Saturday, April 29, 2017

these difficult, wonderful days

The seven weeks since Molly was born have been some of the hardest.  Most wonderful, of course, but also hard.  

To start everything off, the day after we came home from the hospital we were back in the ER because I had chest pain and difficulty breathing, so we needed to rule out the possibility of pulmonary embolism.  (Fortunately, all the tests came back clear and it was nothing nearly so serious as that in the end!)  But spending the better part of a day in the ER with your three day old baby and your two year old and four year old, while your milk is coming in and your hormones are crashing and you're suddenly just a little bit afraid that something could be really wrong and you desperately want to see your children grow up -- well, that was a rough day.

Then severe neck pain set in, which lasted a week and a half.  I had to take ibuprofen and tylenol around the clock just to function and not be snapping at everyone I crossed paths with.  The pain was pretty bad, and I could barely turn my head in either direction.  An after-effect of two nights in a hospital bed, perhaps?  Or from sleeping strangely once we got home and the baby wouldn't sleep unless I was holding her?

By the time the neck pain resolved, I had also had a cold, which my bigger girls proceeded to get as well, and even poor baby Molly got a hint of the sniffles.  Nell got a fever and a one-day tummy bug in the midst of all that, as well, and my cold turned into a raging sinus infection.  My head pounded around the clock, my teeth and eyes ached, and I could barely sleep at night from the discomfort -- and of course, any time I did fall asleep I'd be assuredly awakened by my newborn soon thereafter.

* * *

While still in the midst of sinus misery, on the weekend of Palm Sunday, when Molly was four weeks old, Nell started complaining of stomach pain.  Her tummy, her sides, her back, and her chest hurt her.  Then she began to say it hurt to breathe.  We had no idea what this could be, and of course it was the weekend so we couldn't just talk to someone at our family doctor's office.  She was running a very low-grade fever, about 99-100 at any given time, and the pain she complained of seemed to come and go.  That Saturday night Nathan mentioned that he used to get stomach aches as a child from worry, and asked if Nell might be worried about something.  Sleep deprived and in pain and worried about my girl, I spent the entire night awake, reliving every less-than-stellar moment I had ever had as a mother, wondering what I could have done wrong to give my poor four-year-old such anxiety that her whole body was in intermittent pain.

The next day, when Nathan got home from work, we went to Urgent Care, wondering if it might be appendicitis, and they sent us onward to the ER, where Nell was diagnosed with... pneumonia.  A rather mysterious form of pneumonia that involved almost no coughing and barely an elevated temperature at all!  The doctor called her a "mystery patient."  And in the wee hours of the morning, when Nathan and Nell returned from the ER (I had come home with Ree and Molly so the little ones could sleep) -- poor Nell having suffered through three attempts before they got an IV in her little arm to administer fluids and antibiotics -- I hugged her for a very long time and we all snuggled together in our big king sized bed for the rest of that night.  And I finally slept, despite my sinus infection, relieved that her symptoms were a real physiological illness that was now being treated, and not induced by terrible parenting.

A couple of days after that I began to feel better at last.  There was light at the end of the tunnel.  We would all be healthy, and be able to get our feet under us as a family of five... if only this poor baby wouldn't be so inconsolable all the time?

* * *

Yes, around the time Molly was three or four weeks old she wasn't that same sleepy little newborn anymore; no longer did she just cry when I tried to lay her down in her bassinet or in the swing.  Now she cried sometimes even when she had been fed and changed and burped, when she was upright in my arms up against my shoulder in her favorite position, even when I walked circles around the house singing and patting her back and bouncing and swaying.  I was lucky to get a rare nap from her where she'd sleep alone once every two or three days.  Usually, her eyes would drift closed only to reopen in one or two minutes, over and over again each day.  So I just wore her in my ring sling constantly.  And sometimes she'd take nice long naps there, but other times she'd cry and cry, and I'd have to say to the big girls, "I can't hear you over the sound of Molly crying, I'm so sorry," and get right down on their level, and then tell them that no, whatever they wanted me to do with them right then, I probably couldn't do it.  I couldn't sit down at breakfast with them; I had to keep walking.  I couldn't sit on the couch and read.  I couldn't pick them up or snuggle with them as much as they wanted me to.

Nell started to draw pictures of Molly always with a sad face.  (And honestly, I'm surprised she hasn't been drawing me that way, too.)

* * *

In the week leading up to Easter, Nathan was working many hours to prepare for the big day, and I remember telling him late one night when he got home, "I just feel like every day is harder than the day before."  It was, I suppose, the opposite of the experience I might have expected to have as we adjusted to having three children.

In the midst of all the baby sadness, I was trying anything I knew to help her be more comfortable.  I gave her gas drops and infant probiotics, I cut dairy out of my diet, I bicycled her little legs, I held her with her legs curled up high against her tummy.  On Good Friday, I took her to get her lip tie clipped in the hopes that it would help her latch improve so she'd swallow less air and be less gassy and uncomfortable.  I kept her upright nearly constantly; she screamed any time I tried to lay her down.

I remember my other babies needing to be held a lot, but was it like this?  I know they didn't always like going in the swing or car seat, and I know they demanded more of me than I knew I had to give (as any baby will), but was it like this?

Sometimes we'd have a few happy, contented moments or the several calm hours of her napping in the sling against my chest, and I'd second guess myself and wonder if anything had really been as difficult as I felt it was.

