Originally published Wednesday, 06 May 2015.
"We are looking for a nice, organic crib mattress for the baby. What brand do you use?" I asked a coworker with four children who was very knowledgeable in crunchy momma ways.
"Oh, we don't have a crib. We co-sleep."
I valued her opinion because I wanted to pursue as many natural alternatives (how God intended it originally) as I could for my first baby, but this answer was just a little too "hippie" for me.
I had absolutely no intention whatsoever allowing our baby to sleep in the bed with my husband and I. We just spent $200 on a crib and that little boy was going to use it every night! Plus, everything I read from medical professionals urged parents to never allow your baby to sleep in the same bed with you.
Little did I know that God would lead me to embrace that hippie-momma lifestyle and spend the first 6 months (and counting) of my son's life co-sleeping with him in our bed.
What started as a means to just get some sleep so we didn't feel like zombies all day every day, became the literal lifeline to my mental health and recovery from the misunderstood postpartum depression.
Totally unprepared for the hormonal shifts that were taking place in my body, I became a part of the 9-16% of first-time moms who suffer from postpartum depression (PPD) along with its sisters postpartum anxiety (PPA), postpartum rage, and even postpartum OCD (PPOCD), and I believe my traumatic 25 hour labor and delivery had something to do with it.
My labor was initiated by my water breaking in the middle of the night followed by stalled contractions creating an unsafe situation for my baby. By recommendation from my stand-in OB, I was then subjected to what I was told would only be a small dose of Pitocin (synthetic oxytocin) to get my body started that turned into extremely high doses for hours on end with no breaks between the monster unnatural contractions (with no epidural, to fulfill my desire for a natural birth). I experienced hallucinations and almost blacked out two or three times from the sheer pain and working on only 2 hours of sleep and no food. It was truly terrifying and exhausting, but by God’s grace, my son was born perfectly healthy. My (mental) health on the other hand was a far cry from perfect.
I didn't sleep the entire three days we were in the hospital, even when my son was fast asleep. I couldn't shut my brain down long enough to relax. I remembered people saying that you forget all of the pain right after you have your baby. I was trying to forget it, but the whole scene kept replaying in my mind like war flashbacks.
When we got home from the hospital, against the nurses' orders, I started cleaning the house and vacuuming the carpets. I was trying to keep myself productive as usual and pick up right where I left off. I think I was trying to regain some kind of control because I already felt like so much was out of my hands.
I longed to breastfeed, but the small amount of colostrum just wasn’t cutting it for my starving and screaming boy. He would get so angry at me because he wasn’t getting enough to eat and I couldn't produce enough for him and wouldn't stop crying, so we had to settle for dun, dun, dun...gasp, formula. I felt like such a failure of a mom, and it had only been a few days.
On top of that, we had to take him to the doctor for blood work every single day of the first week we were home because of jaundice and he had to lay with that annoying blue light with a giant hose and power pack for at least 12 hours a day. If that wasn't stressful enough, my husband also caught a virus that first week and had to be taken to Urgent Care.
My milk supply took an unusually long time for it to come in intially and once it did, it was still very low amounts, even after trying all the at-home remedies and praying daily for God to intervene in this situation. As the weeks went by, I stopped trying to nurse my stubborn and impatient little boy altogether, settled for pumping the little milk that I could produce around the clock, and supplemented with formula. I felt like the worst mother ever.
To try to escape the negative thoughts, I dove right back into my blog writing and would just let my newborn son lay in his bouncy seat without ever really holding him much throughout the day. Because I wasn't breastfeeding, I was missing out on the mother/baby bonding so it wasn't really happening.
By the time my son was a month old, I gave in and started holding him in bed to help him sleep through the night. It was truly the only way that I could attempt to get some rest because I never allowed myself to take naps during the day since I needed my day to be productive for the sake of mental distraction.
Needless to say, I was too busy to truly take notice that something wasn't normal with the sudden mood changes I was having on a day to day basis. I just chalked it up to sleep deprivation. I mean, there's no way that I would fall victim to postpartum depression- I’m a Christian and I knew that Jesus died so that I could walk in TOTAL freedom from all sin, sickness, and disease, I thought. No, it's not postpartum depression because I didn't want to harm myself or my baby. That's the guideline my OB used to assess me at my 6 week postpartum visit, so I was free and clear from the dreaded PPD, right?
As time went on, my behavior grew worse: panic attacks in the middle of the night, out of the blue screaming matches with my husband, slamming doors, the desire to just leave my house alone without my son, and insomnia until four in the morning while my sweet prince was snoozing peacefully. All while I felt like I was drowning, I kept a smile on my face at church and continued serving week after week on the worship team, hiding the secret that I was in trouble.
At eight weeks postpartum, I hated who I was becoming, so I started researching my symptoms. They were all too familiar to a premenstrual mood disorder I was diagnosed with in high school and suffered with throughout college, called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). Could PMDD somehow be linked to PPD?
I then began researching effects of Pitocin hindering the release of natural hormones during childbirth that aid in mother/baby bonding and breastfeeding and overall mental health of the mother.
After reading these articles, I realized the most important thing I could do for me and my baby would be increase physical touch which helps release natural oxytocin, also known as the “love drug,” in my body. I then made nap-time, daily snuggles, and co-sleeping a top priority in my life with my son along with lots and lots and LOTS of prayer.
The laundry could wait- I needed to be healthy for me, my son, and my marriage.
Looking back over the last six months, I can say that the Lord has helped me navigate these overwhelming waters of motherhood. I believe He guided me to co-sleep with my son knowing it would help bring healing and be a tremendous part of my recovery from PPD/PPA/PPOCD. God also knew that co-sleeping would strengthen my bond with my son in ways I could not imagine. I'm so grateful that God used something that I initially brushed off as weird to help bring total healing to this wounded momma. He created us for love, so He would know what are bodies need to experience it, especially this now crunchy, hippie momma.
Sources for Healing Touch: How God Used Co-Sleeping in My Recovery from PPD: