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!