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Not Just the Baby Blues: My Postpartum Struggle With Motherhood

Not Just the Baby Blues: My Postpartum Struggle With Motherhood

Last updated on February 5th, 2024 at 03:23 pm

The day I left the hospital with my twin babies, the nurse on duty recited a monologue about what to do and not do and what to expect once I got home. She said, “In the next two weeks, you might feel very sad, and have a lot of emotions. This is normal, it’s the baby blues. Turn on some music and dance through it.” I did not dance through my “baby blues.” The hormonal shift that occurs post-birth, my expectations of how I was supposed to be, combined with the sudden loss of my previous, non-mom identity was a recipe for an anxiety fear filled four weeks following childbirth.

I internalized a whole set of rules upon giving birth. My emotions were “supposed to” do certain things (like feel euphoric and loving) my body was “supposed to” do certain things (like be able to breastfeed) and I was “supposed to” know how to do certain things (like be alone with my babies). In my first month as a new twin mom all of these “supposed tos” escaped me and I spent most of the time feeling weak and fearful that the new state of my life was chaos and incompetence, exacerbated by two relentless beings who would never go away.

My Emotions

My swollen foot
My swollen foot

The first night we brought the babies home from the hospital, we swaddled them and put them in their crib and they cried and refused to sleep. I was exhausted from trying to breastfeed, having an operation, and smiling continuously for our amazing string of friendly visitors at the hospital. Now my husband stood over the crib swaddling and re-swaddling them. If the swaddle was just right, they would stop crying, right? I threw myself on the bed and wept. I kept thinking, “I didn’t ask for this.” My post C-section body was swelled beyond belief and I just wanted to walk away from the whole thing. It was my first night experiencing motherhood as the release of my life-as-I-once-knew-it. For me, there was nothing romantic about this aspect of motherhood. I felt incompetent and I thought for sure I would need anxiety medication to be a mom.

I felt like something was wrong with me because I was not struck with the euphoria of motherhood. Due to the nature of my pregnancy, I chose to have a planned C-section at 36 weeks and never went into labor. I never experienced the rush of oxytocin that is supposed to shuffle you through childbirth and assist you in feeling that instant powerful love for a baby. I also didn’t get to stay with my babies for several hours after giving birth. I could not have articulated my feelings at the time, they just manifested as feeling defective in a subtle way that I couldn’t pinpoint. One of my friends gave birth a few weeks after me, to a singleton, and was at my house shortly after and said, “Isn’t this the most amazing thing?” as she looked down at her baby. With two newborn babies and no feelings of maternal joy kicking in, I sat on my couch looking around at all the baby clothes everywhere, my diaper pail that kept breaking, and all I felt was the anxiety and fear that I couldn’t live up to being a mom for two babies. I just nervously smiled in response to her and said, “Yes, it is.”

I felt like there was no way I was capable of giving my babies what they needed. As if my love could never be enough. I did not realize patience with myself was an option, as a new mom. I didn’t know that the love I had at the moment of their birth was a seed in me that was growing with each interaction. I just expected it to be there, magically. Nope. For me, the initial work of motherhood was learning to generate a love that could be brave and huge, a love that could protect and work purely towards the happiness of another being. This was not instant. I wish, at the time, I knew this was OK — normal, even. I just felt defective.

My Body

Hubby was a little tired too

I was completely exhausted. Beyond what I thought was even humanly possible. Waking many times throughout the night, trying to keep up with feedings. My body didn’t do anything of what it was “supposed “ to do. I had planned to exclusively breastfeed my twins. From their birth, I fed them then pumped and still no milk — at least that I could tell. My breasts were not engorged or hard or any of the things that happen when your milk comes in. Everyday was an endless cycle of feeding one baby, then the other, then pumping and starting it all again. I worked with lactation consultants at the hospital and I called another lactation consultant when they were just over a week old. She examined me and said she thought I had Hypoplasia and that I would probably not produce enough milk to breastfeed them exclusively. I sat there and just cried. Up to this point I felt I was just trying to hold it together: the organizing of the clothes, changing the diapers, feedings, and then this just broke me. I mean, come on! The whole point of breasts is to produce milk and mine just wouldn’t do it the right way. I remember looking at my own mom across the room from me, then down at my chest and saying, “Useless, useless breasts.” My mom just started to laugh! Her laughter was provided relief to me, but I was still so sad.

My body had retained massive amounts of fluid following the c-section. I was hooked up to an IV for nearly 8 hours pre-surgery and it was as if all that fluid was just sitting in my tissues. Each time I slept, I woke up sweating. So much sweat, so much swelling. As I continued to release large amounts of fluid it seemed my body slowly started to produce more milk; not enough to exclusively breastfeed, but I knew they are getting some milk. I was devastated about this and judged myself harshly. I read blogs about how “bad” formula is and how if you just tried hard enough you could exclusively breastfeed. I internalized articles that suggested my children would be more intelligent, have better motor skills, better cognitive development, if I were to exclusively breastfeed. I even had dreams about breastfeeding. In the dreams I would hope that my kids would be smart despite the fact they weren’t exclusively breastfed.

At each feeding, I would breastfeed each of them and then pump for about 20 minutes and kept the ounce or so that would come out. At the next feeding I would rotate which baby got that ounce, so as to ensure they were each definitely getting some milk. I had no idea how much they were getting when they were on my body. I kept careful track of who got which pumping session. I was very fortunate to have my mom and mother-in-law helping me in the first month, so I had the opportunity to breastfeed them individually and together. Although at the time, I felt trepidation at each feeding, I now view that time as a profound opportunity for bonding with each of them, despite the fact I had no idea how much milk they were getting.

My Identity

The help
The help

It took me a while to experience motherhood as an act of my own creativity, which helped rebuild my identity. In my first month we had a lot of help. We needed it. This made it difficult to claim my new identity as a mom. I was definitely not who I used to be, but I also had no idea who I was as a mom. My mother lived with us for three weeks and then my mother-in-law also came for a week. I was recovering from the c-section and had zero experience with newborns and felt anxious and incompetent, so I was terrified to be alone with them. I was afraid not to have help, but this meant I wasn’t free to be alone with my babies and sing made-up songs that can only stem from those moments of isolated intimacy between a mom and her babies. The longer I had help, the more I felt I wasn’t capable of doing it on my own.

By the beginning of my fourth week with them I felt like I absolutely needed to be alone with them in order to know who I was as a mother. Until this point however, if I had been alone with them I may have cried all day long. It was a difficult balance to strike, but around the end of the 4th week I felt like I had some actual “instincts” and a faint confidence kicking in and I wanted to be alone with my babies to flex that new muscle.

By the time I reached my 6-week postpartum check up, I felt I had a grip on handling my new reality as a mom. When I explained my first four weeks to my doctor, she said that some of it was normal and some of it sounded like postpartum depression. She made sure I had people I could talk to and a network that could help me if I needed it. I didn’t realize that it didn’t need to be that difficult. I just sort of thought I needed to get it together. If my anxiety had not subsided and if I did not begin to feel a confidence that motherhood was something meant for me, I know I would’ve sought help and gone on anxiety medication. I wanted nothing more than to be fully present and happy for my babies and I feel so grateful every day now that I can be there for them in that way.

Melissa Ruopp

Melissa Ruopp is a mom to two-year-old twin boys. She mainly works for her children, but also consults for an arts access organization in NYC. She enjoys the unending love and partnership of her husband. She is interested in  practicing meditation, exploring the role of arts in learning, and trying to see things from her childrens’ point of view.

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