My Life as a New Mother: The Shit Storm, The Shit Storm Passes and the Ultimate Sacrifice

Me and Theo (16 weeks)

It’s a little intimidating writing this post – as it’s been so long and I have SO much to catch you all up on.  But I have to start somewhere so I might as well start from the beginning.  Oh – and I hate to dwell on the negative at all, because we have now made it through the shit storm (four and a half months in) and Theo is so freaking awesome now.  But, I’ve always been super open on this blog so I’m going to share both the good and the bad.  It’s only fitting.  So here goes it…

I just became a mom.

We’ll start with my birth experience.  I had a pretty picture-perfect pregnancy.  I had no morning sickness, minor aches and pains – but nothing serious, no swelling, no major issues.  Because of this, I think I expected that my birth and recovery process would be pretty smooth and drama-free.  In fact, I was expecting it to be a beautiful, powerful experience – like I read about in some of my natural birth books.  In Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth many women wrote about the contractions feeling like waves – and the pushing stage feeling good… like a big relief!  Hell – some women even talked about having orgasms during the birth of their babies.

Well, I was disappointed to find that there was no way in hell I was having an orgasm while delivering Theo.  And to be honest, I don’t even really understand how that’s possible.  Those are some lucky women.   And even though Theo’s actual birth did go fairly smoothly (according to my doula), it was definitely more drama then I was expecting.  And, while I was right in the thick of it, it did not feel beautiful and powerful.  It freaking hurt like hell.  And I remember thinking to myself “why did I do this?  I should have had an epidural!!  I can’t go on any longer!  When is this going to be over?!”  But I ended up having a totally natural birth just like I wanted – no epidural, no inducing – vaginal all the way.  Hey hey.  And now that I’ve had a little distance, I am truly glad I did it and I do feel pretty badass.  Now I know the birth experience and what it feels like.  And you know what?  I’m pretty sure I’m going to do it again next time – though definitely not in the same hospital!  Oye vey… the hospital.

Here are some pics of Theo in the first couple moments and days:

Theo’s first cry (of many). 🙂

Peacefully sleeping – Day 2

Theo doing Harrison Ford… Right??

On to the postpartum…

I gave birth to Theo at Methodist Hospital in Park Slope.  It was the only hospital that my OB delivered at and he had a ton of positive reviews so I figured all would be ok.  Plus, he was covered by my insurance… many docs that were recommended to me were not.  I always had a sort of uneasy feeling about it though.  No one else I knew was delivering there.  Everyone else was delivering at Manhattan hospitals.  And I read some negative things about the postpartum care.  But I liked the fact that the hospital was so close (less than ten minutes in the car) and I knew I’d have my doula there with me so I didn’t think it really mattered much.

IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED: I should listen to my instincts

My birth experience at Methodist was very positive and smooth.  My OB and the labor and delivery nurses were awesome.  However, once Theo was born and I was transferred to the postpartum floor, the shit storm began.   I believe that the care I received at Methodist after Theo’s birth was pretty terrible.  I wouldn’t call it care at all (except for a few sweet nurses who were definitely the exception).  I don’t want to waste a lot of time bitching and being all negative – but here’s a taste…

Theo was born at 1:15 am and by the time I was finished delivering the placenta, getting sewn up (tear – ouch) and all the other stuff that follows the birth, it was after 3 am.  I was exhausted, in terrible pain and pretty traumatized to be honest.  There were no private rooms available so they took me upstairs to a shared room – though no one else was occupying it at the time.   Because it was not a private room, they would not let Adam stay with me overnight – even though it was after 4:30 in the morning and I had no roommate.  I thought this was beyond shitty.  So Adam had to leave and I was there alone with Theo – unable to get out of bed, walk or go to the bathroom without help.  To make matters worse, the nurse working the overnight shift was MEAN (the first of several unpleasant nurses).  It was a pretty bad night – but we got through it.  Oh – and no one ever came to share my room anyway.  Jerks.

