Learning to Tolerate… I Mean LOVE My Post Baby Body

To be completely honest, when Emmett was born, I was so exhausted and just trying to survive those first months that I didn’t pay much attention to my new body. It was still really cold, so I kept the sweatshirts on and decided I didn’t have the energy to pay any attention to my postpartum physique. At my postpartum checkup, I hopped on the scale that showed I still had about 10 pounds to lose to get back to my pre-baby weight. I thought to myself, hey, it could be worse, I’ll get there and honestly I’m not in any hurry. It took 9 months to make this baby, I shouldn’t be expected to bounce back in a few weeks. Then spring started to melt into summer, and I thought I deserved some new clothes. I was 10 weeks postpartum at the time and I carefully selected a few cute summer dresses that would likely suit my pre-baby style and my post-baby body and hit proceed to checkout. When the box arrived on my doorstep, my Grandma was here and my husband had just gotten home from a deployment. I optimistically told them I’d model my new outfits for them!

LOL. That’s not what happened.

I had ordered these dresses with visions of cute, Instagram worthy pictures of me in Cape Cod this summer with an adorable baby on my hip. I made sure to select more forgiving flowy summer styles and left the fitted numbers where they belonged—saved for later. The flowy floral number I was so excited about zipped up, and I thought to myself, “Hey, it zipped! That’s a good sign!”

But the woman that stared back at me in the mirror looked like a stranger to me. She looked so tired. I could see the anxiety around her eyes, and she clearly shouldn’t be wearing anything relatively low cut or that doesn’t have an elastic waist. I think what really hit me was my breasts. I don’t use the word breasts, so I’ll call them what I normally call them; boobs. The dress was lower cut, and guess what else was lower? My freakin’ boobs. Before baby I never wore a bra. NEVER. I had silicone stick-on nipple covers I’d replace every few months as I rocked those low-cut sun dresses that flaunted my perky cleavage and cheeky side boob. Clearly, I can throw those out now… The nip covers and the cheeky dresses. My new boobs look like I tried to breastfeed a rabid grizzly bear and lost the fight. Within seconds I was in tears, with flashbacks of just how horrible my experience breastfeeding was. Not only was it the worst experience of my adult life, I now have a permanent reminder of it every time I look in the mirror.  A saggy, stretch-marked reminder of the constant pain, sobbing, bloody nipples and the sound of the breast pump’s aggressive buzzing as it tugged away at my raw nipples. A dainty scar left behind from Mastitis like a tattoo you regret but can’t get rid of.  I felt the defeat of screaming “I can’t do this anymore” through bloodshot eyes wash over me all over again. I felt the fever and chills from Mastitis return. I felt the sobbing in the shower as the warm water hit my tore-up nips. It all came back and it sucked just as much this time as it did when it was really happening. A true flashback of a time I’d rather never, ever revisit.

I also saw my tummy. That needed work too. Although it had somewhat deflated back to normal, the loose skin was definitely visible. My belly button looked like it was frowning. Kind of like the flower towards the end of The Beauty and The Beast—wilted AF. I thought to myself, thank goodness one-piece bathing suits are back in style. My hips were wider. My stance, less confident. Everything just seemed foreign and unfamiliar. Softer. I just stared at myself as the tears continued to well up.

I heard my eager audience say from the living room “I guess we don’t get to see the show!”… I wiped my eyes, folded up the dress and put it back in the box. I slipped back into the maternity leggings I still rocked and emerged from the bedroom explaining they weren’t worth showing. I picked up the baby and went into his nursery and sobbed as quietly as I could as I rocked him and put him down for a nap.

When I was pregnant, I cried over the most insignificant things and whined how I couldn’t wait for it to be over so I could get my mental stability back. HA! After baby, everything is new, and the tears certainly didn’t slow down. Your life, your schedule, your body… Everything. But at that moment, I sat there staring at my baby who was now sound asleep in napland, and I took a deep breath and I thanked him. First, I thanked him for not fighting said nap at a time that Mama really needed him to be sweet and cuddly. I thanked him for making me a Mama and giving me this job. I assured him I wasn’t crying because of him. I whispered to him that I loved him more than any sundress. Then I thanked him for my new body. I wiped away my tears, turned off the tear spigot (righty tighty y’all), and promised I’d try to do better at respecting this body that gave me him, and not get so angry at it.IMG_7410

