Category Archives: Post-partum depression

SOC Sunday: The winter doldrums

#SOCsunday

As usually, I am linking up with my friend Fadra for Stream of Consciousness Sunday. Today’s Writing Prompt: How does winter make you feel and what do you do with those feelings?

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It’s funny, I was just thinking about this yesterday when I took Noah out for a walk. Mostly that I can hardly wait for summer. Then I thought about the heat and humidity of June, July and August in Alabama and decided that it’s really spring I’m looking forward to.

We’ll be celebrating Noah’s birthday. The weather will be warmer, and we’ll be able to go on walks every day unless it’s raining. Brighter days are ahead.

I’ve frequently thought of Counting Crows’ Long December throughout this winter. It has been a long, tough few months for me this time. It was my first winter and first holiday season without my dad, and it was tough. Add to that the fact that I’ve been dealing with postpartum depression for several months and also that I decided to try to come off my  meds, and it’s been a sort of trying season.

But for me that just makes spring seem that much brighter. Maybe I’m fooling myself into thinking it’ll be something better than it is, but that doesn’t stop me from looking forward to it. I think back to that fortune cookie I wrote about sometime in the past couple of weeks, the one that said I would have great joy when the flowers bloom.

I hope it’s true. I feel like the Long December is coming to a close for me, and I’m glad. Typically I don’t have as hard a time during the winter as I did this year, so I hope that next year will be different but that I’ll go into it having survived the hardest winter of my life and bearing more knowledge and strength because of it.

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This was my 5 minute Stream of Consciousness Sunday post. It’s five minutes of your time and a brain dump. Want to try it? Here are the rules…

  • Set a timer and write for 5 minutes.
  • Write an intro to the post if you want but don’t edit the post. No proofreading or spellchecking. This is writing in the raw.
  • Publish it somewhere. Anywhere. The back door to your blog if you want. But make it accessible.
  • Add the Stream of Consciousness Sunday badge to your post.
  • Link up your post at All Things Fadra.
  • Visit your fellow bloggers and show some love.

A moment in time (PPD update)

I stood over the garbage can, carrot in my left hand and vegetable peeler in my right. Hamburgers sizzled in the skillet, and beans rolled in boiling water on the stove.

In the nursery, Bobby was reading aloud to Noah, “Hey, come join the lot of us…” I’d heard Noah’s laughter just moments earlier and was glad they were having some time together. Noah’s been going through a clingy phase where he only wants me, and I know it’s been hard on Bobby, too.

“But not the armadillo,” Bobby reads.

And I sigh and think that this is just the way it should be. That life is good.

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Last week was a major emotional battle, the worst since I came off PPD meds.

For the first time, I seriously entertained the thought that I should just start taking the pills again.

And you know what? At the time it seemed like such a hard decision that it was paralyzing, but it would have been OK if I had needed to do that. At the same time, I’m proud of myself for sticking it out through several tough days and coming out on the other side feeling a little better.

I don’t really want to dwell on details, but I’m glad I’m past that for now. I suspect that’s not the last time I’ll feel an onslaught of negative emotions, but hopefully next time I will be better prepared for it.

I think it’s toughest on Bobby when I go through periods like that because he’s seen a glimpse of the old me shining through as I’ve come out of the haze of PPD/PPA. And I know a lot of times I take my anxiety out on him in some form (most often it’s being extremely short-tempered for no apparent reason). I’m really thankful that he’s here with me, willing to fight through it with me.

I also have to admit that I do wonder how to know if I really do need to go back on my meds. Last week I just kept telling myself I wanted to make it one more week, just to see if this funk was going to stick around. And it didn’t. But at what point do I say, “OK, this isn’t getting better on its own?”

It’s a little scary, I guess. I have a pretty sensitive husband, so I think his attentiveness will help. I just don’t want to go through the rest of my life with bouts of misery that last several days or a week followed by a few days of feeling semi-normal only to dip back down into a near-debilitating depression.

That probably sounds more hopeless than I feel, but like I said, last week was tough. I’m glad to have my head above the water again, though, and praying that I’ve passed the worst of it. Moments of contentment like the one I shared above give me hope that maybe I have.

