Postpartum in a Pandemic Pt. 3
The start of 2021 was spent calming ourselves down from when Dad had Covid. The raw emotion I felt during that time still resurfaces from time to time. He is fully recovered at this point. It did take him quite a few months to regain energy etc. It’s hard to believe that all happened less than a year ago.
Considering it’s the shortest month, February felt so long this year. There was snow on the ground for much of the month, which kept us in the house more. It was refreshing to get outside in the frosty air, even if it took a half hour to bundle them both up.
Lucy enjoyed playing in the snow. Zachary resembled the little brother in A Christmas Story, stuffed in his snowsuit unable to move his limbs. He had no choice but to sit in the sled and follow Lucy’s lead. I know we will never have another winter like that. I’m 100 percent certain he will be a maniac if we have snowstorms in 2022.
March brought glimmers of normalcy that we had yearned for. We were able to reunite with Zach’s parents after not seeing them since November. It felt like years.
March-May, our families started getting vaccinated. More hope on the horizon, but hesitancy still reigned. Zach and I knew this was an extra step we could take to protect our babies, but we also knew it wasn’t 100% protection. The unknown still lurked.
It didn’t help that Lucy decided to go through some sleep regression in March. Every night we had to sit with her until she fell asleep. It was like she suddenly forgot how to go to bed. She had been sleeping so well for a long time, so I guess we were due for some trouble. There were even a few nights she had sleep terrors. She’d wake up screaming and throw tantrums half awake. We had to let her play it out until she was calm. It was kind of scary. What a time to throw a wrench into our sleep, Lucy! The world outside our home was in disarray, might as well make it crazy inside.
Zachary was still not sleeping through the night at this point either. Zach and I were complete zombies for a couple months. We were back and forth to their rooms a few nights a week. I almost always went to Zachary because he demanded me. At one point, I remember Zach saying, “This is not sustainable! We can’t keep up like this!”
Thankfully after about 2 months or so, Lucy got back to normal. Like most insane times toddlers go through, it was just a phase.
Easter was the first holiday that was semi-normal. The kids had an Easter egg hunt in the yard at my Mom and Dad’s house. We were relieved to be celebrating a holiday in the same house, even though we had masks and it was mostly held outdoors. You could see that the anxious feelings we had harbored for so long were beginning to dissipate.
Mid-May we took a huge step, we traveled outside of our bubble. We went to Shenandoah National Park with Zach’s family. It felt incredible to go “somewhere.” The kids traveled so well and we felt safe. It was our first road trip as a family of 4. We stayed in a cabin. We hiked, we ate out at a restaurant for the first time in over a year. We sat at the campfire sharing stories and drinks. The kids loved it. They love to be outside discovering nature. But, as young children will do, they gave us trouble at night. The screaming that came from our cabin some nights was murderous. I dubbed it the shack of horrors. The kids had only ever taken baths and this cabin had a shower.
Watching Lucy’s face fill with horror as we put her in the shower, as awful as it sounds, was actually pretty hilarious. As soon as we took her out she excitedly shouted, “I did it! All clean!” Of course Zachary watched everything his sister did and he repeated it all in his own language. This happened every night. We were there for 7 days. By night 6, they didn’t mind the shower.
But, honestly, we laughed about it. This is what happens on family trips with babies! We were happy and grateful to have the experience, no matter how exhausted we were by the end of the week. We were reminded of how life was before the fear of the virus and how life could be. Getting out of town energized us. We came home feeling hopeful and ready for a fresh, healthy summer.
May 28, Zachary turned 1. I had prayed since the day Zachary was born that things would be normal enough by his first birthday. It looked like that hope came true. We hosted both of our immediate families plus a few family friends at my Mom and Dad’s house for his party. It was supposed to be a pool party, but the heavens decided to open up that weekend. It poured rain, but nobody cared. We were inside without masks on. We hugged and laughed. It was a celebration for Zachary, yes, but it was also a celebration of how far all of us had come through the pandemic.
A first birthday is just as much a celebration for the parents as it is the child…well, it’s mostly for the parents. The first year getting to know a brand new human with brand new needs is HARD….add in a toddler and a pandemic and that first year is pretty damn crazy. Zachary and Lucy stayed healthy save for a few common colds. Big Zach and I were healthy too, save for more than a handful of mental breakdowns…..mostly on my part.
I know they say postpartum is the first 6 weeks after birth, but I consider it the whole first year. I don’t know who ever decided to put a timeline on when a woman is fully recovered emotionally and physically from childbirth. Every BODY and SOUL is different. And if we are talking emotionally, we are never really healed emotionally, are we?! My Mom has always said, “Motherhood is a constant letting go.” And it’s SO true. As soon as your baby leaves your womb, you start the long, slow process of letting go. I became way more aware of that after having Zachary. Now that I am watching two humans in two different phases of life, the preciousness of it all seems more apparent.
I felt really proud of myself on Zachary’s birthday. I feel like women naturally downplay their accomplishments. It seems our society has trained us to be that way and that’s kind of how I have gone along, but that ’s dumb and I am done doing that to myself.
I am so proud of everything Zach and I have done together building this family, but I was really proud of myself. I have surprised myself over these last few years, with the miscarriages and the traumatic start with Lucy. I’ve always had an innate confidence. My Mom is the catalyst behind that. She’s encouraged me to be what I want, even if it’s different from the “norm.” And growing up with four brothers, I had no choice but to become confident in myself and my voice. If you aren’t being heard, shout louder. But, like most people, I have doubts about myself.
