. There is a lot of go go go and not much slow down and smell the coffee (wait...that's not how that saying goes...is it? I need coffee). Two weeks ago, we packed up our house and moved across the city (yea, it's only across the city but in a city like LA, that's significant.) There are still so many boxes to be unpacked, so many things to put away, so many spaces to organize. My husband and I are both working full time. Oh yea. I am working full time at home while taking care of my son. Am I complaining about working from home? Hell no. Do you know how lucky I am to do this right now and have the opportunity to be home with my son? I sure do. But you guys, please do not be mistaken, taking care of an almost 4 month old is a full time job in itself. And I am so proud of myself because I have not dropped.a.single.ball. (*takes a bow*) I also decided last week was a great time to begin sleep training my son to self soothe (The Happy Sleeper is my jam so far- future blog on that.) You know who's really tired? ME. GIVE ME ALL THE COFFEE (oh wait, I only allow myself one cup a day since I am nursing the baby).
So I work full time, take care of baby (don't forget we are sleep training!), unpacking when possible, pumping 4 times a day, and keeping up the family's laundry and dishes and bills...and I have been feeling REALLY REALLY REALLY SAD. Like cry every night sad. Being a new mom can be really isolating. It's a strange thing. You are experiencing this extreme joy of having a child that you love with all your being yet you are also struggling with feelings of loss of identity, social life, sleep, and self care. Before I had a baby, I was all about "being up in the gym just working on my fitness" (shut up- this is a relevant quote since Fergie's rendition of the National Anthem just made headlines). I counted calories like it was my job. I cranked up the heat in my house and did Vinyasa flow. I power walked my way through every work day lunch break. I painted my nails every couple days. I choreographed shows. I had dinners and bottle(s) of wine with friends. I wore skinny jeans and was all "look at me, living my best life."
I broke down to my husband after the baby went to bed two nights ago. I felt so alone and so defeated. In a word, I was overwhelmed. After I finally got baby to sleep, the last thing I wanted to do was work out. While I love where we live, it's pretty far from nearly all of my friends. And who would want to hang out with a new mom who can't party like she used to and has to call it a night at 11pm so she can pump and try to get some sleep? I would wake up saying "today, we will take a walk" but getting him in his carriage seemed like a hassle at times and while I am totally into the sleep training, finding time between our naptimes and feedings and pumps and work can be discouraging. It is much easier to just give up and give in. My husband reminded me that I have always been the girl who accomplishes whatever she says she wants to accomplish. And then he told me straight up that I was making excuses. Damn. Ain't that the truth.
Since that conversation, I have taken the baby on three walks outside. Short walks but walks all the same. You guys, I can feel ocean breeze where I live. Why have I not been out there walking? I washed my hair yesterday. I painted my nails tonight after the baby went to sleep. But the biggest chance I have taken since then? I got into a conversation with women I don't know on a Westside Moms Facebook Group and have made plans for a playdate with our babies. I have downloaded a Westside Moms app that lists Mommy and Me classes, including fitness oriented ones, for moms with babies as young as mine. Making new friends when you are an adult is tough. It's easier to stay cooped up with the anxiety and the routine because I know I am safe here. Know what's tougher than putting it out there and saying I need outside interactions? Feeling so isolated and alone and sad. I don't want to feel that way anymore. I have a baby who is adorable and smart and so funny already and I want him to explore the world starting now. I am still super nervous about it all but the old me- the power yoga, two a days, leading dance calls me would push through the nerves and just do it, no matter how socially awkward she may feel. I want my son to approach life confidently, even in times where he may not feel it. It's time for that old me to come back around and lead by example. May the journey begin...
It had been my plan to breastfeed. You hear the catchy phrase "Breast is Best" a lot when you are pregnant. I did my research and decided that while there was nothing wrong with formula, I was going to give it the old college try and breastfeed my son. I was a formula baby and I have no negative opinions over anyone using formula for their children. I just knew for my personal preference, I wanted to go the boob route.
