17 October 2016

precious postpartum:
lessons learned and tips to remember

there is a segment written by a woman named felice austin in the book the gift of giving life (which i cannot recommend emphatically enough - i love it) that really struck me. it is about the postpartum period, which is typically defined as the six weeks, or roughly forty days, after childbirth. ms. austin points out that the number forty is a significant number when it comes to spans of time relating to transition and sanctification: god sent rain for forty days in the time of noah, moses was on the mountain for forty days, israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years,  jesus fasted for forty days before his ministry and spent forty days teaching his apostles after his ministry. this context makes it particularly interesting that, physiologically, pregnancy typically lasts around forty weeks and postpartum bleeding typically lasts around forty days. 

as i realized this connection and then reflected on the incredible transition my body, identity and spirit would experience directly after childbirth, i decided to treat my personal postpartum period as a spiritual practice. i chose to consider this time as truly sanctifying, as a really precious opportunity to not only rest and heal and bond, but to evolve and renew - like a juice cleanse or detox diet, but for the soul. 

i've found that there's a lot of unfortunate chatter around postpartum recovery ... this sort of unspoken but quite acute element of competition and pride or embarrassment around how long it takes a woman to "bounce back" or get out of the house or fit in her pre-pregnancy jeans or resume "normal" life. although i definitely found myself slipping into a mentality of comparing or rushing, i really tried to embrace slow progression and cherish the golden and unique (especially with a first child) forty days after moses was born. everything was new and a lot was challenging, but it was one of the most beautiful chapters of my life thus far. and in a lot of ways, i truly felt sanctified.    

{i recognize that i am extremely privileged to have had the luxury of genuine rest and positivity during my postpartum period. my baby and i, though healing, were overall very healthy; i didn't have to worry about urgently returning to work; i was lucky to avoid the crippling, sometimes unpreventable depression that many new moms struggle with; i had a ton of support from my husband, my mom and others. i definitely acknowledge that this is not the norm for all women, and i am really grateful.}

i learned a lot in those forty days - things that i want to remember for next time, and also that i want to share in case they are helpful for anyone else out there. i'm certainly no expert on this stuff as a brand new first time mom, but for what it's worth, here's the notes i took (while it was all fresh in my mind!) about things i wish i'd known or was glad i knew postpartum. 



{i asked ian to snap these photos of me and moses in the regent's park rose garden when i was two weeks into my postpartum period. i see myself in these pictures and feel that i really don't look my best. but i look really, really happy, and i am really proud of what my body did in creating and birthing a baby.}

first of all - every mom and every baby is different.
there are so many questions that surface for a new, first time mom. it's natural to yearn to do things "right," to want to make sure you and your baby are "normal," to not make any big mistakes! but the reality is, i've found, that there's actually no right way to do the vast majority of things with a new baby. it is so so awesome to be able to google a symptom or issue and instantly get some insight, but it is also very likely that two different reputable websites will give totally conflicting, even completely opposite advice. my prenatal class instructor said this, but my doula advised that; my mom mentioned that this worked with some of her babies, but my sister swears by that
the bottom line is that there are very few hard and fast "rules," and you are the expert on your baby (and your self). i've realized that the best route in finding answers to questions as a new mom is to: pray, study and gather information as much as feels right from different sources, and then listen to and trust your intuition
i also think it's really important to recognize that comparing yourself to other new moms, or your baby to other new babies, is pretty fruitless and can easily be damaging. (of course it's good to make sure your baby is exhibiting generally "normal" growth and development, but worrying that your baby isn't sleeping through the night as much, or doesn't respond to certain soothing techniques, or is more fussy or bald than the next baby is a usually waste of energy that you need for healing and learning!) every mom and every baby is different and different things work for different families. don't compare. you'll find your groove as you follow your heart (that sounds super cheesy, but it's true!). 

