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“Find a positive within this darkness.” | Infertility And Pregnancy

“Find a positive within this darkness.” | Infertility And Pregnancy

Thank you to Holly, for sharing your story and thoughts.

When I was first asked to write this piece, initially I was overwhelmed… Despite being completely content with all of it in my head, how do I put the last decade of feeling and emotion into words coherent enough for people to read and make sense of? But after sifting through years of thoughts and feelings, it seems it could be done… Coherent, I am not certain of, the reader may have to be the judge of that themselves!

I had my first born in 1998, at 21yrs of age. After being diagnosed pre-teen with severe endometriosis, I had always been told to expect that conceiving children may always be a struggle without the help of assisted conception. Luke was a planned pregnancy, and despite expectations that he would not be conceived easily, he was… And here he is now at almost 15yrs old. Lukes birth, unfortunately, was less than easy… and after 56hrs of active labour, a body that just would not (or could not) dilate, an emergency c section, and a handful of infections later, I was left with secondary infertility.

My second son was born in 2010, 12yrs after his brother, with over a decade of surgeries, different specialists, and multiple IVF attempts in between.

My first pregnancy was just amazing. A completely drama free, enjoyable, text book pregnancy. I had known only fortune in terms of fertility and health, and had absolutely no need to be anything other than contented and wonderfully in the moment.

Here’s the thing about infertility.

After experiencing the harsh reality of all that it is, it changes things so that they may never be the same again. Over a decade of doing my best to find hope, to find faith, to find belief… And then to hold onto those things in what sometimes seemed like an endless tunnel of darkness to fight for a positive outcome? That changes you.

After living with infertility now for as long as I have, I have learnt many things along the way.

I have learnt that there is a fine line between being cynical and being realistic. I think it’s important to acknowledge that in such a journey – in any journey with great disappointments – and then to have learnt to constantly remind myself of that fact in order to keep a clear mind and not fall victim to the cynical side.

Before infertility, and throughout my first pregnancy, I can honestly say any fears there could have been for me concerning the pregnancy or birth were just not even great enough to raise. After infertility, during my second pregnancy, I could not have been any further in the opposite direction.

After dedicating years upon years to this one focus of conceiving a child – once I was finally blessed with that miracle, it’s a hurdle I found I passed, only to then have a handful more presented to me.

I remember vividly the moment I was told I was indeed pregnant. I had the scan, I saw the heartbeat for myself and at that moment, I was told from this point, I would be just the same as every other pregnant woman now in terms of prenatal care. I remember smiling to myself at the irony of those words – words I had waited to hear and a situation I had waited to be in for so very long. But to be just the same as any other pregnant woman now? That was something that would never, ever be.

You spend such a long time getting to this point that once you reach it, it’s impossible to relax, to be just ok. It’s impossible to be like ‘just your average woman experiencing your average pregnancy’. Every twinge, every feeling, every EVERYTHING you feel throughout the pregnancy has the potential to send you into a state of panic, of paranoia – because this tiny growing life inside of you was so hardly fought for, all of a sudden it’s fragility has increased to a level beyond measure. An inability, really, to relax, as I just knew I could not breathe easy until that much awaited new person was safely earth side and inside my arms.

And safely earth side inside my arms…. There lies another fear and anxiety of how to bring that situation to head – the birth.

I have many good friends who have birthed babies in all ways we know are possible. Vaginal births, drug free births, caesarean births, home births, doulas, obstetricians, midwives.. The list is endless. And if I am to be completely honest, once upon a time I would have looked at all of these options and had a preference of how I envisaged this to play out.

My first birth I had plans, and dreams of a lovely active labour, drugs if only necessary, and a natural, vaginal birth. After 10yrs of struggling to get to this moment, to even be carrying a baby – for my second birth, I was just happy for this baby to be here.

Infertility will do that to you.

As it turned out, during the pregnancy, I developed placenta previa, and so any other birth other than Caesarean section was not an option. Honestly? I was completely 100% fine with that. I had so many people along the way tell me how sorry they were I didn’t have the ability to make the choice, but realistically, I just needed this baby birthed, safe, and in my arms. Some could say I was a little cheated in terms of birth choices but for me, personally, after everything I endured to get there, it was the last thing on my mind.

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I don’t think for a second that this is a generalisation of every woman though, who has gone through the hell that is IVF or infertility. I know many women – even most of the women who have been through this – and their birthing choices for them were just as passionate and determined as the dedication to the journey that got them there.

The most important thing? Acknowledgement. Acknowledgment and honesty within yourself. THAT’S the most important thing. Expectations. Hopes. Fears. Acceptance if those expectations fall short. To know them is to acknowledge them, and for me, admitting these things made it possible to get through the additional struggles of the pregnancy and birth that I believe the infertility contributed towards.

I am a huge believer in positive thinking. I do believe that in order to keep sane throughout this entire process, you need to have a certain level of positivity, of faith that everything will happen as it will happen, and you have the ability to endure whatever is put in front of you, regardless of the outcome. To be honest with yourself and know when you are great to continue on, and when to accept that you have come as far as you can.

To walk your own path, to have the strength to not let others who have not known your heartache to make judgement or have an opinion on your choices or your sacrifice.

They say never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes…. Never judge a woman who feels her purpose in life is to grow, birth and raise children – yet the Universe has decided that this simple privilege to so many others will be her greatest personal hurdle that she may ever have to overcome.

Infertility is hell. But that’s a topic all of its own that I could honestly write forever about. But I believe if you can find a positive within this darkness, it makes the experience or the living of it become bearable. To be able to continue on.

I have found many positives along the way – over the years to have found other women who have endured the same heartache, hopes & fears has been a lifeline for me. I have been incredibly lucky to have had amazing support from family and friends, however, having other women who have been through this experience to talk things through with is a gift that is priceless, and for me I could not be more grateful.

I am one of the lucky ones. I spent over a decade walking this road, but along the way met some of the most incredible people the world has to offer. Amazing women who have shared in similar heartache. An amazing fertility specialist of whom I could not have more respect, admiration or appreciation for. A team full of nurses and administration in my IVF clinic that have picked me up many times along the way without sometimes even knowing they have done so. An absolutely incredible husband. A relationship with him that plunged into hell and back many times over, yet reached a level of love and respect that otherwise I could not have imagined was even possible.
So much personal growth. So much I have learnt about myself and who I am – to have learnt how to allow something such as infertility change you – and yet not to define you. To have learnt empathy in its purest form, both to have given and received, that is a gift within itself.

And then at the end of it all to have been blessed with the ultimate prize, as my happy, healthy, perfect 3yr old goes about his day…. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Infertility is a change of life as you knew it previously. As you will never know it again. It becomes a lifestyle. It is not something I would wish upon my greatest enemy.
Enduring pregnancy and then birth after infertility – while it is indeed victorious – it is by no means any easier than the path that has been taken to have reached this point.
My experience proves that all of this can be done – I have a healthy 3yr old as evidence.

Will it make it any easier for me to endure the next time I choose to try again and experience another pregnancy? No chance. Infertility leaves emotional scars that for me will never allow that innocence to ever be again. But I am really ok with that. Finding the balance between acknowledging that and then the strength to know I can do this anyway is what will allow me my sanity to do it all over again.


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The Magical Menstrual Cycle

The Magical Menstrual Cycle

{guest post by Samantha Bice}

When did you first hear an explanation of your menstrual cycle? Apart from asking my mom or step mom what pads or tampons were upon seeing them in the cabinet, I don’t have a memory of an explanation until third grade. We all had to get a permission slip signed so that we could learn about our “bodily changes”. Boys and girls were sent to separate rooms in the school…I remember the girls were sent to the computer lab.

