What Saved Me: Postpartum and the Baby Blues

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Did you know there are FOUR trimesters of pregnancy?

First, second, third, and …. postpartum.

Many of us develop our BIRTH PLANS for years, but few of us plan for our postpartum. It’s much easier to talk about birth preparation than for postpartum preparation. Why?

I struggle to talk about the postpartum period because I myself struggled postpartum.

ALL THE MORE REASON TO TALK ABOUT IT!

My thoughts in the past have been, “Who am I to give advice about postpartum? I have no idea how to be peaceful and happy in the postpartum period.” But if we all talk about our experiences, good and bad, then maybe we help each other. Let us share our stories and learn from our mistakes. The most important thing for us to remember is that we are not alone.

MY STORY

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I had a healthy pregnancy and an incredible birth experience. Yet for nearly the first year of my daughter’s life, more often than not I felt like I was floundering. I felt like a crazy person — half naked most of the time and awake all night, eating ice cream for breakfast at 3pm, and never sure if what I was going through was normal or very, very wrong. When I talked on the phone with anyone from my “former life”, I felt like an astronaut trying to describe the surface of the moon. All I could do was cry. “I don’t know why,” I told my friend Cara. “It’s just so ….. hard.” For some reason, I thought that if I got help I wouldn’t be able to keep breastfeeding. I never saw a mental health professional so I will never know if I experienced clinical postpartum depression.

Note: When you are struggling, one of the first skills that will disappear is your ability to ask for help.

Looking back, there are many, many things that contributed to my postpartum struggle. Huge life changes (three major moves during the pregnancy, a new marriage and major career changes for both of us), distance from family and close friends, and normal stresses of life left both my husband and I in an unbalanced state. This conversation has to include the risks for postpartum depression and how to get help.

It is my deepest effort to empower both myself and all you mamas out there. So, I want to focus on the good.

I survived the first year of our daughter’s life. Our baby survived too, and today she is the most beautiful, affectionate, sweet and smart little girl I could have dreamed of calling my daughter. Praise god, our marriage survived.  That all those things happened despite the darkness and heaviness I carried with me during that time. I can’t go backwards and change it. All I can do is be grateful for the blessings.

WHAT SAVED ME

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A TRUE CO-PARENT

I have to give a shout-out to one of the best daddies around. We made the difficult decision together that Mike would stay at home with baby Tucy while I went back to work as a nurse. Mike wore our baby, fed her my pumped breastmilk, prepared her first foods, and planned his daily schedule around bringing our daughter to me to nurse while I slept after my shifts. He 100% respected and supported my desire for a home birth, and worked as hard as he could to support me exclusively breastfeeding our daughter. He gave up his career, closeness to family and friends, and the place he loved to live so that I could work while he stayed at home. He is my hero, and he always will be.

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SKIN TO SKIN AND BREASTFEEDING

There were so many moments, hours and days when I felt inadequate as a new mother. Then I breast-fed my baby, and reminded myself that I could give her whatever in life she needed. When I felt especially stressed, I would run us a bath and get in with her, letting her nurse if she wanted to. She would always stop crying, I would relax, and her soft skin felt so good next to mine.

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A PERIOD OF 24-HOUR A DAY, FULL TIME SUPPORT

After giving birth, nursing my baby for the first time and requesting a large breakfast from McDonald’s (yep, I’m as surprised as you), the next thing I did was to call my mom. I asked her to catch the first plane she could. She arrived later that day. For the next week she bought us fresh fruit and vegetables, cleaned for us, did laundry and made us breakfast, lunch and dinner. She even went out to buy me nursing bras and pads, and taught me how to relieve my severe engorgement. Her help and love really let that first week be especially sweet and joyful for us as a new family.

Most of us don’t have the life circumstances where a family member can provide intensive and long-term postpartum support. Don’t feel bad . . . just be resourceful. If you have the funds, I highly recommend hiring a postpartum doula. If you don’t, reach out to your place of worship and community for support. Create a care calendar or choose a friend or family member who can organize meals and visitors.

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(photo by my friend Eden)

THE OCEAN

Tucy was born at home, in a garage-like house two blocks from the ocean in Ocean Beach, San Diego. The ocean there is warm enough for swimming June through August. Waiting the prescribed six weeks postpartum to take a dip was one of the hardest things for me! I cheated. I waited four weeks. I will never forget the day I swam in the ocean for the first time postpartum. Letting the waves wash over me was one of the most cleansing and healing experiences I can remember. “I am still me,” I remembered thinking. “I can do this.”

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We now live far, far away from the ocean. Most of us do. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find your metaphorical ocean, that can cleanse or heal you. Nature is very healing. Find a place or an experience that overwhelms you enough that it helps you to remember:

YOU ARE STILL YOU. YOU CAN DO THIS.

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