I wanted desperately that the title of this post be “Thriving, not just Surviving Postpartum.” But the reality is, postpartum and how we adjust to it both mentally and physically depends on such a myriad of factors: Our support system, our birth experience, how we delivered (vaginally, c/section), our birth interventions, our baby and their health/gestational age/temperament, our coping mechanisms, our nutrition, the sleep we get, the support system we have surrounding us. You get the picture. I could go on forever.
My first postpartum experience with my son, Jake hit me LIKE A TON OF BRICKS. I had all the “new baby essentials” including the crib, (not to be slept in until probably month 4 of life), my one changing station (on the lower level of our two story condo), and my high chair, (gleefully set up in the center of our dining room ready to go, and not to be used for another 6 months). I was a certified lactation counselor and had been a labor nurse for about 5 years at the time. I knew newborns, I knew their behaviors, I knew birth and how to get through it, I knew breastfeeding basics. Or at least I thought I did.
The first part of my postpartum experience with Jake to rock my world was when I was unable to exclusively breastfeed him from day one. After a relatively uncomplicated vaginal birth, my full term (38.6 week gestational newborn) baby ended up jaundiced and needed to go under phototherapy and receive donor human milk supplementation by the time he was about 24 hours old, and for an additional 4 days beyond that. It felt like an eternity at the time.
We were separated, just around the 24 hour mark postpartum. Jake, in the newborn nursery with the kindest angels of nurses and physicians caring for him 24/7, and I, alone with my husband in my maternity room, attached to a breast pump religiously for 15-20 minutes, 8 times a day. My heart agonized as I longed to be close to him, nurse him, bond with him, and learn how to mother him. I struggled with the emotions of being a labor nurse at this hospital, and rationally understanding the medical necessity of our separation, while quietly and sometimes not so quietly bawling my eyes out to my husband over how robbed I felt of the ideal birth and bonding experience. I realized it then, and I’ll say it now: It took becoming a mother for me to fully understand the incredible frustration, sadness and sense of loss that parents experience when their baby is separated from them (and my own experience of separation was so very brief and uncomplicated when compared to NICU parents who deliver premature babies or have babies with complex medical concerns).
Adding to my emotional woes at the time, I had physical discomfort as well that I was just not prepared for. Despite trying not to complain about it to my colleagues, I had torn with a second-degree perineal laceration during my delivery, and I was in a considerable amount of pain. Ok, let me re-phrase…I felt like my vagina was hanging down by my knees for about two weeks postpartum. I used the all the common topical meds, took the Ibuprofen, iced and used sitz baths, religiously….and it still sucked for a lot longer than I expected.
On day 5 postpartum, Jake was finally discharged from the hospital. I couldn’t wait to bring him home. Finally, I would get my chance to privately learn more about this new little person, figure out our groove. It took would take time. I crashed mentally and physically within 24 hours of being home. Cluster feeding, lack of sleep, and near constant crying from Jake had me completely overwhelmed. In a delirium of tears on my 6th night postpartum, I called my mother in law and begged her to come over and stay with us. Without hesitation, she came through. She stayed with me that night, giving Jake to me to nurse and then took and cuddled him so I could sleep until the next 1.5-2 hour stretch went by and it was time to feed again. It was miraculous. Just having additional help that one night. It’s a gift she gave my family that I will never forget! Not to discount my husband. He had stood fast never leaving my side at the hospital for the entire 5 day stay and was completely shot too at this time.
After that 6th night, the weeks quickly passed by. Endless nursing, diaper changing, maxi pad changing, two-minute showers, meal train dinners, and snippets of sleep here and there. Days rolled into one another. I began to get nervous. Did I even like motherhood? Am I supposed to feel this way? What kind of an ungrateful mother am I for feeling resentful of this baby who has changed my world so much? In retrospect, I think it was the sleep deprivation that really rocked me. I couldn’t get past it. For me, this was the hardest part of postpartum because I felt like I was never doing anything with a full deck of mental capacity at play.
Thankfully, the postpartum fog I felt like I was digging my way through began to lift around week 6. Don’t get me wrong, I was still sleep deprived and still finding my parenting groove, but I began to feel somewhat more in tune with my own body and its unique needs, and still felt able to meet Jake’s needs. Jake granted me some more consistent sleep at night. I started to become myself again. Along with a strong network of family and friends, I partnered up with some caring and helpful moms in our local La Leche League, and here I began to find fellow local new moms to connect with. It was a God send to have others validate my newfound postpartum emotions and physical changes, and remind me that I wasn’t alone and that they too, had some of the same emotions I had experienced when they were newly postpartum.
It’s incredibly challenging to go through postpartum, and it’s so under discussed. For me, this time in my life was much more daunting of an experience than being pregnant or giving birth, especially with my first baby and not having any true frame of reference for what I was about to go through. Yet I’m grateful, because reflecting on these challenges enabled me to be much more prepared, present and patient with both the emotional and physiologic changes of postpartum with my second son two years ago. Hopefully, both experiences will help me to be ready to tackle the postpartum experience with even greater grace this coming fall, when our third baby arrives.
This is my unique postpartum experience. Your experience will be uniquely your own. But I hope that if you are going through these early days you know that you are not alone, you are not crazy, and help and support is available and waiting for you when you need it. I can prepare you up the wazoo with all the items to purchase that I think will be beneficial for you to have at home in those early days to ease your physical discomforts, but quite honestly sometimes it’s the emotional aspect that hits harder and is more difficult to figure out how to navigate.
I will post some postpartum resources below, but please always feel free to reach out to me via email or phone if I can be of further guidance to direct you to additional help.
Strong as a Mother’s Bi-weekly Pregnancy and 4th Trimester Support meetings – www.strongasamother.net – Live bi-weekly meetings via zoom for both pregnancy and postpartum support. Facilitated by Lauren Cascone, RNC-OB, CLC, CCE and Megan Hus, LPC.
Facebook group “Strong as a Mother Mamas” - Group is only accessible to expecting and recently delivered moms.
Megan Hus, LPC – Holistic Counseling Services, LLC - Offering counseling services as well as acupuncture services for a variety of conditions, currently via telehealth. http://www.holisticcounselingservices.org/
Elizabeth Veltrie – Here for you, Mama: Dance and Movement therapy (currently offered virtually) for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). https://www.elizabethveltrie.com/what-is-dancemovement-therapy
Kate Fillion Gibbe, LPC - Anchor Wellness, LLC – Offering counseling services via telehealth https://www.anchorwellnessllc.com/
Postpartum Support International: A variety of online weekly support groups for pregnant and postpartum parents, as well as guidance to local PSI certified healthcare professionals.
Terrah Mulligan – Bloom Postpartum Care – Offering postpartum doula services in Fairfield County - https://bloomppdoula.com/
Better Postpartum - Receive 8-weeks of professional postpartum support online,
with the Better Postpartum online program (various levels of packaging) http://betterpostpartum.com/