If you’ve told a child a thousand times, and the child still has not learned, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.
~Walter B. Barbe
If you’ve told a child a thousand times, and the child still has not learned, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.
~Walter B. Barbe
As our lion cub is nearing his six month birthday and gaining more independence, I’m finding the time and energy to reflect on my postpartum experience. I want to document this for future reference for myself and for anyone else going thru postpartum.
Immediately after childbirth, I had a pretty good recovery. I gave birth at home, unmedicated, and so I was conscious and clear-headed within seconds of Little Lion’s birth. Getting to be at home with the whole family (my husband, our dog..) and in my bed after that crazy adrenaline surge was amazing. There is no other experience quite like it. I was tired from pushing for four hours, but I wasn’t quite ready to sleep yet (Mistake #1), so we had my in-laws come over and meet their first grandson. They commented at the calmness and peacefulness of our household despite the excitement and activity only hours earlier. Our lion cub slept next to me that night, but I barely slept because I was so excited; ‘There was a baby next to me.. That I had pushed out only hours earlier.. All-natural, at home, unmedicated.. I did it!!’
The months after childbirth are commonly referred to as The Fourth Trimester. It’s the adjust and adapt period: the hormones are regulating, the baby is learning to eat and sleep, and the new parents are rearranging their schedules and barely sleeping. Usually after this period, the new parents will gain some confidence and feel like they finally have a grasp on things (and maybe get some sleep!).
After the birth, a nurse from my birth center came to check on me and the baby and to teach me when to feed, when to pee (yup, you read that right), and what vitals to monitor. My doula, who was present the whole day, came back within a couple days to “debrief” me 🙂 And my midwife and her assistant both called and were available by phone to answer any questions we had. I really appreciated the open line of communication because I was so glossy-eyed over this baby that I was forgetting what I had learned beforehand! It was great to have people help us process what had happened.
The Lion and I are extremely fortunate in that we have family members close-by who are ready and willing to help us. Grandpa and Grandma Lion live within a quick drive, and Grandma Wolf is retired and can come spend a few weeks with us at a time. Our lion cub arrived right around the holidays, so my sisters in law were around and came to make food, fold laundry, sweep and dust, and keep us company. It was a lot of fun to have everyone over, with Christmas spirit in the air, and the arrival of a new baby 🙂 The next day, Grandma Wolf flew in and stayed for three months. My mom did ALL the laundry and ALL the cooking (except breakfast) and ALL the cleaning. I’m not sure how we would have survived in those first three months without her help! I was definitely ready by the end of my mom’s stay to try it on my own and find our own rhythm, but when we were sleep-deprived and trying to work out the breastfeeding thing, I really appreciated not having to worry about our next meal or having clean underwear (although I did run out once…………………….).
Within the first month or so, I invited some of my closest friends to come visit me, and I took them up on their generous offer to help (#unashamed). I asked them to bring their homemade chocolate chip cookies, I asked them to bring lunch, I asked to borrow their Moby wrap for our Little Lion, I asked them to grab me some olive oil and travel-sized bottles, I asked them to buy a Christmas outfit for the baby, I asked them for Pressed Juicery and acai bowls… These were friends who have either had babies or know what it’s like for new moms. I knew I wasn’t going to get judged for accepting help, I knew I didn’t have to shower or dress up, and I knew that they wouldn’t mind seeing my under eye bags or messy hair or postpartum belly. They were so loving and kind (and still are!), and I think having that support and encouragement (and advice!) really helped me a lot. Moms GET each other.
We are also fortunate in that my husband has the flexibility to change his work schedule and work from home as needed. The Lion worked hard to maintain a sense of normalcy within the first month when I was bedridden for most of the day. He made a big breakfast every day, he took over walking our dog TWICE a day, he ran for groceries after work, AND he got up to change diapers multiple times in the night. And somehow, he did all this while managing to have a good sense of humor and patience for me (and my mom 😉 ).
