The Things They Don’t Tell You About Postpartum Life

Let me start by saying: Do not read this if you want to continue thinking you’ll pop that baby out, be sore for a couple of days, and then magically return to your glorious self cartwheeling through Target in your braless sports tank & cute shorts.

While introducing your bundle of joy to the world IS glorious – the things the doctors and friends “forget” to tell you during pregnancy about what to expect AFTER expecting is a bit of a shocker. So, in my attempt to help other expectant mothers I have collected some memories from fellow mamas on those postpartum surprises so that YOU know that you are NOT weird, crazy, an emotional wreck (well maybe, but its normal), or a medical anomaly. Turns out… this stuff happens to 99% of mothers – but nobody talks about it until you get the balls to ask.

Keep in mind, you may not experience all of these things. But, you may. So … here goes!

The bleeding. We’re starting here. Get your granniest-panties and get comfortable in them. Not only do your insides appear to just pour out of your body when you get up to use the bathroom for the first time but it just doesn’t seem to stop. You’re going to be wearing some sweet heavy-flow maxi pads for a few weeks so – hit up Target or Walmart and get some cozy undies to hold that thing in place. (No, you’re not going to want to be putting any tampons up there. I’m pretty sure I laughed when my doctor told me that. It was 1,000% the LAST THING ON EARTH that I felt like doing). You’re likely going to wonder if you need to call your doctor about this at times… it’s likely its normal. But, go ahead and call anyway if you need to be reminded. Just know… it DOES stop eventually. And if you’re breastfeeding, you likely don’t need to worry about bleeding again for a long time! #silverlining

Hemorrhoids. There’s nothing much to say here. Just know…. people don’t talk about it but… they had them too. Get some prescription foam from your doctor and you’ll no longer laugh when people joke about hemorrhoids. It’s all too real now.

Breastfeeding. This shit is HARD (And multifaceted for the purpose of this segment) Everyone’s like “oohhh it’s so wonderful for the baby” (which it is) but nobody says “It’s wonderful for the baby but its one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in your life”… because apparently that would be too honest.

At the hospital, it’s fairly likely that your breast milk won’t come in by the time you leave the hospital. So, you’ll worry that your new baby isn’t getting enough food. The nurses will tell you he/she is – but you won’t believe them. And you’ll cry. They won’t want to give you formula because they know best, and you’ll cry because you know best. And the baby will cry. And everyone is crying, except the nurses. And you’ll worry that you look like a lunatic. But you’re not. It’s normal. And unfortunately, sore, cracked, and bleeding nipples are normal. But the lactation specialists will likely discourage you from using a nipple shield. In my opinion – use them anyway (Ps. Did I mention I am not a licensed professional? Just a mom, sharing my experience).

Then you’ll go home and your milk will come in, hooray! But the pain of breastfeeding doesn’t go away for weeks. So you’ll cringe every time the baby is hungry. And you’ll probably cry… a lot. You’ll use cold patches & nipple cream and despite your best efforts to soothe, it will still hurt. But you’ll keep going because its good for the baby, and the pride and connection to your new bundle will keep you going as long as you can. And if thats 1 week, or 1 year – that’s O-KAY. You’ll probably encounter some judgment if you decide to stop breastfeeding. Just do you. Everything WILL be ok.

Do yourself a favor. If you’re breastfeeding, stock up on cloth nursing pads. If you’re one of those lucky ladies that don’t leak – I envy you. Also, consider getting something called “lacti-cups” or something similar. Here’s what I know – you’ll feed on one side & equally expel as much milk from the other side. Unless you have twins, this milk is going one of two places – in your bra or into a nursing cup. So if its into your bra, you better have a nursing pad in there and a fresh one ready to swap out. And guess what – you don’t need to be feeding to leak. Your wardrobe will be immediately downsized to include only clothes that if you should leak in public, it won’t be completely obvious (i.e. dark colors, multi layers, back up shirts in your car). Just remember “this too shall pass”.

Night-sweats – Even if your baby is born in the dead of winter – you will eventually start waking up in the middle of the night SOAKING wet – and it isn’t just because you are sleeping in a puddle of breast milk. No matter what you wear or how many fans are going, you’ll wake up looking like you just completed a 45 minute cardio session. #hormonesarecrazy So, you’ll either wash your sheets constantly or start sleeping on a towel. So yes, your crazy night sweats are also normal, and extremely annoying considering you’ll remember to shower once every 48 hours.

