Recovery

Ellie is 10 weeks today! Her personality is really starting to emerge and it delights me. She is mercurial and opinionated, charming and funny. She loves her mobile and her bouncy seat, but hates the stroller and the car seat. She likes to look at me while she’s nursing and when she catches my eye will give me a big cheeky grin, which is annoying because it pours milk all over my lap, but come on, how could you not smile back? Watching her learn things (woah, I have FINGERS) just gobsmacks me. What a wonder my child is! 

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Is there anything more boring than a blogger blogging about not blogging? I don’t think so.

(Sorry about going MIA. I plead newborn.)

Anyway! Moving on swiftly.

Amazingly enough for the worry wart that I am, I gave almost no thought to what recovery from child birth would be like. My mom had assured me that I would be up and about in a few hours, like she was, so I assumed it was all good.

Now, I love my mother, and I don’t want to speak ill of her, but she fucking LIED to me. A couple of hours my ass! I felt like I had been ripped open (…because I had been) and hit by a truck. I had trouble sitting, standing, walking, doing stairs, etc for the first two weeks or so, and really only started to feel like myself again after a month.

So, keeping in mind that there is no universal recovery experience, in no particular order, here are the things I wish someone had warned me about, and what I found to help:

1. Even if you have an epidural (which I highly recommend), crowning hurts like a BITCH. You know that song, Ring of Fire? Yes. That, exactly.

Here’s what helped me: Delivering the damn baby already. But, postpartum, those ice packs you slip into your (gigantic) underwear, numbing spray and time. Some people have found heat packs feel nice, but I liked ice better. OTC painkillers, or something stronger if your doctor will prescribe it. Stay on top of the painkillers – don’t wait for the pain because you will be in agony waiting for the drug to kick in. Don’t be a hero – take the damn drugs.

2. Stitches make walking, doing the stairs, etc difficult. I mean, this one is kind of obvious but it hadn’t occurred to me so there you go! Also, those stitches might have bits and pieces fall out as you heal, which will make you panic, but don’t. It means you’re healing.

Here’s what helped me: Again, ice packs (or heat), numbing spray, and painkillers. Also try to lay down or recline as much as possible – being upright puts pressure on things. Do take a few short, gentle walks (Iike, to the bathroom) every now and then to test the waters, but don’t push yourself.

3. Peeing stings like CRAZY. You may cry when you go to the bathroom.

Here’s what helps: Use the little squirty bottle. Experiment with cold or warm water to see which feels better, and squirt yourself while you pee. It doesn’t help a ton but it does help. Also, use tucks pads (witch hazel wipes) and the numbing spray.

4. Pooping will make you want to die. You will feel like you are going to rip open and you may have a panic attack on the toilet.

Here’s what helped me: Take lots of stool softeners. Drink smoothies. Drink a shit ton (Do anything to help make that first poop easier on yourself. But prepare to spend a LONG time in the bathroom. And prepare to cry. Try using your labor breathing when you poop – it totally helps.

5. Being upright may make you feel like your organs are going to fall out. I don’t know if this is because I tore so badly (“Y” shaped scarring, holla!) or my pelvic floor muscles were damaged from two hours of pushing or what, but it took about a month for this to go away. It was an awful feeling.

Here’s what helped me: Time. Kegels. Your muscles have to heal. Don’t push yourself.

6. Engorgement is scary. It doesn’t matter if you’re breastfeeding or not, your boobs will get enormous and rock hard a few hours to a few days after you deliver. You may continuously leak (drip, drip, drip, like an annoying faucet you keep meaning to fix) and they will HURT. I went from an A cup before pregnancy, to a C cup during pregnancy, and then overnight from a C to a DD when my milk came in. It was shocking. I looked like a porn star, in the worst way possible. You may also run a low fever and feel a little fluey.

Here’s what helped me: Nurse as much as possible if you’re breastfeeding. You can also experiment with cool or warm wash clothes, or hot showers, and put cold cabbage leaves (put the cabbage in the fridge or freezer) on your boobs. I know, it sounds weird (and you end up smelling like coleslaw) but it totally works. Some people have found this reduces milk production though, so be careful if you’re trying to BF. (Didn’t cause any problems for me, but that’s what I’ve read.)

