Not Quite Perfect

As smoothly as things have gone, relatively speaking, I don’t want to convey that things have been 100% perfect 100% of the time. They haven’t. There have been plenty of bumps in the road.

The pregnancy was rough. Very rough, at times. Rough enough that Chris told me he felt we should be done having kids after this because it was just too hard. And as smoothly as this postpartum period has gone, I have still had bad days. So far, I have experienced two mini “crashes” since Lizzy has been born.

The first one began about three weeks postpartum on a Saturday morning after getting very little sleep the night before. I had a bible study and brunch to go to, and I burst into tears at the thought of trying to pretend to be a normal person. I was so tired. So very tired. 

And so very sick of breastfeeding. I had to hand Elizabeth to Chris because I felt myself becoming unnecessarily rough with her. I was so frustrated. In a desperate attempt to help, Chris asked me if switching to formula would be better. He meant well and was only trying to help give me a break, but it was extremely hurtful at the time. It confirmed in my mind what a failure I was, that I could not handle this, that I was so stupid for doing this to myself and to my family all over again.

Two days later, Elizabeth started nursing less often, sleeping more often, and I felt totally fine.

Growth spurt.

Lesson learned. The sleep deprivation, continual breastfeeding, and the resulting hormone changes to make more milk had taken its toll on me, but as soon as the growth spurt passed, I felt completely normal again. Good to know!

Unfortunately, the next growth spurt began as I was recovering from a very severe bout of mastitis. I had fallen asleep with Elizabeth on my chest, accidentally blocking one of my milk ducts that immediately became infected. By the time I noticed the clog, my fever was spiking up to 102. I felt like I was going to die. The growth spurt that immediately followed was helpful in the sense that I did not have to pump to encourage the clog to dislodge, but not helpful in trying to recover from being so acutely ill. These circumstances formed the perfect storm.

First, it is helpful to know that I chose not to get antibiotics for the infection but to treat it naturally, something I am relatively new to. My home remedies worked like a charm and my fever broke about 24 hours after it began, but when my breast remained slightly tender and swollen even though I had no other symptoms, my anxiety began to spike. I made the classic mistake of looking to Google for answers. I ignored the websites that explained that the clog could take up to a week to completely dislodge after the infection had passed, and instead latched onto the pages about breast abscesses.

I quickly worked myself up into the most extreme anxiety attack I have ever experienced. I was utterly convinced that I was going to have to have surgery where they cut into the breast and left the incision open so that the fluid can drain on its own. I was sobbing hysterically and struggling to catch my breath.

At first, Chris tried to dismiss my fear by telling me I was overreacting, which of course is not helpful in the middle of a full blown anxiety attack. But when he realized just how out of control I was, he did exactly the right thing. He took my phone away from me (good man) and started Googling for me. He gently listed all of the reasons he found why my symptoms were not consistent with a breast abscess, but he also went further than that and helped me come up with a game plan with me just in case I really did.

Sometimes in the midst of an anxiety attack, redirection isn’t always possible. Instead, examining the worst case scenario can actually be the most soothing thing. Knowing that everything would be okay even if I had a breast abscess was what ultimately helped me to calm down. Chris saved the day!

Again, as soon as the growth spurt passed, I immediately felt back to normal. (And no breast abscess.)

I am currently at the tail end of her three-month growth spurt and have done much better. She continued to sleep through the night this time, which helps tremendously, but I literally have not gone more than 20 minutes between nursing sessions for two and a half days straight. By the end of the day yesterday, I was understandably a little irritable. But so far I haven’t crashed!

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One thing that no one warned me about having another baby after postpartum depression is just how stressful bad days can become, both for me but especially for Chris. Any time I cried—which of course is going to happen occasionally after having a baby—Chris immediately began to stress that this was the beginning of something more serious. Every bad day had the potential to become one of many, many bad days. We were living in a constant state of high alert. Now that Lizzy is consistently sleeping through the night, we are beginning to relax. If PPD hasn’t settled in by now, I am encouraged that it might not at all!

Yet another thing I had not anticipated was experiencing some residual guilt leftover from my previous postpartum experiences. One afternoon, I was chatting with baby Lizzy and she gave me the biggest grin. I bust out laughing, and my cheeks soon hurt from smiling so much. And then suddenly I was sobbing and rocking her back and forth. It was so unfair. Lizzy was receiving the best of me; Becca got the worst. I never smiled at Becca. Even with everything that has gone “right” this time around, I find myself mourning all of the things that went wrong with Becca all over again.

I am getting better at bringing both the good and the bad straight to God. As much as things sucked when Hannah and Becca were born, they are that much better this time. And I am so thankful that God is “redeeming” all of those bad moments—then and now.

This time, as a result, I am embracing the good moments with all of my heart.

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About kneumair

Karen Neumair is a lover of God and a lover of words, especially when those two things come together. She has experienced multiple depressive episodes in her life, most severely after the birth of her second daughter, but is overwhelmingly thankful for how God has used her depression to teach her more about Who He is (and who she isn’t). Wife to Chris and Mommy to Hannah, Becca, and baby Lizzy.
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