Small Mistake, Big Anxiety Trigger

I was on the phone, wearing a fussy baby in a sling and pacing the apartment to keep him happy, when the doorbell rang. The dog flipped out. I thought the mail carrier was delivering our new phones, and I felt like I had to catch him and sign for the package. Nathan was going without a phone. His was broken, we panicked, we discovered that we were eligible for the 2-year-upgrade, and now we both have new phones. Are you getting a picture of everything that was going on in my head? I managed to cram “put on shoes” in there, and we were out the door. Which locked. Behind us. And I didn’t have the keys.

I locked us out.

I know, I know. The police aren’t coming to arrest me for child endangerment for getting stuck in the hallway. I didn’t even lock us out of the building. I didn’t leave the baby inside. In fact, we ended up spending time with our lovely neighbors. We had a good time! They love Walt. We really like them. In fact, they walked our dog, Lewis, when I was in the hospital having Walt!

So why have I spent the past two days spiraling down a tunnel of anxious thoughts leading to the “I’m a bad mother” abyss?

I am afraid that this was the first of many mistakes. What if I start locking the keys in the car? What if I forget to pick him up from school? What if he has to climb through windows all his life when I lock us out again? What if I do actually put him in danger? What if this just proves what I have suspected all along–that I am not a responsible, trustworthy person?

There is so much anxiety now that didn’t exist on Wednesday morning. It’s really intense! I don’t want to leave the house. I had a nightmare last night that I got separated from Walter while traveling and couldn’t get back to him. I had left him without a bottle of milk, without formula, without a carseat so someone could drive him to me. I woke up fighting my way against the current of a crowd trying to catch a train, knowing that he was already miserably hungry and doubting that I would ever reach him.

Look at this child! He is so perfect!

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Cookie monster tee + Honest anchor diapers + a smile. What else does a boy need to wear?

How can he be mine? Surely, he must deserve a mother who remembers to take a picture of him in the same spot every month to mark his growth or, at least, a mother who leaves the house every day. Maybe even just one who gets dressed every day.

I don’t know how to get out of this, today. It doesn’t seem to be getting worse. His dad stays home to help out on days like today, working on grad school stuff in the mornings, when Walter usually sleeps well. I can feel the panic lurking. It makes me just a little bit spacey, a little distracted. My breath is a little too shallow. I’m not depressed. But I can see it–how I might get from here to depressed. Which is, believe it or not, a good sign.

Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, sums up everything you need to know about depression in one simple phrase: Depression Lies. Watch the video. Do it. I’ll wait.

Ok, back? Now: if I were actually depressed, I would really and truly believe that Walter and Nathan and even Lewis would be better off with a better wife/mother/me. As long as I am here, writing about how having thoughts like this totally sucks, then I am ok. I am looking at the thoughts, and pointing at them, yelling at them, telling them to go away. I know that they are lies. When I start believing the lies depression and anxiety spew, it’s time to worry.

Now is the time to fight.

Pajamas aren’t so bad, when I think about how hard I am fighting today to remember the truth. It’s tiring. In fact, I’ll show you, because I am brave and now have a phone that does self-portraits, what days like today look like. I could use a shower, but I’ve looked and felt worse than I do now. Which is like this:

My mother-in-law gave me these pajamas. They are soft and have ribbons and lace and roses. I love them.

My mother-in-law gave me these pajamas. They are soft and have ribbons and lace and roses. I love them.

Why We Co-Sleep

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My view. (His feet are touching me)

I am writing this post on my phone, curled up next to my sleeping baby. It’s not the comfiest way to blog, even if it is always delicious to cuddle with Walt. I’m doing it because if I get up and move to the computer ten feet from here, he will wake up. He simply will not stay asleep for more than ten minutes unless he is touching another human.

I read about attachment parenting and cosleeping before I had the baby; we planned on sleeping near our son. I had never had a crib as a baby and slept in my parents’ bed until I was old enough for a twin bed. I did consider the possibility that cosleeping or bedsharing (a subcategory of cosleeping, which is really just sleeping in the same room) would not work for our family. As much as I liked the cuddly idea, I knew that some people just don’t share a bed well. What I failed to anticipate was the tenacity with which our child would share our bed.

Walter will not stay asleep even in his “cosleeper,” a mini crib with three sides snugly attached to our bed. He somehow knows, even when I place a hand on him, that he could be closer, and opens his eyes. I would prefer that he sleep next to us in this lovely little sidecar crib, so that my husband and I could have the option of sleeping curled up, just the two if us, the way we slept before I became too pregnant to do that comfortably. Equally important is the safety-conscious design of the cosleeper, with its firm surface, tightly fitted sheet and small lip to keep grown-up blankets away.

I have tried everything age-appropriate to get him to sleep in the safer, more marriage-friendly kind-of crib. I have put him down awake but drowsy. I have put him down asleep on his side and rolled him gently to his back after a few minutes. I have placed myself half in his bed and half in ours, which was extremely uncomfortable given the four-inch wooden lip that separates the two. None of this has convinced my child to sleep next to, but not actually touching, one of his parents.

