Friday, April 3, 2015

Weird Parenting: Feeding the Beast

Same caveat:  cute baby pics at the bottom, more rambling before all that - including some heavier topics

Apologies in advance to those who stumbled across this as a running blog - go back to 2013-2014 for all that.  Wow does that seem forever ago...

*      *      *

Ok now, how about a nice frank discussion about  parenthood and DEPRESSION...

First let's level set, because lots of misconceptions are floating around about this illness.  

Depression is a chronic condition.  

So is diabetes.  

So is high cholesterol.  

So is high blood pressure. 

All of these conditions have no surefire cure, only mitigation treatments - people who live with them carry them their entire life.  

That being said, a managed diabetic with the right support can live a long and productive life.  Or diabetes can result in end-stage-renal-disease and amputations.  A managed individual with hypertension and COPD can go on to run marathons.  Or heart disease can result in sudden death before the age of 50.

Why are depression and anxiety viewed any different in our society from other chronic conditions?

Maybe because it's something we can't see on an X-Ray or diagnose in a blood test, so most of the time even the people who suffer from it don't recognize they have it.  

But there is a deeper reason - the stigma.  

Those who suffer from it don't want to be THEM, we are different from THEM: the guy who flies a plane into the French Alps, the unemployed and incapacitated - wasting away on the streets, prisons, and mental hospitals.  But these are the extreme examples.

We look at our own friends and family members with shades of these conditions and tell them: 

"why are you so upset?  you have a great life" ... 

"some people have it much worse" ... 

"it will get better" ... 

"suck it up, that's life..." ... 

"everyone feels that way sometimes" 

(all of this are shades of true, but none of this helps by the way.)

Why do I bring this up in the context of parenthood?  Isn't becoming a new parent the happiest time in our lives?  Why are you such a downer?!?

For half of us, sure - it is an incredibly happy (and exhausting) time.  New fathers are glowing.  For me, damn I feel amazing.  

Those five minutes after the kid was born were the greatest five minutes of my life.  I was literally crying with excitement and I rode an adrenaline wave that carried me through almost a week with little to no sleep until I crashed a few days ago.

But what about the moms? 

50 to 80 percent of women experience depression symptoms in the first two weeks after childbirth (I'd surmise the real stat is 99.9% given all the sleep deprivation I've observed.)  10 percent go on to have a longer bout of postpartum depression (PPD) that persists well beyond the time when employers expect women to come back to work and pick up 40+ hours a week like nothing has changed and be over the moon to be a new mom - when EVERYTHING has changed... 

sleep is disrupted ... 
independence is non-existent...
control is lost...
organized homes grow messy and cluttered... hormones run rampant...
relationships are strained...
parts of the body are rearranged and ripped to shreds...
feeding is harder and more painful than most new moms possibly imagined it would be... 

and to top it off: someone is yelling at you at least 12 times a day - someone that you've spent 9 months crafting the perfect vision of, someone admittedly adorable, someone you are told is special, you need to love unconditionally, and you are reminded again and again that "it's worth it" ... "it gets better" (again, likely true, but does this help in the moment when you're staring down a dark tunnel of despair?)

It's like waking up in April after a long winter and thinking, "I'm not happy - WTF is wrong with ME!?!"

(... and that's also why this time of year is the roughest for those on tenuous mental ground)

Ok, yeah yeah lots has been written about this... so what do WE do about it?

1.  We need to get over the stigma and embrace that depression exists on a spectrum and normally high functioning people can have it

The conversation around PPD always seems to begin with "are you going to hurt yourself?" ... "are you going to hurt the baby?" ... yes, these are terrible outcomes that need to be prevented immediately.

But what about the mom that could never dream of doing those things, but yet needs help?  Are they left to their own devices or rely only on family to "figure it out" because their state isn't "serious" enough?  It shouldn't take an impending threat to a child to get women connected to the professional resources and therapy to get them help (including medication, if needed - and there is nothing wrong with such treatment versus letting the condition escalate.)  This time in our lives is too short and our society is too advanced to let otherwise capable women stew in murky broth for months on end.

Depressed people are not weak people.  Depressed moms are not bad moms.  They are human.

2.  We need a balanced representation and expectation of what early parenthood really is like

We hyper-focus on the pregnancy and labor/delivery, but lose sight of what blindsides almost every new parent of a healthy infant.  Thankfully I had a few good male friends who clued me into the secret.

It's the (breast)feeding, dude.  (Did I ever think three years ago, I was going to write blog posts about breastfeeding?  Ha...)

Sometimes it feels like this...

Being a new parent in 2015, we are bombarded with literature and health care professionals telling us it's the right thing to do.  We watch videos of babies straight out of the womb crawling still covered in slime to a perfectly pointy nipple and latch within minutes of birth.  It seems so perfect and healthy and natural...

