I wanted to post about some of the harder realities of my transition to new motherhood. This time has been filled with many wonderous moments, grant you (please don't ever mistake that!), which I hope some of my previous posts have conveyed, but there have also been a number of difficult ones. Some of our lack of preparedness is because we couldn't really imagine we were having a baby until... well... we had the baby. I "knew" that we appeared to be having a living child, but emotionally, after six consecutive losses, it was a different story. Even up to the day of the induction, it felt dangerous to presume we were taking home a baby. That may sound strange, but we've had so much loss, it just felt perilous. And so my preparations - both physically in terms of buying necessary baby things - and psychological - were a bit on the scanty side. Whatever your loss history, having a baby is a watershed experience. Somewhat of a "You don't know until you know." And everyone's experience is different. Add to that strong cultural mores that you are "supposed" to be only thrilled and happy.
If baby is healthy, then the rest doesn't matter. Right?
Well, I'd argue that if baby is not healthy, nothing else matters, but that it is ok to have feelings about the way things go down in your labor and delivery and postpartum. And I'm going to write about it, in case it is helpful to someone else:
Physical recovery after c-section: I had no idea about what to expect, because, well, I wasn't planning on having a c-section. In fact, I was naively certain I wouldn't need one (ha! ha!) because my provider has such a low c-section rate and I was so prepared to give birth (ha again!). But a c-section was needed (more on this when I share our birth story). So in addition to the emotional adjustment to the reality I found myself in, I was also very surprised to find that the initial few weeks after a c-section leave you pretty helpless physically. Initially, I was unable to roll over and had trouble getting up from a sitting position. I couldn't lift Magpie if she was in a bassinet beside the bed, which made it tough to room-in in the hospital unless Will or someone else was there at all times. All of this was magnified by the fact that Will's paternity leave was eradicated by Hurricane Sandy, as he was called into the hospital basically as soon as I was discharged home. Magpie and I were on our own. And we were physically not ready for it.
Emotional recovery after c-section: Also rough. I was sad about the way our labor and Magpie's arrival went. It felt chaotic and scary and I missed a number of things that I had looked forward to. I remember during the c-section, right before everything went to hell in a handbasket and the anesthesia failed, hearing a baby cry after they pulled her from my belly. And I thought, literally,
What is that sound?
Oh, it's a baby.
Why is there a baby crying in the operating room?
And then a few moments later...puzzled...Oh - that's our baby?!
It all felt so disconnected. I don't know her Apgars, I didn't get to see the placenta or umbilical cord (which I had wanted to), I never saw Magpie until she was all nicely cleaned and wrapped and hatted maybe 10 or 15 minutes later. I had moments of disbelief days later, this crazy idea that she had not actually come from inside of me. Maybe they had a room full of babies somewhere in labor and delivery and they'd just brought her into the OR to us from another room. Ludicrous, of course.
When one of a parade of lactation consultants came to the house and suggested I strip Magpie naked to weigh her before feeding, I stripped her to her diaper. When the woman commented to take off the diaper, I almost said, "But she came like this." The idea of my daughter naked felt odd for quite a while, as I hadn't seen her naked for days after her birth.
Talking to friends later, one asked, "Did you just have the most incredible high after giving birth?" The answer is no. I felt wrecked physically and emotionally. I'd been through 36 hours of labor and a rough c-section due to the anesthesia problem. When my friend asked that, it amplified some of the losses I was already processing from having had Magpie delivered in the way that she was.
I want to say that I don't think I was entitled to some wonderous type of birth experience, or that I expected my body to "know" how to give birth (which I've read people say), or anything of the sort. Obviously my body didn't "know" how to get pregnant, stay pregnant, get un-pregnant...and the list goes on. And thankfully, with medical technology, we've been able to overcome multiple hurdles along the way. But there was still a sense of loss with the way things went. I had strongly hoped to deliver vaginally, and I hadn't expected a c-section, if needed, to be so sudden and abrupt and without any of the human side of things as it was (in a non-emergency situation). I had thought there would still be some excitement: an announcement of "Here she is!" rather than no acknowledgement the doctors had her out and then hearing her faint disconnected and disembodied cry from across the room. I certainly didn't expect to have so much pain during the operation itself. I've moved on, mostly, and Magpie is certainly incredible however she got here, but there was an emotional loss.