The enemy in your bed. Yea, your spouse. The one who gets to sleep through the night because they don’t hear the baby or the monitor (because its next to you)  – or the one who doesn’t have lactating nipples to feed the baby so they are rendered useless at midnight, 1am, 3am, 3:30, and so on. I’m going to go out and say that its pretty normal to resent your husband during the first few months of motherhood. That baby has become a 5th limb to your body and everything you do depends on the baby’s needs. But your husband (as helpful as he is) will still seem to get the good end of the deal here. And when they do help, it’s likely you’ll feel as though you can do it better. So the job becomes yours again, unintentionally. Do yourself a favor, and let go of the CONTROL FREAK inside of you. It will free up that 3 minute diaper change and maybe you can go wash your face for once. But you will get through it, and it will get easier. Just breathe & be grateful each day for your partner’s emotional support. You’ll need it!

I suppose this is a good spot to talk about intercourse. Your partner will be ready the day after the baby arrives (surprise!) You on the other hand will get the approval from your doctor about 6 weeks postpartum, but newsflash; your body and your mind will likely not be ready. (Are you really surprised here?!) Only you can understand what it’s like to have significant trauma to your lady parts & leaky boobs. So, no excuses ladies! This time, there’s a pretty damn good reason for the comfy pajamas. Own it.

The CRYING. Hormones take over your body and you’re going to cry more than you have cried in your entire life. You’ll cry because you’re exhausted, you’ll cry because your baby is screaming, you’ll cry because you don’t know how to “fix it”, you’ll cry out of uncertainty, you’ll cry because you want a margarita (or 3) but you’re breastfeeding, you’ll cry because someone says hello to you the wrong way, you’ll cry when your family asks how you’re doing. Then, you’ll eventually laugh when you cry because you realize theres no reason to be crying. So plop the tissue boxes around the house and just accept that you’re an emotional mess – and so is every other new mother. They just don’t talk about it. (Important to note: Postpartum depression is another story and incredibly serious. If you’re feeling depressed & lonely it’s important to talk to your doctor about it)

Kegels. Say goodbye to your pelvic floor muscles for a while. When my doctor checked the strength of these muscles after delivery I think it took everything inside of her not to laugh. They were non-existent. And you know what these muscles are good for? Holding in PEE. So, remember when you used to go to a football game or a country concert and wait until the very last minute to go wait in line. Yea, not-no-mo’. You better be proactive here because when you’ve gotta go – you’ve gotta go NOW and theres no promise of holding that in. And when you sneeze really hard or laugh uncontrollably – don’t be surprised if you are running to the bathroom to make sure you don’t have a wet spot on your pants. #Honestyisthebestpolicy

According to my OB – it would take over 200+ kegels per day to start strengthening those muscles again. So, you best believe I’m doing them as I write this blog.

And finally – but certainly not all inclusive of everything you never knew about life after baby…

MOMBRAIN. Did you know that when you baby was developing he/she actually TOOK a chunk of your brain to form his/her own? Yea, the part that helps you remember words, where you put things, what you did the previous day, the sentence you were just in the middle of…  that part. It was apparently given to the baby. (If you’re not in tune to sarcasm: No, I am not serious). But you’re going to find that some of the simplest things become impossible to make sense of – and you’re going to want to write EVERYTHING down to compensate for your new-mom memory loss. Luckily for us “mom-brain” is a pretty socially acceptable & universally understood excuse for the behavior.

And you know what’s crazy. We survive it all. Not only do we survive it, but many go on to do it again, and again, and again! Because it’s true – although ALL of these things are included in the unpleasantries after childbirth (and I didn’t even discuss cesarean birth) they only last a few weeks, or a few months, or you begin to compensate for them and forget that they were ever really a big issue. And that beautiful baby you have – makes everything just a little easier each day. So perhaps the reason nobody tells us about these things is because they truly forget. They forget about the tough stuff – because in the grand scheme of it all, it was a fleeting moment … and one worth every second of it. 

