This is your official warning. This post talks about lady parts, other sensitive holes, poop, pee, scary thoughts, and who knows what else. If you are at all affected by any of them, please stop reading and return at a later time. (Just what will I write about when I run out of baby-related topics?? Don't worry, I am still planning on a breastfeeding post!)
After delivering Axton, I had in my mind that the number 6 was magic. Six weeks was when I'd have my postpartum check up. Six weeks is when most women go back to work. Six weeks was when I'd be fully healed, well-rested, wholly knowledgeable, and "back-to-normal." I was fully geared up to just plow through those first 6 weeks. But when that six week mark hit, I wanted to feel better. I wanted to look better.
Well, about 4 weeks after delivery, it was still burning whenever I used the bathroom. This seemed a little unusual to me. I thought maybe I had an infection, so I went to a walk-in clinic to get an antibiotic. The meds did nothing for me, but I decided to wait one more week until my 6 week check up to talk to my midwife.
I also wanted to see how things were looking...you know, down there. I didn't have the guts to do it any sooner, but because I thought surely everything would be fine by now, I'd venture a peak. .....Well, things didn't look normal. My tear had healed fine, there was a light scar but I could handle that. No, it wasn't that that was bothering me. Something was ....bulging.....that really shouldn't be bulging. I was seriously scared. First the burning and now the bulging? I was for sure broken and would definitely need surgery and would most likely never be able to have kids again and maybe I would die, too. I think I cried that night to Adam and he told me I didn't need to freak out, that I'd be going to my midwife the next day and she would probably tell me it was normal.
The next day, at my appointment, my midwife did not tell me that that bulging was normal. She told me that my muscles were weakened, and that my bladder had sunk a bit, and that was causing the bulging. This typically happens with big babies and hard, long pushing - bingo! Perfect candidate! She referred me to a physical therapist.
Coming out of that appointment, I felt like just giving up on my body. I felt betrayed. I thought this was unfair - hadn't I gone through enough already? More than most women I know who have had babies? Or were they just not talking about it?
So I went to a Women's Health Physical Therapist (thankfully a woman and thankfully a non-awkward woman) who taught me exercises I could do to help strengthen those muscles again (mostly ab work and kegels. Yay.) She also stretched me out down there (yes, it really was as uncomfortable as that sounds) - she said my muscles were very tight, and that the tightness was causing the pain when I used the bathroom. If you're wondering, as one of my friends did, "Why did you need stretching out? Did you just push a baby out of there?" It's a fair question. My PT told me there was two reasons for the tightness: One was that trauma, such as labor and hard pushing, causes your muscles to freak out and tighten up, and two was the scar tissue from my tear. So, I had weekly appointments for 6 weeks to have a nice lady to chat with while she was all up in my grill working her magic. It was odd at first, but meh, you get used to it, I guess.
The "H" Word
The one and only reason I have the courage to post this is thanks to Lil Blue Boo (see her post here). Before reading her post, I felt like an all-out freak. I felt gross. I felt weak. I felt embarrassed and mortified. I felt depressed. I never realized how large of a role using the bathroom played in my life until it hurt every single time I did it. As I mentioned above, it already hurt to pee. And then, at about 8 weeks after delivery, it started hurting to go number 2. Like, killing. Like crapping bricks hurting. No, more like razor blades or broken glass or shreds of barb wire. It hurt like hell. And I had to face this pain every single day. I started getting scared to eat because I knew eating would later mean I'd have to poop it out, losing a lot of blood and tears and sweat along the way, too. I was too embarrassed to go to the doctor about it for the longest time. And when I did finally get the courage to go, it was just as awful as I had been imagining it would be. I would rather have someone look at my hoo-ha every week for 6 weeks (and, hey, that happened!) than look at my bum once (and yeah, that happened too). It didn't help that the doctor acted more sorry about the whole thing than I was.
Anyway, so, Lil Blue Boo. She wrote about getting hemorrhoids (yes that was the "h" word I was going for) from chemotherapy. And then she spilled the secret that made me feel like a person again, instead of some disgusting scumbag:
EVERYONE GETS THEM AND NOBODY TALKS ABOUT THEM.
Hallelujah. So there. I'm not the only one in the world to ever get hemorrhoids from delivering a baby. Hmph.
