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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Reflections From a New Mom

One year ago today, we got some pretty big news.
One year ago today, I found out that I was pregnant. 

In the bathroom, with a little bit of pee on my hand, I repeated over and over again "oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh" as I stared at two little blue lines.

I feel like I should have some very profound and well worded summary on what this past year has meant to me.  But, still, all I can say is, "oh my gosh!".  People say you can never be fully prepared for having children... and from my experience, I totally agree.  You can read all the blogs, all the books, talk to all the parents, and do all the things to prepare but you will still be taken off guard and stretched daily... in some of the best and hardest ways ever.

Now in direct contradiction of what I just wrote, I wanted to share some of my own experiences maybe in order to help an expecting mom prepare or let a new mom know she's not alone.  Because lets face it, just because you can't possibly fully prepare, doesn't mean you shouldn't try.

I also want to give a little disclaimer.  In order to be an encouragement to other moms, I felt like I needed to be pretty open about my experiences.  So some of the details about my experiences postpartum are a bit more graphic than my typical, light hearted, G rated blog posts.  

On Pregnancy

Most of my insight has come from the post postpartum period because, in all honesty, I had a fantastic pregnancy.  Minimal nausea, no complications, minimal aches and pains.  I am so thankful for it.  Pregnancy can be rough for sure, and each pregnancy very different from the next (I'm told).  So my insight is simply this: be thankful for your pregnancy! Because there's no guarantees.   It is a gift to hold and protect a little one on the inside, and no one is ever promised this gift.  So be thankful in spite of any discomfort, because there are always those who would give anything to bare it. 

On Finding Out the Gender

Finding out the gender was an easy decision for us.  We LOVED finding out but next time I think I'll do it a little differently.  I thought, "I don't want to wait any longer than I have to! I want to find out during the ultrasound!!!"  Well, and there is no way I could have known this, turns out it was not the best experience.  The ultrasound tech, although VERY professional and good at what she does, was all business.  Ok, business is fine if you are taking a look at my gallbladder! I was just hoping for a little more enthusiasm.  You know, feel the room.

She asked us if we'd like to find out the gender...we said "yes".  When it came time to assess that area, we were very flatly introduced to our son by -and I quote-: "Here are the testicles..."

(Flat line face emoji)

Of course we were excited to hear the news, I just think next time we'll have her write it down (hopefully as "boy/girl", not "testicle/ovaries"). Then, Michael and I can go out to eat afterward and find out together.  Plus, there are all the conversations you are dying to have after you hear the news (baby names!!!!) that you can't have because you are trapped at the doctor's office for at least another half hour!

Finding out what we were having was a super important step for me in bonding with Abram.  While I was pregnant, especially early on, I had a hard time feeling connected emotionally with the idea that what was growing inside me was a person who would be joining our family.  It was just all too crazy for me to be able to fully understand.  But finding out that it was a little boy helped bring me closer to the idea that this is a baby.  But not just any baby, it was our baby.  But not just our baby, our son! I can already tell though, next time I would bet it will be easier for me to bond.  Because now that I know the immense love and connection with my child, I will be able to get to that point more quickly. 

On Getting Ready

It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that we LOVED getting ready for Abram.  Working on the nursery (see here and here) was our way of preparing our hearts for the love that we were about to lavish on this little guy.  It was our way of saying, you are wanted, and you have a place.  So whatever that is that you need to do to send that message (to yourself, maybe, even more than to a baby), do it.   Maybe it is prepping food.  Maybe it is cleaning every last nook of your house.  Maybe it is going to every garage sale that has a hint of baby items.  I wholeheartedly believe that it is as important of a step emotionally as it is practically. 

And because we knew we were going in to be induced, Michael and I went out for one last no-kid dinner together.  We decided a little walk and picnic at our favorite spot seemed super fitting.

And we even have talked about making it a tradition and taking Abram back every year before his birthday!

On Labor & Delivery

Not 12 hours after Abram was born, I looked at Michael and said, "I can't imagine never doing that again... that was SO cool!" 