We were given small booklets that talked about breasts growing, “periods”, and feminine products and hygiene. We were told that a confusing time in our lives was fast approaching and that we would start to bleed, once every 28 days, and that it was okay. We could use pads or tampons, and as long as we were careful to be ready and if we washed ourselves, no one would ever know that we were “on our period.” Most of the talk was focused on the products we would use to take care of this issue. [And they didn’t even teach about the good ones!]

Fast forward to middle school. I had started my “period” and managed to avoid getting blood on my pants or “smelling.” I still really had no idea what a period was for other than to tell me I was not pregnant. At that point in my life that seemed like a useless thing to do since I was not having sex.  Same story in high school, only add in a small amount of knowledge of an egg dropping and that my period was to get rid of the unused egg each month.

It was not until I was a married woman and thinking about babies that I stumbled upon the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler in the book store. I picked it up, thinking that since I was a take charge kinda girl with everything else that I should add my fertility to the list too. This was also after many unsuccessful attempts at finding the right birth control for me (come to find out, my body hates all chemical birth control), so that was in the front of my mind as well.

That book changed my life.

Imagine my surprise when I read that my “irregular periods” were actually pretty normal, and that I was not broken. Every cycle (not month – we work in cycles, not on a calendar) my body was performing a magical and specific dance of hormones. Eggs matured, temperatures changed, ovulation occurred, hormones shifted, my body prepared. I was amazed. I suddenly had respect for my body and did not find my cycles annoying anymore.

WHY had no one explained all this to me? Why was the focus on managing the bleeding and not on the reasons why it even happened? Beyond knowing “period=not pregnant; no period=pregnant” we were told nothing. We were told that we should perform this task like clockwork, every 28 days. No room for error or we were “irregular”, like a badly cut puzzle piece. The focus was on all the things we needed to buy and do in order to cover up the fact that our body performed as expected.

Now, I want to share some knowledge with all of you. I can not cover everything – hence why the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility (TCOYF) is large. But I can give you the basics on how things work and the basics of keeping track of all this.

The Menstrual Cycle: A Carefully Choreographed Dance

I think most of us have the basic knowledge of what the cycle does (generally speaking) – it is the preparation and “dropping” of an egg that then awaits fertilization. If that fertilization does not happen (or if implantation does not happen), you have menstrual bleeding – your period – and a new cycle starts. But lets talk about specifics.

The first hormone that causes things to happen each cycle is the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). This hormone does just what the same suggests – it stimulated follicles. These follicles are on your ovaries, and each one contains an egg. Generally about 15-20 follicles start to mature each cycle.

During this time period (anywhere from about 8 days into your cycle to more than a month) your estrogen is rising. Shortly after you reach your estrogen threshold (one or two days after), one of the eggs bursts through the ovary and starts the journey down the fallopian tube. Sometimes more than one egg makes it out (fraternal twins or higher multiples – if all are fertilized). The eggs that didn’t “make the cut” dissolve.

This high level of estrogen (which drops off after this peak at ovulation) triggers a surge of Luteinizing Hormone (LH). This surge of LH is what ovulation tests detect and occurs just before the release of the egg during ovulation. [Please note – an LH surge does not mean you *did* ovulate, but rather that your body is preparing to.]

After the egg is released, that follicle that it came from turns into the Corpus Luteum. This will release progesterone for about 12 to 16 days. Normally a woman’s luteal phase (the time from ovulation to the start of a new cycle) does not vary much within that woman by more than a day or two during each cycle. The luteal phase is the one part of our cycles that is locked in for most people and they will have their own “normal” they can depend on.

The progesterone released by the Corpus Luteum is very important. It causes the lining of the uterus to thicken (for implantation) and prevents further egg release that cycle. It also causes a change in your fertility signs (more on that later).

After this 12-16 day period of the luteal phase, if the egg has not been fertilized and implanted, the Corpus Luteum dissolves and a new cycle starts (your “period” comes). The first day of bleeding is the first day of your new cycle.

A Quick Word on Averages

Please note that during this entire post I am going to be speaking in terms of the average cycle. There is a large amount of normal variation within these numbers – and outside them. The 28 day cycle is not a golden rule or number. Each woman has a cycle unique to her – just like the particular color of her eyes or her love of a certain food. Please do not take these average numbers to be the only “normal” and count yourself as abnormal. They are simply for simplification purposes.

Conception

Conception is the process of fertilization – sperm meeting egg. When and where does this take place? Once the egg is released by the ovary, it is sucked up into the fallopian tubes quickly – normally within 20 seconds. The ovary is not actually attached to the tubes by the way – they sort of barely meet at the end of the tubes where the “fingers” of the tube stick out to catch the egg. These fingers are called fimbria.

Fertilization has about 24 hours in which to occur. The egg does not sit around waiting for sperm for the entire luteal phase. Around 24 hours is all the chance we get. The egg is fertilized in the lower third of the fallopian tubes, not in the uterus as is commonly thought. The egg will continue its way down the tubes and burrow into the lining about a week after ovulation, on average. If the egg is not fertilized, it dissolves and is absorbed, or it comes out with the menstrual flow.

In order to stop the process of the shedding of the uterine lining, as soon as the egg implants your body starts to make a hormone – I know, another hormone! This hormone is called Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) and is the hormone that pregnancy tests detect. This hormone not only stops the lining from shedding as normal, but it signals the Corpus Luteum to stick around and keep making progesterone to sustain the lining (which feeds the fetus). This progesterone is important as it sustains the pregnancy until the placenta takes over after several months. [This is why low progesterone causes miscarriage.]

As you can see – this dance of hormones and processes is complex. Complicated steps, but seems effortless and fluid when observed. Our bodies do all this without prompting in most cases, and is just as miraculous as the actual process of growing a baby. Our bodies do a lot of work just to get the egg ready to create the baby, and to maintain the system for many years “just in case”.

Charting: Your View of the Dance

Charting with the Fertility Awareness Method (which is taught in TCOYF) is based on three basic fertility signs. These signs, when charted together, give you a view of what your body is doing and where you are in your cycle.

Waking Temperature (Basal Body Temperature)

This is the fertility sign that gives you a view of what hormones are acting at the moment, and when you have ovulated. It is the “graphic” portion of the fertility chart. To get this information you need to take your temp first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. You need to use a Basal Thermometer for the best results, as they are more accurate than a fever thermometer. They are usually available in the fertility section of your local drug store or WalMart/Target. That would be the aisle with the pregnancy tests and contraceptive devices.

Before ovulation your temperature is lower (between 97.0 and 97.7 on average) due to the temperature suppressing effects of the rising estrogen at the start of the cycle. After ovulation, within a day or so, your temperature will rise due to the heat producing hormone progesterone. If you conceived, the progesterone stays around and your temp stays higher. If you did not conceive, the progesterone stops and your temperature drops as well – a sign that says your menstrual flow will start soon.

A few notes about your waking temperature. 1) You need to take it at the same time each day, trying not to vary it by more than 30 minutes or so. When you first start to chart, try to be as precise as possible in order to get your “normal” readings for a few cycles before messing with anything. 2) You need to take it after at least 3 hours of sleep (this gives your body time to regulate and get to the basal state) and before you get out of bed. Keep it on your bedside table. 3) Your readings may be off if you have a fever, have drank more than a drink or two of alcohol (or if you rarely have alcohol), or are using more warming devices to sleep than you normally do. Illness can also effect the temp in other ways – think about if you normally sleep with your mouth closed, but then sleep with it open because you are congested. This would cause your mouth temperature to be lower in the morning.

There are two ways to get your temperature. Orally – the way you do for a fever, or vaginally. Vaginal temps tend to be more precise for many women and you do not have to worry about the effects of occasional mouth breathing either.

Cervical Fluid

Cervical Fluid, or cervical discharge, is an important fertility sign. In my opinion this is the sign that we should absolutely be taught about from day one of becoming a woman. The normal fluid our body makes – which changes throughout the cycle – is not dirty. It is not defective. It is a sign of where our fertility is at that point. I suggest you begin to think of it as awesome and not dirty (in other words – not “discharge”) because this stuff is cool.

