I’ve thought long and hard about attempting NaNoWriMo this year. There are plenty of reasons not to do it, but let’s be honest — there are always plenty of reasons not to write 50,000 words in one month. This will be my 9th year, and in the end, I decided I would feel better about trying and failing than about having not tried at all.
I’ve been out of the daily writing habit for a long while now. In the midst of my pregnancy, I was saddled with an overarching lack of desire to write. Which really sucked a lot. And while I’ve churned out a few short stories since Pippin was born, harnessing the energy at the appropriate time has been a struggle. So, if for no other reason, NaNoWriMo contains the potential power to get me into a daily writing habit again.
My 10 Commandments for Surviving NaNoWriMo as a New Parent
Here are the strategies I’m hoping to put into place to get me through the month and to 50,000 words.
Commandment #1: Trade Off Parenting Duty
I’m very lucky that I have a super supportive partner, who has also participated in NaNoWriMo the past two years. This November, he’ll be starting a new adventure — returning to school to get a teaching degree — at the same time I’m buckling down for NaNoWriMo. We’re typically pretty good about taking shifts watching Pippin while the other one goes off to do whatever we need to do — work out, create something, sleep, etc. — and that will become even more important moving forward.
Commandment #2: Take the Writing on the Road (or the Kiddo Out of the House) At Least Once a Week
A subcategory of trading off, we’re going to try to ensure that we both get distraction-free time each week. We can drop into our local Starbucks, or one of us can take Pip out for an adventure at a play place or a trip to the grocery store.
Commandment #3: Stop Wasting Time on the Internets
I know, I know. This is old advice. I tend to have screen-induced ADD, to the point where I tell myself it actually helps my productivity to pop over to facebook or twitter or Candy Crush (Dear God, why did I ever download that awful, terrible, horrible game?!) every five minutes. Well, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right? Well, there you go. If I have 15 minutes of downtime, I should use it to tap out a few hundred words instead of messing about on something useless.
Commandment #4: Get Some Exercise
My brain works best when I get my workouts in, so I need to continue making those a priority. I’ve already lowered my expectations for what I consider workouts these days, but if I can manage to fit in something active just about every day (a very brisk walk with Pip in the stroller, a 15- to 20-minute strength workout after he goes to bed, etc.), then I’ll be in good shape (both mentally and physically).
Commandment #5: Don’t Throw a Healthy Diet Out the Window
Our crockpot is going to see a lot of action this November. So are our freezer and our oven. It turns out babies and school are expensive, so ramping up the eating out isn’t really a great option for us — plus doing so generally tends to work against my previous strategy. But our budget can handle some frozen stuff we can just pop in the oven, like healthy fish, organic burritos, or pre-frozen casseroles from Costco.
Commandment #6: Write in the Morning; Write in the Evening
I get up at 4:15 a.m. in the morning to pump before I go to work, and during that pumping time, I am basically tethered to my computer. Same in the evening before bed. Those are also the times when Pippin is (usually) sleeping. If I can knock out 1,000 words at each go, I’ll be in very good shape.
Commandment #7: Jot Down Ideas All Day Long
Whether it’s scribbled on a piece of paper, hastily typed into my iPhone, or inarticulately blabbed as a voice memo, I will do my best to capture thoughts so I can incorporate them into writing later. No more ideas lost to the ether.
Commandment #8: Know What I’m Going to Write Next
I’m going to make an effort to plan the next bit I’m going to write whenever I’m getting ready to wrap up a writing session. I don’t think I need to go so far as stopping in the middle of a sentence, but knowing what I’m going to do next will enable me to jump in more quickly the next time I have a few minutes.
Commandment #9: Write Every Day
Even if I don’t think there’s any way, shape or form I can hit the 1,667-word quota, I can still write something. One hundred words are better than zero words.
Commandment #10: “Side Projects and Hobbies are Important.”
In Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon talks about how having a hobby and actively pursuing it in the midst of his other “real” projects improves his creativity. I think it’s important to stay engaged with the world in as many ways as possible, which is one reason why I take so many photographs. It helps me see things I wouldn’t have even noticed had I not been looking for an interesting photo — and that in turn leads to interesting things popping out at me because my brain is trained to do that. And the hope is that that brain elasticity transfers to my writing. So I plan to keep taking photos during November (I participate in #fmsphotoaday every month, sometimes more fully than others), and I plan to take the time to make some physical art. I’m also going to hang out with my kid, watch some TV shows and go on a few dates hopefully. Because the best writing comes from what we discover while living life.
Join the Challenge — Sign Up for NaNoWriMo
The best and worst fact of NaNoWriMo is there’s always someone busier than you. If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, stop making excuses and take the plunge. It’ll be a grand adventure and one you most certainly won’t regret. No time like the present, so go sign up! If you’re planning on participating, I’d love to hear (and potentially steal) your strategies for making it through the month — leave me a comment!
A FAMILIAR GIFT
When the man arrived at my doorstep, I barely glanced at him.