My word for 2012: JOY

joy fortune cookieA few weeks ago, Bobby and I met up for our weekly lunch date at Pearl Garden, one of our favorite local Chinese places. We always get a laugh out of the fortune cookies (We add “in bed” to the end. Do it. It will revolutionize your fortune cookie experience.), but this time I was a little caught off guard by the fortune in mine.

“When the flowers bloom, so will great joy in your life.”

I think we probably still joked a little bit, and Bobby teased me that maybe I’d be pregnant again in the spring (That’s a big, fat NO.). But that little cookie prophecy has stuck with me. I can hardly take my mind off it.

Last year was really, really hard. Have you ever seen an old, weather-beaten wooden house that has been abandoned for years … so abandoned that no one’s even bothered to tear it down?

That’s how the last year has made my soul feel.

I am weary. I have reached points where I wasn’t sure my emotions could handle any more. I have bent, but I. have. not. broken.

The past year has been spent clawing my way out of the dirt, sometimes with bare hands. I have mud under my fingernails and smudges on my face, but I can see daylight now, and it makes me yearn for the sunshine even more.

Yes, I’m tired, but I am hopeful. I am ready to see mourning turned to dancing and sorrow turned to joy. And that’s my prayer for 2012.

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The Lettered Cottage

Blissdom confessions

I’ll just be honest and say I’m posting this because I need reassurance.

I’m feeling so incredibly anxious about Blissdom (for those who don’t know, it’s a blogging conference I’m attending in February in Nashville). I literally said I would be attending Twitter yesterday because I hoped just knowing other people expected me to be there would entice me not to back out of going. I haven’t even officially signed up for it yet, but I’m already getting that terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I don’t think this is regular anxiety. I think it’s PPA-related. I love meeting new people and trying new things.

But as I think about it, I imagine sitting by myself in a roomful of people who are all laughing, who all have things in common, who have met or chatted on Twitter or Skyped before. I think about breaking the “rule” that crying in the bathroom is not allowed. I think about how much I’ll miss Noah and Bobby and that I wish I could just take them both with me.

And the knot from my stomach is in my throat now.

I want to go. Bobby is encouraging me to go. I’ve even had one person (hi, Fadra) already promise me a hug.

But this little voice tells me I’m not cool enough. That people will just be annoyed by my anxiety and nervousness. That I don’t belong there.

And I want to belong there. I want to experience the community everybody who’s been raves about. And I’m afraid I’m going to be the one missing out.

Struggle

Butterfly and cocoon

Photo from starampglobal.com.au.

I’ve heard a story before about how it’s important for a butterfly to struggle to get out of its cocoon in order to be strong and able to fly once it’s in the real world.

So I guess I should be thankful.

Coming off antidepressants has not been a walk in the park. The first couple of days were a breeze, but then I think my system realized something was up, and the hormones that had been held in check for months decided to have a little party in my brain.

It’s not as bad as it could be, but I have felt a lot of pressure, stress, anxiety in the past week. I’ve found myself being increasingly short with Bobby. We’ve fought more this week than probably any other single week since I started on the meds. I’ve done my share of crying. And with Christmas looming, I’ve been thinking about my dad even more than usual, which doesn’t help.

But I’m not breaking. Bobby has been so supportive and has let me know (gently) that it’s OK if I need to start taking the meds again. And I was able to talk to him about where I am — to tell him that I know, that I will if I need to but that I’m not going to take an easy out. I knew coming off them would be difficult, and I’m making it OK so far. Not easy, but OK.

I do think it will get easier. My body will slowly get all its chemicals more straightened out, and I’ll be able to go through my days without the near-constant tension that comes from anxiety and depression.

In the meantime, I am reminding myself to take deep breaths and enjoy the happy moments. It does my heart good to have weekends like this past one, where Noah was about as sweet as I could imagine, where he wanted Mama to put him down for his naps and didn’t mind when I cuddled him a few extra minutes each time.

Life is good, even if it’s hard. And I think it’s getting better every day. One day at a time, and I’ll take a few steps back if I need it.

Loss, PPD and the holidays

My sisters and me with our dad at Christmas in 2006. Hard to believe that was five years ago.

I’ve had this post rolling around in my head ever since I visited “home” for Thanksgiving. I don’t know why I haven’t written it yet except that it really is still hard to think about my dad sometimes.

