Expectation Vs. Reality #4 feat. Sarah Nicole Landry

BEFORE (expectations):

On mental health:

This is my fourth kid but also my first pregnancy in eleven years. My son is ten. So, between the first time I've gone through this process, there’s been nearly an eleven-year gap. With my first, I had postpartum anxiety. I went to the doctor and he basically was like; your only option is to stop breastfeeding and go on medication. At the time I couldn't even afford formula. So, it was a choice between just existing with my anxiety or to stop breastfeeding and have to go on medication. I chose to keep breastfeeding. I was twenty-one and there was nobody there to tell me that these were common feelings or common symptoms. 

I think what I've learned, even just in the process of digesting pregnancy, is how many people are going through something. I have just openly said this week about the fact that I have actually really struggled to enjoy this pregnancy.  I feel like I've been dealing with catastrophic thinking and not allowing myself to feel joy around it and as soon as I said it, everyone was like, this was my story, that this is exactly how I feel. I feel so alone with so many things until the moment we talk about them. And so I think stories like this are so, so important and so key for women before they ever get pregnant, when they are pregnant and then in those postpartum seasons. I think that we have postpartum pegged as a six month thing, a three year thing at the very maximum and the reality is so much different. There's a lot of birth traumas that exist. There's injuries that exist. There's relationship trauma that exists. And unless we're willing to unpack those things and have these conversations, nobody's going to know the variables between this is normal and this is something I need help with. If no one tells you these things, how do you know? Nobody told me.

On expectations:

I feel like I'm more in fear than I am of expectation. The last time I had kids, I was a stay at home mom. So it was very assumed what I would be doing. It was very assumed that I would be the primary caretaker, the one up at night, the one who kind of managed the home and managed the meals and and managed the children essentially. This time is different because now we are two full-time career people as well as co-parents. They're my children. They are not his, but he is the amazing stepparent. But regardless, there's still these massive needs of preteen and teenage children. Then combine that with a newborn. I keep falling into the fear of, oh, my gosh, it's going to be on me again. It's going to be that somehow magically going to open this window of space and capacity in my life to take all this on.  I've had to have several conversations with my husband about it because this is his first time and I can't compare anything to a past experience with him. This is going to be new for both of us. It's going to be the first time that we're balancing a home and a baby and a family and careers at the exact same time. There is no parental leave for either of us. We're fully in this. I feel like it's incredibly unique that way but I also feel like it's pushing me because I'm more fearful. I feel like I'm becoming a lot better at advocating and creating boundaries. We've already lined up my mom who will be coming and helping us two days a week as somebody who basically will act as a personal assistant and help me care for the newborn so that I can tend to work and still take calls and still run a business. 

I have three other kids so I think the other thing that I'm really nervous about is sleep. Two of them slept through the night at four weeks old and I had one that was like up at night for 11 months. You really don't know this child until they're born. You don't know if they're colic or tongue-Tied. You can't assume that they breastfeed well or that I can breastfeed. There's all of these things that you can place into expectation, but the fact is, we just don't know. And there's a lot of variables this time. We also have COVID so support is something that we are assuming can happen, but we actually don't know. 

On balance:

I think the biggest thing is just that we have really, really busy lives. I'm already at capacity. How does a newborn come into this? I can't assume that we're going to fail and I can't assume that it's going to be perfect and I’m trying to be incredibly open minded about being agile and versatile, to make changes along the way and really being open to asking for help and relying on others when I need it as well. I think it's also important to not assume that I will be OK mental health wise. I've struggled with postpartum anxiety before. I don't know if that comes back. I don't know if I will have postpartum depression for the first time. I don't know what might happen. I think a lot of times we go in assuming our recovery is about a week and as we know, a lot of people end up in emergency C-section or with birth trauma. I can't assume that I'm going to be back at work that week. It might be longer. 

You're looking at balancing a lot of dreamy thoughts with catastrophic fears. So I'm definitely just there. And to be honest, I was somebody who never read a parenting book, never took a birthing class or anything because I was so afraid of assuming or wanting something to go one way and then for it to go completely the other. I still recognize that I have a lot of that in me and that it's almost important that I do stay open minded to things. A huge part of our discussions right now are whether we do a home birth or a hospital birth. And again, having to stay really agile, I don't want to be disappointed or feeling like a failure if what I assume is going to happen or dream of happening doesn't happen at all.

One thing that I think will somewhat be a blessing for this baby, is to be born into knowing me in a career job and to be born into knowing their father in a career job as well, and understanding that even though we're the parents, we are part of a support system. We are part of a village. I think for me as a mother, what's been important for me is to not feel threatened in my role as a parent by asking for support or by not being a primary caregiver at all times. I think for a lot of moms, that just is what they take on and that's what they do. And they take it on in such big ways and it leaves too much room for things to creep in and for capacity to be met. We’ve just had a lot of conversations about us being two core people of a village-centric type of family and being really willing to ask for help, but also not expecting it. A lot of people joke that we've got three built-in babysitters but that's the last thing my kids want to hear right now, is that they are now going to be caring for a newborn. That's not the experience they need to have either. Should that be something they suddenly want to be a part of, great, but I can assume that of them. It’s on us to advocate for what we need, but to also not create assumptions around our family and friends. 

