Deleted Scene: Breastfeeding Boot Camp

I am getting closer and closer to publishing my memoir about postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum OCD. Breastfeeding plays an important part in my book because breastfeeding aggravated — maybe even caused — my symptoms. But I can’t include all the scenes I have written about breastfeeding, so here is one that is not making the cut.

“As you can see, for the first six weeks, breastfeeding is more difficult than formula.  Formula is denser than breastmilk, so formula newborns feed less often.  And of course, anyone can give the baby a bottle, so mom does not have to get up so often during the night.”

The teacher, a lactation consultant and doula, clicked to the next slide.

“But in the long run, breastfeeding is easier than formula.  There’s no need to pack bulky bottles when you go out.  When the baby is hungry, you just sit down and start nursing.  You don’t have to waste a ton of time preparing the bottle.”   

The teacher clicked to the next slide.

“But after six weeks, breastfeeding gets easier.  Your baby’s stomach will get bigger, so she won’t have to nurse as often.  She’ll get better at nursing, so breastfeeding sessions will not take as long.”

I nodded vigorously, along with forty other expectant parents, and scribbled in my notebook, Gets easier in six weeks.

The teacher frowned as the next slide appeared.  “Unfortunately, most mothers give up and quit before reaching that six week mark.  They switch to formula because they don’t want to do the hard work of those first six weeks.”

Silence.  The implication hung heavy in the air: the mothers who switched from breastfeeding to formula were lazy and weak.

“But I know everyone who is here wants to give their children the very best possible start in life.  And as we saw earlier, breastfeeding is better than formula.  Those first six weeks are tough, but you are making an investment that will pay off in the long run.”

Right, I thought, it’s an investment.  I can do this.  I am strong enough.

By the time Pippa was six weeks old, breastfeeding was as time-consuming as it had been in the maternity ward.  She was insatiable and I felt tethered to the leather armchair where I did most of the breastfeeding.

I emailed a group of trusted friends who had breastfed their babies:

Hey guys!  Sorry I haven’t emailed recently, but I have another question. Pippa is six weeks old now.  I thought breastfeeding should be easier than now, but things are as demanding as ever.  Am I doing something wrong?

My friends responded individually but they each promised that the first three months of motherhood are hell but once I survived newborn boot camp, things would get easier.

The internet confirmed this hypothesis.

All right then, I thought, I just have to survive until the three month mark. 

If the pressure to breastfeed had not been so intense, would I have suffered for as long as I did?

Deleted Scene: The Pressure to Breastfeed

I am getting closer and closer to publishing my memoir about postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum OCD. Breastfeeding plays an important part in my book because breastfeeding aggravated — maybe even caused — my symptoms. But I can’t include all the scenes I have written about breastfeeding, so here is one that is not making the cut.

About twenty minutes after she was born, my doctor finally let me take my feet out of the stirrups.

“Can I have her?”

“Of course,” Nathan said.  “She wants her mama,” and he placed her back on my chest.

Now was the moment of truth.  Throughout my pregnancy, I had been brainwashed into thinking that everything — everything — depended on breastfeeding.  If I breastfed, my daughter would glow with health and intelligence.  If not, she would be fat and sickly, and her IQ would probably drop ten or fifteen points.

So many people advocated the rewards of breastfeeding: my friends; the pregnancy books; the baby books; the literature at my obstetrician’s office; the pediatrician; bloggers; magazines articles; social media; the doula who taught my prenatal yoga class; the nurse who taught my labor and delivery class; the websites that sent weekly updates about the baby in my womb. 

They all repeated the same mantras: breast is best; breastmilk is liquid gold; you pass on so many immunities through breast milk; formula fed babies are obese; and breast milk increases IQ.

Out of an abundance of caution, I bought a container of formula.  It proclaimed, right on the container: Breast is Best.  Even the formula company thought I should breastfeed.

As Pippa nuzzled my chest, she started to root around and strain towards my breast.  I worried.  Would she latch?  Would she breastfeed?  Would I do this right? 

Pippa squirmed towards my left breast.  I had done so much to prepare for this moment.  I had read three different books about breastfeeding; attended the hospital’s breastfeeding class; and studied the class handouts as if they held the secret to immortality.  Less than a week before my water broke, I visited the hospital’s breastfeeding support group and watched the mothers breastfeed their newborns. I had prepared for breastfeeding as if it was the final examination that would determine my success as a mother.  Would I pass?

I steered Pippa towards my breast.  The moms at the breastfeeding support group had made this look so easy, but I felt awkward and unnatural.  What was wrong with me? 

Pippa placed her mouth on my nipple.  Dread pressed against my chest.  What if she rejected me?  What if she was tongue tied?  What if she was allergic to my milk? 

Pippa latched on and started sucking.  A physical sensation of relief spread across my body.  I was breastfeeding my baby.  The anxiety and guilt dissipated.  I would be a good mother.