My first full day with Theo, the lactation consultant was on vacation and there was no one there in her place.  Theo wasn’t latching on and I had no support in that very important first twenty-four hours of our time together.  The only breast feeding aid came from the continuously changing nursing staff, who gave me a variety of mostly contradictory advice.  It was super overwhelming and frustrating.  Once I finally got help from the lactation consultant the next day, she confirmed that he was not latching successfully and I wasn’t producing milk yet and I was bullied (in my opinion) by the staff to supplement with formula.  I was upset and confused.  I really wanted to start off right with the breastfeeding!   Plus, I had read in several books that it takes three to five days for milk to come in so I didn’t really understand the alarm – but the hospital staff were very strong in their opinions and I didn’t want my poor baby to starve so we gave him formula.

All in all, this was not such a big deal – but it was the general lack of support and understanding that frustrated me.  I felt like a prisoner – it was me against them.  And I was in such a weakened state.  I hadn’t slept in about three days, I could barely walk, I was hormonal as all hell and I just needed people to be really nice to me.  They weren’t.

I later spoke to a friend of mine who had an amazing hospital experience.  She left feeling so confident and ready to take care of her new little bundle.  I feel like my hospital experience took away my confidence.  I felt shaky and unsure of myself.  I think the postpartum care at the hospital contributed me having a more negative view of my overall birth experience.   And that sucks.

But enough of that.  When I returned home I was pretty astonished at how totally gimpy I was – both mentally and physically.  I wasn’t prepared for that!  I could still barely walk.  Getting in and out of bed was totally painful.  I was pretty much wearing diapers because of the bleeding.  I had terrible hemorrhoids (first time ever.  worst. ugh.) and the icing on the cake… I got these horrible itchy, swollen hives all over my body.  Yeah.  That was fun.  It started on the bottoms of my feet.  Torture.  The dermatologist told me it was PUPPP.  And of course with the breastfeeding I couldn’t take any antihistamines.  Joy.  It lasted more than two months.

Breastfeeding:

Meanwhile, the breastfeeding was still not going so well.  For the first couple weeks we were supplementing with formula, but I was afraid of nipple confusion, so Adam was using this little tiny cup and dropper to feed Theo (bless him).  It was ridiculous.

I went to a couple breastfeeding clinics and a lactation consultant told me that Theo had a minor tongue tie.  I had never heard of this but apparently it runs on Adam’s side of the family and it could make breastfeeding more difficult for Theo.  So, after much research and stress, we decided to have Theo’s frenulum clipped.  It was a minor procedure – took about a minute.  However, it was a bit traumatic for me!  Keep in mind this procedure took place six days after another “clipping” procedure for my poor little guy.  I cried more than he did on both occasions.  But we got over it.

After we took care of the tongue tie, things started to improve – but slowly.  I had to take Theo to the pediatrician for weigh-ins every week.  He was gaining pretty slowly and it was really stressful.  One lactation consultant said she was still worried about his weight gain and wanted me to start using a supplemental nursing system.  A different lactation consultant told me she thought I was doing great and that Theo was just learning on his own time and we’d be fine.  I decided to listen to that LC instead (I was sick of doubting) – and low and behold, within three and a half weeks, Theo had reached his initial birth weight (supposed to take two weeks).  Things were starting to get on track.

The Fourth Trimester:

So… by this point I was ready for things to settle down a bit.  But I soon started realizing that Theo was more high maintenance than any of my other friends’ babies.  My mom said to me early on, “I think he’s got a little bit of a difficult temperament”, which I took offense to!  All babies fuss!  Right??  But it became apparent pretty quickly that he did indeed have quite a difficult temperament.  In fact, I’d say he was extremely fussy and pretty much screaming about 75% of the time.  The other 25% of the time he was adorable… but those times were definitely the exception.  I started reading up on fussiness.  There is The Happiest Baby on the Block book, by Dr. Harvey Karp.  He gives you all these tricks for calming your fussy baby, that all aim to mimic what it feels like to be back in the womb.  He believes babies in their first three months are still not quite there yet and need a fourth trimester to get on track before being ready for the outside world.  To calm fussy babies he teaches the “five S’s” – Swaddling, Side-Stomach Position, Shushing Sounds, Swinging and Sucking.  I tried all of these without much success.