Look, let's get really candid here. When you're pregnant, your boobs are sore and big and leak. And mine leaked a lot. My doctor told me this was a surefire sign that breastfeeding would be good for me. I was confident. I was ready. I later found out just how uneducated I was on the matter.
For a few hours after my c-section, my arms were so numb that I could not even hold my son. My birth plan involved skin to skin contact and my husband had to remove his shirt and hold our baby to his chest while I was in and out of consciousness. During our week in the hospital, I had access to lactation consultants and nurses who really knew what they were doing when it came to breastfeeding. They gave me encouragement, often expressed enthusiasm for my milk supply, and told me I was on the road to being a success story. They wheeled in a hospital grade breast pump so we could pump a bit of milk too and feed our son with a syringe which we did a few times when I just needed a break from the breastfeeding. I soon learned that babies wanted to eat all the time. My son was on the smaller size when he was born and (as babies do) after he lost weight post delivery, he was weighing in at 6lbs 4oz. His pediatrician (as pediatricians do) wanted him to get back up to his birth weight so, being the perfectionist A-student that I am, I really took the job of feeding him seriously.
Being in the hospital for a week meant I was actually there when my milk came in and my breasts were engorged. I requested visits from lactation consultants every day. These women are educated and kind and encouraging. But I have to say, I feel a bit cheated looking back on it. They take the baby and shove his head in there and get him latched on just right on your boob and you think this isn't so hard! Except when I was on my own, it was so hard. I had times in the middle of the night crying out of frustration because I couldn't get a good latch with the baby until a nurse came in and shoved his head against me and held him in the right position. It was awkward and painful to do with my c-section recovery. And then sometimes it was just right. I could get him latched and I would try and fight through the pain pills to stay awake while he fed. Those moments were few and far between but I treasured them.
I was given a nipple shield to help with my sore nipples but was advised not to use it unless the lactation consultant determined it was absolutely necessary because it would cause nipple confusion. I was told only to pump when I needed a break to feed by syringe. No one taught me how to use the nipple shield if I had decided to try. Maybe if I had been trained, I wouldn't have been in so much pain.
Cut to end of the week, we are home as a family. I have a couple successful breastfeeding moments. But I begin to dread it when he would cry out of hunger. How terrible it made me feel as a mom to dread feeding my son. Wasn't that just the worst possible thing I could feel? My nipples were scabbed, raw, and often bleeding. My bra hurt when it rubbed against my body. My son was terrible when it came to latching- my husband would shove his head in and hold him there and I would cry, often with an audible yelp accompanying the initial few seconds. One day, my son spit up blood and I panicked until I realized it was from my nipple. And then finally, I was lying on the bed, biting a towel to control my vocal pain, crying and writhing around while my husband tried to help the baby latch on and I collapsed into a heap of feelings of failure. I decided then and there I was pumping only for bottles and unless my pediatrician said otherwise, that would be it from hereon out.
And my pediatrician said fine. As long as the baby was getting breast milk, he was happy. My husband asked what the benefit was between pumping versus actual breastfeeding and he said "it's all a mental thing- the connection between mom and baby." Fine- I vowed I would make eye contact with my son while feeding him bottles always (and I do to this day. And just like when we breastfed, I have waves of love that wash over me and I get drowsy along with him when he drinks from his bottle and nuzzles against my chest). We left the pediatrician's office and gave the baby his first bottle and I was instantly 10 times less stressed. And guess what? Happier mom = happier baby.
