Friday, October 19, 2012

Postpartum Hormones Work In Crazy, Mysterious Ways

I wasn't sure how to title this post, because a few things could work: "What Nobody Tells You About Postpartum Recovery" or "Way #9734 That Motherhood Has Changed Me" or "Crazy Shit That Happens In Motherhood."

I decided on being broadly specific. Because that just made so much sense. Anyway. On with it. Here's a big secret: Postpartum hormones can really, really fuck you up. And with that, here's another (not anymore) secret about me: I went through some weird stuff postpartum and it changed me forever. 

Immediately after my first child was born, I was flooded with all of the feel-good hormones. I was, in spite of my nipples having turned into ground beef, quite happy with my little Ethan, and my hospital stay was the best thing ever... stay in bed all day and have people bring you food? Hold your tiny sleeping baby all day without having to worry about doing anything else? SIGN ME UP. 

Then, upon returning home from the hospital, I experienced a strange emotional upheaval. Overall, I was still really happy, but then I'd be feeding my little baby and would suddenly, with startling clarity, think about the fact that there were babies just like him going hungry at that exact moment. Watching him eat, thinking about the suffering, hungry babies in the world who were crying for food right thenI would be filled with a piercing, agonizing, grief-filled pain for those babies. My emotional upset was so incredible that it manifested as physical pain, squeezing my chest, my heart, and restricting my breathing. 

I would start sobbing, absolutely gripped with grief, helplessness, and anger. As if that wasn't enough, the same thing would happen while changing his diaper; I'd think of the babies and children who were being molested right then. I'd think of their fear, of their pain, of their broken psyches and lost innocence, and thought I would lose my mind over the crushing devastation I felt for them.

Or when Ethan cried, I would pick him up and comfort him and think about some neglected baby in the world who was crying right then, because he was cold or in pain or hungry or just needing somebody, and nobody was coming to help him. The thoughts came against my will, and once there I could not stop my brain from plunging, in exacting detail, into the depths of the horrors that babies and children everywhere face. 

And I would cry and cry, absolutely crippled with pain. I couldn't help it, I couldn't stop it, it was completely out of my control. It was baffling. It was agonizing. It was some of the worst emotional pain I have ever felt in my life. The pain was almost unbearable.

I wondered if this was who I was going to be forever, an extremely sensitive person who cried all the time and was tortured at the knowledge of babies suffering, but I suspected and especially hoped that it was the hormones and would eventually go away, because the grief was too much to take and I needed it to stop, before I broke

Anybody who has delivered a child knows how powerful those postpartum hormones can be. I was consumed with these thoughts for over two weeks postpartum, consumed with the gripping, torturing realization of the vulnerability of children, of the horrors inflicted on them. I  tried (but didn't always succeed) to hide the episodes from Nate because I don't like to cry in front of anybody, not even him.

After the first few weeks, I still had the episodes but they came less frequently and with lessening intensity until finally, my grief, rage, and sadness at children's suffering became something I could think about and still feel striking pain over, but the thoughts did not cripple me or reduce me to a sobbing, hot mess. However, I did not emerge from the episodes unscathed. It is impossible to endure something that powerful and walk away from it unchanged. My level of consciousness had been heightened, forever. The pain that I felt from my acute awareness of the suffering of children had become a huge part of me.


Looking at my baby, looking around his room, I started thinking about what I could do to help. Sometimes, at the store, I would buy an extra tube of diaper rash cream and pack of diapers or extra baby food and take them to a family center or shelter, along with baby things that we didn't need. I knew it wasn't a lot, but we're not wealthy and at least it was something. It was comforting to know that at least for one day, a baby was going to have clean diapers, some warm clothes, and a full belly. 

Then we had Connor, and then Brandon. I experienced the exact same thing for a couple of weeks after coming home from the hospital with each of them; the emotional upheaval was renewed. At least I knew it was eventually going to wane and so I was able to let it ride. Since then, money is tighter, time is tighter, and I'm not able to do the little things as much as before, not that it was a whole lot before. I have to force myself not to think very much about the hungry babies out there, because I have my own babies to feed, and I can only do so much. 

But it doesn't feel very good to turn a blind eye. 

We live in a "beach bum" town, emphasis on the "bum." There is a high adult homeless population. Panhandling is something seen pretty much every day, and I have become inured to it and tend to ignore the panhandlers. I would go broke if I gave any money every time I was asked, and I especially don't trust that they would use the money to eat.