7. Do not assume breastfeeding will be easy. Ellie would not latch in the hospital. Just, would not. Blame hormones, blame shock, but I was completely unconcerned that she hadn’t eaten anything for 24 hours after her birth. Tammy, meanwhile, was having silent conniptions and the nurses were getting concerned.

Here’s what helped me: supplement if you have to, or just go to formula feeding. And check in with a lactation consultant, or multiple LCs. The LC in the hospital was completely worthless (her advice consisted of “just keep trying!”) but the second LC (not affiliated with the hospital) diagnosed Ellie with a tongue tie. Also, nipple shields. Use them. Love them.

8. Do not underestimate the power of hormones. The day we came home from the hospital, my parents told Tammy and me to go upstairs and nap while they watched Ellie for a few hours. Tammy passed out within 30 seconds, I shit you not, while I lay there shooting murderous looks at her. How could she sleep?! Our baby was downstairs!! All alone in the world!!! Vulnerable and unprotected!!! I gave up on sleep and went downstairs to check on Ellie only to find that my mother had put her in the bassinet with a blanket on her. I nearly had an aneurysm. “Blankets cause SIDS,” I hissed, snatching the blanket off. I then laid down on the couch and sobbed for 5 minutes straight, sat back up, and asked my extremely alarmed dad to make me a sandwich.

Here’s what helped me:  Time. Taking a shower every day. Eating good food. Daily crying jags. Having help.

8. In that vein, people will surprise you with their helpfulness (or lack thereof). I expected my parents to be super helpful with Ellie. They were in the sense that they provided an extra set of hands (or two) but when Ellie started crying they would immediately hand her back to me*. Other people, random friends I wasn’t all that friendly with, surprised me by being so kind and helpful, bringing food, checking in, providing support and commiseration.

Here’s what helped me: Nothing really helped with this. It just is what it is. Try and roll with it.

9. Nothing will prepare you for the sleep deprivation. Nothing. You think you know because you pulled all nighters in college? No. You do not know. This kind of sleep deprivation is pure torture. It makes everything, simply everything, a million times worse. You may fall asleep standing up. You may think you will die, literally die, if you do not get some sleep. You won’t die though.

Here’s what helped me: Coffee. Time. Learning sleep tricks (swaddle, white noise, shushing, etc). Also, forgive your partner for the things you say to each other in the depths of crushing sleep deprivation.

What about you, oh wise parents of the internet? What are your best tips for recovery?

*I feel like an asshole saying that, because I think my parents were scared of messing up. I think I made some crappy remarks about how she put on Ellie’s diaper, for example, and made my poor mom a little gun shy. I suck. Also, so many things have changed since they were caring for babies – all the SIDS stuff, back to sleep, all that stuff.

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Baby Catching – Part I

Ellie is a good baby. A sweet baby. She doesn’t cry unless she needs something (for now at least, I know this could change). She nuzzles my neck with her little fuzzy head, makes little cooing “eh-eh-eh” noises, and has expressions that make us laugh with delight. I spend my days drinking in the smell of her, kissing her satiny cheeks, and staring into her blue eyes in wonder and joy. She looks back at me as if to say “what took you so long, mom? I’ve been waiting here this whole time.” My daughter. My daughter. Holding her in my arms feels like a reunion, like a long lost traveller has finally come home.

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Baby Catching – Part I

Friday morning (January 31st) I woke up to a labor pain. I’d been having contractions for weeks, but this one HURT. I thought I knew what a painful contraction was. I did not. I was so, so naive.

I had a scheduled OB appointment that morning, and I was desperately hoping they would tell me I had dilated beyond the paltry 1 centimeter I had been for two weeks.

At the appointment I complained to the Nurse Practitioner about my PUPPPs, and while she was sympathetic, she told me it was probably not a good enough reason to induce. I was still only 1 centimeter dilated (goddamnittalltohell), and I wasn’t so overdue that it was medically necessary to get the baby out. Tammy and I reconciled ourselves to the sad state of my cervix (what is the holdup, cervix) while she went to check with a doctor about a steroid cream for my belly. But instead of coming back with some cream, she came back with an offer to induce. The doctor had told her the steroid cream isn’t really very effective, and that only delivery would provide me with some relief. Since I was past 40 weeks, I could be induced any time.

