Life as a Highly Sensitive Mama – Part Three – Marriage and Parenthood

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Part Three. This will hopefully be a bit shorter than the rest as I’m NOT looking to bash Peter at all or share our innermost secrets. I want to share more general experiences we’ve had.. in an effort to round out my experience, and to connect with you on a “Hope I’m not the only one.” level.

First off, if you don’t know us much.. Peter and I have been together a LONG time (on and off since 1999) – check out a short snapshot here in the featured story HERE about our wedding back in 2009 in The Washington Post (Thanks Ellen again!)

Peter and I are the typical “Opposites Attract” couple with a few places where we meet in the middle. I’m more of a homebody than Peter is (Actually with undiagnosed ADD, Peter cannot sit still more than 3 hours at home without him getting antsy and wanting to go out to do something. I know it’s a cause of always being ON while at work, and not being able to sit and rest.) He’s a spender, I’m a saver. I’m not saying Peter isn’t sensitive, he is a sensitive guy… but I wouldn’t call him HIGHLY Sensitive like I am. *I believe that is because being Highly Sensitive is typically beat out of boys at a young age with “Don’t Cry, Be a man, Don’t be a pussy” but I’ll talk about that more in Part Four) I won’t go into it here but where he is strong I am weak, and vice versa. That’s what makes us a good team, most of the time. We help each other move forward when the other one is struggling. Of COURSE it’s not always comfortable to be pushed out of our comfort zone but why not with the person who knows you the most, right? Okay okay… sometimes it’s more like a SHOVE out of our comfort zones but I guess that’s why they say “In good times and bad.”. We get into arguments when the other one is pushing us… when we’re afraid and unsure of how we’ll face what we’re dealing with. I push him and he pushes me and let’s just say it’s not always fun. I think you get the point.

That said – Being parents have so far been the toughest on our relationship and NOT for the reasons you think.

It has NOTHING to do with Leo being too much to handle. It really doesn’t have anything to do with sleep deprivation. Honestly we are pretty lucky that he’s a pretty happy baby for the most part, aside with what I’ve come to find out is normal newborn experiences (Gas pains, fighting going to sleep, etc)

Of COURSE both of us have NO idea what we’re doing. I honestly have NO prior newborn experience and like I’ve said earlier, I haven’t read all the books I probably should have to give me a better idea of what I was in for. I know Peter didn’t either.

From the minute we got to the hospital to start the induction process.. Peter truly took care of me and he still continues to do that till today in a way I’ve NEVER seen before. The month of November was a dream, he took a few days off during the hospital and a few days after, then for two almost three weeks, he did half days at work (8-3 which is unusual in the restaurant industry) so he could be home to take care of us. He was always making delicious meals so I wouldn’t have to think about cooking, and because he knows I’m sensitive… he was way more understanding and tender to me when I was having a “Holy Shit I’m failing moment”, especially around breastfeeding and Leo not knowing me. He put Leos birthstone in the necklace he gave me on our wedding day (photo here), and gave me the matching earrings (from Leo of course) for Christmas and gave me my first mom Christmas card – I bawled my eyes out)

Peter is honestly a natural when it comes to taking care of our son. It blows me away. I honestly think he’s the happy baby he is because Peter just LOVES to make him laugh and play with him (If you can play with a newborn that is). Being Highly Sensitive… I can take life and the role as a mama WAY to seriously and Peter is the one who initiates the laughter in this house. I am SO GRATEFUL that he does.

That said… the ways in which we’re opposite can definitely be a trigger for us. Because I’m HIGHLY sensitive… I definitely do not abide by the letting him cry it out philosophy… Peter is slower to react to Leos cries (adopting the “Give him a minute to figure it out.”) and it always puts a damper on our teamwork. Also, being Highly Sensitive.. I want to give all my focus.. my energy on being with and understanding my son, when I am taking care of him… so I usually put everything else down when I’m taking care of him. *Sometimes this sucks when I’m hungry. I try to limit him being overstimulated… but honestly I think I’m doing that because MY sensitivity has increased. When doing the night shift, I don’t put the TV on so disrupt me focusing on Leo feeding and getting back to sleep by the flicker of the TV, and Peter is fine with it being on. I tend to be WAY more quieter when I’m with Leo than Peter is. Again, I think this is a reaction to my own increased sensitivity… but it’s something that pushes on both of us. Peter is not a quiet guy…so telling him to be quiet can definitely ruffle his feathers. I want Peter to focus on being with Leo… not on his phone or watching TV when he’s in his care. This has been hard to get across to him as I’m SURE it’s frustrating that I always need quiet… and for Peter to be more reactive than to let him “figure it out.”

