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 Baby Fever

Somewhere around 6 months postpartum baby fever hit me. I felt weirdly intense about my friends’ new babies and pregnancies. I followed another million mom Instagram accounts. I started to think about Haines as my first baby rather than just my baby. I sized up our guest bedroom for bunk beds. WTF.

If I’m perfectly honest, I’ve never had baby fever before. Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved babies. I love their tiny features and wispy hair and baby smell. I like babies that look like old men (90%) and ones with outrageous fat rolls (sadly, not mine). I have never not wanted to hold any baby I’ve encountered, but I’ve pretty much always been on the fence about actually birthing one. So, when I was struck down with baby fever after recently learning what it was like to birth a baby (without pain medication no less), it was particularly shocking to me.

I started to think about all the new baby things we would need for a second baby, as if we actually needed them. Two babies in cloth diapers- was it possible? As if we actually had another baby on the way. I asked all my coworkers about their children’s age gaps. Planned/not planned? Too far apart or so close together it makes you want to jump off a cliff?

Finally, over one of these conversations I fully fessed up on my baby fever status. My coworker said, “Oh, of course you have baby fever! You were pregnant and then you had a baby and all these things are happening. It’s all so exciting but then it’s just stops. Everything becomes normal.”

At first I thought this was insane. My life isn’t normal. There is a baby here! I have become a parent! He keeps teething and getting bigger and now he crawls at an alarming speed. How is that possible?! The last 18 months (pregnancy + baby) have been a huge whirlwind.

But, I guess this is my new normal. I am a parent…of a baby…who will become a child.

 Unknown Adventure

Pregnancy is so incredibly exciting. Even when it is agony, it is exciting. There is this unknown adventure growing inside you. It is easy to spend much of your time in disbelief that your body is capable of this. No really, this is how babies are made.

At the same time, everyone is talking to you about the baby, the belly, the future. This can be the most annoying thing ever, especially if you do not like to be the center of attention, but it also adds to the excitement. Either way, the dynamic has shifted. There is always something to talk about- you. This is handy because while you’re pregnant your world feels especially small. It’s hard to move your brain past the excitement but also the practical aspects of a new person. So, how exactly is this going to work? Today we are two people, but tomorrow we are three?

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Kindness

Most of the time people are also extra generous and kind to pregnant women and new parents. They stand up so you can have their seat. Your friends stock LaCroix at their house so you can have something to drink. When you birth that tiny person they even bring you food so you don’t starve to death. You are in fact so tired you would probably starve if someone didn’t just straight up hand you food.

But then these things start to come to an end. You start to put adult beverages back in your life and eventually the meal train stops. You also just start to adjust and your baby (hopefully) stops torturing you with needing to eat every 25 seconds. Eventually everyone sleeps and you’re able to go to the grocery store and buy snacks that you can eat one-handed. (Even if your baby isn’t feeding, he’s still most likely on your body in some way.)

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Some people even come from other countries to meet your baby.

Baby Steps

Everything is a total novelty. Every day someone asks me how Haines is and I wish I could explain the new thing he has learned that week but unless you are where I am, it doesn’t mean much. I could tell you that he has started jabbing the air in little punches when he is excited which is adorable but also dangerous because he also sometimes catches himself in the face. I could tell you that this weekend he started standing by himself for several seconds in a row which is a huge step for him.  I could talk about how he’s able to get way more food in his mouth when he feeds himself at dinner time but let’s be honest, last week he was getting like every 8th pea in so there was a lot of room for improvement. It’s baby stuff. Unless your baby has also just learned to eat peas with his or her tiny fists, it’s just not that exciting to you. That’s okay, though. I want you to be more interesting than that, too. (I’m working towards it.)

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#2

I’m not trying to say that people who have babies back to back just want to keep all the baby excitement in their lives going. People want their kids to be close in age. People want to knock out all their sleepless months in one stretch. I get that! But if you have recently had a baby and been struck down with baby fever (severity may vary) there is a chance that you are also in the same spot as me.

There is a chance that you are also caught up in a whirlwind  of everything new and everything cute. Realizing that for me was what finally freed up my mind from bunk beds and new baby names. Now I’m just enjoying a baby who will be 9 months next week and I have the space to figure out what might be the right time if and when that baby needs to become a big sibling.