“Can I help you?” I asked. I wanted to be polite, but I was really quite busy. Three half-carved jack-o-lanterns sat on my kitchen counter along with a pot bubbling on the stove, not to mention the sewing project on the table waiting for my return.
“I’ve been watching you,” he said. His voice felt like gravel being poured over my head. It made me pay attention.
He was thin and dressed all in black, and so it wasn’t until I heard the purring that I realized a black cat was lounging in his arms. I took a step back, but the man remained at the same distance from me. The cat kept purring.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I replied, or at least tried to.
The man smiled a grin full of teeth, but I couldn’t tell if they were rotten or perfectly maintained. When I tried to look directly at him, it was as if I were in a house of mirrors lit with strobe lights.
“I had my initial doubts,” he said. “You were such a good girl growing up.”
The cat’s purrs were beginning to reverberate in my ears. I could barely hear his voice over the sound.
“But you’ve proven very worthy in the past few months.”
A chill ran up my spine, and then a burst of fire shot back down it.
“The effort you’ve put into your research is quite impressive. I don’t find many like you in this day and age, especially in mid-American suburbia.”
He looked around the subdivision in which my house resided and chuckled. I was reminded briefly of a grinning skeleton before he fixed his dark eyes back on mine.
“I’ve brought you a gift,” he said.
The purring quieted. He held out the black, furry creature to me, and without any intention to do so, I received her into my arms.
“She’ll help you in your efforts,” he said. “I’ll return for her after seven years. Look after her well, and you will be rewarded. If not, well…”
He stepped off the porch and back into my driveway. He looked back over his shoulder and grinned that ghastly, beautiful grin once again. “Happy Halloween.”
I don’t know how long I stood there or quite when he disappeared. I fear I might have stood there forever if not for the cat’s meow. I looked into the creature’s yellow eyes. It was as if she were encouraging me to get back to my to-do list. So I did.
As I wandered past the half-stitched doll and stick pins on the table, the smell of the concoction in the cast iron pot told me it was ready. I walked to the gas stove and turned up the flame with my free hand, and then retrieved the remaining ingredient from the cabinet. The cat jumped out of my arms and onto the counter, where she kept a watchful eye as I dropped the lock of hair into the cauldron.
As it bubbled, the cat began purring again, and I knew that we would soon become very familiar companions.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
Thanks to the hard work of my colleagues, I have finally been able to complete post-production on STILL. And this is wonderful because, while I am pleased with the final cut of the film, I am also so sick of looking at it. I’m definitely ready for others to be the ones watching instead of me. :-)
Unfortunately, the whole thing is a little anticlimactic because I can’t post it for public consumption until we’ve completed the festival submission process, which probably won’t be for some time. But hey, I can show you guys this little poster!
Right now, the film is on its way to several festivals. This is my first time submitting a film, so I’m sure there will be a big learning curve here as well. In any case, I’m excited to see what happens next.
Thanks again so much to my cast and crew.
- Michael Burgess, the best human statue Kansas City has ever seen
- Amy Elrod, my amazing and tireless director of photography
- Kate Dittmann, my disgustingly talented art director
- Meg Cloud, the most stunning statue bride
- Ross Bruns, the next big thing in composing
- Jon Arnold, my trusty, patient sound mixer
- and my lovely supporting cast: Scott Burgess, Lisa Hood, Jillian Hood, Danny Burns, Ashley Burns and the People of Kansas City
- (and a special thanks to T for encouraging/bugging me to get this thing done)
Obviously, this was a huge team effort, and I am so grateful to have so many talented people in my life. Stay tuned for (hopefully) more news in the coming months!
So, we’re right in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week and right at the beginning of National Breastfeeding Month. Everything I’ve seen so far basically feels like it’s “International Pretend to Be Supportive But Actually Silently Judge All the Moms Month/Week.” Like we need a specific week or month for that, right?
In any case, I’ve talked to a number of my mom friends, and I’ve heard the guilt about not breastfeeding, about how hard it is to pump once you go back to work, about the heartbreak of the choice to stop breastfeeding at or before 6 months because you just can’t keep up, etc., etc., etc.
Here’s my confession.
I Was Never in Love with the Idea of Breastfeeding
I know a good number of moms who adore breastfeeding their babies. It’s their time to connect and bond with their children, and they take great pride (and rightly so) in nourishing them.
But I never felt the romance of it. My own mother has told me I wasn’t a big fan of the breast as a baby, and after trying for a few months, eventually she gave me what I wanted, which was apparently a bottle. So perhaps it’s just something in my nature. And god bless my mom for trying.
My Kid Thought My Boobs Were Boring
But nonetheless, I was determined to make an effort at breastfeeding when the time came to feed Pip. I’d seen the research (and the discounting of the research), and I wanted to at least give it a shot. When people asked if I planned to breastfeed (and oh, did they ask), I told them, as long as everything went according to plan, I’d do it for a minimum 3 months. If it was going OK, I’d go for 6 months, and beyond that, we’d see.
A sub-confession: What I rarely expressed was that my major motivator in wanting to breastfeed was financial rather than maternal. Formula is expensive, and babies are expensive enough as is.
