I was an avid reader of pregnancy blogs while I was pregnant, and recently I’ve been seeing an increase in people finding their way to my own week-by-week pregnancy story. I tried to keep it real, and a year after the fact even shared the wonderful and gruesome and funny details of giving birth au naturel.
But one thing I read very little about and then proceeded to not really talk or write about myself is the recovery. Things don’t end when you give birth, and though we all know that or maybe guess at it, I don’t think there’s a lot of talk out there about what to expect. There’s “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” but what about What To Expect That First Excruciating Week After Pushing a Baby Out?
The details are kinda gross. Which is probably why they’re not discussed that often. But having so many people viewing my pregnancy story recently motivated me to write this post, to round out the story, and have something out there so that when you start sweating like a pig and your sweat smells more awful than ever before and your belly feels like a gigantic tub of oatmeal with skin on top, you can be like, “oh yeah . . . Jenna said this was normal. So I guess it’s gonna be okay.” Or something.
But let’s start with this: DISCLAIMER! DISCLAIMER! GRUESOME BODILY FUNCTIONS WILL BE DISCUSSED BELOW! So if you’re related to me and don’t wanna know, or perhaps are one of those guys who still likes to pretend that girls don’t actually go to the bathroom, you can stop reading here and go make some lasagna rolls for your loved one, or something.
For the rest of you, just know that I’m only writing from my own experience, and I’ve only had one baby–and vaginally at that (C-section recovery is different). Everyone’s body is different, so you may or may not experience any of the below. These are the elements of the recovery process that I have distilled after dredging through my memory, for your enjoyment/horror/instruction/andhopefullyalittlelaughter.
1) The sweat. Suddenly my left armpit became a slough of stink. I was an every-other-day shower person, but during the first few weeks after giving birth, I showered once or even twice a day.
2) Milk everywhere. Your boobs don’t learn immediately how much to make, how often to make it, and how much your baby will drink. And they leak–oh do they leak. While your baby is nursing on one side, the other side will be like, “wait, where’s my baby?” It’s like your body is ready for twins and takes a while to adapt, or something. I used a milk-catcher to save the milk on one side. But you should always have a towel on hand–during the day, at night, and all the time: as your baby nurses on one side, firmly press the towel into the other side. This should help staunch the flow somewhat. This also means that your laundry hamper will be filled very day with stinky, milk-soaked towels.
3) The emotions. Expect tears, laughter, tears, laughter . . . and tears. I remember I felt so uncertain . . . about everything. My mother in law was with us for a couple days, and I remember that on our second or third day home from the hospital she looked straight at me and said, “Jenna, you guys are doing just fine.” Just hearing someone state in a confident tone that the world was not, in fact, pulling apart at the seams meant everything to me.
Also, you’ll be processing your birth experience. With rare exceptions, birthing doesn’t tend to go as planned. You may have wanted to go natural and be hard core, and ended up choosing an epidural in the heat of the moment. Or the opposite–maybe you wanted an epidural (that’s me) but by the time you asked for one, it was too late. Maybe you wanted to be silent and strong but ended up cussing like a sailor and screaming your guts out (again, me). Maybe you ended up having an emergency C-section instead of the hypnotically joyful push-it-out experience you envisioned. Who knows! But reality doesn’t tend to match up with expectations, and you’ll probably be doing some thinking, retelling of the story to your spouse and friends, and trying to find peace about what happened. It took me a long time to get over the fact that I didn’t feel cozy and close with God during the pain, and that instead of being quiet and strong yoga-master type I was . . . well, a screamer. But almost a year and a half later, I am finally owning it.
4) Bloated and gassy. Let’s just say it like it is: considering your nether parts have just stretched to 10 centimeters to get a baby out, you won’t have as much control as usual.
Are you with me?
Do I have to spell it out?
Just make peace with it and tell your spouse to give you a little grace. You may be one of those women who has, like, never tooted in front of her husband. Well congratulations–and get ready to move on. At least for a few weeks until your muscles under there firm up again.
