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My Postpartum Journey

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This is quite a different post for me, and to be honest, a little scary. However, May is Mental Health Month and we just celebrated Mother’s Day, so I decided to share. I wanted to share so I could share the hope that can be found in such a dark time, and so other mamas struggling can know that they are not alone!

So, here we go. Let’s start from the beginning: June 3rd, 2016, the day I peed on a stick and saw those two pink lines. I was pregnant. I took a picture of the test and periodically looked at it all day at work to make sure it was actually real. We weren’t planning on having kids until my husband was out of the military so this pregnancy was quite the shock, and in those first few weeks I often had the thought that I should give the baby to a couple struggling with infertility. I thought ‘it’s not fair I can be pregnant without even trying when they can’t, and I’m only 24, unprepared, and scared.’

Obviously, I didn’t follow through with my thoughts, and I knew they were irrational – I was in a loving marriage and we were financially stable (though, of course we could always have more money) – but I was in shock. Probably the first 6-10 weeks of pregnancy, I felt terrible. Not only due to morning sickness, but I just didn’t feel like myself, and I wasn’t excited. I actually felt nervous to tell our families because I was afraid they would say we were irresponsible for getting pregnant. Again, irrational, because plenty of people have surprise pregnancies, and everyone was excited for us.

I continued on to have a healthy pregnancy with no complications; excitement and fear would come and go in waves, and occasionally a bout of sadness. I don’t do well with change, the unknown, or failure. Everything was changing, I didn’t know what to expect (though I read that book and plenty others), and I was afraid I would fail at motherhood, though I had always dreamed of being a mom. All in all, pregnancy was a breeze for me physically, but tough emotionally and mentally.

We had a beautiful birth (you can read Zemirah’s birth story here) and, aside from the usual soreness/bleeding, no problems with nursing. I know birth trauma is real for some mamas, and breastfeeding challenges can bring on a whole host of mental health issues, so I truly feel blessed that we didn’t struggle there. However, immediately following birth, I simply wanted everything to return to “normal”, and had a hard time accepting our “new normal” as a family of three.

About 4-5 weeks postpartum, I got it in my head that the house was crowded. I was feeling claustrophobic (looking back now, I should have just strapped Baby Z on and gone for a walk outside!), and randomly decided to put our coffee table out on the curb, re-do the garden, and put together a new set of patio furniture. After all of this work, my postpartum bleeding picked back up heavy and bright. I should have taken that as a sign to rest more, but I wanted to feel “normal”, and normal for me was busy and working. I was missing my job, my students, and feeling like an adult. Now I felt trapped and isolated in the house, with only my fussy baby to keep me company.

That brings me to Zemirah’s infancy. She was a tough little cookie! The lactation consultant in the hospital called her a “piranha” (so you can imagine how that felt!), she was holding her head up and halfway rolling over at 2 weeks old, and she cried. a. lot. I tried everything to make her stop crying, and I never understood why she was crying. That instilled fear in me because I thought, ‘I thought moms were supposed to know their baby’s different cries, and usually babies stop crying when their mom holds them. She screams even more when I hold her – does she hate me?’ I struggled to feel that magical bonding that moms talk about; in between feedings, I didn’t want to hold her, and I resented her for crying so much. The fear grew more and more, and the isolation felt worse and worse.

David (my husband) was preparing for a deployment, which meant he worked a minimum of 12 hours a day, and oftentimes weekends. He would sometimes work 15 or 16 hour days, and sometimes go a full 3 days without seeing Zemirah at all. I resented him for it, though it wasn’t his fault; we hit our first rough patch in marriage, and I didn’t know how to deal with it, or who to talk to. Most of my stay-at-home-mom friends had moved (military wife life), and we were 1,300 miles from family. I had never felt so alone, so afraid, and so…incompetent.

The incompetence came into play because of my personality type and my fear of failure. I felt emotionally incompetent in my marriage; I remember telling David, “I need more from you, but I don’t know what I need” and, “I feel distant but I don’t know how to fix it.” I felt incompetent as a mom; I remember when Zemirah was 3 weeks old, David had overnight duty so it was just she and I in the house. I thought, ‘I’m not old enough/mature enough or a good enough mom to be trusted alone with a baby all night.’ Again, I didn’t know her “different cries”, I didn’t know the best way to comfort her (usually only David could), I didn’t know how to play with her, and I especially didn’t know how to get her to sleep. I would feel fearful of taking her to the doctor if she had a diaper rash or an eczema patch because I was afraid they would lecture me on how to parent better. One time I accidentally bonked her head (I’m pretty sure all new parents do it!) and I was afraid she may have a concussion, but couldn’t take her to the ER because what if they took her away from me?!