Because both of us have different philosophies with how to take care of him (I can already see the “toughen up boy” attitude in how Peter cares for Leo where I am more wanting to understand what LEO is experiencing), really listening to and paying attention to his different cries… it causes arguments and honestly… there have been some doozy arguments about these differences. I’m NOT saying I know Leo better than Peter does… but because I’m around him more…just that I tune in more… and well… it’s not always easy to communicate that.

Finally… I believe in the power of keeping Leo on a schedule. (I am following the EASY schedule from The Baby Whisperer – EASY – EAT/ACTIVITY/SLEEP/Time for YOU – See more here about it.) I notice a HUGE difference in his happiness when he sticks to a routine. He doesn’t cry much when he is on schedule… and is obviously off schedule when he’s not a happy camper. Nice long 3 hour naps when he’s on schedule is admittedly also very nice for mama and it’s how I was able to get out a few dozen Christmas cards this year. Since Peter is not with Leo all the time, he doesn’t see the difference being on schedule makes… and just wants to be with him when he gets home. I TOTALLY understand he misses his son while he works… that him happening to be sleeping when he gets home impedes in Peter spending time with him. I’m with him all the time and have to deal with the fallout of him being “off schedule”, where Peter isn’t as affected. NOT JUDGING… I understand he just wants to be with him, but I’m the one that has to get him back on schedule and that’s where it can suck. Thing is – I don’t want to be out and about.. I want to be home… taking care of my son and I haven’t figured out how to get Peter to understand where I am. I know the cold weather has something to do with that, I don’t want to take him out in this freezing cold and if it were warm out.. we’d be going for walks every day. I know he can’t get me to understand how life doesn’t have to completely change with a little one, that I can “go out” and do what I would used to do before he came.

That said… because Leos easier to care for when he’s on schedule.. it’s definitely heightened my own fear of going out. At home.. I have everything I need to keep him on schedule, but going out… who knows what will happen that will throw him off schedule. Peter, having undiagnosed ADD cannot sit at home for long periods of time like I can, so it always causes arguments about going out and staying in. He wants to always go out (Lets go to the mall, let’s go…. NOT be here and I just want to stay here to keep him on schedule)

This has caused quite a bit of stress between us.

Sure, I LOVE when I can get out a few hours so I can go to the grocery, Trader Joes and stop off at Chic-Fil-A for a spicy sandwich and Sweet Tea… but while someone is here… keeping the lovebug on schedule. (HUGE Deep and Humble bow to my sister for being VITAL to me having the space to take care of him while I run errands. Love you Auntie Kristine!!!) I’m not looking to go OUT. I don’t want to meet my girlfriends for dinner right now because most of them have no problem coming to the house to spend time with me and Leo. Peter doesn’t get that and I understand it conceptually but practically… it’s where we significantly differ.

THANKFULLY, he was able to push me out of my comfort zone enough to get me to go on our first road trip up north for Christmas.. and while I was VERY nervous about his schedule (there was a little fallout), I think I was more afraid that I would have a meltdown. It was out of my comfort zone for sure but I’m really glad he did. It helped me feel more confident traveling with a newborn, and I am grateful that Peter was able to help me work through my fear in that experience.

These two topics have caused us to have two of our biggest and perhaps the most troublesome arguments we’ve EVER had. It’s pushed us to the edges of our comfort zone… and honestly, both of us have entered territory that we’re afraid of, unsure of, and honestly not sure how to manage…

So we dig our heels in deeper in what has worked for us up to now.

And because as humans, we get to choose FIGHT, FLIGHT or FREEZE, when these moments happen… we both pick one of them and it hasn’t been the same reaction. I typically go to fight (wanting to talk it out) and Peter goes to flight (Getting the HELL out of the house, so he can cool off and think it out.) This difference has been where we need to find a way to meet in the middle and honestly there are times when I’m not sure we know how to do that.

What I do know is I believe in us. EVEN if we don’t know how to proceed, even if we’re not in a happy moment with each other.. I know we both have the same long term vision and so I need to remember that when we’re dealing with the short term moments of being NOT on the same page.

That said… I would say to soon to be mamas and papas to talk about the few things that would make a difference in creating a strong team, even if they’re different.

 – How do you handle when the baby cries?

– How do you feel about creating a schedule for the little one (and sticking to it), or being more go with flow?

– How do you handle it when your partner feels differently than you do about how to care for baby? *FIGURE THIS OUT NOW. Even if it’s just conceptually.

– How will you handle it when unexpected things come up (like in our case, having to introduce formula, having a cesarean, etc…) and how can you create UNITY during these very sensitive moments?

– How will you come together to face each others fears? How can you talk about them without making them worse?

Just a few thoughts I wish we would’ve at least found a middle ground before Leo came. I didn’t know I had to know these things.. I also didn’t know how my being Highly Sensitive would be intensified and how protective I am of him not dealing with something he can’t yet handle. I KNOW we both need to be pushed as parents to grow… to help our son grow.. but how can you do that in a way that won’t cause upset?

I don’t know the answer to this. I’m not looking for advice. I’m just sharing where I am. AGAIN, I’m sharing this and asking for your ACKNOWLEDGEMENT. I want to be seen by you.. to hear “oh yes, you’re not alone.” and maybe what worked for YOU as new parents.

What I know about Peter and I is that we WILL figure it out. Yes, it might not always be fun, we drive each other crazy with the ways in which we’re different and unable to meet in the middle… but I know we always find a way to move past it (even if it takes a few days) and end up a little bit stronger the next time. We both, I feel are incredible people… with such love for each other (even when we want to kill each other, figuratively) that we just need to find better tools to get us through the times when we’re unable to stretch out of the corners of our comfort zones.

One thing I KNOW FOR SURE –  we sure do love our boy. Oh my goodness we both want to literally eat him sometimes. *Why is that? Both of us find ourselves wanting to suck on Leos cheeks… SO yummy! We are united in our love for him… that I know we will find a way to work through these differences… some way, some how.


*okay, so that wasn’t as short as I thought… Guess I should have known. 🙂

Life as a Highly Sensitive Mama – Part Two – Breastfeeding

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Okay… where was I… If you’ve missed Part One… you can read it here.

HEADS UP: This is a WAY more sensitive topic for me than how my son came into the world. This affects me every single day. Breastfeeding is a topic that many mamas feel passionate about. *I get it, I really do. I have heard everyones suggestions and thoughts about what I should do… tintures I should take and how often I should nurse. I can assure you that I am doing the BEST I can to feed my baby. Please allow me this moment to just share my experience and my sadness. If you want to help me… then SEE me and where I am. Thank you.

So… unless you didn’t know… not EVERY woman has a full supply of breast milk.

Yep… I guess I should’ve read more books… because I had NO idea that women can have supply issues. I truly thought that when the baby comes out… that the mama can feed her baby with her breasts. Sounds so… like a little girl understanding but honestly… that’s what I thought. I knew that the first few days would be colostrum… that it would take a few days for my milk to “come in”… but as soon as that happened… it’s like the faucet was turned on.

Another one of those things I wasn’t expecting… at ALL.

To begin… during my “labor” (more like a joke), I watched my doula who was breastfeeding her 6 month old, pump TWO full bottles of breast milk in like 20 minutes. Like 5 oz in each bottle. I watched with amazement and excitement that I would soon be able to do the same. In hindsight… I think seeing her do this might been a detriment to how I’m feeling about this topic. *NOT her fault at all.

So it’s normal for a baby to lose a percentage of weight loss those first few days of life. The hospital gauges that anything over a certain percentage of weight loss (my guess is 5%) that they suggest supplementing with formula until the mamas milk come in. Well if you read part one… the nurse decided to tell us this at like 2am on our second night when we could not get him to stop crying (read Second Day Syndrome) that he lost about 7% of his body weight (He started out at 6lbs to begin with…so 7% is a lot) little did we know he also was probably crying because he was really hungry. I was NOT very friendly to the nurse who suggested supplementing at 2am. NOT the time to tell us this. What? 48 hours after my son was cut out of me… I already have to give up my dreams of feeding my baby myself?  Uh HELL NO.