enjoy
while the postpartum period can be full to overflowing with challenges and sleeplessness and unpleasant bodily fluids and crying and questions, i really believe that we can be powerfully buoyed up when we relish the good. a sleepy smile, a tiny coo, a squishy snuggle can go a long way to smooth over ache. it really is true what everyone says - that it goes by so quickly. your baby will change every single day, and so will you!, so be slow and calm, and soak it all in. 
although i had a quite traumatic birth experience, i was super blessed to feel relatively quite good and strong in the days and weeks after delivery. but i remembered my sister, who felt similarly well pretty quickly, telling me that she regretted any rush into getting out and about and filling her life up in the weeks immediately following the births of her children. "who cares if you feel great?!" she said. "slow down and cherish every second you have with that tiny baby just the way he/she is." my sister-in-law put it another way - "this is (hopefully!) the only time in your life when people will praise you for getting out of bed and brushing your hair and taking a walk, and when people will cook you food and adjust your pillows tell you repeatedly that you're awesome and that you made something really, really cute. so just enjoy it!"
indeed, postpartum time is so fleeting ... and also can become quite hazy. so write things down. i have a list on the notes app on my phone that i started on the day moses was born. i titled it "remember." any time i have any precious, funny, surprising or beautiful moment or experience with moses, i quickly jot it down on that list. sometimes i think, "oh, i'll remember to write that down later," but i don't - i have to do it right away. and now i have a treasure trove of memories that i am sorting into my journal, the journal i keep for moses, and this blog. i'm so so glad i have this stuff recorded because it's too hard to retain in my brain in the midst of this huge transition and all the love and care i'm trying to provide.
one thing that can be hard to embrace and enjoy during the postpartum period is your own body. i decided before i gave birth (and before i got pregnant really), to actively love my body for the miracle it performed in creating and birthing a human. i definitely had to very often remind myself of this mentality when looking at and living in my body soon after giving birth. but, even now, whenever i feel discouraged or uncomfortable in my own skin, i quickly remind myself of the incredible work my flesh has done and i am grateful. my body is fundamentally different now, and that's okay. actually, that's not just okay - that's amazing and beautiful.

breastfeeding can be really, really hard
before moses was born, i was pretty nervous about breastfeeding. i had heard that it can be really difficult for some women and babies. after the breastfeeding session of our prenatal course, i felt like i knew what i needed to know and as long as i applied that knowledge, things would be easy, natural and pain-free. 
yeah...no. 
breastfeeding was so so hard for moses and i in the first few weeks (it really didn't become easy and pain-free until moses was about two months old). the whole experience was harder for me than labor and delivery. soooo, i'm kind of intense about and really want to share and remember these bits below...)
do everything you possibly can to master a really good latch as soon as possible after your baby is born. be absolutely relentless about it - if you're not sure if your baby is latched on appropriately, continually ask for help in the hospital until you are absolutely positive that you're off to a good start. do all you can right away to avoid your baby developing habits of suckling that will be hard to break. then, if you are struggling with breastfeeding after returning home, get help fast. it's worth pretty much any time/energy/money to work with a lactation specialist. also, breastfeeding support groups are really wonderful. 
even if your latch is perfect and your baby is feeding well, it's probable that you'll have at least some soreness in your nipples. there's lots of different creams you can use, but the thing that provided me the most relief was definitely hydrogel pads - they were my saving grace. 
you're likely going to spend a lot of time breastfeeding in your forty postpartum days (and beyond!). like seven hours + every day with sometimes only about an hour in between feedings! my sister-in-law gave me the great advice to just embrace that you're going to be sitting feeding a baby from your body for most of your day - just accept it and be the boob! it's hard to be immobile for so many significant chunks of time a day, but see the positives - it forces you to slow down and enjoy your baby and gives ample opportunity to meditate, pray, bond, read, have a good conversation, etc. {as a side note, i cannot wrap my head around how people have a newborn + other kids. i'll find out through experience and survival soon enough, but really, that amazes me!} 
i also found that recognizing the miracle of breastfeeding helped me get through the tough stuff. i constantly reminded myself how truly incredible it is that my body creates perfect food specifically for my baby. the more i learned about breastfeeding, the more in awe i was by how my body regulates supply according to demand and constantly adjusts to formulate the right mix of nutrients and hormones. it's seriously so cool. 
when i was struggling with breastfeeding, people kept telling me, "it gets better! it gets better." ... and i was like, "yeah, okay, whatever." i couldn't imagine my cracks being healed and not experiencing pain whenever moses latched on. but you know what?! they were all right. it really does get better. my sister told me that by three weeks it wouldn't hurt, and my mom told me that by a month it would be alright, and my friend told me that by six weeks she wasn't in pain anymore. for me, it took longer. and that's okay ... because it did get so much better. and now it's easy, pain free and wonderful. so be patient. get help, work at it, take care of yourself and your baby, don't feel guilty about the situation or bad about yourself, and just be patient. it will get better. 