Nobody should be the one all the time. We need to be a collective. We need to be a village. We need to be there for each other. And not only that, we need to create respectful boundaries with our kids, which is why I think it'll be really great for this baby to actually grow up in an environment knowing that her parents are working and working herself into that as well. When my older kids were babies, I didn't even lock our bathroom door. They were with me in every bath and every shower. I had zero respect for boundaries with my kids. What did that teach them? Mom has zero boundaries. I don't need to respect Mom. Mom doesn't need that. I'm mom is here to serve me. I created a narrative for them that designed me as a servant in their life instead of a respectful human being that was there as a support to their lives. Knowing that, I have a bit of a different perspective now without feeling like my role or my mothering is somehow threatened or coming under question because my role of motherhood will look entirely different this time.That's one thing I'm really looking forward to. I'm looking forward to being an example of a woman who not only is a career woman, but works for herself and creates boundaries and advocates for her time and her capacity. I say this now. I can't wait to hear what I say when I’m one hundred days after birth. 

AFTER (reality):

On mental health:

I was deep in prenatal depression, so I was high risk for postpartum. I knew that so I kind of felt like I was walking into a minefield. Am I going to crack? What is this going to look like? I was very fearful. I was terrified of having history repeat itself. I was terrified of feeling alone. A lot of that stuff, interestingly enough, melted away with the birth because with all of those thoughts and fears and manifesting and catastrophizing so much of it, not once did I actually have an opportunity to really think about my daughter. In a way the chaos came a little bit more expected, and the baby was the part that was surprising to me. I experienced a lot of detachment issues with my pregnancy and I really struggled to bond so having her be born and be a real thing in my arms was helpful for me. 

A lot of fears that I was carrying through pregnancy was about the birth itself. I did a home birth, my first unmedicated and the first home birth. And I just remember being at that point where I had to push and you're so exhausted and all I could think about was it's finally over. I was just waiting for that relief because so much fear for me was around this one moment, this one particular moment of what it would be like to be in labor and push out the baby. It felt like the whole weight was lifted off me, like we got birth done and it was beautiful. I don't think anybody prepares you for that. We're so used to chaos with birth. We're so used to trauma stories and they were my own past experiences. So to have it be this really calm, beautiful experience after a very chaotic and complicated pregnancy, it was nice to have this go well. And I say that knowing that it doesn't for a lot of people, me being one of them, I had a year long recovery after my first. 

I think what actually helped me this time was leaning into that. In my past experiences, I was like, I don't want to take any classes. I don't want to do anything. I don't want to be aware of anything. I just want to go and get it done and not not know about it all because I thought that would build up my fear. This time I followed these really intense birthing pages where you watch everything open and baby come out from beginning to end. The stuff that we aren't really shown. And it's shown in a way that's really beautiful. I just got to the point that I was fascinated by it because in my head and heart, there were two different kinds of women: the women that could do a birth like that and the women who could not. Because I had put myself in the category of a woman who could not, it was very difficult for me to even actualize that I might be able to go through birth in this way. I had always put myself in a place of, you could never do a home birth. You don't have a high pain tolerance. It will always suck for you. And so that I just always had that experience. I had very panicked filled births. I had two births when epidurals failed so even while I wanted that relief, they just didn't work and nobody told me that. Nobody told me that you could go to the hospital and ask for an epidural, and it's not coming for three hours. What the movies show and what happens is very different. So for me, I felt like this time I wanted to go so deep into how do you get through it when it's hard as opposed to how do you not make it hard? And that ended up making it a much better experience. I felt very mentally prepared for a very intense pain. I felt very mentally prepared for a lot of stuff. When I look back on the photos of it, I actually was incredibly calm looking. I am a very loud person when it comes to pain in any way. I will do anything to avoid pain so to see me actually relax and lean into something so uncomfortable was a fascinating experience.

On reality and balance:

I think we kind of threw our hands up to everything after she was born. How do we just do it and lean into it? My nipples never cracked this time. I had a second degree tearing, but it was very manageable because I was very aware of how to manage it and had some good tools for it this time and I was very good at advocating for myself this time. We knew we would be up at night, but we actually found ourselves sleeping more than we did in the pregnancy. So for us, newborn life is awesome and that's not something you often hear. I would say that I stumbled a lot with her feeding. She was a cluster feeder and I've never had a baby like that, so my only biggest hurdle was feeling so touched out. I had never been in a place where I had to have a baby on me 24/7 and nursing that much. But I think I already like, OK, whatever. This is all so temporary. It's all so short. 

We ended up hiring help when she was about four months old for just a few days a week. These things make a huge difference in somebody's experience because when you're touched down and you don't have somebody to hand that baby to, you're having to fold into yourself and it is really, really hard. I remember motherhood for me being at the end of almost every day sitting on the kitchen floor and just weeping. I didn't realize that motherhood is not supposed to be like that. I have support and it turned out OK because I know how to ask for it this time. I don't just sit down on the floor at the end of the day and cry.

