This blog post is a temporary departure from our normal blog posts, which focus on our life in New Mexico and what we’re trying to accomplish: holistic ranch management, healthy eating, and building a family. Today I’m writing about “the darkness”, which is what I call the first six months after my sweet son Finlay was born.
My Experience With “The Darkness”
Finn’s birth was challenging, but without major complications. My midwife gently explained to me weeks later that it was a “traumatic” birth, but thankfully Finn was born safely, without interventions, and without drugs. He was in asynclitic position, which contributed to the traumatic part. I won’t go into the details, but due to his position during labor and delivery, the physical part of my postpartum recovery was a bit longer and a hell of a lot more painful than normal.
So even though I was in a little shock after Finn’s birth, and the recovery was extremely painful, I was still in complete bliss for the first 24 hours after he was born. It was wonderful.
Then the darkness began. When Finn was almost 24 hours old, we found out he had tongue and lip ties so severe that he was not getting any breastmilk at all. Within 48 hours of his birth, we discovered that he was not urinating or passing any stool, and was basically losing all of his energy – not responding to us and not waking easily. Thanks to the truly amazing midwives at the birth center where he was born, we learned about supplemental nursing systems (essentially feeding Finn through a tube) and found a fantastic dentist who resolved the tongue and lip ties when he was four days old.
Things started to get better, but when Finn was about a week old, I got mastitis. About a week after that, I got something called clostridium difficile, otherwise known as C Diff. I got it from the mastitis antibiotics that I took. Here’s a few descriptions of the wonderful C Diff infection:
- One [infection] – caused by the germ difficile – was estimated to cause almost half a million infections in the United States in 2011, and 29,000 died within 30 days of the initial diagnosis. (CDC)
- Clostridium difficile, often called C. difficile or C. diff, is a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. Each year in the United States, about a half million people get sick from C. difficile, and in recent years, C. difficile infections have become more frequent, severe and difficult to treat. (Mayo Clinic)
- difficile infection can range from mild to life-threatening. Symptoms of mild cases include watery diarrhea, three or more times a day for several days, with abdominal pain or tenderness. (WebMD)
Within only four days of contracting C Diff, I was at the hospital getting IVs due to very severe dehydration. One of the descriptions above states diarrhea for “three or more times a day for several days”. I ended up having C Diff for about 6 weeks, and during the height of the severity, which lasted for 2-3 weeks, I had diarrhea about 12-20 times a day (usually somewhere in between those numbers). That’s not an estimate. I had to keep a diarrhea. I mean diary.
So here is what I remember from the first two months of Finn’s life:
- Having diarrhea 2-4 times every time I woke to nurse my newborn at night (3-4 times per night).
- Grant having to help me up from the couch at night because I was so physically exhausted I could hardly get up.
- Nursing my 2.5 week old in an IV clinic, surrounded by people, experiencing major oversupply (which means Finn choked and coughed and cried every single time he tried to nurse), experiencing major pain every time Finn nursed because his latch still hadn’t corrected from the tongue and lip ties, all while hooked to an IV.
- Crying in the bathroom of Finn’s pediatrician because I had to run in there so many times during the checkup, and each time involved uncomfortable pain.
- Falling on the floor of our living room weeping (yes, weeping) and begging Grant to find a doctor that could figure out what was wrong with me.
- Lying on the floor, clutching my abdomen because I was experiencing cramping pain almost worse than anything I had experienced so far (but definitely not worse than labor!).
- Sitting down in the nursing moms room of our church to attempt to nurse Finn, only to have to jump up and run into the sanctuary, throwing Finn into Grant’s arms, and then racing to the bathroom.
- Taking six weeks to heal from a somewhat rare and extremely painful labor injury…and having diarrhea 12-20 times a day, which essentially meant I was irritating the injury 12-20 times a day.
But I also remember this:
- Our friends bringing us meals every 2-3 days for almost an entire two months, and many of them adhering to my very strict dietary restrictions once I got sick.
- My sister staying with me overnight when Grant had to go out of town, and then waking up just to keep me company every time I had to nurse Finn.
- My mom bleaching our two bathrooms from top to bottom all by herself after I was finally healed of the C Diff.
- Grant’s dad and his wife having us over for a “special” dinner, where everybody had to eat according to my boring and restrictive diet.
- A friend bringing over a huge batch of roasted baby carrots, because I couldn’t have raw fruits or veggies.
