Q&A: Reclaiming yourself

Jen asks:

"Hi Moxie,

I have always been a fan of your advice and am so thrilled you started an advice column. I hope you can shed some light on my situation.

I gave birth to Sophie after a rather stressful and often times gloomy pregnancy that was plagued by one darn thing after another. I thought to myself that at her birth we'd reach this crescendo and all would be so great afterwards. Only, it sort of didn't happen that way.

Sophie screamed nonstop from birth, had apnea spells, plateaued her weight gain and in her 4th week of life slept 20 minutes a day. Her 5th week was no better when we saw a single hour of sleep. She screamed, vomited copious amounts of everything and gorged herself on the breast. We were feeding ever 15 minutes. Finally, by the grace of G-d, we got into a Paed's office and she was diagnosed with severe silent reflux. Since then we've battled on with a severe reaction to a drug, balancing 2 medicines daily and teaching her how to sleep and eat properly.

Now at almost 16 weeks things are starting to settle down (I never expect life to be 'settled') but I've developed PTSD amid PPD and was diagnosed with physical exhaustion and have been put on anti-anxiety meds and an antidepressant. I'm feeling ok about that (nervous about the drugs in the breastmilk) but the doctor ordered me to take some time out for me. Get a sitter a couple hours a week and go do things for me. Take an overnight holiday he said.

And with Christmas coming up all the relatives and friends want to 'do things' for me and give me gifts. And I just can't let them. I guess I feel no one would know how to cope with Sophie's meltdowns or how to soothe her, how to give her medicine, etc. I feel such anxiety over it. So I've declined to let anyone watch her. I've worked a way to have about 30 minutes to myself a day and that feels really good.

But I'm suddenly stuck wondering where I've gone. In those 30 minutes I'm supposed to do something I like. Only, I don't even remember what I like and none of my old hobbies appeal. I'm too tired to go jogging or go swimming as was suggested by the doctor and I just want to hole up and hide. I already bathe with Sophie as a means of destressing so it's not like I want another bath. I can't even tell people what I'd like for a Christmas gift because I can't even feel desire for anything -- not even chocolate or cake!

Is this just part of the depression? Where on earth have I gone!? I know they say the AD's don't change you but I sort of want it to -- I want some of me back!"

Thank you!

If it makes you feel at all better, I think you're having a completely normal reaction to an abnormal situation that's become normal for us. If that makes any sense. Let me explain.

I think the way we parent is absolutely nuts. We are all isolated in our own little houses trying to stay interested and keep our heads above water being alone with a baby for the whole day. That's just not normal. Humans are created to be around other humans, and not just teeny tiny humans.

We should all be living as tribes or small villages. If we lived with other people around us, parenting wouldn't be as stressful or isolating, because we'd be talking to other adults all day. And they'd help us raise our children. Need to take a nap? One of the old ladies or teenagers would be happy to play with your baby for an hour or two. Feeling frustrated? One of the moms of older kids would help give you a little perspective, and you'd look at her kids and see the light at the end of the tunnel. Need some time alone with your husband? Your baby can crawl around with the other babies at a neighbor's house. In short, you wouldn't be in this predicament in the first place.

So that's the abnormal part. Now, I think your reactions to this are completely normal. I felt, and I know lots and lots of other moms who felt, a physical and emotional pull toward our babies that was shocking. Before I had El Chico I thought for sure I'd be happy to leave him with a babysitter for a few hours at a time. But then once he was here I just couldn't imagine it. He was part of me, and when I wasn't with him I couldn't even imagine what I'd do. My husband would say, "Honey, just go out for an hour or two and do whatever you want. We'll be fine here without you." I had no worries whatsoever about the two of them together, but I literally could not think of a single thing to do by myself. I'd usually end up wandering aimlessly through the aisles at the grocery store.

I know I'm not the only one who had this same experience (anyone else who wants to pipe in, feel free, especially adoptive moms, because my suspicion is that you have the same exact experience as bio moms with the separation thing, but I don't know as I'm not an adoptive mom). I think it's partly biological (the same way we become forgetful during pregnancy), and partly emotional (because of the love and connection we feel for our babies) and partly a result of stress (sleep deprivation, recovering from pregnancy, wondering who the hell we are anymore). But it's normal.

In my experience, it started to go away once my baby started crawling. Funny, isn't it, that as soon as he could start to leave me I was ready to start to leave him a little? I can't believe it's just a coincidence.

So, in the meantime, what do you do to get some relief? Well, knowing that how you feel about being away from Sophie is normal and not something to be worried about or "cured," I'd say you should ask for things that will get you more support and contact from people who care about you while you're with Sophie. Ask people to come over and bring you lunch and stay for an hour or two. Yes, they'll probably hold Sophie while you go to the bathroom or toss in a load of laundry, but the point won't be for them to babysit her. The point will be to create more of a community to help support you both (and your husband, too, of course). Ask for people to give you a gift certificate of their time to come sort through baby clothes with you, or paint some room that needs to be painted, or go to the zoo with you, etc.

In the meantime, have you started going to any groups for moms of new babies? I think peer support is absolutely critical for new mothers. You can find friends at breastfeeding support groups, baby classes, the public library, La Leche League, and hospital support groups. These groups can also help you organize your week by giving you something to look forward to and plan around.

Once you start feeling like you're not so trapped in your own head, you'll have a little room to breathe and you'll start to get interested in the things you used to be interested in. Maybe you'll join a book club (once a month leaving Sophie with your husband for a few hours won't seem like anything by then) or train for running races (with Sophie along).

I'm going to disagree with your doctor here that you should go on an overnight by yourself. Not because I think there's anything wrong or unnatural about a mother going away from her baby, but because I know I couldn't have done it when mine were that age. I would have gone into a full-blown panic attack because it would just have felt so wrong to me. But I know it's not that way forever, and won't be for you, so don't feel like you have to force yourself to do something you don't think is right for you.

If you don't feel like leaving her yet, don't. But try to bring the outside world, and the people who care about you, into your life more. You'll get your old self (actually it'll be your new, improved self) back soon enough once you start to reenter the world. (And if you need to ask for physical things for Christmas, ask for a great jogging stroller--so you can walk or run with Sophie--and some Lilypadz--if she's been nursing every 15 minutes you probably have a heck of a supply and are probably leaking a lot at night!)