And, with some colace, fiber pills, lots of water, and just a tiny bit of my pride back, my bum and I are on the road to recovery.
The word "depression" gets a pretty bad reputation. Most people think that Depression = crazy, psychotic, insane, suicidal. And when you pair it with "postpartum" then I get the feeling people take it another step - that you might harm your baby. So, I don't really blame women for not wanting to talk about their postpartum depression too much. But I do want to talk about it, and I am making it clear now that I am not insane or suicidal or anywhere close to harming my baby.
I'm not sharing this with you to pity me, or to beg for reassurance or love, and I definitely don't want you to think I'm out of control or in need of "help." I'm just writing these things down because it helps me sort out my thoughts, helps me realize how silly some of these things really are, and helps me get past them. I'm also writing because I want other moms and moms-to-be out there to know that, if you feel similar things, you are not alone.
I recently finished reading Jennifer Lauck's Show Me the Way. In it, she describes a "meltdown" that she had shortly after her first son was born. A nurse called her to check on her, and, after asking some questions, concluded she must be depressed. Jennifer said, "I disagree with her. I'm not depressed, it's just that I don't feel like myself, I'm weepy and sad and very tired."
That was something that really affected me, starting from pregnancy and going clear through about 4 months postpartum: I just simply did not feel like myself anymore. The first 3 months after Axton's birth I felt like I was swimming in the murky waters of a swamp. I didn't know which way was up or down, nothing came clear or easy to me, everything was muddled, and I couldn't even express myself. I've never had writer's block the way I have with trying to write about my postpartum experience. I felt like I was just barely keeping my nostrils above the mud, just barely breathing, just barely surviving.
As that 6-week mark came and then went, me not feeling much better, that's when the depression really kicked in. Everything set me off.
Getting dressed was depressing. Nothing fit me anymore. My hips were too wide, my boobs too big (ha! Never thought I'd say that!), my waist too wide, my stomach too fluffy. Nighttime was depressing. I wanted sleep so desperately, but knew I wouldn't be getting any. Laying down in my bed was just basically teasing myself. Daytime was depressing - Axton and I were alone in our tiny apartment doing the same thing we had done the day before, just trying to merely keep each other occupied. Trying to exercise was depressing, too, at least at first. My body ached so much and when you're not getting any sleep, working out is the last thing you want to spend your energy on. And like I said above, going to the bathroom was depressing because it was so painful. And I went to the bathroom quite often.
I gave myself more time because really, what choice did I have? Time was the (only) cure for the worst parts of it all. Time for my body to heal more. Time to get used to Axton and my new schedule and establish a routine. Time to take naps and get more sleep. Time to get back into shape. I think it was about the 4-month mark that I started being able to say that I was beginning to feel like myself again.
It's now been almost 6 months since Axton was born. Can I still label this as "postpartum depression"? Or is this just part of my new life as a mom? Dealing with hills and valleys of happiness and frustration, pride and loneliness, accomplishment and failure? Here are some of the things I still struggle with. Some of the following thoughts are gruesome, terrible things to think, and again, I don't want you to "worry" about me or pity me, I'm just sharing the truth.
Sometimes I lie in bed in the middle of the night, just staring at the ceiling and thinking, over and over, about doing it all again. And perhaps not even just once more, but twice or thrice times more. Getting pregnant, delivering, my poor body recovering, only slower this time since it's round two, going through that hellishly divine first 4 weeks with a newborn, the next 4, 7, maybe 18 months of no sleep at night. I often end this conversation with myself by just shaking my head. No, please, no. Please don't make me do it again. I can't do it.
Sometimes I feel lonely. Like no one really likes me best or cares a whole lot about me. That I could easily be replaced and forgotten. Deep down, I know this isn't true. I know I could call quite a few different people and whine to them and they would be concerned, and reassure me that they love me and think about me often. I try to reason with myself when I get this way and say, "If you're really that lonely, do something about it! Call one of those many people and tell them how you're feeling....or don't! But either way I bet they will make you feel better." I think those words, and then I flick them away and say, "Leave me alone, self. I just want to wallow in my loneliness."
Sometimes I cry about The Lee's baby. I think about the fact that him and Axton were just a few days apart, and if he were still alive, he'd be doing the same things Axton is now. I think about what if the roles had switched? If it was my baby that had died and theirs that had lived....where would I be right now? Would I know even a shred of happiness? Having experienced life with Axton, I know now what I would have been missing out on, and I torture myself with the thoughts.