This is something that will be a constant struggle and will take some work, but I’ve promised to do better. Although I still joke about my body and say things along the lines of it being Emmett’s first apartment, I’m trying to not me mean to myself. I actually wrote this 3 months ago, and have never been brave enough to share it, because it’s weirdly personal and emotional. I’ve started working out again. But I’m not doing it “to get my body back,” I’m doing to for me, and for me time. I’m doing it as a little something good for myself. To thank my body for being strong during tough times.  I’m working out to stay healthy and strong for my baby who will soon be a toddler that needs chasing. Honestly, as much as it sucks, the endorphins really do a body and mind good.

This body, as much as I’m not a super fan of it’s appearance, worked really, really hard to give us this healthy baby, and so what if it’s hard work shows. The phrase “bounce back” needs to be retired. You can get back into a healthy lifestyle, but there certainly is no bouncing into anything… Especially because new moms are likely afraid of wetting their pants in the event of bouncing. With that said, you can find me in my yoga pants and one-piece swimsuit for now. And if you have a problem with that, then that sounds like your problem, doesn’t it.

Why breastfeeding was the hardest (and quite frankly the worst) experience of my life

Whoever invented the phrase “breast is best” must have been a man. A man with worthless nipples. The title of this entry may seem harsh, but it’s true. Breastfeeding was the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done (or attempted to do). It was harder than giving birth. It was harder than being pregnant for 9 months. The physical and emotional toll of breastfeeding, well, it SUCKED for me—pun not intended but do what you want with that. If I could have fed my child with my tears, he’d be in the 100th percentile for weight.

I want to start this off by saying I think breastfeeding truly is incredible. I wanted to do it, I really did. It just didn’t work out for me and my baby. I’m not here to bash women who choose to breastfeed. Honestly, I’m in awe of you. Whether you breastfed for one day, one month or one year, you should be very, very proud of yourself. It’s a sacrifice no matter how your journey pans out. I know not everyone’s journey was or will be as difficult as mine, I know this because plenty of people found it helpful to tell me how easy breastfeeding was for them.

Disclaimer. This comment is not helpful.

I wanted to breastfeed my baby but did not set high expectations because I’ve heard it can be difficult. I figured if I didn’t set the bar high, it wouldn’t be as upsetting if it didn’t work—turns out it was still devastating. I wanted to give it my all and hopefully be successful. Deep down I thought we’d have some trouble getting started but in a few days we’d be golden. Before having a baby, I thought the most difficult part of breastfeeding would be not being able to enjoy wine even after I’d already given it up for 9 months. I told myself I’d give it three months, and if I felt like I was done breastfeeding at 3 months, I’d stop.

I made it three weeks.

My baby and I began our breastfeeding journey shortly after he was born. My baby was born 3 weeks early by force evacuation—meaning I was induced. It wasn’t his choice to come early. My little 5lb baby was rooting (that’s a term for the sucking motion babies do) so I shoved my nipple in his mouth and thought, oh my gosh, look! We’re doing it!

*Cue Morgan Freeman’s narration voice*

We were not doing it. We were doing nothing of the sort.

The magical picture I had painted in my head of my baby being born and feasting away on my boob within hours of birth was far from our reality. It’s far from any mom’s reality. There is no feasting right after birth. There is nothing to feast on. Your true milk supply does not come in for a few days, so in the first few days you’re dealing with a drop of colostrum here and there. Which is normal. I knew it was normal, I read the books. But because my baby was so small it gave me a lot of anxiety that he wasn’t eating when he desperately needed the calories.

We had several visits from different nurses, lactation consultants and doctors while in the hospital. Each one with a slightly different technique on how to get my baby to latch.  Each one squeezing my breasts with their rubber gloved hands trying to express just a drop of milk. This one suggested the football hold, that one suggested the pillow prop, and her? She suggested stripping baby down to his diaper every time I tried to feed as to keep him awake. Newborns are sleepy creatures and tend to fall asleep on the boob. None of them were successful in getting him to latch, but encouraged me to keep trying.