We hadn’t really prepared to have that offer thrown at us, and I think the panic of making an important decision like that showed on our faces. The NP offered us some time to think about it while we went off to our scheduled Non Stress Test (NST, something they had me doing for the past few weeks – another post about that another time), and told us to stop by on our way back with a decisions. The NST was absolutely fine – baby’s heartbeat was healthy, I was having contractions that showed up on the monitor, but as my cervix had just been checked and showed minimal dilation, they weren’t too concerned I might go into imminent labor.

Tammy and I agonized over the induction decision on the slow, painful (still contracting!) walk between the OB’s office and the office where they did the NST. We went back and forth on pros and cons, but ultimately decided to give my body a few more days to do it’s thing without medical intervention, which would hopefully avoid a C-section. We asked the NP if we could get an induction set for Sunday night, both to give my body more time to “ripen” (like a damn peach or something) and because our doctor, whom we love, was on call at the hospital on Mondays. She called us later to let us know they didn’t have any slots available for Sunday night, but they did have one for Monday morning at 8AM, so we booked it. Tammy was relieved that we wouldn’t be having the baby until Monday – she was glad to have the weekend to do final preparations, notify work, etc. Poor Tammy. Wish not granted.

Meanwhile, I was still having painful contractions. They were 10 minutes apart in the morning, but by the time we got back from the doctor’s office around 1PM they were 7-8 minutes apart. And they fucking hurt. I was starting to think I was in labor, but we’d had so many false alarms before – contractions getting closer together, only to space out and piss me the hell off disappoint – so I kept my inkling to myself. Around 4:30, Tammy asked me if we could order Chinese for dinner. She had been timing the contractions, which were a solid 6-7 minutes apart at this point, and she didn’t want to have the hassle of cooking something while she was also trying to time my contractions and hold my hand while I had them. I had absolutely zero interest in food, but I told her Chinese was fine. Looking back, this was another indication that I was in labor – All I’d eaten that day was a slice of toast for breakfast and half a bag of popcorn for lunch but I could hardly bear to think about dinner.

By the time the food came, the contractions were so painful all I could do during them was moan or wail and grip Tammy’s hand with all my might. They were also 5-6 minutes apart. I looked at her after a particularly painful one and said, “I want to go to the hospital and I want an epidural.” Me saying that flipped a switch with her. She absolutely LEAPED into action, grabbing the last of the items for the baby bag, throwing dishes into the dishwasher, feeding the cat, all while running back to me every 3-4 minutes now to hold my hand during a contraction. Poor thing only got to have a few bites of dinner.

The car ride to the hospital was awful. Every bump in the road was magnified, and each contraction felt like my body was being ripped into pieces.

They way our hospital is set up meant we had to check in at the ER desk and would then be admitted to Labor and Delivery. Tammy pulled up out front and walked me in (I was totally incapable of walking on my own), and the second we got inside a bad contraction hit. I had found the most comforting position during contractions was to bend at the (non existent) waist, clutch Tammy’s midsection, bury my face into her stomach or back, and moan. The admissions desk took one look at us standing there and called for a wheelchair to take me up to L&D (I wonder how they could tell I was in labor?). Somehow I climbed in and was whisked off to the fifth floor while Tammy went and parked.

(A note here about the pain: It’s hard to describe what labor felt like, except to say it was so, SO much worse than I could ever have imagine. I think my mom, as much as I love her, set me up badly because she told me her labor pains just felt like “pressure”. And sure, we could call labor pains pressure, if by “pressure” you mean a wild animal ripping apart my belly with its teeth.)

When I got up to L&D the disgustingly chipper orderly made me get up out of the wheelchair and the nurses made me check in. I was leaning over the desk panting and wailing while they asked me questions like “how far along are you?” and, “is this your first baby?” I’m not sure how I restrained myself from telling them to go fuck themselves. All I could think about was making the pain stop. I could barely remember my own name.

Somehow I ended up sitting alone in a chair by the check in desk. Tammy came running in (she had run all the way from the parking garage with our gigantic hospital bag (we totally overpacked)) and found me there, huddled and shaking and whimpering to myself. I’m sure I looked pathetic, but what they say is true: when you are in labor you truly, truly do not care what you look like. I could have been butt naked in front of my boss and I would not have cared in the slightest.