take care of yourself
the truth about postpartum recovery is that, physically, it is often pretty gory and gross. i am really grateful that i had sisters and friends that were real with me about all the unpleasantries. of course every one's recovery is different, but generally there's a lot of bodily fluids to deal with, basically everything hurts for a while, your internal organs are kind of mixed up, aaaaaand to top it off you're not getting many (any?) long stretches of sleep. you just pushed a complete human out of your body (or had a major surgery) ... so be gentle with yourself. do all you can to promote healing and rest, focus on your physical wellbeing over other things that often take up your energy, and ask for and accept help.
a few things that really helped me: 1) water, fiber and walks to get digestion sorted out again. drink (a lot) more water than you think you need to, eat real, fibrous foods, and get your body moving at least a bit as much as possible. 2) padsicles. a blog reader/commenter actually introduced me to these and they! were! so! awesome! for me! i can't even express how much relief and joy those things brought me. i made about fifty of them before moses was born and i loved every single one, every single day, and i really believe they helped promote healing. 3) pelvic floor exercises. i was pretty determined to promote good healing for my "down-there" stitches, so i was diligent in doing kegels. (if you don't know what that is, you can look it up - strengthening your pelvic floor is so important ... not just in postpartum recovery.) 4) sleep! take advantage of any opportunity to get some rest (usually when your baby is sleeping). seriously. make yourself do it. you need every bit of rest you can get. caveat: sometimes it's good to just stare at your sleeping baby (rather than sleep) while he/she is sleeping. because you'll want to. and it's just the sweetest
but of course necessary postpartum care is definitely not just physical. the significant changes to your body are only one part of how giving birth radically changes your life. when i was pregnant with moses, i prayed about my upcoming life with a new baby and felt inspired to make a list of ten things i should make sure to do each day after he was born. consistently doing these things, what i called my "everydays", was tremendously beneficial for my emotional, spiritual, social and mental wellbeing. i really believe that consistently following through on these simple daily goals helped me avoid postpartum depression and find a lot of joy and peace in new motherhood. i think everyone's postpartum "everydays" should be different, but for what it's worth, here were my ten (which i'm still in the habit of doing daily): pray / read the scriptures / go outside / enjoy some form of physical exercise / shower and groom / talk with a friend or family member / spend quality time with husband / fifteen minutes of dedicated meditation / kegels / complete at least two tasks (from my to-do list).
i also think it's important, complimentary to taking things slow and soaking it all in, to do some things that scare you. when moses was brand new, i couldn't imagine eating out in a restaurant with him, or spending more than a few hours out and about with him, or taking him on a road trip. and i think it would have taken me quite a long while to get over my trepidation if i wasn't essentially forced to. (while ian was in the states for his sister's wedding, three-week-old moses and i spent a few days with some family friends, who brought us along on lots of fun summer outings.) i was so glad i was challenged, quite early on, to do some things with a new baby that scared me. that quickly got me over my hump of anxiety and really empowered me to find adventure and productivity - and therefore joy and wellbeing! - as a new mom. ease into it a bit, but be proactively brave! you will probably be a hot mess with a screaming, messy baby sometimes, but far more often you will be able to really enjoy adventures with baby along for the ride.

