What you are about to read is part two of my postpartum depression update. I had some feedback from readers of my last post, that they were nervous to read part two. While I acknowledge that I did end with a rather abrupt cliff hanger, part two will dive into some of the tougher stuff. Part two is hard. It exposes some parts of my story that aren’t so pretty, somewhat embarrassing, and where I am overall insecure. Nothing extreme, just not an easy part to relive. So tread gently.
Our next scene opens on month seven. Motherhood was full of lots of new, but fun changes like baby proofing and introducing solid foods. Except for one new development: my once more than adequate milk supply was suddenly tapering off at an alarming speed. I used to make enough milk to sustain twins at least (maybe even triplets). Now my right side was drying up and my left just kept giving me less and less. So I did all the things I could to encourage my milk supply: teas, extra water, pumping, consistent feeding, so much oatmeal with flax, etc. Even though I was being diligent about protecting my supply, I didn’t panic because I had a huge back stock of milk in the freezer and my baby was eating solids three times a day. Within a couple weeks, and with a little grace for my self, I saw my supply start to bounce back. Then, on Sunday, November 5th, during our first morning feed, Lucas latched to nurse for a moment, then chomped down on my nipple with his two new teeth. I reacted and pulled him away, but his teeth were still clamped, and I ended up cutting my nipple. My breasts were already having a sensitive week: Lucas doesn’t always practice proper breastfeeding form. He has a tongue tie and a more significant lip tie which causes me on and off nipple tenderness (and no, we don’t want it “fixed”). So now I was bleeding, but had a breast full of milk. I tried latching him one more time. He bit. I tried latching him to my non-dominant side. He sliced that one too.
Something changed for me after he bit my second side. I am still figuring out what went on in my brain in that moment, but what I can remember is panic. This was our first feed of the day so I had full breasts. Can I even pump with two bleeding nipples? What if blood gets into my milk as I’m pumping? That can’t be healthy. What if it hurts too much to pump and I’m stuck with all this milk building up? I will get engorged! I will get an infection. Mastitis. Oh my gosh. What if Lucas doesn’t understand that he can’t bite and can no longer breastfeed… I’ll never breastfeed my baby again…
I think last night was our last time breastfeeding.
He must have the dreaded nipple confusion. He bites me like he bites his bottle. This is all my fault. I should have never given him the bottle so early/so often. I can’t believe I did this to us…
To say I was spiraling would be an understatement. So I did what any girl in her late twenties would do, I called my mom crying. And after I hung up, I didn’t stop crying for the entire day. Dayna and I talked over my options and I decided that I wanted to go on complete nipple rest for the day and Dayna would just bottle Lucas (I did not want anything to do with bottling him). I was unhappy with all of my possible options: breastfeed despite the pain and risk infection or more biting, or bottling and worsening the nipple confusion AND taking a hit to my already delicate milk supply. It felt like a lose-lose. I was buckling under all the pressure to keep it together and crumbling beneath the heavy load of mom-guilt. I was failing. And for the life of me I could NOT stop crying all day. It was like some melodrama that I would make fun of. Dayna would be talking to me from the living room and I’d be in the kitchen, then I’d round the corner sobbing. I’d go to the bathroom sobbing. I’d make a cup of tea, just crying and crying. Sundays are supposed to be our family days and so of course this had to happen on a day meant for care-free frolicking. When I was still crying into the afternoon, unable to accept help or really even verbalize what was going on in my mind, Dayna couldn’t stand to feel helpless and useless anymore and the two of us began to argue. She was insisting that we could still salvage the day, and figure out a way make me feel better. I told her to stop trying to “fix” me and that I’d rather just (this is a direct quote folks, ready for the most dramatic statement I have made, possibly ever?) “wallow in my depression and sadness today,” thank you. She did not want to accept this, and we retired to separate rooms to cool off. After about ten minutes, we came back together, she held me and said, “I’m sorry this is so hard.” Then I cried for an hour straight.
I hadn’t wanted anything to do with bottling Lucas that day, but Dayna thought it might do me some good to feed him from a bottle for his afternoon feed. After about 30 seconds I passed him back to her just choking on tears and the worst, animalistic cry emerging from my throat.
This is NOT how it was supposed to end. I was supposed to nurse him for a year, then wean him because I was ready. I had a plan. And it aligned with other moms that I had known and read about. After Lucas’s first birthday, I would make strides to slowly and gradually wean him off the breast. It took us so long to finally get in the rhythm of breastfeeding, and now that we had, I absolutely loved it. We conquered his latching issues with his lip and tongue tie and overcame all my insecurities. It was the first big thing that he and I had to work on as a team. And we were so proud of the result. I never dreamed that we would have to stop because my body gave out. What an awful way to go out. What a loss.
