Sunday, October 5, 2014

Emerging from the postpartum shadows

I'm starting to see the light and feel the warmth of the sun. I'm starting to enjoy the cool breeze, and smile easy and laugh easier.

I'm starting to breathe again.

Because for awhile there, I wasn't. It was all choked up in my throat and my heart kept pounding Jordan Sparks would say, no air. 

Rhenner is a few days shy of being 4 months old. And now I can look at him and say I'm so glad you're here. I'm so happy you're in our family and that you have cute, fluffy hair that sticks straight up and a big nose and an even bigger smile. 

I'm going to be honest. Rhenner? Well, he broke me. He shattered every ounce of confidence I had as a mother and he threw the broken pieces in the air for the wind to catch and carry away. And just like that, I was a mess. I thought I knew what I was doing. And therein lied the problem: When it comes to kids, I should remember that I never know what I'm doing.

I thought he would be just. like. his. brother. And funny thing! He wasn't. He was hard. He was really hard and I dreaded every day. I would lie down at night and think, I have to do that all over again tomorrow. How am I going to survive this?

A friend of mine told me that it really looked like I had my shit together (her words, not mine, but I'm keeping them nonetheless). The fact was, only my instagram feed and facebook status updates had their shit together. But not me. Definitely not real-life-Meghan.

Rhenner didn't take a pacifier like his brother did. And it wasn't just that he didn't take a pacifier - he didn't take comfort. Like, at all. People suggested putting him in a carrier. He screamed louder when he was facing in towards me. People suggested I swaddle him. He fought harder against the fabric, against himself. People suggested putting him in the carseat and taking him for a ride - Bad. Bad, bad, bad idea. Rhenner detests the carseat and screamed everytime I would put him in it. It didn't matter how long the drive was, he would scream the whole time. I hated driving him anywhere, because it just made me feel awful listening to him. I tried nursing him to sleep - he would nurse, and then just as he was getting tired, he would get mad again and attempt to rip my nipple off my breast. When he was tired, he didn't want to be held. He didn't want to nurse. He didn't want to rock. He just wanted to sleep, and he didn't know how. It tortured me. I would shut myself in his room for 45 minutes at a time, all the while he is screaming and clawing at my shirt and just begging for sleep. I would get him -finally!- asleep, only to have him wake up within minutes, starting the entire process all over again. Even Grandma, when she came to visit, knew he was a mystery. "Hmph." She said. "He is one tough customer, isn't he? You really got your hands full."

I took him and Axton to a park play group one day. Just to try it. Just to prove all those depressing thought in my head wrong - thoughts that told me I would never again get to go out or take Axton places or have other people watch my kids. Well, while we were there, Rhenner got tired as one-month-olds tend to do, and he was crying and I was nursing on a park bench and Axton is pouting next to me, saying Mommy please come play with me? And nursing isn't helping and walking or swaying isn't helping. So, a friend offers to try....She asks, "Does he take a pacifier?" Good grief, if he did, don't you think I would have tried that by now? I watched him pound his fists against her chest, clawing at her shirt, his face getting redder and his screams getting louder. I watched her face as she handed him back to me. It was a look of relief.  A look that said to me Boy I'm glad he's not my kid. And again, I was defeated.

We had friends over for dinner another night, and I couldn't enjoy a single minute with them because Rhenner wouldn't go to sleep. I walked up and down our driveway, up and down, up and down. I walked slow, I did lunges, I bounced and jiggled and really the only way he would ever fall asleep was after just giving up. But I couldn't put him down in his bassinet because then he would wake up, and I couldn't go back and enjoy my friends because our talking would wake him up. So, once again, I had to seclude myself in his room and just wait. It was such a lonely time.

On top of his crankiness, he was also extremely congested. There were countless nights I had to sleep sitting up, holding him at an incline, so he could breathe while he slept at night. Below is a video I took of him around 4 weeks old. I took the video because everytime I tried talking to someone about it, it was like they didn't believe me or thought I was making a bigger deal out of it than I needed to. So I wanted to prove to them that this is what he sounded like all the time, and that this wasn't normal.

