June 5, 2013

Six Months Postpartum

We both always look this happy! Except for when we aren't.

At six months, postpartum I feel pretty good. Some days are better than others. I start back in the classroom for a condensed summer course soon. So that will be interesting! I've been juggling working at home (on research, writing, revisions, and various service commitments) while taking care of Emilia for a few months now. And I have a defense date set for my dissertation (finally!!). On the whole, things are going really well when I think about what I've been able to accomplish with regard to a work-life balance. I really hustle during her naps out of necessity. I also try to use the time when she is in bed for the night. Sometimes I stay up later than I should but it's the only way to still be as productive as I need to be. I'm sure all of this will shift again when I have to be apart from her to teach for several hours, a few days a week. 

(all photos taken by my friend Sarah with my camera)

I feel more confident in my ability to mother Emilia. She's so fun and lovable. I'd shout from the rooftops that this girl hung the moon if I could! I have more experience under my belt and have been told by many parents more seasoned than me that she seems extremely pleasant and "easy" in demeanor. As the person who spends the most time with her, I would agree with that assessment but include that even "easy" babies have their moments. And that is ok! Growing up and developing are hard work. It is necessary for me to remain empathetic to and respectful of her needs, while being flexible overall.

Breastfeeding has become such a joy and I feel so fortunate to be able to do it after struggling. Snuggling while nourishing her brings me so much happiness! We have both learned so much and are really good at it now. My milk supply is going through some sort of renaissance where I am again dealing with overproduction. I pump and stash the extras on those days when I have the good sense to do so before I go to bed. She goes to bed between 7-8pm and often sleeps until 6-7am. Sometimes she'll wake once in there to eat. And if I have an inkling that she might wake, I don't pump. But she's unpredictable and when she doesn't wake and I don't pump, I wake up engorged and uncomfortable. I hate having to wake the baby to nurse her if she's slept in, but I do so when I'm otherwise ready to be up for the day.  On the nights when she wakes up right after I pump... Ugh. It's usually the start of a long and rough night for me. I'd much rather get engorged!

I still need to go back to the gym (I say with some embarrassment). Physically, I still feel sensitive and tender. I have lingering soreness at my incision and occasional pain on the side that has nagged me most from the beginning. My body is softer and bigger all over. I have definitely lost a lot of muscle tone which explains why the scale says one thing but my mirror says another. My hair is still falling out but in smaller volume than it was during the peak of my losses. I'm trying to be kind but at six months postpartum I honestly thought I would be closer to my previous self. My body is hanging onto the winter weight I gained in advance of pregnancy that I normally have shed by now. I've heard that many women experience this until they wean their babies. I'm in no rush to do that so I really need to adjust my expectations.

Because the weather has been nice, I have been walking a lot more which is good. Most of my summer clothes fit oddly and I'm going through some renewed struggles with body image, in part because summer is a season in which bodies are more visible. When we were in Cleveland, I wore a (technically non-maternity) bathing suit that I had bought last summer to serve as my maternity suit. It felt awkward because that suit is too large while my pre-pregnancy suits remain too small. Every year during the transition from tights season, I feel exposed and uncomfortable. But right now I feel doubly uncomfortable. And dressing to breastfeed continues to present constraints.

Regarding my overall mood, it varies. There are good days and less good days. I wonder in retrospect if I should have really pursued placenta encapsulation to help mitigate the chances for postpartum emotional swings? I tried but after a few initial emails I never heard back from the person I found. I definitely should have pursued counseling after my birth but there didn't ever seem to be enough time (not to mention the logistics of leaving Emilia when she was so little). It's difficult to know if the hard adjustments were due to my recovery from surgery, my emotional state after a traumatic birth, or just a "normal" processing of this new role?

Some long-winded stuff about birth, under a cut...

I was talking with the women in my moms' group about our challenges with birth, breastfeeding, and learning to parent, in general. It occurred to me over our most recent dinner, during which one of the moms said with a heavy heart that she was no longer breastfeeding (after struggling for a long time with supply and latch, eventually pumping exclusively, being a general superwoman at work and home, etc. Needless to say, she is someone I admire deeply!), that it feels especially challenging to relinquish so much control every day.

We are a group of accomplished women who waited longer than many to become mothers. We pursued careers first and became accustomed to doing things well in that sphere of life. We like being good at things! Who doesn't?! We immerse ourselves in research and work with the expectation that when we try hard, we will meet if not exceed our goals.  And we approached pregnancy and birth and eventually motherhood with the same enthusiastic attitudes.

All of us are used to being in relative control over our lives. And we come from a reality in which our hard work typically yields a/the result we desire. So when we feel that we have fallen short of our own high expectations; when we feel like we tried our hardest and that was not good enough; when we're reminded that we don't actually have as much control in this arena as we would like... we're hit. Hard. It's a reality check that there might be no narrow paths to "good" mothering. And no certain or universal answers. Whether it be in confronting the unanticipated parts of our birth stories, breastfeeding struggles, sleep issues, internal debates (and external judgments) about parenting decisions, or some other "problem" that doesn't have a singular "answer," we are hit hard. The lessons in surrender are plentiful. 

My own albatross remains: birth. I still feel a lot of disappointment in how I "performed," as though birth is a task for which I will have an annual review by my supervisors, with corresponding merit increases or something?! That is so ridiculous. I realize how absurd it sounds! I understand that I did "my best." It's just really difficult to accept that this time "my best" was simply inadequate. And/or that some things are simply beyond my control. If I was on the outside of this, I'd never think a c-section birth was a result of an "inadequate performance." It's so silly that the notion is even remotely one I've been indulging.

As a friend to many women who have given birth since me, in ways closer to what I envisioned for myself, I have struggled privately. I have envied and even self-loathed. Of course, I am so happy for all of them to have met their babies in the most ideal of circumstances! I am so glad everyone is healthy and safe! I would never want to wish the awful that was my birth onto any women and I am so grateful that I am relatively healthy and that Emilia is thriving! But it can feel alienating to be a cautionary tale. It can feel alienating to have lived what for many ranks among their "worst case scenarios" (at least among those examples that involve healthy babies and relatively healthy moms in the end).

I'd be lying if I didn't admit to feeling pangs of regret and inadequacy when I hear about others' ideal/more ideal birth stories. No matter how you birth, as long as you and baby emerge healthy you get the same prize at the end! But I feel such disappointment that I was never able to do it myself. I wonder about the outcome if I had stayed home longer, getting from 8 to 10 cm without any (unwanted!) interventions to stall me out. I find myself wishing I had done x, y, or z instead of a, b, and c. I worry that it won't be worth the emotional and physical energy in attempting a vaginal birth after c-section (vbac) only to wind up potentially with the same scenario. I feel like my hard work and efforts at growing and laboring her are dwarfed by a c-section birth. I want to get to a place where I can appreciate the active roles I played in pregnancy, labor, and birth. But I'm struggling to acknowledge my agency in a birth that rendered me out of control and passive. A scenario in which I have total lapses in memory due to the amount of medication I received. And the parts I do remember are fuzzy, at best, and haunting, at worst.

I am sure I will get there, someday. At least I hope I will get there. And maybe after I've defended my dissertation I will feel more able to take the time to pursue this struggle with the help of a counselor?

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