I am sitting here now, attached to a breast pump as I write this. My son has been gaining weight steadily and is a healthy boy who sleeps through the night already, who loves his bottles, and who could care less how he is fed as long as he is not hungry. It is exhausting being attached to a pump all the time. At first it was every three hours and now that my milk supply is established (hello bags of frozen milk in the freezer!), I have confidently moved to every 4.5 hours. It restricts places you can go- it's not as easy as whip out the boob for the baby. Pumping requires supplies and apparatus and a loud machine and milk storage blah blah blah. I am exhausted having to get up in the middle of the night still and am slowly trying to drop that pumping session (you can't just drop it unless you want to run the risk of mastitis and clogged ducts and pain). I feel like a milk machine but I am achieving my breastfeeding goal with a slight variation. I set out to feed my son breast milk for 6 months and I am halfway there!! Feeling a bit like Super Breastfeeding Mom...except on my own terms. My son, me, and my nipples are so much happier and neither one of us cries when it's feeding time now. So if breastfeeding is a shitshow and you can't just seem to get it together, don't forget that exclusively pumping is an option for you! It is not an easy road but it is a road you can travel if you want to try. I am happy to answer questions if you have them- the amount of information I have acquired over the past three months is astonishing considering I never even knew this was a possibility before then. Sometimes you just have to get a little creative to achieve your goals!
For those of you who may not know me personally or very well, here's an important piece of information before I begin this post: I am high anxiety. Finding out I was pregnant was anxiety inducing. Having a baby was very anxiety inducing (see previous post). But after my son was here and in the world? The most anxiety inducing moments of all.
I barely remember our week in the hospital after he was born. I was on morphine for a couple days and then IVs and such strong pain pills that it was hard staying awake most of the time. I remember a blur of lactation consultants, nurses, breastfeeding, crying, eating, exhaustion, soreness, bleeding. I remember my husband taught me how to put a diaper on our baby and being terrified to handle such a tiny little being. I remember a social worker coming in and asking what I thought to be really invasive questions: have you taken meds for depression before? have you ever been depressed? do you have a gun in your home? are you worried about your finances? and then she just handed me a pamphlet about PPD and was on her way. No real resourceful assistance, no suggestions on what to do if you suffer from postpartum depression, no offer to answer any questions I may have. Just her and her clipboard, asking about my life and walking away to store that info who knows where. It left a sour taste in my mouth. I don't remember what night it was but I remember my night nurse was a pretty lady with colorful glasses she pushed up her nose alot. I think her name was Lisa. I began sobbing to her in the middle of the night when she brought me my pain pills and refilled my IV and told her I felt so sad. She told me it was normal to feel sad, angry, nervous, and confused and to not worry. It was soothing and comforting to hear. Sometimes you just need to know nothing is wrong with you.
But the most anxious moment of all that week was when we were discharged from the hospital. I had lived in those walls from Sunday-Friday. I had relied on nurses to help take care of my baby and me. The farthest I had walked was around the postpartum ward in the fluorescent lighting. I was terrified and cried looking out the window as my husband began to drive us away from the hospital. "Don't worry, I'm not going to let my family down," he said. We lived only ten minutes away but it seemed like we were driving through a foreign country. He didn't let us down and we got home safely. And that's when the anxiety ramped up even higher.
Because I ran a fever during labor, I wasn't able to follow through with my placenta encapsulation that I had arranged with a doula. I wonder if I had been able to follow through with that if the anxiety would have been more manageable. I didn't know postpartum anxiety was a thing until I googled it one day to see if anyone else felt like me. I felt scared shitless about everything. Baby wasn't breathing loud enough while sleeping? Make sure he's not dead. Baby cried when I changed his diaper? I must have hurt him somehow. Baby cried when I changed his onesies? I must have pushed in his soft spot on his head. And then I began having scarier thoughts. Catastrophic traumatizing thoughts that I don't want to revisit right now. I cried probably 4-5 times a day. It wasn't until about 2 weeks later, when my husband and I were watching our son in his swing that I cried happy tears. I couldn't believe I had made a little human that I loved so much.
When I went to my 6 week postpartum appointment, I confided in my doctor that I thought I had postpartum anxiety and explained that although it was better than before, I spent most of my hours obsessed over SIDS and cried at least once a day still. He told me that sleep deprivation plays a huge factor in PPD and PPA. That I needed to find ways to get more sleep however that may be. That my body wasn't producing estrogen like before and estrogen is an antidepressant. He could give me estrogen but it would mean I would stop producing milk and of course then I would have to stop breastfeeding. We agreed that if things didn't get better in the next couple weeks, I would come to him and revisit the topic of meds. So I went home and devised a game plan with my husband to get more sleep. And it worked...for the most part.