I love connecting with and hearing from new moms, so be sure to leave a comment here to share your experiences! I’m sure there are plenty more “tips” from the mamas out there who have this experience fresh in their minds. 

Thanks for joining the conversation – keep rockin’ strong-mamas! You’re all superheroes <3 

 

 

 

  • Annalisa Hurley is the author of this article. She is not a licensed medical professional for postpartum care or recovery but instead a relatively new mother sharing her experiences. Any medical questions should be directed to the reader’s OB-GYN for consultation.

Bringing In Benjamin – A Birth Story

Just nine months ago we found out we were expecting our first child. On January 20th, 2017 we welcomed Benjamin Rhys into our lives and we couldn’t be more in love. I write this blog while my son lays curled up on my chest… and I am in awe.

Before this moment, a line like that was just another thing new moms said. But it’s true, I can now say with experience. There is something inside of you that changes once your first born is brought into the world no matter HOW you were feeling up until that moment – and you suddenly LIVE for that child – nothing else really matters – and you begin to believe in, and use, all of the cliche lines.

I won’t be going into the entire pregnancy journey, as it was fairly uneventful and typical of most pregnancies (i.e. first trimester sickness, easy breezy second trimester, and a seemingly endless third trimester of needing help getting off the couch). I was active, as a health & fitness coach, right up through week 40 of my pregnancy with 30-45 minute workouts and balanced nutrition (with allowances for all the carbs my cravings requested!). I mention my journey with fitness because I KNOW it helped endure labor & delivery. So if you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, I suggest finding a routine that suits your needs (after talking with your doctor) to strengthen all the muscles (and toughness) needed for the big day.
            

During pregnancy I never really grasped the love that I was about to fall into. I was somewhat disconnected from the fact that the weird alien-like movements in my stomach were that of my son. At each checkup, with each heartbeat, it was a reminder that we in fact were about to bring a little dude into the world. As the third trimester trucked along… 36 weeks, 37 weeks, 38 weeks.. the reality of his impending arrival grew stronger – as he could potentially arrive at any moment, kicking and screaming his way into the world. Our tribal themed nursery was about to be put to USE!

 

My due date January 17th arrived and I was less than 1cm dilated at my check up. So, lunges & squats ensued, with use of a birthing ball (exercise ball!), to get this process started. January 18th I woke to signs of labor (I’ll assume here that very FEW men are reading this blog so I’ll lay it out…), a pinkish brown discharge similar to that of a light menstrual cycle. So, I emailed the doctor, checked google, and knew it was an early sign of labor. On January 19th I woke to consistent and painful menstrual type cramps so I started tracking them on the Ovia app. Sure enough, they were about 5 minutes apart. I knew, from my “Big Book Of Birth” that contractions 5 minutes apart and lasting a minute each time were an indication to get to the hospital. As I write this, I can’t quite remember the duration or pain of the cramps that morning, that is in comparison of what was to come. My husband and I made the decision to head to the hospital at 3am with hope for a delivery mixed with fear that I would get sent home for falsely identifying labor.

We arrived around 3:30 am, checked in with the registration and were led through the hospital halls to the triage room where Nurse Katie would be monitoring my progress. I was told to put on a johnnie, and use the restroom as I was about to be “strapped” to the table with fetal monitors. Katie found the heartbeat quite quickly, and started monitoring contractions on her computer screen. Sure enough, they were still 4-5 minutes apart. Then, the second component of determining whether or not I would be sent to labor and delivery… the cervical check. Unfortunately, I could tell by Katie’s face there wasn’t much change from my appointment two days earlier. She confirmed I was about 1cm dilated. So, the waiting game begins. Katie gave us about 20 minutes of monitoring contractions to assess any cervical change during that time. As time passed, contractions started to SLOW DOWN, and upon the second cervical check – which indicated no changes – I was told to head home and come back when the contractions were stronger, and consistent for a minimum of one hour.

I was disappointed.

It was early, probably around 5am now and my husband and I had our minds set on bringing home baby when we returned to the house. Instead, I was told to head home because today was likely not the day. Katie suggested my contractions were likely a result of dehydration and to ensure I was drinking enough water to reduce the risk of false labor.

Home we went.

