I’ve talked about the underlying causes of why I went through a postpartum funk: my freedom was utterly cut off all at once and the baby took up more bandwidth in my brain than I had room for. These factors were a shock to my system, and, at the time, I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t even put words to these feelings, which kept me from properly identifying the root causes.
Today let’s talk about something that I only ever hear in whispered conversations: difficult babies.
Sure people might jokingly talk about their difficult baby, but there is a level of shame moms feel when we point to our helpless infant as the cause of our adult stress. I don’t aim to blame babies for being babies. But moms need to realize that some babies make life more difficult than others.
There were baby factors that set me up to struggle postpartum: I also didn’t respond well to most of these factors.
The cycle was a bit self-perpetuating: The baby factors made it difficult to think straight in my already overwhelmed brain, which led to coping in ways that kept me in survival mode and away from actual solutions to the problems.
Baby Factor: Difficulty breastfeeding
There is a lot of detail I could get into here, but suffice it to say my anatomy and her anatomy set us up to have difficulty breastfeeding. The hard thing was, that nobody caught it. This was probably because I did not see a lactation consultant (LC) until I had been attempting breastfeeding for at least a day, so my problem was not obvious to those who had never seen my body before that moment.
Scabbed and cracked and trying to hold it together, I knew things weren’t right, but tried to believe the LC when she said things were ok and wrote me a prescription for some numbing/healing cream.
My toes curled every time she went to latch for an entire month. This is not right. I knew it wasn’t right, but I couldn’t find a solution, and I didn’t want to give up so I endured the pain.
Breastfeeding is supposed to bond you to your baby. When the very act causes toe-curling pain, the intention of the act is lost. It set me up to resent feeding her. It didn’t last much past when the pain did, but those early moments, where I thought I was supposed to feel overwhelming joy, were interrupted by moments of dread with a dash of resentment.
Baby Factor: Sleep deprivation
Oh man. I still have a bit of a stress reaction when I think of this one. My heart beats faster, and I feel a rush of nervousness in my chest and arms. I know babies get up throughout the night. I know breastfed babies wake up more frequently, and it was my choice to breastfeed. I know sleep deprivation is just a part of the whole parent gig…
Babies that wake up more than the average; babies that wake up more frequently than needed to be fed; babies who wake up so much you are rarely completing a full sleep cycle even once over night—those babies are like vampires. Cute, precious, would lay down your life for them vampires—sucking away the life-giving force of sleep and recuperation.
For TEN MONTHS I rarely slept for more than 2 hours at a time.
It broke me.
I was sick a total of 10 times the first year of her life: strep, food poisoning (twice), a stomach bug that made me lose 9 lbs. in 4 days (which brought me dangerously close to double digits on the scale), and 5 other times that I can’t remember the details of. THIS, my friend, is wholly the product of sleep deprivation—I know it.
(You’re probably thinking of a million ways I could have “fixed” this problem. I’ll talk more on the details of my mindset and failed fixes next week. And what finally worked.)
Baby Factor: A “hold me” baby
I fully believe in holding babies as much as possible. It builds attachment and trust. Babies NEED to be touched—it’s an actual need.
Some babies won’t let you put them down…EVER.
It’s hard for me to even think of details to write because holding her was just a part of my everyday. I do know that when I would attempt to put her down and walk away to do anything—clean, prepare a meal, use the bathroom—anything—she would cry. I had this distorted idea that my baby should never be left to cry by herself for even a second. So I learned how to do most daily tasks one handed balancing a baby.
The worst part was that from very early on, she would wake up as soon as I put her down for a nap. Every. Single. Time. So I coped by holding her for the entirety of her naps every time, every day.
If I could point to the one thing that really did me in it would be her sleeping habits. The frequent night wakings, the napping only while on me (for 18 months), the 1-2 hours it would take to get her to sleep at night took away the normal breaks one should have from their child.
My mind was a fog storm in the adjustment to the loss of freedom and added load of caring for a helpless human. Subtract the one time of day when our bodies naturally heal things; subtract the nap times where most mom get things done; subtract the use of one hand/arm throughout the day; subtract any time away from her that wasn’t work and there was nothing left of me.
I hung on tooth and nail relying on my own naps and caffeine to get me through the day. My support network was strong enough that I did not shatter, but I fully understand now why so many women do break into pieces after having a baby.
You are not weak for struggling. You are overwhelmed and probably overworked. But the last thing you are is weak. If this is resonating with your life right now, and you’re wondering if you need professional help, then the answer is YES—a resounding yes.
If you have a difficult baby or think you might, don’t answer with a, “fine,” and half smile when your good friends ask you how things are. When you need help around the house, ask for it, or find a way to pay for it.
Dads: your job is to take care of your wife during this period. She will keep track of the baby’s schedule (though you should know it too). She will make sure that baby eats and sleeps. YOU make sure she eats and sleeps. Make that as easy as possible on her. Your job is to take care of her and your house until she finds a groove with this new baby.
Featured image: Photographed by Makenzi