my postpartum experience

Let me just start off by saying this is not a post about postpartum depression. The word ‘postpartum’ is often associated with depression, but this isn’t so in my case. To be clear, this is about my physical and emotional experience following childbirth.

me and jules

 

This post might fall under the category of “too much information”, so if you’re disgusted by bodily functions and fluids, then I implore you to stop reading. But I think my story is an important one to share because not enough women discuss their postpartum experiences. I think for some, it may be an off-limits topic because who really wants to hear us complain about how we basically have a six-week long period after birth? Or how we need to take stool softeners to make using the bathroom easier? Or how we sweat profusely at night, soaking the sheets? Well, I for one, would have liked to hear it from an actual person and not an impersonal book that spends half a page on it. So here I am, making up for that by sharing my in-depth, personal experience.

The night I went into labor, Juliette’s heartbeat wasn’t as strong as we had hoped. When I started to push, her heart rate slowed even more.  The doctor then decided that the baby needed to come out immediately so in addition to an episiotomy (an incision on the perineum), she used a vacuum which would extract the baby quicker. Within no time, this beautiful and healthy baby girl was born and put on my chest.  It took a good 20 to 30 minutes of stitching me up, which didn’t phase me one bit because Juliette was in my arms and the epidural was keeping the pain at bay. I was kissing and cuddling her, while the doctor told me, “Your recovery is going to be slower than most people’s because blah blah blah…” That’s all I heard. I was so entranced with my little one that I just kind of shrugged it off. Little did I know the road to recovery would, in fact, be a long one.

After the medication wore off, I felt immensely sore. I could barely walk or sit. The pain was so consuming, there were times I’d go to the bathroom just to cry privately. The only thing that made me feel physically better were the Percocets. The nurse had warned me not to rely on them too much since they were highly constipating, but I wasn’t too worried about it. I would pop a pill every few hours and I’d feel normal again. I could care for my baby, do housework, stand, sit, walk.

I read that it usually takes a few days, maybe even a week, after childbirth to have a bowel movement. After five days of not going, I finally felt it. I woke up at around 12:30am with this intense urge to go. My body just took over and started pushing. I had no control over it. I was pushing for hours but, to my frustration, nothing was happening. I was stressed out, panicked and terrified of popping a stitch from pushing too hard. I called the obstetrician at around 3am, who suggested I use glycerin suppositories. Bob ran out to CVS and when he came back, I was so exhausted from pushing that he found me laying on the floor between the bathroom and kitchen. After the suppositories didn’t work, I’d had enough. There was no more energy left in me, but my body still wanted to push regardless. We headed to the ER, while Juliette stayed with Bob’s grandmother, who conveniently lives downstairs. It turned out I had a fecal impaction, which basically meant it was impossible for me to go without medical intervention. Being in the ER was an incredibly humiliating and humbling experience. I was in a semi-public room with dozens of other patients. The beds were just inches apart – Bob couldn’t even stand next to me – and only thin curtains divided us from our neighbors. And here I was in a diaper, while the enema took effect. Like I said, HUMBLING.  It was surprisingly painful too. My stomach cramped and didn’t stop cramping until 4-5 hours later when my system was completely cleared out. Bob was such a sport about it too. He was operating on no sleep because he had spent a good portion of the night trying to comfort an inconsolable Juliette. And yet, he was right by my side, trying to keep the situation light and humorous.

Over the next few days, ironically, I had incontinence. There was no control whatsoever. I barely had time to make it to the bathroom before I started to go. I worried and wondered, what is going on with my body? I made an appointment with the doctor that had treated me in the ER and she put me on a temporary diet of starchy, low-fiber foods such as white bread, white rice, bananas and highly processed foods, which would help with binding. Even though I felt like crap eating white foods every day for a week, I was at least making it to the bathroom, though I still only had a little control. For the next few weeks, I stayed home and only went out for short periods of time. Unfortunately, that doctor hadn’t give me much information on why this was happening, only that it was birth-related. So I accepted that.