I try to push this out of my mind cause we were having such a not fun night.

That is.. until we were checking out… we got the news from the lactation consultant as she calmly attempted to explain it again… Leo needed to be supplemented. I think I would honestly have waited a few days if Leo started out at 8 lbs, etc… but since he was such an itty bitty and lost 7% of his weight already… that’s dipping into the 5lb range… I didn’t want to risk him losing more weight and it being dangerous. It was SO FUCKING HARD to watch him suck down that first 15ml of formula. Just thinking about it now makes me cry. The pediatrician, the nurses and the lactation consultant kept pushing that I can ween him off this formula when my milk comes in. Which I held onto like it was the secret to life.

They gave us enough formula for a few days… which I thought would be enough before I could ween him off this and onto my breast milk when the faucet turned on. The AVERAGE a womans milk comes in is 3-7 days. I thought.. okay, I could just do this for a few days. I kept breastfeeding him, hoping he was getting enough and I would argue with Peter about giving him the LEAST amount of formula so he wouldn’t get used to it.

*Side Note: That was a BIG argument… being overweight people… I didn’t want to start Leo early with the philosophy that he can eat his feelings… I know, he’s just days old but it really bothered me. It seemed that when Leo cried… and because there was no cycle yet (wake up/eat/play sleep) that it meant that he was always hungry. The only thing that helped me understand Peters philosophy is the fact that he was so little (6 lbs.) again, if he was 8lbs or more.. I probably would have pushed a bit more on this. This argument went on a LONG time. I still, 9 weeks later, still have trouble feeding him again, if he seems hungry prior to every three -four hours. More on my experience with Peter in Part Three.

Another side note: My dear kindred/coach friend Laura suggested I find a way to reframe how I see formula. See it as a positive instead of an enemy. I can see why she suggested that but I’m honestly not there yet. I am still working so hard to feed him myself … and formula is still winning. Maybe one day I will be able to, just not today.

Days would go by… and I wasn’t getting any more supply. I googled mamas who didn’t get her milk until 2 weeks… three weeks. I sat at the pump for 30… 40 minutes with barely more than a few drops coming out. I went to my pediatricians lactation consultant, hired a consultant to come to the house… and in that experience she told me that I was 90% behind where I needed to be to feed my baby exclusively. She jerry rigged a supplemental nursing system so I could experience breastfeeding while feeding him formula. Watching him actually feed at my breast and taking in a full mouthful made me SO emotional. I wanted SO BADLY to do that myself. Even today…. I still want that SO badly. I am still trying so hard. This is SO important to me.

So I can officially say that Leo is a 90% formula fed baby. I am able to pump enough to give him ONE bottle, every OTHER day. I still have him breastfeed before every bottle, so he can get as much as he can, I am taking FenuGreek three times a day to get my 3600mg daily dose, I can tell it helps but I still don’t get enough. I cannot tell you how sad I am about this. I am working SO HARD to give him whatever I can, but honestly… this is HARD. I don’t know how I will not look back on these early months in sadness because I could not feed my baby.

Hearing other moms who pump enough to feed their baby multiple bottles, who have enough to freeze and store their milk… make me sad in my soul. I would give ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING to be able to do that. In my vision as a mama… I saw breastfeeding being a part of it and honestly I feel like a death has occurred in my experiencing being a mama.

Add to that…  anyone can feed him a bottle. Grandma and Grandpa… definitely Auntie can feed him… what makes ME special as his mama? I know… everyone says that he knows I’m his mama but I’m just not sure. I feel I have lost that bond with him and I cannot tell you how much that has affected me. Yea yea.. post partum depression… I got it. I am allowed to feel THIS sadness about this.

So again….. I feel like my body has failed me yet AGAIN. There is nothing anyone can say to change this or make me feel better. It just is what it is. The ONLY thing I can do now is find a way to cope with feeling this way. I love my son SO much… seeing his beautiful million dollar smile lights up my life, but when it comes to how I’m feeling as a woman and a mama… a part of me is missing. A part of me that I’m not sure will ever be whole again.