You have several types of fluid. I will work from least fertile to most fertile. First is the lack of fluid – this is called a dry day. This generally means you are not currently fertile. This normally occurs right after menstruation ends, and after your fertile period (ovulation). Then there is sticky fluid. This is the dry feeling fluid that clumps and looks almost like rubber cement (a type of glue). This is also considered not fertile. It usually occurs after menstruation but before ovulation – and sometimes for a few days after ovulation. The next type is creamy – this is usually thick and white or yellowish, and feels and looks like lotion. This is not a fertile fluid, and normally occurs before ovulation, and occasionally after ovulation. All of these types leave no mark in your underwear, or they leave a streak or line.

The first type of fertile fluid is called watery. This is just the way it sounds – like water. Usually clear or only slightly colored, it leaves a round wet mark on your underwear due to the high water content. This is a fertile fluid. Fertile fluid is one in which sperm can survive. You must have a fertile fluid present for sperm to live and move in. This fluid usually shows up around ovulation. If you see this, assume you are fertile. The other fertile fluid is egg white. This is the most fertile fluid and is what you want to look for if you are hoping to conceive. It looks just uncooked egg whites, sometime streaked with pink or yellow but is mostly clear. Sperm love to live in this and can swim well in it. This will also leave a round wet mark in your underwear due to moisture content. It is also stretchy between the fingers – stretching up to a couple inches or more.

A typical pattern of fluid would go like this: Menstrual blood, dry, sticky, creamy, wet/egg white, dry or sticky, menstrual blood. Again – this is just an example and each woman will have her own pattern. After a cycle or two of charting, you will see your personal patterns. Occasionally a woman gets a last surge of fertile fluid just before menstruation. This is not another ovulation but rather a reaction to the drop in progesterone.

Cervical Position

This is the one sign of the three that is considered optional when charting. However, I would encourage you to try it. It really does help with charting (especially when your other signs do not seem to match up) and teaches you a lot about your body. It does take practice. My “favorite” way to check my cervix (in other words, the easiest) is to squat down all the way – bum on my ankles – and feel for the cervix. Your cervix is a small “bump” at the end of your vaginal canal or rather at the bottom of your uterus – it feels much like the end of your nose for most of your cycle, only with a dimple in the middle (the cervical os).

When you are not fertile, your cervix is low and firm and closed (keep in mind, those who have birthed children have a slightly open cervix for ever after in most cases). When you are fertile, the cervix moves up higher and becomes soft (like your lips) and opens a bit. It is also very wet when fertile as it puts out a lot of good fertile cervical fluid. To notice these changes, you need to check yourself each day in the same position. You will start to notice after a cycle or two what your normal fertile and infertile patterns are for your cervix.

An amazing site to look at is The Beautiful Cervix Project. This site has collections of photos of real cervices in all stages and ages. Being familiar – and comfortable – with what all portions of our body look like is an important part of embracing the whole woman, our whole self. This project is dedicated to helping with that.

Other Signs

Not every woman has these signs but they are worth charting if you have them. Midcycle spotting, pain or aches around the ovary area (note the side), increased libido, full or swollen vulva, bloating, increased energy, breast tenderness – all are rather common signs during the cycle. If you chart them, you may see a pattern. For instance, women who get midcycle spotting tend to find through charting that it occurs around ovulation. The pain in the ovary area has a name – mittelschmerz – and typically indicates the release of an egg.

Charting

I think the easiest way to explain charting as a whole is to show you a chart. I will add one of mine to illustrate.

Chart

This is one of my older charts. You can see the lower temperatures before ovulation. The “cross” is the day of ovulation. You see that my temp rose after ovulation and stayed above the “cover line” (the horizontal line) until shortly before the new cycle started. This cycle was 32 days with ovulation on day 2o and a 12 day luteal phase. The blue days are infertile days, the green days represent likely fertile days, and the orange/tan days are the luteal phase.

As you can see on my chart I have a few things that are not typical. First, I tend to have a few random days of fertile fluid before ovulation. I also have what is called a “slow rise” in my basal/waking temperatures. These are both a variation of normal and are normal for me. I am able to line up my typical cues of ovulation to know when I have ovulated – for instance I always get ovulation pain and chart it. This is (for me) a very reliable sign.

Sometimes you might not ovulate. This is called an annovulatory cycle. Most women have these from time to time for various reasons. Stress and illness are two big reasons. I once had a cycle that lasted 147 days – during which my husband and I were apart for my job. After we were under the same roof again, a new cycle started the same week and things went back to normal. Here is an example of an annovulatory cycle for me:

Annov. chart

As you can see, the signs are all over the place, and my temperatures never really get a pattern. I may have ovulated around day 34 or so, but no other signs confirmed that other than a slight rise in temperature.

Getting Started

For more information I highly suggest the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It really is an amazing resource and goes into full detail of how to chart and how your body works. I have simply given you the starting building blocks. There are several methods of charting fertility, but FAM (Fertility Awareness Method) as taught by TCOYF is my favorite. You can find classes in most major cities about fertility charting as well.

Fertility charting can be used both to help conceive, and to avoid conception. I have used it for both purposes.

When using to avoid pregnancy, and you understand it thoroughly and use it correctly every day, you have only a 2% chance of conceiving within a year. That is if you use condoms during the fertile phase (correctly) or abstain while fertile. [Condoms have a failure rate of around 2%.] If you use other barrier methods during your fertile time then your chances would be close to that of whatever barrier method you choose. Keep in mind that the failure rate and user failure rate are different, and you should research any barrier method you decide to use with FAM. Also, the user failure rate of NFP (Natural Family Planning – which includes multiple types of charting or fertility tracking) is anywhere from 2% to 20% depending on the study you look at. This is not the fault of the method, but rather the user. “Cheating” (not following the rules) is much less forgiving with NFP than it is with other types of birth control.

When using this method to achieve pregnancy it can be very helpful. First and foremost – you learn about your normal. The 28 day cycle and day 14 ovulation is probably the biggest myth of womanhood. That is a “clockwork” example and is simply not true for all women. In fact, you can have a 28 day cycle and still not ovulate on day 14. And as we learned – the egg is only viable for about 24 hours. If you miss the egg, you miss it – and thinking you ovulate on day 14 when you ovulate earlier or later can mean that you miss the egg again and again.

You also start to see your patterns. You notice when your cervical fluid changes and what the fertile period looks like for you. Past cycles do not dictate future cycles – BUT they can help you to get a good guess going of when to time intercourse to catch the egg. Another thing it does is alert you to issues. You would be able to see if you do not ovulate, or if you do not have fertile fluid when you need it. You can catch a short luteal phase (which means the fertilized egg may not have time to implant) and possible issues with progesterone. In other words – you can arm yourself with information and avoid some expensive and time consuming testing.

Please keep in mind that I have only given you the basics here – the building blocks. Now it is up to you to research and read or take a class. Please do not run with this small amount of information and use it to avoid pregnancy, and on the same hand – please don’t chart for fertility just based on what I have written here. My hope is to clear some myths, help you learn, and help you appreciate your body a bit more. Please feel free to post questions below and I will try to answer them as best I can. I am not an expert or teacher, but I have read and researched the subject extensively and used the method in both ways for several years.

Reflections on Extended Breastfeeding {One Mother’s Journey}

Reflections on Extended Breastfeeding {One Mother’s Journey}

Today I was struck by the beauty of my breastfeeding relationship with my son. The light filtered through the window after our nap, the new crisp white sheets I had just put on the bed felt heavenly and looked so pure. My son’s hair – a golden blond – was moving in the breeze from the window and shining like a halo. The moment was perfect. Peaceful.

