Today the average age a woman gives birth to her first child is twenty-six years old. Which means that I fit right into that average. On February 15th of 2016, I gave birth to my first baby – a 9 pound 4 ounce son whom my husband and I named Reece Wayne. He was precious, chubby and had an impeccable appetite.
Within a year of Reece’s birth, both before and after, nearly my entire groups of friends and acquaintances have also had their first child. Because of this, I’ve been given the challenging opportunity to listen and work on understanding my own postpartum experience, and the experiences of the new mothers around me.
Now over 12 months postpartum, I feel that I can reflect back on the experience and say that all in all, my postpartum experience was filled with grace, patience, healing and flexibility. What does that mean? Well, I can safely say that I would wish my own experience upon other mothers… and that’s why I feel compelled to share three reasons why I think I healed so well:
1) I was realistic and well prepared for, not just birth, but postpartum:
Hiring a Doula is still something that not every woman does for herself, but I encourage every single one of you to not just consider hiring one – but making the investment to do it. In my case, I hired a Prenatal Doula and Postpartum Doula. We did not hire a Birth Doula, though I do wish we had.
From my seventh week of pregnancy, I had a Doula to encourage, educate and personally share in my trials and triumphs of pregnancy. She was an email away when I had questions or concerns – sharing every option with me and never failing to tell me that I, and my baby, were going to be okay.
The things that she offered to me through the birth of my son were invaluable – though one thing that she taught me sticks out above all others: Be prepared for postpartum. So I prepared. And no, that doesn’t mean I obsessed over getting the nursery finished early or had three months worth of diapers stocked (but yes, I still did those things!) In fact, the majority of my preparation was for my own mental and physical health.
I planned to specifically allow myself to not wear makeup. I told myself that I would not push myself to do my hair – let alone shower or shave. I told myself that I would stay hydrated and that I would sleep as much as possible and for as long as I needed to. I would eat when I was hungry and embrace my postpartum body with loving arms. I would applaud my efforts and work to give birth no matter the outcome.
I would move slowly. I would accept help. I would not succumb to “what a modern mother should do.”
2) I encapsulated my placenta
Since giving birth I have told first time mothers I know that the $100ish I invested to encapsulate my placenta were the best dollars I spent through the postpartum period. I know, it sounds bizarre and counterintuitive. However, after listening to my Doula’s recommendations, I hired a Doula to come pick up my placenta from the hospital and dehydrate and encapsulate it in her home.
There was no mess, no husband squirming at the site of it in my freezer – and it arrived in the mail less than two weeks later (about the time recommended to begin taking them.) It’s said that by taking these “placenta pills” as you move through postpartum, you are returning many of the hormones back to your body that you lost at birth when your placenta came out with baby.
This helps counter the dramatic decrease in pregnancy hormones – creating a slower, more gradual decrease. Women share stories of comparison that the difference between their first and second child were unbelievable – all because they encapsulated their placenta.
Now, I don’t have two babies, so I do not have a postpartum experience to compare to. But what I will say is that there were days I forgot my placenta pill – and even my husband noticed the difference. I could tell a strong uptick in my anxiety, stress and tendency to feel sad about situations that I normally wouldn’t.
Say what you will about how disgusting it sounds, but I will leave you with this: the majority of female mammals consume their own placenta after giving birth.
3) I took it slow for the first six weeks. Like, really slow.
Ask anyone who knows me well and they will tell you how passionate and excited I was to give birth naturally. Ask anyone who knows me well and they will tell you that my birth didn’t turn out to be natural at all. High blood pressure at 38 weeks, bed rest and an induced labor when my body wasn’t ready in the least resulted in a cesarean section after 67 hours of attempted labor.
Some could say because of this major surgery, I was forced to take it slow in the first several weeks – but I don’t care who you are, being nearly sedentary for six weeks is hard. Like, really hard.
But again, I had prepared for this. And what that meant was that I slept. A lot. Most days I wasn’t out of bed until at least Noon. I still remember one day that my husband came home from work, and Reece and I had only left our bedroom to pee and eat. I had visitors come by and I enjoyed their company while in a robe. Or in my pajamas. And sometimes, I simply poked my head out of our bedroom and said “Hi!” before going back to my bed.