When I was evicted from the hospital 2 days later, with my baby and my aching nipples, I went home with a 24-hour supply of “just in case” formula and a breastfeeding pamphlet with a very happy mama on the front. The lactation consultant suggested I start pumping often to stimulate my milk supply and to continue to try working on my baby’s latch.  I did everything she told me to to get my baby to latch properly. I booped him on the nose with my sore nipples, I caught him mid yawn and shoved my nipple in his mouth like a sneak attack nip. I stripped him naked and blew on his face to keep him awake.  I football held and crossbody held and pillow propped him. It was 38’ outside and I was always topless and ready to strike if he seemed hungry and ready to feed.

My baby did not want to latch.

He was too small.

He did not have the energy and his tongue was always on the roof of his mouth.

He was losing weight.

And I was frustrated, exhausted and my boobs were really starting to hurt—bad.

When my milk supply did finally arrive and my boobs looked like they were about to explode off of my chest, I made yet another appointment with a lactation consultant. My baby still wasn’t latching right after days of endless attempts, tears, lanolin, ice packs, heating pads and dreaded pumping sessions. After that visit, we seemed to be getting somewhere, but she encouraged me to keep pumping eight times a day to keep up my supply while me and baby figured it out.

Let me paint a picture of what pumping your sore boobs eight times a day while being more sleep deprived than you’ve even been in your life, all while simultaneously keeping a newborn alive is like. It’s a living hell. Honestly, this is hard for me to write. I have such PTSD about pumping and breastfeeding that I have a physical reaction to the thought. That buzzing and sucking and whizzing sound a pump makes sends chills down my spine. The feeling of two plastic cones tugging at your already screaming nipples is the most confining, unnatural, horrific feeling in the world. Plus, you have to sit up straight (and slightly hunched forward) to catch the milk when you just want to lay down, and you can’t care for your newborn when you’re strapped to a breast pump either. It’s a recipe for a total mama breakdown.

But, I continued. I persevered. I tried. Society told me I had no choice. Everyone told me I had to give him my breastmilk, it was best for him. I wanted what was best for my baby. I was pumping and bottle feeding him my expressed milk 8x a day like I was told. I spent the time I wasn’t pumping or feeding cleaning the pump parts and bottles. I felt terrible when I supplemented with formula, because “supplementing” implied the work I was doing wasn’t enough. I wanted so badly for it to “click” like everyone promised and for it to work out. I would try to get him to latch before each session and for a few days, he was doing it. But still, his latch wasn’t quite right, and my nipples paid the ultimate price. After a few more days of bad latches and constant pumping, my nipples began to crack and bleed. When I say this was painful, it’s an understatement. I had to bite a kitchen towel when it was time to feed him because the pain was so great I’d scream and I didn’t want to scare him. I can’t even begin to describe the pain. Once your nipples start to crack, they then start to scab. But scabs can’t heal when those nipples aren’t allowed a break. They’re needed every three hours.

The song Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked was actually written about nipples, did you know that? Kidding, but maybe I’m not. I’ll have to look into that.

One evening, when I noticed the 2oz of milk I had worked hard to pump was tainted pink with blood, I completely broke down. No one else seemed to have these problems. No one else was screaming out in pain, no one else feared their baby’s next meal because you knew the pain that was about to happen. Well, at least they weren’t talking about it. Every time I’d hook up to that pump, the tears would stream and stream and stream down my face. I wasn’t sobbing, but the tears would just flow uncontrollably as I looked around with a defeated, exhausted, glare, just listening to the whooshing and buzzing of the pump.

I was doing what I was told was best for my baby. But what about what was best for me?

Around week 3, I woke up from one of my less than 3-hour sleep intervals in so much pain. My right boob hurt so badly it took my breath away. I had chills and my whole body ached. I didn’t think too much about it, I was too tired. So I grabbed my heating pad and popped more ibuprofen. That next day I didn’t leave the couch. I felt as though I had been hit by a bus. The baby laid next to me in the rock’n play while I continued my around the clock pumping. That’s when I thought, could this be mastitis? When I finally took my temperature, I found I had a 102 fever. I had a red, hot patch on the extremely painful breast. I had mastits. I had the boob flu. I don’t wish that nonsense on anyone.

Mastits is a clogged milk duct that becomes infected. It’s very painful and causes fever, chills and body aches along with the breast pain. You need a ton of antibiotics, and also you have to massage out the painful clogged duct. Oh what fun that was!

