Be warned that there is some serious stuff ahead.
Very real, very raw, super honest, and deeply personal truth coming at you.
This one is long and heavy. And honestly, this is more cathartic for me BUT maybe it will help some other new mom who feels alone, who knows.
I regret not documenting my thoughts and feelings more often as we went through each new stage together, but I will try to recollect what I always wanted to say but was too afraid to post. My goal in all of this is not to scare anyone. I just want to be transparent about my feelings and experiences, even if just for my own mental health.
Motherhood is wonderful and rewarding and magical.
It's also exhausting, stressful, and scary.
Let's start at the beginning.
Pregnancy After Loss
*Trigger warning: talk about our previous loss. You can skip ahead to Delivery.
No matter how far along you are when you lose a child, it hurts (to say the least). I've shared before that we lost our first baby in August of 2018 but here's some information I haven't shared.
Our Loss Story
We went to our ultrasound around 6 weeks and were blindsided when they couldn't find a heartbeat. We were told to come back in two weeks to make sure. We came back, and again did not find a heartbeat. We were whisked off to a gray room with gray pillows, gray curtains, gray couch, a box of tissues, and our grief. We were greeted by a doctor who did not mince words and in no uncertain terms told us that our child was dead. He had a great bedside manner.
I was given the option of going home and waiting it out (waiting for my body to expel our child, waiting for the blood to come, waiting for the unknown and possible complications) OR I could go have surgery, that day (have the baby removed from my body and get everything "wiped clean"). The second option was heavily suggested. At this time my head was spinning, I was having a hard time comprehending what was happening and the words being hurled at me.
I was told to go to whatever section of the hospital and prepare for surgery. We got lost multiple times because we had to go to a different building and were given no directions. When we finally arrived, I was taken to a room and told to change into a gown, remove all my jewelry, answer a million questions about my health history, what I ate that day, etc. I was asked if we wanted to have the remains cremated, if we wanted to pick a burial plot, if we wanted to put the child in a group burial that happens once a month, or if we wanted the hospital "take care of it".
My belongings were packed in a bag and I was sent to surgery. When I woke up, my husband drove me home and we sat in silence. I feel like I was too in shock to even cry. Why didn't I ever hear about this part? I knew miscarriage in the beginning was common. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. I knew that. I didn't know about all that followed. I didn't know that my body would hold on to my deceased baby for 2 weeks (or more if we had decided to wait). I didn't know I would have to have surgery the day we had our appointment. I didn't know I'd have to unexpectedly take off work for two days, we hadn't even told anyone we were trying, let alone that we were expecting.
After all this was over, we went about our normal lives. We were told to wait at least 2 cycles before trying again. We waited longer. Then the bill came. We had insurance, good insurance. They drained my entire health savings account and then sent us a bill for the remainder. We made monthly payments for 2 years! before paying off my surgery bill. For 24 months we got a monthly reminder of our first child's passing. I never knew about that part either.
Pregnancy After Loss
So, when we decided to try again, I was terrified. Would we have another loss? Could I carry a baby to term? Could we afford to have another D&C if this baby passed as well?
When we became pregnant again, I had constant fear and doubt. I prayed for safety, I prayed for kicks, I prayed for assurance. It felt like I was holding my breath for 40 weeks. It felt like I was robbed of the joy of pregnancy. I didn't want to get attached and feel that kind of loss again. I didn't want to get too excited because loss happens to people up until delivery. I felt like I was constantly on high alert for any kind of change and honestly, it was exhausting.
The closer we got to delivery, the better I was feeling. But I still only allowed myself to be cautiously optimistic. I would play with my baby as she swam around inside of me, I would touch her and talk to her (but never aloud), but it didn't feel real. Nesting never happened for me and I can't help but think it's because of all the fear I was feeling. I really tried to enjoy each new stage but there was always that nagging thought in the back of my head.
I prayed every day for a child who is joyful and independent. Someone who is caring and compassionate but not easily taken advantage of. A leader who will not be easily led astray. I prayed that she would have good friends who would walk her down the right path. But above all, I prayed for her to be healthy.
Deliver was hard. I mean, everyone knows that child birth is painful and I knew what I was going in to. What I wasn't prepared for was the exhaustion and recovery. More things people don't tell you about.
Estella came 6 days late. You can read our birth story here. I technically don't know how long I was "in labor" for. When do you start the clock? When you get admitted to the hospital, when they induce you, when contractions start? I don't know.
What I do know is that when Estella was born, I had been awake for over 24 hours and maybe had an hour nap here or there after my epidural. I pushed for 2 and a half hours. I was physically and mentally exhausted. They handed me my child and I can't say that I even knew what was happening. They could have handed me one of my organs and said "hold this" and it would have felt the same to me. I felt relief that I didn't have to push anymore, relief that my child was alive!, relief that I could finally get some sleep. I was also acutely aware of the doctor stitching up my body, the shaking in my muscles, the sheer exhaustion. What I didn't feel was that immediate connection to my daughter. And I have wrestled with so much guilt over that.
Every depiction of birth, every person I spoke to, everything I had read led me to believe that when your child is born and handed to you, you are overcome with joy and love. A compartment of your heart that you didn't even know existed opens up and swallows you whole. That wave of emotion didn't hit me. I think, for me, maybe it was more like a pool filling up around me. Slowly growing and surrounding me, getting deeper as time went on. This is something else that I didn't know existed. Why don't people talk about this stuff? Because it's uncomfortable? Because it's shameful? Because it's not the picture-perfect emotion-filled time that we have been led to believe by all media and entertainment?
Please don't misunderstand this, I love my child more than anything on this Earth, I would give my life for her. I always loved her. It just didn't happen the way I thought it would. I was scared. And again, I think it was because I was still holding my breath from my last experience.
Before we even left the hospital, I was feeling a different fear and concern. How could I be trusted to handle this most precious little life? Why would God trust me with this much responsibility and no experience? I'm not even a baby person! I just had to put my trust in God, that His plan is perfect, and He would not put me on this path if He didn't think I could handle it. And not only handle it but maybe possibly excel at it, one day??
When we came home, I was overwhelmed (understatement of the year). I was constantly trying to remember all of the things that I was told and taught. Feed her every 2 to 3 hours. Skin to skin is important. One more layer of clothing than me to keep her warm. How many wet diapers is she supposed to have a day? How often does she need a bath? I was constantly referencing my handouts and notes that I had diligently taken in our classes.
And there was soooo much conflicting information, I honestly can't even think of all the examples but trust me, there were a lot. You can't spoil a baby, but don't hold them too much because they'll get used to it. Fed is best, but actually breast is best (read about that challenge next).
It felt like I couldn't relax for one minute and I was on high alert at all times. I spent the first 2 weeks at home without a shirt one. Between the nursing, pumping, and skin to skin, I only had about 10 minutes where I could be wearing a shirt anyway.
And then all the people who want to come visit you and help you. But I didn't even know what I needed help with. I love you all but I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't even articulate what I needed! I felt like I was just floating around in a fog.
And here I need to plug for my husband. He stepped up in a huge way. He walked right into the role of Dad like he was always meant be one. He was thoughtful and encouraging and optimistic (in the most annoying way) and I don't know what I would have done without his love and support and encouragement. It makes me tear up just thinking about it.
Also, I'm beyond grateful to the people who brought us food. I had to remind myself to eat regularly and having food already prepared was a lifesaver. Baked oatmeal and frozen crock pot meals were a God send.
I felt inadequate and ill prepared for all my new (and old) responsibilities. If I couldn't even remember to feed myself, there was no way I was about to clean the house. I also wanted to soak in every moment because I knew I only had 8 short weeks to spend at home with my new precious jewel.
I was overcome a number of times by this new responsibility of keeping my child safe. When she was inside my body, I knew she was getting enough to eat, she was warm (but not too warm), she was safe and guarded. Now that she was on the outside, there are so many things that could happen to her. She was soft and fragile and susceptible to so many things! You don't even realize all the dangers there are for little people until you have one of your own. Not to mention SIDS (aka my worst nightmare and biggest fear).