Needless to say, my anxiety was through the roof. I would dwell on what this meant for my future quality of life. What if I’m never able to go out again? Will I always have to be near a bathroom wherever I go? How will I go back to work like this? What if I have to use the bathroom during the commute? Will I have to wear adult diapers? Is this my life now? I felt hopeless. That is until, my appointment with the obstetrician finally came up. At this point, the incontinence was gone, but the strong urge to go was still present (basically meaning, when I had to go, I HAD to go. There was no putting it off). She referred me to a colleague of hers; a respected colo-rectal surgeon, who she said was “the best” and would be able to help me. For the first time in weeks, I felt optimistic.

In August, I met with the surgeon. After examining me, he confirmed that the traumatic physical events of Juliette’s birth are what were causing my issues. It turned out that I had third and/or fourth degree lacerations all the way down to the sphincter, which is the muscle responsible for “holding it in”. He was hopeful that the damage wasn’t permanent, but he also warned me it would take a long time for the area to heal. “It could take several months, ” he said. The next month, I had an MRI which confirmed his theory, but it also showed more internal damage than he thought. More specifically, a breakdown of tissue between the vaginal and rectal wall which would have to be repaired by surgery. The procedure, I’m told, is pretty standard but I’ll be incapacitated for a couple of weeks. “You’ll need to take time off to selfishly care for just yourself for at least two weeks,” he told me, while putting emphasis on the word ‘selfishly’. And so, after I have the surgery early next year, I’ll be staying with my mom who will be taking time off from work, while she cares for Juliette and I care for myself.

Right now, I feel good. My urgency issues have improved considerably. The pain from the incision and tearing is almost completely gone. I can go out now. I can commute with confidence. I can enjoy my life and my baby, all without anxiety. I am nervous about the surgery, especially since the recovery is similar to that of an episiotomy (which I dread having to go through again) but I have faith in this surgeon. And I have faith that my body will heal.

Would I have done things differently had I known what I was in for? Sure. The incontinence might have been unavoidable, but the severe constipation could have been prevented if I weren’t so reliant on the Percosets, thus saving me that trip to the ER. I would have made my appointments with the doctors much sooner and not have just stewed in my own misery.  Most of all, I would have been more informed about the birth process. There are so many things that can happen during delivery, but if I’d just read up on what the interventions are and the pros and cons of each,  I would’ve been better for it. If there’s any advice I can give to women who are about to give birth, it is to educate yourself. Doctors are smart, but they don’t always fill in the gaps for you. We have to take our health and pregnancies into our own hands with research and frank conversations with women who have been through it. In other words, let’s talk about this ladies! Let’s talk about all of it.

practical pregnancy essentials: what i couldn’t (and still can’t) live without

Practical Pregnancy Essentials - What I Couldn't Live WithoutIf you do a google search of pregnancy essentials, there’s a gajillion of these blog posts out there, and hey…I just needed to saturate the market a little more! There were some lists that I found to be more helpful than others and most were almost exactly the same. My list may or may not fall into that category depending on what you’ve seen/heard (I like to think that it doesn’t…) , but I figure if I can help out a pregnant woman in the future with even just one of my suggestions, than I’m more than happy to share. Because pregnancy can be difficult (amidst the joy, of course!), but there are things that have  helped me out immensely during times I needed it most.

1.) Leachco Snoogle Total Body Pillow 

If for any reason, I could only have one essential on this list, it would be the Snoogle. This oddly-shaped body pillow is the reason I’m able to get any good sleep. There’s something about the positioning of this curved noodle-like cushion supporting your head, back, belly and legs that feels so comfortable and natural. It’s amazing! Sure you can recreate the same effect with a bunch of pillows and/or blankets, but the Snoogle won’t take up 3/4 of the bed, leaving your significant other with just a sliver of mattress. We have a queen-size and it accommodates the three of us (me, Bob and the Snoogle) very well!

2.) A thick, natural body lotion like Burt’s Bees Mama Bee Belly Butter

Studies show that applying cream might not help to prevent stretch marks (apparently, it’s all hereditary), but I’m not sure how sold I am on that so I slather the stuff on my body anyway…just in case. I started out using the Mama Bee Belly Butter (which I still recommend), but I’m currently using Blissful Body Butter in Buttercream. It feels thick, luxurious and the cake batter scent smells delicious. So far, no stretch marks! Knock on wood. If nothing else, the moisturizer also relieves belly itch, which is very common. Coconut oil is great for the itchiness as well.