I did have some incontinence afterwards. My pelvic floor was s o r e and felt non-existent. I also had a tear and required some stitches, so I was pretty sensitive and tender down below. It was difficult to get in and out of bed, and walking short distances took a lot of time and effort. I didn’t immediately go back to practicing kegels because I was afraid of ruining the stitches. I also had hemorrhoids, which made going to the bathroom and even just sitting down a big challenge. I relied on my arms and my core a lot to help me sit up in bed to breastfeed in the middle of the night! My core was okay–I had made sure to keep up my core workouts during pregnancy, and at my six week check up, my midwife pressed around my abdomen and commented that my core was pretty strong, woohoo!
One midwife that I had interviewed had told me she usually recommends her clients stay inside for a few weeks: “a week in the bed, a week around the bed, and a week around the house.” I required much more time than that. I had thought that by having a natural, unmedicated birth meant that I would bounce back quickly, but it definitely takes a lot of time and patience to allow your body to heal!
Breastfeeding ( . )( . )
I will be writing a separate, more in-depth post about my breastfeeding experience, but the short of it is that we had a tough time with breastfeeding.
My milk came in about four days after giving birth. I did not realize (or remember?) that this would happen, and when I became engorged for the first time, I thought I had mastitis! I was terrified, not to mention I felt like a truck had hit me (and left me with humongous boulder boobs). I felt very sick, and my chest hurt so bad, heavy and stretched out from being so engorged. My mom would run in and out of our bedroom to get more hot towels from the kitchen for me so I could lay them over my chest. I tried pumping it out, but the sensation was so painful I couldn’t keep it up (I also had a regular pump vs a hospital one) and so nothing much came out. It. Was. Stressful. And painful.
The first few times Little Lion latched, it hurt. I kind of expected that, this being my first baby and first time breastfeeding, my nipples were not used to having a baby sucking and pulling on them, etc. But what I didn’t expect was the abrasion on one of my nipples, which caused extreme pain, worse than giving birth. I had to call in two different lactation consultants (IBCLC-certified; why IBCLC over CLC) to find some relief and validation and advice on what to do next. My nipple took almost two weeks to completely heal, longer than anyone expected. Furthermore, Little Lion had a tongue tie, which made his suck ineffective. By the time my nipple healed and we had figured out the tongue tie issue, I was feeling very depressed and discouraged, and our Little Lion was starting to become underweight. We eventually reached a happy medium, where I could provide him with breastmilk through the bottle, and he could nurse at night or before nap time (nursing “recreationally,” as I like to call it), but it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get there.
I am fortunate to not have experienced mastitis, but I did have clogged ducts and the beginnings of an infection… My breast would be hard and tender, I would get a headache, and I’d have the chills. I felt like crap, and that wasn’t even mastitis! It was unpleasant enough the 2-3 times I experienced it that I work hard every day to make sure I empty out my breasts adequately (plus it helps supply stay up).
During pregnancy, I ate well. I ate a lot of protein (did not really have any food aversion aside from bacon, which was a staple in our household!), a lot of veggies (to keep away the constipation), not much sugar or carb. I referenced the book Primal Moms Look Good Naked a lot. I also continued stretching and physical exercise, walking daily and dancing.
Regaining the pre-baby body (or closer to it) is still a work in progress. Every fiber of my being during the first three months postpartum was consumed with trying to figure out a solution to the breastfeeding, and so even though I received clearance from the midwife at six weeks to resume light exercise, I didn’t do anything. I don’t think I even left the master bedroom for good until at least eight weeks postpartum. I lost weight after childbirth with the fluids and placenta and hormones regulating, but I wasn’t losing much very quickly (naturally, since I wasn’t exercising), and it got kind of depressing.