The car is the one place he can be convinced to nap on his own. As long as the motion of the car puts him to sleep, he will stay asleep in his carseat for even long trips (thank goodness). Otherwise, during the day, he naps in his sling or in someone’s arms.

I have spoken to our pediatrician about this at every visit. We agree that the cosleeper is preferable. We also agree that getting more than fifteen minutes of sleep in a stretch is necessary for everyone’s health and sanity. During our two-month checkup, I asked if there was a good way to teach our baby to sleep in his cosleeper, and I found the answer rather fascinating. In our doctor’s experience, all the “methods” of sleep experts do “what they promise” to do in each of the popular books on sleep. But the only thing they all have in common? None of them is effective before a baby is about four months old.

I suppose the one exception is the attachment parenting idea that following a baby’s cues on sleep will strengthen your bond and actually get everyone more rest. This we started from birth and have no plan to change by adopting any kind of rigid schedule. Nowhere in my Dr. Sears Attachment Parenting book, however, does it say that actual physical contact is necessary. This seems to be something hard-wired into my particular child.

For now, I am extremely grateful that, as long as he is glued to some part of Mom or Dad, Walter sleeps long and deeply. He wakes with a smile. He doesn’t cry immediately. He doesn’t even really wake up to nurse, provided I help him latch on before he gets too hungry (his little hungry cues, grunts and wiggles, wake me in time). Our whole family gets good rest every night.

In about another month, Walter will be old enough, and we will be able to start teaching him to sleep “on his own.” I would like to be able to leave the bed long enough to brew and drink a cup of coffee. I’d like to sleep with my husband’s arms around me again. For now, we are all just enjoying this time we will only see once. Our babe is still fetus-like and so new to the world. I catch him sleeping in positions I know he occupied in my womb. Thank goodness I easily wake and fall back asleep, so our arrangement doesn’t leave me exhausted. And I am so glad I learned about safe bedsharing, so we’re all sleeping on a firm mattress, sheets pulled tight, with no blankets or pillows around the baby’s face. It takes some maneuvering to make sure that last part happens, but we manage. As I said, he will only be so new, so little, so dependent, for a short time. Once that is gone, it will be gone forever. So we share our bed and our sleep and enjoy the moment. And I’m using the cosleeper as a really expensive nightstand—a place to put my glasses and water bottle.

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Cosleeper as nightstand.

Crying with the Baby: Still a Good Mom

My husband went back to grad school/teaching this week. I have had a lot of help caring for Walter. My mother-in-law, step-mother-in-law, mother, sister, even Nathan’s aunts and cousins have all taken turns holding, feeding, loving my boy. And of course, he has the most amazing father. I haven’t been sleeping, because when Nathan is at school or teaching, he can’t come home at a moment’s notice. Now that holidays and visits are over, no one else is likely to be here when I want a break. And I want a break. Often.

Everything is going great, better than I had dared to hope it would. No postpartum disorder has appeared to rob me of enjoying my son’s first months. But it never occurred to me to worry about ordinary, everyday motherhood.

Nothing could have prepared me for the exhaustion that comes with being needed by a tiny, dependent being twenty-four hours a day. I sometimes feel guilty, as though I could have done some sort of endurance training to get ready for being needed this way. But the truth is that no matter what anyone said or did, I would still be feeling overwhelmed.

An online community of mothers is out there. I found them over time, as I began blogging and reaching out over social media, especially Twitter. When I send out a tweet expressing exhaustion or frustration, I get a comforting response, every time. Someone always understands. And that means that I’m not alone.

It’s ok that I’m not cheerful and eager every time my son needs something. That doesn’t mean we did anything wrong. The birth was beautiful. He is healthy. I am healthy, and my body has recovered nicely. Breastfeeding is going well.

Sometimes, I still don’t feel like holding him. I let him fuss while I grumble to myself before feeding him for the ten thousandth time in one evening.

It’s ok that I beg my son to stop crying, because I am tired and I don’t want to walk the floor another second.

I am a good mother. My son is an easygoing guy. I stare at him and it hurts, how much I love this baby. I feel such joy in having been so lucky: I have the wonderful baby I longed for.

All the same, motherhood is a job with no time off, ever, horrible hours, and no regular break time. I dread Wednesdays now, because Nathan teaches two classes and is gone for almost twelve hours. I am still a good mother, even if I dread the days when no one else is here to change a diaper.

The Great Baby Bottle Review

We have tried many kinds of baby bottles with our son in the nearly three months since his birth. I will share our experience with you in the hopes that someone, somewhere can use the information. Remember, we started off thinking we would be exclusively bottle-feeding donated breastmilk. The plan changed to half breast- and half bottle-feeding. Now, we’re down to one or two bottles a day. The changes in when and how we use bottles with our son have meant changes in what we need from a bottle. I had no idea this would be so complicated, or that the bottle aisle in Babies ‘R’ Us would be so darn overwhelming (to me, my husband and both of my mothers-in-law). In chronological order, here is each of the brands we used and what I think of them.