Then my 2 and 1/2 year old decided the moment was too calm. He blew “raspberries” on me, pushed himself off like a diver, and proceeded to totally rip apart the freshly made bed by playing a mixture of peek-a-boo and “ghost”.

And the moment was still perfect.

When I was pregnant with my son, the first dream I had was about breastfeeding. In the dream, I looked down at the child at my breast and said, “I love you son.” When we eventually had the 20 week scan and found out the sex of our baby, they didn’t even have to tell me – I knew I had a son inside my womb. That dream was too clear and perfect to be wrong.

If that dream being my first – and recurrent – dream is any indication then it should be easy to see that I was looking forward to breastfeeding. I knew that my mother had breastfed me. It was just what I was going to do and there was no question in my mind. Thank goodness my husband also totally accepted this reality – he was breastfed and viewed it as normal. And so, we prepared for the journey. Bought books, breast pump, lanolin, nursing pads and bras.

The start of our breastfeeding relationship was tough. Mastitis, thrush, tongue tie, bad latch, a very small baby and very large breast, overactive letdown, and Raynaud’s Syndrome/vasospasms. It was an adventure! Some days I wanted to give up – I think we all have those moments. I set a goal – six months. Six months and I would see how I felt. By six months it was a no-brainer and things were now easy and I didn’t have to think about breastfeeding. I was pumping to donate and had more than enough for my son. I set my next goal – a year.

9 Months

As the one year mark approached things were still easy and my son was still nursing often. I was not sure how I would feel about nursing past a year – after all, wasn’t that “weird?” Yet when my son turned one I realized that nothing changed. He was still the same kid, still my baby. He still obviously needed – and wanted – to breastfeed. It was our cure-all. Bumped heads, upset tummy, teething, picky eater days – anything and everything was cured by the “boob”.

As my son approached his second birthday, we moved cross country. My husband had already moved to our new state several months before and we finally got to follow behind in our moving truck – just me and the kiddo on a three day drive. Needless to say, the upheaval of those 6+ months was made much easier by having the home base of breastfeeding. My son felt safe there. It was the one constant in his life. Cuddles, breastmilk, quiet.

21 Months

Suddenly my son was two years old, I was pregnant with our second child, and he was still nursing. Without thinking about it I had been on the journey of “extended breastfeeding” – though I now think of it as full-term breastfeeding. It feels too natural to consider it an extension of a deadline.

We nursed through the worst of my second HG (hyperemesis gravidarum) pregnancy. The nursing connection helped my son and I feel a little better about the fact that I was basically on bed rest for months. I may not have been able to get up and play with him the way he wanted me to, but he could crawl into bed and watch a movie and nurse. It brought peace to the hell that was HG.

Now I am starting to feel much better, and it seems that my son’s need for connection in that way grows less as I am able to do more with him again. He now only nurses every few days, usually in the morning or after a particularly bad bump or fall. I never know if “this time” will be the last time. There is something bittersweet about knowing that he will be the one to end this phase of our mother/child relationship. But also something joyful is there – a job well done, a road that was traveled to the very end.

Today in the beauty of that peaceful moment in the crisp white bed with a spring breeze blowing in, I reflected. I reflected on my first dream and thoughts about nursing – “I love you son.” I reflected on the hard days. The days and nights with tears running down my cheeks from the pain of vasospasms in my nipples. The mastitis and thrush. I reflected on the moments when I was at my breaking point with toddler antics and suddenly he crawled into my lap and signed “milk” (his way of asking to nurse since about 10 months).

I reflected on the essence of mothering that nursing has represented to my son and I.

You see, I can defend our choice to continue breastfeeding all day long. I can point you to scientific evidence and studies. I can point you to the statements of major health organizations stating that there are no ill effects – physical or psychological – to extended breastfeeding. I could go on and on about the benefits.

But here are my thoughts at the end of the day:

This relationship has become an integral part of my mothering skill set. It has helped give me confidence when the going was tough and I was not sure I was cut out to be a mom. It has helped my son through upheaval and sickness. It has given him – and continues to give – a “home base” that never changes. The roof over our head may have changed many times in his two years of life, but his physical and emotional home remained the same.

This is not just about the nutrients and scientific studies. This is about the emotions as well. I am not supposed to admit that nursing is about me too. But it is. It is about both people and it is a relationship. It has give and take. It has ups and downs. It is the first place that a child learns patience and manners. It is a place that a mother can learn confidence and peace. For me, it completes a circle – I grew this life within me and I continue to grow it outside of me.

One day, soon most likely, it will be the last time he ever nurses. I won’t know until a week or more later. Then I will suddenly think about it one morning and try to count the days since he was last at the breast. And I won’t be able to. It will simply be done. No fan fare. No weaning needed. It will simply  be the end of one chapter that rolled into the next, like a great book you can not put down.

***A few weeks after writing this piece, my son totally weaned. He just turned 3 and is a wonderfully well adjusted and bright little boy. He now insists that I feed his new little brother all the time, any time he cries or makes a funny face. He still knows that nursing is the cure for everything! Thank you for all the kind comments on this story – it means the world to me that my words were able to touch on the emotions and intentions of others.

To My Little Sister

To My Little Sister

To my little sister,

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You’re 38 weeks pregnant now, and as you approach your ‘due date’, there are some things I want you to know.

This time is sacred. I bet you hate hearing that, but it is. Right now your baby is listening to your heartbeat, sleeping and moving and safe within you. Women look at you, and envy your position. You are at the most sacred moment of life, you reflect the divinity of the feminine existence. Right now you hold the energy of the universe; the reason why there is life on Earth. Right now your body is sustaining two lives.

It’s uncomfortable. Hell, yes it is. You’re tired, and with every right to be. You’re angry and hey, that’s ok – you’ve got a flood of hormones making you feel like you could simultaneously cry, scream and laugh. Your feet hurt. Your legs hurt. Your back hurts. Your breasts hurt. It’s likely you’ve also got some morning sickness, along with cravings, which is kind of a sad and ironic combination.

You’re scared. You’re wondering ‘how will I do this’. Your son becomes a big brother. Your love multiplies, along with the stress. The laundry, the cleaning, the bathing, the sleeping… it’s already hard and what if it gets harder? You’re sick of the worry, you just want the baby here so you can get on with it. You’re feeling impatient; you want this new chapter to just start already.

The birth. Then there’s the birth. Intense and powerful. In some ways, the second time around is easier, and in some ways so much harder.

But I want to tell you a secret.

It’s a secret of the sisterhood.

It’s a secret that I want to share with you, that I’ve known about you my whole life.

It’s that you can do it.

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You’re my little sister but now you’re a woman, about to become a mother of two. Look at you, you’re growing a baby. You created life. You’re a mother and a woman; you’re part of the divine feminine, a sisterhood of mothers who have felt the energy of the universe within them and then given it to the world. You are strong. Two or three or four more weeks of pregnancy is tough, but you can do it. Birth is intense, but you are strong. Being a mother to two amazing – you don’t love either one less than the other, you love them uniquely, and you marvel at their being and their individuality.

I can hardly believe that my sister, who used to steal my baby doll or run around chasing the ram in the back paddock or throws sticks on cars from up on the cliff, has become a 25 year old woman who knows the strength and the secrets of life, of adulthood, of womanhood. I’d like to think I helped, that I’ve been an ok big sister, but the truth is you’d have done it regardless. You’re strong, you’re powerful. You’re a woman in a million different ways – a sister, a daughter, a mother, a lover, and independent soul with hopes and dreams with determination. You can be anything, do anything, have anything, create anything. From two tiny cells you’ve given your energy to make a baby. Making anything else is no where near as hard as that.