My anxiety as a mom is still there but it is not as crippling now that I have a handle on some of the triggers. But here is a pretty amazing thing I realized the other night- while being a mom has opened up some really scary anxious thoughts for me, it actually has helped me conquer my anxiety. For example, just two nights ago, I was going to give my baby a bath with no one else home to help me. I was so scared I couldn't do it on my own. But he needed a bath. It was part of his bedtime routine. He liked his baths! And it was my job to give him that. So I did it. And we both survived. And I cried again but out of gratitude because being a mom means someone else relies on you and you can't give up on yourself for that reason alone. So he keeps me strong and forces me to push through my anxiety for him. It's a pretty cool anti-anxiety med.
Do I think everyone is able to conquer their postpartum anxiety without meds? No and there is no weakness or failure there if that's the case. I have not even fully conquered mine. Before Christmas, we went to the LA Zoo lights so the baby could get a picture with Santa. I basically choked back tears the whole two hours, overwhelmed and scared. But I did it without crying and feel stronger for it. I just take each day one at a time and breathe my way through the moments and try to trust my instincts. Every car door that shuts outside makes me jump still. Right now as I write this, I feel a rollercoaster flip of anxiety in my stomach for no reason. But I am breathing through it. I have a group of fellow mothers on Facebook that I can turn to for advice and comfort when I need it (new moms- find your tribe! and if you don't have one, email me. I will bring you into ours.)
I also try to deflect the negative now and avoid reading terrifying articles about bad things happening to babies. If you know a new mom, don't give her unsolicited advice that may ramp up her anxiety or depression and don't send her links or stories about terrifying things. Please consider she may be suffering deeper than the standard baby blues. Give her encouragement and help, not more things to worry about, and let her adjust to her new life. If you are a new mom and feeling the way I was, open up to your family, friends, doctors, whoever you can about how you are feeling. It is scary having a child to be responsible for. I bet you're doing a better job than you think. On that note, I have to go give my son a bath now because I am his mother and I am capable of that job!!!
2017 was, without a doubt, one of the most complex years of my life. Truthfully, it ranks up there with the worst. I lost my Chuchie Paula (my aunt and godmother and yes we misspell Ciocia in my family) and the pain of her loss hits me daily. I had several personal tests that I do not want to share but I can say I spent many nights crying and sleepless. I have learned there are ugly things in the world and even uglier people. I struggled to not give my power to the bad and let go to karma. All the while, I was pregnant, hormonal, and anxious. I just wanted a cloud to lift for me.
And then, quite quickly, 2017 decided to sweep in to the top years of my life when my son was born. The darkness still looms on some days but I have a bright, happy, loving baby boy to care for and his smile makes my heart soar. I didn't even know I would love being a mother as much as I do. It was never on my list of things to do or be but I am so glad I am one. I have always been a woman who found contentment in what I had but now I have a new sense of purpose because no one else relies on my love and presence as much as he does. I want to be the best I can be for him. As I enter this new year, I remember these things 2017 taught me:
I have learned that I am a hell of a lot stronger than I think.
I have learned that I can make it no matter what is thrown my way.
I have learned to ask for help when I need it instead of going it alone.
I have learned for every shitty person out there, I have loving people with integrity in my life.
And I am ready for 2018. To see my son grow and to see myself grow. To speak my mind when necessary instead of choke down the words. To live authentically. To deflect bullshit. To focus on the present and leave the past behind. The future is bright and positive changes are up ahead.
I am ready.
We are ready.
DISCLAIMER: This post is long and if you are trying to avoid unpleasant birth stories, avoid this! Or move forward, knowing there is a happy ending! Still want to read? Here we go:
When you are pregnant, you might want to plan ahead for your labor and delivery. What your preferences are on modern medicine, pain management, immediate bonding with baby, etc. People love to tell you to keep an open mind, be flexible, always have a Plan B.