I was really freaking scared last year. A kind of fear I had never known. I was scared for everyone as I’ve stated numerous times in previous blogs. I had this baby during such an insane time and there we all were a year later. He was fine. His sister was fine. There were 11 other children around them who were all okay. All the adults were okay, even the one who had the virus. We had all done it.
“It wasn’t the fear that mattered in life. It was the choices made when you were afraid. You were brave because of your fear, not in spite of it.” (The Four Winds – Kristin Hannah)
Physically I bounced back fast after Zachary’s birth. I don’t know if it was because of the fear of the virus that had me wanting to get back into shape quick or just the simple act of keeping up with tending to the needs of two people….four if you count big Zach and myself. But whatever it was, I dropped the weight, I healed, and I have been out walking the neighborhood with them every day that I can. If I were to compare my recovery, it definitely took me longer to recover physically from Lucy’s birth. I got pregnant with Zachary when Lucy was 10 months old so I don’t think I ever fully got back to “myself” physically.
A big part in dropping the weight so quickly was Zachary’s eating habits. OMG. I had trouble keeping up with him. I was eating all the time and then he’d take it right out of me. I don’t know how I did it for 14 months. It got to the point where I would try to give him a bottle and he would grab my chest and shout “NO, MOMMY MILK! MOMMY MILK.” That’s when I knew, okay, maybe it is time to move on.
Lucy stopped breast-feeding on her own at about 9 or 10 months. I was thinking about how I find it funny that Lucy quit on her own (willful woman, doing what she wants when she wants) and Zachary went for so long considering the circumstances in the outside world. Life was “normal” when I had Lucy. We went on trips, went to parties, malls, etc. A bottle was the only option sometimes.
When Zachary was born, we were home ALL THE TIME. As much as it was about the basics of keeping him fed and comforted, I think I needed it to comfort myself too. I feel like there was so much unknown, that I began to cling to what I had control over. I had control over keeping my babies safe and fed. Not that I didn’t have that emotional connection with Lucy when she nursed. Gosh, I felt rejected when she wanted to quit on her own! I remember crying to Zach that I felt so sad she didn’t want to nurse anymore. I thought it was something I did wrong, but it’s just what she wanted. My Mom has often said to follow the baby’s lead. In Zachary’s case, that meant breast-feeding an insatiably hungry boy for 14 months. I put Zachary down to bed every single night. I never even entertained the idea of letting big Zach do it. I would say, “No, he needs me. I have to do it.” Sometimes to the detriment of my well-being. I was so exhausted some nights, but I got up and went to him whenever he made the slightest peep. Thinking back, he really didn’t need me, but I needed him.
One evening in July, I went out to dinner with my sisters-in-law and that was the first night I left Zachary. THE FIRST NIGHT. He was 14 months old. I think Lucy was 8 weeks old the first time I left her to be taken care of and put to bed by my parents. Which didn’t work, she screamed the whole time we were gone, so joke was on me. I still had to put her down.
I came home that night and my breasts felt a little full. I expected (wanted) to hear him cry for me, but I didn’t. He slept all night that night. Zach said to me, “I don’t want to make you feel bad, but he didn’t even ask for you. He went right to bed.”
My baby had taken one of his first steps of letting go, which meant I had to as well. It was hard for me to give it up, but it feels good to be fully back to myself and have all my parts to myself for now. The 2nd one seems to grow so much faster than the first. It’s insane. And sad! But incredible. I guess because I am busier with both of them. He seems to be learning so much from Lucy and it all makes him seem older. I keep reminding myself he is still a baby.
The summer itself was a better season than last year. We went to the shore a few times. We spent many days during the week at the pool with the cousins. We made a trip up to Amesbury and Zach’s parents came here. As the virus began to surge again in July, we cut back a little bit. We have learned to approach life with a level of hesitancy now, to evaluate situations before we get into them. It’s totally unnatural to us and it seems ridiculous to evaluate a trip to the grocery store. But then I think how crazy it must be to to bring babies into the store anyway. Biggest positive of the way the world has changed since the pandemic, I’ve never had to deal with a Lucy tantrum in the middle of a store. Curbside pickup for life.
I’ve also learned wearing a mask in public is the best way to cover up my “resting face.” Now I don’t have to consciously remember to put a smile on my face so people don’t think I’m angry.
Emotionally, I’m doing better than I was before. I don’t get as anxious and I find that I am able to fully think things through before assuming the world is going to end. Those postpartum hormones for sure played a huge part in some of my spirals. They’re still raging monthly too. My period came back in June and dang I need to learn how to get a handle on these new cycles. The feelings come on stronger than ever before. That first one especially. A lot different than when I got my period back after having Lucy. Then again, I only had two cycles before I got pregnant again. I have had four now so this is all new to me. I was all over the place emotionally during the one in June and any little thing set me off. Now that I’ve gotten through 4 it’s getting easier to handle. Poor Zach takes it all in stride. Just another new version of myself me and my family have to adjust to.
Mentally I still feel some days that I am in flight or fight mode. I think that thought process will take a while to go away, or maybe it won’t ever go away. I guess I kind of developed that mentality when I first had Lucy anyway. I guess it’s a Mom thing. We always have to be on our toes ready to hold it together for everyone.
“A warrior believes in an end she can’t see and fights for it. A warrior never gives up. A warrior fights for those weaker than herself. It sounds like motherhood to me.” (The Four Winds – Kristin Hannah)