Sometimes days like yesterday happen. Yesterday started off bad, with a long, sleepless night leading up to it. When I finally gave up trying to get Axton back to sleep, I just stared at Adam lying in bed next to us. He had somehow, impossibly, slept through the majority of what I'd gone through, and was now softly snoring. The longer he slept, the harder I glared at him. I knew that the later the hour he went into work, meant the later the hour he'd get back. I'd have 9 1/2 long hours with Axton from the time he left, and it hadn't even started yet. Axton's afternoon nap was a mere 20 minutes, leaving me with just enough time to waste on stupid things like Facebook and email. He spit up about three times his usual amount, and each time I felt the warm liquid seeping through my pants or my shirt I'd sigh a little louder. When Adam did come home, my relief was short, as he had to leave again for Young Men's. Of course this is the night Axton does not want to go to bed easily, and he spends the hour after Dad leaves crying. I pick him up and rock him and we cry together, my tears mixing with his, my sobs tuning out his screams, my quaking stomach against his quivering chest. "Please stop crying," I whisper, and I'm talking more to myself than to him.
Sometimes when I take Axton out onto our 3-story back porch, a fear cuts through my chest and I envision the ugliest of things. I see wiggly Axton falling off my lap and somehow slipping through the bars. I feel the immense pain of what those short seconds would be like as he is falling in the air, the frozen moment of panic, the thud of my heart stopping, and my hideous scream that would pierce the world. I ask myself what my first move would be, following the sound of his body making contact with the ground. Would I even be able to move at all?
While we're on that terrible thought, I also sometimes wonder what I would do with our little family if Adam were to not make it home from work from day. I see myself aimlessly walking in circles around our apartment, throwing random items into boxes, not really caring if I just left it all behind. I'd move in with my mom, and I'd probably get a job, or something. I imagine I would cry myself to sleep every single night for a long time, perhaps years. I would keep a picture of Adam up on my dresser and tell Axton everyday how much his dad loved him. My heart would never heal, for any progress that could be made would be torn back open every time I looked at my son's face, for I would see Adam in him.
I think about my labor and delivery a lot. Not every day, but almost. I think about how I could have done things differently, how I should have been stronger at certain points in my labor. I am now nearly obsessed with hearing birth stories - partially because I compare mine to theirs and am jealous of easier, shorter births and I find a strange comfort in hearing about longer labors because it tells me I wasn't weak and my body wasn't broken, I was just a first-time mom and that happens sometimes. I think that a small part of me wants to pregnant again just for the sake of proving to myself that it wasn't a fluke, that I could do it again, and that it might even go "better" the next time around.
But, alas! I do not go crazy. Wanna know why?
Because I run. I felt so vulnerable during labor, so weak and tired, like this one thing that should have defined me as a woman was actually the one thing that undid me. And then when recovery was slower than I was anticipating, and when I was uglier and fatter than I wanted to be, I just felt so bad about myself. But running solved (most of) that. Starting out on a jog filled me with so much jittery anticipation - how far would I go today? How fast could I push myself? Running made me feel powerful again. Running made me feel capable, accomplished, and worthwhile. I would recite mantras in my mind, over and over again, especially on hills and near the end of a run. I would play scenes in my mind, of Adam and Axton waiting for me at the end of the finish line, so proud and cheering. Axton would kiss me and call me Mommy and I would know that he was my proudest moment, my dearest accomplishment. During my runs I write my novel, I sing my favorite songs, I think in peace and without interruption, I praise myself, and...I cry.
Because his laugh is the best sound in the world. It fills my heart with happy and recharges me for the tears I know will come. Because eventually the crying stops and he is sleeping and peaceful. Because I have video footage of his tiny, weak cries and his sleepy, blinking eyes from when he was a newborn and think I could maybe do this again. Because I have a wonderful husband who takes Axton while I jog, run errands, go out with friends, or just breathe and work on the things I love to do. Because I have people who love me and let me vent to them and remind me to just keep pushing through it, that none of us are perfect.
....It wasn't all that fun sharing some of these things with the public, but isn't it great to know, dear readers, that if you've experienced some of things, you're not alone? I know I felt that way when I figured that out.
3 years ago