As a Sensitive person… this was SO important to me. I will tell you that I have not always been open to considering myself a mama. It’s taken me a LONG time for me to be open to this experience and part of my vision around this was to be able to feed my baby. I feel SO raw about this… I have had two complete meltdowns about this and honestly, writing this out makes me feel like there will always be another one in tow.

That said.. I am not giving up. I will keep pumping as long as I can. I will attempt to add/change my solutions to hopefully get more supply (I hear that supply can increase up to five-six months) and I will continue to honor my sadness about this situation.

So I have two more parts of me in this sharing… Part Three is about how Leo coming into my world has affected my relationship with my husband. And the finale is how I felt before my lovebug came about having a boy.. and how I feel now.

Thank you for your support.

Life as a Highly Sensitive Mama – Part One – His arrival

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*All these images can be found on my Instagram feed at @thisdreamergirl

If I had to come up with ONE word about what it’s like being a mama as a Highly Sensitive Person it would be.


I have been wanting to write this post since BEFORE my beloved Leonardo Salvatore Russo (happily we call him Leo) joined us on October 30th at 10:13 pm via Cesarean, almost ACHING to get this out of me (almost a cry for acknowledgement and support) but I didn’t feel I had enough experience with how I’m feeling, what it takes to be a mama under my belt to even say anything with assurance. Now that two months have gone by… I can keep this in no longer, and I have to get this out of me.

Side Note: I’m about to share my vulnerability, my insecurities, my “I have NO idea what I’m doing” that I would appreciate your compassion when writing your comments. Parenting is, I am finding an OPEN TARGET to criticism, even with those closest to us… so many different philosophies that how I choose to take care of my son might not be how you would, I would ask you please honor my decisions and not comment your suggestions. What I could use is your ACKNOWLEDGEMENT that you see me and hear me. Being a mama (or a papa) is a life altering experience and NO ONE prepares you for what you experience… even if you do read every book written. (which I admittedly didn’t)

SO many feelings, so many changes in who I am as a person, what I now need in order to feel “normal”… so many mind blowing HIGHS as well as close to being sucked into a BLACK HOLE LOWS that I almost feel like a crazy person still. Add to that that I am officially a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) my sensitivity to almost everything has become SO heightened that I don’t think I’ll EVER be the same. *okay yea.. lets not forget those pregnancy hormones too.

Let’s start with his birth…

While I will tell you that I had only one goal for his arrival… TO BE CALM, I absolutely had a vision for how I saw my labor and delivery. I was looking forward to ‘doing the work’ through each contraction and reach down to pull my child from my body as he takes his first breath. I wanted no drug interventions… a quiet room so I could focus, and the ability to move freely to help me push through the surges.

Yea… that didn’t happen. My blood pressure started rising a few weeks before (NEVER had blood pressure issues before this) and as my OB said… was on the threshold of having Pre Eclampsia so after some discussions with my husband, my doula and a few close friends… I decided to maintain calm and follow the direction of my OB and be admitted to the hospital where I begin the process of being enduced.

Long story short but after 12 hours and the highest dose of Pitocin… I was still not any more than 1cm dilated and add to that, my babys heart rate would dip after a chemically enduced contraction. I am convinced MY BODY WAS NOT READY TO GO INTO LABOR. It was like I was watching the worst case scenario shared in the movie of “The Business of Being Born“. I did my best to honor my preferences but in the end… I found myself walking to the operating room and what seemed like 15 minutes later… while I was violently shivering from either the epidural, etc… the doctors delivered my son via cesarean.

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*I do not even remember this moment at all and actually just saw these photos today. Makes me sad and weepy.

Yes… most people tell me that I should just be grateful he was delivered safely and that he’s healthy… of course I wanted him to be here safely and in good health… I just had NO idea how I would playback this experience and with such melancholy and sadness. From not being able to stop shivering while on the table… to looking over and seeing him get shots within a few minutes of birth without making us aware what they were and finally putting that goop on his eyes that I thought was ONLY for the purposes of keeping infection out of them from coming out of the birth canal which is NOT where he came from. I sadly think I will always have a black cloud over that day. I cannot tell you how sad I am about this.