3.) Coobie Bras

I found these a few months ago through another blog post and I’m so thankful I did because these bras are soft, stretchy, supportive and the only ones I wear at the moment. There came a point during my second trimester when my upper body started expanding and my underwire bras started painfully digging into my ribs. Coobies claim to fit a large range of sizes, but when looking at some of the reviews, I feared they wouldn’t fit me since a lot of small-breasted women complained it was too big for them. But once I tried them on, they fit like a glove. I’d recommend these to any woman, pregnant or not, looking for a comfy seamless bra. They average at about $20 a piece depending on where you order from, but I found a great deal on a 3-pack at Zappos that I think is a great value (plus free returns!).

4.) Books and blogs/websites

I would have never known what cradle cap or thrush was or the differences between a bouncer and a jumper (and whether or not I needed one or both) if not for the wealth of reading material out there. The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy book was great for giving straight facts in a neutral and relaxed tone. Ditto for the Babycenter site, but with helpful visual aids. Babycenter’s message board was and still is my godsend through this process. The answers to your weird or embarrasing questions will likely be addressed here (and hopefully put your mind at ease OR make you worry even more, depending!). I also referred to Lucie’s List when I started to compile my baby registry. It is the most detailed and informative registry list I’ve come across. La Leche League’s book on breastfeeding is so enlightening and easy-to-follow. I have a feeling I’ll be referring to it many times for the next few months. Pregnant Chicken and Alpha Mom are good for specific topics like what to pack in your hospital bag, checklists, must-haves for the budget-savvy and postpartum essentials.

5.) Sleep mask

During my second trimester, I suddenly became a light sleeper. Any glimmer or flash of light would wake me up instantly. Think: the first light of day at the crack of dawn or any time Bob would come into bed at 2am and put on his bedside lamp to read. Placing a pillow over my head made me feel too hot and stuffy, so a sleep mask really came in hand. I used a cheapie polyester mask and that worked just fine for me, but I’d recommend something soft and non-irritating. This one looks comfortable.

6.) The Tummy Sleeve

This is basically made to look like you’re wearing a tank top underneath your clothes. I wouldn’t have been able to wear my pre-pregnancy clothes without it. I still fit into a few of my tops and leggings, but I always have to pair it with the Sleeve. The tops fall too high and the bottoms fall too low so this is what I use to cover the middle. I personally like to pair the black one with black leggings so that it blends in seamlessly. Back in my second trimester, when all I had was small bulge, I’d use this band to cover up my un-zippable jeans and no one was the wiser. If you’re new outie belly button popping through your clothes bothers you, the Sleeve will smooth it out for you. The material is soft, stretchy (so it grows to accommodate your belly) and doesn’t irritate. Initially I thought at $17 a pop, the price was a little much for what is essentially a tube top, but I have to say I’ve worn it so many times that it has paid for itself. I can also see myself wearing it postpartum.

the one when we learn how to swaddle and change a diaper on a doll

baby-doll

Bob and I signed up for a How To Care for Your Newborn class at the hospital. I think I may have held a newborn once or twice in my life but never for very long. I was always too nervous to handle my nephews when they were tiny, so I preferred to wait to hold them until they got a little sturdier. And I’ve never changed a diaper or swaddled a baby before. Ditto for Bob.

As I’ve been reading books and blogs, I’ve been discovering a whole new world of babies. Honey? Off-limits to any child under 1 year of age. Crib bumpers? Death traps! Drop-side cribs? Outlawed! I was so curious…how many more things do I need to be aware of?

So you see, this class was very necessary for the both of us.

We learned a lot. But the interactive portion of the class was most fun.