WELL...My plan was about as hippie crunchy earth mama warrior goddess as I could get in a hospital. I worked out a birth plan with my husband thanks to some help from my awesome doula (Melissa Zefaris) and incredible hypnobirthing teacher (Alisha Tamburri). I trained for this labor and delivery for months like I was training for a marathon. I listened to hypno tracks twice a day, birth affirmation tracks when driving or showering, envisioned laboring at home with my husband and doula until eventually we would make our way to the hospital and I would have a baby within 4 hours of check in. I even endured perineal massages multiple times a week to help me deal with my fear of the "ring of fire." (Shout out to my husband for being said masseuse. Also, it is the farthest thing from a massage ever.) I had a healthy pregnancy: no complications, worked out regularly, and generally ate well. After my third cervical sweep on a Friday (at 40 weeks and 3 days), my doctor said "I predict something by Sunday." I went home eager to get this show on the road. THIS IS WHAT I HAD BEEN TRAINING FOR.
Saturday, I felt a surge of energy and expectancy. I cleaned like a madwoman, made sure our bags were packed, and was convinced labor would start that night. At 12:03am on Sunday 10/29/17, I was climbing into bed to say goodnight to my husband and felt I was about to lose all bladder control. I ran to the bathroom and as I sat down on the toilet, my water broke. I know they say it's rarely like in the movies. You guys, it was like in the movies. And then I started to cry. Wanna know why? My doctor had stressed several times that if my water broke, I had 6 hours to make it to the hospital. When your water breaks, you have opened the door to infection for yourself and the baby. I knew this meant I needed to start active labor asap or this was not going to go as planned. I used my birth ball to get through the random contractions when they came and listened to hypno tracks. At 5:40am, my husband had the truck packed and we were putting the dogs out in the yard and on our way to the hospital.
I was already pre-registered at the hospital (pro tip: always pre-register!!) and we were checked into a delivery room. They asked me a zillion questions and checked me for progress. 80% effaced and 2cm dilated. My doctor called to speak to me on the phone a few hours later and advised me that if active labor was not underway by noon, we would need to start pitocin. I started bawling on the phone and made my husband talk to him. Number one on my list of things I wanted to avoid? Pitocin. When your body labors naturally, you will have a contraction and then your body gives you a break to recover before the next one. Pitocin does not give you a break- the contractions come one after another as labor progresses. I called Alisha on the phone and cried to her for advice. Both she and Melissa advised that I ask for more time. My doctor agreed to a 3pm deadline instead. My husband, doula, and I did every trick in the book to get labor going. At 2:30pm, I began crying (lots of tears in this story) and agreed to go ahead with the pitocin.
My doula recommended that if I chose this route, I get an epidural because the pain would be a different level than laboring naturally. I wanted to try to do this on my own still. My dear friend Marianne showed up and the pitocin kicked in. I went 2.5 hours with no pain meds. My doula exuberantly cheered "you are kicking pitocin's ass!" Until finally, I couldn't do it anymore. The contractions felt like they never stopped and I was experiencing intense back labor (FUCK THAT NOISE BY THE WAY- BACK LABOR IS HELL). I cried some more and told my husband I thought I was giving up. I decided to have the nurse check me for progress before I decided my next move- if I was progressing, I was going to power through this. Except I was still only 2cm dilated. Time for an epidural. I was sure I could have handled this on my own if I hadn't had pitocin's interference. I felt so cheated.