I don’t think Theo was exactly “colicky” by definition, though the symptoms were similar.  In doing more research online, I started reading about Dr. Sears and his description of the “High Needs Baby” sounded exactly like Theo.  I could NEVER put him down… he would cry. And not a normal cry – a shrieking, sounds like he was being murdered kind of cry.  We called him “the velociraptor”.

He was never a great night sleeper (woke several times and never slept for super long stretches) and he would NEVER nap unless I put him in the carrier and walked his cute little ass all over Brooklyn.  I walked an average of three to five miles a day for the first few months!  He nursed AT LEAST every two hours (sometimes for entire days – good for catching up on TV) and seemed like he wanted to pretty much live on my boob. He was also very difficult to soothe – rocking, cuddling or singing to him would rarely help.  He would get all stiff and squirm and twist and cry.  He was generally a pretty unhappy kid.  The only thing that helped to soothe him was nursing him. The only thing that would get him to sleep was nursing him. So, I pretty much nursed him a hundred times a day and that’s how we got by.

Needless to say, it was a frustrating, tiring and disappointing time for both of us!   At one point I was having a chat with a mommy friend of mine.  She told me she never thought she wanted to have kids and she never considered herself to be very maternal, and that she was enjoying motherhood so much more than she ever thought she would.   I went home feeling so blue… I’ve been looking forward to motherhood my whole life and always imagined it would come so naturally.  And here I was, enjoying it so much LESS than I thought I would.   And Adam was so frustrated because he felt he couldn’t do anything to take the burden off me.  The only thing Theo responded to was nursing – and he obviously couldn’t do that – so he felt rather helpless.

It was also hard to get anything done. In the brief blocks of time I had when I was not nursing him or holding him in the carrier I would try to first drink water, then eat something, then pump (to get a little emergency supply going) then shower (showering was a bit of a luxury).  I literally just finished my ‘thank you’ notes yesterday – four and a half months later.  Obviously, it was quite difficult to find time for taking and editing photos and blogging.  Boo.  I did manage to snap a bunch of photos from my iPhone though… thank God for the iPhone.

I talked to Theo’s pediatrician about his temperament and pretty much got… “Babies are fussy, some more than others. All babies are gassy. All babies have reflux. It’s all normal. It’ll get better.”  This was not really so helpful for me.  Finally, everything came to a breaking point at our Brooklyn Boys weekend in the middle of June.  This was by far the worst weekend of my life.  All the Brooklyn gang were meeting Theo for the first time and sadly, he was a raving lunatic (less cute and sweet Theo – more velociraptor Theo).  To make matters worse, Adam came down with a violent stomach flu that had him stuck in our Catskills hotel room barfing like crazy all weekend.  Between Theo’s night-wakings and Adam’s barfing, I was completely sleep-deprived and feeling lower than low.  I left Theo with my mom (bless her) to go take a drive (we are sharing our friend’s leased car) to the grocery store to pick up some apple sauce, saltines and Jell-O for poor Adam.  When I returned with the car, I backed into a parking space, misjudged and totally rear-ended a brand new Mercedes SUV.  Awesome.  I completely fell apart and cried really hard to my mommy and daddy.  Life totally sucked at that moment.