 I talked to several different people - is it a cold turned something serious? Is it allergies? Milk sensitivity? His primary care physician thought it could be reflux, but didn't think it was serious enough for a prescription. Another doctor I took him to thought it was just a lingering cold and he would get over it. Another one didn't know what was causing it, and could only suggest taking him to an ENT. When I went in for my 6 week check up with my midwife she asked, "Does he always sound like this?" and I said, "Yes. Always. Thank you for noticing." She suggested some natural remedies for the congestion and for reflux. I didn't know what was causing it, but it was incredibly frustrating to not have answers. It was also guilt-inducing to think that if it was milk allergies, I was the one causing it. So I cut out all dairy products, feeling a little bit better that at least I was trying to find a solution.

I welcomed the night. Night time was the only time I could catch a break. Rhenner would, after several, clustered feedings, sleep in bed next to me. He would generally go right back to sleep after nursing. So, we co-slept. Because, like I said, it was the only break I got. I woke up in the morning only to look forward to going back to bed at night. That, my friends, does nothing for a person's happiness.

I felt guilty about Axton, too. Rhenner sucked so much energy out of me and Axton was dealing with so many changes at once - I was not patient. I didn't have enough time in the day to be the kind of mother I wanted - and used to be! - to him. I constantly thought, "What was I thinking? I was a great mother to just one boy, and now I am simply a mediocre mom to two boys! Was it worth that? I will never have another kid, because then I will just be a sucky mom to three kids and that's not fair to anyone involved." I felt guilty that I wasn't enjoying Rhenner the way I had hoped to. That I was telling myself this was just something I had to get through, rather than moments to embrace. I was simply Just going through the motions. I felt guilty that I was constantly comparing Rhenner to Axton, thinking how easy Axton was! When really, I probably just forgot the hard stuff with him.

So, as I'm sure you can tell now, when it came time to fly to Idaho with both boys by myself, I had extreme anxiety. I got so worked up and so nervous, I made myself sick the morning before the flight. I spent most of that morning in the bathroom. Going through security, Rhenner was in the carrier - which, of course, he hates but I don't have enough hands for anything else. Axton was screaming for Daddy when he saw him not go through the security with us, and I am - what else? - crying. Finally, Rhenner is exhausted and he allows me to put the pacifier in his mouth - he doesn't even suck before he is asleep. The plane ride itself isn't bad; Axton watches Curious George and the humming of the plane helps Rhenner sleep. But getting off the plane? Everything is chaos! More crying and screaming and everyone is staring and I make eye contact with no one. Just keep looking forward. Just keep moving. Axton is running away from me and I choose to save him over my camera equipment and when I get back to my stuff, someone had been waiting by my bags to make sure no one stole anything. Thank you. 

And then we have the most hellish drive of my life - 4 hours from Salt Lake City up to Idaho with the child that can't stand to be in his carseat. I literally had to turn myself off. I had to block it all out. I had to be emotionless. I will say it again: I was broken. 

Being with my mom was good for me, but it also made me rely on her. She didn't leave me alone too often while we were there, but the few times she did have to work, I would get panic attacks when I would find out I would have to be alone with the boys. I dreaded being alone with them. Do you know how that feels? How awful it is to know that you dread being alone with your own children? My mom kept encouraging the pacifier and I just...everything felt wrong and out of place and again, I felt guilty that I was forcing something on him that he clearly didn't like.

We visited my sister in law, whose baby was only 5 weeks younger than Rhenner. We were there for 3 hours and I had to feed Rhenner twice while Landon slept the entire time. I looked enviously at him, swaddled and sleeping through the noise and movement and thought, "Rhenner never did that."

Going to church was embarrassing and felt completely like a waste of time. There were two other moms who had babies within 5 days of Rhenner, so we all returned to church around the same time. My first week back to church with Rhenner was miserable. Rhenner, as per usual, was not going to sleep. I walked into Relief Society, sat down, and he immediately started crying. So I carried everything back out with me, mumbling to someone, "Nope, that's not happening." There was way too much going on for him. It was too hot outside for me to take him out, someone had locked the Mother's nursing lounge (say what? That is NOT okay. It's not even about nursing in front of other people, I just needed a quiet room that loud kids wouldn't come barging into so he could fall asleep). So the only room I could find was the one right next to the Relief Society room. I knew every woman in there could hear his every wailing, his constant screaming. I knew what they all were thinking - about me, about Rhenner, about my mothering abilities - or at least, I thought I did. And I hated it, so much. The two other moms with babies the same age would look at me with their pity-eyes, and ask, "How is he doing?" I know now it was out of love, but in the moment it felt like they were rubbing it in. Rubbing in their perfect easy babies ("Oh man, this baby is SO much easier than my first. How about for you?!?") that magically fell asleep during the Sunday school lesson as they gently swayed them back and forth.