Something that struck me about the time I spent with my sisters and our significant others over Thanksgiving was that we were able to share stories about our dad. Good memories, funny little things we remembered, even a few things we wish had turned out differently.

And I was able to reflect on my dad and who he was (and who he wasn’t, for that matter) without feeling like the walls were closing in on me.

Up to this point, the postpartum depression I’ve dealt in recent months was so much in control that I really couldn’t even think about my dad without facing a downward spiral of crappy emotions. And that really kept me from even being able to grieve for him because I basically just couldn’t even think about him. And when I did, those thoughts quickly turned to me – what I was doing wrong, how bad my life was, what was wrong with me.

This is not to say that I feel at fault for this or that I could have done anything about it at the time. But I am really glad that I now feel like I’m able to grieve for my father.

Christmas was one of his favorite times of the year. I will always remember (and this is so silly, but it’s a fun memory for me) him wrapping presents on random nights in December and then knocking on the bedroom door, indicating that he wanted me to come get them. I would race down the hallway to get the wrapped-up presents, hoping to catch a glimpse of something unwrapped on the other side of the door before he closed it. I never did catch that glimpse.

I think about being a kid and loading up in my dad’s truck, bundled up against the cold, to find a Christmas tree. We’d take a saw and drive out into the woods somewhere near our house, looking for the perfect tree. We’d decorate it with every Christmas ornament, string of lights, strand of garland and piece of tinsel we owned, and by Christmas, it would be almost hidden behind stacks of presents.

Today when I was trying to get Noah’s attention, I caught myself saying, “Psst!” That’s something my dad always used to do. He would say, “Psst!” and then when I would look at him, he’d wink. I have a feeling I’ll be teaching that to Noah.

One of the things that makes me saddest is that Noah and my dad never got to meet. Never got to go fishing together. Never rode down to the river or threw a baseball. Noah never got to see him play Santa Claus.

But one of the things that makes me happy now is that I can actually process this, and when the time comes, I know I’ll be ready to share my dad with Noah.

I think visiting family at Christmas will come with its own set of challenges, and I hope I’m ready to face them. It has always been such a special time for my family, even though it’s been different in recent years. And I want Noah to get a glimpse of what it used to be like.

I also don’t want PPD to take away from the joy of  my little boy’s first Christmas and our first Christmas as a family of three.  I’m going to do my best to focus on the good and to leave the worries behind in Tuscaloosa. I’m going to embrace the craziness of the holidays with my family and remind myself when I feel a little overwhelmed that everything is going to be OK. I will take some time for myself while allowing Noah’s grandparents to have a little extra time with him (AKA babysitting).

It’s going to be a different Christmas, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a good one. And I want to honor my dad and my little three-member family by celebrating.

It’s time. I’m ready.

sleeping baby

Thank goodness the kid slept on the way home from Nashville! Cute, isn't he?

Today is my last day of taking antidepressants.

I think I’m ready.

I got a little bit of a reality check last weekend when we went to Nashville. We were visiting a home church community there, and we took Noah with us. And he cried. And cried. And cried. For basically the second half of the car ride. He also puked at lunch because I let him have a Chick-Fil-A fry, and he crammed the whole thing in his mouth.

Then came Opryland. Great idea in theory, but not so much with a cranky 8-month-old and a million people there looking at the Christmas lights. Bobby and I fought a bit because he wanted to sit down (he didn’t tell me until later that his gout was acting up), and I set off with Noah and the rest of the group without him.

I was barely holding it in at that point. Bad thought after bad thought after bad thought until I was at the point of tears.

The worst thought? “I can’t do this. I’m not ready to come off meds, and I’m never going to be. I just can’t handle motherhood.”

*Sigh*

Thankfully my friend Natalie asked if I wanted to just take Noah and grab something to drink instead of walking around. Almost the whole Tuscaloosa group ended up catching back up with Bobby and sitting for a while. I think that saved me from a full-blown panic attack in the middle of the Opryland Hotel.

So then we end up with the whole group (there were probably at least 40 of us) at Cracker Barrel. Which is also excessively crowded. And noisy. And I have a hungry, cranky baby who hasn’t slept very much all day, and it’s already past his bedtime.

And then we end up at a table with six. other. kids.