And they almost never have kids with them.

Plus, Nate always warns me that to open my wallet up in front of people opens me up to be robbed. So after 11 years of living here, I have come to naturally and automatically deny the panhandlers when they ask for money. Besides, I usually (like the rest of the world now) hardly ever have any cash on me, anyway.

Last year, when Brandon was about a year old, I was walking out of Toys 'R Us when a scraggly, dirty man approached me and said they were stranded and needed gas money to get the rest of the way home. I gave him my automatic (and true that time) response of "Sorry, don't have any money on me" and walked to the car. As I was pulling out of my parking spot, I caught a glimpse of the man standing against the building with a woman and small child in a stroller. Something gripped me as I was driving away and it wasn't until I was on the highway heading home that I realized what was bugging me. 

They had a child. They were down and out, and that baby might have been hungry, or in need of a fresh diaper. I mean, if they couldn't afford gas to get home (assuming that was the real story - I don't trust panhandlers, even ones with kids) were they able to feed that child? I started thinking about the things I had in the car with me that I could have asked if they needed for their child; extra diapers, wipes, a sweatshirt, some food. I could have gone to the gas station down the street and bought a gas card for them.

The farther away I drove, the more my feelings of devastation grew. I could have helped a baby that was right in front of me, and I didn't. I beat myself up on that drive, telling myself that I needed to be a quicker thinker, that I should have been quicker about recognizing the situation, that I should have acted on it as soon as I saw the baby. The fact that the baby was not my responsibility didn't matter. The pain that I had felt in my postpartum days was pushing into me. I was mad at myself. I almost turned around but I needed to get home for whatever reason and couldn't take the time to turn around. It haunted me for weeks that I missed an opportunity to make sure a child wasn't going to be hungry or cold, even if for just that day. And I vowed that I would not miss that chance if it was put right in my face again.

I wanted another chance put in my face. 

A month later, I was leaving the grocery store. A woman approached me in the parking lot and asked for money. As I began to give her my automatic response, she added that she just got into town and only wanted to get a campsite so her kids would have somewhere safe to sleep for the night, instead of spending another night living in the car.

That stopped me in my tracks. I said, "You have kids? Send them over here. I have no cash but I have food I can give them so at least they're not hungry." A minute later, a couple of small boys came running over and I handed them several things from my bags, enough for a couple of meals. They were happy to have food and it was wrenching to see their happiness at just being able to eat.

It's painful seeing kids going without the basics, it's painful knowing that it is happening everywhere in the world, every minute of every day. While not at the depth it was postpartum, it's still so painful.

Those postpartum episodes were agonizing (I know, nothing compared to what the kids I'm hurting for deal with on a daily basis) but I'm glad they happened. I'm glad that I was branded with this compassion and awareness, so that here and there, I can be cognizant of opportunities to help. 

And especially, so that I can be encouraged, motivated, angered into finding bigger and better ways to help.

I'm also glad because it helps me remember perspective and gratitude, so easily forgotten in the chaos of life. Every once in a while, I will stop and just watch my boys eat for a few moments, and I can temporarily let go of my parental frustrations and feel this infusion of bone-deep gratitude that they have enough to eat, that they are not going hungry, that I do not have to listen to them cry out of days-old hunger and feel the crushing pain and helplessness from having nothing to feed them. 

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  1. Thanks for making me cry! I coupon and get a lot of stuff for free so I can give it to our local food bank. But the's so hard to see the kids without. Again, THANKS for making me cry!!!! lol

  2. I generally carry the belief that everything we have in our lives is because we earned it - even food. I went to school, I got a job, I pay my bills, I buy my groceries. When people ask me for money on the streets I usually say the same as you; "sorry, I don't carry cash". However, there have been instances in which I've given people food. Although I work hard to earn the food I eat, if I've got food and the person next to me is hungry I'm probably going to feed them. Earlier this year I was exiting the highway and stopped at the light; there was a 50-something year old man and woman holding a sign that said they were hungry. I happened to have the rest of my Subway footlong that I hadn't finished and would honestly probably have let sit in the fridge until the bread got hard, I got picky and thrown it away. So I handed the man the sandwich and the look in his eye told me he was so very grateful for what I'd given them. I watched them share the sandwich from my rearview mirror as I drove away; it felt good to have given them something they needed. I feel sad for hungry people and I wish that everyone could be as fortunate, or more fortunate, than me - but that's just not the way the world works. I think the best we can do is provide for ourselves, provide for our children, give when we can and just hope for a better world.