The anesthesiologist was called and Melissa and Marianne were ushered out of the room. I was rolled onto my side and my husband was holding my hand, all the while I was experiencing intense contractions. I was loudly breathing like some wild animal and crying and anyone who says an epidural doesn't hurt is a big fat liar. I felt pain in my left hip and fluid moving through my bones and had a strong contraction in my back and I must have had a panic attack because next thing I know, my husband looked pale, I was rolled over onto my right side, and my husband was saying "they're giving you oxygen, babe! that's cool!" clearly trying to act like everything was okay. Unbeknownst to me, my heart rate had dropped but even more scary was the baby's heart rate had gone from 160 bpm to 2...4...2...6...2. After about 10 minutes or so of an oxygen mask and the epidural kicking in (and wow- did it ever), baby and I were stabilized and back on track.
This was probably about 3:30pm or so? For the rest of the day and night, I was lying in bed numb from the waist down. Every hour a nurse would come in and roll me over to the other side, place a peanut ball between my legs, take my temperature. I was on an antibiotic IV and if you didn't know, you are given a catheter if you get an epidural (you have no idea when you're peeing). I was painfully thirsty but not allowed to drink or eat anything but a few ice chips at a time. I began running a fever of 102. The nurse checked me for progress around 6am. 90% effaced, 4cm. My doctor (my hero) showed up and explained that a C-section was necessary now as I had a fever and could potentially be harming the baby. I agreed with relief to finally get this over with but also disappointment because this was so far from what I wanted. Everything moved so fast from that point. Two nurses came in and started a second antibiotic and wheeled me off to the OR. I was so delirious that I really remember very little. I was reunited with my husband and doula in the OR and was given more drugs via my epidural (helllooooooo morphine). At 8:38AM on October 30, 2017, 32.5 hours after my water broke, my son was born via C-section. I could hear him cry and the section where he was weighed and measured was behind me so I couldn't see him. As I was being closed up by my doctor, my husband brought the tiniest little baby over to me and held him cheek to cheek with me. The only thing better than that moment was about 4 hours later when the numbness in my arms had worn off enough for me to hold him. John Rocky Perez, a little human weighing 6 lbs 12 oz and measuring in at 19" long had made me a mother. Here comes the son...(photos by Melissa Zefaris).
On Monday, a day before I was officially 39 weeks, I had my weekly doctor appointment. Baby's heartbeat was fine, measuring at 36cm still, BP was high twice and after a few minutes of quiet and calm, it had gone back down to my normal lower end BP. But yet again, the doctor informed me that the baby was still really high up there and he recommended we start cervical sweeps (aka membrane sweeps/membrane stripping). I guess I wasn't ready for it to be suggested soon- I thought that was our last natural attempt before induction if I went past due date. Doctor explained that it usually takes a week to work and while we could go till 42 weeks if needed, the longer you wait, the bigger the baby gets. So you run into risks of needing a c-section and being induced. That it was up to me but we could start cervical sweeps that week if I wanted. Ok then. I got dressed and tried not to cry for no real good reason other than hormones. I went out into the hallway and made the appointment for Wednesday to begin my cervical sweeps.
I then spent the next day and a half overthinking the whole process. People said it would be painful. Also, definitely don't google these things. Was I rushing my baby to get out when he wasn't ready? My husband said I just have made such a nice home for baby in there that he's in no rush to get out. I had convinced myself I was going to be having a baby on Wednesday night now. I have an active imagination. My doula said it was a good thing and if I was anything like her, it would work. Then I talked to moms who said it didn't work for them at all. I woke up on Wednesday morning feeling anxious. I mean, I basically had read that my doctor would 'aggressively separate membranes from my cervix' like what the actual fuck had I agreed to here?
So here's the real deal. I showed up at the doctor's office that morning, feeling apprehensive. I did the standard empty my bladder then get undressed from the waist down procedure. Doctor came in, told me to lay down on the table, asked me to relax and explained he was going to reach up to my cervix now and then he counted "1, 2, 3, 4, 5" while sweeping his fingers around in a circle. I was a bit tense, realized it, and decided it was time to put the surge breathing I have learned in Hypnobirthing to use. He says "here we go again- and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5" and I was breathing in and out through my nose like I have been training and he says "much better sweep." and it was done! It was really not that terrible. Granted, he did say to me "you did a great job. Not all women can manage that as well as you did." So unexpectedly, I got a little boost of confidence when it comes to how well I am preparing myself to utilize my Hypnobirthing techniques!