Nurture Pure: F-

I felt so great about myself for registering for these bottles. Independently-owned company! Glass! Eco-friendly! I registered while we were still going with the only-bottles plan, so I didn’t think it mattered what kind of nipple it had. By the time Walt was born, I had done a good deal of reading about bottle-feeding a primarily breast-fed baby. I looked at the glass bottles I had received from my ever-generous, always gracious sister-in-law, and the nipples seemed tiny, narrow and hard. As in, not soft. As in, nothing like a breast. We tried using them. They frustrated everyone. Dr. Smillie suggested a wide, “natural” and soft nipple.

Unlike most small baby companies I’ve dealt with, this company is also completely awful. There is no customer service–no one answers emails or picks up the phone. Ever. Really. There’s no return policy. The shipping they charge is outrageous. According to the sister-in-law who gave us the bottles, it also took forever for them to arrive. Fail. I plan on using the small size as spice jars or something, with the “storage” caps, and throw the nipples out.

Babies ‘R’ Us “Purely Simple” Wide-Neck Bottle: B

Dr. Smillie couldn’t remember the exact brand of bottle she liked, and the name she gave me didn’t exist at the store. Of course, I sent my husband Nathan to the store the day we switched from syringe-feeding to bottle-feeding, because I had all this new-mom anxiety about what it might do to the baby to have the “wrong” bottle/nipple. Dr. Smillie assured me that the bottle she was thinking of was inexpensive, so Nathan wisely chose the cheapest wide-neck, “natural”-nippled bottle the store carried. Honestly, Walt did respond to these much better. We knew already that he didn’t mind room-temperature milk, so I wasn’t worried about plastic vs. glass as long as we weren’t heating them. There’s just one problem with these bottles: my kid could invert the nipple just by sucking on it at under one-week-old. This means that when he sucks, there’s a vacuum effect that essentially causes him to eat too much, too quickly. It also means taking the bottle out of his mouth to pop the nipple back into shape every thirty seconds.

The First Years “Breast-Flow”: F

A lovely relative asked if we needed anything specific, and I asked for these. A Babble review of bottles had assured me that these were the best for breast-fed babies, because they force a baby to use his tongue to get milk out, not just suction. (That’s how breastfeeding works–they need to use their tongues.) They attempt to accomplish this with a two-part nipple: a soft, normal-looking one on the outside and a blue, firm one on the inside. These frustrated my kid immensely. He couldn’t get the stupid milk out! We took out the blue inner-nipple thing, but they still seemed weird. Fail.

Avent Original: B+

No, I did not go out and buy more bottles. The same sister-in-law who gave us the bottles gave me the pump she was no longer using, and it’s an Avent pump that comes with Avent bottles. These are perfectly fine. The whole “vent” thing they claim to have doesn’t really work, but the vacuum effect was much less with these than the BRU bottles.

Avent Natural: A-

Yes, I did buy these. But I bought them because I was pumping more than four-ounces, and the pump didn’t come with eight-ounce bottles. The Avent pump is the only one that doesn’t pump into a standard container, so you have to buy their bottles if you want to pump directly into the bottle. Since we needed larger bottles anyway, I bought lovely glass eight-ouncers with “natural” nipples. Everyone noticed a difference. He really seemed to take to these.

Dr. Brown’s Wide Neck Natural Flow: A+

I really should have started with these. I had used them while babysitting and knew they were awesome. But they’re expensive. They have several parts that need to be washed with a small pipe-cleaner-type brush (or, as it turns out, just run through the dishwasher–live and learn). Eventually, I got some BRU rewards coupons, so I got some eight-ouncers to try out. Why not just stick with the Avent? Our son is a spitter. Spitting up doesn’t seem to upset him, so there’s no indication that it’s acid reflux. My niece and nephew had reflux and it causes a lot of crying; you’d cry too if you had heartburn 24/7, especially if you had no idea what it was or what was causing the awful pain. Still, Walter soaks outfits. His and ours. I got these bottles in an attempt to see if they could at least decrease the amount of liquid that came back up when he was fed from a bottle. I think they do actually work for that. But there’s another reason I give these an A+ and not just an A…

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These are the only bottles I have used that allow us to do “paced bottle-feeding.” Click on that link to learn more, but what this essentially means is that Dr. Brown’s bottles let him eat the way he does at the breast: he takes little breaks. Those little parts that require extra attention while cleaning somehow keep that vacuum from happening, so drinking from the bottle doesn’t immediately cause more liquid to come out. The milk only comes out when he wants it to. He looks more comfortable, and we don’t have to force the bottles out of his mouth with a “pop” sound to get him a break from a constant flow of milk. At night, he doesn’t even wake up if you get the bottle to him during the “grunting/I’m hungry” signals, before he resorts to crying. A lactation consultant told me that of all the bottles that claim to be “slow-flow,” a new study she read at a conference last spring found that Dr. Brown’s is the only bottle that does actually allow the milk to come out slowly.

