Thursday, August 11, 2011

Postpartum Recovery

I wrote this a few months after Cadence was born. It does speak frankly about childbirth, so if the topic makes you uncomfortable, skip this post please :)

I was well prepared for labor and delivery. No one tried to cushion the blow by telling me it wouldn’t hurt – they told me how much it would hurt, how tiring it would be, and then gave me tips on how to handle it. It was great. I was blessed with a really easy, short labor and delivery, and yes, it hurt, and yes, it was tiring, but at least I was prepared to handle it.

I was well prepared for breastfeeding. Veteran moms told me everything they knew from their own experiences. They warned me it might hurt the first little bit, encouraged me to hang in there, because if I could make it three weeks everything would be totally different. They taught me how to latch the baby on, how to get comfortable and settle in for the long haul. Yes, it hurt just a little at first, and yes, it was frustrating when she wouldn’t stay latched on, and yes, it was tiring to be feeding the baby seemingly all the time, but at least I was prepared to handle it.

Somehow, they neglected to tell me how hard recovery could be.

The first day was fine. I was still on a high from finally seeing my baby, and after the pain of childbirth, you don’t really notice all the ‘little’ aches and pains that come after. But once I got home, the story changed. All my muscles were sore from pushing, and I couldn’t go to the bathroom without crying because of the tearing and my episiotomy. Even with a pillow (or two, or three…) sitting was very painful. I thought – why did no one warn me about this? I dealt with the pain of labor because I had been prepared. I knew – this will hurt, I will make it through. I knew – I can do these things to help me cope, and these things to relieve the pain. I dealt with the challenges of early breastfeeding because I had been prepared. I knew – this might be tricky, but we’ll figure it out. I knew – I can do these things to ensure success and keep me from worrying. But this? The pain was all supposed to be over. Now I was supposed to only be dealing with lack of sleep and a crying baby, not these physical needs. And since I wasn’t warned, wasn’t prepared mentally, I didn’t deal with it well at all emotionally. I felt angry at my body, resentful that it still hurt, and I couldn’t comprehend that it would soon be over and okay again. I didn’t know what I could do to cope, and no one had told me about the things I could do to relieve the pain.

Of course, you keep going, you make it through, and everything is fine. Your body heals, and you feel like yourself again. You look back and think – that wasn’t all that bad. Thankfully, I have a loving, gentle husband. He took everything in stride, helped as much as possible, and didn’t get upset with my sour moods. He reassured me, took the baby when I was hurting, and did everything in his power to make me comfortable. I was also fortunate to have a very helpful family. People brought us dinner every night, went to the grocery store for us, and didn’t expect us to clean house before they came to visit.

After the first day, when it suddenly hit us that recovery was a process that took time, I started talking to the moms. I mentioned to my mom that it hurt to sit. She said “Oh, sit on your boppy.” Tony told his mother as discreetly as possible while she was visiting that I was having trouble in the bathroom. She suggested a few things to help, and then offered to go to the store and get them. I so appreciate all the help, and I’m so thankful people stepped in when I wasn’t prepared.

Next time though, I will know – and I will be ready!

Things that helped me survive the first few weeks postpartum:

Water Bottle - Staying hydrated is so important to keep you feeling well, but it’s hard to remember to drink in the midst of all the new-baby mania. Keep a water bottle everywhere – by your bed, wherever you sit to nurse, in the diaper bag, etc. Every time you sit down to nurse, drink some water.

Small Pillows - Small pillows are great for learning to nurse – you can shove them all around you, wherever your arms need extra help. If you are bottle feeding, they keep your arms from getting too tired.

Boppy - These are really nice – I wouldn’t consider them a total necessity since you can make do with pillows, but they really are the perfect size and shape for nursing, and if you are sore you can sit on them. To sit on one, turn it backwards so you are actually sitting on the opening – it relieves pressure on sore areas.

Rocker & Ottoman - You will need a chair where you can sit comfortably and prop your feet up. A recliner, a rocker, whatever you prefer.

Magazines -  I found out magazines are better than books the first few weeks. They stay open on their own so you don’t have to have any hands to read them, and the short articles are good for sleep deprived brains.

Snacks - Buy or prepare snacks that are ready to eat. High protein snacks will hold you over till your next meal, and high fiber snacks are good if you’re having bathroom troubles.

Tucks - These are witch-hazel medicated pads that you can wipe with to soothe a tear or episiotomy. They feel great!

Dermaplast - This comes in an aerosol can. You spray it on after you go to the bathroom and it provides instant relief for your tear or episiotomy. It feels cold, but that’s a good thing when you’re hurting.

Ice Pack Pads - If you give birth in a hospital, they will likely provide these. If not, ask for them! They perform like a regular pad, but as soon as you open them they get icy cold to reduce swelling and numb any pain.

Mesh Underwear - They look dumb – but they are comfortable. Again, they will give you these in the hospital, and you can take home extras – they wash well. Overcome your pride. It’s worth it.

Various Size Pads - It’s good to have a few really thick ones for the first few days, but I found I was more comfortable if I used the thinnest possible pad for my blood flow. Thankfully I had several thicknesses on hand, all the way down to liners, which was great for the very end.

Sitz / Tub Bath - I preferred to just take a bath, but some people like a sitz bath because you just flop it on the toilet and fill it up. The warm water increases circulation and therefore promotes healing, and it also just plain feels good.

Peri Bottle - Again, the hospital will send you home with this. I didn’t use mine much, but if it stings when you use the bathroom, you can squirt yourself while you go and it will keep you from feeling the sting so much.

Motrin - Generalized over-the-counter pain relief in the form of a pill that is safe even if you are breastfeeding. Check with your doctor though - they have new warning labels.

Stool Softener - You can get these over-the-counter also, and they are great if you have a tear or episiotomy. They won’t make you need to go, but they will make it easier when you do go. Again, check with your doctor.

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