I was induced at 41 weeks, which is not ideal, but it got the job done.  The epidural was my absolute favorite thing in the whole world.  I told Michael every hour after I got it that it was the best decision I have ever made.  Not saying everyone should do it, just saying I was happy (VERY happy) with my decision.  I was about 12 hours into my induction and probably somewhere around 5cm dilated.  I opted to try Nubain (which is a pain medication injected through an IV) before the epidural and I wish I would have skipped that and just gone straight to the epidural.  It made me pretty groggy and it provided very little, if any, pain relief.  The epidural was great but it did make it difficult when it came time to push.  I pushed for 2.5hrs and we ended up having to use the vacuum.  His heart rate was decelerating every time I pushed and they wanted to deliver him quickly.  So it was either the vacuum or a C Section.  And at the time a vacuum seemed like the less invasive, quicker and best choice.  And with one more push he was born.  He had had the cord wrapped around his neck twice but he thankfully recovered very quickly.

I couldn't believe all that hair! <3

It was a Friday which worked out super well for visitors to come see us on the weekend.  But what was unfortunate was that the lactation consultants left Friday without watching me nurse him.  I feel like that was a huge mistake on our part.  The nurses are very well trained and very helpful, I just always wondered if the lactation consultant would have had anything else to add that might have been helpful.  So next time around I will make sure to see the LC before being discharged.  I did go later to see them and it was nice to get their perspective.. but I will talk more about that in a bit.

On Breastfeeding

So I expected breastfeeding to be difficult, I was just hoping that I'd be wrong.  Right away we had issues with latching and keeping our little guy awake long enough to nurse.  I'm not convinced Abram got much at all those first couple of days.  Looking back I'm pretty sure he was dehydrated until my milk came in.  And once it did, oh boy, watch out.  He, all of a sudden, became a ferocious beast!  Nursing sometimes as often as every hour and a half.  It's exhausting in those early days.  Feeling like you have maybe an hour between feedings.  Plus, even though I was using a nipple shield, I got very sore and cracked.  And that was certainly the hardest part.  The soreness lasted about 5 weeks (5 long weeks) and I used a combination of hydro-cortisone cream and antibiotic ointment to heal the damaged areas. 

We also offered him a bottle pretty early,  at 2 weeks old.  The recommendation we were given was to wait at least 6 weeks before offering a bottle.  The reason we introduced it so early was because I was in my sister in law's wedding three weeks after he was born and there was no way I was going to be able to nurse him on the wedding day.   But, honestly, the ability to give him a bottle and give me a break in those early weeks did wonders on my mood.  I felt a HUGE weight lift off my shoulders just knowing there was another option for feeding my baby.  We didn't do it often (once a day at most for the first month) but it was just nice to know we could use it if we needed to.   

I continued to use the nipple shield with great results for 3 months.  Supply was good, nursing wasn't really painful anymore, he was gaining weight.  Momma was feeling good.  I thought, "sure, lets try to go off this nipple shield".  Well.... after a day and a half without it, it was like I was back to square one with soreness.  Enough was enough.  I was back to work now, pumping sometimes exclusively on days I worked.  So about two weeks ago Michael and I decided to just try out pumping exclusively.  And you know what?.. I love it! It is a little bit extra work but I'm not sore, I know exactly what I'm producing, I know exactly how much he is eating, I can pump whenever it is convenient for me, and anybody can feed Abram.  When we were trialing it, I thought I might miss the closeness of nursing or the convenience.  But honestly, I feel even closer to him because I can hold him away from me and see him a little better when he's eating.  And I think it is almost more convenient because I don't have to disrobe every time I want to feed my child.

So that's where we are at with this whole breastfeeding thing.  I'm sure some lactation consultants would scold me for going off the boob but you know what?!.. he's still getting the good stuff I'm making!  And overall, I think, when it comes to breastfeeding, that's what you have to keep in mind.  I always told myself, "What's the worst case scenario when it comes to breastfeeding? I have to switch to formula and my baby continues to eat and grow?"  That doesn't sound like a very bad worst case scenario to me!

(Note: if you are thinking about pumping exclusively, I would recommend reading up on how to maintain your supply, especially if your baby is 12 weeks and younger)

On Postpartum Healing

If I were going to choose two words to describe the first three weeks postpartum, they would be pain and anxiety.

So Abram was born with a very large head.  After he was born, the docotor told us, "If head size is any indication of intelligence then you have the smartest baby in Michiana."  At the time, we laughed and smiled proudly at our little genius baby.  But when the pain meds wore off, I found myself wishing for a slightly less smart, smaller headed baby. 

