Let’s be honest here – I was so terrified of labor and birth that the thought of anything afterward never even crossed my mind. Now, nearly 3 weeks after giving birth to my son, I wanted to take a moment to be real with you and talk about the things that I have experienced postpartum in just 19 short days (19 days postpartum, not that I’m going to take up 19 days of your time to write this blog, just so we’re clear). This list is down and dirty, so hang onto your hats (do people still wear hats?) here it is – the real deal.
1 – Postpartum Crotch Pain: this is number one for me because this was the worst part of my postpartum experience, hands down. Yes, there are many things about pregnancy and birth that are truly miraculous. You spent the last 9 months growing an entire human being inside your body – every toe, every finger, every eyelash, YOU DID that! Then you pushed it out… and there’s where this item begins. I had an extremely short “pushing” phase of my labor. The entire thing lasted about 20 minutes and I am grateful, no doubt about that. I am also grateful that my tearing was minimal – I had what was medically classified as “4 1st degree perineal and urethral tears” which basically means I had 4 tiny skin tears around my vagina and my urethra but no muscle tearing, and no episiotomy. I also had an epidural prior to giving birth so I didn’t feel any of those tears happening or being stitched up afterward. Until that epidural wore off…
OH. MY. GOD.
Ice diapers (yes, this is quite literally one of your baby’s diapers cut open at the crotch, filled with crushed ice, put in your giant mesh underwear, and pulled up against all your sore bits) and dozens of witch hazel pads later, I left the hospital. When I got home, I could literally barely sit down. Sitting was extremely painful. Standing was painful. Walking was painful. Laying down… that was good. But have you ever tried lying down and taking care of an infant? Ya, not so much productivity there. Don’t get me wrong, I did have Chris there as well as my mom and dad, but unfortunately, I was the only one with a “working” set of breasts. Let’s just say it was a lengthy process.
At the 10-day mark postpartum, I finally felt that I could sneeze, blow my nose, and cough without A LOT of pain. You know when you hurt yourself or when you’re sick, and you don’t realize how much you use whatever is out of commission until you’re stuck without it? Well, let’s just say, the following services were out of service for 10 days: laughing, coughing, blowing my nose, clearing my throat, and sneezing. My God, sneezing… I sneezed on day 2 and I literally burst into tears because I felt like I had just either ruptured my stitches or given birth to Steven’s unknown twin. I effectively stifled every sneeze for a full 8 days after that.
Here’s the long and short of it: Every time I go the bathroom, it takes me five minutes to get through my routine: fill my spray bottle with warm water, pee, spray down the area with aforementioned water, dab (not wipe) with toilet paper, spray numbing spray along the whole area, put a pad in my underwear, insert two Tucks pads, apply Preparation H (cause, pushing a baby out of me unfortunately meant also pushing a hemorrhoid out as well) pull up my pants, wash my hands and waddle back to whatever I was doing.
Words of advice –
• Showering daily is an absolute must for me. I attempted to use the sitz bath they gave me at the hospital (basically a little basin that you fill with water and set in the toilet and then sit on for 10 minutes to soak your stitches) but it was so awkward and painful that I didn’t continue after the first time so showering, washing (with Summer’s Eve sensitive wash, unscented), and thoroughly rinsing daily is a essential.
• Get a donut pillow to sit on, but don’t overuse it. The donut pillow is GREAT for taking the pressure off your stitches and that whole area in general, but overuse for me caused even further pressure and stretching down there when I didn’t use it. When you aren’t sitting, lay down if you can to completely take the pressure off. Sit in soft chairs and recline as much as possible.
• Take the medication you need for pain management. I was prescribed Naproxen and I took it pretty religiously for the first 5 days until I felt like I could get by on IB profen and then with nothing at all by day 10.
• Things WILL get better. I know that everyone probably says this and when you’re in the moments of pain (or “sneeze birthing”) it’s hard to believe that you are ever going to be a functioning woman again, but it will heal. Just give it time and get through each hour as it comes.
