For some time I have wanted to put these experiences down on “paper”. The last two years of my life are years that I will never forget and reliving them fills my heart with joy. Every bit of heartache is like a tiny grain of sand that God used to create something beautiful. This story is probably best suited for the ladies (or fellas who don’t mind girl talk).
Matthew 13:45-46 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!”. (NLT)
OUR FERTILITY JOURNEY
As you may have read in my first post, having a little girl turned my world upside down (in a REALLY good way). I wasn’t prepared for the love that would result from this long and difficult story that ultimately led to a happy ending. This is a long tale, spanning all the way from then to now. As you read, you can watch the struggle turn into victory just before that victory dance pauses abruptly. Like any good story, this one has its ups and downs.
In all honesty, my heart was hard towards the idea of becoming a mom. Was it my selfish motives or being entrenched in fear? I honestly still do not know. I do know that I faithfully sought God’s direction for us as parents. While I had no maternal instinct, my soul’s cry was to be obedient to God’s will. And so I prayed for him to soften my heart to his plan and purpose for my life. And that he did. Slowly and with a gentle hand, God used that crack of an opening in my heart to pour in his love. My absolute distaste for parenthood settled into lukewarm. With trepidation still wrapped tightly around me, we decided to let God be the one to make the call if we were going to have a child. I went off birth control.
Isaiah 30:21 Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,”whether to the right or to the left.
I look back with a chuckle as I envision myself bracing for the impact of a quick pregnancy. Little did I know it would be over 3 years and still no baby. I really should not have been surprised- I had not menstruated regularly, EVER, thanks to an active lifestyle and eating disorder (mainly the latter). I brought these concerns first to my OBGYN who brashly suggested that I put on 20 pounds- for then I would surely get pregnant. Appalled at this suggestion, I pushed it aside. This was NOT an option for me!
We sought the council of a fertility specialist who officially diagnosed me with hypothalamic amenorrhea, the cessation of your period due to stressors. I was no stranger to (self-induced) stress. We were given a 5% chance of getting pregnant and told about our treatment options. Now, let me preface this by saying that if you or someone you love has chosen to go the route of fertility treatments, you have my support. No doubt that decision may be the right one for you but it wasn’t the one for us. If my body was not healthy enough to menstruate, how did I expect it to carry a baby? It just didn’t add up, in my case.
After much wrestling and prayer, I decided that the final tug on the string of obedience to the Lord was to put on weight, for the sake of getting pregnant. I was deeply afraid of adding body fat but I was more afraid of living with regret. Pound by pound, I gained 15. It wasn’t as horrific as I imagined. Many of my clothes still fit and I started to feel like I looked better than I did before, seeing pictures of my lighter self and cringing at my thinness.
Now many ladies who battle hypothalamic amenorrhea don’t have such a quick turn around and, for that, my heart aches. But I was fortunate enough to begin menstruating as soon as I put on the 15 pounds. We were pregnant just 2 short months later. Talk about the shock of your life.
I had an easy pregnancy. There was some nausea in the first trimester but it was never severe; it was just a constant “I think I am going to throw up” feeling that led to eating a carb and yogurt-based diet. I put on 20 pounds rather quickly and then my weight gain slowed and basically stalled towards the last trimester. I gained a total of 40 pounds and relished every “you’re all baby” comment.
My only complaint was some leg cramps that were well worth their discomfort as they earned me nightly leg massages. I managed to walk 2 miles a day and workout 3 days a week, up until the day I gave birth. A pregnant girl at the gym is always the topic of conversation. Seems like anyone and everyone has something to say! I heard a variety of labor stories, and those involving active mommas were often “easy” labors. I prayed this was the case for me, joking with fellow gym-goers that if every hour I spent exercising shaved 5 minutes off my labor, I’d be a happy camper.
I have hypothyroidism and have been on medication since I was a teen. I did have some issues with my thyroid levels during pregnancy that needed to be managed by a specialist but this would only turn out to be an issue postpartum.
We hoped for a natural delivery and I did a lot of reading on various natural childbirth methods. Each book I read had a few points that felt relatable to me and tucked them away. In hindsight, the best thing that I did was share those ideas with my husband Doug so that he could remind me of them in the delivery room. I tried my best to keep a loose grip on my hopes for our birth story, as I know that things do not always go as planned.