We had been forewarned.  In our ultrasound leading up to our induction, his head size was off the charts... she couldn't even give an estimation.  "Yikes!," I thought, "I'm in for a good time."  But then, true to myself, I thought "Eh....It'll be fine"... well, overall, it was fine.  He was born with a 15 inch head circumference.... and not through a C Section, which meant I had some pretty significant tearing.  Third degree.  Not the worst but certainly not the best.  And it, by all accounts was the worst thing about the postpartum period.  Up until this, I have never really had any significant injury.  No surgeries, no broken bones.  So having pain for weeks on end was something very new to me.  The pain lasted well past the 6 week follow up.  It was rough, ya'll.  I won't lie.  The lack of sleep, the anxiety over being a new mom, the physical pain from boobs to butt, made the first 3 weeks postpartum very trying.  I know I could have dealt with it all better had I not been in so much pain.  And, of course, I worried about infection too! Between the two of us, we certainly had some areas that were susceptible to infection.  Luckily both him and I made it through infection free but I certainly worried about it enough!

This too was not something I typically deal with.  I am generally a pretty joyful person, optimistic, happy go lucky.  That all changed, at least temporarily, postpartum.  And the hardest two weeks of my life started at Abram's two week check up.  The doctor told us that the newborn screening that they send out on every baby came back positive for Cystic Fibrosis.  What did that mean? In reality it meant that we had to take him in for further testing in order to diagnose him.  It meant the only thing we knew for sure was that he was at least a carrier for the recessive gene that carries the disease.  But in my head, that meant he certainly probably had CF which meant that this little perfect baby I was falling more in love with daily had a terrible chronic disease that would probably take his life.  I cried and prayed and cried and prayed.  We waited two weeks before we could take him in for the test and another couple days until we received the results.  It was negative.  Abram was a carrier for the CF gene but did not have CF.  He would not be affected by the disease and would only need genetic counseling when he wanted to have his own children someday.  Relieved and thankful do not even begin to describe how I felt.  I can only imagine what life would be like had the results been different.  My heart aches for parents of kids with chronic diseases or cancer or developmental problems.  That could still be us someday, there are no guarantees. But for now, we will thank God for a healthy child and hold him a little tighter. 

On Help From Others

We are certainly blessed by family and friends.  That was very clear to me postpartum.  The amount of food we received allowed us to not even have to think about putting a meal together for a whole month.  It was awesome and SO helpful at a time where you struggle to find the energy to do the very basic things.  For those of you who brought us meals, THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! You did a very wonderful thing that did not go unappreciated. 

The other way people helped was by just listening.  Every time I connected with another mom and she said things like "Oh I know."  or "Yes, that happened to me too." or "I've been there."  And she shared her experiences with me, it was like a little more weight was lifted off my shoulders and my heart.  So I think that's why I felt compelled to write this blog post.  Even though its long and even though I'm sharing more than maybe I initially felt comfortable with, I felt like I needed to do it.  So hopefully you hear me saying, "girl, I've been there.  You aren't alone."  Because a week after the baby is born and you are up at 3am nursing your baby and biting you lip from the pain, you just need to know that you are doing ok.  And it will get better. 


On Loving Your Baby

So I've shared a lot about the hardships of new motherhood.  But it is completely unfair to leave it at that! Because there is a whole other side of this story that keeps getting better and better.  His name is Abram.

He is sweet and snuggly.  Loves to "talk" and smile.  He rolls over like nobody's business.  And he likes to wake up to let us know he's still here at 3am.  Isn't that sweet? He is without a doubt our greatest adventure and worth every twinge of pain and wiped-away tear.

The thing about loving a baby is that there are always new things to love... and you better love them fast because soon they'll be gone. 

His hair, for instance, used to stick straight up like Albert Einstein... couldn't get it to lay down.  Now I can't get it to stand up.  What will be the next thing to change over night?  I can't allow myself to wonder, I'd rather just enjoy it while it lasts. 

I hope that this post allows some new mom out there to feel like she's not alone.  That somebody else has been there.  That there is an end to the rough patch that is the postpartum period. 

There is so much more I could probably say but I will end it here.  I am open to talking more about my experiences if you need someone to talk to.  Please feel free to message me, email me, comment below.
You are doing so great momma, you can do this.