We got into our room and I was told to put on a hospital gown and provide them with a urine sample. A motherfucking urine sample, y’all. Sitting down on the toilet was the most painful position yet (in retrospect I’m sure it had something to do with the baby bearing down on my cervix) and I was shaking so badly I could barely hold the cup between my legs. I ended up handing a pee soaked cup to Tammy to label and hand off to the nurse.

(A note here about Tammy: she was a rockstar. An absolute rockstar. She kept it together when I’m sure I would have been panicking, validated my every whim, every choice, every decision and did her best to keep me calm. She never left my side. I would have been absolutely lost without her.)

At this point I was begging every nurse, tech, and doctor (really, anyone I thought had a remote chance of working at the hospital – I would have asked a janitor) for an epidural. I had started throwing up from the pain (half digested popcorn looks disgusting as vomit, FYI) and I had to endure a painful cervix check during a contraction. I was 4 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced. I’d gone from 1cm and 0% effaced at 10:30am to 4cm and 100% effaced at 7:30pm.

Finally, finally, after I got the requisite amount of IV fluid in my system, I was given an epidural. Oh my GOD you guys. The needle hurt a tiny bit, but nothing worse than a pinch and it was only for a moment. Maybe I would feel differently about epidurals if I’d had a some of those bad side effects you hear about (itching skin, for example, or bad headaches) but I had no adverse reaction whatsoever. I thought I might be disappointed that I opted for an epidural rather than the non-medicated labor I had planned on, but I wasn’t disappointed then and I’m not now, not in the slightest. They told me it might take up to 15 minutes for the epidural to kick in, but within two minutes I was no longer in pain. The relief I felt was so immense, so overwhelming, that I cried in gratitude. Tammy hadn’t been allowed to stay with me while the inserted the epidural, but when she came back in the room she told me later that one look at my face made her a believer in epidurals.

(A note here about medicated vs. non-medicated births: I’m so uninterested in this debate, if one is better than the other, what it says about you if you have an epidural vs. go without, blah blah. For me, I’m grateful I had the option. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to labor at home, grateful we went to the hospital when we did, grateful I asked for the epidural, and grateful I received it. I’m also grateful that women who want a labor free from medicated pain relief have that option. I’m all about options, and I’m most of all grateful that we have them.)

An hour and a half after I received the epidural, my cervix was checked again. At 10pm I was 8 centimeters dilated. The nurse cheerfully told us to start placing bets on a delivery before or after midnight. Unfortunately, they checked me at midnight and I was still 8cm, and the baby hadn’t moved down at all. They broke my water, hoping that would put the baby’s head closer to my cervix, thus applying more pressure and dilating me further. It didn’t work though, and the baby’s heart rate started showing signs of distress. They made me stay lying on my right side because being on my left or on my back made her heart rate slow to unacceptable speeds. I had to wear an oxygen mask for the rest of the night in hopes that it would help.

Sometime in the early morning the doctor started discussing c-sections with me. She told me she wasn’t sure why I was stuck at 8 centimeters, but it could be that the baby’s head was too big to properly engage (and therefore couldn’t put the required pressure on my cervix), it could be that the baby’s head was at an odd angle in my pelvis (and therefore couldn’t put the required pressure on my cervix). Before they recommended a c-section however, they wanted to try me on a low dose of pitocin, to see if contractions of increased strength did the trick.

Half an hour on the lowest possible dose of pitocin and I was 10 centimeters and ready to push. I was so relieved to avoid a c-section and really excited to push. The epidural had worn off enough that I could feel contractions coming on, but they mainly felt like a tightness and pressure, similar to braxton-hix, rather than the searing pain of real contractions.

The doctor had me do a few practice pushes (“pretend you’re constipated and pushing out a great big poop”) and then called the team in (because I delivered at a teaching hospital, there was the doctor, a resident, a med student and a handful of nurses all there at various points in the pushing process).  After the first few pushes, the doctor asked if I wanted to watch myself push, and I said yes. Watching myself, splayed open, pooping, bleeding, and stretching open was both awesome and horrifying. I didn’t enjoy watching myself poop (truly bizarre) but seeing this small dark oval get larger, ever so slowly larger made was worth every view of the gore and poop.

I was pretty cheerful for the first hour of pushing. I felt strong and confident and was filled with adrenaline and excitement. Halfway through the second hour my strength began to fade, and I got more and more tired. I felt like I’d been pushing forever, and started to get weepy.