So the doctor advised that in his experience, it usually takes three sweeps to work. While there are exceptions to the rule, he anticipates I will still be pregnant on Monday when I return for my next appointment and sweep. All day long my stomach would get really hard, I had some minor spotting, and experienced some cramping. But that was it. It really wasn't a big deal and if it helps move this little baby along without the need for chemical intervention, then it's worth it to me. I'm off to acquire evening primrose oil, get some walking in, and let this baby know that I'm ready to get this party started!
For a very long time (I mean, it feels like I've basically been pregnant for a year now), I have said to myself "I just want to make it to 38 weeks." Well, here we are. 38 weeks. We made it!!!
I can feel the baby move underneath my hip sockets lately. It is a very strange feeling. Almost like a tickle but the kind where someone squeezes that weird spot right above your knee and you just wish it would stop. It's that feeling over and over again. My mother commented on a photo from my baby shower asking me if I was carrying low. Between that, the hip socket squeeze, and random pelvic pains where I can barely walk and have to sit and breathe until it subsides, I was convinced maybe we were about to get this show on the road for real. So when my doctor performed a check at my last appointment, imagine my confusion when he said "Well the baby is head down but wow- he is high up there still."
Truth is, I am not really feeling ready for the baby to be here but I was still confused to hear this news. I know everyone says you will breathe easier when the baby drops and breathing is not something coming easily to me these days. There's quite a bit of mouth breathing as well as really loud short inhales and exhales when I take the short walk from my bedroom to the bathroom. So I look forward to the baby "dropping" but also am a bit concerned about what my pelvis is going to feel like then since I'm already totally uncomfortable. Supposedly that drop is what triggers the "pregnant waddle" but let me tell ya kids, I feel like I've been waddling for a good couple months now!
So that being said, as we reach the end of this journey (maybe. possibly. who knows when this is really gonna happen now.), I would like to share a few third trimester gems with you.
1) If there is a heartburn god out there, I have clearly pissed him off because it is back with a vengeance. I resorted to swallowing a shot of apple cider vinegar hoping it would make it better. It just added to the burn. Please send TUMS.
2) I have thrown up randomly twice since hitting the third trimester. That was SO FUN remembering what the first trimester felt like. Just in case I had forgotten the misery, my body wanted to remind me it wasn't over until the fat lady sings. The fat lady in this scenario is me, you guys.
3) DID YOU KNOW MATERNITY CLOTHES GET TIGHT AT THE END? When I bought these clothes, I was of the understanding that they were made for my full pregnancy. But noooooo...apparently, I am reaching a point where they may no longer fit. And then what? Do I just wear a trash bag? Wasn't there a Simpsons episode where Homer got so large he could only wear a muumuu? It may be getting to that point. And if anyone wants to comment on how pregnant I am, anyone but me, I will punch them in the face.
4) The CANKLES. OH THE HUMANITY. I have literally lost any definition of an ankle to leg ratio. I can no longer wear my wedding ring. My husband had to shove my feet into a pair of Toms the other day because I did not want to wear flip flops. I felt like Cinderella's ugly stepsister as Prince Charming huffed and puffed trying to get my new Shaq sized foot in a princess sized slip-on.
5) Apparently, I am snoring so loud that my husband said he was about to call an Exorcist. He woke me up last night as he tried to grab his cell phone to record how demonic my snoring sounds. I'VE NEVER BEEN MORE ATTRACTIVE, Y'ALL!
All that being said, I am close. I am so close! I am like panicking a bit and anxiety ridden, I wake up 7 times a night to pee, I am a hot mess, but I am so close! My doula has given me a list of ways to help induce labor naturally plus exercises for the end of pregnancy. I will share more of that with you all later. As for right now, I am gonna go eat a home cooked meal and enjoy these last couple weeks of baby free life.