There you have it: more information than you ever wanted about baby bottles. It’s a lot more than I ever wanted to know. But since I now know what works for my baby and why, I can only hope that it will show up in Google the next time someone likes me searches for “baby bottle review.”

The Science of Breastfeeding on Meds, or Formula is Not Neutral

“The mistake many doctors make is in thinking that formula is neutral. It’s not.”

I am fairly certain that those were Dr. Christina Smillie‘s exact words when she began to explain to me (and my husband) the benefits of breastfeeding and why they could outweigh the risks my medication might pose. I came to her because I wanted to breastfeed my baby, at least during our hospital stay. She wasn’t trying to change my mind or convert me. The appointment lasted over two hours. It was pretty amazing! She was able to give me exactly what I wanted: a scientific explanation for abandoning the fear I carried that my milk would hurt my child.

Dr. Smillie recommended breastfeeding because, from her perspective, the benefits of breastfeeding a baby make even less-than-perfect breastmilk healthier than formula. I am not saying that formula is bad. I already wrote that we use formula. But breastmilk is pretty amazing stuff, and nothing we manufacture can measure up to it.

I didn’t just take the doctor’s word for it; I read the article she gave us from the journal Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics called “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.” This is a ten-page academic article, not including notes and citations, so I’ve included the link. The article addresses both the benefits of breastfeeding and the risks of taking meds while nursing, go and check it out if you want to read the benefits. Basically, breastmilk is good for babies in every possible way, from supporting the immune system to lowering an infant’s risk of contracting a respiratory infection.

But what about those risks because of my medication? There’s a whole section on “Maternal Medications,” and they state first that there are very few medicines that are “contraindicated” (the AAP recommends that you not breastfeed because of them). There are many, and they specifically mention psych meds, that we just know very little about, especially when it comes to how much medicine is in a mom’s blood stream or milk supply. But then, there’s what we do know: of the drugs that we do have data on, Zoloft is one of the most-studied and “least problematic.” Effexor and Zoloft are not the same. They are similar enough for me to feel ok about taking that risk. Klonopin? We just don’t know enough to say that it is probably not problematic. The combination of the two? No data.

That’s kind of scary, I admit. But the same article offers some perspective by listing the classes of drugs that are dangerous enough for the AAP to recommend formula over breastmilk. There are four: amphetamines, chemotherapy agents, ergotamines, and statins. Why does this offer perspective? Because these drugs have extremely intense side effects, unlike the anti-anxiety meds and anti-depressants that I takeThey also directly effect basic body functions, unlike my meds.

Speaking of basics, Dr. Smillie offered some perspective in the midst of all this science by explaining the way that alcohol enters breastmilk as a point of comparison. Alcohol enters everyone’s blood stream and every lactating woman’s milk supply at exactly the same rate (unlike antidepressants). A great resource for breastfeeding moms is the website Kelly Mom, which supports Dr. Smillie’s assertion that “less than 2% of the alcohol consumed by the mother reaches her blood and milk.” The example the doctor used was that of a mother who is legally drunk here in Connecticut, with a blood alcohol level of .08. If she nurses her baby at that blood alcohol concentration (BAC), her baby will end up consuming 2% of the alcohol in her blood and will have a BAC of less than 2% of .08. While a fetus shares his mother’s blood stream and would also share her BAC, a baby is just taking a drink of a liquid that contains less than 2% of the alcohol in his mother’s blood stream. That baby would then have a negligible amount of alcohol in his blood stream, even though his mom was very drunk when she fed him.

My medication is metabolized differently than alcohol, but even if my baby got 2% of it at its peak concentration in my body, he would still be getting a tiny amount. In fact, one study that did look at breastfed infants whose mothers took Klonopin found that “ten of eleven … had no detectable” levels of the medication. Studying eleven infants is not exactly conclusive. But in the database Lactmed’s summary of research on Klonopin and breastfeeding, only one infant seemed to show any side effects from Mom’s meds. There’s more research on Effexor, but Dr. Smillie’s point was clear: it’s probably safe, watch the baby for side effects, don’t worry too much.

We supplemented with donor milk to reduce the amount of medication Walt got in the early days for our own peace of mind, because as his body gets bigger, the same amount of medicine has a smaller impact on that body. It also gave me time to see whether or not Walter was exhibiting any symptoms after consuming my milk. By the time we ran out of donor milk, I had watched him and couldn’t find any sign of any symptom.

Please, ask questions. It took me a long time to absorb all of this information, and I’m really not sure I have reached the point where I can explain it to other people.

Breastfeeding on Pysch Meds

My first goal in writing this blog was to make sure that something encouraging and human showed up in the search results for phrases like “klonopin and pregnancy.” Since I began writing here, my life has blossomed in ways that I once thought impossible. The biggest change is that I had a baby and took on a career as a stay-at-home mom.

The biggest lesson I have learned is this: when it comes to learning about pregnancy, motherhood and mental health, who you ask is as important as asking the questions.

