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New Mom Challenges: What I Mean When I Say It's Hard
It’s funny how quickly things can change — and change again. I wrote this post after a tough weekend. Today, Tuesday, as I’m finally getting around to hitting “publish,” I’m already feeling so much better about everything, at least for now. But I’ll still share this post, because even though today was a good day, and good days are my favorite, I like over-sharing about the tricky ones, too. So here we go.
Remember, I’m a first-time, slightly neurotic, bit of a perfectionist new mom. This is only my experience, as always, and I’m doing my best and sharing the highs in lows in hopes that we can all share and be friends and be kind to one another!
Six weeks and four days.
It took six weeks and four days for me to break.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of little breakdowns and meltdowns since having Annie. During those first two weeks, I could feel the hormones going completely wild inside me. It was almost like an out-of-body experience. It was intense. I cried a lot. I still do, but it’s less hysterical, and a little more calculated — as in, when I cry now, I tend to know why I’m crying or feeling frustrated. Before, I was just an irreparably leaky faucet.
But this past weekend, I felt like a zombie. I think the sleep deprivation finally hit. The reality that another little life is completely dependent on me sunk in. And I was in rough shape feeling the weight of it.
Sunday was Brian’s birthday. I had grand plans of doing something super special. Something from Annie and Ellie. Something to make sure he’d always remember his first birthday as a human-person dad.
But by the time Sunday rolled around, I had nothing to show for it. Nothing grand, nothing super special. Just a card I’d picked up at Target the day before and signed from Annie and Ellie. I spent Sunday in a fog. I felt so guilty for not doing anything to make Brian’s day special — knowing full well he would’ve made it spectacular if it had been my birthday, because he always does — but didn’t have it in me to rally and pick up my own slack.
Instead, I did what I always do: I sat around, and I pumped every three hours. As soon as I was done pumping, I gathered up my parts (yes, I know the put-them-in-the-refrigerator trick!), put some milk in the freezer, and counted down until it was time to pump again.
And then Ellie got sick. Multiple times. I think I gave her my Crohn’s disease. Poor puppy.
It wasn’t our best day. Finally, around 5 PM, Brian, Annie, and I went to Whole Foods to get stuff for dinner. I’m not much in the kitchen, so the best I could offer was to buy some ground beef and stuff for tacos, and a pack of Hanukkah candles to be used as birthday candles on top of a sad, store-bought cake. (Not quite the Funfetti masterpiece I had imagined. Also pretty sure you are definitely not supposed to blow out Hanukkah candles… Yikes.)
As if to really hammer home the bummer of a day, I decided to sack up and try and breastfeed Annie. I abandoned breastfeeding very early on and have been pumping all of Annie’s meals instead, which I’m grateful I’m able to do. But it’s…laborious. I regret stopping trying to breastfeed so early on, even though it felt like the right move at the time. Part of me hasn’t given up hope. So many people who’ve successfully breastfed their own children have encouraged me to “keep trying,” saying seven weeks isn’t too late to “get her back on.” But I think we’re probably too far gone. Annie digs the bottle and doesn’t quite dig me.
On Sunday night, my pump time and Annie’s hunger struck at the same time. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to try and get her on there — to get the food right from the source.
Needless to say it didn’t work out. She screamed. Wailed. You would’ve thought there were fire swords coming out of my boobs or something. (And she didn’t — wouldn’t — even latch.) I gave up after a few minutes of crying, with both of us in tears. And then I sat there while Brian gave her a bottle and I hooked myself up to a milk machine.
A big — maybe the main — part of my building frustration and stress over the past seven weeks has been the feeding and the pumping. While I know and absolutely believe “fed is best,” it’s hard to navigate this road for myself and for my own baby. I hate pumping every three hours. I hate the time it takes. I hate that I haven’t been able to feed Annie a more direct way. Are we missing out on that “bonding” people who love breastfeeding talk about?
I hate living in very short three-hour increments. (And that’s three hours from the time I start pumping, so it’s really more like two and a half hours, max.) But mostly, I hate how hard it is to do anything else while pumping. I can’t hold Annie, and the main thing she wants if she’s upset is to be held. I try to time pumping with times she’s asleep, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I can’t play with Ellie when I’m pumping, and that puppy sure loves to play! (I know there are some options — I know about the Willow, which is silly expensive and can’t hold as much as I’m pumping out right now, and I know about battery-powered pumps so I could move around more freely. That one wasn’t covered by insurance! But I know. I know. I know there are options. Just doing some venting here for a sec.)
Beyond the actual pumping, I hate that I can’t sleep on my stomach or side, and that I can’t snuggle with Annie on my chest for too long anymore because I end up getting clogged ducts, which, I’ve learned, ouch! And apparently I have this thing called “vapospasm,” which is fun to say, but also, ouch!
At first, I didn’t mind pumping seemingly ’round the clock. Maybe it’s because I was in a newborn daze. Or because pumping, physically, brings wonderful relief. (I actually like how it feels!) But now, as the dust starts to settle, as Brian is back at work full-time and then some, and as Ellie is definitely not getting nearly enough attention or play time, it’s tough.