LABOR & DELIVERY
Raegan was due on July 27th. In the days before and after her due date, I had my share of gentle labor contractions, mostly occurring at night. I’d go to bed excited and then wake up disappointed. Guess I didn’t have a baby, lol! On July 31st I had an appointment with my OB to see how the baby was progressing. The mild contractions continued but nothing earth shattering. Raegan had been dropped for a couple of weeks and I was at 2cm the week prior, so I hoped it would be soon. I measured 5cm at the appointment and was sent in for a stress test. As soon as I was placed on my back I felt the pain from the contractions increase. I was told to press a button on the machine each time I thought I had a contraction. This 20-minute test was the longest 20 minutes of my life. It turns out they left me in there for an hour! When the midwife returned she told me that I was having a contraction every 2 minutes.
I was sent home to get my hospital bag and to meet up with my husband so that we could make our way to labor and delivery. My OB appointment was at 10 am and I arrived home around noon. I had a snack in between contractions- I was determined to get a meal in! The drive to the hospital was pretty uncomfortable but bearable. By the time we checked in I was pacing the hallway waiting for the nurse to finish the paperwork. I was taken to a room and hooked up to the monitor. It was 1:59 pm.
It took what felt like ages for the nurse to get my IV set up. The hospital staff was setting up the labor pool and I was anxious to get in it or at the very least, get off my back. When the preparations were finally made I moved on to my hands and knees. We were only a few contractions in and I felt an immense desire to push. It didn’t seem right to me- we just got there. I told my husband to let the nurse know. She came in to check on me and joyfully said: “We are having a baby!”. Little Raegan’s head was already visible! Hallelujah!
I am not sure how long I pushed but as any mom can tell you, it felt like longer. Our little one was born at 3:29 pm, just an hour and a half after we started. We never did get to use the birthing pool and for that I am grateful. The surge of adrenaline left me a shivering, shuddering mess, so my drug-free birth ended with a welcome dose of sedatives. Thank you modern medicine!
Raegan Grace Lardner
July 31st, 2015, 3:29 pm
We had a lovely couple of days in the hospital. My adrenaline was still high and I think I slept a total of 4 restless hours over the two nights. We were beyond ready to head home after 48 hours. We made our first drive as a family of three.
As any new mom will tell you, being plunged into motherhood is a recipe for self-doubt. While I felt comfortable with the day-to-day care of our little one, I found myself obsessing over her schedule. We followed the Babywise book and loved the concepts but my type A personality tends to take things a little too seriously. Despite all my worries, things were going great. By the time Reagan was 4 weeks old we had a pretty solid routine in place but my mind still couldn’t rest. I felt the fluctuations of the hormones and experienced shadows of the baby blues but nothing too serious.
One of the most difficult adjustments was that of a sedentary lifestyle. Because of the size of this little girl and the speed of the birth, I tore pretty badly. I was put on bedrest for 6 weeks. No walking, no cleaning, no driving, nothing. That alone is enough to make a girl go crazy!
Around 6 weeks postpartum something really changed. The “overwhelm” I felt hooked up with hopelessness and I started to feel a lot of anxiety. My sleep started to suffer and I was lying in bed for hours on end, unable to fall asleep. I immediately reached out my OB and shared by concerns. When speaking to the nurse I could not even decide if I wanted a 9:30 am or 12 pm appointment. It was just too overwhelming. I broke down in tears and she told me to be in the office at 9:30 am. “Pack up the baby and get here!”. They do not take talk of postpartum depression lightly. Thankfully my dear mother-in-law was at my house in 4 minutes so that I could make it to the appointment.
At the office, I was screened for postpartum depression and anxiety and was diagnosed with both. I was started on the antidepressant Zoloft and instructed to make an appointment with a counselor within 48 hours. “Ok” and “yes, ma’am”. Here’s the bummer about SSRI’s, the type of antidepressant Zoloft is, they tend to make symptoms worse before they get better.
How could I possibly be sad when
I had this amazing blessing?
