I had survived labor and the first couple of days in the hospital but now I was home. For several days the vast majority of my time was spent laying propped up in bed sitting on top of a bed pad. Our son was laid next to me in a pack n play that had an infant insert. And all was peaceful and chaotic at once. Staring for hours at the amazing picturesque face of my newborn son was therapeutic. He made great facial expressions and was quite alert for a baby so young. His bold eyes captivated me and his soft, warm body was a treasure to hold. But it wasn’t all joyous times.
Being in a bed for that long made my lower back muscles quite stiff so any movement into or out of that position was painful. My husband had to go back to work four days after I gave birth. He worked 10hour days during the night so while we had tons of local support, the time when I needed the most help, usually somewhere between 10pm-2am, I felt as if I had no one to call on. There were days when our baby would just cry and cry and I couldn’t soothe him because what he wanted was to be carried around and rocked but my body was too weak to do so. I also couldn’t reach him if he was laid on the ground so if I ever went to the bathroom I set him in his car seat which I had moved into the bathroom while I took care of the messy business.
Not everyone has this rough start because their partners are able to take time off for occasions such as this but I know that some people are in the same boat as me. I sometimes think about how things might have been different if my husband were able to take even a couple weeks off. In the long run, I don’t think it matters but in the moment it was difficult to effectively go it alone. This is obviously no fault of my husband’s, he did everything he could when he was able. In general the U.S.A. has terrible paternity leave in comparison to other countries but even with these laws (which are for unpaid leave time), not all workers are covered not to mention service members who completely miss the birth of their children due to deployments. I am thankful for the days I did have my husband at home and I don’t take them for granted.
I had become anemic again, was healing, exclusively breastfeeding, and solely in charge of caring for our son the majority of the time. This caused sheer and utter exhaustion. Coupled with the pain medicine I was on (which makes you drowsy) I would sometimes fall asleep while breastfeeding. While it made for some sweet photos that my husband would take without my knowledge and then show me later, it was scary knowing I had fallen asleep holding my baby so I took extra precautions to make sure that no harm could befall him if I accidentally snoozed.
Prior to his birth I hadn’t researched the pros and cons of different sleeping methods so the fear of sudden infant death syndrome loomed over me. I will write in detail about this later but the very thought of my child dying unexpectantly so soon after being brought into the world was terrifying. Another reason to stay up at all hours of the night and day.
PAUSE: I highly suggest learning from my mistake and throughly researching different sleeping options for your family before your little one is born.
I also didn’t know that “comfort suckling” was a thing so anytime my baby wanted to suck I thought it was because he was hungry. Once I figured out the difference that helped but we had decided not to use a pacifier for the first couple of weeks of his life so while I knew the difference, practically speaking it didn’t help much when he was crying.
PAUSE: Most infants find suckling comforting and will want to suck on something most of the time. They don’t yet have the dexterity to suck their thumbs which is why many parents opt for a pacifier. You don’t have to though and I would research pros and cons of doing so prior to your nugget of joy coming into the world.
Prior to my son’s birth I couldn’t understand why parents of newborns were so tired seeing as how their babies are supposed to sleep the majority of the day but it had become apparent quickly. Babies might sleep a lot but their sleep patterns are so different from ours as adults that even if you follow the wisdom of “sleep when baby sleeps” you won’t fall into a proper recuperative sleep by the time your baby needs attention again therefore making whatever few minutes of sleep you get basically useless.
The one sweet relief I had besides being absorbed by the miraculous adorableness of the life created inside me was that our church had set up a meal train so I didn’t have to worry about cooking food for a couple of weeks.
The worst thing about the postpartum healing process was the feeling that it would NEVER be over. You know that it has to end at some point but you also know that each person’s body handles postpartum differently and who knows, you could be one of the unlucky ones that doesn’t recover properly. This thought was trapped in my head as the days went on and I didn’t feel as if I was getting stronger or that my bleeding was slowing.
