More Than Mommy Exhaustion: How I recovered my energy and health

by Carrie Saum

Mommy exhaustion.

I know you’ve felt it. Too many nights waking up with your tiny baby, fussy toddler, or insomniac older children. Feeding on demand, pumping around the clock, midnight and 2am boob snacks that stretch to 4am. School projects, sleep regressions, a few minutes of Me Time between 11:31-11:57 pm after all the dishes are done, lunches are made, and housework is sort of caught up.

You pour another cup of coffee at noon, after reheating your first cup approximately six times in the microwave. You try an energy drink mix that your friend is selling. And still. You are so worn out, you can barely string five words together to create a coherent thought.

You resolve to take walks, get outside, or try that pilates DVD you’ve had for ages. You feel good about your choice, but you are wiped out for the rest of the afternoon, trying to recover your shaking muscles and push through the exhaustion until you can climb into bed.

You resolve to eat better, cut out the junk and convenience foods, and maybe that will help you feel more energetic, too. After a few weeks, you see a marginal improvement, but it’s not enough of a pay-off for the sacrifice you are making.

And let’s not even talk about the weight gain.

You wonder if maybe you’re missing something but chalk it up to this season in life where sleep is scarce, demands are abundant, and time for self-care is at a high premium. Of course you’re depleted. Who wouldn’t be?

A few months ago, I brought up my debilitating exhaustion to my doctor. Being a mom herself, she’s familiar with all that goes along with it. She encouraged me to see if there might be an underlying problem in addition to this season of life. She told me about a blood panel called The Boston Heart. The Boston Heart tests multiple vitamins, nutrients, and hormones using a fast blood test. Many insurance plans cover it 100%, even if you have high deductibles. I checked into my insurance coverage, and sure enough, it was covered. No money out of my pocket to get some information about unidentified issues I might have which would paint a bigger picture of my health, instead of just chalking it up to parenthood.

When my results came back, I was shocked. Even though my thyroid was in surprisingly good shape, (which I thought was the culprit), my niacin levels were incredibly low. And you know what happens when your body doesn’t have enough niacin? Your muscles shake when you exert them. Daily tasks wear you out. Do you know what makes it worse? Not getting enough sleep, too much stress, and eating processed foods.

Magnesium, Omega 3, Vitamin D3, and my progesterone were also very low, all of which are easily depleted during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Hello, depression! So, no matter how much sleep, good food, or exercise I was getting, I still felt like crap because I was drawing from a dry well.

I began supplementing with food-grade vitamins immediately, on the recommendation from my doctor. My trusty pre-natal vitamins weren’t enough for my specific needs, and I sealed them up tight and put them in my refrigerator for future use. I strategized to get veggies in every meal, and keep seasonal fruit on hand for when the sugar cravings were too much. I added as many healthy, unadulterated fats as I could. I whipped up a salad dressing using hemp seed oil, which is full of Omega 3, and a little apple cider vinegar. Buttered coffee was always on hand. We stocked our refrigerator with grass-fed meats and veggies to lightly sauté or roast as the main course for all three meals.

OvereasyFriedEggSalad

My go-to meal for quick, easy nutrition: Two sunnyside up fried eggs over greens with hemp seed oil, ACV, and dried herbs. Perfection.

Oh, and I put a total moratorium on strenuous exercise, eating out, and plans with friends before noon and after 5pm on the days I wasn’t working. I also went to bed at 9:30. It meant less Me Time. It meant I often went to bed with dirty dishes in the sink, my floors unswept, and wore the same pair of jeans six times before washing. But it was only for a few weeks and it was vital for my recovery.

I found that watering and weeding my garden while my toddler played close by was enough exertion for me. I also found that I relaxed on a deeper level than I have in years because I gave myself permission to stop trying to do it all. I just did some, accepted what I was capable of in that time frame, and waited until I felt replenished to rejoin the world.

GardenPlay

We happily kept it low key in the community garden.

After the three week moratorium was over, (and believe me, it was hard saying no to things), I started slow. I worked hard to begin refilling my very limited well. Being gentle with my body and my psyche was my number one priority. This is how I came back to the world:

  • A walk in the park.
  • Running up and down the stairs to the basement doing laundry.
  • Vigorous weeding and replanting in my garden.
  • A pilates DVD, increasing by 5 minutes at time.
  • Doing something fun before doing work. On purpose.
  • Saying yes only if it felt 100% doable and okay.

These little things added up quickly. But I want to be clear: I stopped when I was tired. Not exhausted. Not beyond my limit. Not when I was shaking and close to dry heaving. Maybe that works for some people, but it doesn’t work in recovery mode.

Last week, I took a very long walk, pushing my two year old in a stroller the whole way up and down hills that would have had me shaking with exertion after 10 minutes a few months ago. I walked at a pace I felt comfortable with. I stopped and pushed my son on a swing and then stopped again a little later to get an iced decaf coffee at one of my favorite neighborhood places. As I pushed my son up the final, excruciatingly steep hill, I huffed and puffed but I did NOT slow down. My brain wanted to quit but my body was up for the challenge. I spent the rest of the afternoon working, cooking, and playing with my son. I’m not joking when I say that has never happened before on the days I worked out.

And later that week when we braved a trip to the beach, I chased my toddler all over the beach, splashed with him in the water, and played soccer on the hard packed sand without getting winded.

MommyandEHugPoint

Playing hard at the beach with my little boy, feeling super energetic, happy, and proudly rockin’ my bikini.

These bodies of ours are amazing. We are resilient. We are tough. But being exhausted all the time is not normal. Even for you, mama. Be gentle with that body. Be kind to your skin and your bones and your blood and your squishy places and your soul. And find what works for you to feel like yourself again.

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If you like this article, check out Peace In The Passing: Why My Early Miscarriage Was A Relief and her series on #TinyTriumphs over on Our Stable Table.


IMG_2895Carrie Saum brings a passion for wellness and over a decade of experience in health care to her clients. A certified Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor (AWC) from the Kerala Ayurveda Academy, she empowers individuals and families to achieve health and balance through time-honored practices and health knowledge. Carrie has extensive first-hand experience in vast array of medical and service fields.
With background in paramedic medicine, Carrie spent ten years serving in the non-profit sector managing organizations, programs, and orchestrating resources to meet health needs of people across the United States and abroad in countries such as Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya, and Zambia. As an AWC, Carrie currently coaches her clients and their families about topics including nutrition, weight loss, and stress management. In addition to her work as a wellness counselor, Carrie is a passionate “foodie” and the voice behind OurStableTable.com. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and young son.

 

 

 

 

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IBCLCs, Negative Experiences, and Self-Advocacy

 

 

This post made possible in part by the generous support of Boba, makers of the Boba Baby Carrier.

Jessica and Sugarbaby Bfing

When my daughter was entering the 2nd grade at our local public school, we were all enthusiastic about the coming year.  She loved school, loved learning, loved everything about it.  But just a few short weeks into the school year things we drastically different.  She cried all the time, she hated going to school, she started struggling with school work, and every day she complained that her tummy hurt and she was too sick to go to school.  We were confused.  What had happened to our little girl?

It quickly became apparent that while there were multiple issues going on that I won’t go into here except to say there were some technical difficulties and an adjustment period that needed to happen.  Still, there was one particular issue that emerged as being critical: she didn’t like her teacher.  Believing we need to encourage her to work with people, even ones she didn’t like, The Piano Man and I tried to help her navigate this relationship.  This proved to be more challenging than we expected because, as it turned out, we didn’t like her either.  She simply wasn’t the kind of person we thought would be teaching second grade.  Or teaching at all.  Grough, grumpy, rarely smiled, she came across as cold and distant.  Suddenly, challenges our daughter had previously felt empowered to tackle loomed as impossible mountains.  Intimidated by the one she thought was there to guide and support her in facing these challenges, she withdrew and began to give up.

We tried to work with the school and the teacher but in a short amount of time we felt we needed to explore other options and ended up transferring schools.  It was that, or risk killing our daughter’s love for learning and that simply wasn’t something we were willing to sacrifice.

