So, what helped?

After my last blog post When you [don’t] love your baby I was asked a question by a friend (who gave me permission to use this question):

     “What specifically helped you through this time with Vincent – spiritually, emotional, mentally?            What did dealing with lack of feeling look like for you as you struggled through the process?”

I thought these were great questions – but I really had to think about them.  How did I actually do this? What did help me during this time? I have been reflecting on these questions all week and I have had some thoughts that I wanted to share. There are 3 things that I think helped me through those first 8 weeks.

The first thing that helped me through this time is my relationship with Jesus Christ. I can’t tell you how many times I cried out to God in silent prayer, wrote in my journal, or just asked for comfort.  I honestly do not know how parents do the whole parenting thing without believing in a higher power. I feel like I need God’s help, peace, and guidance every single day.  That being said, I would like to add that Jesus did not magically make the process easier. I would ask God, “why can’t I just set this baby down?!?!? Please Lord, just let him sleep for 30 minutes by himself!” or something of the like. I can tell you that at those moments Vincent did not automatically fall into a peaceful dream state and then I immediately calmed down and then had a perfect day after. Why? Because newborns act the way they do for a reason – they are learning how to function in this new world and it’s overwhelming. I think that my relationship with God gave me a solid foundation to stand on, I stood on my rock and this kept me grounded even on the hardest days. God DID send me comforts – Bryan would get home from class early so I could take a nap, a friend from church would text or bring over dinner, another new mom would stop by with her baby and I would have company, my parents would call with encouraging words.  It might not have been the 8+ hours of sleep that I was hoping for, but God bore me up in different ways so I could keep going.

The second thing that got me through is my self talk. I have always had a strong inner dialogue with myself.  For majority of my life this was third person.  I don’t know if you have ever thought about how you speak to yourself, but typically when I speak to myself in the third person it is negative, “Why did you do that?!” “How could you make that mistake!” etc.  Thankfully, one thing that I began before Vincent came was talking to myself in the first person and asserting truths when things were difficult.  When I was feeling like the worst mom in the world because I didn’t want to hold my child anymore, I would speak to myself truthfully and logically (sometimes out loud) “You are tired, and that’s okay, but Vincent needs to be held right now and you can do that.  Holding Vincent helps his brain develop, I am helping him feel protected and cared for.  I am a good mom because I am doing exactly what Vincent needs right now.”  I would also assert Biblical truths over myself and Vincent.  You see, Satan (who is very real) plays tricks on our minds often. Unfortunately, he just has to plant a little seed of doubt, discouragement, question, or deception for our brains to latch on and let them grow out of control. He would slip in with thoughts of “You aren’t good at this” “You can’t keep going” “You shouldn’t have had a kid” and on and on. What I have learned is that we have extraordinary power over ourselves simply based off of what we think and what we listen to. When these thoughts would slip in, I would speak a truth to combat the lie.

Lie: “You aren’t good enough”

Truth: “Jesus died on a cross and said that I am worth the price, I am his daughter, I am good enough for Jesus and I need nothing else”

Lie: “You shouldn’t have had kids”

Truth: “God knit this child together in my womb. He created this life and chose me to be his mom. This was divinely appointed, not by chance. I am supposed to be Vincent’s mom”

Lie: “You can’t keep going”

Truth: “God will lift me up on eagle’s wings.  He will support and sustain me.  He is Jehovah Jireh – God who provides. I cannot do it on my own, but God will help me”

We have such power in what we say to ourselves and what God says about us. It’s amazing how quickly things turn around when we start focusing on God’s truth and do not let the lies enter into our thoughts.  If you don’t have a relationship with God (or even if you do), I would encourage you to ask God a question, “What are lies I am currently telling myself?” and then if you discover any, “God, what do you say about these things?” I think it would be an interesting experiment. Even if you don’t feel like that would work, or you are opposed to a higher power, I would encourage you to start practicing positive self talk. No matter what, I think you will see a difference in the way you hold yourself, act, and respond when negativity comes your way.

Third, I am extremely stubborn and hate failure. And this really helped me persevere.  Being stubborn and having a fear of failure is definitely something that I am not always proud of, but in this circumstance it worked to my advantage. You want to know why I was able to breastfeed for a year? Because I am stubborn and I set a goal – I was going to achieve it NO. MATTER. WHAT. I didn’t want to fail. You want to know why I woke up every two hours to feed Vincent for those first 8 weeks? Because I am stubborn, I wanted to continue to breastfeed, and I knew I had to keep going in order to be successful. When I felt void of emotions and that I wanted to shirk away from responsibility – I couldn’t because I am too stubborn to admit that I couldn’t do it so I just kept going. This is called perseverance and the experience of living through the newborn stage helped me realize how important perseverance is in life overall.  They say the best things aren’t easy, and I would say motherhood and the newborn phase definitely fall into that category. I learned a lot about humility and asking for help with Vincent, which was good growth for me. But ultimately the will and drive to not give up and just keep going did help me get through a really hard time and continue to breast feed through it all.