take care of your baby
looking back at my postpartum experience, i think some of the very best advice i got was to treat the first three months of a baby's life as a sort of fourth trimester of pregnancy. an article (that a blog reader gave me a heads up on!) recently published on the huffington post explains some context of this concept: "there are theories that due to our large head size human babies are born prematurely development wise, else they would be too large to be born naturally ... babies could really do with another three months gestation. understanding this and treating newborns as if they were still ‘in utero’ for their first three months of life can make life much easier for new families." it totally makes sense to me - certainly tiny babies shouldn't be expected to instantly adapt in their enormous transition from "womb to world"! i've tried over the past three months to simulate the womb as much as possible for moses. this has definitely helped me effectively soothe him when he has been fussy, and i really believe this has helped him more broadly to be a fairly content baby and slowly ease into life inside his new body. realizing that as a newborn he wasn't entirely developmentally ready to take on the world has helped me to be patient with him, and to be calm, and to let go of control and roll with his needs. i've been amazed actually by how laid back i have been as a parent, and i think for us personally that has really helped us have peace and happiness in a crazy huge life transition. 
after all my reading about pregnancy and childbirth, i haven't read a single book about parenting a newborn (oops!). but i did skim through parts a book called the happiest baby on the block, and i loved what i read! the happiest baby on the block is essentially based on the idea of the fourth trimester, and it gives concrete suggestions on how to simulate the womb to soothe your baby. the author suggests remembering "five s's" that will help calm an upset newborn. the five s's are: swaddling, [positioning baby on his/her] side (or stomach), shhhhhing, swinging, and sucking. i've used these methods countless times with moses as i've figured out what variety of these works best for him
there was a few days when moses was extremely fussy, and there seemed to be nothing i could do to pacify him! on about the third day of inconsolable crying (it was the worst!), moses all of a sudden let out a gigantic burp and then flashed an unmistakable look of pure rapture relief! and i realized that he just needed help passing gas (one way or another!). this was a breakthrough for my frazzled, sleep deprived brain ... and just realizing that that is what was bothering him helped me so much. so ... just be aware: gas can really bother babies.
don't stress about your baby sleeping. i am so so glad my sister emphatically gave me this advice while i was pregnant. letting go of control over sleeping has been a huge boon to my life postpartum. at least for the first few months, just don't worry about a schedule and recognize that sleeping will probably be unpredictable and likely hard. one night you may get a seven hour (!!!) stretch, but don't get your hopes up for the next night; one night may be a total nightmare with hourly feedings, but don't stress too much that the next night will be awful too. there's just really not much you can do that will definitively help your baby sleep longer. so just be grateful for what sleep you do get, and for the precious quiet time you get in the wee hours with your baby!, and roll with it. 
there is one thing that we have tried to do consistently that i do believe has helped our baby sleep pretty well at night. since the very first day of moses's life we have been careful to make his days and nights markedly different. in the mornings and through to the afternoons we keep the flat well lit (even during naps), we are super cheerful and comparatively loud in our interactions with him, and we take him out and about in the city. in the evenings we dim all the lights and talk very quietly. except for the jet-laggy days around our trip to the states, it has been very clear to moses all his life that nighttime is for sleeping! 
especially because we don't have a stroller (yet!), but for a myriad of other reasons too, we are big advocates of baby wearing. putting moses in one of our several baby carriers (i'll do a post soon reviewing and recommending different types!) is one of the very best ways we've found to soothe him, and some of his very best naps have been when he's strapped to one of us! there's something super special and bonding about baby wearing, and having my hands free when moses reeeaaaallly just wants to be held has is amazing for my productivity and my sanity! 
two last random tidbits: 1) i use the app glow baby to keep track of feedings (and also used it to keep track of diaper changes in the beginning) and it is super useful - i love just being able to quickly see how long it has been since the last feed and track patterns. and 2) breastmilk cures all! our health visitor told me to put a little breastmilk on some scratches moses got on his face (those darn, sharp newborn fingernails!). the next morning the scratches were totally gone! later, she also told me to put some breastmilk in baby's eye when he had a blocked tear duct. when i did that consistently for a few days, the goopiness that had persisted in his left eye for many weeks totally disappeared! so now i put breastmilk on anything - baby acne, scratches, rashes, etc - and it works every time. seriously, that stuff is incredible. (it also helped heal my cracked nipples!) 



ooookay, this post got really long (and is quite rambly and disjoined ... and took me a week to write!) -- but i am glad to have this all written down to come back to, and i hope some bit of it is helpful to some mom-to-be or new mom out there!

i am so very happy to be a mother, so very blessed to have been able to conceive, grow, birth and nurture a tiny baby.

17 comments :

  1. What a wonderful post. So many wonderful ideas for new moms. Saving this for my sweet daughters for when they become mothers. Thank you Charity.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love your post. I had my second just weeks prior to your sweet Moses being born. Breastfeeding was so HARD with my first, but I did it for 10 months. I took a class prior to my second, crossing my fingers that it would go better this time. It wasn't, I remember one night 6 weeks in crying to my husband about not being about to do it and how I deeply longed for that bond (and the future convenience). He offered a sweet prayer with me and we are successfully feeding now. I appreciate your insight on the topic and fully agree with everything you say.

    Oh and in those early days my two year old unfortunately watched a good amount of Netflix and when I started to feel really guilty about not being able to mother both adequately, I'd get on Amazon and order new toys. Not sure it was the best approach but we survived with little family close to help out.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow! you've put a lot of thought love, struggle, and prayer into this! I'd like to add that things like nursing and the shock of a postpartum body are much harder the first time around. It gets easier each time.

