What’s a Doula and Why Do I Need One Anyway?

  Tuesdays are usually reserved for “making stuff” posts, but what’s the phrase?  “I’m so crafty I make people”?  Kid-free readers, I promise, I’ll stop with the pregnancy/baby stuff eventually, but I write about stuff as it pops up in my life, and there’s an awful lot of this little guy in my days at the moment!
  So I didn’t actually have a doula for R.  Not for a lack of trying, it just worked out that the women we were interested in working with were all previously scheduled to help with other births due right around the same time I was.  Ah well, they probably would have had a hard time living up to my first doula anyhow.
  For G’s birth my dear, dear friend Kate was my doula.  She moved to Pittsburgh about a year after that and if you’re pregnant and in the area, I strongly urge you to check out her new site and send her a message.  But!  Even if you aren’t anywhere near Pittsburgh, you still may want to find a doula.
  Basically a doula is a sort of “patient’s advocate” for the woman giving birth.  Even if you’re the most clear headed, straight spoken woman on earth, things get hairy fast when you’re in labor, and you’re liable to find yourself unable to remember your own phone number, let alone make lots of decisions.  A doula meets with you before the birth and talks to you about what you hope will happen and things that are important to you during the birth and can walk you through writing up a birth plan.  Obviously they can’t make the final call for you when you’re in the labor and delivery room, but they can remind you, for instance, that you said you preferred to not have any interventions when the nurses ask if you want an epidural and you’re yelling “I don’t care, do whatever, just stop talking to me so I can focus on not exploding!!”  They will also help you to think, talk about and prepare for the changes that will be coming in your life once the new baby joins your family.
  My labors weren’t really ideal for showcasing a doula’s talents during birth.  I was in labor for 5 hours with G and only 3 with R.  I was only in the hospital for half an hour before G was born, and the first 10 minutes of that were in the waiting room because the staff didn’t quite believe that someone having their first baby was progressing as quickly as I was.  And who knows, maybe I was acting too calm to be that close to giving birth?  Kate made the difference between my having him in a delivery room and having him in triage…or possibly the wheelchair.
  For more typical births (namely ones where the baby isn’t born like it’s been shot out of a bazooka) doulas have a whole bag of tricks for helping you through labor.  Suggestions for actions and positions that help contractions to be more comfortable, massage, aromatherapy…lots of good stuff.  Plus, because they’re not the mom or dad, they are able to have a somewhat less emotional view of the proceedings and help keep everybody calm.  They can also help wrangle friends and family to keep visitors to a manageable level if you have a clan that’s likely to overwhelm you at the hospital.
  After the birth, some doulas are available for postpartum care.  This is mostly an education based service, assisting with things like breast feeding, talking to new big brothers and sisters about their new sibling and helping families work out the kinks of finding something resembling “normal” with their darling new bundle of screams-in-the-middle-of-the-night joy.  That being said, some postpartum doulas also provide help with housework, meal prep and other day to day tasks so that mom can recover and the family can get to know the new baby without everyone being overwhelmed.
  Having done the birth both ways, even though, as I said, I wasn’t really the ideal candidate for a doula, I really missed having Kate with me for this birth.  Having her as a doula made everything run just that much more smoothly and it was a wonderful feeling knowing that there was somebody level headed on my side in the midst of the chaos.  It’s something I absolutely recommend if you’re having your first baby, but even if you’re having your second or third.

Post Partum…what? Anxiety and OCD, PPD’s secret cousins

  This post isn’t an easy one for me to write.  I have no problem admitting to my mistakes and eccentricities, but I hate letting people see my fears…and oh buddy have I been dealing with fear.

  Two months after R was born I went to my doctor and began being treated for post partum anxiety and OCD.
  If you’re reading this, it means I’m feeling far, far better.  I’m starting to write it well before I’m ready to publish.  Hopefully I’ll be able to edit it into something cohesive.  I wouldn’t be writing it at all if the whole reason I went to see my doctor weren’t another blog post.  Owing my recovering to another woman’s bravery in talking about this makes me feel obligated to spread the information myself.
