March 13, 2014

first year fog

I am 13 months postpartum and I finally feel like myself again. I was told (by a lot of people) that by 6 months, I'd feel normal again. But for me, it's been 13, and I'm not even sure that I'm 100% "back".

I am fortunate to never have experienced any major symptoms of postpartum depression but I, like probably 90% of other new mothers, definitely had my fair share of hormone-induced baby blues. They were generally moments that would pass quickly, unless I was really tired. When it's the middle of the night and you're nursing for the millionth time that day (and really, do you even know whether it's  today or tomorrow when you never sleep more than 3 hours at a time?), it's really easy to set up camp in a dark, pessimistic place in your head & convince yourself that nothing is ever going to be easy or good or happy again. For me, once I got a little more sleep, the middle-of-the-night crazies would seem silly and I'd get back to enjoying my baby, my husband, and my life again. I am so happy that I was spared the battle so many women fight, where those thoughts don't pass on their own and you feel trapped in an isolated, sad place.

I had read a lot about postpartum depression while pregnant. The idea terrified me and I wanted to make sure I was intimately aware of the warning signs, symptoms, and ways to find help. I have anxiety issues (and always have) that I usually cope with pretty well-thanks to past therapy, learned and taught coping skills, and a great husband- but while I was pregnant, I was worried that my anxiety would make it easier or more likely for me to have postpartum depression.

While there's a ton of literature on postpartum depression, there's not a whole lot for people who just get "a little bit". I read a ton of blog posts, articles, etc. that talked about serious depression and I read a lot of stories from women who had blissful newborn months, overcome with love and peace. But the stories that I didn't find were the ones that sounded like mine. Maybe people would acknowledge the "baby blues" in passing; I know I saw some mention in one of the BabyCenter weekly emails. But, every time it was mentioned as a side note, "By the way, your hormones are still freaking out. You may get blue but it will pass and it's normal." I kept feeling like I was right in the middle, not seriously depressed but more than just mild, tears-for-no-reason episodes.

I'm calling it my "first year fog".

Now that I'm looking back, I don't think I realized that I was out of sorts at the time. I was so wrapped up in our new baby, trying to get comfortable nursing, and just surviving the chaos that I didn't even realize that I felt different. At the beginning, we're wired to easily shut out the rest of the world. It's our human instinct to cocoon with our babies; feed them, love them, sleep with them. I thought that it was normal for me to be completely overwhelmed with love and focused on the baby all the time. Even when I was still feeling the same things at 5 months, 6 months, 7 months, etc., I chalked it up to being an anxious, first-time mom. But then I would see friends who were going out for date nights at 3 months postpartum (or better yet, 3 weeks postpartum) and I would be baffled. "How can these women be so okay leaving their babies to go out into the world?!" I'm just in the last couple of months getting comfortable with the idea of leaving Alden with his grandparents, much less an actual babysitter! I had no desire to go on a date night until the past month. I was so stuck in baby land (both the caring for the baby and all of things that come along with that; nursing, lack of sleep, etc.) that I honestly didn't even care about the rest of the world. It wasn't a conscious decision and for the past 5 months or so, I've been actively trying to wrench myself out of it. It took me 8 months, though, to even realize that maybe what I was feeling wasn't just the typical "baby blues" or new mom adjustment.

What's even stranger about the whole thing is that some of the happiest moments of my life happened in the past 13 months. If you had asked me if I was happy I would have answered and unequivocal, "Yes!" I have been happy but at the same time, foggy. 

I'm finally ready to be me again. I'm getting better at being both Mama and Laura, instead of just one or the other. It no longer paralyzes me to think about leaving Alden for a night or a weekend. The idea of an actual sex life sounds pretty good for the first time in a long time (sorry, family :). I finally feel like my whole being isn't consumed by the baby and I'm okay with that. My first year fog is going away.

I do have some idea of what caused the fog, though, and am hoping that by knowing these things I can be better prepared when the next baby comes around.

