If I had to pick an event that best represents a voyage in my life, the past year and a half would be it. My voyage included moving to a new state with my little family. I (stupidly) thought this would be easy; even fun. An adventure, I thought. Little did I realize that I was beginning a difficult journey that proved to be one of the most challenging periods in my life. Before I go any further, I’d like to acknowledge that there are so many more life experiences that would be much more worthy of the title “difficult,” and I don’t intend to demean those by this post.
I haven’t typically had a difficult time making friends. I’ve usually found that whenever I’ve moved or started a new chapter in my life, I’ve found a niche rather quickly and easily. There were times where it took a little bit of extra effort, but I had other support systems and was fortified mentally to stay afloat until things clicked. Not this time.
We arrived in Oklahoma in December and quickly realized how different it was to be far away from family during the holidays. We intended to celebrate alone with our two children in our small new apartment. Loneliness quickly set in. We were bored. It was cold. The apartment seemed so confining. There were boxes everywhere with no more places to put away our stuff. We ran away from it and trekked home to be with our families until the new year.
Coming back, I was determined to find my place and find some friends. I found out that I was pregnant for the third time. This wasn’t a complete surprise, but happened MUCH sooner than expected. This turned out to be my most difficult pregnancy.
As much as I tried to socialize, attend any church events that I could, introduce myself to people, friend them on facebook, and do whatever I could think of to connect, I still seemed to be on the outside looking in. I figured things would get better. But yet, I still felt so alone.
People were friendly towards me. It never went beyond pleasant small talk, though. Months passed and I hoped for some kind of social invitation, but it never really came. That’s when things got desperate…I joined a book club. I even offered to host. I HATE reading books. But I was willing to do anything for social interaction. Thankfully, audible saved me from actually reading, haha. But for real, things got desperate. I started accepting invitations to attend direct sales/MLM parties. I even committed to buy things in order to make a favorable impression. I loathe these parties. But again, I was doing my best to be pro-active in making friends.
Things still weren’t clicking, however. My health started to decline due to pregnancy changes and my ability to be pro-active was gone. I have struggled with depression during previous pregnancies, so I knew it was coming. Right at 12 weeks, I take a nosedive. That time came and I felt worse than I ever have in my life. I was in complete and utter misery. I could barely get out of bed. The thought of how much effort and energy it would take to take a shower moved me to tears daily. Doing pretty much anything depleted me. My two boys were pretty much left to their own devices most of the time. I made sure they had the basic necessities, but even doing that was mentally painful. Things like cooking and grocery shopping were not happening. I resorted to eating out for most meals. It was the easiest solution for me, although not a very good solution overall.
I cried. A lot. My poor husband. I cried pretty much daily. I would pour out my heart to him, “Why don’t I have any friends?” “What is wrong with me?” “Why don’t people like me?” “I can’t do this; I feel so terrible.” “I’m so overwhelmed” “I have nothing to do; nothing to live for.”
Feelings of anxiety started ramping up. This was new to me, even though I had experienced depression and a tiny bit of anxiety before. It became difficult for me to go places and do things. I would feel the weight of complete inability to function. Thinking about all that I had to do to accomplish certain errands or tasks, especially when I would have to have my children in tow, would bring on tears and it would be difficult to breathe normally. “I just can’t do this” was something that was a part of my new vocabulary.
It’s not like I didn’t try. I would make many efforts to force myself to do certain things. But those efforts didn’t always pan out. When your energy level is at a 0 or 1 and everything requires a level of 5-10, it’s just not happening. Good intentions and a desire to overcome simply can’t erase the fact that certain things had become impossible for me.
I also began to have irrational worries. I constantly, CONSTANTLY, worried that my baby was going to die. That I would have a miscarriage. That something would go terribly wrong. That he would have a serious birth defect. That even if he did make it to term, he could be stillborn or some other horrible thing. I would sob over the thought of this. These thoughts had such a strong hold on my brain that I could not let them go or dismiss them. I remember one time I was trying to cheer myself up by going shopping at Target, one of my favorite things to do, and I decided to look at baby clothes. As I browsed the selection of cute baby outfits, I began to cry. I could not bring myself to buy anything at that point because in my sick brain I was still convinced my baby would probably die. The thought of seeing that outfit never being worn, figuring out what to do with it after the fact, and how terrible that would feel made me afraid to buy anything. It would be better to not get my hopes up of having a healthy baby.