I’ve always struggled with confidence, but this was a whole new level. I loved my baby, and thought she was so cute, but I didn’t know what I was doing or who I was anymore. Finally, we got involved in a new church that we loved, and I got involved in a women’s bible study. I met a nice, more experienced mom, and asked her to mentor me, but when she stopped reaching out to me, I retreated from bible study. I thought ‘She probably thinks I’m weird and a terrible mom.’ Again, my isolation got worse.

When Zemirah was almost four months old, both of my grandparents on my mom’s side passed away, only 12 days apart. I couldn’t fully grieve because I was dealing with so much emotionally already, and I felt so stressed about traveling with this cranky baby who didn’t sleep. David flew with me to the funeral, thankfully, but I was planning on staying a little longer to be with my family, and was going to fly back with Z by myself. The day of the double funeral arrived, and I could hardly take in the service because I was so stressed figuring out when/where to pump, and having to leave Zemirah with a baby sitter for the first time, not to mention driving from the hotel, to the funeral home, to the church, to the graveside with a cranky baby who hated her car seat. I took her to the babysitter at the church nursery and almost lost my mind when she SHOOK my bottle of hard-to-come-by pumped breast milk. I then snapped at my darling husband for going to the bathroom without telling me – I was coming unglued.

I was feeling more and more trapped inside my head, and just wanted to sleep. I sought all sorts of advice on baby sleep, I read all the books and blogs, I put her on a schedule, I let her cry, I did “gentle” sleep training. Nothing. Worked. I remember one night specifically: by 5 AM I had only slept for 20 minutes all night. It was partially due to Zemirah waking up every hour and a half (ugh), but also because my anxiety and fear would prevent me from sleeping, even when she was. I started to be afraid of the night. As the sun would be setting, I would feel my anxiety rising, and when I was up in the middle of the night, whether it was for night nursing or insomnia, I was afraid.

When Zemirah was five months old, things really went south. I started having what I later found out were nervous break downs nearly every night. I’ve never really struggled with anger, but every time Zemirah would wake up, I would fly into a panicked rage. I was mad at her for not sleeping like every other baby did, I was mad at David for his useless nipples and the fact that he could sleep so soundly, and I was mad at myself for not knowing how to get this baby to sleep! It was terrible – I would turn into a monster I didn’t know. I would pace, throw things, scream, scratch myself, and pull my hair. Now I was afraid of myself. My new thought was, ‘What if I’m one of those women that hurt my baby? What if David comes home from work and I’ve completely snapped and hurt Zemirah and myself?’

These scary thoughts (which I now know are called “intrusive thoughts” and are normal) started to take over (the “taking over” is not normal). I was afraid to be in the kitchen with knives, I had visions of throwing myself off bridges, I had nightmares of watching people commit suicide; I was in a dark yet anxious place. I prayed for rest and relief, but felt that God was far away. Yet I KNEW He wasn’t, so I sought solace in church. There were many Sundays when David couldn’t come due to work, and I would take Zemirah to the nursery, sit in the back, and cry silent tears during worship.

Around this time, a childhood friend’s little brother passed away unexpectedly in a car accident. Such tragic and untimely deaths always make people reflect on the fragility of life, and this sweet young man’s passing was no exception. But in my current state, it amped up my fear. I went through the stress of traveling again, this time alone both ways, with a heavy heart and a panicked mind.

Upon returning home to California, I decided I needed to seek help. That decision alone brought along so many more anxious thoughts. I didn’t feel like I had the mental strength to deal with our health insurance and try to find a provider in network, so instead of asking for help, I just sat on the decision for a while. Finally, I found a free counseling center for military families, but didn’t want to go alone, so I had David come with me. I honestly thought we needed marriage counseling because we were struggling – imagine my surprise when, on our first meeting, the counselor suggested that I come in alone.