You’ll have a newborn, a tiny creature, and you’ll see your son grow before your eyes, and it will be bittersweet: your heart will ache at the thought of him growing up while bursting with pride at him taking on a whole new role. You’ll see your new baby and wonder where your first tiny baby went. And you’ll cry, and they’ll be hot tears of joy and regret wondering if you’ve ‘done the right thing’ by adding to your family, but it’ll be ok. Baby blues are painful but after a week you should start feeling better.

Enjoy these last weeks, as uncomfortable as they are. You hold the energy of the universe within you. My little sister, I’m proud of you. Slow down, there’s no need to rush these days. Your baby will come, days will pass into weeks – months – years, one day this moment will be a distant memory you can barely catch: B’s baby talk, his baby walk, the one inside you moving and waiting until the perfect time to enter the world…

Time will pass, as time always does, and things will happen, as things always do. You’ll get there. You’ll birth. You’ll bring a new life to this world. Now is the time for waiting, for capturing your breath, for clearing your head, for making memories and preparing to meet your bundle. Perfection cannot be hurried. Masterpieces are done when they are done. One day you’ll miss this. Make sure you remember it.

xxx

From The Darkness Into The Light {A Story Of Postnatal Depression}

From The Darkness Into The Light {A Story Of Postnatal Depression}

Here is my PND story. Well, the early days. If someone had sat me down and told me that the days and weeks following the birth of my baby were going to be harder than giving birth to a 4210g baby at home, drug-free, I’d have told them they were crazy and sent them on their way! We made it though without taking anti-depressants, but it’s been a tough road that nearly split us up. Treya is 18 months old now, and it seems making time for me and setting up my own business has been my saviour! Things are good here now. – Kim

I weighed 49kg before I fell pregnant, and put on a whopping 17 kgs, which was all baby. You couldn’t tell I was pregnant from behind. I had a great pregnancy beside the usual morning sickness and some lower back pain. Concerned one day that I was going to give birth to a giant, Sonja assured me “it won’t weigh over 5 kilos”! We were all astounded by the amount of movement my ever-growing baby made, but given her size, I’d say she was a little cramped in there to say the least!

After her birth, I was exhausted by the labour, and spent the next day in bed, watching my beautiful baby girl. That evening, however, things went pear-shaped. My ribs on my right side were bruised, assumingly from Treya kicking her way out. It was impossible to get comfortable, and I was desperate for sleep having been awake, for the most part, for coming up to 48 hours. It’s like my body went into shock after such physical exertion. My stomach hurt… I could barely walk… my ribs ached… and I just lost it! I couldn’t even pick up my own baby, and when I tried to, I made her cry! I didn’t know if I had hurt her, if we’d put the nappy on wrong, or if I’d accidentally pulled on her umbilical cord tie. I literally started to unravel emotionally, and we had to call on my partner’s mum to come stay the night. Two, in fact.

Even getting to the toilet was an ordeal. I had to be assisted, and still was unable to hold Treya. Attempting to feed her was a nightmare, trying to stack pieces of foam and pillows in a manner that held her off my stomach, whilst my nipples just weren’t coming to the party, sitting flatter and flatter the more engorged my breasts became.

By day 3, I was in so much pain, having to hold my stomach when I walked, and crying with exhaustion, raw emotion and a growing sense of helplessness and uselessness. When I tried to sleep, I would have nightmares, plagued by thoughts of accidentally dropping my baby, and tormented by the fact that if anything happened to her, I might never recover.

Thankfully my herbalist ordered me into a hot bath with 30 drops of lavender in it, which bought me some relief. Then my partner Karl’s sister came to the rescue with a “Mother Roasting” pack consisting of a selection of herbs in which to soak in the bath, followed by some soothing essential oils in warmed jojoba oil for my tummy, which we then wrapped firmly with a hemp scarf. Apparently there was a look of utter relief on my face after my tummy was wrapped up… but that was not before having to surrender to my father-in-law and brother-in-law having to get me out of the bath, dry me and put on a maternity pad for me!!!! Eeek! I could do little for myself and holding my baby was still near impossible.

My story is long, and some of it is vague in my mind, which probably isn’t a bad thing. But I do remember crying a lot, being so devastated by the fact that I still couldn’t look after my own baby. There was nothing medically wrong – I assume the physical pain was just from the physical exertion demanded by birthing a large baby – the emotional pain a combination of adrenal stress and what we now know to be post natal depression.

I am pleased to say that there were eventually small joys appearing ever so slowly in my world. Mastering breastfeeding, with the help of a lactation consultant and nipple shields, after starving Treya for 5 days, was certainly one to be celebrated! My diary entry, made 20 days after the birth, rejoices in the fact that I was able to carry her to the change table and hold her for a while. I was devastated by the fact that I was physically unable to care for my baby, and immensely grateful for the presence of my amazing partner and family who literally had to come and help us daily. Karl turned into Super Dad overnight, having to look after both his girls. My mind talk was negative, we needed visitors to help out, which conflicted with our decision to attempt an unofficial baby-moon, and I felt useless for just about the first time in my life. I was, pre-pregnancy, able to successfully co-ordinate education programs for Red Cross, with ease, and yet I couldn’t even look after my own baby. I found myself unable to do anything with the immense love I felt for this newly arrived being. I could feed her, breathe in the smell that was her and delight in the love that she evoked in me, yet I couldn’t pick her up, carry her, bath her or anything.

Weeks passed, and we continued to adapt and make small steps forward. I used the pram, for example, to wheel her to the change table where I could then lift her up. I also lost my fear of dropping her. However, challenges kept appearing. I had mastitis off and on for 2 –3 weeks; an old work injury in my neck produced a 6 day headache that drove me to tears; I began crying almost daily; my scoliosis (curvature of the spine) caused me pain; and I began grieving for my beautiful Mamma who had died 3 years and 2 days prior to Treya’s arrival, whom I missed so so terribly… and the unravelling continued.

When the local early childhood nurse said to me “if you are still crying in a few days I think you should go on anti-depressants”, I think I almost laughed! Me, needing anti-depressants? Don’t be ridiculous! But I did continue to cry daily, and anxiety attacks were added to the mix as soon as my partner went back to work at the 7 week mark. The darkness that was creeping in around the edges began to cast larger and larger shadows for longer and longer periods. A sense of disconnect developed and  I could no longer force a smile even for my beautiful man. I found myself confessing that “this mothering business is mind numbingly boring” and wondering how I could get back to work! This was NOT what I had imagined feeling. In fact, I thought I’d take to mothering like a duck to water, and even went as far as assuming that I would adopt a rather relaxed “do-it-with-my-eyes-closed” earth-mother vibe about me!

The universe had other plans for us however. One morning I woke up, and ever I was worried about myself. I felt numb, like I was just going through the motions, thinking about all those woman I know who just LOVED breastfeeding and motherhood, realising that I was not one of them. I knew that I loved my baby, but I experienced total emotional disconnection and a deepening numbness, and everything just became too hard. I tormented myself with the question “am I just a bad Mum who can’t be bothered or do I have post natal depression (PND)?”. I’d be holding her, watching her, spellbound by how beautiful she was…but at the same time, feeling absolutely nothing. Empty. Numb. Dark. Hopeless. Useless. And so so SAD.

Fortunately, asking for help is something I do well, and I have an amazing support network.  I ran my feelings by my friend who had undiagnosed PND 12 years ago. The similarities were undeniable. I made another call to a friend who is currently on anti-depressants for PND. She too normalised the abnormal for me…..well, what I had, up until this point, thought was “abnormal”.  It was such a relief to hear that I was not the only one who would happily give my baby to someone else to hold and who felt numb despite having given birth to a gorgeous little human being. I was not the only one who literally cried upon my baby and was going through the motions instead of feeling the “joys of motherhood” that we are lead to believe are the norm.

