In college, my favorite professor taught all the writing courses I took, and often, after a particularly raw critique of my work, he would see my frustration and say in a gruff but encouraging way: Keep the faith.
At that point in my life, I had a different kind of faith – but that's another story.
His words, Keep the faith, have continued to bolster me, soothe me, in times of distress, fear, anguish.
I refer, specifically, to the first three months of Wee W's life.
It is with great relish that I can now intone: So long, Fourth Trimester, you asshole.
Because I'm not gonna lie – the first three months of Wee W's existence were often dark.
Especially having come so recently from the LIGHT:
For someone who had a beautifully simple pregnancy and a fast and relatively painless delivery, I drew the short straw on the postpartum experience.
Hoooooo boy that shit is NO JOKE.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, I decided to have my placenta encapsulated, so I could take it after giving birth, hoping for the miracle effects that some women experience. Instead, it FUCKED ME UP. It's basically loads of pregnancy hormones, and while that can work wonders for some women, it threw me down a serious well of depression.
Since I've never had any experience with long-term depression, at first, I didn't realize what was happening. I mean, I already had a ten-month old and was exhausted from being a parent and had gone through pregnancy and a birth and so I was supposed to feel depleted and foggy and completely without hope. RIGHT?
After coming down of the initial high of Oh hello my beautiful daughter welcome to this crazy world I love you the strangest thing happened: I kept sinking. And sinking. Taking my placenta faithfully, twice a day. And then Wee W decided to add some obstacles to the gauntlet and be colicky.
There is nothing like being unable to comfort your child. Nothing in this world. Your child's cries cut into your brain with a primitive knife and then stab directly through your soul. (Note: this occurs with an adopted child, just the same.) Corey and I spent countless hours fretting and googling and I relied heavily on texting friends and our doula at all hours of the day and night with words like HELP and OH MY GOD WILL IT EVER END and I'M FORGETTING WHO I AM but all you can really do is just wait it out. For months.
Since Wee W was 24 days early, those tiny, tiny villi in her tummy, which would have been microscopic if she was to term, were micro-micro, so her poor digestive system was beseiged, even with my breast milk. Hence, colic. Hence crying. Hence, barf. Lots of it. Constantly. Sometimes, Exorcist-like.
And wouldn't you know – the physical act, the latching, pumping, the supply, all that stuff, was golden. No problems. I produced plenty of milk and she took to the boob like a pro.
But me? Not so much. I squirmed. I writhed. In the middle of the night, side-lying, I would nearly thrash in anguish. I loved being able to nourish my child. So much easier than having to make a bottle in the middle of the night. Nothing to pack when we went out.
But the physical act of breastfeeding? Sometimes okay, often awful. And this oxytocin thing I'd read about? Never felt it. Love for my baby? Yes. Even when she screamed for hours. But the actual chemical that's released while feeding my child that's supposed to send warm fuzzies coursing throughout? Nope.
Instead, I was traipsing down the path of postpartum depression and didn't even know it.
And PPD is serious. It transforms a person with a ton of positive energy and a buoyant sense of humor and hope about most things into a soggy, sodden, dull-eyed, spiritless, morbid, desperate being. It puts scary, dark thoughts into your head and makes them erect scaffolding so they can build more permanent structures.
During this time, Corey was steady and nearly bionic. Thank god. I don't know what I would have done without a partner, a support. Someone who knows me and loves me and wants me to get help.
And there were days, moments, when light would sneak in and everything would lift:
But there were plenty of moments like this:
And as much as you treasure and want to bronze the moments of not screaming, sadly, the screaming ones are often those that sear. Or at least leave you shaky and traumatized. And when you're fatigued and demoralized, it's very difficult to remember a time when you were not.
So one morning I woke up, and on a whim thought, this is the longest my body has been without the placenta. I'm not going to take it today and just see.
BAM. Felt better, like, so fast.
So buh-bye to that. Easy.
But the ups and downs continued. Which is normal, to some degree of course. But my anxiety levels started to go through the roof. I felt completely unmoored. It was terrifying. And it just got worse and worse. And breastfeeding was, literally, draining me. I was feeding Wee W sometimes for hours. "Cluster feeding" is the euphemism. SUCKED DRY is more like it. I was so tired I couldn't think.
My initial goal was to make it through the first three months. During that time, a baby's brain cells are tripling. And breast milk is like a super-rich support for that development. So for those first three months I staggered along, marking the day I could feel okay about stopping on the calendar. I thought I'd do a tap dance on that day.
But it came and went and I'd gotten used to feeling kind of terrible and I'd put so much effort into feeding and pumping and basically being available 24/7 as a milk machine that I forgot about my initial fantasy of leaving breast feeding behind. Wee W's little digestive system was getting better, she was keeping more milk down, and on paper, things looked fine.
And then I started feeling even worse. Like, back down into darkness. And as anyone who knows me will tell you, this is not who I am. It was such an odd, terrible sensation to know that I was depressed, to know it wasn't my normal state, and to not be able to do a thing about it.
Finally, I reached out again to my wonderful doula and now dear, dear friend and said Is it possible that breastfeeding is making me feel AWFUL?
Yes, she said. Absolutely. For some women, this is the effect.
The relief, the hulking weight off my shoulders. Because there's a reason. And it's solvable.
So here's where we are currently: I'm continuing to pump, but am slowly whittling down. I still nurse, but only in the middle of the night, if she needs it. We're moving Wee W over to formula slowly and gradually, feeding her a blend of breast milk and the stuff S jr gets. And geez - if there were ever a ringing endorsement for how well a baby can do on formula, it's S jr. The kid is a wonder.
My own guilt aside, I'm also slowly getting used to the idea. It's difficult for me because in my fantasy, I breastfeed easily and we're both delighted constantly and little birds fly around our heads with colored ribbons, tweeting cheerily.
But as my therapist assures me, there are plenty of other things to feel guilty about. Ha.
The Good: My daughter is beautiful and funny and a champ.
The Bad: It comes and goes but right now it's at bay.
The Barfy: Pretty much everything I own has been barfed on. But that's okay, because laundry.
My sweet child. We're allies. So many times, nursing her in the dead of night, in the darkness, I would whisper Help me out, kiddo. We're in this together. I love you and everything will be okay. Right?
Keep the faith.