One of my friends told me “not to give up on my worst day.” It feels selfish to stop because “I want control of my body back.” I want to do what’s best for Annie. But I also know she needs a sane mom. So we’ll see. I’m taking it all one day — one pumping session — at a time.
This post actually wasn’t going to be a pumping rant. But here we are. It always comes back to the boobs!
I just want to make sure I’m enjoying this fleeting time as much as I could. Annie is growing every second and I don’t want to miss a thing, and I don’t want to feel quite so consumed by pumping.
That being said, my supply is great. Actually, I seem to have an over-supply, which seems great in theory, but comes with its own challenges. We are now the [proud?] owners of a deep freezer, which is stocked with breast milk that we will be able to use down the road as well as donate. (At least that’s the plan — I need to do a bit more research because apparently having Crohn’s disease and being on Stelara may make me ineligible to donate.) I feel lucky to have milk to give my child, even if it’s not in the way I envisioned it happening.
Annie is now seven weeks old. Seven weeks! I wish she would be teeny tiny forever, but am also loving every little development. She’s so squeaky, which I adore, and she’s just this total light to me. When I do get stressed or anxious, I look at her, and it helps. She’s my little problem solver without even knowing it!
So if Annie is a pretty good, pretty easy, pretty chill baby…if my Crohn’s disease has finally chilled out…if I’m able to provide food and warmth for Annie and Ellie…why am I still saying this is hard? Why am I anxious? Why do I live in a constant state of “what if?”
I think, to be honest, I’m making it harder than it has to be.
After my crap-tastic weekend, I decided to stop complaining and wallowing and do some problem/solution analysis. Brian is constantly reassuring me that everything is fine and that, perhaps, I need to “chill,” and I fight that, instinctually. I’m constantly rushing around doing. Doing dishes, doing laundry, reading about newborn sleep, reading about pumping and supply and weaning, and trying to give Ellie some love. Brian is content to hold Annie in his arms and nap with her. They both sleep happily and wake up cooing. (Yes, both of them.) I have done that maybe three times since Annie was born. I snuggle her all the time, but I rarely if ever let myself fall asleep with her.
I know I’m doing an OK job. A good job. Annie is happy. She’s fed. She’s overwhelmingly loved. Ellie is doing a great job with the adjustment, but needs more love, more attention, more exercise. I feel that, and it hurts me. And my work is suffering. I just started taking freelance writing assignments again, but my podcast — where my big dreams and goals lie — is also getting more neglected than I’d like.
I’ve preached that I don’t believe in balance. That something has to give sometimes, and that’s OK. That I want to go all-in on what’s most important. Do I practice what I preach? LOL, of course not. But maybe now is the time.
I know the dishes and the laundry are unimportant right now. I think I gravitate toward them because they’re easy. Sitting down to record a podcast, while so rewarding, is harder, logistically, to manage. I can do it. I will do it. It’s just a work in progress, which I’ve never loved. I like to be good at things right away! (At least I can admit that, right?)
As for returning to exercise: I’m trying! I so want to be back in my routine of daily Orangetheory classes, but that’s not quite realistic right now. My body feels great (except no sports bra in the world can contain these boulder boobs), but Brian and I are working on timing. I’ve taken a few 6:15 AM OTF classes, which gets me back home at 7:30 AM. That’s usually around when Annie is waking up, and then we tag-team the morning: I feed and tend to Annie, and he does the same for Ellie. But he usually ends up getting to work way later than anticipated, so we’re navigating that. I’m also doing a trial-run with a potential babysitter this week, so that may help get Brian out the door more seamlessly. Like I said, it’s all a work in progress!
I’m grateful for my team, my people, and my support systems right now. I never thought much about why new parents say “it’s hard.” I never doubted or questioned it, but I didn’t necessarily know what, exactly, specifically, was hard.
For me, I’d say, so far, it’s the complete lifestyle change. The need to be on 24/7. The tiny, growing life depending on me, all day, all night, every moment of her amazing life. It’s not the dishes, it’s not the laundry. It’s certainly not making sure the bed is made every day. It’s just the sheer gravity of it all, and of wanting to do it well.
Oh, and let me tell you how Brian’s birthday ended.
After the breastfeeding fail, I sat and pumped for my requisite 25 minutes. Ellie snoozed, and Brian held Annie and cleaned and I don’t know. Did some other stuff.
When I was done pumping, Brian said, “Annie wants to show you something.”
He led me down the hall and to the bathroom, where there was a hot bath and a bunch of candles waiting for me. He said something along the lines of, “You take care of all of us, so we want you to take care of yourself.” He turned on some “Alexa, play spa music,” then closed the door behind him.
While I sat in the bath, crying for only a little while — but because I was so grateful — Brian made us those tacos.
It was a total birthday fail, but it ended with all four of us getting five uninterrupted hours of sleep together. So it might be hard sometimes, but it’s also pretty great.