I have found that my support system knows that I'm very bad at asking for help. So there would be times where mom would be checking in on me and I’d be crying and trying to get some work done and then she'd be at my doorstep in an hour. She knows I wouldn't ask, but she just kept doing the practice of showing up and to the point that I got a lot more comfortable being like, OK, thank you, I actually do need help. My mom would also often say, “I would actually love to just come and hold the baby today. Would you let me come over and hold the baby for a few hours?” I know she just needs to sleep, and she just wants to do it in arms so my mom would just come over and hold the baby. That was such an honor for her and such a lovely thing for her and for me.  And I feel no shame about that. I probably would have a long time ago.Now I know that there is no such thing as spoiling a baby. Let's just do whatever makes our days work and get her sleep and support. So, she got held and she got held by people that support us and love her. What's wrong with that? I can't believe that we really shame ourselves into feeling like that somehow failure when it's a 24 seven job, everybody needs a break.

When people talk about postpartum, they always make it like the first six weeks. The first six weeks I was sitting on a couch with my boobs out all day and food served to me. My husband was off work, it was a luxury. After six weeks on that first day, I remember pulling out my laptop and having the baby on my lap and being like, yes, you could have both, you can do both but where's the support for both? How do you actually do this? It was very chaotic. By summer, I felt like I started to crack a little bit and had a conversation with my manager. In the world that it is right now, there's not really a lot of travel and vacation time and she reminded me that I’m used to intentionally taking time off to do something else. I haven't had that because I’m not going anywhere so I just keep putting myself into situations where I’m working, working, working, working. So, now I've got to start being really intentional about blocking off time from the world for a little bit. To have her say that and to have other people come to bat for me and protect me knowing that I'm not very good at protecting myself because I love what I do and because I say yes  has been good. It's very easy to just fall into so much and say yes or something because you've got that time in your day forgetting that I really want to spend the summer with my babies too. Finding that balance between motherhood and work is very difficult and also one of those things you have to remind people of when they ask you for just 15 minutes. 15 minutes is your whole day working around to achieve that 15 minutes. Getting good at saying no has been my biggest practice this year, and I've loved having a baby because I feel like it's not my fault. It's not me saying no anymore. I use her as a way to say no to things. I'm still grappling with the guilt of pleasing people and that's where I'm at. And I think there's also that feeling when you're doing well in your job, will I do well forever? So there's a bit of a constant threat of losing what you're doing because of having a baby. 

It has actually been really interesting to watch my husband experience this all because in his conversations with other people, a lot of them led him into the negativity around fatherhood like, losing sleep and how difficult it is. He's like, nobody pumped me up for how awesome this would be and how much this would make our whole heart full of joy all the time. He loves just sitting or rocking her. I get stressed out and he'll just take her. He really just steps in fully and completely and just has found so much joy in it and felt that people really didn't talk about that enough. I think we both kind of had that feeling. She was born and we both looked at each other like, holy shit, this is everything. This is why we're together. This is why we had to meet. It felt like our whole lives started to make sense in such really interesting ways because she just feels so special and so important. 

On the village:

With my other kids, I was a stay at home mom and I felt like if you're a stay at home mom, that means you really do everything. You can't give your husband any responsibilities because you are the one who's at home with the children. Now, I really look back and that was the worst thing I ever could have done. I should have advocated for more help and more support. I should have been more honest and not so prideful about motherhood and thinking that you just had to be some superhuman. That isn't real because eventually I just fell into a new form of depression and I don't even think I would have ever acknowledged that I was in. I thought this time when I was pregnant, that was my first bout of depression until I went through the therapy and we started unfolding my past and I was like, that sounds a lot like postpartum depression. I actually probably had this many times before and just never had any idea because I thought that was normal.

I think even if it's if you don't have somebody physically there to help you, even if you could just spend some time online, find a community group, find people who have had babies around the same time is helpful. The very reason I started blogging in the first place was because I was lonely in motherhood. I just wanted to connect with people and it made a huge difference to know that there were other people going through it. It was just somebody to vent to, somebody to put those feelings with. I actually got it and understood it and wasn't in a place of, how can I fix this for you but more, how can I listen to you? And I think being heard in a season where you feel like you're doing a thankless job matters. You've got somebody who cannot thank you. They don't even smile yet. They're just kind of looking at you and crying for everything. Your only education is crying. So that's a really, really difficult place to be in when all you have is a crying baby. There is a lot of stuff going on, your body's going through it, your hormones are going through it, your emotions are in it. To find people to talk about that with is, I think, really probably the biggest piece of support.

I recently wrote a blog about the fact that postpartum for me in a huge way is grieving. It's a grieving session, but it is simultaneous with your joy. If somebody passed away in our world, we would understand the grieving process but in postpartum, we don't really give that same pause. Even though that's exactly what it is. It is a loss of self. It is a loss of life; your life, your lifestyle. There's a whole lot of loss going on. Your body has changed, every relationship has changed and you're expected to just be joyful. I think what's really important is if you let women actually grieve, then we can actually come and find that joy. We need to allow there to be spaces for that simultaneously with our joy.