Monday, April 11, 2022

The Fourth Trimester | What I Wish I'd Known

As I alluded to in our labor and delivery story, the postpartum part of our journey was nothing like I had imagined. Initially, I had planned on taking two weeks off work. Since I have a business, I don't get the perk of a twelve week, paid maternity leave. I felt like I could reasonably take two weeks off without work getting out of hand and, hopefully, have the time to recover from all the things I'd just gone through. Fortunately, I had the help of one of my best friends to at least carry out the absolutely necessary actions to keep cash flowing at least a little bit.

Breastfeeding would be challenging and painful...

So imagine my surprise when I came home feeling pretty out of sorts. The first night home, I slept in between trying my best at breastfeeding our little girl. Despite talking to a couple of lactation specialists at the hospital, it was never very pleasant (and by that I mean it hurt terribly). I did what I was supposed to, though; every couple of hours, I would breastfeed. No one told me it would be so hard to not really know or understand if she was getting what she needed.

I would be expected to leave the house within 48 hours of coming home...

Two days later we had to take the baby to her first pediatrician's appointment; something I never knew would be so draining. I was feeling pretty unwell and seemed to be in a constant cold sweat. That first appointment was quite long and involved which was just torture when I wasn't feeling great anyway. The nursing staff went to work weighing and measuring her. We had already known that she was jaundice and were told by the hospital staff it would go away after a few days. It didn't go away.

The doctor came in and expressed a serious concern about the baby's weight loss and jaundice. I was surprised that she had lost so much (knowing, of course, that babies do lose weight in their first few days and then gain the weight back as the milk comes in). He told me to start her on supplemental formula after she breastfeeds. I felt so disappointed. I didn't want to give my baby formula, but I also wanted to make sure she was getting enough. 

Then he proceeded to want to check her bilirubin levels because of her jaundice. This took a heel stick. Our baby seemed to have inherited my slow-flowing blood and they spent forever trying to milk her poor little heel for enough blood for the test. It was excruciating as she cried the whole time. The doctor told us if her bilirubin levels didn't look good enough, she would have to be readmitted to the hospital.

Her perfect, little foot before they had to stick it so many times!

Some medical professionals would make you feel like a terrible parent (and some would make you feel like the best parent)...

Needless to say, we left the pediatrician's office feeling like horrible parents. Not because of anything we'd done wrong, but because of the way the nurses and doctor made us feel about what was happening. My husband dropped the baby and I off at home (since I was feeling so terrible) and went to go retrieve the formula. Fortunately, before the baby was born I had researched what formula I would use if I had to, so I was prepared and didn't have to do much research in the moment. As he was out getting that, the pediatrician's office called back and said the bilirubin results weren't at the right levels and the doctor wanted to admit the baby back into the hospital to go under a special sort of light that would help her levels get back to normal. 

We would need to be readmitted to the hospital...

We had just gotten home two days ago. I felt like death warmed over and now we were being told to go back to the hospital. So we repacked our bags and headed back. They put our sweet little baby under the neon blue lights and I felt so helpless. We had to leave her there unless we were feeding her. That whole thing was torture. Here we had this sweet little baby that we could only hold for a short time every few hours. I tried my best to get some sleep in yet another hospital bed and we continued to try to make hospital food seem exciting. We did this the whole evening and the whole next day. Fortunately, the nursing staff at the hospital was fantastic and made us feel like we truly were the best parents. Given our experience at the pediatricians office, we needed that positive reinforcement. Finally the bilirubin levels came back normal and the doctor discharged us before we had to spend another night in the hospital.

Our sweet baby under the bili lights.

I would be so dependent on my husband...

That night I took a much-needed shower only to get a ridiculous cold chill while I was in there. I yelled for D to help me and he brought a heater into the bathroom to warm me up. I felt very much like I had the flu (which the nurse told me would happen). D was a hero, though, as he attended to all the baby's needs AND took care of me. After that shower, I zonked out on the couch after popping a couple Motrin. I feel like I spent the next couple of weeks sleepwalking. We managed to have our family over a few at a time to introduce them to the baby and I had some semi-normal days sprinkled in there. But mainly, I felt pretty bad.

My body would heal slowly (definitely not over night)...

I'm not really sure when I started feeling normal. I can say that exactly eight days after the baby was born, I got my taste for coffee back. It was the one of the few aversions I had during my pregnancy (which was weird because I love coffee). By the sixteenth day, I was back to work. I can't say I was very productive, but I was at least answering emails. I didn't want to be working, but I knew it was necessary to keep the business going. The most wonderful day, though, was Christmas Day. The three of us spent the day alone resting and opening gifts. I needed that day and probably felt my best just enjoying my favorite holiday with our new baby.

My reintroduction to coffee...

Snuggled in for our traditional viewing of "Serendipity" on Christmas Night.

There were still lingering issues months later...

Now I'm four months into postpartum. Technically by this point, the "fourth trimester" is supposedly over. Unfortunately, I still have lingering issues. In fact, I went and had some physical therapy to hopefully strengthen my core enough to be a little closer to normal. My abs had felt like I'd done a infinite number of crunches and my lower back is still aching to this day. Little by little, though, I am starting to feel more like myself. The fact that I don't remember most of those first couple of weeks at home, though, is surprising. I thought I would be so present and instead I was more like a zombie.

It gets better...

The clouds do eventually part, though. And then I had to get to work figuring out how to manage this new chapter of life I'd just walked into. By God's grace, we are getting adequate sleep (which I know is an absolute miracle) and are learning so many things about being parents. Sure, this little baby turned our whole lives upside down. But it was in the absolute best way possible.

I say all of that to say that I wish I would've planned a little better for how I would take care of myself once I got home. There are a lot of things I didn't know going into the postpartum journey. While I felt pretty well prepared in terms of things I needed and food, I wasn't at all prepared at how bad I would feel those first couple of weeks. 

What would I do differently? Expect the best and prepare for the worst. I do think next time I'll have a plan for extra help around the house. D ended up having to do a whole lot those first couple of weeks which wore him out. Things like making sure we were eating (yeah, we had the food but getting it from the kitchen to our stomachs was a challenge) and then cleaning up after we ate. Doing the everyday things like laundry, cleaning up the kitchen and taking out the trash was something we totally could've asked for help with. I eventually did end up asking for help picking some things up from the store, but only a week or two into it. Now I would probably have someone on standby to run to the pharmacy so D didn't have to. And, once Covid becomes a distant memory and more than one person is allowed at the hospital, I would probably like someone to come to the hospital the day we go home and pack my bags for me. Because, let me tell you, that was the hardest.

At the end of it all, it was a major learning experience. I learned that I might be a smidge weaker than I'd like to see myself and that labor and delivery can be a walk in the park compared to the discomfort that is felt after coming home. So glad we're on the other side of the postpartum journey!

What is the thing that surprised you the most postpartum?


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