I made this life happen by asking important questions and by asking different people until I found an answer that rang true in my heart. Luck has played its part. I got lucky a few times–living near New York City allowed me to see a psychiatrist who specializes in “perinatal” mental health (during and directly following pregnancy). Living near Stratford, Connecticut allowed me to see Dr. Christina Smillie, pediatrician and celebrated expert in breastfeeding medicine and in pediatrics. Her practice is called Breastfeeding Resources.

Breastfeeding has been an unexpected gift. I planned on breastfeeding and then mourned after being told that I couldn’t safely breastfeed on my meds. Then, I learned that that was not true! The doctor who told me not to breastfeed did so because she was concerned for my health and my baby’s health; the doctor who told me to go ahead and breastfeed on meds is simply better informed. It seems so obvious now–if you have a question about an infant’s health, ask a pediatrician! I talked to a mommy psychiatrist about meds and pregnancy; I can’t believe it never occurred to me to look for a breastfeeding expert to ask about meds and breastfeeding. Such experts are rare. We feel so blessed to have Dr. Smillie and her practice only forty-five minutes away. With her help, we made a plan. Real life happened, and we didn’t follow every detail of that plan. So I’ll tell you the story with the plan, then the real life. The science is going to have to wait. For now, I give you our breastfeeding journey.

In the hospital:

The plan was to feed Walter my colostrum while we were in the hospital. Dr. Smillie assured us that babies eat so little in the first forty-eight hours that we had no reason to worry for even a minute about the meds that might make it into the colostrum.

What actually happened? Well, he did eat only my colostrum. But he slept. He had a hard time latching, so he would exhaust himself trying and fall asleep again. This would not have worried me one bit, because in my reading on breastfeeding, I had read that some babies do not eat much in the beginning. The nurses, however, worried over my baby until I got scared, myself. Was he sleepy because he was withdrawing from my meds, or was he sleepy from dangerously low blood sugar?

They checked his blood sugar. It was not ideal but not dropping at an alarming rate. And yet. Nurses told me again and again that we “might have to supplement.” I had worked too hard to give my baby colostrum (mine and our milk donor’s) to start formula on day one.

I won’t even tell you the whole story of how the nurses managed to scare me to death about my child’s health by not giving me enough information, because it has nothing to do with my meds. I talked to a supervisor later about how the staff can improve communication. It was all much ado about nothing, as Shakespeare might say. And that right there is the big deal about our hospital adventure–the fact that nothing was wrong.

I had spent my entire pregnancy and a good deal of time before my pregnancy worrying over what my baby would go through after birth because I took medication while carrying him. I am happy to report that my baby was and is 100% healthy in every way. He did not lose an abnormal amount of weight after birth. He had some sleepiness and some rigid muscle tone that may or may not have been caused by withdrawal but, again, nothing outside the normal range. Not. A. Thing.

Again, I took (and still take) 4 mg of Klonopin and 225 mg of Effexor every day throughout my pregnancy. I had a perfectly healthy child.

After the hospital:

The plan was to feed Walter about 50% my milk and 50% donor milk to make doubly sure that he would not get enough of my medication to sedate him. We were going to continue this for about three months. As Dr. Smillie warmly explained, this plan was for my peace of mind (and Nathan’s). She did not think that there would be enough medicine in my milk to cause any problems for Walter. Again, story now, science later.

If you know much about breastfeeding, you may be wondering about my supply right about now. We had a plan for that, too! Because we planned to switch to just my milk eventually, I was pumping and freezing the same amount he was getting from my friend. In other words, I was producing the same amount of milk my child was consuming, give or take a few ounces, so that I would have enough for him when we switched to just me.

In reality, this plan worked very well for the first month. I was particularly grateful for the donor milk when we had trouble breastfeeding; he just wouldn’t latch for more than a few seconds. As it turned out, he had a tongue-tie. That means that the very thin skin that connects his tongue to the bottom of his mouth came forward, and this limited his tongue’s movement. It wasn’t a “first degree tie” that completely stopped him from lifting his tongue, but since we were having trouble with his latch, it seemed like it might be an issue. By the time we discussed that and had it fixed with a simple, in-office procedure, I was just so grateful that we had planned on pumping and bottle-feeding breastmilk. If I had planned on exclusively breastfeeding without using bottles or a pump, I would have been really stressed.

Reality stressed me out again about six weeks in to the 50/50 plan. My kid ended up eating about a hundred times a day and went through all available donor milk before his two-month check-up. It didn’t help that my friend’s baby was colicky and refusing to sleep and wanted to nurse 24/7, giving her less time to pump for us. (Send up a prayer for this fairy godmother friend of mine that her child grows out of this no-sleeping phase! It’s bad for everyone!)

I worried a lot the first weekend we had no donor milk to supplement. He was cluster feeding, which means that he would eat for hours at a time. I remember one stretch that began at about 11pm and went on until about 3am. He would stop to burp/spit up (I have a champion spitter!) or poop and then cry until I started feeding him again. I almost lost my mind. I watched entire days of television, nursing and nursing. He doesn’t do that all the time, but it happened to coincide with us running out of all our frozen milk.