No, I wasn’t depressed or sad – I was healing!
I remember the first walk I took around 8 weeks postpartum. After being a half-marathon runner, this first walk was brutal. It took me nearly an hour to walk a mile and a half. But I was patient with myself. I gave myself grace. I went home and didn’t clean the house… I sat down and nursed my baby and myself to sleep.
Although I am still a first time mother, I feel that these three recommendations can be applied to any mother – with any number of children who plan on having another. To my fellow sisters: Our bodies are precious. They are strong and miraculous. As women we were created to do something so sacred, beautiful and meaningful: our bodies are created to grow another human life.
It doesn’t come without work, both physically and mentally – and for that reason I encourage you to respect your child, your partner and your family by giving yourself time, rest and patience so that you can heal.
What things helped you through the first 90 days of postpartum?
Before You Read: There are just a few things I want to share. I started writing this birth story in April of 2016. Two months after giving birth. It took my until today - my sons first Birthday, to finish it. As you read - know that this is a deep part of my heart. That this was therapeutic writing that took nearly a year to complete. Some days I would write paragraphs. Sometimes I would write one sentence... or just a word. But through the months of writing this, I was healing from an experience that challenged me on not only a physical level, but an emotional and spiritual level, too. Through writing the following words, I learned the following three things:
Alright - that's all I have. If you make it through this mile long blog post, I hope it inspires or informs you in some way!
Pregnancy was a breeze.
Or at least that’s what I thought during the first two trimesters. An avid runner, my goal was to finish the half marathon I had been training for at 19 weeks pregnant. I continued to train and lead a pace group with my running team, and learned how to mentally block out the fact that with every step I took it felt like I was going to suddenly pee myself.
I finished the half marathon faster than I had the previous year, was cheered on by some of my favorite family members, and then embraced the fact that my groin muscles had just gone through some extreme work.
This was about the most difficult thing I had to deal with through those later weeks – that is, until the gestational diabetes test at 26 weeks pregnant.
The test is controversial in itself and I, for one, was incredibly against it. However, I had also chosen an OB/Gyn who insisted I take it. I failed miserably.
Off I was to the nutritionist – hormonal and furious. Furious that I had to be put through the humiliation of being considered an “unhealthy” pregnant woman. Being healthy was my number one priority while carrying my little boy. I wasn’t unhealthy!
Yet, I was swept through the processes of being told how to read a nutrition label, how to plan my meals and what I should avoid. I was visibly offended. Was I right to be? No. But my desire to do what’s best for my baby, and then being told that I likely wasn’t – well… you just don’t do that to a soon-to-be Momma.
I watched my blood sugar levels religiously. I planned my meals meticulously. I was doing great. My doctor told me that he wasn’t worried about me a bit… but that my baby boy was still measuring big.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, I was meeting with several different doctors within the practice – one of which was a certified midwife that they had on staff. She's not allowed to deliver babies (what?) but was able to care for pregnant patients. She was always encouraging, but did let me know that she worried about Baby Boy’s size. My number one fear was being forced into a cesarean section – and this didn’t help my belief that I could advocate for myself against one.
At 38 weeks, I went in for my weekly checkup. The nurse took my blood pressure, and with a concerned look, took it again. Then again. I asked what was wrong, and she told me that it was very high, and that she wanted to have another nurse come in to double check my results.
After the second nurse had taken my results, she quickly asked that I lay on my left side so that we could get my blood pressure down. When I asked why, she let me know that it was abnormally high, and that they needed it down to protect me and baby.
She left the room, and I instantly called my husband. No answer. Why hadn’t I made him come to these later appointments? Frustrated and stressed, I waited for the midwife to come into the room.
When the midwife came in, she had an apologetic look on her face. She knew how desperately I wanted a natural birth, and she knew how much it meant to me. After checking my cervix (which was, again – very tightly shut… baby boy had no desire to arrive anytime soon.) she let me know that they would need to do a urinalysis (24 hour urine test) to check for protein in my urine.
