My journey with postpartum: things I didn't expect & tips
When I found out we were pregnant, I was so so excited. I immediately bought several books to learn all about pregnancy as I couldn't wait to start my nine month journey. As I got closer to my due date, I realized I needed to start doing some research about babies and bought more books about caring for a newborn. I honestly had never really been around babies that much so I wanted to be as prepared as possible and for the most part, I have been. However, one thing I do not feel I was prepared for was postpartum. I had heard about postpartum here and there from friends but mainly more about supplies I'd need to be comfortable after birth not really how I would FEEL. My doctor didn't really talk to me about postpartum either - I'm not sure if that was something we were supposed to go over at my 39 week appointment which I never made it to since I delivered at 38 weeks, 6 days. I knew postpartum was a thing but I guess I assumed I'd be able to carry on like nothing ever happened after birth - wrong.
Today, I'm six weeks postpartum and while I know my hormones and body aren't completely back to normal, I'm feeling great and believe I'm at the point where I can share what I've learned and done in postpartum to get to where I am now. I also want to address a couple things that I feel like are just not talked about enough. I'm getting very vulnerable today, but I believe it's a really important topic. I hope in sharing my experience, I am able to help mamas-to-be feel more prepared or new moms know they're not alone in the feelings they're experiencing. I am extremely open about my experience and journey so if you have questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to me.
One final thing I do want to point out is that the majority of the things I talk about below all occurred during the first 2ish weeks of postpartum. Around the two-week mark I kind of turned a corner and felt like a new person. I still have moments where I cry, feel a little blah, etc. but the difference between how I feel today vs. how I felt in those first couple weeks is night and day. So if you're new mom in the throws of postpartum right now, know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, you are an amazing mama and there is no one more perfect to be a mom to your baby than you.
Oh and also if you know someone who has recently given birth, make sure you check in on them. Hearing from people was such a huge help during those first two weeks. Just a simple text asking them how they are or letting them know you're thinking about them goes a long way!
All my love,
This is the thing I want to address the most because this is what I was NOT prepared for. I can't speak for others but it does seem like a lot of other new moms aren't prepared either. When I was pregnant I used the "What to Expect" app to track my pregnancy. On the app there are discussions boards and I receive an email a day for the "July 2020 Babies" group. During pregnancy there would be various discussions about nurseries, baby gear, etc. Well in postpartum I constantly see discussions titled "What's wrong with me?", "EXTREME Anxiety. HELP.", "Meltdown", "Please help", etc. Every single night when I receive the email I see at least two topics like that. And the posts are always similar - a new mom about 3-12 days into postpartum who is exhausted, struggling with their emotions, and questioning whether or not they were ready to be a mom or whether or not something is wrong with them. And it just makes me sad because 1. I know how they feel and 2. why is this not talked about more BEFORE the mom gives birth?
Getting to know Tatum:
When you really stop and think about childbirth, it's really pretty incredible. You spend nine months growing a human, there is so much anticipation building up as you wait to meet your little boy or girl. You imagine what those first moments will be like over and over in your head, you picture how perfect motherhood will be, and if you're a Type A person like me you plan out how everything will go. You feel like you know this person who has spent 9 months in your belly and you're sure that everything will be perfect from day one. But at the end of the day when Tatum arrived, while I was filled with this overwhelming love for her, it was someone I was meeting for the first time. And even more importantly, she was meeting me for the first time.
The first couple weeks are about getting to know each other. We needed to learn things about Tatum and she needed to learn that we were the ones who will take care of her and protect her. I read something a few weeks after Tatum was born (that I wish I had read before she was here) that talked about how hard it is for babies to go from the shielded comfort of your womb to this huge world that they've never experienced. And after reading that, I really put myself in Tatum's shoes. How scary would it be to 1. not be able to see that well, 2. not be able to communicate when you need something or you're in pain, and 3. be in a whole new environment that you've never seen. And while I knew all these things, hearing them in that regards really kind of put it into perspective to me. It was going to take time for us to find our groove together, to get into a routine, and to learn one another. So don't be hard on yourself if you don't have motherhood down pat from day 1. It's going to take time, give yourself and your baby a little bit of grace.