Then, I did something I thought that I would never, ever, do; I used formula. My therapist and I discussed my state of mind when Nathan, his mom or other relatives had fed the baby bottles of donor milk and compared it to the state of mind I was in now that it was all up to me and my breasts. It was immediately apparent that something had to give. I was approaching a nervous breakdown, and we had been out of frozen milk for under a week. I sent Nathan out to get the formula I felt the least guilty about–Earth’s Best Organic. The company is one I know because I once knew one of its employees, and I had talked to a rep about their formula at last summer’s BlogHer conference expo.

Walter has never had more than six ounces of formula in any given day, but the naps I fit in, the time I spend all to myself… It’s glorious. Truly. He never had a tummy ache. I could have peace during migraines and a bad cold. Everyone is thriving.

Where we are now:

I breastfeed Walter, and he also gets either formula or my pumped milk about once a day. I try to pump a bottle if we’re going on a long car ride. I was comfortable and happy letting his relatives feed him formula while I got some quality time with my sister-in-law and fellow musical theater geek at the movie theater (Les Mis!). My supply is great. I love bonding with my baby in this special way. The point is that we are happy and comfortable with Walter having my milk, mostly because he is thriving.

What we’re doing is the exact right thing for our family. I can’t and shouldn’t give medical advice to anyone, so please don’t interpret this as me telling everyone to breastfeed, no matter what. This is just my account of how we found our comfort zone.

Of course, I worried about Walter getting too much of my medication. I watched him like a hawk for any signs of extra sleepiness. But even I could see what everyone who met my baby noticed: he is so alert! He loves to open those big blue eyes and look all around. He sleeps no more or less than any other baby. His pediatrician is completely happy with his physical health and cognitive development.

Our entire family is happy and healthy. And I cannot tell you how happy I am to be posting these photos:

The one and only time he successfully ate in the hospital.

The one and only time he successfully ate in the hospital.

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Yes, he does have an excellent latch, thank you!

 

The Rest of the Birth Story or, I Am a Goddess

After Christmas celebration #3 (one in Long Island, one near Albany, NY and this last one in Phoenix, AZ) I have finally had a chance to have a long nap here at my mother’s house and a chance to do some writing. We have been so lucky to have so much loving family around us for the holidays this year! And it’s also pretty exhausting to do so much traveling with a dog and a baby. I caught a terrible cold. The baby seems to have had it. Now his dad has it. Razor blades in the throat and sinuses. Misery. We are lucky to have my mom spoil us with home-cooked meals, baked goods and even an array of our favorite beverages. We are lucky to have help with the baby as we all recover from the festivities and the awful head colds. I feel that all these things merit a mention, because I am feeling so very thankful for them and because without them, I think it would be another month before I wrote this second half of the birth story.

When I left off, it was October 19th at about 7:30 pm, and we were arriving at the hospital. I was trying not to push in the car. One of my favorite things about Yale New Haven Hospital? Free valet parking for families who are having babies there. I developed tunnel vision and could no longer speak around this time. I remember the wheelchair, and feeling grateful for it. I remember closing my eyes and concentrating on my breath and what my body was telling me. I remember the elevator. I remember looking up from the bed in triage at my wonderful midwife, Elise, and immediately feeling more relaxed.

At home, I had felt anxious. How long would I labor at home? What was the next stage going to feel like? Why was I vomiting?! I had not been told about the vomit! Was that feeling normal? That one? That other one?

In triage, I knew that Elise and our doula, Kate, would take of me no matter what happened physically, emotionally or psychologically. I remembered that they had seen it all. I also remember being told that I could only take one “support person” into the triage room with me and moaning “I want Kate!” Nathan took that very well, I must say. It was really hard to talk, but I was really motivated to make that wish understood. Elise later told me that I looked so calm that the staff in triage thought that there was a good chance that I had come in too early and would be sent home to labor there some more. Oh, how wrong they were!

At some point, amniotic fluid began to gush out of me with each surge [contraction] and it just kept coming. Whatever was under me soaking the stuff up had to be changed with shocking frequency and the nurse, Elise, Kate and I all found this funny. How can there be more?! I think I remember being told I was fully dilated. I remember people moving around. I know that we got from triage to a delivery room, and I remember Nathan joining us in the hallway. Elise was suddenly in scrubs, saying “Let’s have a baby!” with a big smile. I was honestly so excited that this time was here.

The HypnoBirthing affirmations work. I had been telling myself for months that I was excited to meet my baby, that I trusted my body and my baby, that I would have a peaceful birth. When the time came, I felt excitement. My heart was filled with faith in my body, my baby, my care providers, my support people, God. I was filled with faith in myself. I knew with my entire being that I was going to rock this. I became a goddess, deeply in touch with nature/my body and with the spiritual, so aware that I was bringing new life into the world. I was at the center of the most sacred process.