When we visited the new school Earth Baby was nervous about meeting the 2nd grade teacher.  Gripping my hand she whispered “I don’t like 2nd grade teachers, they are mean.”  I was surprised she had already jumped to a conclusion about a group of people based on her experience with just one of that group.  Given that she was 7 at the time, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised at such an immature response but I felt that we had worked hard to help our children understand how individuals can be so different.  Encouraging her to remember that Miss B. would be a person first, a 2nd grade teacher second, we met with the teacher.  Gentle, kind, friendly, and very warm, Miss B. proved to be the opposite of the previous 2nd grade teacher and Earth Baby ended up flourishing in her class.  Inspired with hope and confidence, Earth Baby made a lifelong friend in her teacher (and is seeing her this summer) and not only met but surpassed her goals for the year with an enflamed love of learning.  Interestingly enough, now she will talk about how wonderful 2nd grade teachers are and being a teacher is in her top 5 career options.

Why am I sharing this story on a breastfeeding site?  Moms often come to TLB looking for breastfeeding support. The support they are looking for is usually just about what is normal in breastfeeding journeys, the mom-to-mom support of experience and camaraderie.  Sometimes it’s for issues that are outside of normal and require more expertise support and help.  It isn’t uncommon for a Leaky and/or one of the admin to recommend seeing an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) for experienced and trained support.  These experts are usually the most equipped to help moms with true lactation problems having gone through intense training and having to comply to regular board standards in their continuing education and certification.  Just as often, someone then shares their negative experience with an IBCLC.  Frustrated and hurt, these women sometimes share that an IBCLC almost ruined their breastfeeding relationship with misinformation, intimidating and overwhelming directions, and sometimes down right bullying.

Find the right IBCLC

From these comments it sometimes sounds as though they fear all IBCLCs will be just like the negative experience they had.  Hurt and discouraged by the one or two individuals they encountered in the profession, they are unsure they can trust anyone with the title and position.  Like my daughter felt unsure about 2nd grade teachers, these moms are skeptical of the entire IBCLC profession, not because they don’t know that they are all different people but because they may believe that what they didn’t like is actually expected to be a part of the profession.  As if the consultants are trained to support that way.  Just as with any profession, there are individuals within the lactation consultant profession that are rude, unsupportive, not helpful, judgmental, dismissive, and misinformed. Thankfully, most I’ve met go into supporting breastfeeding moms because they genuinely care and want to help moms reach their breastfeeding goals.  The IBCLCs I’ve interacted with understand the vulnerable nature of that time in a mother’s life and the importance of providing the right kind of support.  Most IBCLCs aren’t in the profession to push an agenda or tell moms what to do, they genuinely seek to provide legitimate support unique to each mothers’ needs.  Sure, I’ve met a few that seemed burned out and dogmatic just like my daughter’s first second grade teacher, but just like most 2nd grade teachers actually enjoy children and teaching, so most IBCLCs aim to provide sincere information and assistance.  I encourage moms that need lactation support to move on from someone that isn’t supportive to find someone that’s a better fit.   It’s that, or risk not reaching your breastfeeding goals and that simply isn’t something we should be willing to sacrifice without a fight.

I am aware that for many, a second choice, let alone a third or fourth, isn’t readily available.  Financial restrictions, local availability, and even cultural support from family and friends can make it difficult to find someone.  Sometimes, shoot, maybe often, the support you need will find you in unexpected places such as the internet or a new friend.  Moms may have to try other paths for lactation support such as virtual appointments via the web or attending a local breastfeeding support group or even reading articles online.  Whatever it takes, pushing on to find the support you need may be work but you and your baby are worth it.

You don’t have to be stuck with a professional providing inadequate support.  In the end, you are the biggest advocate for you and your child and if advocating for you both means moving on to find the assistance you need, you won’t regret doing so.  As Leaky and IBCLC Jackie Rauch shared:

I will sometimes tell my clients the story of me seeking her out just to let them know that even the people with the knowledge need to seek out help from people with the knowledge. If you are not getting the help you need, keep looking!

You never know, you may find the one that helps you turn it all around and inspires you with hope and confidence.

Need a lactation consultant?  This site can help you find one.

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What about you?  What has your experience with an IBCLC or other lactation professional been like?  Did you have to find someone else for better support at some point?  Did an IBCLC or other lactation professional help you in your breastfeeding journey?  Check out the conversation we’re having on this very topic over on The Leaky [email protected]@b Facebook page

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