I Gave Birth to a Cling-on?! Or, The Fourth Trimester

img_1332Being a new mom is exhausting. (To put it mildly…!) Crying babies are stressful, and as I explained to my loving patient husband after multiple times of yelling at him for no reason as my babies cried, us women literally have a physiological reaction to our babies wails. Our milk lets down, we sweat, heart rates elevate and our natural biological response is to respond to our babies. Thus, when our baby is crying and we cannot figure out why, it is obscenely stressful. We are programmed to answer our offsprings needs, and when they are young they have one way of communicating their needs, and that is crying. You can safely assume that if your baby is crying, they have a legitimate need. They’re hungry, scared, cold, perhaps something hurts (colic anyone?) but they will not cry to manipulate or because they are selfish. A baby cannot be selfish or manipulative, they simply do not have that extensive of an understanding of the world.

When I brought my twins home, I did not plan at first on co-sleeping (read more on that in a previous post, click here). That decision changed the second night of their being earthside, and it is without fail one of the best parenting choices I have made to date. As I said in that earlier post, the minute I would set my babies down they would scream as if they were on fire. Now, I understand why. Thankfully I had my own parents loving example to follow in attachment parenting and thus when things ‘weren’t working’ with my wee ones I was confident to change them. fullsizerenderLet me elaborate. Have you heard of the fourth trimester? I hadn’t. The fourth trimester is the months that follow a baby’s birth. No one, not my nurses, not my midwife, not the pediatrician for darn sure, NO ONE mentioned to me anything about this fourth trimester business. Let me try to explain this succinctly. Up until birth, your baby had zero unmet needs. They weren’t hungry, they weren’t cold, they weren’t afraid, absolutely nothing required them to communicate their needs. Suddenly, that all changed. In a split second they went from a warm dark place where they were quite literally connected to you, to a bright, cold, foreign space where not only are they no longer attached to you, but they get hungry, they get uncomfortable, and you know what, THEY DONT UNDERSTAND. They have no way of grasping what has happened. Suddenly things hurt, they’re alone, and it’s terrifying. So they do the only thing they know how, they CRY.

fullsizerender-3And our culture expects this scared little human to be ok sleeping alone in a crib/cot/bassinet and new mamas are left questioning what on earth they’re doing wrong because their new little charge won’t sleep or stop crying! Mamas, you are doing NOTHING wrong! Your baby is crying because it wants YOU. They want to feel safe, fed, and CONNECTED. Your uterus was a lot more welcoming than the softest blanket on earth could ever be. There is nothing wrong with your baby because it looks to you for protection and nourishment 24/7. And the nicest, warmest, softest cot can not replace your beating heart and the smell of your skin, no matter if it sways, vibrates, sings or flies. You are truly the only thing your baby knows. That baby does not need to learn independence right now, independence is born out of confidence and confidence is born out of knowing their needs will be met. And they learn that their needs will be met when you answer their cries. No, you won’t be able to prevent their crying altogether. And some times you may have to put your baby in a safe place so you can pee, or cry yourself for a moment. Babies want to be touching you constantly, and yes it’s exhausting! And sometimes you just need to take a second and BREATHE. And they may cry. But setting them down briefly, that is different, that is an exception! That is not training them that their needs are insignificant.

img_0633In addition to cosleeping, I started wearing my babies. And things became infinitely easier. They slept on me while I made dinner, or did grocery shopping. And no, they didn’t stop crying altogether. They didn’t magically fall asleep every time. But because I was holding them, at least I knew that I was trying to answer their pleas for help. I wasn’t ignoring their cries, even if I couldn’t always prevent them. I wasn’t teaching them that their needs didn’t matter. When a baby cries and is ignored, they learn they don’t matter. They learn their needs will not be met. I fail to understand how that is a recipe for raising a confident human being.img_0634

