Thursday, March 26, 2015

The truth about recovery

Oh dear, recovery.  Why do we always feel so uninformed regarding pregnancy/labor/birth recovery?? I thought I was informed having had classes on women's health, but I was so surprised at what recovery entailed with my first birth.  Of course, circumstances caused recovery to be worse than expected, but I just felt so clueless during those first few weeks.  Without further ado, let's dive in to the nitty gritty:

You get a massage a few times during your hospital stay
And it's not the peaceful massage on your back that you totally deserve.  It's called a fundal massage and it does not feel great because it is basically a uterus massage on your already-tender abdomen to make sure big clots are making their exit and not preventing healing as your uterus shrinks.

Speaking of shrinking uteruses...
There's also this unspoken fact that contractions continue postpartum. They're not as strong, but they tend to be worse if this baby is a second or third child.  Breastfeeding also causes a release of oxytocin, a naturally occurring hormone (Pitocin mimics this hormone) that causes contractions. I distinctly remember being shocked right after delivering my daughter and feeling those contractions with breastfeeding.

And now about breastfeeding
Ok, ladies, this is how it is- some ladies have tender nipples and other ladies don't. That's it.  Breastfeeding hurt like the dickens for me every time and made me want to say @#!?!*^#$ for the first 2-3 weeks.  It was longer with my son.  The nurses and lactation consultants for my first-time breastfeeding woes with my son kept telling me that "if it hurts, then you're doing it wrong. WRONG WRONG WRONG." So I sucked it up and tried to not cry for the first few weeks (believe me, there were tears shed), and finally, after a few weeks, it gradually improved until it didn't hurt anymore. **I should add that what was painful about it was the initial "latch" ** With my daughter, a wonderful nurse came to talk to me the morning after right after a lactation consultant told me that breastfeeding shouldn't hurt and said, "Honey, I don't care what they say.  I can't imagine breastfeeding NOT hurting- there's a baby constantly sucking on your nipples and you're not used to that. It will be a little painful, just count to 10 and it should be better by then." So there. I counted to 10 every time and she was right, the pain began to subside each time and made the experience much more tolerable. Though, I did get a horrible tension headache from tensing up so much for fear of pain...

You don't bounce back instantly. 
I figured I'd be tired and beat after a long labor.  I thought, hmmm I'll bet I'll feel better within the next week or two. Nope.  As I've learned, recovery can take weeks, maybe even months, and you won't feel like you have your old body back for quite awhile. This varies for every mom.  For me, I've had two experiences so far.  With my son, I didn't feel like I was truly getting better until about 6 weeks postpartum.  This is because of the blood loss, birth canal trauma, two bouts of mastitis, and breastfeeding troubles. I saw notable improvement after 3-4 weeks, but right after 6 weeks, I can remember thinking I got this. I never did feel quite like myself until a year after my daughter was born.  Recovery with my daughter was much better.  I felt better after about a week and fairly well-healed by one month postpartum.

Down below probably doesn't feel great
If you just pushed a baby out, you'll probably have some swelling.  Both hospitals I delivered at provided nice long ice packs and pack of Tucks to line them with and that provided great relief.  Tucks contains witch hazel, which comes from a plant (called... you guessed it, witch hazel...) and is great for pain relief for skin irritations. It's a fairly natural cleanser too.  The swelling can last a day to several days depending on how long you pushed for and any other tissue trauma such as forceps use. You will probably given a little squirt bottle that can be filled with warm soapy water so that you can clean your lady parts after going to the bathroom.  You'll want to take that home.

Postpartum bleeding (lochia) varies for all women, usually much shorter for c-section moms.  Don't be surprised at the large clots that can pass (unless they're softball-sized or larger.. your provider will want to know). Your uterus is purging all the extra linings and trying to clot and shrink back to the right size. I think mine lasted about one week of heavier bleeding and another week of light/spotting. If you don't recall from my last post, just know that you will receive a couple pairs of extremely stretchy (meaning, they'll fit both a petite lady and plus size lady) panties and sanitary pads that are basically diapers that don't close around your legs.

Bladder Control
I remember having to run to the bathroom when recovering from son's delivery because I was pretty sure I was going to pee in my super stretchy undies I just got. Ha.  Your pelvic floor muscles are just worn out from pushing a baby out, so just keep practicing your Kegels to strengthen them again.  For some ladies, this lasts awhile, others may not even experience it.

You may fear going #2
No one likes to fear a bowel movement, but your nethers may be swollen and you may have had stitches placed for tearing, so the first bowel movement can be scary.  Most postpartum protocols for providers include a stool softener regimen 2-3 times a day.  Don't be afraid.

Hair loss
Perhaps you read about this, perhaps not, but hair loss is common.  I feel like I'm always shedding when my hair is longer than 2 inches, but I did notice an increase in the amount of hair I was pulling out during showers the first few months.  I never did get any bald spots and you likely won't either. Go get a haircut and your nails done a few weeks postpartum and you'll feel like a new woman ;)

Emotions May Run High

Your body is going to go through drastic changes in a extremely short period of time, so chances are, you may being feeling a lot.... feeling ecstatic, feeling blue, feeling angry, feeling nothing short of asylum-crazy at times. There's a lot of anxiety being a parent of a newborn too- are they sleeping? wait, are they breathing?! Oh good. But did they eat enough??! Both times I have felt a surge of these extreme emotions on and off- it lasted the first two months for me. Thankfully, it would usually just be a short amount of time, like a few hours, here and there each week.

** Please also realize that postpartum depression is real and not just the "baby blues" though. While it's normal to feel some depression, it is not normal to feel like you have no control over yourself or thoughts to the point where you fear you may actually cause harm to yourself or another.  This can vary from feeling like your problems will dissolve if you just run away to feeling even suicidal.  Seek professional medical attention if you feel this way.

The fact is your body will be different postpartum.  There is no simpler truth about recovery.  You will feel strong emotions at times through the first year, especially if you breastfeed- breastfeeding affects every mom differently, which includes crazy hormonal shifts that affect your body mentally and physically. It's ok. It's normal. You may feel like crying one day because your husband didn't say the right thing or because dinner wasn't made on time.  Or perhaps you'll be suddenly so flippin' upset that someone said something that felt offensive even though it wasn't. Just remember, ok, crazy hormones are trying to control me right now. But you got this.  You'll get through it, I promise! Try to accept the new normal and appreciate your capabilities.  There may come a day when you feel like your pre-baby self, but for now, focus on all the great things, like a new baby :)

I really enjoyed writing my blog series and can't believe I'm done!   Thanks for reading, I have been surprised by how many times this blog has been viewed in just the past month when I first started! I am planning on continuing the blog in a few weeks sharing birth stories from now on and any other motherhood related items that cross my brain. Good luck with your labors and recovery!

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