I went to that place as we moved and as the delivery room was readied. When my tunnel expanded to include the people around me, I was in a bed in a dimly lit and quiet room. I asked that Kate play my affirmations on my phone. She put it next to my head and held my right hand. Nathan was on my left. I labored on my right side for a long time. I focused on “breathing the baby down” and on the soft recording repeating that my healthy body and baby were doing what they needed to do, that I was helping my baby on his journey. Periodically, the volume would increase on the phone and a chorus of voices would cheer me on, telling me that I was doing great! I’d meet my baby soon! I remember feeling confused at times, because this was obvious to me. I remember smiling to show them that I knew that I was awesome and excited to meet this baby. I found out later that they were being loud in order to drown out the screams of a woman in a nearby room! I still feel a bit sorry for her–they told me she did a lot of screaming.

I was aware that my body was doing incredible things; I am not an athletic person, so I was actually a bit surprised at how well I dealt with the exertion and all the sweating. Fluid continued to gush out of me. We continued to laugh at how often they were changing the pads under me. I asked them if they had to do that, because I did not want to lift my body up at all. They said something about my skin getting irritated and yes, they had to try and keep me dry, but I really did not appreciate that.

Before long, Elise told me to lift my left leg; I was still laboring on my right side in bed, and this would open up my pelvis. I really did not want to move. I remembered a story from HypnoBirthing class about a woman who refused to move out of one position during her birth and that this became problematic somehow, so I cooperated. I may have even laughed after I did it, though, because it felt good. I didn’t really think it was possible to trust Elise more at that point, but after that suggestion made me a lot more comfortable, I did find room in my heart for more faith in her.

At this point, I felt like the already too-short breaks between surges were becoming non-existent. There had been a constant pressure–surge or no surge–for too long already, in my opinion. My body was working even harder. I began to feel tired and lost my focus a bit. Then, Elise told me to reach down and feel my baby’s head. I did, and energy shot through me. At the same time, I was a bit disappointed that there was not more head to feel! He was really only a little bit out?!

I leaned heavily on Kate and Nathan, figuratively speaking. Kate breathed with me. The words in the affirmations lost all meaning. I had absorbed the meaning of those words, and language was not matching how I felt anymore. I felt like an entirely physical being, but I managed to ask that they put on music instead of the affirmations. Elise asked me if I wanted her to set up the mirror so I could see. I felt like opening my eyes was the last thing I wanted to do, but I said yes, in case that changed later. Communicating that took a ridiculous amount of effort.

“Let’s let gravity help out a little, here. If the nurse sets up the birthing bar, will you use it?” I nodded. (For the record, she used the nurse’s name, which I completely ashamed to say I cannot remember; I loved that nurse!) The birthing bar is a simple but incredible piece of engineering. As easy as its inventors tried to make using the thing, I looked up at it and thought “No way, no how.” Nathan and Kate helped me squat while holding onto the bar. I got very tired and discouraged.

Elise said “Anne-Marie, you are amazing! Look at your baby!” And I looked in the mirror, saw his tiny head and felt determination with more force than I had ever felt anything in my life. I was meeting that baby, and soon. After a few more surges, eyes on that head, my arms were simultaneously stuck in position and shaking with exhaustion. I had done what I needed to do, and let gravity help, though, because Elise said that I should lie back. I needed help to do this, since my hands were pretty much glued to that bar. Exhaustion hit me again. Hard.

“I can’t do this!” I didn’t want to say it. I had told myself I wouldn’t say it. I said it because I knew that if I did, all four of the people in that room would tell me that I could do it. What I didn’t expect was that Elise would say “You have done it! Reach down!” I did. “Is that his NOSE?!” And she said “Yes! It is!” I might have laughed, I was so relieved. The next couple surges were difficult, but before I knew it, they told me his head was out. I was lying back again, now, and my eyes were closed. All of my focus was on that baby. I swear, I could see his progress when I closed my eyes, his little head leading his way.

Suddenly, there was searing pain. I remember being pissed off about it, too, because his head was already out, and I was told that that was the difficult part! I didn’t know why the pain was more intense, but everyone around me was cheerleading and I kept going. Elise did something–I felt her hands but didn’t know what she was doing. I knew it was helping. Finally, I felt the release; the pressure was gone. I had given birth!

I remember touching Walter. I remember Nathan cutting the cord and that he double-checked that we had waited long enough to do so. I remember feeling that there was more moving around in the room than I had expected after watching so many tapes of births in class. I remember feeling completely unsurprised that Walter wasn’t crying. I had essentially meditated throughout his birth; we were in a calm space. He had nothing to fear and no reason to be in pain.

Apparently, babies are “supposed” to cry, according to the medical professionals. Something about crying indicated that they are breathing properly. Elise explained that the nurse was taking Walter to the warmer to check on his breathing, but that no one was really worried about him, because his color was excellent and his chest was moving up and down. And yet, because he wasn’t crying, they needed to perform this check. Nathan would go with him. They would only be a few feet away, and I could see the warmer from my bed while Elise took care of me. I was surprised at feeling perfectly calm and ok with all of it. Kate took my phone, snapped a few pictures of my pink, healthy baby in the warmer, holding on to his dad’s fingers with a nice, strong grip. I grinned and grinned.