  I didn’t really notice what was going on at first.  I was anxious, I was irritable and it seemed like the “nesting” urge to clean hadn’t disappeared.  I kind of enjoyed the cleaning part actually…until I started staying awake cleaning instead of sleeping…and realized that I wasn’t actually keeping my house clean, there was just one set of cabinet doors that stayed spotless.
  Every time I had to walk down the stairs with R in my arms the thought that I could fall and crush him flashed through my head.  Every time I carried a pot of hot tea near him I’d picture it spilling and scalding him.  I worried that the hot iron half way across the room would somehow defy gravity and fall on and burn him.  Every time G would be in the same room I’d feel attacked and panic, unable to begin to control the number of things that a 3 year old could cause to go wrong.
  I ignored it.
  Of course I was irritable, I was adjusting to having two children to take care of instead of one, my hormones were all over the place and G was (is) going through an especially mouthy phase.  So I felt a little anxious.  Doesn’t that usually go with the irritability?  Especially when it’s being caused by a combative companion?  Ok, the cleaning was a little weird, but I’ve been trying to train good cleaning habits into myself, so if I fixated on those cabinets a little bit, it just meant the habit had taken and it was time to start focusing on a new task to add to my routine, right?
  I ignored it, because that seemed like the sensible thing to do, and because while I knew about post partum depression, I wasn’t depressed…and I had no idea that post partum anxiety and OCD were a thing.
  The evening before R’s two month checkup I stopped being able to ignore it.  My Mr. was gone on a work trip and I’d just finished putting down both boys without any backup for the second time ever and I was freaking out. When I was putting down G, I thought I heard R crying, when I was putting down R, I was sure I heard G.  Tears were streaming down my face and I wasn’t entirely sure why.   My Mr. and I had had an argument the week before and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, wondering if his trip wasn’t a “trip” and he was actually leaving me (despite the fact he was currently on his computer talking to me).  The to-do list in my head was a mile long and I was nearly hyperventilating thinking about how much I “had” to get done before I could sleep.  There was laundry to be washed, floors to be swept, mirrors to be cleaned.  I had forgotten to thaw the spinach for the lasagna I was planning to make that night and had fed G hot dogs.  Clearly, my head told me, I was a failure as a mother and a woman.
  As I freaked out to my Mr. he mentioned that what I was describing feeling sounded a lot like generalized anxiety.  I blew it off.  I’m not the anxiety type, I thought.  I don’t worry about things that don’t need worrying about.
  Well, I don’t normally.
  I lay in bed frustrated that night, watching the amount of time before I had to wake up and take G to school shrink, unable to sleep.  I had a thousand things I wanted to get done and I knew it would be far harder to accomplish them if I was tired.  Finally, somewhere in the hurricane of swirling thoughts, two pieces clicked together.  A day or two before I had read this post by Jill of Baby Rabies.  I had mostly skimmed it, because it’s essentially a product pitch and not one that applies to me since I’m not really a “city mom”, but the phrase “post partum anxiety” had lodged in my head.  It had stuck out for me because I had thought “huh, I wonder if she meant post partum depression”.  With my husband’s words in my head, I headed back downstairs to the computer.
  I found this post and then followed her link to this list of post partum anxiety symptoms, and I cried really, really hard as I recognized myself in nearly every one of them.  I sent my Mr. the information and asked that he gently push me if I didn’t call my doctor in the next few weeks.  I already knew that come morning I was going to want to sweep this right back under the rug of “I’m fine.”
  I got 4 hours of sleep that night/morning, and when the paperwork at my pediatricians office asked how I was feeling, I cracked.  I knew that if I didn’t admit what I’d realized the night before, before I lost the momentum, I’d feel like I had to hide it forever.  The nurse practitioner who was seeing R made me promise to call my doctor as soon as I left their office.