    1. So true, Amy! What I think was the kicker for me was the realization that kids can't take care of themselves; realizing how vulnerable they really are, and therefore kids and babies are where most of my heartbreak is centered.

  3. You are a bummer but I like you anyway. Maybe you should start carrying granola bars?

  4. Aggh, I hate seeing kids go without!

    I am a little jaded though - I've traveled the world, and been to countries where people will throw a baby (real or fake, I've had both) at you - then pick your pockets when you instinctively CATCH THE BABY.

    1. THAT is awful. No, my heart lies with the truly hungry, not the scammers!

  5. This reminded me of something that happened a couple of years ago...I was with my husband and my oldest two kids. We were pulling out of the Albertsons parking lot and there was a man with a sign on the corner. My daughter, who was about 10 at the time said she wanted to give the man her last $2 and a bottle of water we had in the car. So we pulled up to him, my daughter rolled down the window and handed the man her $2 and the water. He said thank you and them proceeded to ask my husband if he had any dope!!! I was so fucking pissed off!!! My husband wanted to kill him! I couldn't believe he had the nerve. Thankfully my daughter didn't hear him. I know it would have broken her heart. She had done something selfless and I know she felt good knowing she had helped the poor homeless man(douchebag!)and I didn't want to ruin her spirit. I still see him from time to time and I will obviously NEVER help him again. Matter of fact I've seen him taking hits off the pipe behind his sign and called the cops on his ass! But I won't let one bad experience stop me from helping others I feel are truly in need. I'm just a little more cautious now and like you, I give them food, NOT money.

    1. Amy, that sucks so bad! I'm so glad your daughter didn't hear him. That's the main reason I don't give to panhandling adults, and especially not money. I dealt with A LOT of them when I worked in the jail and know what many of them are like. My sympathies are directed towards children, who can't help themselves.

  6. Whoa, that was unexpected cry! Thanks so much for sharing, though. It's crazy what hormones and babies do to our brains, but it's good to know that it isn't all bad...that sometimes it leads to some pretty amazing self-realization.

  7. That happened to me a few times, once buying shoes at target, I started crying in front of the baby shoes thinking of all the kids in the world went needed shoes and couldn't hope to have a pair while I was picking out basically decorative shoes for my son. Once when my son spent a night in the NICU, thinking of all the parents who have no insurance. and once when I heard of a mom having twins, with no car seat or crib. I couldn't even sleep thinking about that family, things were (are) tight at home I didn't know how I could possibly help, but I couldn't stop thinking of those babies. I talked to a friend in a mom's group and got a car seat 2 bassinets, clothes, blankets, carriers. it was the best to feel like we could make a difference. anyway alll we can hope for is the chance and ability to help :)

    1. Oh my gosh, that's SO great that your mom group was able to help them out! I LOVE it!

  8. You're timing is amazing. Seriously I just came from lunch with my Rotary Club, and the program today was on AMOS (A Mission of Service for Health and Wellness), a DR was speaking about how she and her husband were both doctors and her husband's father was a missionary Dr and they traveled a lot while he was young in Nicaragua. She had been a soccer mom, happy with her life and situation, while he wanted to go back to Nicaragua as a missionary Dr. So she prayed about it etc and they went in 2002 and are still doing it. Apparently Nicaragua is the poorest or one of two poorest countries in the western hemisphere. In the rural villages where they work its not just hunger that's an issue, sanitation, no drinking water, parasites, no vitamins at all. And the women cook on wood stoves in unventilated homes with the smoke just filling their homes. The newborn babies had a 75% death rate. Children dying from diarrhea and pneumonia, the pictures, heartbreaking.
    This morning I was at a Chamber meeting for S.M.A.R.T. (Start Making A Reader Today)and it was located at Henderson House (for battered Women/ Children) and they are talking about the lack of volunteers and Henderson House needing money & I'm like look I have 5 kids to take care of and a husband house 4 dogs on one income. Give me a break.
    Its hard to find the lines to draw between being apathetic and being true to your heart. It's hard knowing there are tons of scam artists out there who make a full time + living begging. And some of them will train their children too. How do you tell them apart from the ones who truly need? I guess you just have to go with your gut. As a family we give to specific organizations that we KNOW give where we want. Local giving tree they do gift cards for groceries, clothes,gas even just visa cards sometimes at Christmas. Angel Tree, give gifts to children of the incarcerated for Christmas. (This one is very dear to my heart because for 3 years in a row the same family drew our kids name, and they had small children of their own but those gifts that come with a note Merry Christmas Love Dad made a huge difference to our kids especially when they were younger and that is a very big deal to us.
    Also at Christmas on some giving trees the little kids go first leaving the 13 -17 yo kids hanging on the tree. One year I had a lot of extra so I took three all teens. You know what they wanted, clothes. Not fancy clothes just some clothes so when they went to school they could blend. I think about that every year. We have never had much, but I see people with less all the time and it does help put things into perspective.
    One year I had lost my job, my Dad was incarcerated, we had no heat in our uninsulated house and some parents from my sons school got together and gave us a $200 Grocery Card and $200 Walmart card. Seriously I'll never know who it was but it made all the difference for us that year. Whatever it takes to keep your heart open is worth it.
    BTW I had horrendous postpartum with my son that lasted 2 years!!!! Crazy.

