I sometimes reflect on how the first few days after LeLe went. I remember being exhausted, but also almost high on adrenaline and joy. It was such a weird time and even though I was literally surrounded by people for most of it, once we got home, it became this reality of life that was so intense and scary. I remember some moments of it so distinctly, and others are incredibly blurry.
I read so much prior to giving birth that I had this idea in my head that it would be fine. I would push out a baby, take it home, and I would know what to do and when to do it because I read all the books. But the reality was that we left the hospital and went home to a house that felt weird, different, almost foreign. My parents came over that afternoon and my brother and sister-in-law came in the evening, but by 8, everyone was gone and here were Mr. Cereal and me totally alone with this tiny human who was an absolute mystery to us. The thing I was fully unprepared for, despite all the reading, was how much that hormonal shift a few days after birth would truly knock me off my feet.
It really started for me that first night at home. My anxiety has always been the worst in the night, especially once everyone else has gone to sleep. That night, I was exhausted but not tired and LeLe was not really interested in sleeping, so I had a few hours in the dark of the night where I was alone (Mr. Cereal was asleep in the bed beside me) and the weight of this life change just crashed down all around me. I could feel the panic creep up into my throat and I had to actively talk myself down. I don’t even remember how I finally got to sleep, but by morning, after fitful hour stretches of sleep, I was not doing great.
We had a weight check with the pediatrician that morning, which was a Sunday. My milk had not come in yet, and the pediatrician, who was not our normal pedi, conveyed her concern with the lack of milk thus far, noting that LeLe had lost 10% of her birth weight. I could feel shame and fear wash over me, combined with the anxiety and panic left over from the night before. I completely lost it on the car ride home and Mr. Cereal was at a complete loss as to what to do. By the afternoon, my milk came in and it was painful and totally foreign to me. I knew I needed to get LeLe to eat, but she was sleepy and her latch was pretty crappy. It had been three days since I gave birth and my nipples were raw and cracked and it literally hurt so badly to nurse that my toes curled the minute she latched on.
I was nursing LeLe every hour to try to get her to start gaining weight and by that evening, I was exhausted, stressed, and the adrenaline from the birth was completely gone. No one came to visit us that night and I remember thinking that nobody cared about us or the baby. And again, I felt completely alone. I called my sister and cried to her about how much trouble I was having and how scared I was. She tried to talk me down, but I really needed a physical presence to help me at that point.
My breaking point finally happened when Mr. Cereal asked me why I didn’t talk to him about my fears, and I interpreted that as him accusing me of not loving him and not trusting him. The reality is that in my mind, the only person who could understand the fear and joy combo that I was riding on was another mother. I did not think that Mr. Cereal could possibly understand how I felt. And this was for two reasons: one was that I couldn’t even communicate exactly how I felt because it was beyond words, and the second was that I felt like I was failing. Only three days in and I was a failure as a mother.
My thoughts immediately went to the idea that Mr. Cereal and I were going to divorce and I would have to raise this baby alone. It was absolute craziness. Mr. Cereal and I had a brief talk that helped me calm down and he insisted that I take a shower while he held her just outside the shower. I needed those few moments to myself to get my thoughts together, and to cry freely. It was one of those ugly cry moments, where my face was puffy and red and I looked worse when I got out of the shower than I had when I went in. But I felt a little bit better. I was finally able to tell Mr. Cereal what was going through my head. That the pressure of feeding this human from my body was immense and beyond terrifying, especially with the added pressure of her not gaining weight. He just listened and held LeLe while I talked. I told him that the night scared me, that I didn’t want to be alone with her all night while he slept, so he asked me to wake him up when I needed to feed her. We came up with a plan for the next few days and nights to get a routine established and to help alleviate some of my panic and anxiety.
The next day we had another weight check and LeLe had actually gained weight finally. The next few days were very blurry for me, but LeLe and I got in a groove of nursing, and resting, and bonding. By the end of the first week, I felt so much better and much more calm about the mom job I was doing. It was the most intense and awful/wonderful week of my life. I think about that week often, remembering the fear and the sadness and the overwhelming happiness.
When I was nearing the end of my pregnancy with Little Bug, I made a plan with Mr. Cereal to have in place for the first few days after we got home. It was a much easier initial transition than it was with LeLe, and I think this was in large part because Mr. Cereal and I were prepared. This is one of the things that I most want to share with new parents, and particularly new moms. The baby blues are real, they can be crazy intense, and even if you do everything right, you can get hit hard with them. I think that is the part that surprised me. I wanted the baby so badly, I had done every ounce of research I could, I was prepared for mommy-ing. But really I wasn’t because I had never done it before. I try to subtly push new parents to have a plan in place for the first few days so that they at least have some structure. And I encourage them to call me, or someone they trust if they need help. I hope that by offering to be a person on standby that I can alleviate some of their stress and worry. I wish that I had felt like I could call someone earlier and tell them that I was freaking out. I’m pretty certain that this would have helped me avoid the panic attack and the misery that followed.
At the end of the day, everything worked out fine for me, but I still worry about what could have happened if the scales hadn’t tipped in my favor. Could it have turned into PPD/PPA? Probably. Would I have been able to recognize it? Maybe. If I had been able to find and read a post like this, I would have at least considered the possibility that baby blues could happen to me, and I could have reminded myself to calm down instead of letting my head take over.