I bled very heavily for a week, needing to use diapers and change often. Then heavily for four and a half weeks, needing to use super absorbent maxi pads. Then in a few days it tapered off and after 6 weeks of non-stop bleeding, the massacre of my innards was finally over. You think you’re getting out of having periods for nine months when you’re pregnant but boy oh boy does your body strike back with a vengeance!
PAUSE: Most women heal in six weeks time which is why your first postpartum checkup is typically around that time.
While your uterus is shrinking down and bleeding all over the place your other organs are also readjusting to their newfound space. This can have an effect on your bowel movements so be prepared for something…. different.
I remember being terrified to poop for the first time after giving birth. While I had read that you won’t bust your stitches, I was still apprehensive that it would happen. It took me six days to finally have a bowel movement. It did nothing to my stitches but lord almighty it hurt!! Seeing as I was still on the peri bottle style of cleaning up after myself I began to pat away. It’s ridiculous trying to “pat” away poop. Just plain ridiculous. And I could tell something was wrong. I had small dots of blood coming up on the toilet paper. After some very awkward investigative work, it turned out I had gotten a massive hemorrhoid during delivery. It took a few months of bleeding and pain every time I pooped before the hemorrhoid finally resolved itself. I felt self conscious every time too because trying to throughly clean yourself by patting at a hemorrhoid takes ages so when I did have bowel movements it was this whole big production that had people wondering what on earth was taking me so long.
There were a few more changes that took place besides exhaustion, bleeding, and weird pooping.
In that time my breasts also went through engorgement which is when I learned that a breast pump can be a new mom’s best friend.
PAUSE: Engorgement happens when you have given birth and the hormones in your body cause your body to produce an over supply of milk. So much so that breasts typically become large, swollen, and hard as rocks.
While this was a bit uncomfortable, the pressure could easily be relieved and it was fascinating to see my body respond so forcefully to the demand placed upon it. It took a couple of weeks but my body finally adjusted and stopped producing so much milk. I would still get uncomfortable if I didn’t feed my baby regularly or have access to my pump but it really wasn’t that bad.
I found that while my abdomen stopped hurting as much a few days out, my abs were completely useless for a while meaning that if I needed to sit up I had to use my hands to push myself upright. It also made walking, turning in bed, bending over, or anything that requires the use of your core (read: nearly every movement you make) difficult or impossible. You sort of get used to this state once you reach a certain girth in your pregnancy but it is slightly frustrating to somehow still feel limited in your movements. It is also the main reason I couldn’t walk around with my baby as I had mentioned previously. However, once I was able to hold my baby and walk around with him I discovered that my leg muscles were SO tight that they were pulling on their attachment point in my heel causing a new pain. Every step I took caused a pain similar to pulling a muscle but hey, at least I could walk and that was an improvement!
Basically recovering from childbirth is just a bunch of new different types of pain layered on top of each other and every once in a while they’ll change.
BUT, and this is a big BUT, it gets better and you have a new beautiful child.
If you’re going through it now, I know it sucks, but it will get better. In the mean time try these ways of relaxing:
• Get a massage or give yourself one. There are tons of YouTube videos to help you learn how to massage different body parts. Surprisingly forearm massages seemed to be the most calming to me
• Take a bath. Just wait until you can safely get in and out of the tub and have someone watch your bundle of joy while you relax for a few minutes. If you don’t have anyone around, pull that baby swing (or whatever other baby holding device you have) into the bathroom with you so you can keep an eye on your sweetie.
• Watch Bob Ross or ASMR videos. If you have trouble sleeping the calm voices and sounds may help you drift off more easily. There are a lot of different kinds of ASMR videos so if you find yourself watching something that is not helping, try a different video. Perhaps the sound of rain helps you relax more than someone pretending to put on your makeup.
• Text your best friend your latest #momlife struggle. I’m sure she’ll get a kick out of it and be supportive as well.
• Listen to music. Your choice. Anything that normally makes you happy will likely come through for you know whether it’s hard rock, pop, or classical. Whatever floats your boat.
• Have someone bring you food or get food delivered. Sometimes an ice cream cone can do a girl’s soul some good.