Now this is not to complain about the kids, because they were actually all pretty well-behaved. But it was total A.D.D. time for Noah, which was not helpful while I was trying to feed him. Baby food EVERYWHERE. And I just kept getting more and more frazzled as I tried to keep him from grabbing silverware off the table or flinging pureed carrots into my hair by yanking the spoon I was feeding him with out of my hand.

And, of course, in the midst of all this, he has a poopy diaper and completely freaks out in the bathroom when I go to change him. (I don’t know what scares him so badly about public restrooms, but he screams and shakes like I’ve never seen.)

Poor Bobby wanted to help, but we were so packed in there that it was impossible to swap seats.

The pressure and the strain and the bad feelings just kept on building until I was really at the verge of a panic attack. Bobby saw it and kept reassuring me that it’s going to be OK, it’s going to be OK, it’s going to be OK. We ended up setting Noah on the table to finish feeding him, then I gave him bits and pieces off my plate, and he was completely content. No more fit-pitching. Grumpy baby, gone.

Bobby was right: It really was OK.

I approached the edge, and I didn’t go over it (with a little helpful tug back toward reality from Bobby). I didn’t have a panic attack in Cracker Barrel in front of a bunch of people I just met. Noah eventually got to bed that night and woke up the next day in a significantly better mood.

I woke up with a new perspective on me. Those fears from the night before about not being able to handle it? I. proved. them. wrong.

Motherhood isn’t ever going to be easy. And just because I’m coming off antidepressants doesn’t mean I’m completely over PPD and PPA. It just means I’m at a point where I can handle it.

I’m gaining back control of my life, and it’s a relief. It feels good. I’ll take that last little half-pill tonight, and I will close that particular chapter of my life.

Here’s to happy, med-free, messy, full-of-struggle-but-not-overwhelming days ahead.

Edited to add: I have been in the process of weaning off these meds for four weeks after having discussed it with my doctor. I followed her instructions for doing so. I definitely don’t recommend quitting antidepressants cold turkey! If you’re thinking of getting off your meds, make sure to talk to your doctor FIRST!

Of random anxiety attacks (and facing them down)

I was driving today to drop off shoes I collected for Soles4Souls to help out All Things Fadra. I thought I was going to have to drive three hours to Wadley, Ala., which is in the middle of BFN, but thankfully it turned out that I was able to drop them in Birmingham, which is a little less than an hour from our house.

For some reason I felt a ton of anxiety about going. Maybe it was because I was venturing out by myself for this long (thankfully it turned out to be not-so-long) trip, something I really haven’t done since I traveled alone with Noah after my dad passed away. Regardless of the reason, anxiety hit big time.

I was driving along on the interstate when I started thinking about what would happen if I got into an accident. Those thoughts quickly led to thinking about dying and not being able to see Noah grow up.

But here’s what was different today from the past seven months or so: I saw what was happening, and I literally said, “NO. I am not going to do this.”

And I didn’t. It was a big victory, and I’m proud of myself.

Danger vs. truth (a PPD update)

Bobby isn’t sure that I’m ready to come off anti-depressants. If I’m being completely honest, I’m not entirely sure either, but I called my doctor yesterday to find out what steps I would need to take.

I’m not sure how to describe what I felt when I hung up the phone — sort of a mix excitement, anticipation, dread and fear. I know I don’t have to do this now if I’m not ready. But there’s also that little voice in the back of my head reminding me that I really don’t want to be on anti-depressants forever, that I can easily see a difference from now and six months ago.

And there’s a smaller, more dangerous voice whispering, “What’s wrong with you? Aren’t you better than this? Needing drugs to be normal?  If you were really as good as you think you are, you wouldn’t hesitate. You would just stop now and not even bother coming off gradually.”

That is really painful to admit because reading it here, actually on the screen, I see how incredibly terrible it sounds.

That little voice is what has caused me in the past six months to, on occasion, skip days of taking my meds, and it’s made me miserable. And I should be clear: This isn’t a new voice. It’s not a PPD voice, although I’m sure in this instance the PPD does play into it somewhat. It’s a voice that’s been with me for a long, long time.

So I’m afraid of heeding that little voice. I worry that I’m really not ready because I know the PPD is not something I have any control over. But the way I’ve felt recently has been different. I’ve felt more rational and more in control. And when I think about coming off my meds, the dominant voice is not that one that’s mocking me for starting them in the first place; it’s one that tells me that I can give it a try. That this isn’t something I can even fail at; it’s just something I need to take at my own pace.