Elise gave me a shot of Pitocin in my inner thigh, something I had agreed to in the office that morning, because research from across the globe has shown that a localized shot of this drug that causes the uterus to contract dramatically decreases the chances that a woman will bleed too much after giving birth. She told me I had a very minor (“first degree”) labial tear and would need a few stitches. I can’t remember how many, but it was no more than four. I could hardly believe it when she told me why: after I had birthed Walter’s head, he had turned, as all babies do, because it helps them slide their shoulders and hips out of the birth canal. But my son had not put one shoulder down, like he should have. He insisted, she told me, that both shoulders come out at once, perpendicular to the floor, despite her “wrangling.” That was what I had felt her doing; she had tried to use her hands to turn him into the usual one-shoulder-first position. He had refused. She heaped praise on me, and told me that my body would recover faster and better because I had taken my time and remained so calm. Had I pushed harder and faster, those shoulders would have caused a lot more damage and pain.

Walter refused to cry, but he was breathing so well that he was returned to me. I was wearing a once-comfy and soft Pretty Pushers hospital gown instead of the hospital-provided gowns, but it was soaked, so I asked them to just cut it off me. Everyone was still marveling at how much fluid this kid had been swimming in. And it was still coming. They massaged my stomach to help me birth the placenta (I believe my words were, “Oh, yeah! I forgot about that!”) and out came some more. Still more came out with the placenta. You probably had to be there to see the comedy, but it made me laugh to see the surprise in the nurse, Elise and Kate. It was probably the endorphins, but I was strangely proud of being able to surprise the birth veterans. At any rate, they cut off my gown, put dry bedding under me yet again, and we placed my Walter on my chest.

At some point, I realized that Kate was not feeling well at all. I still find it incredible that she had been in intense pain for a long time. An ovarian cyst had burst in her own body. She is so good at her job that she simply kept on holding my hand and breathing until I didn’t need her support, at which point she quietly informed Elise that she required some pain killers and told me that she was sorry she couldn’t stay, but that she had to go call her mom to pick her up. There’s a saying that the doula “mothers the mother,” and that is what she did. She put her life, her body, her pain, aside so completely, all to support me on my birthing journey. Yes, we paid her. But no amount of money can motivate someone to give the kind of loving support she offered me. I had Nathan and my baby, now, and urged her to go rest until she could leave.

I focused in on this beautiful baby boy again. He was mine. He was ours. He was perfect. I offered and encouraged breastfeeding, but he didn’t want to nurse. His eyes opened, and we made eye contact. They were blue, and I sent up a little light-hearted prayer that they would stay light, like his dad’s. I think my own brown eyes are particularly lovely, actually, but I just had this vision of our child with his blue eyes. The nurse had used a warm towel to rub in the vernix that coated his skin, protecting it from the amniotic fluid before birth, but no one cleaned our bodies too much. One of the HypnoBirthing affirmations uses the phrase “pink and healthy” to describe the tissue in the birth canal in order to help moms visualize that there will be blood–a baby comes out of there, after all–but not too much. I think that’s why the blood I saw didn’t bother me. But Elise and the nurse cleaned everything up with pretty astonishing speed. Nathan and I had time with our son while everyone either left the room or watched from a distance. Soon, Nathan’s mother Judy and his step-father Walter had arrived at the hospital. The whole thing had happened so quickly that Judy had not made it in time to be with us for her grandson’s birth, despite living only an hour and a half away. He was born at 10:50 pm, and his grandparents arrived at 11:30.

No one had expected it to go so quickly. I felt shocked! For all I knew, it could have been one hour or ten. It was still dark outside, but I really didn’t think I had given birth only three and a half hours after arriving at the hospital! We hadn’t even been sure it was “the real thing” until sometime after Kate arrived at our house a little before 6:00.

We stayed in the delivery room for about an hour–me, my son, his father, his grandmother and his namesake. Everything seemed to fill up with love, light, peace, joy. I’m sure I sound like a crazy hippie to some of you. But ask anyone who was there–it was the most spiritual, joyful, peaceful birth. Nathan likes to say, “She basically meditated through the entire birth.” It was the best meditation of my life; I have never felt closer to God. I have never felt stronger faith. Remember: hospitals used to give me panic attacks. I have been diagnosed with two anxiety disorders and depression. I took medication that supposedly put my fetus/baby at risk.

I conceived a child, created a human being, gave birth to a person. In fact, I gave birth with dignity and grace. I began this blog to document my experience with a medicated pregnancy. I had no idea that I would one day write that I had grabbed on to the pregnancy and the birth that followed as a chance to heal myself. I am not pretending that I am cured of anything. But I know now that I can do anything, overcome anything. There is nothing in this world that is powerful enough to convince me otherwise. I don’t know I can attribute to giving birth after spending under five hours in labor to my strength or my use of HypnoBirthing methods and techniques. I do know that I created the dignity, the grace, the strength and the peace that I carried through labor and birth.