Now I know this is not news to anyone. Everyone knows babies cry. However, I always thought I'd be able to comfort my child and be able to take away the tears. That's not always the case. Sometimes I went through the entire list: is she hungry, does she need a diaper change, is she hot or cold, and so on and she would still being crying. When that would happen, I would get so upset with myself. Some of the thoughts I had were: I am her mom and I can't even get her to stop crying, what's wrong with me; I must be doing something wrong, I'm not a good mom. But once I accepted that sometimes she's just going to cry and as long as I do everything I can to help her and comfort her, I'm being a good mom.
On top of trying to learn about your new baby, your hormones are going crazy the first couple of weeks after giving birth. I cried a lot from SO many different things in the first week or two. My nipples hurt so bad from breastfeeding (more on that below) that I would cry when it was time to feed Tatum and this immediately made me feel like a bad mom. Some of the thoughts I had were: why do I dread feeding my own baby; how do women do this for months, even years; how come breastfeeding comes so easily to some women; I'm in so much pain I don't think I can do this. I cried because I was in pain from giving birth (also more on that below) but with my stitches, I was so uncomfortable. Some of the thoughts I had were: will I ever feel normal again, gosh it hurts so bad to sit down let me stand; gosh it hurts so bad to stand I want to sit; am I supposed to be bleeding this much. I cried because I loved Tatum so much. I also cried one time because I thought Major looked sad... I mean I cried over everything.
A quick thing I wanted to mention about help. It is OKAY to ask for help. It is OKAY to accept help when it's offered. It's a little harder for us right now since our pediatrician has recommended that no one be around Tatum (or us) who has not quarantined. Thankfully, my parents were able to quarantine before she arrived and have been able to help us when we need it. My mom came over a few times during the first week to let Duke and me nap. She cooked us meals, she helped pick up the house, etc. As one of my friends said to me, "it takes a village" and it really does.
It will get better:
The thing I want to end on in regards to my emotional state after birth is stressing the fact that it WILL get better. It might take a few days, a few weeks, a few months, everyone is different but it will get better. Everyone's postpartum journey is going to be different. I remember thinking that first week: will this ever get better, will I ever get the hang of this, will I ever feel like myself again. And the answer to all of those is yes. The first week or two is when everything comes together at once and it can be a little overwhelming - you're trying to learn your baby, you're trying to heal, you're emotional, you're running on little sleep, everything is happening at the same time. But what I want to stress is that you are not the only one. I remember thinking what is wrong with me? And after talking to my mom friends who have gone through this, I soon discovered that all of them felt like this the first couple of weeks. So do not think there is anything wrong with you.
If you read my birth story, you know that going into labor I was going on a night of no sleep. I was up all Saturday night with contractions. Tatum wasn't born until 11:55pm on Sunday so I did not sleep at all on Sunday either. We were in the hospital for about 48 hours and in total we probably got 6ish hours of sleep. This experience is probably similar for a lot of moms as most labors are long and people are coming in and out of your room during your stay at the hospital - maybe it's a way of preparing you for the weeks and months ahead.
After the first week home with Tatum, Duke and I decided we'd start doing shifts so we could both maximize our sleep (we're able to do this since I'm pumping and he can feed Tatum too). This has helped us so much. It allows us to get about 5-6 hours of sleep a night which is a lot better than the 2-3 we were getting. If you aren't able to do shifts with your partner then sleep when the baby is sleeping! Everyone says that and if you aren't able to do shifts at night then I too suggest sleeping when the baby sleeps. I personally don't do that as 1. I'm an awful napper during the day and 2. I am a busy body who likes to get things done when Tatum is asleep. But, like I mentioned, Duke and I are both getting good sleep at night so I don't feel the need to nap during the day when she does.
Whatever you decide to do, getting enough sleep (or as much sleep as possible) is crucial to your mental state. The first week, running on little sleep made it so much harder: I had a headache and I sometimes felt like I couldn't think straight. Even if you plan to get things done while your baby is napping, if you're feeling rundown or tired it is okay to put those things off and catch up on some sleep. Just ensure baby is napping in a safe environment if they aren't going to be supervised during their naps.
