Postpartum Life

The weeks after baby’s birth are beautiful and totally brutal. There is the incredible joy of the new arrival. There are so many quiet moments caught up in watching this little life. Watching his little fists swat around in a robotic dance makes me laugh. One day soon he will see his hands and look at them in amazement. Another milestone arrived and on to the next.

At two and a half weeks, he sleeps for a couple hours at a time. Every day or so, he does a four stretch. Sometimes this is at night, sometimes it’s not. His face, completely relaxed, lips smushed in a pout is a heart wrencher but also puts me into a full sprint towards the nearest couch or bed. Total joy and totally tired.

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He eats well, something to be thankful for. I am happy when he is full and peaceful, but I do not wake up gleeful at 4 am when it is time to feed again. I don’t want to change his diaper although I am glad it is wet or dirty. I don’t want to uncover my own warm body to fetch him from his bed and fill him up, but I do. It is a gift for me to get to do so and my gift to him. Once we are cuddled up together and I halt his cries, then I remember the simple joy of our togetherness. Although not when he wakes up again 30 minutes later with an unknown complaint, cries of gas or needed comfort or more hunger.

I find myself considerably more patient with those in my life who wear diapers than those who speak in full sentences. I am almost as easily offended as I am tired. I have eaten so many sweets my teeth feel like they’re rotting.

I spend an unreasonable amount of time on the internet during our endless nursing sessions. The first weeks after birth are a tough time to be on social media so much and yet it is hard to avoid when you are desperately trying to stay awake at all hours of the day and night. I look at photos of friends and strangers adventuring across the world, across town, across their neighborhood. At once I am both jealous and totally content. I would love to be galavanting through another country or exploring a trail or cooking a divinely fancy meal.

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This meal will mostly sound like, “Taco! Haines taco! Haines bite!”

But I would also like to be here, just where I am, watching one baby sleep, knowing the other is also resting and will come home soon to blabber on about his day which I may or may not understand. “Haines paint. Elmo music! Mason (insert something unintelligible).” My home is warm in contrast to this rainy, chilly day. I’m sitting at a table I helped my husband make. In every direction I see photos of our family, art that tells the story of our lives.

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Cousin love

There is also a pile of laundry and a vase of flowers that need to be thrown out. I should have wiped the table before sitting down. There are remnants of Haines’ breakfast sticking my sweater to the wood. My breasts are sore and quite possibly leaking. My clothes don’t fit. I am almost always aware of my stitches and the discomfort that increases when I walk or stand for long periods.

Parenting is complicated. It is being thankful and a bit wistful all at the same time as you move between phases of life: childless to parent, baby to toddler, one child to two. But it is undoubtedly the best thing to happen to me. There’s no place I’d rather be.

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Birth Story: The Arrival of Austin McGovern

I told myself all sorts of comforting lies while I was waiting for baby #2 to arrive.

He would be early. 

My labor would go more quickly with a second baby. 

I would be better prepared to handle the pain and discomfort of labor. 

Nope. As his due date approached everyone I saw reminded me he could arrive at any time and asked for an update on any signs he may make an appearance. There were none. Each day was a regular day. I wasn’t having any contractions, just the expected soreness of a woman carrying 40 extra pounds in her middle.

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Although I was tempted, I didn’t try to encourage the baby’s arrival. I took walks every day but didn’t chow down on jalapeños or drink castor oil, etc. I thought about it but I read a few articles that discussed how “natural induction methods” would only cause contractions not labor (oh, hell no). Most importantly though, I just wanted to give this baby the space to take his time.

Yes, I complained about waiting. Yes, I was getting frustrated and increasingly short with people who inquired about him. It felt like the ultimate game in patience, which is very dramatic of me as I went into labor only two days after the due date.

We were hoping for a punctual baby on October 26th but on October 29th just after we put Haines down for his nap, I had my first contraction. Tyler was trying to get me out of the house for a mental health break but I found myself frozen in pain in our kitchen. I went to bed instead.

With Haines my contractions slowly increased in frequency and intensity. This time they  started with a higher intensity and were irregular for hours. Contractions are jerks. Because of my previous history (tested GBS negative but Haines developed sepsis at 2 weeks old) our midwife encouraged us to go ahead and come in so I could get antibiotics in plenty of time. My midwife practice seemed as traumatized as we were by that experience.

Laboring at home is definitely my preference. Last time I felt much more able to handle the pain, channel my thoughts, be distracted, etc. At the hospital I was just watching the clock. An hour has passed, where were we now? Any progression? It felt like torture BUT the anxiety of not knowing when to leave for the hospital for antibiotics had also weighed heavily on us. I barely got to the hospital in time to deliver Haines and Tyler was especially worried about a repeat.

When I arrived at the hospital I was only 3 cm which is basically… nothing. My contractions were only 10-12 minutes a part and manageable pain wise. The hardest part was how nauseous I felt. My midwife encouraged me to eat (a pleasant surprise!) but I stuck to ginger ale and ice.

