The Oxytocin Effect

If you google “Oxytocin,” you will learn that it is a hormone that has many functions.  Primarily, it is the hormone responsible for contractions during labour, as well as for milk let-down while nursing.  It also plays a major role in human bonding – between newborns and mothers, between men and women, and even between friends.  It is quite an amazing and versatile hormone, and all of these hormonal effects has me thinking about what can happen when the different hormone effects cross paths and boundaries.

After giving birth 9 days ago, I immediately felt strong feelings of kinship and admiration towards the doctor who delivered El.  I found that in the days immediately post-partum, I was sad to think that I wouldn’t be going to see her anymore for my weekly appointments.  This seemed like a strange response for me to have, given that most of our appointments were a quick 5-10 min and were really just about the “business” of my pregnancy.  I did choose this doctor out of all the obstetricians in the city because she has a good reputation of being liked by her patients, she is one of the few people who does all her own deliveries 24 hours a day, and I also really enjoy learning from her and working with her as a resident.  Despite these reasons, my feelings towards her after my delivery felt out of proportion to what they should have been.  You could almost say that the feelings I had were bordering on those of maternal admiration, and I was mourning the loss of this type of care and concern in my life.

Interestingly, I don’t remember having such strong feelings of maternal admiration towards her before going into labour.  They only started after my delivery.  The timing of these feelings got me thinking about how the hormonal changes in my body may have affected my emotional attachment towards my doctor while she delivered El.  I also thought about how my feelings and admiration towards my old friend Kay developed after she delivered A all those years ago.  Finally, there is the most important consideration in all of this: the lack of close maternal bond and relationship with my own mother throughout my life.  All of these factors got me thinking about how the high levels of oxytocin in my body while I was in labour may have affected the “relationship building” pathways in my mind; perhaps my subconscious mind was trying to lay down or replace the maternal bonding-like relationship that I never really had growing up.  It makes me wonder if I would have had this response if I developed a normal mother-daughter relationship with my own mother as a child.

I have been trying hard to reflect on how I’ve been feeling in the last week and a half.  Specifically, I have tried to separate out logical from illogical feelings and evaluate what would be considered “appropriate” or “inappropriate” in terms of “normal human behaviour.  I have also been reflecting on what parts of my subconscious still need work and attention.  It is a little disappointing to think that after all my years of therapy trying to overcome the issues surrounding my childhood (and my relationship with my mother specifically), deep down there is still something missing.  Perhaps the fact that I am able to identify this change in feeling and attribute it to “something” suggests that I have made some progress in my therapy, but I’m not really sure.  Regardless, I will continue to reflect on my feelings and figure out a way to navigate through this mess and make it meaningful – both for my emotional recovery, as well as my future working relationship with my doctor (who will continue to be a teacher and mentor for me in my training).

Baby Junk

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Aden and Anais Muslin Swaddle Blankets – My Splurge

I had a moment of weakness yesterday while at the bookstore with my littlest boy.  He was playing with the train set in the kids/baby section of the store while I browsed at the baby items.  I saw these beautiful (Beautiful!) muslin swaddling blankets that I wanted very badly.  They were expensive.  But they were also the perfect baby girl swaddling blankets.  I do have plenty of worn-in, mostly boyish flannel swaddling blankets sitting in my basement.  I knew I didn’t need to buy the blankets, but I just wanted something frivolous, luxurious, and girly for my baby girl.  So I bought them.

My husband would be outraged if he knew how much I spent on baby blankets.  The thought of lying about having bought them or even how much I paid for them also made me feel bad.  So even though I took them out of the box and unfolded them and held them up to my cheek, and imagined the joy I would experience while using them with my baby, I eventually folded them back as best as I could, stuffed them back into the box and put them into the trunk of my car.  I plan to return them today.

I know why I had this moment of weakness.  I often feel that I work so very hard in my life that it would be nice to have it pay off a little now instead of all later.  We live paycheck to paycheck paying for the necessities like food, mortgage, car payments, childcare, energy bills, and the biggest monthly expense: loan interest.  My husband is very strict about how much I am “allowed” to spend on this new baby and if it was up to him she would be wearing all our boy’s hand-me-downs.  So I just thought that if I could have these beautiful, trendy, bright, and much desired blankets, they could be the thing that I splurged on for my baby.

This has all taken place on the heels of the small baby shower that my mom and sister held for me this past weekend.  I knew it would be small and limited to family.  It was being held in the city where I grew up and where my family lives, but where I haven’t lived for 10 years – so I no longer have any friends there.  I never had a baby shower before and so I went to one of our local baby store chains and set up a registry.  Aside from the expensive car seat that I want, mostly for its safety profile, everything else was the “usual” stuff that I liked and wanted for this baby: Bottles that I know are most compatible with breastfeeding, pacifiers that are used in NICUs across the country and that I used with both my other boys, breast milk freezer bags, muslin swaddling blankets, a baby carrier, bouncy chair, girly items… despite my efforts at selecting the stuff that I really wanted or needed for this baby, only one person actually made use of this registry.

Instead, people either bought clothes (which were much appreciated) or Baby Junk.  It might sound ungrateful, but “baby junk” is the term I have coined for the stuff that looks cute, seems useful to the non-mother, is cheap (in quality and in price), unnecessary, and will likely never be used.

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Most of the “stuff” I got from my baby shower

I have a cousin who runs a business making gift baskets and her, her mother (my aunt), and her sister-in-law all pitched in to make me a basket.  Rather than containing many of the thoughtfully chosen items on my baby registry, this basket was filled with cheap infant/toddler toys, baby layette kits (with poorly made bibs, hats, booties, gloves etc), various brands of pacifiers, tiny baby washcloths that are too small to wash anything, and other miscellaneous “stuff” that was found at a local discount department store.  I don’t doubt that it cost them a fair amount of money to assemble such a wide variety of un-needed baby items.  However, at someone else’s mention of my baby registry, my cousin said something along the lines of: “Oh yeah, I looked at it and it just had the usual things on it.”

Just the usual things?  You mean the things that I actually want/need for this baby… Those aren’t important…

This basket was only one example of numerous gifts I received at my shower that will likely not ever get used by me for my baby:piggy banks, trinkets, a minion nightlight that sings an annoying minion lullabye (I already want to crush it with a hammer since the boys found it).  While I did receive a few nice surprises and some good clothing, I get sad thinking about the things I actually wanted and that I likely will not get – instead of a good haul of Baby Junk.  I know it sounds whiney, ungrateful, and is really a first-world-problem, but it did get me down.  I know I wouldn’t care so much if I had the freedom to go out and get the stuff I want without the worry of justifying the expense to my husband.  It would also feel better to know that I work as hard as I do so that I can enjoy these little luxuries in life.

Anyhow, that is the end of my little rant.  I am sure I will feel better in a few days, and maybe next time I go to the book store, the blankets will be on sale.

I’ll end this rather greedy sounding post by saying that my mom and sister put on a lovely shower that I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated.  I also realize that the stuff I refer to as “Baby Junk” would  be greatly used and desired by those less fortunate than me.  I do plan to donate any of the stuff that I don’t use to a local shelter.

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