It is infinitely frustrating to me that this concept of teaching our babies to function without mama is portrayed as necessary to being a ‘good’ parent. Human babies are born more dependent and helpless than any other species, and yet we are the only species that tries to force them to be ok without their mamas so early. And in doing so, many mamas are left feeling that they are failing, or that something is wrong with their baby because they won’t succumb to this cultural expectation. I cannot tell you how many times I had someone tell me, ‘eventually you have to let them cry’, or ‘you’re spoiling them, they won’t ever sleep alone’, or my favorite as someone told my husband, ‘stop babying them’. Stop babying them?! They’re BABIES for the love of all that’s holy! I hate the blame game that is played, somehow in our culture it becomes the mothers responsibility to teach their child that they don’t need them. Yes, you read that correctly. Mothers are expected to teach their babies that babies don’t need their mothers. And no, it makes zero sense.

fullsizerender-2It wont last forever. One day your tiny little cling-on won’t want to be attached 24/7, you will pee in peace, and they will sleep in their own beds. And they will do so when they are ready, and armed with the confidence that they are safe. As painful as it may be to consider the fact that one day my babies won’t need me as they do anymore, I want my children to grow up to be confident people who know who they are and go into the world empowered, people who can make a change in their world because their own is a solid one and they are strong in knowing who they are. And I personally believe that teaching them that who they are matters, that it is ok for their needs to be met, is crucial to them developing into confident, kind, empathetic strong human beings. It is hard to see another persons needs as important if you never believed your own needs to be important.

So mamas, hang in there and hold those babies close, don’t feel like a failure because they won’t sleep without you, or because they cry when you go out of sight. Be confident and know that although it’s hard (especially some days!) you are teaching your baby that they matter, that they are important, and that will never be something you regret.img_1333

The Postpartum Experience

fullsizerenderAs I’ve mentioned before, my mother is Italian, and I come from a loving, high energy and very effusive family. No emotions on lockdown when I was growing up, (nothing has changed in that). Open expressions of love and feelings were never prohibited, and I’ll say with amusement that my energetically open, affectionate and readily communicative style of living was definitely something for my sweet husband to adjust to. But despite having grown up with such love and depth, I wasn’t prepared for the beyond intense, past all consuming feeling that is being a mom.
I don’t think anything, or anyone, can actually prepare you for the insanely, crazily beautiful, soul devouring, complete passions igniting, space vacuum roller coaster of love that is being a parent. You feel things you never imagined you could feel with an intensity you could not have imagined possible. You would jump in front of a speeding train for this tiny human, and every emotion in your body is woven tightly into their every breath.

I know things have gotten better in some ways, but in so many other ways I believe new mamas are left to hang dry in our culture post birth. I was blessed to have an incredible support system of husband and family and it was still the most grueling experience I’ve ever had. fullsizerender-3 Everyone says your life changes the moment your baby hits your chest. That wave, that feeling of joyous uninhibited love didn’t happen as suddenly for me as I fought through postpartum depression for a while after my twins arrived. PPD is a tricky beast, I found myself experiencing this completely overwhelmingly intense soul consuming love for these two tiny beings while simultaneously feeling terrifyingly emotionally dulled and vacant. I remember waiting for the wave to hit me after they handed me my babies, but all I could think was, where did these things come from?!
My room was filled with people within an hour of my twins being born. Well meaning family but it was too much. Thank God for the nurse who kicked everyone out for me so I could rest and try to wrap my head around what had just happened. (Standby for my full twin birth story post next week) In hindsight, I’m giving myself permission with my next kid to not see anyone for a while after birth. My life at the time my twins were born was pretty high stress, I was teaching 7 days a week and looking back I realize that is partly why I wasn’t able to identify that my feelings of depression were more than environmentally triggered. I believe the trickiest part when fighting a mental battle is how easy it is to lay blame for the situation on anything physically present, especially yourself.