In the hours after Pippin was born, he latched like a pro, and I thought, “Hey, maybe I can actually do this, and maybe I’ll even come to enjoy it like all those other moms.” But that was the high point of my breastfeeding experience. In the next two days, every time I tried to nurse, Pip would latch, take a couple of drinks, and then promptly fall asleep. The nurse who came for our home visit had told me I’d need to feed him for 20 minutes on each side — 20 minutes of active feeding. I was lucky to get 10 minutes total of active feeding within an hour. Coupled with the insistence that I feed him every two hours — starting from the beginning of each feeding — it didn’t take long for me to lose my effing mind.
By Day 3, I was a total mess, and I could tell Pippin wasn’t eating enough. His little lips were dry, and while he wasn’t unconscious, he wasn’t interested in really waking up for any length of time. In a panic, I started pumping and managed to get a few ounces of colostrum — plenty to fill a newborn’s marble-sized stomach, despite what hospital nurses sometimes tell new moms — which I promptly spoonfed to my barely-awake infant. Between bouts of crying, I managed to call the birth center, and they said to bring him on in. Tyler’s parents came to visit that morning to meet their grandson, but I couldn’t pull myself together enough to join in the happy experience. I was too worried about Pip and too weighed down by the guilt that I was failing at feeding my baby.
The Discovery of the “Third Option”
At the birth center, they confirmed what I knew — that Pippin was losing more weight than was ideal. He was just past the 10 percent threshold. They gave him an ounce of formula from a bottle, just to make sure his sucking reflex was working (it was). Instead of feeling guilt, I just felt relief that my tiny guy was getting some food finally. He didn’t have to work so hard to stay awake with the bottle; he could doze and eat much better than he could dose and nurse. That sealed the deal for me.
I tried to nurse him only once more (same result) and gave him half a bottle of formula to tide him over while I pumped enough for him to eat. My transitional milk came in quickly, and that started us down a new path: exclusively pumping and bottle-feeding breastmilk.
It was GLORIOUS. Bottle-feeding meant the pressure was no longer solely on me to feed this little infant.
We could split the night shifts — and that meant I could SLEEP. And sleep meant I could stop crying for half of every hour of every day. (I still had to deal with the effects of post-partum depression, so there was still crying, but there was less.) My co-parent, who had felt sidelined by his inability to do much of anything to help, was thrilled to be able to do something (though probably less thrilled at no longer getting all the sleep). We were both able to get close to 8 hours of sleep a night (though I was still getting up every 3 to 4 hours to pump, in the beginning), and as new parents and probably especially new moms know, that is GOLD.
A Pair of Boobs Without a Home
There were some dark nights of the soul around 2 months, when I was dealing with clogged ducts (pretty sure a mammogram will be no big deal now, thanks to that) every single day. (Supplemental soy lecithin is what worked for me, if anyone else is dealing with that.) Pumping time became “research how expensive/nutritious/good/bad formula is” time. In the end, it was always the financial side of it that kept me pumping.
Now, about 4 and a half months in, I’m still exclusively pumping. And because my boobs were trained to respond to the pump, my supply is great despite only pumping 3 times most days. I’ve got more than 2,000 ounces of milk in a dedicated freezer, which would get my son just past 6 months if I stopped now. So it’s been a good solution for us.
And I think it’s a wonderful middle ground that rarely gets mentioned. Even at my incredibly supportive, wonderful birth center, I faced a tiny bit of resistance to my solution. “It’s not too late,” was the refrain even at my 6-week follow-up appointment.
So now I find myself without much of a home when it comes to solidarity about feeding my baby. I’m not breastfeeding, but I’m not formula-feeding. When we first started, it felt like we were cheating the system — in a good way. But a couple months down the line, I felt a little alone. While I probably could have gone to La Leche League meetings, I would have felt like a poser. And yet there wasn’t really much to discuss with formula-feeding moms either, since I couldn’t relate to the hassles of formula and they couldn’t relate to the annoyance of pumping, transferring milk from container to container (though I’m sure now we could definitely relate to feeling like we spend half our lives washing bottles).
The Most Important Thing is That Your Baby Gets Fed
But to be honest, I rarely give it much thought except when I encounter various breastfeeding internettery like I have the past week. And it’s not like any of this hoopla is meant to shame formula-feeding (or exclusively pumping) moms, but that’s the unintended side effect a lot of the time.
But here’s the thing: my kid is getting food that helps him grow and develop. So are breastfed babies. So are formula-fed babies. I know we’ve made the right choice (out of three right choices) because he’s growing like a weed (a much better saying that “sleeping like a baby,” I might add) and adding new skills every week. That’s what we really need to be caring about. While it would have been nice (and probably still would be nice) if there were more awareness of the “third option” or to have a support group for moms who made the same choice I did, I’ve got bigger things to worry about.
So, in celebration of this week and this month, let me just say to all the moms out there:
IF YOU ARE FEEDING YOUR BABY, YOU ARE DOING IT RIGHT. GOOD JOB, MAMAS!