I realize now how strange that sounds, especially since I had already had two very healthy babies prior to this.
That’s mental illness for you.
I recognized that things were worse than my other pregnancies. I talked to my doctor several times, he ran some tests, and finally we found out that my iron was low on top of my other issues. I began taking several different supplements and also increased my anti-depressants, and slowly I began to feel better. It was certainly still very difficult for me but at least I wasn’t completely confined to doing almost nothing. Thoughts about my baby dying became less frequent and less intense. I had a chance now, at least.
My husband was strong and supportive. He stepped in to take over a lot of the child/household related duties because I couldn’t. He listened to me and tried to just be there. He did his best, and I am grateful. Without him, I don’t know if I could have made it.
As the pregnancy progressed, I grew more and more uncomfortable, swollen, and huge. Everyone feels huge, but I got to feel extra crappy on top of that because I turned out to have gestational diabetes (this is a condition caused my pregnancy-related hormones, NOT because of lifestyle). So almost my whole pregnancy I had been making myself feel more sick without even realizing it because of the things I was eating and my sedentary lifestyle. I did not know I had this condition until the third trimester. My high blood sugars had been contributing to me feeling so terrible. Once we finally got this issue figured out and established the diabetic diet, and eventually added in needed medications, I began to feel significant improvement. But a lot of damage had been done. I had gained a lot of weight and my muscles had atrophied. I was so out of it for so long that I still felt kind of lost in how to handle my life. I was good about sticking to the diet, and I made efforts to walk more, but it was still very difficult.
The pregnancy seemed to go ON and ON. I was getting more uncomfortable by the day. I was grateful to have a somewhat normal level of function again, I was still miserable. I still felt so physically constrained. I still felt very alone. I wondered why God sent me here. What was I doing wrong to experience such pain? I felt like I was truly suffering.
I finally DID have my baby and it was crazy, painful, and wonderful. The first few weeks were great and I felt loved receiving well wishes and a few dinners from local church members. I was so grateful for that!
I anticipated that things would get easier now that he was born (why, I don’t know), but things did not go according to my plan. My baby seemed healthy and was so cute, but whenever you put him down, he let out a blood-curdling scream, and did not stop until you picked him up again. I thought he was just a high maintenance baby, so I tried to suck it up and deal, even though I was sleep-deprived and constantly stressed out.
Feeding him was difficult. If he started getting into screaming fits, it was difficult to get him to nurse. He was so worked up, he couldn’t figure it out and he came unlatched very easily which led more more screaming and incredible frustration and tears on my part. I couldn’t figure out why things seemed so difficult. I had already nursed two children and I fed him very often, yet he still cried. I tried to figure out if he had any digestive issues or some other problem. His pediatrician said everything seemed fine. His weight percentiles had dropped, but neither me or my pediatrician were worried because my other two children cruised along at low percentiles and were just fine. We figured the baby was just “settling in” to a similar growth pattern.
At his 3 month old checkup, his weight percentiles had dropped significantly. This was not just a natural fluctuation. His stats had a pattern of dropping. Something was wrong.
The pediatrician suggested that my breast milk might not be nutritive enough. He suggested that I supplement with formula; one 4oz bottle per day. I accepted this in the moment because I wanted my baby to be healthy. Then I was skeptical that my breast milk was the problem, because my other two children had nursed for two years each and been super healthy. My next thought was maybe all his screaming was burning a lot of calories, or that he had a fast metabolism, and he simply needed extra calories. I was so tired and sleep deprived, I was not in a state to problem-solve beyond that.