Once I knew what we were dealing with, I knew what to do. We could act, and do something to move me from the darkness into the light. But before any real action was taken, I hit rock bottom, enduring several horrendous mornings where I was tormented by anxiety attacks that begun the moment my partner left for work at 5am. Every time I awoke from that point, which was multiple times an hour having imagined hearing my baby crying over and over again, I’d be overwhelmed by a wave of anxiety that would eventually drive me to tears and out of bed. I then could not bear to be alone and, in utter despair, would have to call Karl’s mum to come be with me until the light of day. One of the mornings she just lay with me in bed, holding me whilst I sobbed and missed my own beautiful mamma. Eventually we bundled me and Treya in the car and drove to our herbalist, hoping for an emergency appointment – and it was an emergency! By this stage I was considering what mental health hospitals I could check myself into and fantasising about anti-depressants.

Thankfully my diagnosis was good – “hormonal” apparently. A concoction of herbs were administered, along with instructions to drink a cup of miso soup each day, and 1-2 glasses of  Bonsoy (milk), of all things! In addition to this, I was instructed to expose myself to the sun for an hour a day, rub fennel essential oil into my chest where my pituitary gland is, as well as my breasts and ovaries. To this, after consulting my GP, we added exercise, “time out” and “not practicing anxiety”. The latter being getting out of bed when the anxiety hit, and doing anything (washing cloth nappies!!!) to distract my attention from it, even if it was 5am.

I have to say that whilst we waited for my unconventional medicine to start working, I had moments of desperation. If someone had offered me anti-depressants there and then, I think I’d have taken them. But my herbalist reassured me and begged me to just hold on until day 3 or 4, when the herbs were said to take effect. To her credit, she was correct, and a few rays of sunshine shone in my world on day 3. I continued to improve, and I still remember my first day of really enjoying my baby, when the loving, meaningless banter between mother and baby during otherwise mundane tasks, such as nappy changing, came easily, and for the first time, it was a joy to be Treya’s mamma.

Fourteen weeks on, without as much as a wiff of an anti-depressant, I can honestly say that I am enjoying being a mum. The PND is still there, lingering in the background, but as long as I am vigilant and supported, we manage to keep it at bay. And I say “we” on purpose as my recovery has really been a community effort, brought about by the amazing support of family and close friends, without whom we would not have ventured so swiftly back into the light.

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When I reflect on the challenges we have had since Treya’s arrival, it’s no wonder I ended up with PND, but part of me wonders whether the journey would have been easier had PND and physical, post-birth challenges been talked about more. It seems women are generally so quick to share birthing stories, and yet so reluctant to talk openly about the challenges of the fourth stage. So if someone sits you down before the birth of your child, and suggests that the weeks following the birth could be harder than the birth itself, don’t tell them they are crazy! Make them a cup of tea, pull up a chair and hear them out, not because my challenges will happen to you, but simply because they could. 

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Kim owns the Australian business ‘Pickled Tink: ‘art with heart‘, for belly casting, photography, Blessingway art and henna, and much much more!

Photos by Brett Stanley Photography

‘Roommate Wanted’ {Going from One Child to Two!}

‘Roommate Wanted’ {Going from One Child to Two!}

As I was washing laundry the other day, listening to my boys playing happily and giggling, it dawned on me that we had finally found our groove. My eldest son came into the kitchen where I was folding with an activity book and instantly started asking an array of questions, most of them irrelevant and having nothing to do with the next. Meanwhile I was also fixing them lunch, dancing to music on Pandora, and realizing that in this very moment things were at peace.

Let’s back up a year or so: flash to me still in my pajamas with unwashed hair at 5:00pm, trying frantically to tackle several loads of backed up laundry, while doing my best to entertain two little kids, and wondering how many days in a row the kids will willingly eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. I remember thinking I would never catch on to this! There was just far too much to do! The meals, the wash, the dishes, the bathing, the stories, the questions, the diapers, and somewhere in there I’m supposed to take care of myself too??!

How do people with three kids do it??” I would always wonder to myself.

Now let’s back up even further: flash to me snuggling my two year old in between spurts of defiance that are constantly reminding me how much he has grown up, feeling my unborn child pounding at that side of my belly, and worrying how I will go about taking care of two kids; will I have enough energy? Will I inadvertently favor one over the other? Will my oldest feel slighted on our attention because of the new baby?

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Let me be the first to say: your concerns are VALID! Yeah, that’s right. It is totally normal to wonder these things! And it’s also totally normal if you’re still unsure about how everything is going to work out when your baby is no longer a baby! And it’s also okay if you’re still wondering about this same stuff when it comes to your third or fourth kid too!

In my opinion, that means you are a good parent! It’s normal for parents to be concerned about having enough love/energy/attention to give each of our children and also a desire for them to have the best that we can possibly offer. And, honestly, you will; it might take a little longer to get back into a routine, but it will happen. Even if it doesn’t happen immediately, give yourself grace, mama.

Imagine your home as an apartment and your children as roommates. Well, you’ve been living with one for such a long time already that it’s only natural that it will take some adjusting to add another person into your living situation – not to mention you’re responsible to feeding your new roommate and wiping their butt! Hah!

I don't always roommate

So if you might have to cheat a little on a few dinners and maybe let them watch a few more episodes of cartoons than normal, keep in mind that this is what they’re doing now… it does not mean that they will still be doing things this way a year from now!

I’ll tell you what it does mean; it means that your child now has a friend for life. There is rarely a bond as great as that of siblings and even though they may argue harder with one another than anyone else they will also love each other more deeply as well. My kids don’t always get along, but they truly love each other and it really is the sweetest relationship to watch!

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My mother was over the other day, watching me hop from one foot to the other getting the kids dressed and ready to leave and made a very poignant observation. She said that the tough part about being a parent is that each day is so jammed packed with responsibilities and requirements that parents rarely get a moment to just stop and watch their kids enjoying life. She said it was her favorite part about being a Grandma because she could just watch them playing and exploring all day, especially knowing now how fleeting it all is.

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Try this out next time you have a chance: Try sneaking up on the area where your children are playing and just watch them. Don’t intervene and watch your oldest be a kind older brother/sister. Watch your youngest discover that they’re finally strong enough to push two Duplos together. Watch them share readily and pretend together. Or even if you’ve got a singleton at home, watch them make believe for a few minutes and enjoy a small peek inside their imagination. It is truly a heartwarming experience!

“How then do you love each of your multiple  children, if not the best or even equally? The answer is, you love them  uniquely.” – Marianne E. Neifert

“Infertility is a funny beast.” | Thoughts On Infertility, Loss, Pregnancy And Motherhood

“Infertility is a funny beast.” | Thoughts On Infertility, Loss, Pregnancy And Motherhood

Thank you Sarah, for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

Infertility is a funny beast; it affects your life in so many different ways.

We had issues conceiving our first child, spent almost 30 months trying to conceive and had begun the testing process that had showed up a few issues. Miraculously I found out I was pregnant only two days prior to our IVF consult with the fertility specialist. At the time we were the first of our friends and close family to have a child so it was all new and wondrous and exciting for everyone involved.

Our second pregnancy was a lot different to the first and I put that down entirely to infertility issues. By the time we fell pregnant with our second child, our friends were having their firsts. Four friends, all falling pregnant within a very short time frame, yet here we were struggling after a year. Again. The pregnancy announcements were hard, but the avoidance of certain friends was harder, they didn’t know how to talk with us about their pregnancies.

Our second pregnancy, our daughter, was conceived on our first cycle of IVF. The pregnancy was easy, but I found so many people treated me differently. I asked a coworker why she treated me differently compared with our first pregnancy and she simply stated that it was because this was an IVF baby, so it was different. It made no sense to me, but people perceived IVF babies as more fragile.

[IVF Medication]IVF Medication

Fast-forward and our daughter was my second emergency caesarean. I was devastated. My baby was artificially conceived and artificially came into the world. There was nothing natural in her conception or delivery and I had to get something back, so I breastfed her. The plan was to breastfeed our first as well, but nature had other ideas as my body went into shock after a very long and difficult labour and subsequent emergency caesarean.