Then I felt even worse about myself…
What followed was the hardest 6 weeks of my life. I was literally hanging on by a thread. My insides were so hot from anxiety attacks that I felt like I was melting into a heap but I was a heap that couldn’t even sleep. My mother-in-law Felicia came and sat with me and encouraged me in the Lord for hours on end. Such a precious gift.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. (NLT)
At my follow-up visit, I spoke with my doctor about my difficult-to-manage thyroid issues during pregnancy. She ran some blood work and it turned out that my levels were so low (that’s actually high in thyroid talk) that I would be a candidate for “downers” if I were not breastfeeding. My medication was reduced but this too would take several weeks to take effect. The upside to running on overdrive is that this cranked up metabolism led to losing the baby weight in just one month (it will be back though, stay tuned).
The cumulation of Difficult was on my birthday in September. I recall sitting in my husband’s truck while he drove us to dinner feeling like an alien had overtaken my body. My hormones hit a low around 4 pm each day and it was almost more than I could bear. It’s hard to describe but multiply the words Need and Empty by 100 and that’s what it was like. The walking dead. Here’ a picture from my birthday. It is still difficult to look at.
I faithfully saw my counselor each week and put in some hard work. I had never thought of myself as an anxious person before, being someone more prone to depression, but I was able to see how managing my anxiety was going to bring a lot more peace to my life. So I worked, and worked, and worked, and waited for the changes in medication to kick in.
During this time I was also using some sleeping medications for chronic insomnia (thank you anxiety and hyperthyroid). The one med deemed safe for breastfeeding moms had a very negative effect on the baby so it was not an option. If I had a string of nights that I got zero sleep I would take this medication and pump and dump breast milk the next day. In order to do so, I needed to build a reserve of milk. So, I started pumping in between feeding sessions. The pumping did not agree well with my body because I started to overproduce milk. The overproduction of milk does not make for a pleasant nursing session for little babies (it’s like drinking from a firehose). Some days we were doing bottles so that I could take the meds, some days I was nursing and we both were getting frustrated.
After much debate, I decided to become an exclusive pumper- a mom who only pumps breast milk and feeds it via bottle to the baby. This was arduous but worth it. Over the course of the next 9 months, I would pump over 8,00o oz and build a stockpile of 4,000 oz that not only filled our garage freezer but our neighbor’s.
During this time I kept up with the counselor and started practicing meditation with the Headspace app. My parents would come over and visit and we’d research Bible verses to cling onto during this time. My friends and family prayed faithfully for me. I made a point of connecting with someone encouraging each and every day.
When Raegan was about 4 months old things started to shift. I started to feel the darkness lift s-l-o-w-l-y and life started to look brighter. For the first time since the delivery day, I felt a deep affection and warmth for my little one. Maternal instincts, welcome. I started to sleep more at night and was now waking early. 3 am became 4, became 5, and now 5:30.
My thyroid now shifted into very high range (that’s low in thyroid speak) which led to its own challenges. The weight gain and sluggishness were no sweat after what I had been through but no girl likes to put on the pounds. I found the appetite from overproducing breastmilk to be challenging to navigate and I surely ate more than I needed. No regrets. I am not sure how I would have handled it differently. This has been a great opportunity to live out my coaching practices.
It kept getting better from here. There was no magic moment when everything changed but each little seemingly insignificant alteration led to a greater transformation. I remained diligent with counseling, my Bible devotional time and prayer. I took a longer maternity leave than anticipated and it felt wonderful to get back. Talking to my clients is so encouraging and there is power in simply thinking about others.
HERE IN 2016
Today you will find me spending my days with this amazing little girl and my incredible husband. Every day I work to keep my mental health in this happy place. I have since tried to reduce my antidepressant and I didn’t feel like myself, so I went back to my regular dose, for now. I get my workouts in every day and am tweaking my nutrition to lose this last bit of baby weight. Funny, one moment it feels like the most urgent need in the universe and the next it pales in comparison to Reagan’s brilliantly blue eyes that are watching my every move.
1 year old
Brandice Lardner is a Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, Author, and Jesus Girl whose mission in life is to help women ditch the diet mentality and find peace with food and their bodies so that they are better equipped to do the great things God has called them to do.