*TMI* AND to go along with all of these debilitating feelings and emotions, I was in SO. MUCH. PAIN. From the moment I delivered, I was in pain. I overheard nurses saying "she had a normal delivery, she shouldn't be in this much pain". But I was, I can't explain it and I was not exaggerating.
In the hospital, I needed help walking to the bathroom, and even standing up from the bed. I sat on a heating pad for 2 days. I could barely shift position in the bed without shooting pain. I still don't know what caused it.
When we got home, I had this constant pinching feeling like a stitch was poking me or pulled too tight. My whole lower body ached. I struggled to get up and down from the couch. The first time we gave Estella a bath in the bathtub, I couldn't even kneel on the floor beside the tub, it hurt so bad. I couldn't sit in the bathtub either so not sitz bath. It took a month before I could even walk around the block without feeling like my body was going to give out. This pinching and pulling and throbbing continued to plague me for weeks.
Some days the only time I left the couch was when I needed to use the bathroom or change her diaper. My poor husband was back at work and I never had food prepared to eat. We had a lot of leftovers (and food from our visiting angels).
This pain is something I already worry about if we decide to have a second child in the future (like 3-4 years down the road people, give us some time).
Slowly and gradually, I healed. We learned about our baby and trusted our instincts. We worked out a routine that worked for us, leaned heavily on each other, and we made it through those tough early weeks. I know we had a lot of people praying for us and answering our questions.
Breastfeeding was definitely our biggest challenge this year.
I never understood when people would say that breastfeeding was really hard. I mean how hard could it be? You hold them up and they grab on and drink, right? Ha! Delusional naive me.
Estella would not latch! Right away in the hospital I started getting poked and prodded, squeezed and pulled. Trying to extract colostrum onto a plastic spoon was not pleasant, to say the least.
They wheeled in a professional grade pump and had me start pumping every 2(?) hours, which also meant that I had to painfully get out of bed to wash the parts every 2 hours as well. I didn't take my hands free pumping bra to the hospital (rookie mistake) so I had to sit there holding the flanges onto my body each time, unable to move or hold my baby while I was getting the life sucked out of me by a machine.
When the lactation consultant came in to see us, she tried positioning Estella in all kinds of crazy ways. They gave me a nipple shield to try and make sure that she could feel it in her mouth and trigger her to latch. It never seemed to work properly but my milk hadn't come in yet so I couldn't really tell.
When we got home, my milk came in almost immediately. If you've ever breastfed, you know how uncomfortable that is in the beginning.
Estella was sooooo sleepy. I had to wake her up every 2-3 hours to feed her. Sometimes it would take a full half hour just to get her awake. I would undress her, put cold washcloths on her feet, talk to her, tickle her, ruffle her. Sometimes she just would not wake up. And by the time she would wake up, eat, and I pumped and washed the parts, we had to start all over again. I understand the human milking machine analogies now.
Then when she did wake up she just wasn't getting it. The nipple shield would get wet and slippery; Estella would be grabbing at me or just flailing her arms and knock it off. I was trying to put it on with one hand and hold her with the other, I even had my husband help me a couple times. I had a million pillows propped around me and still struggled to get her in the correct position. She was so strong and would push her head back into my hands to get away from me. It was so stressful! She would try to latch and do it wrong so I had to take her off and try again.
Then she started to cry. She was crying because she was hungry, crying because she was frustrated. I was crying because I wanted to feed her, was leaking all over the place, fighting with the shield, and just so frustrated and defeated. I just wanted to breastfeed my child.
Late one night, I was on edge. I couldn't take any more. So, my husband grabbed the samples of formula that were mailed to us while I was pregnant and fed (and calmed) our hungry baby. I continued to pump while he fed her with the syringe. We took a break for 2 days, supplemented her with formula and didn't force breastfeeding. We both needed a break.
Finally, I called and asked to have her first doctor appointment moved up. I was afraid she was losing too much weight. We took her in and I could barely hold back my tears while I talked to the doctor. I could see the concern in his eyes as I tried to explain how frustrated and worried we were. Then he said, "and how are you?" Other than being stressed about trying to keep this tiny human alive, just fine.