5) Pooping is scary. It feels like you’re going to burst open your stitches. Even if you don’t tear, I’ve heard it can still feel like you’re going to rend a hole in yourself. Expect to take 15-20 minutes on the potty, and make sure the area is clear so that you have ample sound space to privately pray, swear, grunt and moan or all of the above (I was an “all of the above” kinda girl).
Stool softeners and you are going to get along just dandy during this time.
6) It hurts down there. Walking, sitting, lying down in the same position for too long–the whole thing. You will probably limp into your baby’s first doctor’s appointment. You may bravely go to church when your baby is 10 days old, but after standing and talking to people for half an hour, you will be at your limit.
Getting up and down hurts. My husband spent a few days pulling me up out of bed, helping me off the couch, etc. So get ready: ask for help. Ask for help. ASK FOR HELP. This is not the time to be the hard core independent person you may have always been. Give yourself a little grace and let your spouse be the helpmate they signed up to be on the day of your vows. Think of this as a precious time in which you can lean on your life partner and best friend.
For me, just reaching over from my bed to pick Alice up from her bassinet and bring her to my side to nurse at night was too much. The twisting and lifting hurt, which is what began our (wonderful) adventure of co-sleeping for which I am so thankful (read: freedom from sleep deprivation!).
7) The blood. There will be lots of heavy bleeding down there, with gushes when you’re nursing and your uterus contracts. Expect to wear that mesh underwear the hospital gives you lined with the most gigantic pads you’ve ever seen. The time for sexy underwear is not now. Some degree of bleeding goes on for weeks–for me, about 8 weeks.
8) Smells. Not to go back to the sweat thing, but let’s go back to the sweat thing. Your sweat will smell quite bad. I remember after our first night at home I woke up in our own bed in the morning and just cried. My hair was greasy, my vagina hurt and I stank, stank, stank. It hurt too bad to sit up yet, so I just lay there in the middle of the messy bed, surrounded with pillows and towels all smelling like milk, with tears pouring down my face (I didn’t even have the energy to really sob). I felt like a disgusting pile. Also, the whole bathroom just smelled bad. The blood, the sweat, all the stuff coming out of my body just gave the area a bizarre funk.
Oh was I grateful for in-unit laundry! And running water. The shower became my best friend.
9) To riff off the previous point, it’s just a mess. The towels you’re using to sleep on (alert: use towels under you to absorb the milk, sweat, etc.–if not, you’ll be stripping the bed and changing the sheets, like, every day), the sweat, the sanitary pads, the leaking boobs, the marathon nursing sessions–it feels like chaos.
Drink a glass of wine every now and then, and catch up on your feel-good chick flicks.
10) Hungry. Have snacks all around. We had our entire counter in the kitchen lined with stuff for at least a week or two: Fig Newtons. Almonds. Pastries (oh did I crave pastries!). Raisins. Chocolate. Eat like a champion! It’s supposed to help your milk supply, so own your new ravenousness.
11) The mooshy belly. Your belly will not disappear the second your baby pops out. The uterus still has to contract back to its normal size, which it will do (feeling like cramps) over the course of a few days or even weeks, prompted by the baby’s nursing. So when your baby nurses expect to feel those contraction-like feelings as things get back to normal inside.
The morning after giving birth, I remember prodding my belly and being like, “is this even a part of me?” It felt like a squishy science experiment.
Some people drop the weight fast, some slow. I was both–I dropped most of it within about 5 days, but the last little bit (around the hips mainly) clung on for about a year. As one of my friends says, go easy on yourself–you just made a person.
Of course, the sad part about losing that last bit of weight is that now all the shorts and pants I bought during that time are fitting like slightly sagging balloons on me. Well . . . either time to chunk up again or time to shop, shop, shop.
12) Expect that sleeping arrangements will be unique–but it is NOT A FAILURE on your part.
I remember our first night at home. It was maybe 9pm and we were ready to turn in. Suddenly it hit me–I didn’t want to sleep in bed with my husband. It hadn’t occurred to me to think about this or plan for it before, but as I surveyed the bed, my pain level, and the baby that would need to nurse all night, I realized we had to get out a blow-up mattress asap. And by “we” I meant “him.”