My mommy friends all told me that breastfeeding helps you to lose weight, but they didn’t mention that breastfeeding also significantly increases your appetite! I was SO hungry, ALL the time. I would need to eat a meal between all the meals, and I was able to eat almost twice as much as I usually do. AND, I would wake up starving in the middle of the night! Even though I was eating all the same healthy foods as I did during pregnancy, I was eating so much of it that it was getting out of hand. My mom and my husband were both concerned because I was always telling them I was hungry… Furthermore, since my mom was doing all the cooking and wasn’t familiar with our usual serving sizes, the proportions were all out of whack (she made two servings into one serving… and I ate it ALL). I also had an unhealthy addiction to granola for about… four months. That’s A LOT of sugar to consume!
Eventually my appetite regulated, and once I taught my mom how to proportion all the food, I started noticing that I felt better and the weight came off easier. When I started walking our dog regularly again, I noticed a big change in my body shape. It took me almost five months, but I finally started going back to my dance classes, and I am doing yoga at home. I don’t do anything too intense because I can tell that I’m still regaining my strength, flexibility, and balance, and I definitely cannot afford to injure myself now. I don’t expect to regain my pre-baby body this year (although it’d be great if I did!) because I am basically starting from scratch–I haven’t done intense physical exercise in over a year! But it definitely feels good to be working towards it.
A lot of my anxiety stemmed from our breastfeeding issues. It got depressing quick. And I couldn’t dig myself out of it, and I couldn’t bring myself to find help either. It was a roller coaster every day: I would wake up feeling optimistic and great, and then by evening I was a mess and depressed. Not leaving the bedroom probably didn’t help. Once we figured out the weight issue for the baby, I felt a lot better and more hopeful. Also, healing up enough to get out of the house and get fresh air and see people made my days brighter (the seasons were changing too 🌥). I also started seeing my therapist that I hadn’t seen for a year. It was good to talk to her, but looking back, it almost seemed like I wasn’t ready to accept the help. I was in a brain fog with the sleep deprivation, the breastfeeding anxiety, the physical pain… Once the Little Lion started gaining weight and I felt a little better, I stopped seeing my therapist, thinking that I had nothing left to discuss. But feeling better is not getting better.
Around four and a half months, I felt overwhelmed with all that I had to do at home. Again, I couldn’t seem to get myself together to find help. Again, I was on the roller coaster: happy and productive one day, angry and frustrated and bored the next. I think having this roller coaster of emotions gave me a false sense of security, like maybe things would pass and I would feel better for good soon. It was a denial of sorts, probably because I thought that admitting I couldn’t handle it meant that I was failing at being a mom! On the bad days, all the emotions and anxiety from the first three months regarding breastfeeding resurfaced because I hadn’t dealt with them thoroughly. Compounded with the feelings of being overwhelmed, I couldn’t handle it and lashed out. The Lion reminded me of all the available resources I had: therapy, self-help books, friends, family. I was floored. ‘Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of this before?!’ I immediately reached for Feeling Good and called my therapist for an appointment.
I saw my therapist once a week every week for a month. Now I am going to see her every couple weeks, and I think eventually, once a month. Talking to my therapist has been unbelievably helpful. I’ve made a lot of changes thanks to these 50 minute sessions with her. I look forward to getting to talk things out and have them reflected back to me, and I enjoy having my feelings validated and understood. I’ve learned a lot about self-judgment and acceptance from my therapist. Reading about how to feel good and understanding why and what causes me to feel not-good has been enlightening as well. I catch myself relapsing sometimes, but I try to combat the negativity quickly before it consumes me. Feeling Good taught me some ways to cope with negative thoughts that enter my mind, including changing specific phrasing in our thoughts and speech that we don’t notice is damaging until it’s too late.
I’ve learned to manage expectations, to have acceptance, to not judge myself, and of course, to take care of myself.
The Lion and I realized early on that in order for me to take care of Little Lion and the family, I needed to take care of myself. Whether it’s dinner out with friends, an exercise class, a mani/pedi, or even just some quiet time tending to our garden, I need it to feel refreshed and rejuvenated, I need it to energize me to continue with my job of caring for the family.