The Shit Storm Starts To Pass:

When we got home, we decided it was time to take some control over the situation.  My instincts were telling me a couple things about Theo and his temperament.  First, I had a hunch that he was majorly sleep deprived.    I read skimmed a million sleep books (on my iphone while nursing) – The No Cry Sleep SolutionHealthy Sleep Habits, Happy ChildThe Baby WhispererThe Sleepeasy Solution: The Exhausted Parent’s Guide to Getting Your Child to Sleep from Birth to Age 5. From what I read, a baby Theo’s age should be sleeping around fifteen hours a day (24-hour period). I was lucky if he was sleeping eleven.  The theory is… sleep begets sleep. The more your baby sleeps, the more they’ll be rested and the easier time they’ll have getting even more sleep.  So I started napping the shit out of Theo.  No more Mrs. Nice Mom. I started paying attention to his cues and as soon as he began showing tired signs (becoming un-interested, resisting eye-contact with me, yawning, rubbing his eyes), I quieted down our activity and put him in his crib for a nap.  It soon became clear that he couldn’t stand much more than an hour and a half to two hours of awake time.  However,  even though he was obviously tired, as soon as I put him in his crib, he’d start screaming. But I decided that for one nap a day, every day for a week, I would let him cry himself to sleep.  The first day it took twelve minutes.  By the fifth day, it took six.  He still cries almost every time I put him down for naps, but it rarely lasts more than six minutes and he ALWAYS falls asleep.  And now he’s getting an average of around thirteen hours a day.  It’s a work in progress, but his mood is getting better and better.

Theo being goofy in daddy’s glasses

Theo looking oh so cool (and slightly bored) w/his gal pal – Rain

My other hunch, was that Theo was having stomach distress.  The way he writhed around and squirmed and bent his knees and SCREAMED… he really seemed to be in pain to me.  I read in many blogs that when a mother ingests dairy, proteins from the dairy will pass through the milk while breastfeeding and can irritate the baby’s tummy.  Dairy – hmmmm.  Wouldn’t it just figure?  I didn’t want it to be true.   Anything but that.  I asked our pediatrician if I should try cutting out dairy (as I cringed, fearful of her response) and she said not to bother – that his gassiness/fussiness would pass on its own.  Of course, I listened to her, completely relieved. But then a couple mothers I know gave up dairy for their babies’ gas issues and told me it made a huge difference.  So there it was… I had to make a choice: potentially relieving my psycho screaming baby … or cheese.

The Ultimate Sacrifice:

So there you have it.  My ultimate sacrifice.  The cheese queen is taking a dairy break.  For about four weeks now, I have been dairy-free.  Theo, miraculously, is like a new baby.  I’m calling him “Theo 2.0”.  He is happy and chill, engaged, giggly… a complete delight.  Is it the dairy?  I don’t know… it could be the dairy, it could be the increased sleep.  It could be that he’s now four months old or that he’s now thirteen pounds or that he’s found his thumb or started sleeping on his tummy.  Whatever it is… I’m not changing anything at the moment, because I am finally enjoying the hell out of him!

Theo 2.0:

Am I missing my cheese?  OF COURSE!  I am sad.  Food is definitely less fun without cheese… or butter… or cream.  However I have found some substitutes that are slightly easing the pain of a dairy-free life.

  • So Delicious Coconut Dairy Creamer – using this with my coffee and seriously, I kind of like it better than half and half!  It’s got the creamy taste without the heaviness of cream.
  • Rice Dream Rice Milk – using this with my morning cereal and I’m not missing real milk there at all either.  This substitution is AOK.
  • So Delicious Coconut Milk Ice Cream – check out how many flavors they have!!  I’ve only tried two and the Mocha Almond Fudge is pretty yummy.  It’s not ice cream – but it does sort of satisfy my sweet craving at the end of the day.

Of course, for me – there is no substitute for cheese.  I am a cheese purist and can’t eat dairy-free cheese.  I’d rather not eat cheese at all.  Sniff Sniff.  Mope mope.  But I have been adding avocado to everything and that is getting me by – avocado has that creamy, fatty, rich thing going on.  It’ll do for now.  Plus, I still have nine pounds to lose to get back to my pre-baby weight – and when I can’t eat cheese, I tend to eat much healthier.  No more comfort food… bad for the soul, good for the bod.  I do plan on going back to cheese (I mean… who is Nell without cheese?).  I figure after another few weeks I’ll try to eat some dairy one day and see if it makes a difference.  Then I can slowly start re-introducing.  But for now – having a happy, giggly Theo is more important to me than even cheese.  That’s love – right?