The only reason I continued breastfeeding was our infertility struggles. THE ONLY REASON. There were so many times I wanted to quit in the first six months. She was a big baby (9lb 14oz at birth) and she was insatiable. I fed two hourly for six months. I dealt with some serious breastfeeding issues, but instead of giving in, like so many had recommended, I plodded along. My baby had to such a medical, impersonal beginning thanks to our fertility issues that I had to give her something natural. In the end, she breastfed until she was 15 months old and I was proud that I stuck with it.

breastfeeding at 10 months after IVF and emergency cesarean

We lost our third (natural) pregnancy to miscarriage at ten weeks. Again, people’s perceptions astounded me. I got comments telling me that obviously I wasn’t meant to have a baby naturally (despite my first son) and that it didn’t matter because we had embryos frozen & in storage. Charming, right?

Our fourth pregnancy was the result of a frozen embryo transfer, the embryo created at the same time as our daughter. We had a few scares in the beginning and because I had invested so much, time, money, love, I was terrified of losing this little being as well. I was on bed rest and refused to move, exactly as I was directed. I couldn’t bear to face another loss and our chances of having another pregnancy were already diminished with only two embryos left in storage.

The baby, our son, arrived by scheduled caesarean and again I chose to breastfeed him to give him something as natural as possible. At the time of writing, he is 13 months old and still breastfed, despite a postnatal depression diagnosis and subsequent medication.

Even though we have now completed our family I find that infertility still haunts us.

My children are no different to any others, they push buttons, they don’t sleep, they argue with each other and I am just the same as any other mum. There is a difference though. Having struggled to conceive all three and using IVF for two, I find it difficult to complain about even the most normal of childhood behaviour. I feel like I need to be grateful for everything they do, even the bad stuff, because I am lucky enough to have them.

I had a conversation with a customer at work one day during my last pregnancy. He asked how many kids I had & when I told him this pregnancy was my third he joked asking if I knew what caused it. My response was, “yes, handing over thousands of dollars to my fertility doctor”… If you can’t laugh about it, you’d cry!

“I figured this was just how things were supposed to be.” {A Story Of Postpartum Depression}

“I figured this was just how things were supposed to be.” {A Story Of Postpartum Depression}

I know that postpartum depression isn’t something that people LOVE to talk about. It’s uncomfortable for so many reasons. Some people like to carry on as if it doesn’t exist and harass and insult women struggling with it. For some reason, there is an extra stigma attached to it. Having depression is ‘acceptable’ but having postpartum depression isn’t, apparently. People dismiss the concerns of new mothers, and miss all of the warning signs. Sometimes, new mothers that are in over their heads are unable to ask for help. This is where husbands, friends and family have GOT to step up to the plate and get a mother suffering from PPD the help she so badly needs! I went through this twice…

In April of 2003, I was 22, marginally employed, uneducated, and my husband and I were forced to move in with my parents. Not what you would call the most ideal of circumstances. So, of course, I fell pregnant straight away. I had no clue about pregnancy, childbirth or parenting, so I called up a local ob-gyn recommended by several older women I knew, who all thought he was fab because he did such a great job on their hysterectomies. I never felt comfortable, but, since I was convinced that I didn’t know anything and he WAS a doctor after all, then I should just go with the flow. My pregnancy progressed normally. I was relatively healthy, and the baby was doing well. I had no friends with babies. I had no family members who had given birth vaginally. That’s right… NONE! I was born via c-section and so, the only advice I got was to schedule an elective c-section, do what the doctor says and that I probably wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. On December 8, 2003, I had my last doctor appointment of the pregnancy. With the holidays approaching, my doctor informed me that he was inducing ALL patients 37 weeks and over. I had no idea just what that entailed and figured that, since he was the doctor, it was for the best. After all, I WAS one whole centimenter dilated (now that I know just what that means, I’m beyond insulted and disgusted)! After a NIGHTMARISH induction that I barely survived, I was just relieved to have my beautiful, healthy baby girl.

hospital birth

However, soon, the bottom fell out. Just existing knocked the wind out of me. Due to postpartum hemorrhage, booby traps galore, horrid small town hospital lactation consultants and severe pain (which I would find out 9 years later, was caused by a lip and tongue tie), I was unable to nurse my beautiful little girl. To this day, I’m convinced that for the first 6 months of her life, there were more tears than formula in her bottles – I was that distraught over it. I went back to work when she was 5 weeks old. I got formula from WIC. That should be the end of the story. It’s not.

I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I tried to get help for my little girl because she was miserable. Everyone just told me that she was a colicky baby and it would get better. It didn’t. It wasn’t colic. She had severe reflux. That, combined with the lip tie, meant that she was quite an unhappy baby. This was made worse by being surrounded with people who ‘did x, y, and, z and turned out just fine’ so encouraged me to give her rice in her bottle, and leave her to cry it out so she would learn who was in charge. I doubted myself and I couldn’t bond with my baby. Life was one constant panic attack after another. I was completely miserable. I honestly wanted to throw my baby out of the window. I wanted to pack all of her things, put them in the bottom of the stroller, and give her to the first nice looking mom that came along, and just jump off a bridge. It’s not that I was suicidal. I didn’t want to die, but I knew that I couldn’t keep going as I was. I decided to reach out for help.

I called my ob and explained what I was going through. He asked me what I expected. He told me that I was a first time mom, and I just needed to rest, get some help, and deal with the fact that things weren’t all about me anymore… basically, I was bratty and having a hard time adjusting to ‘adult’ life. He offered some antidepressants, but those only made me MORE anxious. I went on like this until my daughter was around 18 months old… merely surviving, coping and clawing my way through the days. Every day was a fight. I was literally fighting for my life. My (then) family physician thought I needed to try anti-anxiety meds. I said ok. They didn’t work… they made me feel MORE anxious. She doubled the dose. Things got worse. She referred me to a psychiatrist. He added an antidepressant on top of the anti-anxiety meds. That night I was curled up in the corner, in a townhouse, alone, with my 18 month old daughter, trying to cope with the voices I was hearing. I stayed awake for 4 days straight, chain smoking and convincing myself that, even thought I might be crazy, the voices weren’t ‘real’ and weren’t going to hurt me. I called my husband offshore and told him what had happened.

He was home two days later and I was sitting in a GOOD doctors office. I didn’t want to go. I figured this was just how things were supposed to be. I’d been through the ringer and was done. My husband made me go. Made me get up, get dressed, and go out into the world, where I learned just exactly how screwed up the past 2 or so years of my life had been. I had to process through an unplanned pregnancy, a horrible and devastating birth experience, the hurt of not being able to breastfeed, and the horrible depression I was living with. That I could love my baby and yet not be able to bond because of her association to all of these things. That I wasn’t a bad mother because I wanted to lay down and wish it all away… because I deserved better than what I got. Because ALL moms deserve better! With LOTS of therapy and lots of hard work, I finally DID start to get better. It was a lot of work. It was hard to get through all the birth trauma and the feelings of violation and loss, but I did it. I started to feel again, which was incredible. However, I was resolute in the fact that I didn’t want to have any more children. I was not willing to suffer again and to have a child old enough to actually ‘get’ how screwed up her mom was. I wasn’t careful enough.

In March 2008, I was 27 and, once again, dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. I decided this time would be different. Boy, oh boy, did I have NO idea just how different it would be. I tried to see a midwife… but she turned out to be horrible. She knew the doctor that delivered my first and defended his actions by saying ‘well, he’s old, what do you expect’. Um, I expect GOOD care and a compassionate bedside manner! I got my records and left. I found an ob-gyn through co-workers and was pleased with her and her practice. However, it was a very difficult pregnancy. I had my first bout of bedrest at 8 weeks. This continued off and on until I was put on modified bedrest at 6 months. I had horrible anxiety throughout the pregnancy but couldn’t sort out why. Until the day I took my daughter on the hospital tour. I lost it! I realized that, at some point very soon, I would have to deliver this baby and I was terrified. What if it was another torturous experience? What if he had reflux? What if? I couldn’t cope and I excused myself until they got to the cutesy part of the tour where they showed all the little kids how to put diapers on dolls and reminded them to clear up their legos.