As we put our baby down that night, he fell asleep on his own after a bottle, a book, and some snuggles. No nursing. I retreated to our room, a teary wreck. I felt empty. Alone. Absolutely gutted. I was really struggling with the reality that I had not nursed my baby for a whole day. It was like being in mourning. My body ached with sadness: my breasts were raw, my eyes swollen. I was like an addict in withdrawal. I needed that physical bond that I get when I breastfeed. I get cradle my son, he reaches for my breast with his tiny hands and latches hungrily- suckling while he patiently waits for my milk to let-down, then happily takes big gulps and closes his eyes. His whole body relaxes and mine does too. My heart opens and I feel full of purpose.
Late that night, he woke to nurse like normal. I couldn’t put myself through the bottle so I scooped him up out of this crib, sat down in our rocking chair, and nervously let him on. Then my sweet son latched on to my sore, healing nipple. Eyes closed. One foot still in dreamland. Not a care in the world. And all I could do was cry.
After that day everything was different. Harder. I don’t want to be dramatic and say that everything had changed because of that day. I don’t think it is as simple as that. That day was just extra bad, therefore an easy way to mark the time. Lucas continued to bite during the day, and then properly nurse at night. Every feed was a gamble. It was wearing on me harder than I thought it should. I felt anxious around feeding (which I know he picked up on) and I started pulling my hair more (see part one for the backstory on that). I was feeling completely out of control. Nothing was ever clean enough in our house, and I refused to take any down time for myself. I didn’t want to talk to my wife about anything, let alone my feelings. I just expected her to read my mind, which always ends well. To make matters worse, we were leaving for a trip to visit family in Hawaii the week before Thanksgiving.
This could not have come at a worse time. Knowing that there was a communication breakdown happening with my wife- a relationship that I desperately needed to be solid, knowing that we would have very little alone time since the reason we were going was to see friends and family, knowing that I would have to fake it for family and put on a happy face for the week because who actually wants to hear about depression, and then knowing that we were throwing our already weak emotional states into arguably the world’s most stressful situation: traveling with a baby- it felt like we were sabotaging ourselves. Just recalling the memory of preparing to travel makes me clench my jaw in anxiety.
Once again, I reached for the phone to call my mother, crying. “Everyone is expecting happy Olivia. But I don’t feel very happy. I feel like fighting. If anyone has anything to say about anything, I’m going to fight them.” The trip went better than expected. But I look back on it with a foggy lens. There were sweet parts, but in my version they are overshadowed by bad bits. The parts where everyone around me is having a great time, and I can barely fake a smile, then dip out as fast as possible. The social anxiety was particularly bad. It just felt like I constantly had a fence up around my heart and I didn’t want anyone to tell me how to make decisions for me or my baby. I spent a good part of that trip making apologies and excuses as to why I couldn’t hang. Three days after we came home, it was Thanksgiving. Normally, I have the whole week planned out down to the minute. From what day and time I need to put the table linens in the wash in preparation, to what time I need to walk to the edge of a nearby forest to forage for greenery for table settings. I have every detail covered. This year, we drove to the market the day before, picked up a prepackaged, already made Thanksgiving meal, which we then nuked in the microwave on Thanksgiving day.
I have discovered that being in the middle of postpartum depression during the holiday season is inconvenient. Actually, it is devastating. The normal version of myself ran a different blog called “Christmas: it’s a lifestyle”, could tell you how many days, hours, minutes, then seconds until Christmas (if asked), used to set up three trees in the house, wore a shirt around that says “Oh you don’t like Christmas, bye Felicia”, ordered Christmas cards in October, watched Christmas movies year round, hosted an annual cookie exchange that was THE party to go to, the normal version of me almost named my son Christopher Kringle Taylor. I usually get sad on December 1st every year because that means Christmas is almost over. This year, my tree wasn’t even decorated until December 10th. We didn’t light our house. We most definitely aren’t buying presents. I canceled our cookie party.
We still haven’t unpacked from Hawaii.
Christmas isn’t supposed to feel like this. Not for me. And especially not my baby’s first Christmas. We were supposed to go all out, not shut ourselves in. Instead, I felt like every little detail was too much pressure. I’m constantly apologizing. “I’m sorry that I can’t just let this anxiety go and be happy.” I feel like I’ve spoiled countless moments because I just can’t get out of my head. Dayna can’t help me. I don’t think she could even if I was open to accepting her help. She has likened witnessing me going through postpartum depression to when I was in labor. She can be there to give me sips of water, but for the most part, all she can do is watch the person she loves be in pain. I feel difficult. I feel hard to love. I feel like I can’t enjoy the wonderful life that we have. I want to recluse. Talking is exhausting.
So many friends and family reached out to me after the first post, and I love and appreciate every bit of outpouring of love. Please know though, that at this time, I would lovingly ask that you refrain from posting comments to Facebook (although commenting on my blog site is fine as it seems more intimate while Facebook is just so noisy). While I understand this is a public post and it is meant for people to read, I know that I am loved and cared for. I know that I have a strong community available should I need help. I wrote this piece as a refection on the past few months. My hope is that in reading this, my friends also in the thick of PPD will know they are not alone. Additionally, my hope is that my close friends and family can see why I have been unavailable, both physically and emotionally, in recent months. I love and appreciate you and thank you for reading my story.