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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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6 Weeks Postpartum: We’re Going to Make it After All

(R.I.P. Mary Tyler Moore)

We’ve made it six weeks. Surprisingly the time has passed more slowly than I expected. I’ve been asked quite frequently how I’m doing, how motherhood is and so on but I have no idea how to respond. This is a strange new world and I’ve barely tapped the surface of it means to be a mother. How I’m doing rests entirely on how Haines is doing. If he eats well then I am happy. If he sleeps well then I am rested. If he cries and fusses then chances are I will cry and fuss. (Well, if he cries a lot. It’s not as though I cry every time his pacifier falls out.) It’s a very different existence when your demeanor rests entirely on how someone else is doing. I think in any other situation this would be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. In the world of newborns and perhaps parenting in general, it’s just normal.

In some ways I feel that I am also just starting out in the world, same as Haines. I have a new identity and new way of a life. Together we’re taking one step at a time.

Exercise

Haines has accidentally rolled over twice now (his arm was stuck underneath in a weird way that helped)! He’s lifting his head pretty regularly as well.

At my postpartum check up I had lost 27 of my 42 pregnancy pounds. 15 more to go! Hopefully I don’t have to lose all of those to get back into my jeans. I’m trying to walk every day. There’s a trail near my house that is a four mile loop and we do this regularly. I’m hoping to incorporate some other forms of exercise here shortly.

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Our first trip to Hugh McCrae Park

Sleeping

I am a champion sleeper but Haines is not. Typically he gets up twice a night which is pretty tolerable BUT he “talks” during the night. The snoring is fine. The occasional squeak is fine but all sorts of squeaking and other weird throat noises is not the easiest to tune out.

Nutrition

Haines is a champ eater. We’ve been incredibly lucky that breastfeeding, while not always fun, hasn’t been particularly difficult. He learned to latch quickly and I learned to help him quickly as well. Many of the women I know talk about breastfeeding as something they enjoyed particularly because no one else could do it. It gave them a special connection and an excuse to have their own time with the baby. I’m not all that crazy about being the only person who provides food to Haines. I love when Tyler or our of our parents gives Haines a bottle. Watching them get to have that time is incredibly special. Plus shouldering cluster feedings and eating in the middle of the night on my own isn’t sweet. It’s tiring. Of course these feelings may evolve as I go back to work and this becomes the majority of our short time together.

Many people told me I’d be insatiably hungry while breastfeeding but it’s not been as bad as while I was pregnant. I’m struggling to let go of my sweet tooth. Ice cream, cookies, candy, doughnuts… I can’t be stopped.

Sanity

Haines isn’t a particularly fussy baby, a fact that has directly contributed to my mental health. That being said, maternity leave is a strange alternate universe. One on the hand, I never think about work. I don’t miss it. I don’t have to convince myself to stop checking my email. It’s barely on my radar. BUT I miss structure. I’m a creature of habit. My day needs something to give it shape. If I’m not going to be drinking cocktails by the pool all day then I want to know that today is Monday or Tuesday or what have you (I don’t actually know what day it is).

In order to differentiate between the days I have tried my best to schedule something for every day. That has included inviting friends or coworkers for walks, having visitors, and exploring different parks or walking paths in town. Haines is only likely to be a good sport about our activity if he’s being pushed in a stroller. Some days this does the trick, others I feel totally without purpose. If my day has no purpose, what the heck am I supposed to do with it? Yes, cuddle and spend time with this sweet baby. And then what? Also, life with Haines is much easier inside the house than out and about but sticking close to home has a tendency to make me feel trapped after too long. The more I venture out the clearer my mind feels and the more myself I am.

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First attempt using Moby wrap. 

Survival Tips

Be prepared! My diaper backpack is kept fully equipped at all times. I try not to go anywhere without extra burp cloths, blankets, outfits, diapers, wipes and a pacifier. If we could get close to a feeding time and I might not want to breastfeed, I stick a bottle inside a wine freezer pack and take it along with us. I’m not great at being discreet while breastfeeding and I don’t always want to let everything all hang out.

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It looks like this except not nearly as pretty/fancy. 

Leave the house! If I can’t socialize every day then I still have to get out and about. Any place with a pathway to push the stroller is on the list to be explored. Once I get better at baby wearing all sorts of new areas will be open to us!

Talk it out. Tyler is really good at recognizing when I need a break but vocalizing the struggle is more helpful than just relying on his intuition.

Acceptance. Life with a newborn slows everything down. I have to accept the new pace and even relish it. This little guy makes it hard not to.

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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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