I mentioned the findings to my friends and one friend asked if I had considered if my baby had a tongue tie. Having heard a little bit about it, I did wonder if it was a possibility, but I had dismissed it when I did not have one of the major symptoms of significant pain while nursing. I didn’t have any pain at all. Less than my other two kids, in fact. I decided to check into it again at her suggestion. My baby did have several of the less-obvious symptoms. He had a lazy latch, and I could tell he wasn’t making a strong seal/suction with his mouth. He popped off frequently, and it was a constant battle to keep his mouth latched correctly. He was fussy and cried a lot. His weight gain wasn’t what it was supposed to be. One time he didn’t have a bowel movement for a week (which the pediatrician said was within normal range, and for some kids it definitely can be normal). He fell asleep while nursing quite frequently (tongue tied nursing is exhausting for babies). I didn’t seem to put these symptoms together to discover the underlying problem: he was tongue tied!
I had to go to a pediatric dentist for an evaluation because our pediatrician told me he did not see any problem and he seemed generally unfamiliar with this type of feeding problem. My baby was diagnosed with a posterior tongue tie and upper lip tie, and we had them fixed that day. At a friend’s suggestion, I visited a lactation consultant prior to and after the tongue tie procedure. Before the procedure, we got his milk intake measured with our lactation consultant. After nursing (seemingly) vigorously for 30 minutes, he had only consumed 60 grams, or about two ounces. He should have been consuming about four ounces per feeding according to his age and number of feedings per day.
So, basically, my baby was only getting HALF of the food that he should. No wonder he was screaming. He was hungry! Poor little guy. I was instructed to begin supplementing an additional 2oz per feeding right away.
A week after the procedure, his milk intake increased to 90 grams in a half hour feeding, or about three ounces. There was noticeable improvement! I was so relieved. In the meantime, I was attempting to pump to increase my supply and to use for the supplemental feedings. This quickly became incredibly tiring and overwhelming. Trying to care for 3 kids, including a newborn, and nurse him, feed him a bottle, then pump, then clean the pump parts and bottles, and then start all over again day after day seemed impossible to keep up with. This routine simply was not sustainable for me. I could feel my mental health declining again. This whole situation caused so much stress that I felt very unhappy. I was happy to know that things were improving, but on the other hand it seemed like I couldn’t really see a time where my life would be any different or easier than it was right in that moment.
I discussed it with my lactation consultant and we decided that I should pump when I am able to, but not to make myself sick by stressing about doing it a certain number of times per day. I always had formula that I could give him. I am a HUGE breastfeeding advocate, so I don’t want to sound like I am promoting “giving up.” I was at the point where this was the best choice for us. My mental health affected the entire family, including my ability to care for my baby. A mother has to balance all the needs of everyone, including herself. Everyone needs to be healthy. Bottle feeding was a godsend to our family. It solved many problems at once. I still worked with my baby to help his mouth and tongue heal and stretch properly, worked with him on his latch, and helped exercise his neck muscles which were affected by the tongue tie.
It was like I had a whole new baby. He was HAPPY. I could put him DOWN. For the first time, I could somewhat relax. It felt so strange to me to not feel constantly on edge. To not feel that heavy, panicky weight when he cried. What a transformation!
Fast forward six months and this baby is just doing great. I am, too. I have steadily improved with my mental health stability through the help of continued medication and some counseling to help me cope with some of my symptoms. That is the beauty of medication to me. Before it, I’m completely unable to do anything to help myself. With it, I still have struggles and symptoms, but I can be in the frame of mind to DO something about it. I’m not longer helpless. Medication doesn’t solve all the problems, but it can be a huge help and truly life saving.
I still feel like I haven’t found my place here. I still don’t have close friends. But I do have a network established and a level of familiarity with people and places that makes me feel comfortable. I have found some interests to keep me involved and active. I have the ability to pull myself up when I start to slip and fall. I have been able to pursue some interests and find a little spark of passion from within myself again. I have learned a lot. When I look back and see the differences in myself between now and a year ago, I almost cannot believe the difference. The hell is ending. My voyage is almost complete. I’m blown away at how much has happened and how long it has taken to work through this; yet grateful at the same time that it wasn’t longer or more challenging than it was. I am filled with compassion for others who experience things similar to what I have and worse. I certainly don’t claim to have a bad life. My challenges are small in comparison to some. But even with a tiny glimpse into what life can be like when you feel sick, lonely, and hopeless, my perspective has dramatically changed. I’m grateful for normal; and I almost feel back to normal. Who knew average and “normal” could be so incredibly fantastic?