I’ve found comfort in the medicine I’ve taken the past five months or so. It, along with the support of Bobby (who I can really never thank enough for dealing with all my PPD issues so incredibly graciously), brought me back from the darkest, most painful place I’ve ever been. It allowed me to love my son and learn how to be a mother.

Now I think it’s time for me to try those things on my own. It’s probably not going to be easy, but I think I am more prepared now than I was then. And if I need help, I am a big enough person to ask for and accept it.

So take that, little dangerous voice.

I deserve better than to be judged: On breastfeeding vs. formula

I’m coming back to the beginning to preface this, as it’s turning into a pretty lengthy post. There has been a good amount of argument this week around the Internet (particularly among those on the mommy blogger circuit) about breast feeding vs. formula feeding and whether hospitals should provide free samples of formula to moms.

Honestly, I’ve stayed away from it as much as I can, because this is a bit of a trigger for me. What I have read — on both sides — has brought back a hint of that gut-wrenchingly anxious feeling I experienced at the height of my PPD. I am a formula feeder — not by choice — and, as much as I wish this wasn’t the case, I still feel guilty about it.

So if you don’t want to bother reading my story, please just understand this part. When I became a mom, my world stood still while the rest of the world continued moving around me. It would be great if we all suddenly lived in a vacuum during and after childbirth where we had an easy time making decisions, all things were perfect and we actually got to make choices about all the things that were important to us. But that’s not the case for me, for you or for any other parent in the world.

Things happen. Not every mom is the same, and not every mom’s experience is the same. And these debates over which choice is right and who is a better mommy is painful. I know I put enough pressure on myself to be a good mom without a bunch of other people adding to that by whispering (or shouting, as the case may be) in my ear about how this or that decision is the. most. important. one. and if I don’t choose correctly, it’ll eternally damage my child and my bond with him.

Please, please remember, no matter which side of whatever argument you fall on, that the vast majority of us are out here struggling to do the best we can with what we have. We love our kids just like you love yours. And I’d guarantee that 99% of us would benefit so much more from understanding and support than we would from another argument.

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I was able to hold Noah only briefly before he was taken to the NICU.

When Noah went to the NICU right after being born (a week late and weighing 9 lbs. 5 oz.), I was unprepared for it on every level.

I had dreamed of that perfect moment when Bobby and I took him in our arms and became a family of three. Noah would have immediate skin-to-skin contact, and I would be able to bond with him through breastfeeding right away.

Except it didn’t happen that way.

My doctor warned me that I might not get to hold him right away after she broke my water and found a rather alarming amount of meconium. But, she said, there was a good chance if he cried immediately that the nurse would go ahead and hand him to me.

The first words I said, and I remember it so clearly, when my son was born were, “He’s crying!”

I’m not sure if I physically reached for him — I imagine I did — but every inch of my being ached to have that little screaming, red mess of a baby laid on my chest. I had carried him for nine months, and I was ready to start getting to know my child.

So imagine my disappointment when he was almost immediately whisked away to a warmer to be poked and prodded by nurses. My doctor and delivery nurse were doing their own poking and prodding on me, and I had to ask someone to move out of the way so I could actually even see Noah.

The details surrounding precisely what happened next are a little fuzzy. I was told his Apgar scores were 9 and 9, about as close to perfect as you can get. But then there was some worry about the way he was breathing. They wanted to take him to the NICU so they could figure out what was wrong. I asked if I at least could hold him before they took him away, and someone swaddled him up and handed him to me. Bobby didn’t even get to hold his son until later that night (actually just after midnight, I think).

I had to wait in my room for my epidural to wear off. I had planned a med-free birth, but after 28 hours of laboring with little progress, my doctor and I decided to go a different route. The nurse finally came to help me get cleaned up, and I was cleared to go visit Noah.

We had to scrub in to see him in the NICU. I was sore, tired and achy as I shrugged into the sterile hospital gown that was required to go in the room with him. At that point they had him in a regular cradle, but they would soon move him to an incubator unit because they thought his body temperature was getting too low.

Bobby feeding Noah in the incubator.