    That said, I would encourage you to really think carefully about the spacing your babies. I am very close to two different families who had their babies 16-17 months apart and I can tell you it's a huge struggle. The result is feeling very isolated and overwhelmed trying to meet the needs to two babies at very different stages. I have also noticed that having children close together puts a huge strain on marriages. I know spacing children is an intensely personal decisions with a lot of different factors. But seriously, after seeing so many versions I recommend 28+ months in between for the sake of your marriage and sanity

    ReplyDelete
  4. I love this post. I'm gearing up for round 3 of postpartum and I love your thoughts. The very best thing I've found from being a mom is that it's great to gather information and ideas (I especially love gathering ideas from other moms) and then doing what feels right for your baby and family. Every baby and mom is so different- and that's okay!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great post! I love the "everydays" - I'm starting this NOW, no pregnancy or postpartum in sight! Great idea. More adorable photos is never a bad thing either :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. That is a really beautiful thought about the 40 day sanctification period (and how 40 is a significant number in history). I read the comment about the spacing of children- I come from a family where I'm 18 months from both sisters on either side of me. It has been awesome. We have always been best friends. My 3 children are 20 months apart and 17 months apart. It was great for me as a mother. I never regretted it. The kids love it too. I believe the timing of children is extremely personal and sacred. This is a wonderful post.
    Lisa in Seattle WA

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oh, this post takes me back! I'm so glad you were able to really cherish the postpartum period. My sixth will be three weeks old tomorrow and as soon as I was home from the hospital it was right back into the roller coaster chaos. ;-) But fortunately the physical healing goes a lot faster with subsequent babies--after my first was born I literally couldn't walk for two weeks and with this baby I'm running a half-marathon on Saturday. Thanks for the beautiful reminder to enjoy the quiet nighttime hours with my baby since the daytime ones are crazy. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Love your thoughts. A great reminder as I am about to have #5, with 3 under the age of 4!! I love being a mom! I sure wish I had the same view of motherhood when I had my first that I do now. I promise, it gets easier...or different anyway (ha!), I'm busier than ever. Not quite as life changing though, and it is easier now not to compare to other moms. I know I got this, and it will be hard, and I will be brought to tears from exhaustion, and it goes by so fast! Living this dream of mine is a whole lot of hard work and sacrifice, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

    ReplyDelete
  9. You look beautiful in these pictures, not just really, really happy!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Great thoughts. I probably would have benefited from having my baby after you rather than five months before. Ah well, there's always the second one m (God-willing).

    ReplyDelete
  11. I loved reading this! So well thought out and articulate.
    I often talk to my husband about your "eyre" family. Such great people doing so much good in the world. We have five children (my youngest is 4 months) and I'm telling ya - it's the best. They teach us constantly and it's the best school of learning I could ask for.
    Thank you for being such a good influence - and for never responding defended or prideful when people say unkind things. Maybe alberta canada could be a place you call home soon?! I would be a great neighbour. Ha!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Good for you to make some conscious choices and decision during this time. I had post-partem depression after my first child, but didn't even know it until it stopped suddenly one year later. As I look back, I probably had/have some PTSD from it. A lot of the healing for this has come with the lens that I view it through. On my second child, when I was freaking out about sleep and counting the hours, my Mom encouraged me to not count the hours at all. Even though it didn't help me get more or less sleep, it reduced the anxiety to just let my worry go about that aspect! (Again, making conscious choices about how you are going to view your experiences.) Another thought: I read a ton of books for child #1 to try and figure out what to do with babies and how to make my experience better. Much of it was helpful, but my thoughts often weren't. I had to keep telling myself that there wasn't a video camera in my house recording my efforts to apply the techniques that would be sent to the author for their critique of my performance as a mother. Obviously you choose to be public, so perhaps you do feel the pressure of the performance review (!) but I am so glad to see you giving yourself permission to vary from what others might say, to be conscious of your experience, emotions, and to act on that and what you observe from your baby. Best wishes.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Other then your parents awesome books! I have really love janet lansbury's book. She promotes rie parenting! I also really love the child whisperer by Carol Tuttle!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I loved reading your thoughts and how great to have this for the future. A piece of advice I loved right after having my 4th from a lactation specialist "remember this baby has never nursed", when others just said we've heard you've done this before. That made me feel so much better because nursing is always a huge struggle and painful for me for a few months. Nursing with other little children becomes quite the juggling act at times, but it all works out.

    ReplyDelete
  15. This was a timely post for me to read as I am currently still in the hospital after delivering my son yesterday. This is my 5th baby and I LOVED your insights! Thank you for sharing your experience (so far) as a new Mom. That Baby Moses is in good hands:)

    ReplyDelete
  16. I have bled for 6 weeks postpartum with each of my 3 children. I hated it! And could not find the joy in it. I breastfed every 2-4 hours during the day and still it went on that long!

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...