The Inconvenient Truth about Postpartum Life

1. The physical, mental and emotional challenges
Obviously, labor took a lot out of me. And the sudden and complete lack of sleep on top of that hasn’t made recovery any easier. Add to that the physical challenges – painful stitches healing (tip: witch hazel pads, seriously), shrinking uterus pains (although I love the fact that I’m already back in my pre-preg jeans – go breastfeeding!) and most unexpectedly – lochia. Loads and loads of lochia. Lochia that lasts for weeks, no matter that some claim it clears up in days (tip: Buy big packs of depends-level pads, trust me). Mentally, I’ve had to adapt to a complete shift of priorities from ME to SOMEONE ELSE. It doesn’t matter what I would like to be doing at any given moment – James wears the pants now. Actually, having a moment to blog is blowing my mind right now. I’ve definitely also had my share of “holy shit” moments of complete emotional wreckage, and not a whole lot of forthcoming touchy-feely support at home (husbands…yaknowwhatI’msayin’?). It’s been a lot to handle in one short month.

2. The no-sleep thing is really no joke
This is one truth I was pseudo-prepared for, if only because I was dreading how completely useless I get when I don’t get enough sleep at night (and have always found it near-impossible to nap during the day). While newborns do sleep most of the time, it is in weird, random spurts that don’t necessarily line up with when you would like to also sleep. I know, I know – “sleep when the baby sleeps.” But when baby James sleeps and I am starving, I’m going to take the opportunity to make myself something to eat. Or do the necessary daily load of laundry (cloth diapers!). Or let the dog out. Or make a phone call, send an email or write a blog post, so I feel somewhat connected to the outside world.  Or pee. I do occasionally manage a power nap, but for the most part, I’ve just had to adapt to weird, random spurts of sleep, especially at night. I’ve been doing a lot better with the lack of sleep than I thought I would (although I do still fantasize about a 7-hour stretch)…and it feels nice to actually have a REASON to be tired, not just exhausted because I’m pregnant.

I find that what works best for me is to do my super-productive stuff first thing in the day, and then take it really easy the rest of the day (possibly with a single power-nap at some point). Streaming seasons of TV shows on Netflix has been a godsend. Lately, Butch (who normally stays up later than me) has been hanging out with James downstairs during the first round of nighttime sleeping (aka, “the times between feedings”). That way I can sleep undisturbed for 2-3 hours upstairs without keeping one ear open for his cries. We plan on introducing the bottle this weekend, so the plan is for Butch to take care of that first nighttime feeding as well, which will possibly give me 4-5 undisturbed hours of sleep – heavenly!

3. The  baby will get upset over NOTHING, and you must try EVERYTHING to make him happy
With James, usually it’s the indignity of being changed or wanting to feed for the millionth time (I swear, it has been one continuous growth-spurt since birth), but there are times when he’s having a meltdown for who knows what reason. If baby James is upset, I first try the boob, for either feeding or comfort (more on breastfeeding in a minute), and that usually works. But sometimes there’s no solution besides running the gauntlet of “maybe THIS will work” hijinks – check the diaper, up on the shoulder for a burp or for a narrated tour around the room, try some exercises for gas, sing a lullaby (acoustic versions of rock n roll hits), take a ride in the swing, make a variety of random noises and try a variety of random dance moves/bounces…etc, etc.

This applies to sleeping in the sense that, if James suddenly refuses to settle down in the crib that he was perfectly fine with a week ago, I must humor him and let him sleep curled up on my chest. This of course results in a lack of restful sleep for me…but HE’S happy so who am I to argue? I know this “in-arms” time is fleeting, so I’m trying to enjoy it, even when it’s inconvenient.

4. Breastfeeding has been a lot more challenging, but so much more rewarding, than expected
I went to the breastfeeding class. I did the research. I watched videos and read articles online. The first feeding immediately after birth was magical, despite James being born with a tongue-tie (which was fixed the next day). Outwardly, his subsequent latches looked perfect, even according to the hospital nurses, but feeding from then on was painful. And over the next week, as my nipples became cracked and sore, the pain got worse. Something was not right, but it was hard to place, since outwardly it still looked good. I started by assuming that James just couldn’t seem to open his mouth wide enough to latch in a pain-free way…unless he was wailing with impatience, and I obviously didn’t want to wait to reach that point every time. I scoured the internet, which naturally resulted in worse-case-scenario self-diagnosis: Thrush. Mastitis. Posterior tongue-tie. The word on the breastfeeding message boards were that it shouldn’t hurt at ALL, if done correctly, from day one (yeah, right!).

Luckily, a good friend is the head of the local La Leche League, and was kind enough to take my incessant phone calls, answering every question, helping me put aside the worse-case-concerns, and most importantly, offering encouragement. After 2 solid weeks of pain, I was very close to throwing in the towel and just pumping…or even going to formula. But I stubbornly persisted, eventually finding tips and links via Kelly Mom that resulted in a pain-free latch (tip: “feed” your boob to baby like a hamburger. A boob-burger). Now the biggest challenges with feeding is James’ instant impatience, habit of straining out an intense poop while feeding (while twisting around on my nipple!), gassy-ness (possibly due to a strong-letdown – we have “burping breaks” during feeding that seem to help) and the fact that he’s a HUGE baby, so I’ve had to create my own way of holding him that is not very text-book. But no more pain! I’m so glad I stuck it out, since breastfeeding is a very special way for us to bond and be close.

I do think I could have benefited (and perhaps have experienced less pain) from a little more private time right after the birth to get the breastfeeding down (along with all the other “new-parent” tasks)…which brings me to my next point.

5. Other people are, understandably, majorly interested in the baby…
…in meeting the baby, holding the baby…and that’s great! Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave room for a lot of concern for the new mom. I know myself, and the level of space I need, so I did insist that the first out-of-state visitors stampeding towards our door at least not STAY with us. In hindsight, I should have also insisted that we get at least a week (possibly 2) before visitors parked in my living room for 12 hour stretches. However, since all of our extended family lives out-of-state, I’m sure it would have been considered selfish for me to put off these visits. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the excitement surrounding the birth, and how anxious everyone was to meet the little guy…but I should have given myself the gift of a quiet, stress-free time to figure things out. I deserved that. And from now on, I’ll be putting the needs of my little family first, regardless of outside opinion.

And for anyone offended by the bluntness of #5, please reference this perfect list from Offbeat Families of some simple courtesies new-baby visitors can follow.

6. I am a lot better at this than I thought I was going to be
I love kids, especially my friend’s kids. But before now, I had little to no hands-on experience with newborns. I had never even changed a diaper! And while there are still plenty of moments (or days) of complete teary-eyed despair at how incompetent I feel, they are becoming fewer and farther between. Instincts really do kick in and it is possible to get into a groove, even with a 1 month-old who barely has a feeding schedule at this point. As the weeks go by, I’m sure this confidence in my own abilities will grow. And when those difficult days happen, I need to just take a deep breath and look into this little face:

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It’s worth it.

To read more from Corinne, please visit her blog A Green(ish) Life.