Deleted Scenes: The Inner Monologue Of A Mom With Postpartum Anxiety

My memoir on postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD should be out soon (fingers crossed!) (tightly crossed!) In the meantime, here is a deleted scene that gives a glimpse into the inner workings of an anxious mind.

We paid a local maid service to clean our house every other week.  Given my new obsession with germs, a reasonable person might assume I would hire the service to come more often.

I was not a reasonable person.

A trio of cleaners always came on the same day of the week, but their arrival time was uncertain.  The day before the scheduled cleaning, the service would call and give me a two hour window for when the cleaners would arrive.  Sometimes, the cleaners arrived a half hour before the window; other times, not until fifteen minutes after the window expired.

This was not a problem for most customers who worked away from home and gave a spare key to the cleaning service; but there was no way in hell that I was giving a spare key to a bunch of potential maniacs.  I therefore had to be at home when the cleaning service arrived to let them in and then stay at home to supervise them and make sure they did not steal a laptop or scrub the counters with rat poison. 

This should have been easy for an agoraphobic recluse.

It was not.

It was hell.

What if I was breastfeeding when the doorbell rang? 

What if I was changing Pippa’s diaper?  And I got distracted and walked away to answer the door and Pippa rolled off the table and smashed her head open? 

What if Pippa was napping and the cleaners woke her? 

Whatifwhatifwhatif?

While the cleaners worked, I listened. 

Was that a sniffle?  A cough?  A sneeze? 

Was someone sick? 

Monsters!  

Was that another sniffle? 

Should I ask the sniffler to wear a face mask? 

Would she hate me? 

Oh god, she would hate me. 

Was that another sniffle? 

She said it was allergies. 

What if it was pneumonia? 

Was it contagious? 

How long could germs linger on a counter? 

The cleaners clomped and stomped and jumped and bumped and crashed and thrashed and made an ungodly racquet with no regard for humanity.  The vacuum cleaner was so goddamn loud.  What the fuck were they doing, vacuuming a pile of nails and tossing around bolts of thunder?  Was Zeus himself vacuuming the bedroom?

And what was that vile smell?  

Bleach? 

It smelled like death.  It was death.  There was poison in the air and Pippa would breathe it and suffocate AND DIE.

This was not a cleaning service. 

This was a barbarian invasion that would be the death of me and all I loved.  

I blamed my anxiety on the cleaning service, fired them and felt a surge of bliss and wellbeing.  But like the calm I felt after washing my hands, it was very, very short-lived.  

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Deleted Scene: That Crazy Postpartum Guilt

My postpartum depression memoir is getting closer and closer to publication – yay! In the meantime, here is a scene that will not be making the final cut. 

As I carried Pippa to the changing table, I paused at her closet door.  Pippa was wearing a white kimono-style t-shirt, diaper, and nothing else.  That had been her uniform for the past week ever since we brought her home from the hospital.  If she was chilly, we wrapped her in blankets.

I had not yet dressed her in any of the outfits hanging in her closet.  I had bought a half-dozen dresses and friends and family had sent many, many more.  Pippa would soon outgrow the newborn outfits — before I had a chance to maneuver into labyrinths of ruffles and bows and then document the moment with the camera I had bought for the sole purpose of capturing the highlights of Pippa’s childhood.

Tomorrow, I told myself, I’ll start using the cute clothes tomorrow.

I set Pippa down on the changing table while my stomach acted as if I was on a cargo ship at sea.  If I dressed Pippa in the cute clothes, then I had to take photos; but if I took photos, everyone would see the piles of unfolded laundry and abandoned takeout food containers.  Even if I shoved the mess into a closet, there was still no where to take a social media worthy photo shoot.  How did bloggers do it?

I eased Pippa out of her shirt and dropped it into the hamper.  My baby was the queen of spit up and got it on everyone’s clothes — hers, mine, Nathan’s (he invested in twenty white t-shirts), and my parents (who soon learned to always bring a spare outfit when visiting).  It was no big deal when Pippa spit up on a white t-shirt, but what if she got baby puke all over a fancy dress?  Or worse, all over the sweater I had knit?

If I had thought about it, I would have realized that some baby spit up on a fancy dress was part of the territory, but I was not rational when it came to my anxiety and guilt.  It was as if my body was constantly secreting anxiety and guilt that needed some sort of outlet, so to relieve the pressure, I latched on to whatever was at hand — in this case, Pippa’s clothes.

The anxiety and guilt might have been irrational, but the physical feelings were real.  That is what postpartum depression does to a mother.  The thought of Pippa’s unworn clothes made me feel the same symptoms of fear that I would have felt had I opened the closet and discovered a hungry bear.  Except with the bear, the feelings of fear would have faded away once the bear was back where it belonged; but with postpartum depression, the anxiety and guilt constantly thrummed in the background.

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