The 30 minute car ride home was torture. With every contraction I would cry out in pain, grabbing the door handle or edges of my seat. I saw my husband’s look of helplessness. There really was nothing he could say or do, and I know he was disappointed that today was actually NOT the day we would meet our little guy.

We got home and intended to get some sleep. My husband did! (This is a bit of foreshadowing, if you know what I mean mamas!) But every time I laid down I had moments of excruciating pain through my back causing me to cry out in pain. A few hours later, while hubster slept, I just starting hysterically crying in pain (and exhaustion) as I couldn’t imagine going through the day feeling the way I did. I was useless. No work was completed, no housework, nothing. I sat in pain, curled over the coffee table during each contraction trying various movements to reduce the pain. Friends and family were reaching out after a post on social media discussing our morning with posts of encouragement and all I could think was “you have no idea how I feel right now”… as if NOBODY had ever gone through labor before (or if they did, it wasn’t like mine!… Righttt)

During this time, I REALLY started to re-evaluate my birth plan. You see, over the last few months I had changed my mind from “open to epidural” to “I’m going to master my mindset and go all natural”. I had watched documentaries and read articles on epidural use vs natural childbirth, I had asked for friends input, and I surveyed my network on social media to get some feedback. Based on all of these factors, I was ready to go “all natural”. I liked the sound of moving around to reduce labor pain which an epidural inhibits. I also wanted to be “in control” during labor because that’s my personality. I wanted to be able to say “fear didn’t win” and I endured a medication free labor because in general I try to avoid use of medications. I wanted to reduce ANY risk of “epidural gone wrong” and so my plan was to avoid it altogether.

Until.. January 19th (the day of contractions) was the most painful day of my life.

Contractions continued through the night – crippling my body and causing me to fall to my knees. I could NOT do this much longer – especially not DAYS like Katie mentioned could happen. The only relief was to sit on a birthing ball during a contraction and have my husband lean in with all his weight on my lower back. He suggested I have a glass of wine to reduce the tension. I agreed. The only glass of wine I had during my entire pregnancy was to literally keep my sanity.

That night, it didn’t ease up… no matter how much water I drank to reduce any risk of dehydration. I broke out in heavy sweats during the night, shot up with each contraction through my lower back, and cried out for Keith to put pressure along my lower back until I told him to stop. It was a long 24 hours. At 1am on January 20th I started measuring contractions but soon gave up and said “I don’t care how often they’re coming, I cannot go on like this.” My husband agreed, and we grabbed our hospital bags again and hit the road back to the hospital.

Katie met us in triage.

This time, contractions were 3 minutes apart and I was measuring the pain at a 10 out of 10, versus a 6 out of 10 the previous day. Time for cervical check. I was praying to the universe that something had changed, but if it hadn’t there was no chance in hell I was leaving that hospital.

Cervical check: 6cm dilated.

If you’re not familiar with what that means; I was in Active Labor now.

Early Labor Phase –The time of the onset of labor until the cervix is dilated to 3 cm.

Active Labor Phase – Continues from 3 cm. until the cervix is dilated to 7 cm.

Transition Phase – Continues from 7 cm. until the cervix is fully dilated to 10 cm.

It was GO-TIME!

Katie asked the doctor to come into the triage room to perform a cervical check because she had felt something that she was unable to identify. Was it a hand by his face? Perhaps. The doctor checked, confirmed 6cm dilation, and was not concerned with whatever they were palpating by Ben’s face. At this time, the doctor and Katie asked whether I was proceeding with epidural.

Hell…Freaking…Yes.

I was no longer interested in proving myself “strong” or fighting through the pain with a mindset of “pain is temporary”. This stuff is NO joke. (I don’t intend to scare you if you haven’t gone through childbirth. There are some pretty incredible ladies who opt out of pain relief even after multiple labor & deliveries! However, in my experience, this was not happening). I was slightly discouraged that my “birth plan” went out the window at this point, but knew it was the right decision for me at that time.

So, it was time for an IV to be placed. The nurse attempted the left arm, hit a valve or two, and eventually placed the IV in my right arm (which would be a bit of a nuisance over the next few hours as I am right handed). Fetal monitors were removed, and up we went to the labor & delivery room where we met Lauren. Lauren would be the first of many ladies involved in my labor & delivery. At this point, I was attached to an IV on the right, a blood pressure cuff on the left, and fetal monitors wrapped around my stomach. Things were going smoothly.