- The pastors at my church getting together on a busy Sunday to all pray for me as I sat crying in one of their offices.
- A friend from out of state taking time to visit me, even though one of her best friends was experiencing one of the worst tragedies that’s ever happened to her.
- A doctor who just met me, going out of her way to rush tests and figure out what was wrong with me.
- My husband supporting me emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and even physically…doing literally everything he could to help me.
And I remember Finn’s first smile. I was holding him in my arms, listening to a voicemail from my doctor. She was telling me that we finally found a diagnosis: C Diff. At the time, I didn’t understand C Diff very well, and I thought that Finn could catch it from me. Since it’s not uncommon for people with low immunity to die from C Diff, I was instantly gripped with terror – I thought my son might catch C Diff from me and die. I started crying, and at that moment I looked at Finn, and he looked directly up at me, and smiled. As cheesy as it sounds, it was like a gift from God. And for one or two very warm, sweet seconds, I knew everything would be okay.
The physical suffering from C Diff was terrible, obviously. But it didn’t compare at all to the mental suffering. There is a strong link between people with terrible gut health (or gut infections like C Diff) and depression. The main reason why I call the first six months of Finn’s life “the darkness” is because of the depression. Depression from postpartum hormones, and depression from C Diff. It was a weight that made it hard to breathe, hard to function at all. I cannot even begin to describe that weight. I began obsessing about how I would run away because I genuinely felt like everybody would be better without me. I couldn’t decide if I should take Finn with me, because leaving him with Grant would be too much of a burden, or if I should leave him with Grant because his father would hate me for taking his son away. For the first time in my life, I truly hated my life, and everything around me.
My experience with C Diff and depression are nothing compared to a mom who loses her baby, or a mom who is in and out of the hospital with a very sick little one. But that’s actually one of the main reasons why I’m writing this.
To Other Moms Experiencing Any Darkness
Moms out there: stop comparing your pain to the pain of other moms.
Don’t look at other another mom who has it worse than you and think you have no right to feel terrible about your own situation. When I was struggling, I needed to accept and understand two things:
- First: my difficulty and darkness was just as heavy and depressing as I thought it was.
- Second: some other moms did have it worse than I did.
And those two facts can exist together without the ugly beast of comparison making us feel shame or pride. Don’t look at another mom who has it worse and think, “I shouldn’t feel bad, she has it worse than me.” And don’t look at another mom who has it better and think, “I have it so much worse than that other mom, she shouldn’t be complaining.”
Instead, accept the first fact and let it help you admit the dark situation that you’re in, so you can be honest with yourself and others. Then you can begin to work on putting down the burden you’re trying to carry alone (although of course this takes a lot of time and love).
Accept the second fact and let it give you perspective, which prevents you from wallowing in your own pain. It can help you feel thankfulness for the levels of pain that you are not experiencing. But most importantly, it gives you deep sympathy and love for those who are experiencing pain much worse than yours.
Listen moms: we all suffer, and we can and need to own our suffering, so it can change us and teach us and grow us. Do not look at another’s suffering and think that yours is so much worse, or that hers is so much worse. Instead, look directly at your own suffering and let it move you to compassion for yourself, and look directly at another’s suffering (be it bigger or smaller than yours) and let it move you to compassion for the other.
When I look back on the last 33 years of my life, I don’t ever think, “Man, I wish I had judged people more!” or “If only I hadn’t been so sympathetic.” or “I should have been more cynical about her!” No, quite the opposite. I regret judging other people’s situations far too much, not being as loving and sympathetic as I should, and wasting way too much energy on cynicism.
I’m certainly not perfect after my postpartum experience, but I am a different. I am realizing that my suffering, as big or little as it may have been, is moving me to be more caring and compassionate towards others. Please don’t hear me saying that I am a beautifully loving human being now. I still have anger issues, I still feel depressed sometimes, and I still get jealous of other moms. But my heart is changing, and I am finding more desire to love than to hate…and I am very slowly starting to thank God for using my suffering to teach me that.
I know there are moms reading this that are struggling with things far worse than C Diff and depression, and I want to say something to you: you can get through your suffering, and it can make you into a better person. It may not feel that way right now, and it may take a very, very long time. So in the midst of your suffering, look directly at it and accept how hard life is for you right now. Then reach out for love and support for yourself…and eventually reach out to another who is suffering to love and support her.