I became a mom for the first time in the winter of 2014. My daughter, Victoria, came screaming into the world at 6:14 p.m. on a cold December evening, weighing six pounds, two ounces. The pains of labor have long since been forgotten, but the rest of that day, and the months following it, are forever etched in my memory.
I have had many ups and downs since giving birth, but I would not change these experiences for anything. They are what made me who I am, and who I hope to be as a parent.
Like many moms, I had a birth plan, but that plan went flying out the second story hospital window when the maternity unit team informed me that I had an infection commonly contracted by women in labor. I developed a fever and my blood pressure spiked out of nowhere. I was still in active labor and had not even begun to push yet when I was informed that I would need to be put on antibiotics, and that my newborn would as well once she arrived, which meant getting to know the ins and outs of the NICU.
Early in my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes. Having adjusted to this reality with relative ease, I thought I had everything under control. But here I was at 39 weeks, with a full term baby headed to the NICU. I got to see my precious bundle of joy a mere 10 seconds before she was whisked down to the NICU and had to wait an hour to visit her while she got set up and cleaned.
I had every intent to breastfeed for as long as my body would allow. But life had other plans. After meeting with two lactation consultants and offered completely polar opposite strategies by each, I realized this would be more challenging and exhausting than I ever expected. I watched my sister-in-law breastfeed and pump like a champ, yet I could not get my daughter to latch, and I barely pumped an ounce.
After 48 hours, we brought our daughter home. During those two days, I’d spent more time in the NICU than I did in my own bed. At home, I spent many nights awake in tears because I wasn’t able to breastfeed, and I felt like my body had failed, which translates into feeling like a failure as a mother.
Over the course of the next two weeks, I transitioned my daughter to formula, but I was never given instructions on how to do so due to the hyper-focus on “breast is best.” My daughter’s first pediatrician chided that I simply wasn’t trying hard enough, which exhausted me more, and I damn near tore my hair out.
This would later turn into postpartum depression, but I would not realize this until much later. My mother started to notice my decline and suggested I get another opinion from a different pediatrician. I took her advice. It was this second pediatrician who saved my sanity and got my little one on the right track.
It turns out I was feeding her too much formula, and she’d developed a severe gas issue. Being a new mom, I had no idea. This new pediatrician helped me develop a healthy feeding schedule and prescribed gas drops to put in her bottle as we transitioned to a formula designed for gas relief. He showed me the proper burping techniques, something neither the NICU nor the first pediatrician had managed to do. Within a week, my daughter’s gas was under control.
It was around this time that I decided to seek help for myself. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and scheduled to attend weekly individual sessions and bi-weekly group therapy. Through this I learned that my difficulties did not make me any less of a mother. It took me some time to realize this, but when I did, I no longer feared feeding time with my baby. Feeding ultimately became the bonding experience I’d hoped for. As long as I loved my daughter and kept her safe, fed, and happy, I was succeeding as a mom.
My daughter just celebrated her second birthday this past December. She is a smart, healthy, beautiful girl. She is all I could ever hope for.
So my one piece of advice to new moms out there: Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it be from family, friends, a spouse, or a professional. Because it just might save your life.