I realized that I needed these things. I need the time to put on a little bit of make up (or even to just brush my teeth) or to wear things that I feel comfortable in and feel like I look good in. Now, the clothes don’t need to be fancy because I need to be comfortable and able to lift my arms (aka, pick up the lion cub), and they’ll probably get spit-up on them by the end of the day anyway, but I want to look good as a new mama. None of my pre-pregnancy clothes fit me, and they actually all seemed outdated and dusty from sitting in my closet untouched for 6+ months. And I definitely didn’t want to continue wearing my maternity clothes because now they were too big. So I finally decided, since I wasn’t losing the weight as quickly as I’d liked, I’m going to give my body acceptance, a break, some grace. My body went through A LOT, and I deserved to have a new wardrobe, even if it’s a small one (because my body will change again once I DO lose the weight and/or once I stop breastfeeding). I needed something that I fit in, could nurse (or pump) in, and something that I could feel GOOD about myself in! I’m happy to keep the weight and work it off slowly because I know it’s important for breastfeeding, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel and look good doing it.
The TL;DR of postpartum recovery is that caring for yourself, mentally and physically, is of utmost importance. Anytime that something doesn’t feel right, whether it’s the breastfeeding or feelings of anxiety, it’s time to find help, to find someone to discuss it with. I hope I remember that for next time because next time, I will have TWO lion cubs to care for!
This was a draft that I had typed up during pregnancy and apparently never published!
Recently, a good family friend asked how I was feeling, in terms of emotions. He asked if I felt scared or overwhelmed, maybe because his wife had exhibited those feelings when she was pregnant many years ago.
I responded that I feel excited! I didn’t feel scared. I have been taking an active part in this pregnancy and childbirth process. I have been preparing to understand what pregnancy is and means, what changes my body and mind are experiencing, the work of my uterus and my placenta, relaxation techniques and comfortable positions during pregnancy and childbirth, and generally, how to adapt and accept all these changes.
I’ve learned that there’s a difference between pain and suffering. Labor is painful, that is inevitable. But suffering? Suffering is not inevitable, suffering is a mental state. Natural labor has a rhythm, and if I am willing to ride the waves of contractions, labor will be much less suffering (but likely just as painful 😉
I want and am excited to have an “amazing” experience!
“Decode your body messages, modify your lifestyle, and if you are worried about labor, find out how you can help yourself.” -Kitzinger Complete book of childbirth and pregnancy
EDIT 3: December 12, 2016 12:32AM
EDIT 2: September 22, 2016 11:47PM
EDIT 1: August 26, 2016 1:40PM
Original post: August 10, 2016 3:35PM
There’s a lot more involved in pregnancy than just belly and boobs getting bigger, as I’ve learned. This is my list of some of the unexpected symptoms I’ve experienced. Thank goodness for Google!
Don’t do it.
One of the required classes at the birth center is Nutrition 101. Now, readers who are family/friends of ours know that we have some “particular” opinions on what is optimal nutrition! We tend to eat a more traditional diet, and we have been eating this way for about five or six years now. Nutrition (and being more strict about it) has only increased in significance for us as we’ve prepared for conception and pregnancy. I went to this class with pretty low expectations because I’ve heard and read the basic guidelines about what to/not to eat during pregnancy, and they often do not parallel the research I’ve done on optimal nutrition. I was pleasantly surprised!
The nutritionist who came to speak to us introduced her philosophy as primarily “paleo,” and she included references to Weston A Price throughout her talk. She said that she used to be a fitness coach but also suffered pretty severe cases of acne and poor health, despite following all the recommended regimens in the fitness world and experimenting with vegetarianism. Both unfortunately and fortunately, she got into a car accident and needed to see a chiropractor, who introduced to her a different way of eating. He asked for her for a food journal, to which she boasted that she was super healthy, eating microwavable meals, whole grain bagels with low fat cream cheese, Starbucks with coconut milk, etc. She credits him with changing her life because he was the one who showed her that not all fats are bad, but all processed foods are! Oh, bonus, she was a really good and interesting speaker who kept me engaged throughout her two hour talk 🙂
The key points that I thought was interesting and that reinforced my own nutrition principles:
Some other things I learned and found valuable from this Nutrition class:
Funny thing I noticed: The nutritionist had brought some snacks for us to munch on during the seminar because it was early in the morning, and I guess she figured pregnant women are always snacking. She brought in a box of Annie’s cheese crackers, a box of Cliff whole grain chocolate chip protein bars, and a container of pre-chopped veggies with a container of ranch dressing. And then later, she used her box of Annie’s crackers as an example of questionable organic choices (I guess not all ingredients in organic Annie’s cheese crackers are organic?), and she recommended against processed, whole grains (aka a box of granola bars…). The nutritionist seemed have thought a lot of things through… But not everything yet, apparently! 😉
I am five months pregnant and have not seen a doctor.