Thankfully, I had recently made friends with a new neighbor, who openly talked about her struggle with postpartum depression, how counseling helped her, and she was willing to watch Zemirah for me so I could go to counseling. So I did. I found it so helpful to talk with my counselor about all my struggles adjusting to motherhood, and she didn’t criticize me! She sympathized with me! We worked on how I could effectively communicate my needs to David, practical ways to handle Zemirah and all her sleep struggles, and we did some EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy, which is commonly used for victims of trauma, to help my emotional and logical brain sync up in my times of extreme stress. She didn’t judge me when I told her about my anger/panic fits in the middle of the night – she told me they were nervous break downs and told me to work on lightly touching my arms or having David stroke my hair during these times so we could calm my nervous system down without me hurting myself. She suggested melatonin to help me sleep, which was a welcomed idea. As David’s deployment approached, she encouraged me by saying that if I could have a medication-free birth, I could do anything, even make it through this hard time! She also helped encourage me that it probably was a wise idea to move in with my parents during this time. I was afraid it would make me appear weak, but David and my counselor knew it was the best decision.

When Zemirah was around nine months old, she started only waking up once for an early morning feeding, then eventually sleeping 12 hours (most nights) straight. The counseling, in combination with more sleep, improved my mental health significantly. There’s a reason that sleep deprivation is a literal form of torture. I finally felt like the scary fog was lifting, but it was overlapping with the sad cloud of saying goodbye to my husband for six months. He was my rock through this time, though he was probably confused by my actions and words because I didn’t share openly enough, and it was hard to say goodbye to both him and the house we brought our baby home to.

Though there were sad times during David’s deployment, such as him missing Zemirah’s first Christmas, birthday, words, and steps, I was so grateful to have a big support system around me, and I felt like Zemirah and I finally experienced that magical bond. And it was during this time that I discovered the Whole30 (you can read more about my journey with food and anxiety here) and my mental health improved even more! I had no idea what kind of journey I was starting on, but I am so glad I started it! Moving back to California after David’s deployment, I was a little afraid I was going to sink back into loneliness, but instead, I found my Stroller Strides mamas and a new, healthy village. David, Zemirah, and I enjoyed our summer to the fullest, knowing it would be our last one in California; I basked in the Cali sun and the joy of having my family back together again.

Now here we are, homeowners and civilians in Texas, close to family, and getting involved in a new church. My mental and physical health are the best they’ve ever been, I sleep like a rock, and, though I have some very challenging days with my now two-year-old, I love her to pieces and love seeing how far we’ve come.

I wanted to share this story because, though it’s dark in places, there truly is a light at the end of the tunnel. God isn’t far, He’s near, and He wants to comfort you. Humble yourself and let Him be your strength. And mamas, if you are struggling with your mental health, you are not ALONE! There are so many moms out there having the same struggles, but no one wants to talk about it for fear of judgement. We may not even want to tell our husbands, family, or friends because we don’t want to appear “crazy” – I know that was the case with me. But as soon as I started opening up, both to David and my counselor, things seemed less scary.

So, if you are a new mom reading this and think you’re alone, I beg you to reach out to someone before you sink down deeper in the hole. My Facebook, Instagram, and email are below, and you are more than welcome to reach out to me! You are important, mama, you are strong, and you love your babies, even if they drive you crazy 😛 So, the moral of this very long story is – reach out…and enjoy your pinch of crazy!

 

Zemirah’s Birth Story

 

In just three short days, our sweet Zemirah Capri will be 2-years-old! I can hardly believe it! It’s true what the wiser and more experienced parents say: the days are long, but the years are short. There have been some difficult and long days (and nights!) these past two years, but there has been so much growth through the difficulty. The Lord has used Zemirah to sanctify both David and I; we have learned so much about ourselves and about our Good Father through this short journey of parenthood. I look back so fondly on her birth day – where the pain, sacrifice, love, and beauty of parenthood started – that I wanted to share her birth story with you all.

Zemirah’s Birth Story

Finding out I was pregnant was an unexpected surprise, but we were excited to become parents, and did looooots of preparing. We read multiple books, went to all the doctor’s appointments, took a couple months worth of classes, re-did the budget, and stocked up on all the essentials. I say “we” in all of this because David is my greatest gift and blessing from the Lord and was the most supportive partner I could have hoped for. Anyways, we felt prepared. However, at 38 weeks pregnant, the midwife asked if I was going to go all natural and I said “I’m going to try.” I did not feel prepared in the area of labor and delivery, but knew I would like to have a natural, un-medicated birth. Sure, I did my yoga and practiced my breathing, and we watched natural birth documentaries together, but it was all so overwhelming and scary.