Hormones/Mood: All I can say is Wow. This has all straightened itself out now but those first few weeks. Oh. My. I felt like some kind of combo animal-child. So emotional that I would burst into tears talking to Will. Not always unhappy, sometimes just moved, literally, to tears, but really, really intense emotions all around. I am someone who feels things very deeply but tends to keep a good lid on it. And in addition to deep emotions, I am strongly rational, and I tend to lead with the rational (or try to). For me, immediately postpartum, that went out the window. I was a ball o' emotion. I felt needy and shaky, and...almost primitive. It didn't last that long (a little over a week?), but it was something I did not expect and haven't experienced before.
Bonding: I had realistic expectations on this I think...my psychologist friends warned me - you will be thrilled Magpie is here, but you will not immediately love her. And I didn't. She was exquisite and lovely, and I felt very protective of her, but I did not instantly love her or feel that I "knew" her. This has grown. I now look at her and can't help smiling. I look at her and am incredulous at her perfectness. At her presence. I feel a growing bond each day. But it wasn't instantaneous. Not by a long shot. I'm glad I'd been warned about this so I didn't beat myself up about it. I look at her now and am just suffused with affection for her. But it wasn't instantaneous.
Breastfeeding: I envisioned Magpie suckling at my breast, milk dripping down from the sides of her mouth. Her content, me content. I imagined myself rolling over to her co-sleeper at night and the two of us doing dream feeds. Ah bliss.
Well, not so much. Magpie never could latch on properly in the hospital. She she lost 13% of her birthweight while we were there and they mandated that I introduce formula using a supplemental nursing system (SNS) to stem her weight loss. Within a few days at home, my milk came in, I started a crazy pumping schedule, and was able to forego the formula and feed her breast milk through the tube.
But breastfeeding itself wasn't happening. Magpie's tongue was severely tied. We ended up having three procedures with an ENT to help free it up. She just plain couldn't get her mouth open enough or her tongue in the right position to eat. We limped along with the SNS for a while - a cumbersome tube taped to my breast, my nipples cracked and bleeding. Each feed took over an hour. It was brutal. But even with the SNS, she still couldn't get enough milk and wasn't gaining weight. She dropped 20 percentile points on the growth chart. I grew increasingly despairing. Finally, we introduced the Haberman feeder, a bottle made for babies with feeding issues. It's been a life saver.
But now Magpie isn't so interested in the breast. And I am fighting recurrent blocked ducts and repeated bouts of mastitis. We are still working on it. I haven't given up, but for now it's an exclusive pumping relationship. And although I am incredibly grateful to be able to provide milk for her from my body, it is not at all what I imagined...
Isolation: I am a person who loves being alone. So when I thought about my maternity leave, I looked forward to it. I did not imagine feeling so cut off from others, almost as though I am under house arrest. Some of this, no doubt, is due to the fact that my family lives across the country. But the other part is that I am really stuck in a way I hadn't anticipated. It is hard to get out - especially as an exclusive pumper (for now, at least) with our relentless every two hour feeding schedule followed by pumping. Magpie takes about an hour to eat, and then my pumping takes a good 30-40 minutes (long, I know). And then with a diaper change and some burping, it is time to eat again. The heavy hospital grade pump is not transportable. And while it is wonderful and has made giving her breast milk possible, the hospital pump means that I have to be home every three hours minimum to pump during the day.
Fatigue: This one is a no-brainer, I suppose. And it was not unexpected. I am tired. Bone tired. I knew I would be. What I didn't realize is that I would be so bad at sleep deprivation. You hear people say all the time: sleep when the baby sleeps. Well, when Magpie is sleeping, yours truly is usually pumping. There's no sleeping here. And then at night, same drill, feeding followed by pumping. There is some sleep then, but very interrupted. Something like 1 or 2 hours of sleep followed by usually about 2 hours of interruption...it is not enough sleep for a geriatric mom like myself. So still trying to come up with a better plan for this, or a better way to handle this. Not sure how long it will be until it gets a bit better, because with the pumping I'm not seeing how I could sleep through the night, even if Magpie did. And right now, I wake her to feed over night a few times because her weight gain has been so problematic. But hopefully someday....somehow...sleep....it would be so nice.
So these are some of the tougher parts of new parenthood. Some expected, some not as much. Some of these things may seem trivial, and they are. I would go through anything to be able to parent Ms. Magpie. No questions even asked. But I wanted to be honest about the tough parts in addition to all the joys. In case it is helpful to someone else heading down the same paths.
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