It was that night that I looked at my husband and said I can’t do this anymore. I am living in a hell I don’t wish on anyone. I’m in an endless cycle of pain, bleeding nipples, pumping, cleaning pump parts, popping ibuprofen and antibiotics and straight up trying to survive. All while trying to care for my newborn on zero sleep. I was absolutely miserable. Everything hurt. It was not a bonding experience with my baby. It made me fear him.

I didn’t want anyone to tell me to keep going at that point. I didn’t want anyone to tell me I was doing such a great job and they were proud of me. I wanted someone to tell me it was okay to stop.

Please, just tell me I’m not an awful selfish mother if I choose to put an end to this hell. The guilt I felt was so heavy on my heart that I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

The moment I said out loud I was done, I immediately felt some relief. Mostly guilt,  but some relief that I was putting a stop to the madness. I could now focus on bonding with my child and not fearing him every 3 hours. You can’t stop breastfeeding cold turkey, so I’d continue my pumping hell for a few more weeks until my supply dried up. During my weening, I’d get mastitis yet again. This time, with an abscess that would protrude out of my breast and cause a nice scar that I still rock 4 months later. It adds some flair to the deflated, stretch-marked bags that hang from my chest now.

It’s a nice daily reminder of my breastfeeding journey.

I truly hope that others do not have as hard of a time with breastfeeding as I did. But if you do, please know you’re not alone and you should not feel any guilt about stopping. 4 months later I still feel guilt, but my baby is thriving with formula, and I’m much more relaxed mom knowing I can feed my child without pain.

How becoming a mom showed me gratitude

Becoming a mom is one of the most incredible things to ever happen to me. It has been such a roller coaster of emotions that I’ve had a tough time processing them at times. It’s hard yet awesome. It’s exhausting yet most exhilarating thing ever. It makes you happy and sometimes sad, and sometimes I catch myself crying for no reason other than my brain is trying to keep up with all the emotions swirling around in my head.

But if there’s one emotion that has become the star of the show, its gratitude. Anxiety is a close second, but we’ll save that puppy for later. It may seem like I’m always whining about how hard it all is, but that’s because, well, it is hard. And by the way, hard does not always equal bad. But as hard is at may be, my son has single handedly showed me what it feels like to be hashtag blessed. I just stare at him in a complete awe and wonder how this tiny person that’s a mix of my husband and I is real. How his chubby cheeks and butt chin wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the miracle that is procreation.

I know, I know. I used to hate those bitches who said that their hearts were just exploding with love. Or said having kids is like feeling your heart walk around on the outside of your body, but it’s freaking true. Damn. I hate when those bitches are right.

Going out to eat with a baby can be a little stressful. Sometimes your baby will cooperate through dinner, and sometimes they won’t. They’re babies. They cry sometimes. And generally the people around you are not super pumped about being near your crying baby. But sometimes when your baby cries in public, you don’t get rude looks and death stares, but instead, looks of empathy from grandmas who are missing their little ones, or a waitress who has been there.

Recently, I was out to dinner and my baby had a full diaper blow out. He was crying. I was sweating. I was trying not to cause a scene as I snuck away from the table (just as the food arrived of course, because #momlife). As I approached the restroom while holding a poop grenade just waiting to be detonated, I prayed to the good lord baby Jesus that this restaurant had a changing table. Thankfully it did. As I laid my baby out on the changing table, hair in my face, poo that resembled spicy mustard just waiting to make it’s great escape, baby cries echoing through the marble bathroom (those bathroom acoustics!), I struggled to get wipes out of the diaper bag that swung from my elbow. With one hand on the baby at all times, I exhaled as I finally finagled some wipes from the swinging trapeze of my diaper bag. And in that moment, a woman came up to me and offered a hand. I didn’t know this woman. I politely declined her help and genuinely thanked her. She looked me in the eyes and told me I was doing a great job and she remembered how hard it was like it was yesterday. I went home later that night and thought, I wish there were more people in this world like her. To the kind strangers in the world who make up for all the not so kind ones, I’m grateful for you.

Also, can we just say I’m grateful to public places with changing tables? No matter how gross, at least there’s a safe place to clean up your babe.