Essentially, what they were afraid of is that I had signs of preeclampsia, where a mother can start seizing, blocking the oxygen supply of the baby within her. Because I wasn’t yet 39 weeks, she let me know that she and the other doctors would likely put me on bed rest, and if I hadn’t gone into labor by 39 weeks, I would be induced.
You could have simply told me I was scheduled for a C-section at that point.
In my mind, induction and cesarean section were one in the same. I held myself together through the rest of the office visit, blood work and waited for my husband to arrive. He walked me to my car and hopped into the passenger seat beside me. As soon as the car door shut I burst into tears. Bed rest and induction = Cesarean. I wasn’t dilated. Baby boy wasn’t ready.
I was, inevitably, put on bed rest for the week. However, during those following six days before my scheduled induction, you couldn’t have met a more motivated woman on bed rest. I did slow yoga, ate more dates than is probably healthy and consumed gallons of raspberry leaf tea. I prayed, prayed and prayed some more that God would put me into labor.
Friday morning came, and there was no sign of Baby Boy seeking a way out. As we drove to the hospital, I continued to pray. I prayed for strength, I prayed that things would go smoothly, and I prayed that I could have a natural birth.
But I was also scared.
Scared of the doctors, Pitocin, the artificialized labor pain, a failed induction, a cesarean.
I did all I could to try and calm myself. I wore my own labor clothes, brought almonds to snack on, consumed liter upon liter of labor tea, diffused peppermint and lavender oil. I bounced on the labor ball, walked circles through the hospital wing, tried to zone out and watch yet another episode of “New Girl.”
After three rounds of Citotec and over 24 hours later, I had dilated to a whopping half centimeter. “Your cervix is very soft!” The nurses said, “That’s something!”
About 30 hours in, they started the Pitocin drip. Now, the way that Pitocin works is in a series of “levels.” (Amateur talk, I know...) You start at “Level 1” and the highest level that you can legally go to is 20. You're only able to increase a level each half hour. I began having regular contractions. My stomach hardened and would get soft.
I got up and rolled my hips while sitting on an exercise ball... again. I bounced up and down... again. My husband and I walked through the halls... again. Night time came and we decided it was probably time to rest. There weren't any signs of labor. Suddenly, around midnight I woke up with the urge to use the bathroom. Despite a wicked stomach ache, I hoped it was a sign that labor was coming and that my body might be responding to the contractions.
As soon as I laid back in bed the Pitocin pangs began to kick in. The contractions lengthened and I began to breathe heavily, waking up my husband to tell him something was happening. Exhausted, yet like a Saint, he pressed on my lower back through each contraction. (Have I mentioned how unbelievably wonderful counter-pressure is??)
The nurse came in to check on us and asked me to really think about how ready I was to embrace this pain. She told me that it would continue to increase, and that I should be really prepared with coping mechanisms if I chose to proceed without medication.
I will admit, in those moments I was afraid. It would get worse than this? I was already feeling like I wanted to vomit, and I assumed that this only happened during transition!
(Side note: Pitocin induced contractions tend to "feel" much stronger and more intense than our bodies natural contractions. This is because when a medicine causes contractions, our brain does not naturally respond with the natural pain relief of oxytocin. The chemical hormone does not signal our bodies to release it the way that our natural hormones do during labor. Many women give birth naturally while on Pitocin, it's simply a choice and what works best for you as a mother.)
About an hour went by, and the nurse came into the room again. She shared that because I had been on Pitocin now for just over eight hours, that she would really like to stop the drip so that in the case that I did give birth in the near future, that I wouldn't hemorrhage due to being on the medication for so long. I gladly obliged.
The contractions continued, but quickly began to decrease in intensity as the next few minutes passed.
Our nurse sat down on a stool and said she wanted to have a heart-to-heart with us. The nurse explained that she had worked years in a nearby hospital where natural birth was embraced – that water births were frequent and women often gave birth without medication. She shared that she had read our birth strategy, and wanted to be honest with us that the way that the labor was moving, that she could only see a cesarean section as the end.
She explained that it was completely up to us, and that although she couldn't technically advise us to do so, that if it was her body and child, she would likely ask to go home.