-I am an anxious, introverted person who easily gets stuck in my head. I overthink, overanalyze, and don't easily talk about things that bother me. All of those things probably made the transition to motherhood a little more mentally exhausting for me than it could have been.

-I had Postpartum Thyroiditis. It's a condition that occurs in 5-10% of women after having a baby and, for me, the symptoms manifested as hyperthyroidism. There are actually two phases of this thyroiditis, a hyperthyroid (overactive) phase and a subsequent hypothyroid (underactive) phase. Some women have symptoms in both phases, others only have symptoms in one phase, and some others never have any noticeable symptoms at all. I only ever had symptoms in the hyperthyroid phase and am feeling like I'm probably leveling out now (most women return to normal thyroid function within 12-18 months). In the first 5 months after delivering Alden, I lost 35 pounds, had little to no appetite, was fatigued, had an increased heart rate, drastically reduced sex drive and lots of hair loss. A lot of these symptoms are also associated with normal postpartum body adjustments (like hair loss and fatigue) so it took months of me following up with my doctor to finally decide that there was actually something going on. This meant that I was skeleton thin (without trying) and constantly fighting to get enough calories to be able to stay healthy and keep my milk supply healthy. Most people comment on how great I look after having a baby and, even though I'm happy to be back at my "wedding weight", there were many, many months where I did not feel good. I was thin but I didn't feel strong or healthy. I literally felt like I was wasting away and was so happy when finally, in October of last year, the number on the scale stopped dropping. Since then I've been able to gain a couple of pounds and am starting to feel more like a healthy person again. My appetite is pretty much back and I'm feeling stronger (like, my actual muscles feel stronger) every day.

I feel bad even mentioning it because there are so many women who struggle to lose the weight they gain during pregnancy but there is something very unsettling about waking up one day and feeling like you're walking around in someone else's body. Most people don't lose 25 pounds in 2 months, or 35 pounds in 5 months. Most of the time, the weight comes off gradually and you get used to your body as it changes. For me, losing so much weight so fast felt like I had no control over my body and it was WEIRD. I am so glad this phase seems to be ending!

-Lack of sleep. Period. I am not someone who easily exists on less-than-normal amounts of sleep and the first year with a baby is no friend to sleepy people.

-I have nipple vasospasms and Raynaud's phenomenon of the nipples. These things are linked to the fact that I am autoimmune and they both made breastfeeding a challenge at times. I spent lots of time talking with my favorite IBCLC and working hard to correct Alden's latch, treat the symptoms of the vasospasms, etc. When you're body makes a normal process more difficult, it takes a lot of energy just to stay ahead of the game.

-Alden's food allergies. Living with a child who has a dairy and soy allergy (or any food allergy) is so challenging, especially while breastfeeding. It takes so much time and energy just to figure out what to eat and it can become overwhelming really easily.

What I am lucky to have is my amazing husband by my side. I can only imagine how much worse my "fog" would have been if I hadn't had the support and help that he provided. Nick changes basically every diaper in our house, has always gotten up with me at night to take turns with the baby (in the beginning to help me get settled to nurse and now to get Alden back to sleep when he wakes at night), makes Alden breakfast in the morning, makes us dinner pretty much every night, etc. He has been right next to me through all of it and I couldn't be more thankful. Not to mention how patient he's been while I've been slowly coming out of my fog. I can't even remember how many times he's said, "We'll get a babysitter when you're ready. Don't worry about it. It'll come," or something along those lines. I really got a good one :)

here comes the sun :)

Maybe someone will read this and think, "Hey, it took me more than 6 months to feel normal, too!" and will send me a note or a comment so that I know I'm not alone :) For Mamas who may be feeling "foggy" too, remember to be patient, let your body tell you what it needs, have open conversations with your doctor and family, and reach out to someone if you start to feel like you're sinking. Having a baby causes different physical and emotional symptoms in every woman, there is no normal. Just work towards healthy and it will all come together :)

much love, L&N

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