Breastfeeding, Exhaustion, and Teething Questions

Sleeping and eating at the same time! Wouldn't it be awesome if I could sleep while he nursed, too?

Sleeping and eating at the same time! Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could sleep while he nursed, too?

My baby is nursing ALL OF THE TIME. Growth spurt or teething, it’s exhausting to create food for him. Yes, he sleeps well. Yes, I get naps. Yes, we have a wonderful nursing relationship. No, I haven’t had any physical problems with breastfeeding. I know, I live a life of luxury many moms dream about. It’s just never enough, for any parent.

I have a list of really cool things to do and things I have done. Things I am excited about. Here’s the thing: being a parent is exhausting. People brag about sleep deprivation, so this should be obvious, right? But I forget to cut myself slack. Also, producing milk takes energy. It’s physics; in order to turn something into something else, energy gets expended. That’s why I lost the “baby weight” quickly, right? People realllllly love to tell me so! More to the point: exhaustion and anxiety really don’t go together well. When I’m exhausted, I can take care of the anxiety, and I can’t do much of anything else.  I don’t want advice. I’m really happy with how we are parenting Walter. I just really miss that time about a month ago, maybe less but I’m losing track of time, when he was nursing a little less and seemed to plateau into a really nice pattern. I also miss that four and five months aren’t really milestone ages, so people just say “Are you loving it?” And I would say “YES!” Because we had hit a stride. There’s a lot of writing that isn’t getting done, and I’m feeling stabby about that.

These days, I’m likely to be at the computer (if I get here at all) with the Boppy across my lap, across desk chair arm rests, with a baby who is nursing, sleeping and waking up to protest every time I move or cough or sneeze or, God forbid, make him switch sides.

But here’s what really makes me stabby: other people are obsessed with my kid’s teeth, and I don’t have the energy to talk about it. Can I just have a sign that says “I see no teeth!” for every time someone asks me how old he is and, on hearing his age, if he’s teething, yet? Here’s how it goes, with every stranger from my landlady to the lady at the Italian grocery with the yummy imported lemon soda,

“He’s so cute! How old?”

“Six months.”

“Is he teething?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t see any teeth, but they can take time to show up.”

“Well, this is the age!”

“Yep. I don’t see anything. Maybe, though.”

“He’s drooling a lot.”

“The doctor says that’s normal for his age, teeth or no teeth.”

“He’s spitting up. My kids did that from all the drool with teething.”

“He has always spit up a lot.”

“[Skeptical look.] Well, he doesn’t seem too fussy.”

“Depends on the time of day, but he likes seeing new people.”

“[To the baby.] Are you getting a little tooth? A tiny itty bitty tooth?”

Why is this so fascinating? I could tell you about his adventures with food. Hilarious. I could tell you about how he’s so cute and wobbly when he tries to sit up. We could wonder together about why he wants to be on his tummy when he wakes up in the morning but not any other time of day. His “talking” is also really, really cute. The giggles? Awesome. But you just want to talk about teeth. I don’t have the energy for hypothetical teeth. He’s biting me while nursing, but not often (holy moly, does that hurt! even with no teeth!). He’s fussier than usual, but not crazy. He’s waking at different times, but not crying when he wakes. I just don’t know if there are teeth coming!

All we know is this: he just wants Mama. And milk. Lots of milk. I want him to be ok sitting in the little baby chair he can now actually sit up in for long enough to make myself a real lunch. I try telling him that I’m planning to share with him. So sometimes, he has to wait for Mama and milk. Neither of us seems to like this phase much… At least if I can get food made, he is totally entertained by helping me “eat” it!

Painting with baby yogurt.

Painting with baby yogurt.

Attachment Parenting Reality TV? Really?

A few weeks ago, I agreed to talk to someone from a production company that I had never heard of, about a “documentary” project about parenting. In fact, my mother-in-law Judy had already suggested that if I could somehow participate in a more honest project, it might help me feel better after the disappointment of that useless Good Morning America segment. That’s what I was thinking about when I answered my phone, knowing almost nothing about the project.