  I felt like a fraud.  Like a drama queen who was trolling for attention.  But as I talked to my doctor, and told her what I’d been feeling, what I’d been thinking and what I’d been doing, she reassured me that no, it wasn’t normal, and she congratulated me on recognizing that something wasn’t right and coming in.
  She prescribed a nursing safe anti-anxiety medication and as it began to kick in, it became painfully clear to me just how anxious I’d been feeling…and how badly it had been effecting everything in my life.
  Poor G, clever boy that he is, had been playing on my anxieties to get his way and was very confused when his previously successful tactics abruptly stopped working.  I’m trying really hard to not let myself feel too guilty about my treatment of him before I got help.  I was exceptionally impatient and short with him.  He’s 3, so he gets into everything and knocks things over and is generally wild.  I was afraid he would hurt himself and I was afraid he would hurt the baby and I was too freaked out to handle it in a reasonable way, so I was yelling at him constantly. I was on edge and angry and my bad mood exacerbated his misbehavior.  My mom has reminded me that parents can’t be perfect or their children will never know how to adjust to things in the real world, and I’m trying to keep that in mind, but nobody really wants a stressed out, scared, foul tempered mama.  Tellingly, G’s behavior has improved directly in line with mine.
  The medication takes a little while to work its way into your system, and there can be some weirdness at the start.  For me, it was my energy levels.  The first few days I felt wired and a little dizzy, like somebody had hidden espresso beans in my cereal.  The next week I felt like I’d been sedated.  Neither was particularly fabulous, but at least I wasn’t freaking out.  Everything leveled out within two weeks and I’ve felt pretty “normal” ever since.
  I still have to be careful.  A few weeks ago I sent myself into a full blown, gasping-for-breath panic attack because I decided to read an article about over-tired, overly distracted parents forgetting their children in their cars where the babies then cooked to death in the sun.  That was really dumb of me, but because I feel so much more like myself these days, I didn’t really think about it until I’d finished reading and felt like I was going to vomit.  I’ll be making a point of avoiding the news for a while now.
  It’s not like the medication is a silver bullet.  I still definitely get stressed out.  I still want to scream when G tries to pick a fight with me about whether I’m “allowed” to wear my hair in a ponytail (he has decided I’m not), but now I have the presence of mind to be able to simply say “that isn’t your decision to make” and walk away…instead of having a 15 minute argument with a 3 year old over MY hair.  I still feel tense when he asks me a million questions while I’m trying to drive in heavy traffic, but I don’t feel my chest locking up and my heart pounding like I’m having a heart attack every time we get in the car because I’m certain that discussing the one truck driving by is going to lead us into a horrible, fiery auto crash.  It isn’t like the medication has turned me into some incredibly cheerful Pollyanna…it has just made me able to function again.
  You might have noticed I’ve been slacking a little in the sewing and crafting arenas lately.  This is a big part of why.  Trying to do too many things all at once (hi, I’m Erin, have we met?) can make the anxiety worse.  So, I’m trying to keep things to a dull roar and keep my expectations about what I can and can’t accomplish in a day realistic.  Some days I succeed and some I don’t.  Creating is a huge part of who I am, and it’s a great stress reliever for me, but if I’m losing my mind because I don’t have time to finish an entire sewing project in a week and do my laundry, it just isn’t worth it to push myself right now.
  The difference in my mood now that I’m being treated is amazing.  Honestly it’s a bit surreal thinking about how I felt before because I feel so much more normal and in control now.  Every day I move a little further away from the panic and the yelling and a little closer to really, really being able to enjoy the boys.
  Admitting I needed help wasn’t easy, but I am so, so glad I did it.  If you’ve had a baby in the last year and you haven’t felt like yourself, even if you don’t feel “depressed”, please, please, read the list of symptoms…and if you recognize yourself, go see your doctor.  It still makes me squirm to talk about this, but if I can make it so even one other mom gets the information she needs to get help, I’ll be glad I’ve done it.