2 – Postpartum Naiveté: Oh man. The “told you so” my mom could have given me that first 2 days home was so beyond any other in my life. Chris and I really wanted to learn the new parent ropes together and on our own. I wanted my mom there at the birth and so ultimately, my parents ended up staying with us the day we came home from the hospital. Between my emotional state, my pain, and my ignorance, that first day was a total cluster you-know-what.
Every time I held Steven and he started crying, I started crying with him. His lips and skin were so chapped just from being in a world outside of warm water for the first time, and every time I fed him and saw those little chapped, peeling lips, I started bawling. My mom was so amazingly helpful and I know now, I could not have made it through those first days at home without her. It wasn’t just that she was another set of hands, although that was useful as well, it was the practical advice that she gave me through so many situations. I admit it now, I was naïve to think that I could do this without help.
Words of advice – (from someone much wiser and more experienced than me: my mom)
• Babies can only communicate in one way: crying. Crying signifies hunger, exhaustion, wet diaper, dirty diaper, pain, fear, needing comfort, too cold, too hot, and anything else you can think of.
• Don’t take your baby’s crying personally. Reference the first bullet. Your baby crying is just his way of communicating. It has nothing to do with you or your parenting.
• Your baby is not as fragile as you think he is. Yes, babies need protection and comfort but your baby, even as a newborn is strong and resilient. I mean, don’t toss him around like a ragdoll (that bobble head and weak neck aren’t all there yet) but pulling his little arm through the sleeve of a onesie or cinching up that diaper tighter than you think it should go are totally fine. You may think you won’t, but, believe me, you’ll know when the cry turns from normal, standard crying to a cry of pain, and if it is a cry of pain, adjust what you’re doing and fix it. He’ll be fine.
• Use the “5 S’s”. This comes from the Dr. Harvey Karp book, “Happiest Baby on the Block” and my mom has used this for years with success (my sister has 4 kids that all successfully used this method). Dr. Karp starts with his theory that human babies are born 3 months early (only due to the fact that there isn’t enough room in the womb for them to continue to grow) and therefore the first 3 months of a baby’s life are the “4th trimester”. The 5 S’s are meant for soothing your baby and are as follows: swaddle, side or stomach position, shushing, swinging, and sucking. I won’t delve into it further, but I’ll just say it DOES work and if you’re interested get the book or the movie and take a gander.
• There is nothing that will bring someone to his or her knees faster than a baby who won’t stop crying. When you are at the end of your rope, put your baby in a safe place, walk away and take a minute to regain your composure. As long as your baby is safe, (not on top of a changing table that he could roll off of, but in a car seat or other means of safe keeping) take the minute you need to get yourself together, even if it means that he’s crying at the maximum decibel level for the full minute. It’s better to compose yourself and come back to the situation than do something you’ll regret with dire consequences.
• Crying is okay. For you, I mean. Hormones are still rushing through you and breakdowns are pretty much imminent. Just let it happen, embrace the fact that you just brought a new life into the world and that is an emotional rollercoaster.
• Don’t worry about being (or portraying) the “perfect” parent. Like I mentioned, my parents stayed with us the first 2 days we were home, and Chris’ parents were scheduled to come a few days later just for the day. I was totally stressing that I was a hormonal, emotional wreck with no makeup on, permanently wearing a robe and sweatpants in a dirty house that probably smelled like pee. My mom assured me that no one was expecting me to be the perfect parent. That this is real life and that, in reality, grandparents are just coming to see your baby. You’re important and all, but your baby is the number one priority. Embrace the fact that you will get a break. Put your feet up, take a nap, let them enjoy their grandson and relax.
• Let sleeping babies lie. This bullet is also in the next section, Postpartum Sleep Deprivation, but is a word of advice from my mom that is so good, it needs to be said twice: If your baby is asleep, let him sleep. Enjoy the peaceful time you have where you aren’t feeding him, changing him, or trying to make him stop fussing and take that time to just relax. Believe me, he will wake up when he’s hungry or uncomfortable.