Cut to January 30th, 2017; I was 39 weeks and 1 day pregnant. I was up around 3 AM because of cramping; I had been cramping for a couple of weeks now so I thought it was still Braxton Hicks. But because of the discomfort I could not go back to sleep, so I finally got out of bed around 4, went to the bathroom, and saw a little blood. Rarely does someone get excited about bleeding, but this was one of those times! I woke David up and said “I think today’s the day!”, called my mom, who instantly started looking up flights, texted my in-laws, sisters, friends, and was so excited just bouncing on my birth ball, drinking coffee, and watching the sun rise with David. He called into work and told them I was in labor (in hindsight, he definitely could have gone to work that day. Ha!) so he could spend the day laboring with me.

We definitely should have been taking advantage of the little pain I was having and kept sleeping, but we were too excited. We ended up taking a little nap around 9 AM, but that slowed my contractions down, so after waking up, we went on a two mile walk. On the walk, I noticed a change in my contractions. They felt like when you get a muscle cramp, but in my groin and hips, and I felt a lot of pressure, but they were still very bearable at this point.

Later that afternoon, my mom called to give me her flight information, so we did laundry, got the pull out couch ready, and went to the grocery store all while timing my contractions. They were about six minutes apart at that point and still very mild; however, we felt certain it was real labor. After the grocery store, we just stayed at home watching Netflix, eating light foods, and timing my contractions. David rubbed my back and feet like the wonderfully supportive labor partner he was.

By the time my mom got there that evening, my contractions were about two minutes apart but still mild, but we thought it would be wise to head to the hospital. Around 9 PM we headed to the hospital; we were excited, and I thought I was one of the lucky ones that didn’t have much pain in labor. Wrong! So we (my mom included) carted all of our bags and baby paraphernalia up to the L&D ward and I got checked in triage. What a disappointment to find out I was only three centimeters dilated and 60% effaced! The nurse sent me to walk around and told me to come back in two hours to get checked again. During this walk, things began getting more intense. I could no longer walk through my contractions and was starting to feel nauseated. We walked all around the hospital while my poor mom napped in the waiting room, I would lean on walls for support during contractions, and David would put counter pressure on my hips and remind me that my pain had a purpose. We were going to meet our daughter soon!

At 11:30 PM we went back to triage to get checked again, hopeful they would admit me and we could get comfortable in our room. I was still at a 3… the nurse suggested taking a Benadryll and napping. We went back home disappointed, but I knew things were changing. I almost vomited on the short drive back home because of the pain. When we arrived home, I took a Tylenol PM and David and I laid down. It was midnight at this point and we were exhausted. However, sleep was not in the near future.

I was starting to moan with the contractions and David reminded me not to fear them; they were good, and the pain was temporary and purposeful. Instinctively I knew I needed to get in a warm tub. David drew me a bath and I spent the next two and a half hours in there on my hands and knees “vocalizing” (it was a horrifying, guttural moan that probably sounded like a cow dying) while David, and at one point, my sweet mother, poured warm water on me and whispered prayers of strength over me. I vomited twice and, at one point, felt like I was going to faint. It was at this stage I said, “I can’t do this”, but David reminded me that I was made for this and I COULD do it!

Around 3 or so (no idea of exact time lines at this point hehe) we decided to go to the hospital. I did NOT want to get out of that tub and get in the car, but knew that labor was nearing a close. When we got to the hospital I could barely walk and needed a wheelchair to get down to L&D triage – I’m not sure why the Naval Hospital thought it would be a good idea to have L&D be on the second floor and waaaay down the hallway! I got checked and was at a six so I could be admitted. The nurse asked me, “Do you still want to go natural?” This was my fork in the road… I said “yes”.

As we were getting set up in the room, I asked for something to be sick in; the nurses calmly handed David a barf bag which he frantically tried, and failed, to open. Looking back now, we both laugh about that moment! After thirty excruciating minutes of laboring in the bed so I could receive my antibiotics for Strep B, I could finally get up and get in the shower.