The second part of the question, “What did dealing with lack of feeling look like for you as you struggled through the process?” this part is more difficult. Apparently, to outsiders it looked like I was fine. After I wrote the original piece my husband said, “I had no idea you were feeling that way.” In my head I thought,how could you NOT know that I was feeling that way?! I was a wreck and I looked like a disaster!  But at the time, I didn’t express much of the lack of feeling because everything was SO OVERWHELMING. While I didn’t feel like I loved Vincent and felt void of many emotions, I was equally overwhelmed with the amount of change that occurred. I have been able to process these feelings in the year that has followed and I have been able to sort through the difficulties. At the time, I couldn’t express these feelings because I didn’t really fully grasp what was going on. I simply existed and got through the day.  AND WE HAD GOOD DAYS! Here is proof

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See! I am actually happy, that’s not a fake smile. I don’t mean to sound like everything was doom and gloom, it was just hard. I do remember happy times in those early days, too.

As I reflected on this time I realized that social media also played with my head. I had several friends that also had babies around the same time I did. They were posting pictures of these precious little bundles with captions like, “My everything!” “I love him/her so much!” “We are so in love with our little one!” etc. I would see these pictures and think, “I don’t feel that way!” but then immediately feel the need to post a picture with some sort of heartwarming caption because other people were doing it. Here’s the thing – I STILL don’t post pictures with captions like that. My captions are literal, sarcastic, sometimes (I think) funny, etc. The closest I got to “heartwarming” was when we were in the hospital and snapped this pic with the caption “Be still my heart” –

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but looking back it is interesting that I felt I needed to SHOW and PROVE my love for my child via pics and captions on social media. Just because I don’t post things that way, does it mean I love my child any less? No, it means that type of characterization is not genuine to who I am as an individual. And that’s okay. I don’t have to be sappy just because I am a mom. So this time around I know that social media does not define my affections for my child and I don’t need to worry about how much or how little I post about him.

So those are my thoughts and responses. Mamas – what got you through the newborn phase??

 

 

When you [don’t] love your baby

This blog post has been a long time coming, but it’s one that I keep putting off.

It’s a hard topic to talk about, but a few interactions recently have made me realize how important it is to share about the reality after your baby shows up.

So here it is…

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Prior to Vincent arriving people would ask me if I felt prepared. My answer was almost always, “as prepared as I can be.”  I knew that motherhood would be like nothing I had experienced before, but I also knew that I was a strong person who had lived through difficult experiences so I knew that I could conquer life with a newborn.

No matter what people tell you or what you think you are prepared for, no verbal explanation can explain the first 6-8 weeks of motherhood.  The first 8 weeks were especially difficult for me. I don’t know that I was suffering from postpartum depression, I was actually vigilantly looking out for this because I have suffered from depression in the past. No, what I felt was complete distance from who I used to be with this new life that now depended on me for everything.  I was extremely sleep deprived, away from family, and had a husband in the midst of nursing school and clinicals.  Many days, it was all me all day with a newborn. And many nights I was getting about 30-45 minutes of sleep between feedings while my newborn slept on my chest because he hated being set down.  One day I went from being an independent and self-reliant individual to a mom, and that’s something that no words and no verbal explanation can prepare you for.

Most of all I didn’t feel like I loved my son. I remember when Bryan brought me Vincent in the hospital and I literally had to tell myself out loud “this is your baby, this is Vincent!” But I wasn’t excited, I wasn’t overwhelmed with any sort of feeling really, I felt next to nothing.  I went through the motions, started nursing, tried to sleep (which in the hospital is a joke).  We took Vincent home and I continued to do the things that moms are supposed to do, but it all felt detached. It didn’t feel genuine, it was an obligation, a responsibility that I was now stuck with and no one else could really help with. Bryan did everything he could – he would be up late studying and hold the baby so I could sleep. He forced me to take naps and made sure I was eating while he was around.  But it’s not the same as being a mom.

The most difficult and most unexpected transition was the loss of independence. Suddenly, you have to think and plan every hour of every day to make sure that you are able to provide for your child.  Since Vincent hated being set down, this meant that I literally had a baby attached to me almost all the time.  Being a very independent individual, this was shocking and revolting to me.  Whenever people would come over I would immediately hand over Vincent because I just didn’t want to hold him anymore. I remember telling myself that I had to take pictures of Vincent because SOMEDAY I would want to look back and see how little he was (and that definitely DID happen! Now I wish we had more pictures of those early days).

All of this made me think that I didn’t love Vincent. I would physically make myself tell him that I loved him every day, because I knew that deep down I probably did love him even though I didn’t FEEL like it.

What I learned is that newborn love is a different kind of love.  I was used to relationships with reciprocity.  Babies don’t do this.  You pour out into your little one and you get crying, sucking, and poop in return.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some precious moments, but mostly it was just trying to make it through another day. What I realized was that I DID love my baby because I was doing everything I needed to do in order to care for him. I was nursing him, holding him so that he would sleep, cuddling him, cleaning him, and learning how to be his mom.  This is how you love a newborn – you survive, you learn, and you do what you can every day.