The nurses couldn’t be very specific about what was wrong with him, just that he had an infection, he needed IV antibiotics and that we would not be able to hold him just yet. They were not allowing him to eat until the following day, so definitely no breastfeeding.

At some point, the hospital set me up with a breast pump, and I set about pumping every couple of hours. I was running on not near enough sleep after the long labor, and my body ached as if I had the flu. But still I pumped every few hours. The voice of Noah’s pediatrician and my doctor and basically every other person I’ve ever talked to about breastfeeding echoed in my head, reminding me how important that first bit of colostrum is to the baby and how I basically had to use it or lose it.

So I kept at it. We were able to begin feeding Noah small bottles of formula provided by the hospital after a day or so of him being in the NICU, first by sticking our hands in the incubator and eventually actually holding him. The nurses mixed in the little bit of colostrum I produced, praising me for my effort and reminding me how much that would help Noah. But still no breastfeeding. They couldn’t unhook all the wires, and it just wasn’t possible, they said.

I was released on Wednesday after having Noah late Sunday night, and Bobby and I revolved our schedule around pumping and making it back to the hospital with that before it was time for Noah to eat. We were going to the hospital every three hours during the day.

As the week went on, there was some uncertainty about when Noah would be released. First it was going to be after 5 days, then a week, then maybe an extra two days or two more weeks. And I continued to feel worse and worse rather than feeling better. By Friday I suspected it might be something more than just the normal aches that come from childbirth, took my temperature — it was 102. Bobby called my doctor immediately, and she prescribed an antibiotic. We would find out later that Noah and I had the same infection — villitis.

Meanwhile, we were finally allowed that Friday morning to meet with the lactation consultants and attempt to breastfeed Noah for the first time. I cried. It was such a sweet relief. The lactation nurse told me she could tell he was going to be a good breast feeder.

The next morning we were hopeful that Noah would be released. I still felt terrible, but at least I knew what was wrong and had medicine. I had been pumping successfully for a week, and even though it seemed like my supply was not growing like it should, I would be able to actually breast feed like normal soon. We planned to go for Noah’s first feeding that morning so I could attempt BFing him again. Bobby dropped me off at the door about 10 minutes before the scheduled feeding time, and I scrubbed in, put on the hospital gown over my clothes and bopped on over to Noah’s NICU suite with my Boppy pillow in tow.

And when I got there, a nurse I’d never seen before was feeding him a bottle. And I LOST it.

Bobby seriously had to pull me away from Noah’s room and the nurse who was feeding him, because I was sobbing. It was like that whole week’s frustrations and all the hopes and fears about finally bringing our child home all escaped at once. I sank into a chair in the NICU nursing room and buried my head in my hands. Bobby went to grab Noah’s bassinet and pulled him into the room, which was probably the only thing that saved the scene from getting even uglier.

Noah's first day home

We did end up taking Noah home that day, much to our relief. Some things got easier from there, and some got worse. Bobby and I were new parents with no idea what we were doing. We weren’t getting sleep, and suddenly I was up every few hours trying to cram my boob into the mouth of a screaming baby. Difficult even when you’re at 100%, but I was still recovering from the infection that had raged for almost a week before I got treated. I was running a fever every day, and Bobby would tell me months later that I had actually deliriously tried to leave the house “to go feed the baby” in the middle of the night one of those nights.

I tried breastfeeding Noah as often as I could and pumped when I couldn’t. Adding to the stress was the fact that because of Noah’s NICU stay we were still having to take him to have his sodium levels checked about every other day. That particular part of this story is a bit of a blur, but just trust me when I say it was ridiculous and probably never should have even happened, but his doctors wanted to be very cautious.

I set up a follow-up appointment with a lactation consultant because we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, and this was the one bit of advice most everyone seemed to agree on. Again, the lactation consultant commented on how well Noah latched on and that she thought he would do just fine as a breast feeder once I got the hang of it.

Then after I was done nursing him, she placed him on the scale to see if he’d gotten enough. She looked at the nurse with her with pursed lips before she looked at me. She told me it looked like maybe we had better supplement with the bottle of formula I’d brought with me because he’d only consumed about 8 millileters.

I’m surprised I didn’t break down then and there.