Healing and postpartum supplies
DISCLAIMER: This is the part where I talk about stitches and blood soo if that grosses you out feel free to skip this section.
Whether you have a vaginal birth or a cesarean birth, your body goes through A LOT when you have a baby. I can't speak to cesarean births but I'll talk a little bit about my body and pain after my vaginal birth. I want to stress that it is so important to ensure you're taking care of yourself after giving birth. Your baby is going to require the majority of your attention but don't neglect your own healing in the process.
Modesty out the window:
Let me tell you, L&D nurses and mother/infant nurses need a raise. When you have a baby, any modesty you have will need to be put on hold. My mother/infant nurse had to clean up my bed after I bled through my pad, underwear and pajamas. The first time I got up to go to the bathroom I bled all over the floor. They had to regularly check my bleeding and stitches. So many things I never knew or I guess never thought through. But I would just have to remind myself that it was part of their job and they've seen it all.
Once we got home, Duke had to see things I'm sure he wishes he didn't. I had some trouble with my bleeding and blood clots so Duke would sometimes have to look at them for a second opinion - what a trooper. And even though it was surreal to me that at one point my husband was having to take care of me while I was wearing diapers, going through the whole labor and recovery process together has made us closer than we already were.
Blood, bowel movements, all the fun things:
I knew you bled after giving birth but I was not prepared for the amount of blood in the first day or two. Like I mentioned above, the first time I went to the bathroom the amount of blood was very alarming to me. The nurse reassured me that it was normal. Once we got home, the bleeding progressively lightened up however I was passing very large blood clots when I went to the bathroom. When leaving the hospital, they reiterated to call if I passed clots larger than a golf ball. Well that was kind of hard to tell because the clots don't come out in the shape of ball, it's more like a blob so it's hard to judge the size. Duke and I would look at each other and be like "well if you rolled it into a ball, it might be the size of golf ball??" I did end up calling my doctor on one occasion to talk through the clots I was passing and she calmed my nerves. If you ever have ANY concerns during your recovery - call your doctor. Do not think you will be bothering them or your question is dumb, they've heard every question in the book so call just to be safe.
The other thing I read about prior to giving birth is how painful it is to go to the bathroom afterwards. I was legit scared to have my first bowel movement after birth based on the things I had read and heard. Luckily, I never had any issues with it. It really wasn't painful for me and I was back to my regular schedule shortly after giving birth. I had even bought stool softeners based on several recommendations but ended up not using them at all. It's going to be different for everyone but since I had no trouble with that I can't really speak to it.
One thing I highly suggest is having a "postpartum station" in every bathroom that you use. For me, I had a basket of supplies in our downstairs powder room and in our master bathroom. That way I always had supplies available and didn't have to go upstairs every time I had to use the restroom. The three postpartum items I used the most are Depends Discreet Boutique diapers, heavy duty pads, and my Frida Mom Peri Bottle. I wore a pad on top of my depends so I didn't have to change my depends every single time. Other items I had that I used sometimes were Tuck's pads and Dermoplast spray although I did not use them every time I used the restroom. I also used ice packs while I was in the hospital and the first few days I was home. The hospital sends you home with a lot of supplies and if they don't, make sure you ask for some before you leave. The hospital also sent me home with a prescription for Motrin which I took for about the first 10 days and then I was able to switch to Advil.
This is a topic I don't want to get too into because everyone has to make their own choices about how they want to feed their baby. However, there are a couple things I didn't know about that I wanted to share. Before I get into that though I do just want to say that however you do decide to feed your child you're making the right choice. Whether it's breastfeeding, pumping, formula, or a combination as long as you're doing what's best for you and your family it's the right choice. I think there's way too much pressure on women and how they should feed their child. If you planned on breastfeeding and it doesn't work out for you, that's okay. If you planned on formula feeding and decide you want to try breastfeeding, that's okay. If you planned on exclusively pumping because that makes the most sense for your lifestyle/family, that's okay. Do what's best for you. Alright enough about that - here are the things I had no clue about:
Okay how come no one ever told me you have contractions when breastfeeding?! My first time breastfeeding Tatum in the hospital I had such a painful contraction and I didn't know what was happening. Some of the contractions I had while breastfeeding were more painful than when I was in labor. Thankfully, these contractions don't last forever I think mine started to subside after a few days of breastfeeding but just a heads up that they do happen.