• Use all the help you can get. One of the things that Chris and I were so grateful for (in addition to my mom’s help with baby) was the help of my dad walking our dog, Riley. Unfortunately, our fur baby kind of fell to the back burner once Steven arrived and having my dad there to walk Riley and play with her while we were so consumed with the baby was SO ridiculously helpful. I think it also made Riley feel that she wasn’t being completely neglected, which she really would have been if it had only been me and Chris there, one, because I could barely sit or stand, there’s no way I would have been able to walk her, and two, if Chris had left me alone with Steven on the first day home, I probably would have had a complete meltdown. Thank the Lord for parents. Everyone offers his or her own little piece of help, take all you can get!
3 – Postpartum Sleep Deprivation: Here’s the skinny: you can survive on WAY less sleep than you think you can. I was a solid 8+ hours a night girl before Steven came along. That first night home, Chris and I got about 2 hours of sleep and you know what, we are still functioning! Your baby is making your new “routine” though I hesitate to even call it a routine because that implies that there will be a regularly fixed program and the only thing that is “fixed” is the fact that things will be constantly changing. People always told me, “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Easier said than done, for me at least.
As a new parent (and frankly, a person that is new to the whole newborn infant thing) every sound and every movement was cause for concern. So, sleeping when he was sleeping was just not happening. Every coo, every shortness of breath, every yawn, sneeze, arm movement, and bowel movement, we were up checking to make sure he wasn’t dead. After night one, it got better. Mostly because of advice from my mom (see Postpartum Naiveté), but partly due to my and Chris’ growing patience as parents.
Words of Advice –
• Take it one minute at a time. Not one day at a time, because that span of time is way too long in new mommy and daddy world. A minute of a wailing baby feels like an hour. Every minute that your child is alive is a success for both you and your baby. You’re learning together. He’s learning how to be a baby in this new world and you’re learning how to be a parent in this new, crazy chapter of your life.
• Keep a journal. It may sound trivial or monotonous (I am trying to keep this baby alive, I don’t have TIME to write in a stupid journal) but it has already helped me. My college roommate, and one of my best friends, Mariah, sent me a journal and advised to write one challenge and one success from the day. The first day was full of challenges and not many successes but the next day was better, and the next was better than the day prior and so on. Every day will come with a new set of challenges and new set of successes but being able to look back on them is rewarding for me. I know that Chris and I are doing this whole parent thing and we will make it because we made it through trying not to drop him during his first bath and not putting the diaper on tight enough and therefore ruining a onesie beyond washer and dryer repair. But it’s okay! You’ll make it too!
• Take turns with your partner. Chris is a total night owl and I’m a total morning person and that has proven to really work for us as parents right now. I feed Steven then go to bed around 11, Chris has him for about 3 hours after that, calming him enough for him to sleep until he’s hungry again then he changes him and brings him to me to feed. I will calm him enough to go back to sleep, then we’ll all sleep another 3 hours until Steven wakes up again and I take the morning shift until Chris wakes up. It’s really nice to put that trust in your partner and have that few hours of really uninterrupted sleep where you don’t have to worry about every sound the baby makes because you’re just in your bedroom alone.
• Let sleeping babies lie. This bullet is also in the previous section. If your baby is asleep, let him sleep. Enjoy the peaceful time you have where you aren’t feeding him, changing him, or trying to make him stop fussing and take that time to just relax. Believe me, he will wake up when he’s hungry or uncomfortable.
4 – Postpartum Pooping: the fear is real, folks. That first bowel movement after giving birth will PRETTY MUCH feel like you’re being torn open. I was SO afraid to poop that the mental anguish it was causing me was all I could focus on. Days passed and every time I ate, I thought about the fact that food was going in, but nothing was coming out the other end. I obsessed over my fear of pushing whenever I sat on the toilet. In the end, it took me 4 days. FOUR days to finally poop and it hurt. It hurt really bad. But it was over and once I made it over that initial hump, it got better mentally. I’m not going to lie to you and say that after that first one, I felt like everything was back to normal again. In fact, 19 days later, things still don’t feel normal in that area. I am back to once a day, which is great, but the pushing (albeit minimal) is still uncomfortable.