Meanwhile the rest of the world spun on around me. My father had been sick for quite some time with lung cancer that spread to his brain, and I knew he was nearing the end of his life. Those people who say that at least it was expected? They really don’t know what they’re talking about.

I knew if I could just make it to Noah’s two-week follow-up with his pediatrician then I could get the all-clear for him traveling and see my father before he died. I wanted him to meet Noah.

Noah’s appointment was at 2:30 on a Monday. My dad passed away around 11 that morning.

Bobby insisted that I pack up and go be with my family, and he was right. I looked him in the eye and asked if he knew that this would probably bring an end to breastfeeding for us, and he said yes. I told him I couldn’t handle the added stress of pumping on the road and in the midst of grieving family members and funeral arrangements. I would return to pumping if I could, but I didn’t pack the pump. What I did pack? As many bottles of ready-to-feed leftover hospital sample formula as I had left.

That trip was hard. My mother had lost her husband of 40+ years. My sisters and I had lost our father. Noah had lost the Papa he never met. My Aunt Merilyn offered to keep Noah at my mom’s house during the visitation and funeral, and I nervously accepted.

My emotions threatened to overwhelm me during this time. I was mourning the loss of my dad, but there was also something else that kept returning to the front of my mind, that kept my shoulders in a perpetual slump and my head down: I felt so guilty. I felt like a failure. I constantly questioned whether I should have brought the pump, whether I should have Bobby bring it with him when he joined me in south Alabama on the day of the funeral. Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe I could change my mind. The constant questioning, the pressure, the guilt — they all made me feel as if I could never possibly be the right kind of mom for Noah.

Once we arrived back home after my father’s funeral, I pumped one last time. I didn’t even pump 10 ml. I was done.

The pumping and breastfeeding part might have been over, but the guilt and self-doubt had only just started. Every time I sat down to give Noah a bottle, my body physically yearned to have that breastfeeding connection with him, and I couldn’t do it. I don’t know how many times I cried as I fed him.

Less than two weeks after my dad passed, I would find myself sitting in the hallway of my home, Noah in my lap and a bottle in my hand as tornado sirens went off in the distance. I think the distraction of feeding him was the only thing that kept me from realizing that train-like noise that was roaring outside our house was actually the EF-4 tornado that destroyed a large part of Tuscaloosa.

My mom called, and I answered, not realizing the scope of what was going on. She told me she was watching coverage of Tuscaloosa on the Weather Channel and that they said a huge tornado was hitting the city. She wanted to know if we were OK. We got disconnected.

A lot of cell phone towers were destroyed by the storm, but I would eventually get word to my sister through a text message that we were OK and our house was fine. We were just without electricity and clean water — not exactly conducive to taking care of a baby.

We loaded up in the car in hopes of finding a hotel with electricity nearby. We had no idea what we were setting out into. I will never forget merging onto the interstate connector near our home and the only light being the eerie red glow from hundreds of tail lights. I fed Noah a bottle in the car on our way to stay with friends whose home had been unaffected by the tornado.

Finally back home after staying with friends for several days after the tornado.

If my father’s death hadn’t put an end to breastfeeding for us, the tornado certainly would have. It was impossible to escape the devastation in the following days and weeks because it was everywhere. And all those negative emotions that had been building? They went into overload.

It would be several more weeks before I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. The pressure I put on myself, the guilt, the shame, the feelings of being a terrible mother all combined with the mourning of the loss of my father and the destruction of the city I called home to put me in an incredibly dark place. Losing breastfeeding was one of the issues at the center of this dark universe, and it continues to cling to its place there.

So where does that leave me now? I’m surviving PPD, and I’m learning to accept the fact that breastfeeding just. didn’t. work. out. It’s not my fault. I did what I had to do, and I shouldn’t have to be ashamed of that. Because I am surviving. And I have a happy, healthy six-month-old that I am a GOOD mother to.

Six months old, and THRIVING. And Mommy isn't doing too bad either!

If you made it through this, I hope you know that if you are making the best decisions you know how to, then you ARE a good mother, no matter what anyone else says. These topics people love to argue about aren’t going to go away anytime soon, and even if they did, new topics would just replace them.

If you need help, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it. If you have questions, you shouldn’t have to fear asking them. And there are most likely people out there who have faced the same or similar things as you who know better than to judge you for not traveling the exact path they have.