When our son needed an emergency grand entrance to the world during his birth, the doctors and nurses made sure he and I were safe and healthy. They also made sure we felt safe and healthy. Even though I know it’s their job, the way they treated me with dignity and respect will never be forgotten. I feel forever grateful to these humans.

When our son had surgery at 5 weeks old, the skilled surgical team carefully operated on our tiny newborn with care and precision. His doctors and nurses cared for him and even myself with such grace and kindness, I felt like we were a part of their family. Each time we left the hospital as a healthy family of three, I thought to myself—thank God. I am not super religious. But there are times you just have to look around and thank the universe or the powers that be for your happy ending. I was bursting with gratitude. I still am.

When our insurance covered our baby’s operation in full, and then assigned a registered nurse to call and check up on him and answer any questions I may have, I felt so grateful to have such wonderful healthcare coverage. Not having to worry about a stack of medical bills piling up allowed us to focus on the health of our son, and I never once took that for granted.

When I struggled transitioning into my new role as a mother, with sleepless nights and a fussy newborn, my friends and family that checked in on me meant more than I ever thought possible. I was fighting that good fight of staying afloat as a new mom. Everyone has their own busy life, their own struggles, their own good fight to fight, but the daily calls, texts, cards and even gifts we received, made me truly realize how loved we are. My friends and family love our baby like their own, and it shows. For that, I am so freakin’ grateful.

When I watched the news and saw a segment about a mother living out of her car with her babies, it made me appreciate the walls around me and the roof above my head. Our house is not a mansion by any means. It’s not featured in Better Homes & Gardens Magazine. There is plenty of updating my husband and I would love to complete eventually, but it’s our home. The first home our baby will know, the house that turned into a home the second that baby came home with us. The one small bathroom is the one I found out I was pregnant in. The same bathroom that has become “Bubbie’s Spa” during our baby’s nightly bath. Our house that won’t be home forever, but it’s filling up with memories by the day. For this humble home that keeps us warm and safe, I am so grateful.

There’s so much more I’m truly grateful for every day, but this post would be 15,000 pages long and likely get cheesy enough to cringe. I’m grateful for the gift if being able to have a child, the gift of health, the gift of feeling safe and protected and loved. The gift of feeling supported when I needed it most. I’m grateful for my husband who loves both me and our son unconditionally. Grateful for this postpartum body, no matter how I struggle with it, because it gave me my baby. I’m grateful for the bad days, because they taught me just how good the good days are. Not to say that I used to be an ungrateful person, but the little things are just a lot bigger now, and the big things, well, they’ll figure themselves out.

When it’s not just reflux; my newborn had pyloric stenosis and needed surgery

As a new mom, the word “scary” gets tossed around a lot. Because honestly, it’s the best way to describe it. Everything is new and unfamiliar, and every poop, grunt or squeak from your baby gets observed the way a resident on Grey’s Anatomy observes a patient who has been admitted for Ebola. “Does this look normal?” is also just a part of a new parent’s love language.

But when something doesn’t feel right, or in fact feels very wrong, it’s all consuming. I’m a brand-new mom to a brand-new baby—a baby who had been diagnosed with reflux. Reflux in babies is common. Their tiny tummies aren’t mature enough to hold their feeds down, so sometimes a little comes back up as “spit up”. I was told it’s usually more of a laundry issue than a medical one, but to monitor and call the pediatrician in the event things seemed to get worse.

By week 5 with my newborn, spit up was everywhere. It was in my hair, it was on my clothes and every surface of my home had a burp cloth ready for clean-up. I switched from breast milk to different kinds of formula. We kept him elevated after feeds. We tried it all. But when the burp cloths transformed into full on beach towels, and the “spit up” turned exorcist-style projectile, I knew in my gut it wasn’t just reflux. It couldn’t be.

The morning we found out that it wasn’t “just reflux” still haunts me. I brought my 5-week old baby back to the pediatrician, spit up in my hair, apologizing profusely for being a paranoid first-time mom. But my worry was valid. I wasn’t over-reacting. There was something wrong with my baby. They found he had a milk allergy and for a brief moment, that diagnosis was a relief. I assumed that explained all the vomiting and constant fussiness. We would change his formula, and everything would be better. Right?

Wrong.