A few days after I got home from the hospital, I woke up one morning feeling like I had been hit by a truck. I also felt really hot so I went downstairs to take my temperature and it turned out I had a low grade fever. Now having just gotten home from the hospital during a health pandemic I immediately started freaking out. However, it turned out that it was just a milk fever. When your milk comes in some women experience what's called a milk fever that can cause a low grade fever and body aches. It lasted for about a day and after that my fever subsided and I felt much better.
The thirst and hunger I felt the first few weeks of postpartum was crazy. I could not get enough water and I ate more than I did then when I was pregnant. Duke would seriously have to give me water while I was breastfeeding. When I switched to pumping I got a hands free pumping bra so I can drink and snack to my hearts desire (highly recommend a hands free pumping bra). Although I'm still pretty thirsty and hungry to this day, thankfully the intense thirst and hunger has calmed down.
Things that have helped me
There are a few things that I started doing that really helped my mental state during the first few weeks of postpartum that I'm still doing today. Now I do want to remind you to not push yourself too hard especially in the first week or so. Childbirth is hard, recovery is hard, and you really shouldn't do too much as you recover. This part was hard for me because I am always go, go, go but I really did take the first week or so to relax and not do much of anything. Once I started feeling better, I started adding in the things below to my daily routine and it has been really helpful. Everyone is different so I encourage you to find a few different activities that will help boost your morale, it really goes a long way. This is what worked for me:
Unfortunately Virginia is VERY hot and humid right now so we haven't been able to take as many family walks as I hoped. I don't want to get Tatum too hot so we've only been able to go on a handful of very early morning walks before it gets blazing hot. However, Duke has encouraged me to go on walks by myself some. This has been great being able to get some fresh air, listen to some music and clear my head. I can't wait until the weather cools down a little bit and we can get back to going on family walks together but in the meantime, getting outside by myself has been great.
Like I mentioned above, I am a very go, go, go type of person. I like feeling productive and I like having things to do. I have always been a big list maker but it has been especially helpful to make to-do lists for myself each day. Each night I make a to-do list for myself for the next day. Things like, do laundry, order groceries, empty dishwasher, clean up house, cook dinner, etc. If I don't get something done on my list (say Tatum doesn't nap very well that day, or I don't have enough time to complete everything), I don't stress it I will simply add that thing to my to-do list for the next day. It just helps keep me on track and not get sucked in to binge watching Friends all day. Plus at the end of the day I feel proud of the things I accomplished that day.
Changing out of PJs every morning:
Every night I set out an outfit to wear the next day. Now we don't really leave our house right now due to Covid so the majority of my outfits are athleisure or jeans and a T-shirt, but just the act of changing out of my PJs into a new outfit really gets me ready to take on the day. I found that when I stayed in my PJs I ended up laying around the majority of the day and not being as productive as I hoped.
This blog is something I have a passion for. I've always loved writing and being able to sit down at the computer and write (type) is something that relaxes me and something I really enjoy. Getting back into blogging and sharing things has really helped me. Duke is always very supportive and makes sure I have time to work on the blog during the week. It's also important to support your partner in things they enjoy. Duke loves playing his Nintendo Switch and so I make sure he has time during the week after work to do that. Find something you're passionate about or enjoy and try to allow yourself time each week to spend time doing it. It can be something as simple as watching an episode of your favorite TV show but find something that will give yourself a little bit of me time.
Well I think this is my longest blog to date. If you made it this far, thank you for sticking with me. Again, I hope you found some things in here helpful. I am sending all new mamas my love and encouragement during their first few weeks of motherhood. You got this and you are amazing!