Today marks exactly 7 weeks postpartum. The day I delivered Marin feels like ages ago. We were living in a different world, one that now I am incredibly grateful for. I can’t sit here and talk about my postpartum experience without acknowledging what so many of you are now grappling with. My heart truly aches for all of you now facing a labor and delivery that’s probably going to look different than what you anticipated. I hope sharing my postpartum experience gives you some comfort, and if there’s one thing I want to leave you with it’s that no matter what, be your own advocate. The doctors and nurses are there for you and your baby (and truly they are incredible I hugged every one of my nurses before I went home) but do not be afraid to speak up and communicate what you need. That goes for labor/delivery and postpartum. Your support system is everything, ask for the help you need and deserve.
Let me first say I did very little to prepare for my actual labor and delivery. I didn’t want to think about it when I was pregnant. I didn’t have any expectations or a birth plan. For me personally, it was the best decision but I’m here to say do what works for you, and be flexible. My actual labor and delivery was pretty straightforward and I’m thankful for that. While I did labor for about 30 hours when it was time to push it took less than 30 minutes. I’ll get into that more in the Q&A below but overall it was a really good experience. To be honest labor was painful AF, and I don’t say that to scare anyone just to say that if I can do it, so can you. The truth is, you forget. My hypermesis during pregnancy was far worse than my labor, delivery and recovery (and that’s saying something considering I had secondary PPH).
The first time I went to the hospital I was sent home because I was only 2cm dilated. I labored at home until the following night, and by that time I was in so much pain and my contractions were so close together I thought for sure they would admit me. I was 3.75cm dilated and once again they wanted to send me home. This is where the advocating for yourself comes in. I made it clear I really did not want to leave (my hospital was also about 45 minutes away). With approval from my doctor they offered to give me morphine for the pain and let me rest at the hospital to see if I progressed to 4cm before sending me home. The morphine did nothing for the pain, probably because the dose was so low, but within 10 minutes of getting the morphine my water broke and the nurses offered me the epidural which I gladly accepted. I rested for the next 5 hours and my doctor and nurses told me to let them know when I was ready to push. During that time I dilated to over 10cm and when I was ready, pushed for 30 minutes and Marin was born.
I’m sharing all of this to let you know, however you want to give birth is up to you. I never would have been able to go through it without an epidural and I knew that. Leading up to my delivery date I had a lot of unsolicited advice and commentary (from people I don’t even know) on how to have a “natural” birth. I’m here to tell you, I had a medicated one and it was a great experience. I’m not here to give you medical advice or convince you to do it a certain way, just to say, don’t let anyone else’s opinion or experience make you feel like you’re making the wrong choice. Trust yourself and your doctors and nurses.
The last thing I want to touch on before I get to your questions is motherhood. Eventually I’ll talk about this transition more but I just have to say it’s truly the best thing in the world. As someone that did not enjoy being pregnant and did not think I wanted to have a child I can honestly say it’s the best thing to ever happen to me. I spent my pregnancy wondering if I would bond with my child and if I would love them, because I never really felt that connection while I was pregnant. It’s amazing how something you never thought you wanted can become someone you can’t imagine living without. Sending love to all of you expectant and new moms, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you got this.
What are your tips for natural pain management?
As I mentioned above I pretty much knew I wanted an epidural and it was the right choice for me. During labor there really wasn’t much that helped with contractions unfortunately. After I went to the hospital the first time they said I could take tylenol and recommended I take baths to help with the pain (along with benadryl to help me sleep). None of it helped. The one thing that did slightly ease the pain was sitting on a big exercise ball. Everyone is different and every labor experience is different, but I was in pain until my epidural.
What was in your hospital bag and what did you need?
Luckily we did a hospital tour before I delivered and it’s probably the one thing I would recommend doing to prepare if it’s an option. It was really helpful to know what to expect when I arrived at the hospital, where to park, and what I’d need to bring with me. Most hospitals will have all of the postpartum recovery items you need (pads, witch hazel, postpartum underwear, squirt bottle, etc.) I didn’t bring any of that to the hospital and they sent me home with a bunch of extras (more on that below). I packed pajamas which I never wore (I was in the hospital gown the entire time). I also brought a humidifier which was really nice because the hospital was so dry and travel sized skincare which I was happy to have. I packed leggings and a sweater to go home in. I packed a ton of snacks but didn’t eat any of them because I had family bring meals or Craig would go out and get them (the hospital provided meals I just chose not to get them). I did bring a big water bottle which was great to have during labor/delivery because you get REALLY thirsty.
How long did you stay in the hospital post birth and did you want to leave sooner?
For an uncomplicated vaginal birth the hospital stay is two nights (at our hospital). We were VERY ready to leave after the second night but it felt like the right amount of time.
Did you take any childbirth/infant care classes?
I took an online childbirth class offered through my hospital but I barely watched any of them and didn’t feel like it was helpful. The most beneficial thing for me in terms of infant care has been Moms on Call videos particularly the basics.
Was there anything that happened physically postpartum you weren’t expecting?