Meanwhile, since I’m blabbing on forever here (I hope I’m not boring you to death)… here’s a funny story. I made the decision to cut out the dairy and then the next day a package from Murray’s mysteriously arrived at my door. I opened it to find six beautiful cheeses.  The message inside was from my sweet friend Yvonne… “I hope this brings a smile to your face”.  She knew I was having a tough time.  Hilarious.  Needless to say, I put off the dairy break for a few days and indulged in my cheese bounty. Thanks Yvonne… for giving me a proper cheese send off.  Oh – and for those of you who can eat cheese right now, there were two cheeses in that package I had never tried before that totally rocked my world.  You should go get them immediately and taste the goodness.

So… now you are officially caught up.  Theo is amazingly awesome and irresistible now.  He’s sleeping much better than before though he’s definitely not perfect.  He has still never slept more than a six hour stretch and usually wakes twice a night for feedings.  He also has this tendency to wake up at 5 am and Adam (bless him again), gets up with him and entertains him for two hours so I can sleep.  BUT – I don’t even care, because he’s happy and delightful and smart and funny and I am now majorly totally butt-crazy in love with him (quote from Clueless… anyone catch that?).  I am also finally feeling more confident as a mother.  Both Adam and I are now so much more sure of ourselves as parents.  When Theo is crying, we usually know why and we know how to soothe him.  And that feels good.

Besides that, he’s just so much more fun now!  No more cranky blob…  now he’s:

  • rolling around

  • smiling and giggling
  • squealing
  • grasping toys with both hands
  • putting EVERYTHING in his mouth
  • drooling like a dog (I think he’s starting to teethe…  uhoh)
  • wanting to stand up or sit up at all times (with help of course) – no more lying down for this guy!
  • giving out wet, slobbery kisses
  • taking two hour naps! (joy – back to blogging!)
  • showing major interest in food and grabbing at my drinks

Theo grabbed at my cup during lunch and copied me putting the straw in his mouth. I think he got a little taste of lemonade judging by the look on his face!

He is also totally adoring of his mommy and daddy now, which melts my heart.  Life as a parent is finally starting to feel how I always thought it would feel.  Lots of love, lots of laughs – constant wonder.

Here are some of my favorite Theo & Daddy photos:

Bath time fun with daddy

Catching some Z’s on the subway

Theo loves riding on daddy’s shoulders – and sucking on daddy’s hair. 🙂

Father & Son Goofballs

Sweetness.

So thanks for keeping up with me!  I will try not to disappear again.  My goal is to start blogging once a week again – now that things are starting to normalize a bit.

And now I will go… because Theo is crying forty-five minutes into his nap (what happened to my two hours???) – it’s never dull over here.

Bye for now!

Theo and me lunching… 18 weeks old

24 thoughts on “My Life as a New Mother: The Shit Storm, The Shit Storm Passes and the Ultimate Sacrifice

  1. Having children is certainly an adventure! There are lots of ups and downs to being a new mother, but it is so beyond worth it! I love that you are listening to your instincts and Theo’s signals — that can help so much. So happy for you. And happy you are blogging again 🙂

  2. You’re such a trooper!!!!!! Your second child will be an angel from the very beginning. Lots of love, the previously non-maternal mom with the easy baby and the awesome postpartum hospital experience

  3. OMG, Nell you are so amazing. I so enjoyed reading this and have thought about you so often when I see your beautiful boy on Adam’s FB page. You can cook, breastfeed and write?! Damn! OK, so 8 years after I’ve had my first boy, I could still shed tears of relief reading your words. I hated the hospital and felt bullied as well. They were so mean and had no sensitivity to the fact that I hadn’t slept, I had no idea why the baby wasn’t sucking with pleasure at my breast and I was big fat ugly mess!! I mean, c’mon ladies, have a heart! My first three months totally sucked and I didn’t share it with really anyone. I remember the turning point clearly when it all just clicked and fell into place, but before that I cried every day, all the time and even in my sleep.
    What I really wanted to let you know is that if you think things are looking up now….just wait. They get better and better. I swear, it may not seem possible, but each day you will smile more, laugh louder, cry less and your capacity to love grows as Theo does. It’s wonderful and awe inspiring and worth twenty million shit storms.
    Thank you for bringing back the memories…I wish I could go back.
    XOXOXOX
    Jeanine Brand (Adam’s friend and sometime producer!)