After several hours of laboring at the hospital and only progressing to 5 cm my midwife broke my water in an effort to speed things up. In case you were wondering, that is a very unpleasant experience. My midwife felt sure this would do the trick but two hours later I was not quite 7 cm and completely worn out. The contractions felt brutal. The idea of an epidural had previously terrified me but I was ready for some help.

Honestly I had been so proud of myself for having a natural birth with Haines, I really wanted to do it again. It was solely a pride/vanity issue. Now? Now I know that epidurals can be the best thing ever. It kicked in quickly and my contractions all but melted away. My midwife gave me pitocin while I took a nap and I woke up a couple hours later ready to roll. She came in to check me and found the baby’s head coming her way!

I was completely taken off guard that it was time to push but we got started immediately. In 3 contractions, Austin McGovern joined the world!

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When Haines was first placed on my chest, I felt terrified. I was overwhelmed by giving birth. I was overwhelmed by having a baby. The joy of his arrival was completely overshadowed by the incredible change that had just taken place in my world. When Austin was placed on my chest, it felt like everything. I don’t know how to describe the way the room came to life, the total joyous tears and chaos as everyone celebrated his arrival.

And instead of feeling like Austin was a stranger, I knew him. He was mine, he was ours. He was here.

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Postpartum Body Struggle

I’ve been working on this post for weeks struggling to describe how pregnancy and childbirth has affected me physically. Where do I even begin? What stereotypical path should I start with? Should I tell you how insecure I’ve always been about my body? Or should I just dive in to a tired old diatribe about the baby weight?

But this isn’t the years I hated my body or about baby weight. It’s not about any of things I expected. It’s about feeling out of place in your own body. The midwives described the baby as a very effective parasite, leeching my body of nutrition. I was impressed rather than put off by this until I realized all the energy it (the baby) was taking, how incapacitated I felt. I felt frail and heavy all at the same time. As I walked down the stairs I always reached for the railing or traced my hand along the wall. Never before had I considered I might fall but I stopped trusting myself. I didn’t know this body.

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The last few weeks of pregnancy, I lost my positive attitude. I beached myself on the couch and wallowed in self-pity. It was pretty much all wallow and waddle. After giving birth, I eagerly waited for my body to return. I thought there were four stages for my body: pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, the days or weeks of recovery and then the return to pre-pregnancy body. Um, no.

The fourth trimester was a strange trip. I was desperate to be active again in the hopes of feeling like myself. After about a week we started venturing outside the house, walking around the school across from my house and then eventually down to the lake and back and so on. It was a month before I walked the 4 mile lake trail I’d typically done every week.  It did not feel good. It is a whole new world when it’s your vagina that says you’re exercising too much.

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This is the first time I wore regular jeans. I busted out of them about 4 minutes later.

Everyone had told me that breastfeeding would cause the weight to drop quickly. Obviously I have nothing to compare it with but for me it was true. The first 25+ pounds were gone in 5 weeks. My enormous belly first became soft, then drooped, then starting to fade away. Only a couple weeks after childbirth I could find my belly button easily. A tiny dip reappeared where it was once flat. But it doesn’t take much to go up a size or two and I still can’t fit into most of my clothes. I’ve started to exercise regularly again but I can see these last pounds will be a long process. To be honest at this point my belly feels like a souvenir or a badge of honor. A light tan line still marks me down the middle proudly announcing “new mama”! I’d embrace it all if I could just wear my dang old pants and shorts like I want to.

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NEWSFLASH- You may think it’s a waste to buy maternity clothes since you’re only going to wear them for nine months but chances are that’s not true!

What I truly didn’t anticipate was the boobs. Sure the Internet said all kinds of silly things about needing bigger bras when your milk comes in but who can understand what that means?! Well, it means that your T-shirts are too short, your button-ups are too tight and your cleavage is full on out there. There’s a reason nursing shirts are a thing.

Exercise, hormones, my hair, eating habits, sleep schedule, sex, who I saw in the mirror – nothing escaped the experience of childbirth. Nothing felt recognizable in the weeks and months that came after.  Haines is getting ready to hit 6 months in a week’s time which is absolutely wild. Last night he tried avocado. He’s on the verge of crawling. He watches everything and becomes less of a baby and more of his own person every day. But I still struggle to appreciate all that my body has done and continues to do- carried a baby, gave birth, provides milk. I struggle to give myself time to recover and figure things out. But here’s goes nothing.

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Heartstrings

Being a mother is exactly as I thought it would be and totally different all at once. I know I’ve just gotten started on this path but it’s already a whirlwind. I expected to love my baby in ways I couldn’t understand. I expected to feel overwhelmed and sleep deprived. I even expected that I would alternative between hate and love for parenting.

All those things are true and yet I really had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t understand the physical connection I would have to Haines. A friend asked me to describe what it was like to love him and it was so difficult to articulate. I know everything a person can know about him but he’s still a total mystery. I’m tuned in to his babbles and kicks but I don’t always know what he wants or why he’s upset. I don’t have a clue who he is going to be. He could grow up to be a serial killer and yet I just love him. It truly feels like a string has been tied from my heart to his and whenever I think of him I feel the tug. Whenever he cries it tugs. Whenever he laughs it fills up and explodes with happiness.