Dr. Murphy, my anesthesiologist, came in as a ball of energy. He was upbeat, smiling, and decked out in his blue scrubs and hair net. He brought with him a level of energy that put a smile on my face despite the ongoing contractions. He was extremely informative, laying out every step of the epidural process as he prepped his cart. Rapidly, as if he had done this a thousand times, he tore open packages, sorted out lines of equipment, and prepared for epidural insertion. I was told to sit on the edge of the bed – so Lauren and my husband pulled me up to the side as we waited for a contraction to pass. Dr Murphy walked me through every step, including the prep wash, the numbing injection (Lidocain I believe), and the epidural catheter insertion. With a twinge of pain Dr Murphy knew I needed a bit more Lidocain toward the right – which he administered. From that point, I was unable to feel anything during the insertion but was fully aware of the process through his monologue description – including a bit of resistance due to strong ligaments! He put an enormous amount of tape across the insertion site, a large clear tape sheet to reduce risk of catheter movement, and showed me the line to which the medication was administered at a consistent rate throughout the progression of labor. At this point, he went through what to expect during and after epidural administration; including levels of pain, availability of additional dosage, and postpartum spinal headaches (which I did not experience). He showed me the clicker at the side of my bed which would allow me to increase the amount of medication if needed (in a monitored manner). The first contraction after epidural was no different, but the second was noticeably more manageable. The third was slight cramps, and from there it was as if I was no longer in labor. The only way I knew I was having a contraction was because of slight pain in my back OR visual cues on the monitor. Things were looking up – and my mindset went from “I can’t do this” to “Let’s do this”.

Note: Turns out I was given a type of epidural called CSE; “Combined Spinal Epidural” which according to my nursing team is a heavier dose, intended to work quickly and efficiently with little narcotic effects on the baby. 

Nurse Lauren made sure we had everything we needed. My husband set up on the in-room guest cot. And we SLEPT! It felt good to unwind a bit, get some shut eye, even if it was a cat nap, and prepare for the big arrival. Unfortunately, with an epidural comes a urinary catheter…. meaning, a tube is inserted through urethra into the bladder since I would have no control over when to relieve my bladder while feeling the effects of medication. During this time as well, my legs and feet felt like pins and needles and I would need two people to help me alternate sides while laying, waiting. Lauren was my go-to, and she was absolutely wonderful. Every so often she would check in, check my cervix, and report to the doctor. Then, 7am arrived: shift change. Cue; Audrey; our new nurse. Lauren would never get a chance to meet Ben. Such is life as a L&D nurse! During the transition, Lauren and Audrey noticed I had signs of my water rupturing and a large amount of “bloody show”- we were getting closer!

For the next three hours I would be on a small amount of Pitocin in my IV to speed up contractions and get the labor moving along. I could feel some cramping, similar to menstrual cramps, and would use the additional boost of epidural medication if needed. I was told increasing the amount had no negative risks to the baby, so to use it until I was comfortable (this device only administers a certain amount of “extra” in a managed time frame). Nurse Audrey kept us company during this time, as we were awake and waiting for 10cm dilation with some back pressure; a sign its time to push.

Three hours later, Audrey introduced me to Michelle; a hospital midwife assisting the doctors with deliveries. She was wonderfully sweet and informative, very calming. Audrey and Michelle discussed cervical check and again mentioned they felt something that they couldn’t identify… remember that hand that Katie felt? After a bit of back and forth they established it was a hand, and my “bag of waters” which actually then ruptured during the cervical check. I was introduced to Dr Newton-Cheh, who was actually my sister in law’s OB – as she would be delivering Benjamin. During a cervical check, the mood started to change. Dr Newton Cheh reported abruptly during the check than Ben was BREECH and I would likely need to progress to a C-Section.

Say WHAT!? 

This was the FIRST time that had come up, so needless to say we were shocked. But then, she reassessed. No.. he wasn’t breech, it was actually his FACIAL cheeks, not his buttcheeks and baby Ben was in a position of what they called Facial Suffusion (I hope I got that right). Dr Newton Cheh again reported that this was a requirement for a C-Section as he was coming out LIPS first, looking straight out into the world.