The doctor also said they wanted to have him looked at for something called pyloric stenosis; a condition where the pylorus muscle in babies becomes thickened, preventing food from leaving the stomach and entering the small intestine, causing them to forcefully vomit up their feeds. She explained that this condition usually presents itself in babies around 4-6 weeks of age, causes forceful vomiting, and is most common in first born males. We checked all the boxes and were immediately sent for ultrasound at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

When the ultrasound tech left the room to get the radiologist so he could take a closer look, my heart sank. It kerplunked so deep in my gut that I couldn’t breathe. I sat there, holding my breath and my 8 pound, 5-week old baby, when they returned with the news I already saw coming.

The radiologist said “Your son does in fact have Pyloric Stenosis and he will need surgery. We will be admitting him now.”

*Starts frantically googling pyloric stenosis*

No matter how good the bedside manner, or how many times a doctor calmly tells a mom that the surgery her baby needs is a “simple, straightforward one” or that “everything will be fine,” it does not ease the blow. At that moment, in that room, dried spit up caked to my scalp, eyes so heavy and tired from weeks of spit up filled nights, I lost it. I sobbed while rocking my baby, in shock that this was happening, yet saying over and over I knew something was wrong. My baby was so tiny, born just 5 weeks prior, at only 37-weeks gestation and already needed an operation. Why my baby? Why our family? Why did he have to be the one in a thousand babies who get this diagnosis?

We were admitted right away, to the children’s hospital that would become home for the next 3 days. They explained that the operation would not take place until morning, but they needed to keep him overnight on an IV drip to keep him hydrated, as the most dangerous parts of pyloric stenosis is dehydration. Several nurses were needed to place the IV in his tiny foot. I had to leave the room. I would have rather been pacing the halls of a children’s hospital with tears streaming down my face than see my baby get poked and prodded. I felt an enormous amount of guilt about this, but my husband stayed with our baby, holding his tiny hand while they placed the IV. The compassionate nurse signaled for me that it was safe to come back in.IMG_3029

We were not allowed to feed him until after the surgery, which was nearly 30 hours after first being admitted. Listening to your newborn baby cry his “hungry cry” and not be able to feed him, is a torture like I had never experienced. My body was so tense that I was physically sore for days after. My breastfeeding journey had ended about 2 weeks prior, and yet by the time we left the hospital, I had mastitis (a painful, clogged, infected milk duct) from my body physically trying to respond to my baby’s cry.

The hours spent in pre-op, rocking my infant son as he wailed, IV lines and EKG cords dangling from his foot, were the worst hours of my entire life. As we waited for him to be taken back to surgery, in the pre-op room with other parents and their sick kids, I looked around with blurry eyes. My eyes met the gaze of other moms, eyes filled with the same dread and worry, waiting for their turn to follow their kids out of the pre-op room, just to take their detour to the purgatory of the surgical waiting area.

When the surgeon came to take our son back for surgery, I was filled with dread—a dread that was almost tangible. My husband and I took our own personal journey to the waiting area. We were ready for this mess to be behind us, and to be reunited with our baby who would now hopefully be able to keep his feeds down.

A long hour and a half later, the surgeon came and told us our baby did wonderfully, and we’d be able to see him in recovery soon. When we finally got to see him, all bandaged up, monitors beeping, I exhaled for the what seemed like the first time in days. After some recovery time, and plenty of worry, our baby was going to be okay. Being in a children’s hospital has a way of making your issues—no matter how great—seem small. Looking around at the other recovering children and their worried families made it very apparent we were lucky. Our baby was going to come home with us in a few days, and some of these kids had a much longer journey ahead of them.

When we got home, there were a few more weeks of vomiting episodes. This was normal, but that didn’t make it easy. I had hoped the surgery would have been a quick fix, but it wasn’t. Every time he vomited or spit up from that point forward, my entire body would tense up and I’d be thrown into a full-blown hysterics. I honestly think I had a mild case of PTSD (self-diagnosed obviously). But as weeks went by, and he adjusted to his new milk-free formula and Zantac prescription to manage his reflux, things got better. It just took time and a lot of trial and error.

To all the mamas out there going through a rough patch and possibly a sick baby, I feel for you. It’s the worst feeling in the world. But always trust your gut and know that doctors and nurses are there to help, and they are truly miracle workers.