David spent the next hour and a half praying over me, putting lots of counter pressure on my lower back, and spraying me with warm water. I’ve never been so in love with him as I was then. I knew he was so exhausted, yet he was constantly at my side supporting me through my labor; I absolutely could not have done it without him. I was reminded of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet when David knelt down on the cold hospital bathroom floor to lovingly wipe the blood from my legs.

My mom was waiting (well, pacing, really) out in the hall for all of this; she knew it was almost time. She was also incredibly loving and sacrificial in all of this; I know she was praying, too. I definitely could not have done the first week postpartum without her!

I began feeling monumental pressure and felt that I needed to push; David called the nurse, but she said to wait because my water hadn’t broken. Trying to wait and not push was honestly the most painful part of all. At one point, David and I were hugging facing each other and while trying not to push I accidentally BIT him! Another moment we laugh about now haha! Finally, David called the nurse again and said he thought it was time. They checked me and asked “are you sure your water hasn’t broken? Because it’s time!” To this day, I still don’t know when my water broke, but at that point really didn’t care; I was so ready to deliver our sweet Zemirah.

The doctor came in around 5 AM and instructed me to do a few “practice pushes”, then left to go check on her other patients. But my body knew what it was doing and didn’t need practice. The nurses raised a bar up on the bed so I could squat. Suddenly they told me to lay down and frantically called the doctor back in. David overheard one of them saying “I’m not about to catch this baby!”

I felt such relief to finally be able to push with all my might that the pain went away, the contractions slowed down, and instead of pain, they came with a wave of power and strength. In between each push, David would give me a sip of water; he was right by my side the whole time, telling me I could do it, and when Zemirah was almost earth side, he looked at me with misty eyes and excitement saying, “babe, I can see her head!” After pushing through the “ring of fire”, at 5:26 AM, she came out in one swift motion, and before I knew it was on my chest. She was finally here!

We spent that first “golden hour” together skin to skin, practicing getting a good latch (thanks to the help of my wonderful mom!), while David and I ooed and awed over the little lady we were finally getting to meet.

Though painful (and long!), I am so thankful for Zemirah’s birth and the way it played out. It is truly only by God’s grace that we had such a wonderful experience; it strengthened our bond and helped us bring our daughter into the world the way we dreamed.

Zemirah’s name means “song of joy” and in those moments immediately after birth we were both truly feeling the joy of the Lord. We were sitting there in awe as the sun rose on the morning of Tuesday, January 31st, 2017 holding our darling Zemirah Capri, our song of joy.

I Want to Remember

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I was looking through old photos and got a familiar ache,

the ache you get when you miss someone from your past.

I know it’s cliche, but I’m discovering it’s true,

that babies grow up fast.

 

Right now, I count down the hours until nap time comes,

so I can pick up, sit down, and do what “needs” to be done.

I rush through the days, I clean, and I cook,

When, really, I just need to sit with you, snuggle, and read a book.

Because I’m realizing with a heart-stabbing pain,

that you’re growing up,

and you’ll never be this small again.

The days are long, emotions run high,

yet, at the same time, the years fly by.

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Oh I want to remember, and never forget

the way you climb in my lap and lay your head on my chest.

But only for a moment, and then you run away

you’re squealing and laughing, wanting to be chased.

 

I want to remember your sweet little words,

which ones are especially cute, and which ones you said first.

I want to remember you blowing kisses and saying “wub you” in bed at night.

I know someday it will just be a quick hug and you’ll say “love you” right.

I want to remember your little round cheeks, long lashes, your little button nose,

your sweet dimpled hands, and tiny, round toes.

I want to remember every tiny thing. The things that make me smile, laugh, and cry,

Because, no matter what, the years will continue to go by.

I shouldn’t wish these times away,

Because someday you’ll be grown, and I’ll wish you could stay.

Oh, I want to remember these short years

where the days seem so long, and often end in tears.

Though, yes, the days are hard, a memory is what I can’t lack

because I just know, someday, I’ll wish for my little toddler back.

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Keep growing, my little love, be wild, and don’t lose

your spark.

Even though the growing breaks my heart,

I will be sure to notice, really notice, you;

I’ll watch you learn and play,

take in all the new words you say.

I want to notice and take stock of all of you,

because the years fly by, it’s true.

 

So one day when you’re grown, and I’m in Life’s winter,

I can smile, look back…and remember.

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