I feel like I’m doing a poor job documenting my constant evolution into parenthood. My co-parent has written a couple of eloquent and humorous posts about our adventures as parents, and I both love him for it and have to stop myself from becoming actively resentful of the fact that he’s doing such a great job. My only consolation is that I take better (or maybe just more) photos.
And it’s not just the literary documentation of parenthood that T has been doing better. He has dropped into parenthood with nothing short of extreme grace. Maybe he’s like the proverbial duck, paddling like crazy beneath the surface, but he’s just so damn good with Pippin. I’m so used to seeing new fathers sort of bumble about, not really knowing what to do with their babies, but not T. There’s no doubt in how he interacts with his son; he seems to instinctively know that, as long as he’s doing his best, he’s doing it right (which he is, judging by the way Pip lights up any time T enters his line of vision).
Part of the equation, by my judgment, is that T has no frustration-to-anger trigger, or if he does, it hasn’t been discovered yet. A screaming baby doesn’t phase him, and he can move from one potential solution to the next with no dismay about the ones that don’t work. Perhaps his greatest asset is that he doesn’t expect a baby to follow any sense of logic.
I am not so graceful.
I often joke about the fact that Pippin waited two extra weeks to arrive until the astrological calendar flipped to a fire sign — Aries. A calm, tranquil water baby he was not meant to be. No, sir — he would be stubborn, adventurous and feisty, just like his Sagittarius mother.
And while he has his father’s ability to make friends with just about anyone, he also has his mother’s tendency to get pretty darn cranky when he can’t do something he feels like he should be able to do. His wants are many — to grab, roll, crawl, stand, walk, fall sleep when he’s tired — but these physical abilities come more slowly than his cognitive capacity to understand what he can and can’t do.
I feel his frustration, too, because I also want these things for him, and patience has never been one of my virtues. I catch myself saying things like, “Come on, Pip, you know how to do this. I showed you yesterday.” And somewhere in his developing mind, I think his sentiments are the same.
I can’t count how many times people have told me to enjoy every moment while it lasts, that it goes by so fast. It’s not that I don’t believe them. It’s just that, no matter how hard I try to enjoy the present moment, I can’t help wanting to fast forward a bit.
I want to fast forward to the time when we can have conversations, even if they’re simple or one-sided ones, where I can experience his expression of the connections his brain is making for the first time.
I want to fast forward to the time when we can run around outside together and have adventures where we marvel at how mysterious and magical and weird the world is.
I want to fast forward to the time when I can teach him how to kick a soccer ball or throw a baseball or ride a bike or climb a tree.
Mostly, I want to fast forward to the time when the fact that our personalities are so similar means we get to connect instead of exhausting each other.
And then I want to pause. Because those are the times I know will go too fast. For now, though, I’ll keep looking for gems and hold tight to the ones I find (his honking laughter, his babbling, the way his breath sounds when he falls asleep on my shoulder after a particularly tiring fit). I’m new at this, but I think maybe that, rather than shaming myself for not enjoying every moment, is the way to a fortune.
I’ve started having a little fun with instagram the past week, trying to capture images that lend themselves to narrative. I wish there were easier ways to embed the video here, because I think they make neat little #fridayflash entries. Anywho, here’s a link to the first one I did (my favorite so far).
It’s both hard to believe it’s already been two months and that it’s only been two months since I stopped being pregnant and started being a parent.
It’s also been six weeks since I wrote my post about postpartum depression. And while I still have days or collections of days where it’s a harder fight than others, for the most part, things are definitely better. I feel more like myself more days than I don’t, and I also can go several days without crying, which is AWESOME. (I know that sounds super depressing, but if you’re going or have gone through it, you understand.)
How to Get Through Post-Partum Depression (or Any Depression Really)
If you or someone you know is struggling (this sounds like the beginning of a PSA for a helpline, but it’s not), here is the three-prong strategy that helped me (and continues to do so).
#1: Know That Some Days are Simply There to Be Endured
This is especially hard to swallow if you are a bit Type A like I am. I generally have a list of things I want and expect to get done, and when things start hitting the fan, it starts this spiral of guilt, frustration and ennui that’s hard to break out of.
For instance, there was one evening where I was on my own with Pip, during which I intended to get some freelance work done, fit in a workout and clean up the kitchen (while also fitting in at least one pumping session). Pip slept long enough for me to pump, but he woke up crying literally 5 minutes into my workout. Not just whimper-I’ll-put-myself-back-to-sleep-don’t-worry-Mom-crying, but full-on wailing. I stared at the monitor for a few minutes to see if this was temporary, and then I went up, dutifully replaced his pacifier and calmed him down, and then went back to my workout. A minute later, more wailing. I tried to ignore it for a few minutes (please no lectures about cry-it-out), since I knew he was neither hungry nor needed a diaper change, but it was not to be. He kept crying, and I couldn’t complete the strength moves because I was also crying and couldn’t pull enough energy to complete them, even though I knew I had enough muscle strength. I retrieved Pip, who was not content to be anything but held, and we spent the rest of the evening watching Mad Men on Netflix. And once I gave into the fact that that was going to be the extent of my achievements for the night — and forgave myself for it — I felt strangely better.