Also, truth be told, most women suffer with hemorrhoids during or after their pregnancy. I was blessed to not have any during pregnancy but am still working through one postpartum. It isn’t painful, but it is not the most comfortable feeling in the world. Plus, it feels really awkward when you feel that while showering and you KNOW that did NOT used to be there and, holy crap (no pun intended), why is it there and when is it leaving.
Words of Advice –
• Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drinking tons of water will really help move things along down there. I know that the thought of peeing more and going through the five minute aforementioned routine repeatedly sounds a bit daunting, you your body will thank you for it and things will heal that much quicker. Plus, dehydration leads to impacted bowels (I know from experience unfortunately) and pushing anything out at that point is extremely painful.
• Preparation H and Tucks pads. After pooping, wipe with toilet paper then use a Tucks pad and wipe again. Apply Preparation H as liberally as you feel you need to. This stuff is a miracle and will shrink that sucker down quickly.
• Shower daily. Once again, keep it clean down there. The last thing you need on top of all the other issues going on in that region is any kind of uncleanliness leading to itching, burning, or any other infections.
• Go when you feel the need to go and take your time. My initial poop took A LOT of concentration, and not concentration on pooping. Concentration on something OTHER than pooping. I literally had to go in and bring my phone to take my mind off the fact that I was pushing a little bit so that I didn’t tense up and stop before things happened. Don’t beat yourself up too much if you can’t do it the first couple times you try. It’s challenging and scary and that’s okay.
• Take a stool softener. My doctor recommended Ducolax for me and it has worked well. I take it once a day with my prenatal (post-natal?) vitamin and it helped put me back on track as far as regularity and consistency of my bowel movements.
• Careful with other medications. The Naproxen my doctor prescribed me has a constipation side effect so weaning myself off that when I felt ready helped me. Sometimes it’s about picking your battles and whatever pain takes priority at that point is what you should concur.
5 – Postpartum Emotions / Communication: Let’s just be real and say the breakdowns are going to come. They may be few and far between, they may be rampant and often, but they will come. With the amount of hormones rushing through your body, it can only be expected, but that doesn’t make it easy to handle. For about the first 3 or 4 days, I was having emotional collapses pretty frequently. Like, crying over nothing. I would literally be talking to my dad about something funny that happened to him at church and I would just start bawling.
Honestly, it was a little embarrassing and I felt like I had to keep saying, “I’m so sorry; I don’t even know why I’m crying right now!” There were so many times in the first few days that when Steven would cry, I would sit and hold him and cry right along with him. I felt like I didn’t know what to do for a crying infant. I didn’t know the right way to hold him, the wrong way to hold him, how to change a diaper, how to swaddle him in a blanket, why he was crying, how to stop him from fussing… it was just A LOT OF EMOTIONAL stuff piling down on me all at once.
Words of Advice –
• Talk to someone who understands. For me, that was my mom. Initially, it was just nice to be able to talk through the tears with someone. Having my mom tell me that what I was going through was totally normal and that my emotions were going to be like a roller coaster for a few weeks and that was okay.
• Talk to someone who can just listen. Chris was really my support structure. This whole process from pregnancy to birth to new parenting is SO much different for the man than it is for the woman. I had been feeling this life inside me for months, I had been seeing my body change and grow, I had felt the kicks and the contractions and the birth… but a man experiences so little of that. He doesn’t know what you’re going through and, let’s be real here, you don’t know what he’s going through. Imagine being the man in this scenario and you are just doing your best to be a new dad and to be a supportive husband but you don’t know why your wife is crying… for the 6th time today… and you don’t know how to help her our of that “funk”. Just communicate how you’re feeling, even if you feel like it’s totally ridiculous that you resent your baby for making you feel like all you are is a milk machine (yes, I had this exact conversation with Chris). Chris is just there. He’s there when I need a hug, he’s there when I need some words of encouragement, he’s there as a shoulder to cry on, and right now, that’s enough.