  4. nell, you are such a wonderful and honest writer and photographer, and you’re doing an amazing job navigating this new phase of your life! just wanted to tell you that!

  5. I love you so much I’m crying! You are an amazing mommy writer. Thanks for sharing the good, the bad and the ugly! Can’t wait to meet the little monster (I mean darling sweetness of a boy)! He is so lucky to have you both and vice versa. xoxo jj

  6. Great job sharing. It’s important to let other moms know that after a really fun and easy pregnancy things can get tough. I shared a lot of this (colic-like symptoms, minor car crash, dairy stuff, stress), and you know, relief comes. It looks like you’ve got yourself a fantastic and beautiful little family, Nell, and I’m sure you are proud of how much you’ve accomplished along the way!

  7. Nell,

    Whatever you do, never give up drinking wine! Seriously though, I didn’t even know all of those details because you’ve been so busy! Theo rocks. Hang in there. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out – he will change.

    Love you.

  8. Oh Nell, I don’t even know you, but I want to give you a big ol’ hug! I remember w/ my first son (who is now 6 and entering first grade in a couple weeks!) I spent a majority of the time locked in the bathroom crying my eyes out. It really was so much harder than I had ever ever expected. But w/ Jack (who turns 3 months tomorrow) it’s been amazing. Listening to your instincts makes all the difference. We also had gas issues (which the doctor blew off cause ‘all babies are fussy’. Ass.), but mine was due to the formula he was on. We switched to soy and now he’s doing great. I’m so so happy things are getting better for you. Those pictures of Theo…my Gawd! That little boy is too cute! (Harrison Ford! Hilarious! I have a picture of Jack looking like Alfred Hitchcock.) Looking forward to your return to blogging and hearing about how things are getting better and better and then worse and then better again. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for reading and saying hi Rachel! Sounds like #2 is usually much easier after a challenging number 1… So that is comforting. And lucky… If I didn’t regularly hear that there might not even be a number 2!!!

  9. Nell,I think that all hospital staff should be a little nicer when dealing with post partum women. I had a bad experience at the hospital I delivered at as well.

    Keep your head up. You are doing a great job with Theo and he is amazingly cute. I loved reading this blog entry and look forward to many more. You have a great support system and (as you have learned) the best thing to do is trust in yourself and your maternal instinct!

  10. Nell, I`m happy to hear that things are improving for you. And I`m happy you wrote this blog, not just for me to know about you and your experience if not for those who can find this blog honest and sincere. It seems to me that most mothers experienced something negative but they are ashamed to say it when there would be no shame at all!!! it`s not a bed a roses. Motherhood can be rewarding but it`s also really hard.And it seems to me you are doing sooo well !!!!
    I send you a big big hug!!!

  11. Pingback: 10 Weeks Pregnancy Symptoms | pregnancy day by day, pregnancy symptoms, week by week pregnancy

    • Thanks for saying hi Tess! I miss my cheese!!! When this is over I’m coming to you for cheese support. Start thinking of the best cheese you’ve got at your shop and I’m coming for it soon! xo

  12. Hi Nell,
    Now that I have a wonderful baby girl, i re-read your blog and I can much better imagine what you have been through. Thank you so much for sharing this is so valuable to me. Our baby Arianna is starting to get fussier and harder to console. I tried eliminating dairy and any vegetables that might cause her gas and now I just feel guilty about everything I eat.

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