The first few months of motherhood were pretty rough for me. Was it all bad? Absolutely not. There was a ton of joy and amazement among the struggles but as I look back, I tend to generalize by describing it as a difficult time for me. Even then, in the middle of it, I don’t think I knew how hard it was because you just DO it, there’s no other option. And I was so in love with my child and would do whatever was necessary to keep her happy and healthy. I of course KNEW that it was going to be hard, I didn’t have any fantasy that it wouldn’t be, but I had never done it before – so yea, some things came as a shock!
The following is nothing more than my experience and I’m sharing my story it was the sharing of stories from other new moms that got me through this particularly rough time.
The second night in the hospital was awful. Just like they warn you in all the classes and reading materials. Ellie wouldn’t sleep, she cried non-stop, she already was having latching issues, and I was exhausted. The nurse finally wheeled her out of the room at 2am so I could sleep for an hour and I lost it. Complete meltdown, hobbling over to Chris where he was asleep on the pull out bed, just sobbing. So much for sleeping…
Jaundice and Breastfeeding
At her first doctor’s appointment, the doctor ordered a blood test because he thought Ellie might be jaundice. A couple hours and a painful ankle prick later and it was determined that she was. Barely four days in and we’re discussing me needing to pump, supplementing with formula (WHAT?!?!) and potential light treatments if she doesn’t start gaining weight.
I was overwhelmed, my milk was coming in strong, my child wasn’t drinking it and my pump was still in a box and I really wasn’t ready to learn how to use it.
The jaundice created a horrible cycle. Everything was working against each other. The jaundice made Ellie sleep. Her sleepiness made her a crappy eater. She wasn’t eating enough to kick the jaundice. Around and around we went. We were at daily doctor visits for the first 2 weeks because she wasn’t gaining enough weight.
Between doctor appointments, I was seeing lactation specialists, going to support groups and seeing an occupational therapist to try to strengthen Ellie’s latch. I was wearing nipple guards, we were syringe feeding from our fingers and I was pumping whenever I had a free second.
We were setting alarms to try to wake Ellie up for feedings but she never really wanted to. The whole thing felt wrong, and forced and very hopeless at times!
The Emergency Room and Reflux
On her 2 week birthday, we had an OT appointment where the technician advised us to make sure Ellie was getting full feedings no matter what. So after I nursed for an hour, I offered her a bottle of pumped breast milk and she sucked down all two ounces. She had never eaten that much so maybe that was the answer. She seemed happier that afternoon. I felt better now that we had a new plan.
That evening, when I put her to the breast, she started choking. She turned red and stopped breathing for a couple seconds. Then she did it again, and again. It looked like she was having a seizure. Those seconds were the worst of my life. We called 911.
We ended up spending the entire night in the Emergency Room. A nightmare for sleep-deprived, brand new, freaked out parents, let me tell you! It was determined that Ellie had bad acid reflux, relatively common in new borns. We were advised to give her frequent, very small feedings and keep her upright as much as possible. The plan I that had just brought me comfort a few hours earlier was now thrown out the window.
No OFF Switch
I woke up the next morning feeling more desperate than usual. You know when you can remember EXACTLY where you were when you had a particular poignant thought? I remember this moment so clearly. It hit me that there’s no pause button, no off switch to motherhood. It’s forever and it’s every second of every day, for forever. I can’t say “hold on, I need a break.” I am forever vulnerable to my daughter, my heart will always be open, I will always be “on.” Bad things can happen at any moment and I am now subject to a world of potential pain that I wasn’t before 2 weeks ago. I am NOT in control, I am at Motherhood’s mercy.
I knew Motherhood was going to be a lesson in “letting go” but here I was holding on for dear life. It’s a really scary feeling when something you wanted so badly, something you KNOW you’re meant to do, is the source of so much discomfort and uncertainty. I never doubted that I was supposed to be a Mom, I just wasn’t feeling the immediate “fit” – and that made me more uncomfortable than anything else.
Life was pretty overwhelming moving forward. Between the hormonal baby blues I was battling and the nonstop routine of trying to get Ellie to nurse (each “feeding” would take hours) and contending with a baby who never seemed to be comfortable (she didn’t want the boob, her reflux made her miserable and she quickly become a crappy napper), I was having a rough go.
Did I mention we were going through a heat wave and had no AC in the house?
We had wedges and blankets all over the house to help Ellie stay upright at all times, but mostly she was in our arms.
By about 2 months, Ellie finally got her latch down but was still an “inefficient” breast-feeder (she wouldn’t extract enough milk) so I primarily pumped. Usually about 5-6x per day. Between feeding her and pumping, it was difficult to find time to leave the house. Going on walks saved me. I needed fresh air and I needed to get out of my bubble. The blues started to lift eventually and I felt more hopeful that this was just a phase and it wouldn’t last forever. It didn’t last forever.
We still struggled with her reflux, napping schedule (what good is a 25-minute nap!?), the fact that she needed to be triple swaddled to sleep and general fussiness, but at least I could see more clearly. I could see that things changed very quickly, and as hard as it was to keep up, most changes were good changes, or at least moving us in the right direction.
I don’t think my experience with a newborn was so out of the ordinary. I think we struggled with a lot and I think I did feel the effects of some hormonal changes in the beginning.
The more I talked to other moms and the more I read, and heard, that I wasn’t alone, that my experience (and child) was normal, and that it wouldn’t last very long, the better I felt.
The more we were able to get out of the house, the more people were able to help us, the more normal I felt.
I also don’t expect everyone who has a new baby to struggle like we did, but if they do, I want to be there for them, to tell them what other moms told me.
I have a million more stories to tell (as all Mommies do) – leave a comment if you ever want me to share more…about my breastfeeding journey, my experience with baby reflux, our swaddling issues, etc. I’m more than happy to share!
Post-pregnancy – A year of physical changes – read more here.