• Let it happen. Just be okay with the fact that you are a walking hormone and that your random bouts of tears are part of this process. They may lessen as the days go by and they may not. For me, the first 4 days were messy. Then things starting slowly getting better. Then, at the 2 week mark, I had a total breakdown when I took Steven for a walk in the stroller and he started crying when I was 15 minutes from home and I had to speed walk back, feeling like the world’s worst mother because I put him in that situation and there was nothing I could do to change his wet diaper because I didn’t bring one with us (because I’m the worst mom ever) and even if I did have one, how could I have changed him, and it was cold and windy and I’m sure he was uncomfortable and, my GOD… what was I doing with this life in my hands?!?! Ya… roller coaster… and I came home and Steven was crying and I took him out of the stroller and held him close and rocked him while I cried and Chris held me and told me that I did nothing wrong and when the baby wouldn’t stop crying, I realized that his diaper was just wet and he was uncomfortable. It wasn’t me or the wind or the stroller or anything else. It was that he was having a bodily function and that he knew the only way someone would fix that for him was by crying. That was all. Just let the breakdowns exist and be okay knowing that you’re doing your best.
6 – Postpartum FOBI (Fear of Breaking Infant: One of the scariest things for me after I gave birth was seeing how the nurses handled my new baby. Cleaning the goop off him, suctioning his nose and mouth, drying him, warming him… it was all so rough! I was like, holy crap people! You’re gonna break his tiny little arms off!
Words of Advice –
• Truth is, babies, even newborn babies, are not as delicate as you think they are. Sure, they are small and weak and their little bobbleheads are daunting when you’re trying to adjust them while cradling them in your arms, but they have spent 9 months growing tiny little bones and tiny little muscles that are meant to be strong and resilient! You can pull their tiny hands through their tiny onesie armholes and they won’t break off in the sleeve. You can pull the tabs on their diapers tight against their bodies so they stay put and don’t completely detach inside their onesie so that when you take it off, the poop is just sitting in the butt of the onesie and the diaper is somehow under their butt and around their thighs (yes, I learned the hard way). You can swaddle them tight, tight, tight inside that blanket and guess what? They will completely fall asleep and love it! My first couple swaddle attempts were loose and sad, lol. It took Steven about 4 seconds to pull his little hands out and start sucking on his fingers and another 8 seconds to kick his legs enough that he had completely unraveled the blanket. When my mom did the swaddle, he was a neatly packaged burrito baby, no flailing arms, no kicking legs, just asleep and content, just like he was in the womb. Sidenote: SWADDLING IS THE BOMB! We have been swaddling Steven since day one and man, does it work like a charm.
• When in doubt, err on the side of caution, but realize that if you think you are doing something too roughly, your baby will let you know. It just takes one leg stuck in the wrong side of the onesie to alert you that your baby needs assistance. Somehow, Steven’s tiny legs always get trapped in the left leg of his nighttime onesies… and he is quick to let us know that he’s being squashed.
• Always control your baby’s head and neck. If there’s one part of his body that really is delicate, it’s that neck. A baby’s head is like a quarter of his weight as a newborn. Imagine if you’re a 150-pound adult and your head weighed 35 pounds! That neck and head support are crucial and since babies generally can’t support their own heads until about 4 months, they will rely on you to steady them.
Bottom line: it’s been nearly 3 weeks since my son arrived and took his first breath. Since then, it’s been one adventure after another. Chris and I are constantly learning together how to do this whole parent thing. Some days are easier than others. Sometimes we even feel like we have a pretty good routine going. Then there are the moments when we feel like nothing we are doing is right. The things that worked last week or yesterday or even 2 hours ago are not working. At those times, we step back, we communicate, and we readjust. No one ever said parenting was easy but just take it all one minute at a time. You’ll get there… and so will we.