Wednesday, June 8, 2011

We've Come A Long Way Since Baby

Last week I went to visit my best friend from college who had her first baby and was quickly reminded of what those first few days and weeks after having a baby looked and felt like. DISCLAIMER: FOR THE DUDES AND THOSE WHO HAVE NO DESIRE TO HEAR DETAILS ABOUT "WOMANLY THINGS," DON'T READ THIS BLOG. (But I highly recommend it so you have more respect for women!)

I had gotten an "SOS" text from her the day before double checking what time I would be there. We agreed that I would come to see her the first day her husband went back to work. Of course, I had forgotten to follow up with her once I secured plans to have my mother-in-law watch the kids because I only have 3 working brain cells at this point; One to dress and feed my children, one to dress and feed my husband and one to write this blog.

I dropped my kids off at my in-laws and headed to the city where my friend lives. Yeah, I know I'm a little crazy spending a day without kids helping take care of someone elses. However, I also think of going to the gynecologist, wakes and getting my taxes done as "days out," so it's cool.

First stop, Starbucks. She and I are infamous for our Starbucks rendezvous and that was what she brought me right after I had Maddie. I got her a Skinny Dolce de Leche, decadent but decaf and made with skim milk. Then I headed to Subway to get her a foot long turkey without any gas producing veggies and had them include packets of mustard and mayo so my friend could decide if she wanted them on her sandwich or not. Details, details, details. Here's why.

1) After nine months of pregnancy and long stretches without any sleep, you long for caffeine. If you are lucky, you were able to drink coffee (decaf with the occasional regular) without vomiting or getting severe heartburn. However, if you are nursing, you learn quickly that caffeine can affect your milk and the last thing you want is a wired baby.
2) While nursing requires you to eat enough to produce milk, you still have an extra 20+ lbs. weight you gained during pregnancy to compete with, hence the skim milk and avoiding mayo on your sandwich.
3) Since lunch meat is a no-no during pregnancy, having a turkey sandwich is like "eating lobster" as my friend put it.

I also brought her a bottle of Cuervo Gold Margarita Mix. I remember my friend saying that she never missed drinking during her pregnancy, but towards the end she was at a Mexican Restaurant on a warm spring day and a Margarita actually sounded good. I figured once she got a good nursing schedule down, some milk on reserve and could function properly without being under the influence of alcohol let alone under the influence, she could probably use a drink.

I got to her place and when she opened the door, I saw "the look." It was a look I knew well. I had seen it so many times when I looked in the mirror after having both my kids, but especially after having Maddie. It is that look where every bit of color is drained from your face and only makes the dark circles under your eyes look that much darker. Your eyes are sunken and there is a blank stare that indicates that there is a good chance if someone asked you your name, you wouldn't be able to answer.

I know very well, that the right thing to do when you see a woman who has just had a baby is to greet her and pay attention to her before you rush off to see the baby. NEVER brush past the mommy like she was merely an oven baking the cake to be enjoyed on the baby’s birthday. Despite her haggard and exhausted look she has a sense of peace and tranquility about her. You tell her she looks wonderful. In my friend's case, all things considered, she really did.

My job while I was there was to listen to her tell her story of how her labor and delivery was, answer her questions that she may have now that the baby is home and most importantly allow her to take a shower. Once she had the opportunity to feel human again, I stole the baby and took her for a walk. I hoped my friend would take a nap, but when I returned an hour later she had been on the phone since I left. She was dealing with all the "business" of having a baby including FMLA paperwork, follow up doctor's appointments, talking to the lactation consultant and general life issues like getting her laptop fixed.

I remember very well all the times people would send me to take a nap, and despite the fact I was running on 2 hours of sleep over a 24 hour period, I chose to do things that didn't involve sleeping. I did laundry, I made phone calls, I showered, cleaned the kitchen and went to Target. I learned that somehow mommies are able to muster up this super human energy right after they have a baby. Like me, my friend had a long labor so even before the baby was born, she lost a whole night of sleep.

Despite this super human energy to keep going, it also comes with super crazy hormone flux. You think pregnancy is a roller coaster ride, but it is nothing compared to post partum emotions. As happy as you are that you have this wonderful, beautiful new baby, you are shell-shocked. I can't speak for women who had c-sections, but when you give birth vaginally, (sorry, can't write a posting about giving birth and not use the "v" word.) most of your post traumatic stress syndrome is based on the trauma your who-ha went through and the pain you feel afterwards. If you had it really rough and tore or had an episiotomy, you walk around with a crotch Popsicle for several days. Then, you bleed like a stuffed pig for several weeks after you give birth. And when I say bleed, I mean worst period in the world time 100. You need to wear SUPER DUPER ULTRA absorbent pads and despite all the advances in medical technology, the pads they give you in the hospital are classic "Are You There God It's Me, Margaret" pillows circa 1970.