The Lion and I enjoy a primal lifestyle. Of course, we also enjoy a lot of what modern technology has to offer (including running water, electricity, and the internet!), but we also appreciate the more primitive aspects of being human, like being outside and getting sun, avoiding processed foods, sweating, sleeping with the sun cycle, and generally being introspective and in-tune with our mental and emotional needs. Along those lines, a birth that is heavily medicated, in an unfamiliar setting, with hospital lighting bearing down and the smell of chemicals and sterility surrounded by strangers watching me pee/poop/fart does not sound like an experience that I would enjoy (I mean, if I’m going to pee/poop/fart with an audience then it might as well be with people I feel relatively more comfortable with, right? : )!
My first exposure to midwifery care was through a book called Baby Catcher, recommended to me by a friend who had a homebirth with their son a few years ago in LA. The book is a collection of stories and experiences by the author, Peggy Vincent, a California midwife. Baby Catcher made me laugh out loud and cry, and it really opened my eyes to the possibility of giving birth naturally, at home, with someone you trust, and with as little intervention as needed. Thus, when I became pregnant, I decided to research more about midwifery care and what it entails to determine if it really was the right path for me.
When I saw what the midwifery model of care entailed, I was hooked:
The midwifery model of care is based on the fact that pregnancy and birth are normal life events. The midwifery model of care includes: monitoring the physical, psychological, and social well-being of the mother throughout the childbearing cycle; providing the mother with individualized education, counseling, and prenatal care, continuous hands-on assistance during labor and delivery, and postpartum support; minimizing technological interventions; and identifying and referring women who require obstetrical attention. The application of this woman-centered model has been proven to reduce the incidence of birth injury, trauma, and cesarean section. —The Midwifery Task Force
The first sentence in the midwifery model of care struck me as unusual because I had never heard or thought of birth and pregnancy as “normal life events,” but indeed, birth is a natural “instinctive act.” Our bodies have evolved through million of years to provide the best possible outcomes for mothers and babies, provided that we understand and care for our bodies the way that nature intended during this normal physiological process. As many of you probably know, women’s hormones are changing drastically during pregnancy, and that’s no different for during childbirth and afterwards too. The brain is producing hormones related to excitement (epinephrine/norepinehprine), love (oxytocin), mothering (prolactin), and pleasure (endorphins) during pregnancy, labor, and childbirth to elicit instinctive mothering behavior in humans. Oxytocin also causes the uterus to contract, adrenaline increases heart rate and makes us feel courageous, giving laboring women the “power” necessary for the final pushes, and endorphins rise and help block the reception of pain.Physically, the laboring mama is driven to move more, and sometimes, even to sing, grunt, groan, moan, or to shower/relax in a bath. Those options are not always available to women who choose to give birth in hospitals (as Vincent recalls in Baby Catcher). Women who are feeling afraid or self-conscious [in front of strangers] tend to secrete hormones that delay birth. In quiet, semidark, private conditions, the laboring mama can let down her guard and let her instincts take over. I knew that working with a midwife was a first step to accomplishing this, where I would be allowed to have the lights lowered, to stay in a comfortable place (my home), to move about freely as needed, and to be with loved and trusted ones as I begin one of the most challenging times of my life.