"Your blood pressure is stable when you are in the proper position," she said. "There shouldn't be anything wrong with you resting at home until labor does in fact become active."
My heart dropped, and I nodded in understanding. I wanted to cling to the hope that labor may start and that I might meet our baby boy soon, but I could also feel in my gut that it was just not the time. The nurse left us to sleep on it until morning, encouraging us to ask the doctor when she arrived the next day.
That next morning, around 8:15am, the new nurse on shift came in and unhooked my IV and fetal monitor. She let me shower and fed me breakfast. "This is what I needed." I thought. It became glaringly clear why it is so encouraged to request food, water, as well as a bath and shower while going through labor. You're body just needs it!
I got dressed and got back into bed. While I was emotional and tired, I felt somewhat like I had cleared my mind and was ready to make a decision with my husband on how to move forward.
The nurse and doctor came in. "Alright," the doctor said, "This morning, we'll break your water, get you back on Pitocin, and see what happens!"
My response was emotional.
"There is no way I will be put back on that thing." I said, pointing to the IV stand, Pitocin drip staring down at me. "I don't think I can do anymore. I really want to go home."
The doctor looked at me with confusion. "I don't think I can let you do that," she said. "I'll talk with the other doctors, but I don't know if we would feel comfortable recommending that you be released from our care right now."
After a half hour or so, she came back and let us know that she and the other doctors didn't feel comfortable letting us head home. I wasn't surprised, and although I was disappointed, my husband, Blake and I had already decided we would be staying. A nurse informed us that if we left, we would be asked to sign a "Against Medical Consent" form, and that insurance would probably choose not to cover our stay at the hospital up to that point... so, there wasn't much questioning there!
As I thought about being put on Pitocin and trying to start the labor process again, tears welled up in my eyes. I was so, so tired. I knew that if I had to stay on Pitocin, move through labor and then give birth, that I wouldn't have the energy to do so. So I decided on an epidural.
It was in that moment that I started to let go. I knew how much my soul wanted to experience the miracle of birth, because truly, I believe it's a miracle. I wanted to watch and experience my body shifting so that a new life could enter the world. I wanted to feel those moments of exhilaration and intensity as our baby arrived. But I knew that this situation was no longer in my control - and honestly never was - and that now was the time to let go.
After the epidural, Blake and I fell asleep for a few hours. We were exhausted, and I know that it gave Blake a sense of calm knowing that I was at least resting while the Pitocin continued to work on coaxing baby toward birth.
Four hours more, and the nurses checked my cervix. I had dilated to 4 centimeters. My nurse was excited for me - encouraging me that this was progress, and that I should celebrate this! I did, yet a few hours later there I sat, still dilated to a four, still experiencing the same level of contractions.
At this point I had been at the hospital, trying to induce active labor, for about 65 hours. I started to break down emotionally - I was so tired, and I felt awful because some of our long distance friends had driven into town because they knew I was being induced and wanted to be able to meet our baby boy when he arrived.
At 10:00pm on Sunday night, February 14th, 2016, (Yes, Valentines Day - super romantic day - lol.) A nurse propped me onto an exercise ball, while I was in bed, and tilted my bed vertically so that I was essentially sitting on it. She looked at me with a compassionate face.
"I just want to tell you that this is one of the last moves I have to try and get baby to move down," she said. "After this, we don't have much more that we can do to try and induce you. We've given you as much Cytotec as we can, you're still on Pitocin, we've broken your water and we're using gravity... you can continue to wait it out until the morning, but I'm not sure what else we can do outside of a c-section."
We waited an hour. I cried that whole hour. Probably primarily because I was so tired, but also because I was so upset that my sons birth had come to this. "There's nothing to be upset about," the nurses told me, "You've hung on for a long time - you did all you could."