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Explosion.

The physical connection is more than that. Do you remember making fun of your parent when the car stopped suddenly and they put their arm out in front of you? You laughed because in a real accident their arm wasn’t going to stop you from being thrown forward. You thought it was a silly gesture, but it wasn’t a gesture at all. It was instinct. It’s my hands jumping to protect Haines from his own wobbly head even when he’s secure in his seat. It’s my body being thrown into motion at the sound of his cry. It’s never turned off. If I can hear him my body is alert, ready to go.

This feeling of being ready to spring into action is something I’ve repeatedly described as feeling “on”. It may be the thing I didn’t understand the most before he was born. I knew my hearing would become attuned to all his little noises and I’d heard of leaking breastmilk when the baby was in distress but I didn’t understand… the absence of an off switch.

Have you ever been to a networking event or a conference where you’re expected to mingle with people you don’t know? I don’t excel at this. I plaster a smile on my face, introduce myself and shake some hands but the anxiety of having to talk to strangers never leaves me. I hate it. When the event is finally over, my shoulders gradually draw down away from my ears and I can relax. The exhausting act of being on your best behavior and speaking to others whether you want to or not gives me the same sort of feeling “on”.

Except with a baby relaxing is a learned skill. It doesn’t just happen at bedtime. When Haines was first born and my mother or Tyler would tell me to go take a nap I would lay in the bed and cry. I would cry and cry and imagine they weren’t taking good care of him. My mother and my husband may be the last people on earth that wouldn’t take good care of him. It was insane but I couldn’t turn my off switch. No matter the circumstances, I couldn’t relax.

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Thank goodness this has gotten better or daycare would be a disaster.

 

Postpartum Reality Check

Despite all the lovely media out there that pregnancy is a beautiful, magical time it is also very difficult for some. Everyone’s pregnancy is different and that’s hard to understand before you’ve gone through your own. The same applies for the birth story. Every mother will have a very different experience.

For me the struggle was always emotional. For most of the pregnancy I just couldn’t get my feet underneath me. I struggled with the decision to have children, to questioning whether or not we’d be good parents, to how we’d handle the costs of a child. It was only in the third trimester that I started to feel confident about being parents, only to develop anxiety around childbirth.

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In those last few weeks the only I could feel better was to try to be ready. I continued prenatal yoga through 39 weeks. I forced Tyler to read The Birth Partner (he now agrees this was a good decision). I called everyone I knew for hospital bag and postpartum care tips. The consensus? You don’t need half of what you bring.

Hospital Prep Reality Check- No matter what you pack, you won’t use most of it. 

Hospital Bag*:

  • Bath robe- this is all I wore in the hospital. I rarely stood except to go to the bathroom so what more do you need?
  • Toiletries- I feared my first shower. I didn’t want to stand or put hot water anywhere near my recently traumatized parts. Do not fear the shower.It will be your best shower ever.
  • Warm socks/slippers
  • Hairbrush/hair ties
  • Comfy clothes to come home in
  • 1-2 baby outfits- Haines was chilly in the hospital and the nurses wanted him dressed to help warm him up.

*I only delivered and recovered at the hospital. I didn’t labor there. Your needs may be different.

The best way to prepare to leave the hospital is to take everything. Don’t leave without all the:

  • Mesh underwear
  • Pads
  • Witch hazel pads
  • Cold packs
  • Dermoplast

At-home Care:

  • More witch hazel pads- I purchased Tuck’s pads rather than make my own but there’s a lot of information out there to DIY it
  • Always Flex Foam pads– super thin but very absorbent
  • Dermoplast
  • Stool softener- just do it
  • Motrin & Tylenol
  • A supply of the world’s largest, comfiest granny panties
  • Extra sets of hands- get help!

Hospital Reality Check- There is no recovering in Recovery.

Be aware that it is commonplace these days to keep the baby in the room with mom at all times. At our hospital Haines only left once for an hour. It felt good to be able to see him but… I also only slept about 90 minutes during our hospital stay which was about 36 hours long. My mom hearing had turned on into hyperdrive and every wiggle he made woke me up. I also just wanted to see him. It was so hard to believe he was really here. I needed to see him just to confirm his existence. This need meant I missed out on essential sleep but I couldn’t have done it differently.

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At-Home Reality Check- You thought you were hormonal during pregnancy? You know nothing. 

The first two weeks home I cried because I was tired. I cried because Haines had trouble breastfeeding and I didn’t know how to help him. I cried because my heart was full and everything felt perfect. I cried at sappy songs and terrible commercials. Now we’re almost 4 weeks in with 2 weeks of a healthy baby and a 2 week hospital stay under our belts. We still don’t have any since of normalcy or routine, but we’re making it all the same.

At-Home Reality  Check- Even though you’re more tired than you’ve ever been, you’ve got this. At least you can have a damn beer again.

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