I also knew that I wanted the individualized care of a midwife (or in the case of the birth center I’m working with, three midwives!), hands-on care, and postpartum support. I am a unique person who has had a unique health history and will have a unique pregnancy and birthing story, so why shouldn’t my care be tailored to me? My most recent experiences with doctors in the dental industry were not pleasant; my dentist told me that nutrition is unrelated to teeth health, that I shouldn’t believe everything on the internet (I read books, not webpages), and did not ask a single question about my dental history. The endodontists I visited seemed impatient with my questions and complimented me on being a “biochemical major” when I asked questions. One of the endodontists I visited had even started pulling out her tools, ready to perform the “routine root canal procedure” the day of my consultation! So, this was certainly not the type of experience and attitude I wanted throughout my pregnancy or at the birth of our first child. When I go to my prenatal appointments, I wait no more than 10 minutes in the waiting room. The staff at the birth center know me by name and face. They know The Lion by name and face. The midwives ask me how I’m feeling, they listen and commiserate, they host picnics and events for everyone to interact (the midwives, the parents, the doulas, the birth assistants, the staff), and they ask for my health and nutrition history. I get the feeling that they are mother- and baby-centric; I trust that when I go into labor, I can call them for help or advice, even if it isn’t during office hours. I trust that I have a choice and won’t be pressured to make a biased one. This is the kind of help and promise that I want and appreciate as a newbie mom. When I interviewed the head midwife of my birth center, I asked her what she expects of her clients. She responded, “I expect them to stay healthy, educated, and relaxed.” This is exactly the kind of pregnancy and childbirth that I want to have!!
As for minimizing technological intervention but also encouraging women who need obstetrical attention to seek it, this is a big point that I think many people have missed of midwifery. When I first told my family that I plan to birth with a midwife, they immediately became concerned of the risks of birthing out of hospital. Luckily, the midwives aren’t above asking for help when they (or the laboring mama) need it! The Lion and I live very close to a hospital, and we have discussed what will happen should I need to be transferred to the hospital. Furthermore, the midwives at my birth center are certified nurse midwives. In other words, they know and can perform the same duties as a doctor, except surgery. I hope to have an “undisturbed birth.” As described above with the hormonal processes, birth is a very complex physiological process, and it is extremely sensitive to outside influences. Many techniques that are used in hospitals to monitor a laboring woman is painful or uncomfortable and usually involve strangers overstepping personal/bodily boundaries. In addition to the distrust of a woman’s birthing ability and their body’s natural processes, these are ingredients for a difficult birth. This is not to say I will have a solitary or isolated birth. I believe that once I am in labor, I will need all the help and support (physical, mental, emotional) I can get to cope with the pain! But a midwife’s method to coping with pain is not to medicate, but rather to understand where the sensation originates from and whether a change of position, attitude, atmosphere in the birth room, or another factor can help mitigate this discomfort.
My main concern with this pregnancy and birth experience is NOT to avoid pain at all costs, but rather to have a healthy baby in the most natural, healthy, accepting way possible. I am so excited to have these midwives be my advocates and guardians during childbirth!!
(I don’t cover the risks of cesarean surgery, epidurals, opiate painkillers, synthetic oxytocin and other synthetic hormones, ultrasounds, early clamping, and inductions here because they require their own blog post and more astute meta-analysis. Buckley’s book (link below) provides a much more in-depth analysis of these and other common interventions of birth. I hope to write a review/summary of her book at a later date.)
by Nina Planck, published 2016
This was one of the first books I read on fertility/pregnancy because we already had it in our library (see The Lion’s review of it). Planck’s book dispelled some commonly held beliefs on what pregnant can/cannot consume and further confirmed that the way I eat currently is optimal to maintaining good health. Some interesting/important points I found throughout her book:
TL;DR Avoid trans fats and pesticides. Buy organics and avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils, margarine, vegetable shortening, and cheap fried foods.
TL;DR2 Breast feed your baby. Nurse after the baby starts eating. Delay or skip vaccinations. Spend time on farms and outside in the dirt. Touch animals. Drink raw milk.