 I broke down in tears.

After 30+ hours of labor I was going to be forced into a surgery to get this dude out? No. I didn’t want it. As Audrey, Michelle, and Keith tried to help me calm down and understand the next steps, Dr Newton Cheh left the room to assess the situation. When she returned, she explained that because of Ben’s positioning it would be very difficult to push him through the birthing canal as his chin would likely prevent him from passing the pelvic bone. BUT….. she was willing to TRY.  

As much as this excited me (No C-Section) I was also a bit apprehensive. Was she doing this just because I was crying? Was she certain this was a safe decision for Ben? Had she ever done this before?

But her assertive tone reassured me that this was possible, and if anybody was going to be able to do it – it was me (whatever that means!). So, it was game-time. Dr Newton Cheh geared up. Audrey and Michelle grabbed a leg on each side since I still had little to no control/strength in my legs, and I was informed that we were going to practice a push or two so I could get the hang of it. After one “practice” push, Dr Newton-Cheh said “Forget practicing, she’s got it. Lets just go!”

It wouldn’t be long until Ben made his arrival into the world, but it wasn’t without concern. Dr Newton Cheh, during breaks of pushing, was requesting “Special Teams” be called into the room upon delivery. She informed my husband and myself that because of his positioning, he will have significant bruising on his face, as well as swelling, and would likely take a few days to “look normal”. I can say for myself, this didn’t exactly prepare me for what I was about to see.  As I continued to push, pain-free, and bare down to get this baby out as soon as possible, I was watching the reflection in the doctor’s face shield! I could see he was close. So, with 40 minutes of pushing, it was time for the final push. But with that, Special Teams was called in for reasons we had not yet known.

After the final push I was told to “stop pushing” and I could feel the rest of Benjamin’s body leave my uterus. A strange feeling when its not associated with any pain. And, in what seems like a blur, Dr Newton Cheh quickly told my husband she would cut the umbilical cord because the baby had to be rushed over to  Special Teams as he did not let out any cries immediately after birth. This was worrisome. Thankfully, it didn’t take long before I heard that newborn baby cry from across the room! I could see he was extremely blue (bruised) and swollen. Once he let out a few cries he was brought to my chest briefly, and swooped up again to continue assessment. He was nothing like his ultrasound had shown. I look at this photo now and tear up, as I can’t imagine what kind of pain he endured on his way out to look the way he did. Looking back, after I sent this photo to friends & family, I can understand the fear & questions of “Is he going to be ok”? At the time, he was just perfect, bruised and swollen. 

He had arrived at 11:11 on January 20th, 2017 weighing 6lbs 11oz and we were ecstatic to finally meet him despite his rough & tough “lost a boxing match” look.

While he was being assessed Dr Newton Cheh was awaiting expulsion of my placenta. At this point, she had to push down on my stomach and shake up my insides. This was the most painful part of the entire delivery. With a fairly dramatic “splat” my placenta and what appears to be gallons of blood were expelled from my body and caught in plastic container. (I cannot believe people actually eat this thing!) And from there, since I had some tearing, Dr Newton Cheh spent the next 10 minutes or so stitching me up. Still, extremely thankful for that epidural so I didn’t have to feel any of this! Then, like no big deal, the room was cleaned up, lunch was ordered (I was STARVING!) and we would soon be on our way to post-natal recovery.

We held off on sending too many pictures, probably in fear of scaring people and causing somewhat unnecessary concern. He was bruised & swollen, but there were no other causes for concern after his initial assessment. Over the next few days, we would learn more and more that he was developing just fine, passing hearing screens and jaundice tests, measuring within normal limits. And, thankfully, within just 24 hours our Ben was looking more and more like our perfect little baby. Swelling almost completely gone, bruising diminished, bright eyes sparkling.

Two nights later (after a LONG 48 hours of sleepless hospital nights and breastfeeding woes) we were clear to go home. We are so in love with this little guy, and I have the perfect new dad by my side. After a rough & tumble entrance, Ben is recovering with flying colors.

Our story is just beginning.