Lately I’m more awash in hormones than I’ve ever been without being pregnant (and NO I AM NOT PREGNANT DON’T EVEN THINK IT), and I feel like the embodiment of every feminine cliche about PMS and ice cream and crying at diaper commercials. I am a walking Cathy cartoon. In the past week, I’ve gotten weepy holding a friend’s three-week-old firstborn (“The first few months are so hard! And you’re doing such a good job!”), listening to my sister-in-law talk about her birth plan (“You’re going to be such a good mommy! Your life is going to change so much!”), and sharing labor stories with a friend (“I wish I would’ve known you then! I would’ve visited you in the hospital! And brought you casseroles!”).

Actually, upon closer inspection, it appears my hormones have a particular fixation on firstborn babies and their births, which (besides probably being fascinating to my therapist) makes sense given that my levels haven’t yet adjusted since I finished breastfeeding my third, and presumably final, child about six weeks ago.

Here’s something: I did the math recently and figured out that since I became pregnant with David nearly seven years ago – 83 months – I’ve spent 58 of those months either pregnant or nursing. NO WONDER I’M INSANE. And in the past eight weeks, I’ve switched antidepressants, stopped breastfeeding, and changed birth control pills. So, yeah, I’m a bit unbalanced, in the same sense that Shaquille O’Neal is a bit tall, or that Edy’s Mud Pie ice cream is a bit tasty.

Watching my sister-in-law prepare for her first wee one, in particular, is touching a nerve I never realized was exposed. I’m loving being part of her support system, getting to go to Babies R Them and scan tiny pink onesies and talk about epidurals and doulas and FMLA leave and the pros and cons of the My Brest Friend nursing pillow (Pros: great for nursing; cons: “MY BREST FRIEND”??). I think what’s making me sad (and therefore uncontrollably sniffly) is looking back and realizing how much of a support network I DIDN’T have in place during my first few months as a mom, and how clearly that contributed to the paralyzing postpartum depression that engulfed new motherhood for me. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have gotten hit with PPD anyway – the fact that I still deal with depression and medication now means it was bound to come up regardless – but I grieve for how much harder it was facing it alone.

Labor and delivery with David was awful. My work schedule made childbirth classes impossible, so I watched some videos the hospital lent us, videos that were so old my own parents could’ve been featured in them; and I blithely assumed that since I knew from the onset that I would be requesting – nay, demanding – The Good Drugs for my labor, there was nothing more I needed to know.

Go ahead, laugh.

So instead I woke up at four in the morning, five days before he was due, thinking at first that I had just overindulged in Hamburger Helper the night before (yes, gross; cravings are the great equalizer) before at some point I realized the stomach cramps were getting stronger and oddly regular and hey, Aaron, wake up, I think I’m in labor, whee! By the time we left for the hospital I had been in labor for nearly five hours and my uterus felt like it was trying to escape through my belly button and I thought I was dying and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the drugs, the beautiful drugs, when will they give me the delicious wonderful drugs? Instead I had to wait in utter and complete agony while they checked my cervix – and if cervical exams during pregnancy felt like they were trying to reach up to my tonsils via my private lady parts, the cervical exam while I was in labor felt like they were trying to reach my tonsils using an extremely angry bobcat – only to be told that I was only three centimeters dilated, not enough to admit me, and by the way your baby hasn’t dropped so the best thing you could do right now is walk around for a while and come see us again in two hours. TWO. HOURS.

“But I’m dying,” I whimpered, once the nurse had let go of my tonsils. “I can’t possibly walk when my uterus is trying to crawl out through my belly button!”

So instead I sat in the waiting room and watched Monsters Inc. on the ceiling-mounted tv for two hours and when they finally checked me again I had progressed to five centimeters, hallelujah!, so they admitted me and hooked me to tubes and wires and gave me Stadol to make me not care about the contractions until they could get the anesthesiologist for my epidural, which wasn’t for another hour – during which time I kept comically falling asleep between contractions and then waking up to go OOOOOOF every three minutes. And then there was the epidural, glory!, and then I napped and generally lived the good (albeit paraplegic) life until late afternoon when suddenly there was TRANSITION and I was throwing up and then it was time to push, and pushing was HARD, horrible exhausting work, so much harder than I had been prepared for. And I pushed and pushed and pushed and it felt like nothing happened because the baby still hadn’t dropped, so I had to push him that much farther and it was two hours, two exhausting hours, before anything that seemed like progress happened and I wanted to give up long before that happened.

And I kept pushing, and finally he was out, It’s a boy!, What do you mean it’s a boy??, Look Aaron he has your toes! – and because it had taken so long he and I were both running fevers and so they whisked him away to run tests and make sure he was okay while I was left, shaking and exhausted, on the table, without a baby.

They brought him back after half an hour or so, but he and I both had to be monitored more closely for the first several hours, and anyway I was so tired I could barely hold him anyway. But what I am saying is, I wish I had been more prepared, I wish I had had a doula or a strong friend to encourage me, to help me walk the hallways instead of sitting, to help me endure the pain and frustration better, to just help me. Aaron was thoroughly wonderful, but even so he spent the entire sixteen-hour day looking slightly startled at how much harder everything was than we’d imagined. So I just wish it had been better.

And I wish the first few weeks and months had been better – I wish I hadn’t been so afraid to leave the house, so afraid of everything that could go wrong, so afraid to go to sleep. I wish I had had friends to bring me casseroles and hold baby David so I could shower, or sleep, or let down my guard for just a few minutes.

All this to say, I’m watching my pregnant sister-in-law and her huge, amazing network of friends, watching my new-mommy friend who seems so confident and well-adjusted, and grieving that I didn’t have that back then. Wishing I had been able to ask for the help I needed before depression sank my battleship. And this is all surfacing now, in the midst of my joy for my friends and my own tangled hormones, and I’m a bit of a weepy mess. But it’s okay, because now I know, better than ever, how to help them have a better experience than I did. I’m going to be the friend I didn’t have.


2 Responses to “Readjustment”

  1. 1 Rachel July 27, 2009 at 12:49 am

    I wish we’d been in touch back then. I would have visited you in the hospital and held the baby and brought you casseroles (cooked by someone else so that you wouldn’t vomit, because my cooking sucks).

    Well, we are kinda far away, but you know, I would have brought someone else’s casserole if I had known and been there. I would have at least sent a card and something chocolate 🙂

  2. 2 paula in ohio August 13, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Can totally relate to your post. It’s been almost 8 years (holy heck) since having our daughter and it is still amazing to think that I got through the dark days and that she survived since I was so afraid of her.

    Found you through your concert memory post on Suburban Bliss… my hubs was a music major at BGSU and would have to totally agree with your post. Our first date was at Severence Hall and then he proposed to me there several years later after recreating that first date. Gotta love the Cleveland Orchestra!

    Take care!

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