I knew that. So at just before 11:30pm, we decided to move forward with a c-section. I won't say that it was a beautiful experience - because it wasn't. I was shaking from exhaustion and nerves the entire time. The anesthesiologist was phenomenal - playing a soundtrack that he created himself to move along with the "process of birth." (Yes, the Rocky Theme Song was at the finale... haha)
I will never forget that first cry when Reece Wayne was born. At 12:22am on February 15th, 2016, he screamed just like a newborn should when they enter the world. They showed our sweet baby to me and I could barely believe it. He was 9lbs 4oz of pure sweet chubby bliss. A full head of dark feathery hair and a pouty upper lip due to him sucking on his lower one. Fists clenched up near his head – Reece Wayne was perfect. Swollen, but perfect and healthy. It was an amazing moment - but I have to be honest and say that it wasn't ecstatic or thrilling like I had hoped. For those who know me, you know I get insanely excited about just about anything, and my reaction to my first born son was that of passivity. Part of it was the pressure of the surgery that was consuming my attention. There were moments where it was hard to breathe because of the doctors pressing on my stomach.
While in recovery, I did start to hemorrhage, but with some intense "uterine massage" and Pitocin it subsided.
I was so drugged up that after surgery I told the nurse that I didn't want to hold Reece yet. "Yes you do, it's okay." She told me.
"No," I responded, "Blake can stay with him. I can't yet." I was still shaking so badly, and felt completely checked out. "You'll be okay," the nurse said. "I promise."
Blake brought Reece to me and placed him on my bare chest. Reece immediately raised his head, neck and chest, looking to nurse. "He's so strong!" Blake said.
Despite being mentally disillusioned, I do remember those moments as being special. I was so thankful for this baby. I was so thankful the process of giving birth to him was behind me. I was thankful to rest.
Around 2:00am my family was brought back to a new hospital room. The nurses were absolute angels and said they had chosen a bigger room for me to recover in since I had been looking at the same four walls for the past three days. It was so small, but it meant so much to me.
Completely exhausted – Blake and I lay down in our room, ready to sleep. Yet, it was one of those moments where you feel like so much has just happened, you don't know how you could possibly sleep. Inevitably, I did fall asleep. Our new family together, my sweet baby sleeping next to us. Reece Wayne was finally... FINALLY here. Welcome to the world sweet boy.
It wasn’t until about 8 weeks postpartum that I first connected with that lovely breast shield and heard the “Whir, whir, Whir, whir” of my Medela pump jumping into action. I told myself I would just pump five minutes and see how much milk I expressed – assuming I may end up with an ounce or two. I had exclusively breastfed for the past two months with the fear that pumping could ruin the breastfeeding flow my son and I had built. However, with the weeks going by until I had to return to work, I knew it was time to start understanding how this little square vacuum would fit into my life.
After just three minutes I looked down and realized I had expressed nearly seven ounces of milk combined from both breasts. At first, I was horrified – would there be enough milk left for my baby? Despite my own advice, I started scrolling through kellymom.com in search of answers. And it was there that I was introduced to this new label: The Overproducer.
As I read through article after article, I suddenly felt like the woman being described was me. Sentences like, “baby choking at breast,” and “green colored poo,” stuck out like a sore thumb. How did they know?
For many women, overproducing breast milk is a coveted issue – and I will be the first to admit that I am thankful every day that I can provide milk for my baby. However, being an overproducer comes with daily issues that you simply can’t avoid:
Breast Pads are Your BFF
A friend who was in nursing school included a pair of reusable breast pads within her gift to me at the hospital. At the time, I had no idea why I would need them – yet a week after being home with baby she went from being a friend to the worlds smartest woman. I woke up every morning soaked in my own breast milk. Every. Single. Morning.
Tired of changing my sheets, and not having the energy to do so, there were many days where white milk rings lined my bedding. Yes – it’s the beauty of postpartum life. A few weeks later I realized that there were disposable breast pads with a plastic exterior – that looked like mini pads you used for your period. These were heaven sent and finally put an end to my nighttime milk baths.
You never know when the flood is coming
Similar to women whose periods are heavy and uncontrollable, my milk flow was heavy and uncontrollable. One afternoon my husband's grandparents came to visit. I handed over our newborn and suddenly commented that I believed he had leaked through his diaper. The left side of my shirt was completely drenched. It wasn’t until they had left and I changed my clothes that I realized it was my left breast that decided to unleash the milk falls – through my breast pad, nursing bra and two shirts. Again I thought to myself, “How am I going back to work?”