Our feelings lie. Especially sleep deprived hormone driven feelings.  Feelings come and go, like the ocean tides. They well up and overflow and then they dry out. Actions don’t lie. Actions show who and what we really are.  So if you are having a hard time and your actions are to seek help, tell your doctor, ask for assistance – this is you loving your baby.  If you feel like you don’t love your baby, but you nurse him every time he is hungry and then walk him around for 45 minutes at 3am because he is fussy, this is you loving your baby.  If you are a natural and you just have the mom thing down, your actions are still what demonstrate this love.  Babies feel loved by being taken care of, protected, cuddled, swaddled, and being nestled against mom or dad. They experience love in safety and comfort, not words or expressions.  I know that Vincent felt loved because we did everything he needed in those early days and on those really hard early days, I knew that I just had to act like I loved Vincent no matter what my feelings were telling me.

I recently heard of another mom who was experiencing the same feelings that I was during this early period.  My friend was concerned and shared her story with me. I asked if I could write her a letter.  I later had the pleasure of meeting this new young mom and she thanked me for the letter and encouraging words.  So here is a letter to all new moms and especially moms that don’t feel like they love their babies.

Dear Mama,

I am so proud of you. You brought new life into this world and now you are literally sacrificing your own life, sleep, and sanity.  It is not easy, but somehow you are doing it.  I remember those early days and I remember how difficult the first few weeks are.

I remember that I didn’t feel like I loved my baby and maybe that’s how you feel, too. But I want you to know that YOU DO LOVE OUR BABY.  You are doing everything you can for your child, and this is love. You are working hard to feed and nurture, hug and cuddle, figure out sleep and adjust to this new life. It’s a hard adjustment and it takes time. YOU CAN DO IT!  Take things one day at a time, each day gets better.

I promise that things get better. Nursing gets easier, sleep gets easier, you figure out how to balance your own needs with your baby’s.  But it takes time. I know that days feel like weeks and it seems like it will never end, but I promise you will both survive.

I am so proud of you and the effort you are putting into your little one. Remember, ask for help and tell people what you need. Pass that baby off every chance you get – catch a nap, take a shower, take a break. It is important to take care of yourself so that you can care for your child.  But every time you change a diaper or sit down to nurse, I want you to know that those actions clearly show you LOVE YOUR BABY.  Despite what your feelings tell you.

Good job mama – You Rock!

Abide (…waiting part 2)

As promised, this is my follow-up post to …Waiting…

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The past 3 months have been incredible for our family. When I wrote my last post I was only 9 days into a 30 day prayer covenant (If you aren’t familiar with the practice, you commit to praying for a specific area, person, action, etc for 30 days and invite others to join with you.  During the 30 days you work to seek God’s direction and voice instead of trying to take action on your own or control the outcome).  The 30 days was challenging, but helped me in so many ways.

The main effect of the prayer covenant was teaching me to abide.  Abide is a synonym for wait, but unlike waiting which is passive, abide is an active verb meaning “to stop temporarily and wait for” (thesaurus.com).  God calls us to abide in him, but I often don’t practice this and honestly, I don’t know if I understood what it meant until we went through this process.

After asking my company if they would relocate me to Cincinnati it was unclear if this was going to happen – enter 30 day prayer covenant.  This time was a very anxious period of time for me and every day I had to turn my anxiety and worry over to God.  I constantly asked God to come over the decision, help us know the right decision to make, and provide financially for a long move.  There were many days at work where I had to write down my anxieties and put them in my prayer box to try to physically separate myself from them (by the way this totally works for me – if you have worry/anxiety issues I highly suggest this practice!). But ultimately, the anxiety I was experience lead me to abide with God through the process and wait on him. Slowly, I was able to more easily turn my fears and worries over to God and I felt his peace come over me day by day.  I started to believe that no matter what, God would provide for us and He would see us through.

Towards the end of our 30 days I got news from my company that they were willing to relocate me to the Cincinnati office! This was such a blessing! And I was so excited to know that we were moving home.  I think that it is easy to look at this circumstance and say “God gave us the desire of our hearts” – which is totally true! In this instance, our desires lined up with God’s timing.  But what if He hadn’t? What if he would have asked us to stay where we are? Because I had been practicing abiding with God I had gained the confidence to know that if we weren’t able to move home he would have provided for us wherever we were.

I am so thankful and so excited to move back to Cincinnati! I know that this is an answer to prayer and that we are beyond blessed to have the opportunity to move. I am so thankful to work for a company that supports family and work-life balance that they see the importance of being near loved ones and supporting their employees. It has been awesome to experience God’s love, peace, and provision through this process.

Ultimately, I want to encourage you, friend! I encourage you to pray and ask God for the desires of your heart and experience a journey with Him.  If you haven’t ever done something like this – you can’t do it alone! I would love to partner with you and see where God leads! I would just invite you to try and see what happens, see what changes you experience, see what you realize during a waiting and abiding period. I think that no matter what you will learn something about yourself and get to experience God in a different way.