God has a sense of humor. The “interviewer” was looking for an Attachment Parenting family for a reality TV show with a “documentary style.” Obviously, I knew from the get-go that I did not want to be on reality television. Nor did I believe for a minute that any reality TV show would be similar to any documentary that I would want to watch. I spoke to a perfectly nice young woman about the details of how we implement the principles of Attachment Parenting in our family.

I found myself describing a pretty boring life, from a TV standpoint. How do we Attachment Parent? We let the baby tell us what to do for him. We’ve spent a lot of time with him, so we’re really getting the hang of figuring out which cry means what. We balance that by making sure we each get time for ourselves, when we’re “off duty.”

But here’s what made sure we’d be rejected for this project–it’s a question that still gives me an icky feeling: “What are your feelings about families who don’t parent the way you do?”

::groan::

I told her that I have been a child care provider for families of with just about every kind of “parenting style” (whatever that means) out there, and we are all just doing the best that we can. I have seen a young banker and step-mother in a Manhattan, Park Avenue apartment, near tears over the kids’ apparent lack of interest in showing her any affection in front of her new husband’s friends. I’ve seen a get-on-the-floor-and-play, hands-on, thrower of Pinterest-worthy birthday parties, mother of three actually break down in tears because another mom at a playgroup implied that this level of involvement indicates a Kindergarten-level of intelligence.

No one can shake your confidence in yourself to your very core like another mom. My friend with the talent for awesome birthday parties? She has a PhD. With one remark about the difference in their parenting styles, her friend managed to make her feel stupid.

What are my feelings about families who don’t parent the way I do? If you are not neglecting or abusing your children, I am giving you the benefit of the doubt. I assume that you are doing your darndest to raise your kids. I assume that you love them. I assume that how you parent is none of my darn business.

“That all sounds really great. I’m afraid you’re not ‘out-there’ enough for our show, but I wish you all the best.”

That statement followed my “we are all doing our best speech,” and that makes me feel two opposing emotions all at once: joy and anger. After GMA used me and my baby as examples of a “trend” that one of their anchors described as “kind of extreme,” I felt pretty freaking elated at being deemed too normal for television.

I’m also angry, because not only will this team find families willing to condemn each others’ parenting, but there will be an appetite for the reality television show that follows. I hope this never makes it to air. In case it does, I asked the nice lady on the phone to do something. I’m going to remind you to do this, too:

“Please, be kind to parents.”

Not Postpartum Depression… A Postpartum Dip?

During each of my therapy sessions for the past few weeks, my therapist has said, “So you’re not depressed! …?” (She says it in an enthusiastic tone and somehow then manages to turn it into a question. Therapists can magically turn anything into a question.) Today, we decided that, with Walter approaching six months old, it’s unlikely that the depressed moods I experienced starting in February will develop into full-blown postpartum depression. Women most commonly experience the onset of postpartum depression during the three-to-six month period postpartum. While it can, obviously, happen before or after that time window, approaching six months lets us breath a little easier. This is according to my psychiatrist. Even our pediatrician will probably be keeping a closer eye on me for the entire year, as my favorite go-to, “Plain Mama English” site, Postpartum Progress, suggests. My therapist and I joked as we called it a “Postpartum Dip.” But that’s exactly what it was. It was a postpartum dip, in which low moods threatened depression.

I can’t say whether my brain chemistry reacted well to the increase in my dose of Effexor, which I began really quickly after the low moods hit. I don’t know if it was acting really quickly to get help that did made the difference. I don’t know if it was my amazing support system at home, online (#PPDchat on Twitter, mamas! They promise an “Army of Support,” and they are not kidding about that!) and among distant friends and family over the phone. I’m sure it helps that I would rather admit to any feeling, no matter how “shameful” or unusual or strange, than let any mental health problem escalate. Basically, I’m more afraid of being hospitalized again than I am of telling anyone anything that is going on in my head.