It was such a blessing. He slept better because he was further away from our newborn who was a noisy sleeper and woke him up constantly. I slept better because I had space to stretch out my aching body. I also wasn’t afraid of bleeding on him or spurting milk on him, and we both felt better since there was no way he could accidentally roll on our baby in his sleep (which was never a fear for myself, interestingly–I had a supernatural awareness of where I was and where she was constantly, even while sleeping–who knew!). This arrangement persisted for 5 weeks, until Alice was only waking up twice a night and I moved her out of our bed and into a bassinet. During those 5 weeks, we tried a few times to reunite our bedtime selves, but it always resulted in poorer sleep for one or the other (usually both) of us.
At times, I felt like it was a secret failure. I didn’t want people to know I wasn’t sharing a bed with my spouse. But looking back (and looking towards another baby in the future, I hope), there is nothing to be ashamed of. And I will now and forever own it (yes, “own it” seems to be a theme here, doesn’t it?). It doesn’t mean romance is over. It just means that during times of extremity (and this is one), you gotta do whatcha gotta do. Just accept whatever is best for you, and don’t be ashamed. It’s a short period of time. Yes, it feels like forever when you’re in the midst of it, but it’s not.
13) Sex. Not at six weeks. Not at seven weeks. Give yourself time. You can try, but don’t be afraid to stop.
14) Oh, and nursing probably hurts. I read books that were like, “it might be a little uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t register as pain” and the sort. Well some people may have boobs of steel, but I wasn’t one of them. It was pain, baby. After the first month though, the pain was over and it was awesome. And worth every second of pain/discomfort/whateveryouwannacallit.
15) You may not be in love with your baby . . . yet. But that’s ok. I didn’t fall in love the second she popped out. Some people do, just not me. I didn’t dislike her–I was fascinated by her. But I didn’t really start falling in love with her until week #3 of her life, when all our visitors were gone and my husband went back to work and for the first time I was alone with her. We spent long hours stretched out on the couch in the morning or afternoon sunlight, snoozing and nursing. I would stroke her head and the blond fuzz on her shoulders and back and just . . . marvel. And I started getting some of the same feelings that I remember getting when I was first falling in love with my husband. I wanted to think and talk about her all the time . . . I missed her when I wasn’t with her . . . I wanted to touch her constantly . . . I felt rushes of hormones when I hugged her or held her close . . . it was wonderful.
What I’m saying is: you’re going to feel things you can’t control. Love will happen–so don’t rush it. Wait for it, and savor it, and let it roll over you like your first romance.
16) And then your hair falls out. I think this started happening about 3 months in. My thick, glorious pregnancy hair was suddenly like, “oh, there’s not a baby in there anymore . . . adios.” It’s a little ridiculous. Suddenly you realize, “wow, when I was pregnant I didn’t have to clean out the hair trap in the shower for, like, half a year.” And now suddenly you have a bald patch on each temple that you (unwisely) one morning right before church try to fill in with your eyebrow pencil.
And in case you’re tempted, let me just tell you now–don’t try it.
When you survey the disaster on your scalp, it turns out that eyebrow pencil doesn’t rub out as easily as you might expect.
16) The time frame for stuff. For me, knowing when the suffering is going to end always helps me endure. If there’s an end in sight, I can get through it. So (even though, again, everyone is different), to summarize the timing of the stuff I’ve talked about:
-Losing most of my weight took 5 days, which was really fast. But losing 100% of it took me a full year.
-Walking normally (without limping) took me a week–in fact, after the first week things got exponentially easier. But full relief from all pain took a few weeks.
-The bleeding lasted (for me) for 8 weeks.
-Sex took a couple months.
-Nursing hurt for the first couple weeks (cuss-worthy levels of pain sometimes), and then for the next couple weeks just at the initial latch. After the first month things got easier, and eventually I fell in love with breastfeeding.
Well my friends, now you probably know a little too much about me. But one final thing–the little bean that caused you to need to recover is worth it.