You think that is the extent of the ridiculous amount of pain and agony your body can endure until you realize you now are one of the millions suffering from hemorrhoids. Then, you get constipated which is always a nice addition to all of the above mentioned details of your nether region. You take something to alleviate this problem only to have the opposite problem. At some point all you can do is stop and think, "WTF!" How and why does this have to be the way children are brought into this world? So, when you start crying and your husband looks at you like you have seven heads and you tell him you don't know why, and he can't understand why; well, there's your answer. Did I mention that you will still look 4 months pregnant, your feet will STILL be swollen, your not supposed to be lifting or driving or going up and down stairs and they expect you to rest while taking care of a very needy newborn all on NO sleep? Can you say overwhelming? And your husband will get frustrated because there really isn't a whole lot he can do. Even if there is something he can do, you don't even know enough to ask him what he can do to help. He will feel guilty, get frustrated with himself and you and the best you can do is send him to get Buffalo Wild Wings where he can drink a beer at the bar while waiting for carryout. At least he will come back refreshed, maybe a little buzzed and most importantly with food in-hand since making dinner is out of the question.

As much as you wish he could get up in the middle of the night and feed the baby, if you are nursing this isn't much of an option. You might be able to if you pump and hand the bottle to your husband and go back to bed. But then you have pump parts and bottles to clean up and then both of you and maybe even the baby are up and then everyone is tired and everyone is crabby. The only thing worse than one sleepless and crabby parent is two sleepless and crabby parents. Tell your husband to sleep, especially when he has to go back to work. Throw all your feminist views out the window. That is what maternity leave is for. I will say that if you hit your wits end in the middle of the night and you are at the point where the baby won't go back to sleep and the baby won't stop crying and you think, "One of the two of us is going to go in the shed to sleep," and your first vote is for the baby to be that person, that the point you should get your husband to take over.

In addition to the physical aspect of giving birth, like I said, there is the emotional aspect. For me, I suffered from depression long before I had children and take medication for it. I weaned off of it to get pregnant and didn't go back on it until right after I gave birth. It was just another loop-d-loop in my emotional roller coaster. I knew I was a high risk for post-partum depression, and even after starting on my medication right after giving birth, I flunked my post partum depression questionnaire at my 6 week doctor's appointment. In my case, I was glad I was already riding the crazy train, because it made me more aware and proactive when it came to my post-partum depression. For other women who experience it, they don't know what hit them. While most women experience "the blues" after they have a baby, there are still a good number who need treatment. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding depression and taking medication prevents people from taking anything or even admitting that they aren't in baby bliss. It is easy to beat yourself up for not being over-the-moon happy about your new bundle of joy, and that denial that something is wrong can set you back even further.

I made sure I told my doctor immediately that I didn't feel right and requested that I go back to my full dose of antidepressants that I had taken prior to getting pregnant. Once I did that, it didn't make me totally sane, but I was able to cope with things much easier and knew that happy mommy is the best for happy baby and happy daddy.

As I held my friend's baby and for a brief moment considered having my husband go and get his vasectomy reversed, I was quickly reminded that as cute and wonderful as this baby was, I arrived with a full night of sleep, I didn't have to feed her, wake up with her, sooth her, bath her, etc. Then I remembered I already had two kids waiting for me at home and promptly handed the baby back to my friend. I worry about my friend, but I know she is a strong, capable woman. I know that she has the love and support of her husband and family and she will eventually get a good night's sleep and she and the baby will fall into a routine making life more manageable.

I left there feeling proud. Proud thinking back at what I have accomplished over the last 4 years of being a mom. Proud of how mature, strong and centered I’d become. I felt confident giving my friend advice. I felt a sense of accomplishment for overcoming all the pain, agony, depression and uncertainty. I felt proud of how selfless I have become and that my priorities are mainly focused on my family. I was happy that my husband and I, despite the challenges becoming a parent presents you with as a couple, were able to communicate with each other in order to make it through the early days, weeks and months. I also know that we have a long road of parenting yet to travel and know we already have the necessary tools to take whatever life throws at us. I felt blessed to have a partner who understands me and when he doesn't understand me he know to just take a step back or simply give me a hug.

Whenever I feel sorry for myself as if I am the only woman on earth who has had to go through what I've gone through and continue to go through as a mother. I remind myself that millions of women give birth and millions of women have to raise children. If they can do it, so can I. However, I am also reminded that despite this, women really do deserve respect and to be put on a pedestal for their responsibilities as mothers, if not from men, then at least from each other.

I watch all of these "Housewives" reality shows and see these women behaving badly and treating each other like crap, and I think these women should be supporting each other, not tearing each other down. I think about my own life and how I've wasted too much time comparing myself to other people and worrying about what people think of me.  It reminds me that none of that matters. Women should really band together and make each other feel good and confident about themselves for what they have accomplished whether they are mothers or not. We should wear our stretch marks, momma pooches, varicose veins and saggy boobs from nursing like badges of honor.

So, my gift to my friend, besides a bottle of Cuervo Gold Margarita, is love, support, respect and the ability to sneak off and take a shower. A few days after I visited my friend, she sent me a text thanking me for helping her and then apologizing for not being there when I had my kids. I told her she should not apologize. There are probably plenty of my friends or family who had kids before me that I didn't help out as much as I probably should have because until you have your own, you just cannot fathom how hard it is. I told her all she can do is pay it forward.  I know that every minute she'll learn something new and with that comes confidence so that someday she can help another mommy out and share her experiences.

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