Any, all or none of these things could be the reason why I didn’t develop postpartum depression. I haven’t been kicked out of my support group. I will write more, soon, about what I do still feel; my mental health problems didn’t vanish. I simply don’t fit the criteria for PPD. I can’t tell you what a huge relief that is. Depression is a monster I’m not used to battling every day, whereas my anxiety can be managed with tools I’ve been using for years. It’s not new. It’s not rare, for me. I go to bed tonight full of hope and gratitude.

Oh, and if you’re reading this and I consider you part of my support system: you are not off duty. Ever. Except if you’re sleeping, because sleep is important and creepy to interrupt. But that means that I’m never off duty for you, either! Unless I am sleeping.

A Good-Bye Letter to a Young Woman

Trigger Warning: This post discusses suicide and depression and may trigger a strong reaction. Thanks to Cristi Comes at Motherhood Unadorned for providing this list of crisis resources:

If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis, please call:

 

I didn’t want to write this post. I just avoided thinking about writing this for so long that I don’t remember when we heard the news. A young woman I never got the chance to meet, a former student of my husband’s, died last year. I don’t know her family or whether her death was a suicide. I strongly suspect that she did take her own life. The last news we had about her, before this, was that she had left school to try and get help for severe depression. As an undergraduate, she confided in my husband in fall, 2011, that she was struggling with depression. With her permission, he shared her story with me. He shared my blog with her. Her name was Rachel.

I wrote a letter to Rachel on this blog and on my blog at Psychology Today, and she said that it helped. I have not gone back to look at the comment she left. I just can’t. She seemed to be doing better, my husband reported, at the end of that semester. It’s time to write another letter; if Cristi can fly across the country for the Overnight Walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, then I can write this letter.

Dear Rachel,

We miss you. We had so hoped that you would come back to finish college, stronger and healthier. We had hoped that you would come to visit us, and meet our son. I had hoped to get a chance to tell you, in person, that it would get better.

But it didn’t get better. You are gone, and the world will never know what you might have done with the rest of your life. There was so much life ahead of you. I am so sorry that you did not believe in the importance of that life. I am glad that I told you that I believed in you. I am angry that you are not here to be told again and again by many people to just keep hanging on.

I’m crying, holding my infant son in my lap, and grieving that we will never see you smile over him. When I look at him, I think, “My God, if I had gone through with the suicide plan I made when I was Rachel’s age, I would never have known this moment.” There was no way, when I wanted to die, for the people who cared about me to reach into my future, pluck this image, and give it to me to hold as a reason to stay. I had to take it on blind faith. It was hard.

I’m so sorry that you did not stay with us. I’m so sorry that life was so hard. I don’t know what happened, but I desperately wish that you had found a way to be here. I want to put my son in your arms as a symbol of the future and make you understand that the darkness that surrounded you made it impossible for you to see your own. It was still there, your future. You had one, and I believe that it was bright. I’m so sorry that you couldn’t see it. I’m angry that you didn’t hold on.

I believe in reincarnation, truly, and I pray for your soul. It comforts me to know that your journey is not over, but I also believe that it will continue to be difficult. Maybe that’s not what we usually say when a young person has died. But I know that you’re still out there, somewhere, and I want to hold you and tell you that giving up is never the way out. I still have hope for a bright future for your dear soul. However long it takes, no matter how many times you forget that you are loved, I know that you will make your way out of the darkness, someday.

I am holding you in the light, in my heart, always. Good-bye, Rachel.

Love,

Anne-Marie

Hamlet's Ophelia, by Millais, behind a line Laertes delivers at Ophelia's funeral

Hamlet’s Ophelia, by Millais, behind a line Laertes delivers at Ophelia’s funeral: “Lay her i’ the earth / And from her fair and unpolluted flesh / May violets spring!”