Bob is going to make an excellent swaddler, let me tell you.

swaddle3

But he might need more help with diaper changes. He slid the baby to the side on the changing table, to which I reminded him that our real baby will not be made of plastic, so he won’t be able to just slide Bebop. I mean.

diaper change2

I was better at the diaper changes, but I got the hang of the swaddle on our last try. Let’s be honest though, plastic babies are hard to swaddle so…

diaper change

swaddle2

swaddle

Next up, I’m going read The Happiest Baby on the Block. Not only did our instructor (who is also a certified doula) recommend it, but I hear it’s the best book out there for advice on calming your baby. And if the frantic, consistent jabs to my ribs are any indication, this baby will need some calm in her life.

i wrote this on 2 1/2 hours of sleep

cloudsThis post was written yesterday morning:

It’s 4:11 am. I feel unusually alert, extremely exhausted and slightly delirious. I’ve been up since 1:30am. Funnily enough, so has Bebop who’s been kicking, elbowing and doing the twist in my belly ALL NIGHT.

(Humor me while I become one of those people on Facebook you hate that’s always complaining about how tired they are. I know, I know.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not angry at the fact that she’s moving this much. How could I be? I’m grateful to know she’s energetic and healthy in there. I’m one of those lucky pregnant women that don’t have to worry about whether there’s something wrong because I didn’t feel her move in the last hour or two. No, there’s no need for counting kicks with this one. She is always keeping me on my toes.

But I am annoyed with myself. Because I just want to sleep, but my overactive mind and body won’t let me. I’ve slept through her movements before, but she’s also getting stronger by the week. This baby is jabbing me in the same spot over and over and it seems like what she really wants to do is break through my skin (ew). My legs are restless. I have to pee.  My pajamas suddenly feel tight and itchy so I peel them off to get some relief. But then (wouldn’t you know it?), the blankets are now making me itch. When did my skin start being so sensitive? Note to self: have body lotion handy for times like this. I’ve got “All My Life” by KC & Jojo stuck in my head because…who knows? I haven’t heard that song since like 1999 or whenever it came out. To counteract that, I start humming a JLo song that I’ve only heard about 5 seconds of, so then I’ve got that 5-second loop stuck in my head, which is still better than that awful KC & Jojo song. Then I start poking my squishy belly button that is an outie at the moment. The baby is pressed up against it right now but when she retreats, it goes back to its normal innie self.  At this point, it’s too late for me to get a proper amount of sleep, so I start toying with the idea of calling out of work. Although I hate calling out when I’m not actually sick. I always think that if I do it, I’ll get really sick the next week and have to call out again, at which point they may start to question whether I’m being truthful. I’m going to just suck it up and go in. Yes ma’am! I turn over, which feels like the 100th time in one hour. I just can’t seem to get comfortable. Turn over again. That makes 101. On the other hand, maybe I should call out of work…for my sanity? No, no. I’m a glutton for punishment (or just really responsible! ha) and finally decide, I’m not sick, I’m going in. When I sit up, I look over at Bob who is peacefully sleeping. I’m really going to regret not calling out.

So here I am. Sitting on the couch with my laptop writing this post and dreading the day ahead. I have to start getting dressed soon. I know in a little while, I’ll transform into a cranky zombie until I come back home which is TOO MANY HOURS away.

There is no effing way I’m cooking dinner tonight.

I think I’m just being prepped for the no-sleep stages of motherhood. At this rate, I’ll be the expert of running on fumes when the baby arrives.

24 weeks / 6 months

24 weeks

Me at 24 weeks. Also…me, right after a day at work, hence the disheveled hair (Okay, who am I kidding? My hair always look like that).

The little one has started kicking around so hard and so frequently that it now keeps me from sleeping. Tuesday night, I woke up around 3ish in the morning and she was having her usual kicking party in there. Bob was up too and he played her Life On Mars? in an attempt to lull her to rest (so I could rest!)  and it worked. There was no movement from her after the song finished so we figured she must have enjoyed her David Bowie lullaby, which can only mean that she has great taste in music.

That said, I’m still so fascinated when Bebop moves around. I don’t ever get tired of feeling her jerky movements on my hands or staring at my belly.

Speaking of which, I took the video below last night and finally caught the baby moving. It’s crazy! You might be amazed or you might be skeeved out. Personally, I’m a little of both. You can mute the video (unless you’d like to hear a clip of Parenthood playing in the background).