We develop guilt as new parents when it doesn't work and we have to resort to Plan B (pump), C (donor), and D (formula - gasp!) ... We live in "breastfeeding limbo" where moms strap themselves to a machine for hours of the day, in the middle of the night, when nature can't work its course to the full extent.  Limbo is the top layer of hell in Dante's Inferno.

Why are we doing this to ourselves, again?  Maybe all of us kids born in the 70s and 80s are rebelling against our parents, who primarily formula fed us as a rebellion against the hippies, who were in turn rebelling against the establishment... and on and on... in our culture of Keeping Up With the Kardashians we try to seek every edge we can get - 2 more questions right on the SAT, 2 more seconds off a 5K PR... and if breastfeeding is what pediatricians recommend, many women perceive themselves as horrible mothers and live with guilt for denying that opportunity.  

Damn, I can only imagine what Owen's world is going to look like...

But of course everyone is going to ask the new dad, "how much sleep ya gettin' " ... "ya' changing many diapers?" ... but the question, "how's the feeding going?" ... umm, no.  I guess that would be super-awkward, right?  But should it be?  Guys from middle school through college talk about boobs all the freaking time... but as soon as they're good for something useful, shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...

3.  We need fathers to be VERY involved and Paternity benefits should be a Federal mandate for full-time employees.

Taking care of an infant without health complications is difficult, but with a certain level of Zen composure, the right mental state of mind, and the agility to dodge errant streams of urine it is actually fun.  This is where dads can really help.  We don't have the hormones raging through our bodies, stitches in our grundles, nor do we need to be strapped to a breast pump for 4 hours a day when our wives are living in breastfeeding limbo.

Yet most US employers still don't give paternity benefits (2 weeks is considered good in the US when countries like Norway MANDATE new fathers take months.)  This is 'Merica - we tough it out, we work hard, we have the best universities, hospitals with pristine lobbies, the lowest unemployment rates in the world, the standard of living the entire world aspires to...........

But is this really what WE want?

We are the agents of change - especially those of us under 45 who still have time to influence the direction of laws and corporate policies.  I'm not advocating that we become Europe or overhaul the whole system, that's not realistic in one fell swoop.  But we can push the dial back the direction it needs to go.  

It is only then that we will begin to solve the wage gap between men and women, foster and develop more diverse workplaces, and have a holistically more productive and satisfied society instead of a society run by a few "hoarders."  It shouldn't take living on the greatest extremes before someone is able to receive attention and help.

It takes all of us to drive change.  Men and women.  Mothers and fathers.

It takes a village...

(and as one new parent I know said, "make sure it's not filled with idiots...")

My biggest regret, my biggest "if I could do it all over again" lesson from the last week was this:  not setting the expectation from the very beginning with all parties that I was going to take the full 2 weeks of leave I was given.  It's not for the baby - after all, the baby "will be fine" ... it's for the mom, guys.  She needs you.

Now I just hope we've collectively figured this all out better by the time Owen is a father, if he so chooses.

*      *      *

So far one of the common responses to my recent blogorrhea has been "it's amazing you found the time to write this."

The thing is:  I can't NOT do this.

The thing is:  my mind is always doing this anyway.  

It's like being in a room filled with background music, television screens, and a poetry slam on stage.  In this case the poetry slam is my attempt at a feminist piece when the real ones suffering are often too silent or embarrassed to speak up or are dismissed on Facebook rants as just another frantic mom (or just too damn tired to be coherent.)

I guess after months of my own silence, I felt as if I finally had something to say to the world about the whole experience.  The words just come out like a never-ending fountain amidst these life changing experiences.  Writing is friggin easy, it's the editing that's a bitch.  

I know this time period is fleeting.  I know soon enough I'll be back at work, Owen will outgrow his newborn diapers and tiny onesies and I will only have vague memories of what these weeks were like.  Without this, I'd have wished I wrote more of it down, like a message in a bottle to deliver to my future self.  Lots of new dads need to hear this type of stuff, just like it helps me to hear what I can/should expect next (one step at a time.)  And quite honestly, I need something to do to get this out while the little guy is snoozing in a drunken state of euphoria, because I'd forget many of the little moments:

Like when I hold my five day old child up to my face and stick out my tongue and he tries to imitate me with wide open eyes, while attempting (and amusingly failing) at a smile.

Like watching him breathe the fresh spring air for the first time and lick the wind on a stroll around the neighborhood.

Like declaring victory every time a diaper change doesn't result in a fountain of urine spraying across the pack and play.

Like curling up on my couch before dawn with Owen on my chest growling like a bear cub, nuzzling  against the groove of my neck - and I'm growling back and I think we're having a primitive bonding moment like all new parents imagine they'll have some day, communicating without speaking in some ancient forgotten language, and thinking despite everything I wrote over the last week making this all seem hard and terrifying I'm still so glad we did this.

Then a giant poop erupts on my chest.

Life's so weird.

No comments:

Post a Comment