There will be days like this. Forgive yourself for letting go of your to-do list on those days. Even when those to-dos are imperative to accomplishing your big goals and/or lifelong dreams, they will keep. The Universe is understanding.
#2: Give Yourself Things to Look Forward To
Whether it’s a date night with your significant other, a solo trip to a coffee shop with a book or a laptop, or an hour to get in just one focused workout, schedule things during the week — EVERY WEEK — to look forward to. Preferably several times a week. These events are absolutely necessary in my experience to surviving those Days That Must Be Endured.
I have an incredible network of support here (code name: Grandma & Grandpa with support from The Aunts) who love to babysit and have yet to turn down my frequent requests. I know not everyone has a network like that, but it is very important that you still find a way. Here are some quick ideas:
- If you have a significant other, give him (or her) some bonding time with the kiddo. They will both be fine (even if he or she experiences a few Hours That Must Be Endured).
- Hire a babysitter.
- If you cannot afford a babysitter, find a moms’ group and offer to trade.
#3: Tell Yourself a Different Story
I was reminded of this when I attended Jillian Michaels’ Maximize Your Life tour on Mother’s Day (an accidental but great gift to myself). The ability to choose our own narrative is perhaps our greatest power as human beings.
Here are two ways to put this into practice.
- Reframing: Wikipedia does a pretty great job of explaining the psychological concepts of cognitive reframing/restructuring, but in short, it’s the process of looking at a negative situation and reprocessing it into a neutral or positive one. For instance, my Night of Defeat and Mad Men could be reframed from “my failure to get stuff done” to “my success in soothing my kiddo and catching up on Mad Men.” Finding the humor in situations is also a fantastic use of reframing.
- Look for small victories: Instead of focusing on the things that go wrong (or not according to plan — see the reframing in action?), look for the small victories — the super efficient diaper change, the spit-up you caught with the burp cloth before it landed on your clean shirt, the phone call you got through without the kiddo crying in the background. I think it is probably always possible to find more small victories than defeats. Sometimes you just have to look for tinier victories.
Better Days Ahead — Really
Everyone always tells you that it gets better, and it does, but that doesn’t make the Now any easier to handle in any real way. Because the truth is, no one can really tell you when it will get better. For someone you know, it may be six weeks. For another, it might be six months. For you, it could be even longer. That’s why it’s important to find ways to endure right now. Try the strategy above, but also, let me leave you with a little affirmation.
Even at your weakest, you have enough power to create moments where it feels better, at least for a little while. When you start finding those moments more often, they will start finding you back. Seek irony and laugh at it. It takes a lot of effort, and some days you will fail. That’s OK. It’s not really failure. It’s a test of endurance, and you are building strength for new challenges. You have permission not to enjoy every moment. You have permission not to miss every moment years down the road. But do what you can to find those that you do enjoy and that you will miss, and cherish the heck out of them. That’s enough, and so are you.
Today I had my two-week follow-up with the birth center, which is basically just a screening for post-partum depression. They have you fill out a little questionnaire, which then scores you for PPD risk.
And I basically failed — or “scored a little high,” as they so kindly put it.
Which was not a surprise to me. The questions include things like, “Do you feel sad or miserable [never, a little more than I used to, much more than I used to, all the time]?” and “Do you feel so sad that you find yourself crying [never, a little more than I used to, much more than I used to, all the time]?” and so on.
Given my history with depression, I knew I’d have to be on the look-out for the symptoms. Mine so far have included:
- Increasingly frequent crying fits for the past two weeks
- Lessened interest in most activities
- Feeling directionless
- Loss of appetite
Basically everything I dealt with before, though luckily not as severe and usually not all day. It sucks, because Pip is, so far, a pretty easy baby. He eats well (now that we’re pumping exclusively) and sleeps well — which means we get the chance to sleep pretty well, too, if in chunks rather than in 8-hour stretches (which I never really did anyway). Whatever it is that tends to trigger my descents doesn’t seem to be related to any behavior of his, which is a relief.
Except that also means it’s harder to pinpoint. Some days it’s me worrying about T getting to do the things he wants to do or being rested enough for work, etc. Some days it’s fearing we won’t get to do the things we love to do, like travel or write or go on regular dates. Other days, it’s guilt over not having written anything in ages — not because I don’t have the time (pumping forces me into 30 minutes of downtime several times a day) but because I just haven’t had any motivation or drive to do so. It’s something I was already dealing with while pregnant, and it finally came to the surface again yesterday.
Sometimes I feel bad because I feel like T is either dealing with a crying baby or a crying me, but he continues to be a rockstar. I honestly don’t know what I would do without him. Yesterday, in the midst of me sobbing into his neck, he took my hand, put it on my mouse, and forced me to open a document. He set a timer for 10 minutes and made me write whatever came out of my brain.