    1. I'm so glad that you are able to be helping out! That is awesome, and I am especially happy that you were helped when you needed it, too. I love hearing these stories!

  9. Your post, which I read this morning even though I'm only commenting now, got me off my sleep-deprived butt (yay teething baby) to call a new, local charity that helps out moms of children under three years old. Having got those full-sized 'sample' formulas that I blessedly do not need, I thought someone could definitely use them. The charity even took the awesome coupons that come with the samples. I also managed to pawn off some of the baby furniture and clothes that we no longer use. (Of course, hoping there's no 'oops' in our future.) I had been meaning to call the charity for a while so thank you for this post.

    1. Boom. This right here is (partly) why I write this blog. I am so happy to read this, Denteen! Thank you for letting me know that it inspired you to donate. It's awesome to know that some hungry babies are going to get to eat! You are amazing!

  10. When we found out that we were pregnant we put an advert on Freecycle (not sure if you have it in the States but if you do, I'd recommend getting involved) for baby stuff. We were fortunate enough to collect three strollers, a couple of spare car seats plus a couple of other bits. Toys, etc that we didn't need. When no-one on Freecycle wanted them we asked our midwife if she knew anywhere that could use the spare bits (we got a friend to check the car seats for safety). She came and picked it all up to take to a womens' refuge. Now DD is 3 months old we're beginning to generate spare bits. It hadn't occurred to me to save them to pass on but, inspired by this post we will be now.

    Now, off to find the joker who's slicing onions in the office. ;)

    1. We do have Freecycle here! I've been meaning to check into it; I've heard good things about it.

      I'm very happy to read that you've been inspired to pass things along! I love it! I can't believe she is three months already; it seems like just a few weeks ago that you let me now about her arrival!

      I hope you found that onion-slicing joker... sorry about that. ;-)

  11. I can't recommend Freecycle enough. We've recently (almost) finished renovating our current house and it's been super useful both for getting rid of surplus materials and getting bits and bobs for free. And of course for keeping usable items out of landfill, thereby doing our bit for the planet etc.

    Which reminds me, talking of generosity and passing things along. A couple of years ago we decided for the first time ever to get a plastic Christmas tree. It was a really nice all-white one. We only used it for a couple of years and then it went back in its box in the loft. When a guy on Freecycle put up a post saying he needed one, we offered him it as it was far too big for our new house. He came round explained how his wife had thrown him and his three boys out just before Christmas, how he'd had to move back nearer his parents (he was from my town but had moved away with her) and he couldn't afford a tree for them. He was really grateful.

    A couple of months later, karma (not that I believe in karma) paid us back when another Freecycler gave us an Ikea super king-size bed with matching bedside tables. We just had to get a new mattress. Which was lucky as my wife was getting a little, ahem, shall we say blooming for our regular double at the time. And my god, has that bed been useful for co-sleeping.

    Yup, three months Sunday just gone and cute as a button. Time certainly flies, huh?

    1. Well I am definitely going to check it out! Thank you!

      We got a king bed finally, and with a kid who frequently gets scared in the night and comes sleep with us, it is the best thing ever! I only wish we had it BEFORE we had the first baby!


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