After that 2 day break, SHE GOT IT, at least a little bit! All of a sudden it just clicked for her. We didn't even use the shield. And a huuuge wave of relief flooded me. I had an appointment with the lactation consultant set up (around 2 weeks of age) and was so relieved that we were starting to make progress forward.
The lactation consultant helped me to get her in a good position that worked for us both. She weighed her before and after each side to see how many ounces she was taking in. And we set up some follow up appointments. By the time Estella was 4 or 5 weeks old, she was a pro. Honestly, these appointments were life changing for me. I had such a sense of relief knowing that I could call or see a professional any time that we needed help.
Here's the thing.
I had never breastfed a baby before. And Estella had never breastfed before. It was new for us both and hard for us both. I think taking that 2 day break made all the difference for us. We each got to take away the pressure and start fresh when we were feeling better. If we had to take more than a 2 day break, I would have done that as well.
We are now 12 months into our breastfeeding journey and I've reached my goal! I'm so grateful I was able to do this for her for so long because I know not everyone can.
Back to Work
When my 8 weeks of maternity leave was up, I went back to work. I was ready to go back. I needed to get back in a routine and be around some adults. I needed to shower regularly and wear real clothes. What I wasn't ready for was leaving my baby behind with someone else.
I felt guilt for not being able to be at home with my daughter. I felt sad that I would potentially miss her hitting milestones while I was away. I felt conflicted about her spending more of her awake time with someone else than she would with her own parents. I feel so grateful for this weird and unprecedented time in history because I got a second chance to be home with my baby.
It was hard. I cried, at work, and then felt embarrassed about that.
Pumping at work is hard too. Especially when you're on a deadline and you aren't used to taking breaks. Especially when you'd rather be doing anything else.
It's still hard to say goodbye and leave her behind when we go to work but it has gotten a little easier. Especially knowing that she's having a good time without us.
Schedules & Sleep Training
One last thing. Schedules.
They're not for everyone but for us, I can't even begin to explain how invaluable our sleep schedules have been. Having an age appropriate schedule to follow has made our lives so much easier. We are able to plan our days and not have a meltdown on the way to someone's house or in the store. Our daughter was able to start sleeping through the night (12 hours in a row) from the age of 6 months.
She's an excellent sleeper. And honestly I don't know if she's just naturally good at it or if it's because of the schedule. Maybe because of both things. We did have regressions and reverse cycling in the beginning.
If you are pregnant and live in the Lancaster area, I HIGHLY recommend taking the Night Night Newborn class at Women and Babies Hospital. Not only do you learn about safe sleep, which is SO important to me, but you also get a wonderful hand out with age appropriate schedules for your new baby. They are easily the handouts I've referenced the most since leaving the hospital.
Even if you don't live in the area, follow Sweet Baby Sleep Consultant on Facebook. Patti is wonderful and freely shares so much wonderful information on her page. You won't regret it.
Advice for New Moms?
YOU'RE DOING A GREAT JOB.
YOU WON'T FEEL LIKE THIS FOREVER.
IT GETS BETTER.
You are not alone. Please reach out to someone else when you are overwhelmed. And if you don't have support at home, please find a support person! If you know what you need, ask for it! If you need support, help with meals, a break, anything, ask for it. You can't expect your partner to read your mind.
Find a mentor, someone who is older and wiser than you, someone you can ask questions because they've been through it and are on the other side with more clarity.
I also think it's really helpful to find someone else who is "in the trenches" at the same time as you. Find someone else with a baby the same age as yours (or within a couple months). So much happens in the first year, each month is so different from the last. I can tell you what I remember from Estella being 4 months old now but it wouldn't be the same as what I would have said to you in January, when we were in the thick of it. Sometimes you just need that little push to make it 2 more days or one more week, to know the clouds will pass soon.
For me, the first 2 weeks were the hardest. When I hit that 2 week mark, I felt more of myself coming back to life and it just got better from there on. Look for the small victories!
And lastly, don't compare yourself (or your baby) to anyone else. You are uniquely you and so is your baby. You will both learn and grow at different rates, and that's okay!