I really had no idea what to expect physically postpartum so there were a lot of things that were surprising. My milk didn’t come in for 5 days (more on that below). I had no idea I would bleed for almost four weeks post delivery (again this is different for everyone). I had a level two tear which honestly wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was painful after the drugs wore off but manageable with tylenol and advil and healed within about 10 days.
Postpartum hemorrhage: what signs should you look out for?
First let me just say PPH, especially two weeks after delivery is VERY rare. I don’t want my experience to scare anyone. While it was very scary and traumatic in the moment, I got through it and I feel great now. That said I had incredible care and support and I owe a lot of my recovery to that. I started hemorrhaging exactly two weeks from my delivery date. I also managed to convince myself that it was somehow normal and stayed home for over 5 hours before calling my doctor’s office a second time to say I think I needed to go to the ER, so please, if something feels off, don’t wait. There were no warning signs, out of nowhere I started bleeding very heavily with large clots (that progressively got bigger over time). If you start bleeding heavily and are soaking through more than one pad in an hour or in my case can’t get off the toilet because of how much you’re bleeding, call your doctor and go to the ER.
What is your breastfeeding/pumping experience and routine?
The pressure to breastfeed is SO REAL. I didn’t realize this until I had a baby but damn. I didn’t enjoy it, so I didn’t do it, and no, I don’t feel guilty about it, and neither should you. I breastfed at the hospital which was colustrum but by the second night I could tell Marin was hungry so I asked for formula and after an entire night of her crying, the second we fed her she stopped. My milk didn’t come in for about 5 days (this is pretty common especially for first time moms) so during that in between time we gave Marin formula. When my milk came in I decided I wanted to pump exclusively. I loved how much Craig was able to help and it gave me a greater sense of freedom (I got a wireless pump). For me it was the best decision and one that I think helped my recovery, particularly mentally. Just here to say, whatever you want to do, is ok. Only you know what’s best for you and your baby.
What were the most useful and helpful postpartum items?
Hands down the most useful thing postpartum was my Frida Mom recovery kit and upside down peri bottle. While the hospital sent me home with extra supplies it only lasted me about a week, and honestly the Frida Mom kit was way better than the hospital stuff. I also loved this perineal spray. Once I was home I was really happy to have this robe and comfortable pajamas (basically lived in this pair from L.L. Bean which run a little big and my Lake Pajamas which I get a size up). **Bodily also sent me their birth recovery kit which has EVERYTHING you need. They had to suspend fulfilling orders due to COVID-19 because they are based in NYC but they’re an amazing company and I would definitely recommend once they’re up and running again.
What can I do pre-birth to prepare for postpartum recovery?
I didn’t do a whole lot to prepare but two things I’m really glad we did: declutter and organize our kitchen and bathroom, and buy tons of frozen and easy to make foods. I loved having Daily Harvest smoothies, bites and oat bowls. They saved me especially in those first few weeks (use code KIRBY for $25 off your first order).
What were your emotions like the first few weeks home?
Honestly I was pretty surprised by my postpartum experience because I thought it would be harder. That said I realize that stuff may still come up, particularly after a traumatic post birth experience like PPH. When I was in the hospital for the second time recovering from PPH one of the nurses had a therapist come in to talk to me about what had happened and what to look out for when I got home. She sat with me for over an hour and I was so grateful for that. It’s something every woman should be given and unfortunately it’s not the case. The first day home after my PPH I cried the entire day. The whole experience finally hit me and I was overwhelmed. Craig encouraged me to just stay in bed and rest. His support and care has been a huge part of my recovery. I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be for me to just rest. I kept going into default productive mode feeling like I needed to do laundry, dishes, cook, clean, even when Craig begged me not to. I finally realized what I was doing and that I needed to just focus on rest and recovery. There’s a few things that helped in my recovery but I also want to stress, every experience is unique. PLEASE if you are feeling anxious and/or depressed get help. Talk about how you’re feeling. Communicate with your partner/support system about what you need. The first two nights we came home from the hospital I slept and Craig got up to feed Marin. I know this isn’t an option for everyone but having those two nights of sleep had a huge impact on my recovery. I also set boundaries for visitors. Other than grandparents, I just said no. For me, it was overwhelming and exhausting having people in the house and I was not afraid to communicate that. If people wanted to bring something over I told them they were welcome to drop it off, and everyone was really respectful of that. I thought this Instagram post from Solly Baby was so perfect if you’re trying to figure out how to navigate getting the help you need postpartum.
When did you start exercise/physical activity postpartum?
Because of my PPH I didn’t feel good enough/strong enough to do anything until around 5 weeks postpartum. The extent of my physical activity has been taking the baby and dogs for walks with Craig. At this point, 7 weeks PP I feel good enough to do a workout class (from home obviously) but I’m taking things slow. Again this is going to be different for everyone. Listen to your body and don’t feel the need to rush, you just carried a baby for 9 months and went through the massive, life changing experience of childbirth. Go at your own pace and when you can even in those first few days, get some fresh air, it does wonders.