I feel like my body failed me… blood pressure issues? What? Never in my life has this topic come up. My body didn’t dilate at ALL? I know about post partum depression and agree that around this topic… I definitely am feeling the symptoms. Then again… being sensitive, feeling so much… is it normal to be sad about this? I think any woman would feel sadness about how they welcome their first born not going as expected to feel a pang of sadness. Add to that that I feel strongly about my feelings… that that sadness would be a bit more intensified. Since 2 months have passed, I can say it doesn’t affect me like it did at the beginning but I’ll always look back on this moment, like I am now and feel sadness and most likely shed a tear.

From the minute he arrived… I think my being sensitive kicked into high gear and I’m pretty sure I will never return to my pre- Leo level again. Honestly I hope it never does. I feel SO much more empathetic than I ever have.. my heart has opened SO much more… to my son, what I need, to my repeated failed attempt to give my husband (who is not as sensitive and who needs completely different things than I do) what he needs. (More on relationships in Part Three)

Those first few days in the hospital were SO HIGHLY overwhelming. From all the visitors (I had NO quiet alone time with Leo the whole time I was in the hospital… something a sensitive woman DESPERATELY needs, I think it almost was a detriment to how I even feel now. I never got that initial spiritual/emotional connection that only being quiet and introducing myself to him would bring). The fact that 24 hours post my cesarean, I could not move my legs, eventually I could not get out of bed without lots of help…. not being able to get up to change Leo… rock him…etc… that Peter or someone else had to do everything, triggered me. The 2nd night was SO bad… he cried and cried… nothing Peter did (because he was mobile) would work and the only way Leo would be quiet and sleep was at my breast which I loved and also hated because I thought there was something wrong with that. *Come to find out about the SECOND DAY SYNDROME – If you have a mama to be in your life… send her this post… TRUST ME. I wish I knew about this. Finally, upon us getting ready to leave the hospital (packed bags, etc), finding out that my blood pressure was still high that the Dr was pushing that we stay in the hospital another day… I was doing my best to just keep it together…for myself and my husbands sake… STAY CALM. *Thankfully after taking some meds (which I was quite against) my blood pressure stabilized enough that I could go home a few hours later.)

The hospital staff was wonderful, my experience in the hospital will always be a pleasant one…definitely would recommend Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC to others, but what was happening within me was a totally different story.  I was desperate to for a moment to reflect.. to soak it in.. but there wasn’t ONE minute. It was like the minute we agreed to be enduced… it is a marathon that besides stopping at a water station… I have not stopped. *or slept.

So now my heart is WIDE open…. I visualize my body on a dissecting table like that poor frog in biology class with those long pins keeping the guts exposed. I don’t see my heart NOT being on the outside again, anytime soon.

Honestly… I could not be happier. I love this new part of me…I feel like I feel SO much more, everything is just so raw. Tough part is how do I blend this new joyous and unsure part of me with the rest of the world who either doesn’t understand or like that I now need more quiet… I cry more at the little things that move me (like my sons beautiful smile or watching him sleep), that I am very conscious about how my son is feeling (hence I do not believe in letting him “cry it out”. Yes, a good cry is definitely therapeutic.. but not as a newborn! Duh!) and finally the fact that I am now a MAMA… (seriously if you see me…give me a hug on this, look me in the eyes and say… “Yes Kerilyn.. YOU are a mama.” because I take this role so so seriously in my heart.) I’m not sure how I’ll heal the hurt in my heart from his birth not going as I envisioned it or how I can give myself permission to shed a tear when I think of it when the rest of the world tells me to just “get over it”. I feel both stronger in my resolve about who I am as a woman… and more unsure than I ever have been.

Whatever happens… I am SO grateful for understand that I am sensitive (Thanks to Elaine Aron)… that I know about vulnerability.. shame (thanks to Brene Brown) and as I learn how to blend this part of me with the rest of the world.

Finally… It now blows my mind that the child celebrates his or her birthday on the day of their birth when I honestly think it should be the mama that needs to celebrate. This is THE day your mother did all she could to make sure that you were welcomed with open arms… THAT is truly a mothers birth-day. I think I’m going to start a ritual come next October 30th.. that part of my sons 1st birthday will be a moment that I can celebrate in this experience myself.

Welcome to this crazy dream, my dear Leo. I am so excited for the many MANY opportunities that we will have together to learn forgiveness. Mama loves you. Thank you for being my teacher.

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