On October 27, 2008, I went to my last doctor’s appointment of the pregnancy. I was just at 37 weeks (I found out later by looking at the charts and ultrasounds, that it was actually 35 weeks, which explains the health problems my son had immediately following birth). I was 6 centimeters dilated and strep positive. I was told to go straight to the hospital and would be induced in the morning. I was terrified of induction… I wanted to do this on my own terms. Thankfully, I went into labor on my own that afternoon. The birth experience was much better the second time.

hospital birth postpartum depression

However, within days of being home, I started to feel scared and on edge. I was terrified and called my ob. I needed to sort this out, NOW. Something was wrong, and my baby wouldn’t nurse. I had problems nursing him in the hospital, but everyone said it was fine… his latch was ‘great’ and so I just needed to toughen up. When he was 3 1/2, I found out that he had a lip tie and a posterior tongue tie. I was struggling with pain and my supply and wasn’t sleeping because he was having such a rough go. I was pumping and eventually stopped getting any milk at all. When I managed to pump anything out, it was blood. The nurse called me… the doctor was prescribing meds, but I would have to stop nursing. I took the meds for two days. I changed my mind. I was GOING to nurse this baby. However, it was too late. I later figured out why – I had PCOS and autoimmune thyroid disease, both untreated so had completely devastated my milk supply. Then things got ugly.

My son was admitted to the hospital at 6 weeks with a UTI. Watching him go through a battery of tests, all while coping with my feelings of fear and inadequacy was brutal. This time, the postpartum depression took a VERY ugly turn. This time it brought along a friend, in the form of OCD. It got to the point where I couldn’t prepare bottles for my son, because, due to my overly aggressive and obsessive handwashing, my hands were always bleeding. I scrubbed the master bedroom from top to bottom and locked my son and I inside. It was the only room that was ‘uncontaminated’. The only ‘safe’ space. I didn’t take him out of the room, and no one else was allowed in. I was angry and devastated and scared. I also found out after the fact, that it was noted on my chart to KEEP breastfeeding… that the meds my doctor prescribed for me were, in fact, compatible with nursing. I stopped sleeping, I stopped eating and I didn’t want anyone or anything around me. Everyone told me to suck it up. I was ok, the kids were ok. I just needed to pull myself up by the bootstraps and get on with life. That I was just ungrateful and needed to learn to deal with having two children. If only it were that easy. I was terrified of everything. I COULDN’T leave my house… I could barely leave my room. I arranged to have someone take my daughter to school in the mornings and pick her up in the afternoons.

Again, I called my husband and, again, found myself sitting in a doctor’s office. This had to stop. And, with a LOT more therapy and MORE hard work, the fog started to lift. I started to actually feel like myself and come into my own. I could finally enjoy my children, and get on with my life. It was hard though… people SAW what was going on and dismissed it, ignored it, or outright questioned my ability to be a good mother. People who, after the fact, would come up to me and comment that they were so glad that I got help because I had obviously been in a very bad place.

Why did these people never mention that or never ONCE offer to come help or check on me?! Because of the stigma attached. They feel like if they help, then they are ‘enabling’ the behavior. A mother with PPD is NOT a brat with a problem that can be enabled. She is suffering and she needs HELP. Compassion. A hot meal. You shouldn’t withhold those things because you’re worried that it will prevent her from seeking help! Go over there every day! Check on her, as often as possible! It’s devastating to go through postpartum depression and to stumble about through the misery, all while feeling like a crap mother because you have no bond with your baby. Then to find out that people SAW you suffering and chose not to help is even worse. This isn’t something that ANY mother should have to cope with.

It’s important for a mother to be prepared, but PPD feels like the ultimate curve ball. So, it really is up to friends and family to take notice and find help. Call a doula. Call the mothers midwife or ob. Call local lactation consultants to see if there is a new mom support group AND a postpartum depression support group. Drive her to it. Go to her house, put on the coffee, take her a hot meal, and tell her it will get better. Because, it will get better. It does get better. There is light at the end of the tunnel and you don’t always have to feel this way. And to all the women who feel ashamed and unwilling to take medication for it. DON’T BE. IT’S OK! If medication works for you and helps you, then TAKE IT!! I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn about taking medication. It’s not the end of the world to take a medication if it can help to give you your life back. You wouldn’t think twice about taking insulin if you were diabetic, would you?! If anti-depressants, anti-anxiety or mood stabilizers are NEEDED, then please, take them.

I should note, that the story ultimately served a wonderful purpose. I educated myself. I learned a LOT about pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. In July 2011, I found myself pregnant again. I refused to settle on ANYTHING this time. I finally found a wonderful midwife at around 20 weeks and had a beautiful, healing, empowering unmedicated hospital waterbirth at 40 weeks and 5 days. I had done the ‘impossible’. I was told I would never carry a baby to term and that I couldn’t have a baby with no drugs. I let my beautiful little girl pick her birthday and, on April 4, 2012 was able to accept and heal from all of the other birth experiences, because she had redeemed them and proven that I was capable… of anything! I came home, worried because breastfeeding was, again, not working out. This time, though, I refused to stop searching for an answer. I found a GOOD lactation counsellor and found out that she had a lip tie and posterior tongue tie. I pumped and worked with her until, at 3 months of age, we ditched the bottles and the supplements and she was exclusively breast fed! Today, she is a happy, healthy, breastfed 11 month old. I had no PPD after her. Only a bit of pulling my hair out while coping with going from 2 children to 3! 🙂 Education and preparation can go a LONG way. So, please mamas, get educated, get prepared and, above all, give yourself a break!

{Thank you Jaime for sharing your story of Post-partum Depression and Anxiety}

My Postpartum Body {A Poem}

My Postpartum Body {A Poem}

Once upon a time,
My skin was smooth.post partum belly
Unscarred.
It stretched trimly
Over firm muscles
And created soft dips down between bones.
My hips were tight and narrow.
My breasts were small and neat.

But with the energy of new life,
Every cell in my body was changed
And forgot the old ways of being.

Things became displaced…
My skin stretched over growing life.
It tore under the power and energy of my baby.
My hips moved apart to enable birth,
Creating a passage to travel.
My breasts grew, and the skin tore there too.

I birthed twice.

My body was scarred from two knivespost partum belly and babyThat created new passages for my baby to travel.
Once across my abdomen.
Once across my perineum.

I birthed twice.
And now I am a mother.
And I am softer. And I have more give,
In my mind and in my body.

My skin is loose,
As it reaches over my body.
Marks from stretching create
Deep crevices and silvery trails.
Like a road map showing the journey
My baby and I trekked to get to where we are today.

My breasts continue the work of my body.
Protecting.
Full of life. Full of love.
Flowing with energy.
Creating a bond impossible to replicate.

I have two scars.
Two marks from when I birthed; my birthmarks.
They were touched by new life.
Within them is a memory:
Those scars tell of the final times my babies were within me.
They tell the story of birth,
and the moments my babies existed in two worlds.

My hips are wider.
They have held the weight of my children.
They have held my whole world.

I created life.
If I was a scientist, I’d get a nobel prize.
But I am a woman, which is infinitely better.
My prize knowing that I made my girls
From two single cells.
I grew them.
My body grew them.
And for that, my body deserves grace.
Respect. Admiration.
Love.
It created life.
It created pure perfection.
And because of that
My body is perfect.
And my body deserves to be loved.

My body deserves to be loved.

My body deserves my love.

candj

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