He also texted my mom to ask her if she could babysit while I went for a run. Those two things combined helped the fog lift for the remainder of the night.
This morning, I was tired, which always makes my weepiness worse, but I actually felt a little better after my appointment. I left with a plan, which always helps. Here’s what’s on the docket for me:
- Continuing to get exercise
- Getting sunlight, preferably at least 30 minutes a day
- 6000 mg Vitamin D
- Vitamin B Complex
There’s also some research that suggests caffeine can reduce the instance of depression in women, so, while I want to limit the amount because I’m pumping breastmilk, I think I’ll start adding that in during or right around my first pumping session of the day to keep most of it out of kiddo’s food. It has the added bonus of being a nice little treat for me.
If I’m still struggling in a couple of weeks, the next step will be to cut out gluten for a while, which is what I did back in 2011. I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that, because I sure do enjoy gluten-containing foods, but I enjoy actually being able to enjoy stuff more.
I’m also trying to get back into one of my old scripts. At this point, it’s just reading through and taking stock of what’s there, what’s working and what’s not, but that’s the first step to the next draft. And it feels good to be doing that. And thanks to T, I’m also going to try to get back to writing some short stories in the meantime.
I’m lucky because I have an amazing support system. My parents are only a few minutes away, and my mom is always thrilled to babysit. T is my rock, my encourager, my comforter.
A lot of women don’t have such a solid support system. So this is the call to action. If you know a woman who just had a baby, reach out to her in those first few weeks and beyond. If she needs a shoulder to cry on for a while, offer it. If she needs a nap or to get out and just be herself instead of “mom” for a bit, watch the baby for an hour or two. If she needs someone to deliver a cup of coffee and a brownie, make that happen.
Above all, let her be honest. Let her say that being a new mom is hard and that maybe it’s not all it’s cracked up to be at first. Let her say that she wants more out of life than to stare at her infant in awe for 24 hours a day. Let her say that, while she loves her baby, she’s not entirely comfortable with the role of “mother” yet — and doesn’t know when she will be. Let her say that she misses the way her life used to be, and that she’s afraid it will never be what she hoped it might.
In the end, people keep having kids, they all keep telling us it’s worth it, so I think most of us new mothers believe (or at least hope) that these feelings will pass. And for most mothers, they do seem to. But knowing that doesn’t always help right now. What might help is releasing the guilt of having those feelings. We are complex, amazing beings, and we can wonder if we’ve made a huge mistake while still loving our children with infinite devotion. It’s that complexity that makes us human, and that’s something to be embraced and celebrated. Honesty and compassion is a good start toward that.
In the interest of getting this posted and off my plate, I am going to post this unedited and unfiltered and very long version. It’s been written in several fits over the past few days, so please bear with me through any typos, weird phrasings, etc., etc. Right now I have a few more important things on my hands (or at least one very big important thing), so I’m sure you can understand. :-)
We were beginning to think our little Pipsqueak would never show up. I’d tried 95 percent of the old wives’ tales out there, and nothing seemed to be working. The little guy was still pleasantly cradled on his side, and while I was progressing in dilation, he wasn’t moving much.
At 41 weeks and 5 days, my midwife gave me the go ahead and encouragement to give castor oil a shot. I was advised to drink one 4 ounce bottle in two doses two hours apart. I took the first as I was leaving the birth center, “mixed” into a Coke. Kind of like mixing oil & water, except horrible. The taste isn’t pleasant, but it’s the texture that really gets you. The second dose I mixed into a smoothie, which thankfully at least went down relatively easy, though I’d already begun to associate the smell and taste with the first experience and what was about to happen.
A few hours after the second dose, I had my first, well, side effect of the castor oil. And since all birth stories basically fall under the category of “too much information,” I can tell you that after having been fairly constipated for the past nine-plus months, it actually was kind of a relief. The subsequent ones were not, and by the end of the night, I knew there was a ver slim chance I’d be able to force myself to do it again two days later if this first go-round didn’t work.
I awoke at 3 a.m. with mild contractions, but I had little luck keeping them going with any consistency. Still, it was something, and I couldn’t help but get my hopes up. I went to the chiropractor, and they taped up my belly to encourage Pippin to move into the right position.
I spent the day bouncing on a ball and walking around with T hoping the contractions would pick up. They weren’t doing much, but eventually I did develop a strange and fairly terrible pain in my left side, like the worst side stitch you’ve ever had. The midwives advised us to come on in, and so we did. They checked me, and I was dilated to a 4, same as my appointment the day before. They told me to go home, eat some food and try to get some rest.
My dad brought us over some Panera while I tried to relax in the bath with little success. The side pain abated a little enough for me to eat, but swiftly returned. The pain was so bad that it caused me to vomit, for the first time in my pregnancy. I didn’t even have time to make it to the bathroom, but thankfully spotted the empty Panera sack & saved us a major bout of carpet cleaning.