You fill out a zillion forms after your baby is born scanning for the ‘baby blues’, but I, as I imagine most new mothers do, had no intention of admitting anything other than my joy at being a new mom. I had nothing to be sad about right, I had two healthy new babies! And in no way shape or form did I want anyone to think I was anything but completely capable of being their mom. I had literally waited all my life for this moment, no way was I admitting that I was anything other than fine.
As I’ve mentioned before, due to our circumstances I went back to work at three weeks postpartum. It was horrible, and I could (and will) go off on the ridiculousness that is ‘maternity leave’ in this country. My poor husband didn’t even get a week off. My parents stayed with us after the twins were born and I can truthfully say I wouldn’t have made it through without them. I was so blessed to have a mom who wanted to be there and support me in my new journey.

But despite my circle of support, going back to work that early meant many more people around me and my babies, and it would have been overwhelming no matter what but adding PPD to the mix meant I went into hard core survival mode. My goal every day was to get through hour by hour until it was over. I was completely shut down emotionally, but still had no intention of that showing so I put on a face and faked it like I’ve never faked it before. I could feel the precious moments with my babies slipping by and that made it so much worse. Every day I felt I was losing my long awaited time with them as I paddled desperately through my exhaustion and mental fog, and every day I felt more like a failure and more heartbreak over my lost time.

It is shocking how overwhelming it is to be a new mom. Not only do you have these tiny humans literally relying on you to SURVIVE, everyone has an opinion on how you should be doing it. Every day was like getting a fire hose of emotion to the face.
I wrote in a previous post that sometimes as a mama you are forced to pour from an empty cup, and I don’t believe there is ever a time where that is more true than when you have a newborn. This tiny human needs you, and needs you 24/7. You’re going through recovery from LITERALLY making and bringing a new life into this world, and you absolutely must dedicate everything you are to someone else. I mean, it’s hard to have time to PEE let alone heal and recover. You are completely and utterly the sole source of life to this tiny new being. No matter how supportive your spouse is, and no matter how much supportive family you have, I truly believe you will never experience any pressure in your life that is more intense than being a mom. Nothing has ever made me feel so tiny. And I had the support of my loving husband, parents, and sisters. Not all women are so fortunate.
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Add to this new mom pressure the social pressures and expectations of family friends and work and I believe it is a recipe that can quickly end in disaster. I was expected to be social, see people and have them see my babies. It was like pouring acid on my nerves but I strapped both my babies on me in wraps and a smile on my face and I slogged through. I love this article (mothering the mother, click to read it) from the birth without fear blog, it discusses the horrible lack of postpartum and bonding time that is allowed to mothers in our culture. As it says, in many cultures women are given 40 days to do NOTHING post birth but heal and bond with their baby. And think about it, can you really imagine any task more intense than MAKING AND GIVING LIFE? I remember reading in one of my mama groups of a mother in my area who stayed in bed for ten days post birth doing nothing but being with that baby. I was green as a crocodile in envy as I told my husband about this. And she wasn’t just being lazy and having a vacation. Heck no. She was adjusting to having birthed an entirely brand new human! Yet spending that time with your baby seems so excessive in our cultures eyes. I will never understand why we treat birth as a serious illness that needs massive medical intervention but the need for postpartum recovery time is so often slid under the rug and dismissed.

My twins will be a year old next week, my PPD has improved significantly, it does eventually fade. I still fight guilt and cry for my lost moments with my babies, and I know there are things I will do differently should we have another child. I yearn to see a culture where birth is treated as a natural process and postpartum recovery is held on a pedestal of tremendous importance. Imagine yourself in that scenario. I wonder if I could have avoided or at least short circuited the PPD I dealt with. What would it have changed for you mamas? I hope sharing my story can one day touch some mama, more than anything I feel new mamas need someone who understands. Who can say, I get what you’re going through, and it’s not fair. One day I hope our culture changes and women can truly be there for each other in support like this, I hope our expectations of new mamas can evolve to where we see being a new mama for the serious matter it is, and as a culture respect it. I believe the health of our future depends on it.