Pushing hadn’t really hurt up to the point of her crowning – just the pressure and tightness from the (epidurally reduced) contractions. By the time she was crowning, however, everything burned. I was so tightly stretched, and the doctor kept pouring oil over me, then running her finger along the edge of Ellie’s head and my skin to try to stretch me further. I kept telling her that it hurt (because it fucking did) and she kept telling me that the baby was almost here. At one point she had me reach down and feel Ellie’s head, and it was such a strange, exhilarating, rejuvenating feeling.

Just a few minutes before I hit two hours of pushing there was suddenly a lot of activity in the room. All of the various people who had drifted in and out of the room during my pushing process all came back in. Everyone put on these blue paper gowns over their scrubs, and the bottom of the hospital bed was removed. Stirrups were pulled up.

I can’t remember how many more times I pushed. I do remember the final push though – the push that birthed her head. The delivery team was chanting and cheering, and the doctor was saying, “just a little bit more, just a little bit more!” I pushed and screamed and felt my back rise up off the bed. I felt myself tearing – it was like I was being split open. And then, all of a sudden, it was over.

“Stop pushing! Stop pushing, Sarah, for just a second!” The doctor said. “Now one more big push! Push! You can do it!” I pushed again, and felt a tremendous release as her body slipped, all in a rush, into the world.

“Now reach down, Sarah. Reach down and catch your baby!”

And I reached down, and caught my baby, and pulled her up onto me. I was sobbing and shaking. I held my baby girl in my arms and told her it was her birthday, that I loved her, that I was her mommy. I looked at my crying Tammy and said “this is our baby.”

Finally. Finally. Welcome home, Ellie.

An Unworthy Cassandra

I’m officially full term today, by anyone’s standards! 38 weeks!

Those sentences are about as cheery as this post is going to be, so if that’s all you’re here for (you must come here…infrequently) you can quit reading now.

I’ve had two episodes so far of thinking “maybe…could this be…am I imagining this?” Both episodes involved me waking up in the middle of the night to cramping and contractions – and a full blown panic attack. Last night was the most recent one, and it was preceded by a whole day of period like cramps, an evening of irregular and far apart contractions, a teary panic attack, and then the nighttime wake up.

I feel absolutely ridiculous. The nursery is ready. The car seat is installed. I’ve passed off 90% of my work at the office, my out-of-office message is primed and ready. We’ve got tons of food in the freezer. My parents are on stand-by. I am physically uncomfortable and desperately anxious to meet our baby girl. So why the panic? Why the tears?

Well, for one, because it hurts.  And I lay there, watching the minutes tick by (3:34….3:35….3:36…) and think to myself, “Ouch. Fuck. That actually kind of hurt. Ugh, I hate period cramps and this totally feels like period cramps. Now I feel like I’m going to barf. Awesome. Wait, THAT feels like my stomach has been put into a vice. FUCK. That HURTS. FUCK THIS SHIT. TAMMY WAKE UP OW OW OW.” etc. And then I remember that, hey, I’m not even really in labor yet. Regardless if it is early labor (unlikely considering I’m not having contractions now, and only super mild cramping) or false labor, things are going to get a whole lot more painful before I’m done. And, to be brutally honest, I’m not sure I can stand it.

Emotionally, I’m a complete and total wreck. I’m cognizant enough to know it all comes from a place of fear. Fear of labor and delivery. Fear of the recovery. Fear of postpartum depression. Fear that I won’t somehow recognize my daughter. Fear that I won’t love her. Fear that Tammy won’t love her. Fear that she won’t love us. Fear that my relationship with Tammy will deteriorate. Fear that all those instincts you hear about just…won’t exist in me – that my trouble getting pregnant was some kind of indicator, some kind of Cassandra warning that I should have heeded.

Fear. Sickening, gut wrenching fear. Somehow, the birth of my daughter only became real in the past week or two. All through the months of fertility treatment and all through this pregnancy I never really allowed myself to imagine holding my child in my arms. And that fear, the fear that my dream would never happen, was awful and soul crushing but it only made me double down and grit my teeth. I was bound and determined that I would have a baby if it was the last thing I ever did. It became an all consuming obsession. Now that I’m faced with the reality of that obsessive, angry, steadfast drive coming to fruition, I find myself staring into the abyss – one of pain and darkness and I am unworthy of this.

Baby girl, please come out and prove me wrong.