So we headed back to the birth center. I was dilated to a 5 by then, having contractions along with the now excruciating side pain, and struggling, to say the least. They didn’t want to keep us unless they were sure we were progressing quickly and far enough that we would be more comfortable laboring at the birth center than at home. They gave me a shot of basically strong antihistamines to help me relax. I was able to doze on the way home and conked out in bed for a little while before the pain returned, ten-fold. I’m not really a screamer, but I let out a shriek. Again, no time to make it to the bathroom, so I grabbed my trash can, emptied it onto the floor, and promptly vomited the little bit I had left in my stomach.
So off we went to the birth center again, where they allowed us to stay this time, as I was now dilated to a six. This was as the 20th was crossing into the 21st of March. I immediately went into the tub and found some relief from the side pain but increasing pain from contractions. They also made me a mixed berry smoothie that would have been really super awesome if I had felt at all like eating. T did his best to keep me drinking both it & water, though.
It was in the tub that I learned I would not be a silent laborer or even a quiet laborer as I had expected. Quite the contrary. They worked with me to get my tones low instead of high & squealy, and with less success to breath through them instead of vocalizing since vocalizing takes a lot of energy (at least the way I was doing it). I tried, but at some point, you kind of develop an “Eff you, I’m going to do what I want” attitude, even if you know they’re right and/or trying to help.
From this point onward, things get a little hazy time-wise. The first time I got out of the tub to use the restroom, I had a fleeting thought of closing the door and asking T to avert his eyes before I basically said to myself, “Screw it, he’s going to see a heck of a lot more than this by the time we’re done.” He actually swears I used the restroom in front of him at home before we left, and that’s how he knew it was definitely time to get to the birth center. I have no recollection of this, which also probably speaks to the fact that it was time to get to the birth center.
At some point, they started forcing juice on me, since I didn’t feel like eating — mostly because I was afraid I’d vomit again. I have never hated apple juice so much in my life, but it was better than the Coke they made me drink closer to delivery. I’m not sure when I stopped going back into the tub, but they suggested IV fluids because my energy was starting to fade. It took a few tries to get the IV in, but at that point, it would have taken quite a bit more to phase me.
They would check my cervix occasionally to see where I was and where Pippin was, and they were able to tell that his head was slightly off-kilter to where it needed to be. So that’s when we started the circus of different labor positions.
For a while, I labored on the toilet, which was my least favorite place in the world to labor. I got to labor laying down on the bed for a while, with T holding me, which was my favorite way to labor, if I can say I have a favorite way to labor. I think I even dozed off between some of the contractions, though that did make waking up to each new contraction way more annoying. I remember wanting to bite T’s arms a few times during the strongest parts, but I think I mostly abstained from doing so. Probably weird, but true.
The senior midwife, who I like to refer to as The Closer, came in during this period and offered just the dose of no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point direction I needed. I was so tired of everyone telling me how close I was when I’d been close for literally hours. She never said that but instead would give me basically short-term tasks. She suggested they break my water, and then told me I needed to go labor on the toilet for five contractions.
And that was the first time I really, really, really broke down & sobbed, because I hated that effing toilet so much. Little did I know what I had coming. After that, with Pip’s head still slightly turned and preventing him from progressing, they moved to a new tactic: lunges. That’s right. I was doing deep lunges during contractions, and it was pretty much the worst thing ever. Thank god I had T supporting me because no Jillian Michaels or Bob Harper or P90X workout can prepare you for labor lunges, folks. (I mean, maybe they did, because I actually had the muscle strength to do lunges, but you know what I’m saying.)
I think I begged to move back to the bed after a few rounds of those, and the midwives eventually let me. But then they were wanting me to start thinking about pushing, as I think we’d all given up on the kiddo moving down on his own. I think The Closer even told me as much at one point. So I was on my side, with my legs pulled back into basically a squatting position, and they told me to push when I felt like pushing. I had no idea what it was supposed to feel like, so eventually I just got tired of contractions and got stubborn and started trying to push. And finally the baby started moving, little by little.
And let me tell you, pushing is the weirdest, most bizarre sensation. Each time, I’d start the push, and then my body would hit a point & do a little on its own, until I ran out of strength. It was actually really disconcerting at first, but then I figured that was probably what it was supposed to feel like, so I just went with it. And yes, if you’re wondering, it does feel similar to trying to force out a bowel movement, but not quite. It more feels like you’re going to accidentally push out a bowel movement while doing everything else. Which happens all the time. And I’d prepared myself for such a thing. So I have to admit I’m a little disappointed after all that mental energy I put into being OK with pooping during labor that it didn’t even happen (at least that no one has admitted to me).
So anyway, back to pushing. I’d asked several times if I could get into the tub again, but the midwives didn’t want me to change positions since the position I was in seemed to be doing the trick. They told me I probably could eventually, but I was starting to come to terms with the fact that I might not get to have one. But then The Closer came back in, and asked T if I wanted a water birth. He told her yes, and BAM, we were moving toward the tub.