My boobies have more stretch marks that my tummy
Seriously. My husband and I can both tell when it’s time to pump. There is a distinct difference in my bra size and my pleasant demeanor. When my milk came in about 48 hours after birth, I asked a friend how long the engorgement phase lasted. “Not long,” she said, “maybe a day.”
“Oh good,” I replied, “Because this absolutely sucks.” Little did I know that engorged breasts would become a daily occurrence… and they still are today. After nine months of reoccurring sudden drastic skin stretching – I have some pretty good stretch marks on the ladies.
Breastfeeding was still a challenge… just in a different way
During the first few months of breastfeeding, my son would choke on my breast milk nearly every time he nursed. My let down was so hard and fast that I finally became used to the fact that he would probably gag a few times before being able to fully latch.
I didn’t dare pump for fear that it would only increase my supply (which, when I did start pumping, it subsequently did.) so instead I would prepare for the shower of milk that came with each feeding.
One evening my son choked so badly and for long enough that it truly scared me. He had been crying so hard because he was so hungry and I felt so badly that he couldn’t just eat. After multiple attempts from both breasts, he finally latched – yet after a few minutes, he pulled back, choking and gagging. It felt like minutes before he breathed and I repeatedly gave him some good pats on the back trying to make his choking stop. He stopped, and I burst into tears.
It wasn’t until he was about six months that the spray of milk died down, yet I still produce far more milk than my son can consume. Which leads into my last comment about being an overproducer:
It’s been a unique way to give back
One of the most special things that have developed within my life as a result of having my son is a single relationship. No, it's not the relationship with my son – although that is very special. It's the relationship I have with a young woman who lives about thirty miles away from me, and works just down the road from where I do.
A few months into pumping, I realized that I was going to have to make a decision about what I was to do with all of the breast milk I was stocking up in my freezer. I had decided I was going to feed my son fresh milk once I went back to work, and was planning on keeping the frozen milk just in case (read more about why, here.) However, I quickly found that my stash had grown to over 200 ounces in a very short amount of time, and there was no way that Reece would be able to use all of that milk.
Although the idea of selling my milk was tempting (seriously... that stuff is liquid gold!) my heart really wanted to give it to someone who needed it.
I looked into milk banks, but when I read the dietary requirements, I was out. I had just had to go through months of carb counting after being diagnosed as a "gestational diabetic" and there was no way anyone was going to take away my food freedom again at that point!
Through a series of "momma group" Facebook connections, a post happened to appear in my newsfeed one April afternoon. A mother shared her fear of her request, but let the social media world know that she had just adopted a newborn baby girl who couldn't handle even the organic formula she had ordered over the internet. She was asking if there was anyone willing to donate breast milk to her little girl.
I felt instantly pulled to respond – adoption has a very special place in my heart, as I was adopted, but there was something about this woman's humility that made me want to give away my "liquid gold" to her little girl.
It didn't take more than twenty minutes for her to respond to me via a message, saying she felt strangely comfortable with my response. A few weeks later, she came to my home to pick up hundreds of ounces of breast milk. We connected instantly, and talked about how we were so happy that neither of us turned out to be "crazy." She let me know a few weeks later that her daughter was finally have regular bowel movements since integrating breast milk into her diet. I'm so grateful that I was able to help in any way.
Our relationship has continued since then. Every month or so, we'll meet so that I can hand over my "stash." We catch up on how our babies are doing, how tired we are and how much our little ones eat. We rush back to our lives – both of us now back to work, trying to balance life as working mommas. But the relationship we have is so special. It's like we've known each other for years and the handful of hours we've actually spent talking have been stretched out across decades.
I'm not sure when I'll stop sharing my breast milk with this woman and her daughter, but I'll be honest - it is some of the best motivation to continue breastfeeding my son. Being a mother who overproducers breast milk has it's negatives and positives – but I can tell you with a whole heart that being able to give it away is such a special gift that I'm willing suffer some soaked shirts.
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