In the midst of all this, Axton stopped napping. And my already train-wreck of a life dissolved into nothing but tears and sadness. Once I realized he was done with his nap, I had a week where I just moped around the house, calling it a "quarter-life crisis." I told Adam I no longer knew what I was supposed to do with my life - especially when it came to the one thing I spent time on outside of the home: photography. "What am I even doing? I have to quit photography. I will never again have time for it. Besides, who am I to capture someone's wedding day? I am not that good. Nobody should ever trust me with capturing the most important day of their life. I am going to ruin someone's wedding. I've got to quit this. Axton is obviously having behavioral issues. It must be my fault. I need to focus more time on him. I should be doing more with him..." And I haven't even mentioned anything about dealing with a postpartum body, trying to get back in shape, my body not being my own, things hurting and aching still.  It went on and on and Adam didn't know what to do with me and I didn't know what to do with myself.


I reread this post and I think that it does not do justice to what I was going through. It just makes me sound like a whiney person, with a slightly-above-average cranky baby, when really, I was depressed and it was really, really hard.
But then, slowly, things started getting a little easier. Rhenner started taking a pacifier occasionally, and then more and more often. Which meant he started to fall asleep peacefully. It was no longer a violent fight to get him to relax, he could peacefully sleep in my arms. I cried the first time it happend because I didn't realize how beautiful of a blessing it was, and what a difference it made, to not have him fight me so hard. His happy, awake moments started lasting longer, too. He would give me a smirk and my heart would leap for joy - a small reward for all my hard work that day. I am starting to read him easier, know his needs quicker, spread out his feedings longer. Axton is getting used to having him here, realizing he isn't a temporary inconvenience, but a permanent addition to our family. Of course it's still hard - but it's an I-can-handle-this hard. It's not a break-me-in-half hard.

I forgot how much I hated it when people asked if I had a "good baby." Somebody asked me that recently, "Has he been a good baby?" I honestly didn't know how to answer that. As hard as he was, he is still such an innocent little soul. He is still perfect and he is still mine and he is who he is for a reason, so how could I ever call him "bad"?

\Now that I am starting to be able to enjoy this stage with Rhenner, I've been reminded just how fast they really do grow. With Axton, I was so eager for him to reach the next milestone - eating solids, sleeping through the night, napping on a regular schedule, walking. Now, with Rhenner, I'm stretching everything out as long as I can. He is still sleeping with me most of the time, and I haven't even thought about introducing him to solids (even though, technically, he could start now).

I wanted to write about this as it was happening, I wanted to say, "Hey, I'm having a hard time," instead of writing about it after the fact. But really, I couldn't even wrap my head around it. I couldn't even see through the fog and the pain. It's been quite a journey, getting to this point. Motherhood is always a journey. It's true that every child really is his own person, and I will be fully prepared for the next one by....not being prepared at all. By being willing to take whoever comes to us and being patient. Until then, I'm learning who Rhenner is and how he fits into our family. Taking it one day at a time and finding joy in the journey.


  1. Megan, thank you so much for posting this! I'll be honest though, it freaked me out a little! With baby boy #2 on the way I honestly have NOT given much thought to how our lives will change. Maybe because I just really don't know what to expect? Do you have any advice? Some things you wish you would have known ahead of time? It's ok if not, but I thought I'd ask in case! I know you don't feel it sometimes, but I KNOW those boys are so very lucky to have you as their mother. These few short months will fade away and what will be left are two sweet boys with a dedicated mother to whom they will some day be able to express appreciation. I think you are wonderful, Megan.

  2. Hi Megan. I am no good with using text to convey my feelings and thoughts. I am sorry your second child has proven hard work. I am glad that you are coming out of the fog. Motherhood is challenging to everyone and I am so grateful that you share your experiences because it helps each of us who read your blog to realize that we are not alone in the struggle. It is real and shattering and life sucking. In Maori we say Kia Kaha. It means keep going, stay strong. So to you I say Kia Kaha.

  3. Love this Meg. You are a super woman. Seriously. I don't know how the heck you have 2 kids and run your own photography business. You are my hero.