At 21 weeks, I went to get a detailed anatomy sonogram and we saw her hiccuping which was probably the CUTEST THING EVER. I mean, she’s so small so the hiccups were forcing her whole body to jump and gosh, it was just so adorable.

That same day, we saw Rachel Dratch at Shake Shack on the Upper East Side, which happened to be the week of SNL’s 40th anniversary. She seemed very kind. She happily posed for pics with fans and offered some spare seats at her table to a woman with her young son. Not pregnancy-related, but I thought it was worth mentioning anyway.

Can I get a little goopy on you right now? I am psyched to have Bob as my partner. He is fun, intelligent, open-minded and is always there for his friends and family. I am confident he will be an amazing father and role model to our daughter.

OMG it still hits me when I say things like “our daughter”.

21 weeks

Bebop at 21 weeks. Now that’s what I call perfect head!

My sense of smell is so heightened that it’s distracting. I can barely walk the streets without the constant smell of car fumes up my nose. It’s pretty awful. It’s come to the point where I’ll take the longer, less populated route just to avoid cars and traffic. Ditto to avoid cigarettes.

What’s up with the constant breaking out on one side of my face? Acne medication is discouraged so I’ve been relying heavily on concealer when I have a particularly large pimple to disguise. It does the job (thank you, Kat Von D tattoo concealer!), but still…no bueno.

Oh hi boobs that weren’t there before! You can stick around for a while.

 

20 weeks

20 weeks

Not the most flattering angle, but it was the only way to keep my mess of an apartment out of the photo. My place has been looking a little tragic these days.

 

Everyone kept telling me, one day you’ll pop. And at exactly 20 weeks—the half way point—I did just that. Suddenly, it was like, whoa belly, where have YOU been? It no longer looks bloated or full, it looks pregnant.

I tell people I’ve hit the sweet spot now. I’m no longer nauseous and I can eat almost all the foods I enjoyed before, thank goodness. Aside from my face breaking out and the occasional  fatigue, it’s been smooth sailing during the second trimester. Fingers crossed I didn’t just jinx  myself for saying that.

I do have to say that while pregnancy is exciting and gives me warm feelings, it also feels incredibly weird, physically. This belly is growing and while that’s a great sign of things progressing as they should, it’s just so…heavy, sometimes. Getting out of bed or bending down is already becoming surprisingly difficult! There are times when I think to myself, how the hell am I supposed to carry this kid in my body when she grows to the size of a small melon? I can’t even fathom it. For now, I’ll keep pep-talking myself, This is completely natural. My body is made for this. My belly button is forming some odd shapes too. I expect I’ll have an outie at some point, which kind of freaks me out a bit.

This week, I’m scheduled for a detailed anatomy scan, which basically means I’ll have about a 30-minute ultrasound, in which all the baby’s organs are going to be examined carefully to make sure everything is growing and functioning properly. I expect a good report, but I always go into these things a little anxious because…well, you never know. I’m also hoping that we get a nicer sonographer this time around and not the terrible one we got a few weeks ago. I swear, this woman was the most miserable person I’ve encountered at this office. Listen, I don’t expect cheeriness from everyone I meet, but there was not an ounce of warmth or enthusiasm from her. It was as if everything she told us (i.e. “the heart looks good”, “it’s a girl”) took so much of an effort for her to say and when she did say it, it was barely audible. Like I said, new sonographer please!

One of the perks of being pregnant is how accommodating people are. They’ll offer you the cushiest seat in their home or make sure that you get dibs on all the leftover food. On the other hand, it also brings out the strangest questions. I went to a work dinner on Friday night and in front of everyone, one of my coworkers asked, “So are you getting a lot of gas now?!” Um…WHAT? I’ve gotten a few other weird comments, but nothing really outrageous.  Most people mean well so it doesn’t bother me too much, but it does leave me wondering, Did you really just say that out loud?  That said, I’d love to know if you received any slightly inappropriate or off-color comments when/if you were pregnant. Do tell! I feel like this could get fun.

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