Easter came and went, and sweet Molly was baptized at the Easter Vigil and then proceeded to have a pretty content and calm Easter (snuggled against my chest in the sling for most of the day, of course).   But the following days were still difficult, and I wondered if it had to do with Molly's latch, or if her tummy was just generally bothering her, or if maybe she had something called silent reflux.  So next, Molly and I went to see a lactation consultant.  The LC was wonderful, and suggested I do a method of nursing called block feeding, which we switched to immediately, and has seemed to help.  She recommended block feeding for a while rather than immediately trying reflux medication (which I asked about), since sometimes reflux is caused by (or can even just be misdiagnosed, apparently) overactive letdown and/or foremilk/hindmilk imbalance.  So block feeding is hopefully working to address those things.

But possibly the best thing the LC said, even more wonderful than her knowledgable help, was when she observed Molly smiling at me for several minutes after she nursed.  "Wow!  I've never seen a five-week-old smile so much!  She's so engaged with you and so social and so sweet."  And then a few minutes later when Molly began her inconsolable crying, the LC asked, "Is this what it's like most of the time?"  And my eyes filled with tears as I responded, "Yes... I don't know what I'm doing wrong..."  And the LC looked me in the eye, and put her arm around me, and said, "You aren't doing anything wrong.  And this isn't her personality.  She's not an irritable baby; she's a sweet baby.  Those sweet smiles, that was her personality.  This crying, this is her being uncomfortable.  It's not her personality."

I didn't even know that I needed to hear that, but apparently I did, because I felt relief wash over me.

* * *

We are still awaiting our happy ending, still hoping to find some way to help Molly be more comfortable and happier.  There are wonderful moments of happy smiles, and a few contented minutes where she'll sit in the swing for three or four minutes while I wash dishes and give my lower back a break from the constant baby carrying.  Nights are not bad, for which I'm incredibly thankful - they're probably her easiest times.  As long as I don't even try to move her into her bassinet, but let her sleep in the crook of my arm, she will sleep 3-4 hours stretches, so I'm reasonably well-rested for her difficult days.  And right now, she's lying beside me, drifting in and out of slumber, nestled against my side in bed, and life is good, and things are peaceful.

But oh, those hours when she cries and cries and I don't know how to help her - that is so, so hard.

* * *

We have been upheld by friends and even acquaintances in more ways than I can say, and we are profoundly grateful.  We've been brought meals, and I've been reminded of what an indispensable blessing that is to a family with a new baby.  And at other times, just having someone come by to play with the bigger girls and give them some time and attention, or to hold the baby for a bit, has meant everything and helped me keep some valuable sanity and perspective.  A week ago, as I got back to work teaching violin lessons, the dad of some special students cleaned my kitchen for me, the cleanest it had been in months.  Each of these things and so many more - like a friend stopping by with a cup of coffee - has served as a reminder to try to do likewise for others once we have our feet under us a bit more.

And I'm learning to say "yes" more than I ever have before: Yes you can come hold the baby.  Yes you can help out.  Yes you can come step into our messy, messy house, and into our messy, messy lives.  And the rewards for saying yes are not just the help in the immediate that we've received here and there when we needed it, but also the relationships forged and growing.  Saying "yes" to others' offers to help can be a hard thing, but such a good thing.

* * *

I second-guess myself almost constantly.  Do I know anything about babies?  Is all this crying normal?  When she's happy, I sometimes think, "Why did I think she was miserable and inconsolable?  She's happy!  I must just have been doing something wrong.  I'll get it right next time she cries."  And when she's crying, and I'm pacing the house, bouncing and patting and shhhing and singing, I can barely remember how I managed to calm her down in other moments.

When we are out and about, she'll often sleep happily in the sling at church or other events, and I'm not sure anyone would know or believe what these long days at home can be like.  Inevitably someone will come up to me and say, "Enjoy every moment; it goes by so fast."  (And I look down at my almost-five-year-old and I know that they are right.)

Someday, when this is behind us, I find myself wondering what my faulty memory will retain and what will slip through the cracks.  Will I look back at photos of this sweet baby smiling, and wonder what I was so agitated about, why my head and jaw ached from the tension brought about by listening to a baby crying and not being able to soothe her?  Or will I remember the desperation of the moments when I just didn't have enough of myself to go around, to tend to everyone's needs, to hold everyone close enough?

{If history is any indication, I'll probably still be second-guessing myself, doubting whether my memory of events is at all accurate, and assuming I simply didn't handle things as well as I should have!}

I am a little tired, and filled with self-doubt at times, and I am sad for my baby girl when she is sad.

But mostly I am filled with a sort of fierce love -- that no matter how many friends have happy, contented babies who may sleep well and coo and giggle all day long or sit in their car seats or swings happily -- this baby, our Molly girl, is the one I love dearly right now, and I will continue to do anything I can to try to calm and comfort her, and when that fails, I will just keep whispering to her, "We'll figure it out, girlie.  I'm here with you.  We'll get through this.  I love you."


  1. I am so grateful these girls have such a wonderful, resourceful, imaginative, articulate, and patient Mom!

  2. Oh, Sarah. This post brought tears to my eyes. I'm sorry things have been so hard. I wish we lived around the corner instead of across the country so that I could offer meals or babysitting or something beyond just empathy and words.

    I, too, struggle with self-doubt. All the time. But your conclusion is absolutely beautiful. I'm so glad your sweet girls have you as their Mama.

    Praying you and sweet Molly find rest and peace soon.