Pushing was still very difficult, but it was such a relief to get in the water, and that made it easier. All in all, I think I pushed for half an hour on the bed and half an hour in the tub. Once in the tub, after a few pushes, I was able to reach down and feel the baby’s head, which gave me a huge boost of motivation that we really were for sure absolutely almost there. Having a goal beyond “endure this” and something I could physically do to make a difference was an incredible change. I don’t know how many more pushes it took, and I swear I was dealing with that ring of fire thing everyone talks about for way more contractions than I wanted to, but eventually I felt his head give way. And it was AMAZING. But I still had to get his body out. It took a few more pushes because I was so tired, but when his whole body came out, it was the biggest sense of relief I’ve ever had in my entire life. I’d had my eyes closed through 90 percent of the birthing process, but my eyes were wide open when they finally put him in my arms.
And T was right there, looking down at us, and I remember not being able to tell who I wanted to look at more, him or the baby, because I was so in love and amazed with this little guy on my chest, but also so in love with T, who’d helped me make him and get him here.
There was some scrambling to get a picture of us right after he was born, which was surprisingly amusing. I looked up & realized I had a whole crowd of midwives and nurses who had helped us deliver, and I immediately got a little self-conscious about how I was going to look in that first picture. And sure enough, they are not my favorite pictures in the world, not the least of which that it looks like I’m sitting in a tub of blood, but I’m glad we have them nonetheless.
After a few minutes, they clamped the cord & I handed our little guy off to T so we could take care of the placenta & get me cleaned up. Apparently he came out with his fist by his cheek (or “superman’d his way out, as one friend put it), which made it even more amazing that I had one tiny literal tear that they considered not even stitching (though eventually settled on two just to be safe). They told me I had “really good control” with the pushing, but I think it was more a case of, “I was really, really exhausted & didn’t have the energy to push him out too fast.”
Now, just about every labor (or so I’m told) has its “I can’t do this moment.” I remember having this moment at least four times for much longer than a moment. During these several miserable phases, I vaguely remember begging T for help — literally begging. I kept hoping he’d say, “OK, this is enough, let’s head to the hospital,” or that one of the midwives would say, “You know what? She’s done. Let’s get her transferred.” Every time I said, “I need help,” I was pleading with them to let me off the hook. I know they knew what I was asking for, but they did not listen to me one single time. The notion was never even entertained by anyone besides me. Maybe T had his moments, but he never made them known. Every time, he told me I was doing an amazing job and that I was strong, and every time I said, “I can’t do it,” he would reply adamantly that I was doing it. I honestly feel like I did a fairly mediocre job with the labor experience, but T was a rockstar. Afterwards, one of the midwives actually asked him if he’d been a labor coach before, and I’m now considering hiring him out as a doula. There is literally no way I would have made it through everything without him there by my side the entire time. I’m convinced his work was just as hard as mine, if in a slightly different way. While I was in sort of a trance the whole time, he was fully there and witness to all the pain and exhaustion, which if you knew how tender-hearted T is, is basically torture.
And now, post-birth, he continues to be awesome. When I’ve been weepy and exhausted due to hormone fluctuation and everything else, he has been nothing short of wonderful. I truly could not have asked for nor even designed a better partner in this adventure. I am so, so, so lucky.
As for the labor and birth experience itself, I was asked pretty quickly if I’d go the unmedicated route again. Let me first preface this with the fact that I believe every woman should have the birth experience she wants no matter what that birth is, and I believe every woman should be informed enough about the pros and cons of all the options to make the best decision for herself.
As for me, in the end, I am glad I chose the unmedicated route, despite the 31 hours of labor and the begging to be taken to the hospital (if not in so many words) and the two extra weeks of pregnancy. If Pippin’s head had been in the right position, all of those problems very likely would have disappeared. And as someone who wanted to avoid interventions like pitocin and an epidural and a C-section, and knowing that a typical hospital situation very well might have led to all of those things given the specifics of my situation, I’m glad that I had other options and a team of people to support me in doing my best to adhere to my original wishes (rather than my “in-the-worst-pain-of-my-life” wishes).
After the birth, we had more than an hour basically all to ourselves, just cuddling together in bed as a new family. I wasn’t hooked up to anything, and Pippin was alert and precious and immediately ours. He wasn’t whisked away to be poked and prodded and weighed. All necessary vitals were done right on my chest in those initial moments (which is a practice many hospitals are moving toward). We had enough time to take a little nap together as a family, and while we could have stayed longer, we were ready to get home and left around 7:30 p.m., as soon as they could get through the paperwork to get us discharged. While the next few days proved quite a transition (which I will write about at a later date), getting to sleep in our own bed together that night with Pippin right by our side was wonderful.
While I can confidently say I am happy we did a natural birth, I still can’t answer with a confident yes yet if I’d do it again this way, to be honest, because everything is still very fresh. If I could guarantee the next kiddo would have his or her head in the proper position, then I’d probably be all for it. The thought of another labor like this one makes me a little more wary, but luckily I don’t have to make any decisions for some time yet. For now, I can simply revel in our new, brilliant little family, and the ever-deepening love I have for both of my guys.