Disclaimer #1: I always like to preface motherhood posts by saying that this is my personal story. Everyone has a different experience, since no two lives are the same. I’m hyper aware of the fact that “mom shaming” is real, and happens easily and often accidentally. I support all moms. Being a mom is the most wonderful thing in the world, but–as you’ll read below–it’s also hard. We need each other!
Disclaimer #4: Recovery was SO much easier than I thought it would be. I’m a huge wimp; everyone in my family says it. If I can handle it, you can handle it. (But if you think something’s off–whether physical or emotional–it’s important to call your doctor and discuss.)
Disclaimer #3: That said, this post is definitely not for the squeamish. Dad, I love you, but this is also not for you. Click out of this immediately and go back to The Wall Street Journal. Gram, you too. Except no need to read The WSJ. ;)
This is my last pregnancy-related post. (I know, I know. I had Emma in August and it’s now January, haha. But hey: At least I’m finally doing it, right?!) And yes, the “Fourth Trimester” is more commonly referred to as the baby’s first three months of life, and how they’re an extension of life in the womb. But the first three months–and let’s be serious: the fourth month, too–were pretty significant for me as well, so today I’m borrowing the “Fourth Trimester” term and applying it to recovery.
Before having Emma, I kind of assumed that I would return to “normal” very, very quickly. Maybe not as quickly as those crazy stories I’d been told–oh my gosh; my aunt totally walked out of the hospital wearing her skinny jeans!–but I figured it would be relatively fast.
At least for me, it wasn’t. But let’s back up, and pick up from where we left off, with Emma’s delivery story. The last thing I’d mentioned was that we were taken to our recovery room to, not surprisingly, recover. But what exactly did that entail, and what happened once I went home?
The recovery room:
Emma and I were taken via wheelchair to the recovery room by a big and strong-looking man. (He looked like The Hulk.) He was hilarious, and seemed so happy for Mitch and me. I learned quickly that the wheelchair was essential, as the epidural hadn’t worn off yet. (This is where I talk more about the epidural, how scared of it I was, and how un-scary it turned out to be.) I was starting to regain feeling in my legs, but I couldn’t stand up or walk on my own. The man was, in fact, very strong, and when we got to the room, he effortlessly picked me up and placed me in my bed. (Mitch was holding Emma during that.)
This is the gross part. So many disclaimers! I didn’t do much reading about the aftermath of childbirth in an effort to stay calm in the weeks leading up to the big day. But as it turns out, there’s a significant amount of bleeding that occurs in the (four to six) weeks after delivery. This isn’t because of trauma (my first thought); it’s because the uterus needs to shed all the blood and tissue that supported the baby for the past nine months. It’s also because the uterus starts to shrink back to its normal size. It’s kind of like having three periods at once, with more intense cramps. Not super painful, but not a great feeling, either.
Using tampons isn’t recommended during this because they can’t keep up and they can breed bacteria and cause infection. Instead, it’s giant pads that are kept in place with mesh underpants that the hospital provides but you can also buy. (Also, never search “mesh underpants” on Amazon. Terrifying imagery.) In the three days that I was in the hospital, I also had big plastic sheets underneath where I was sitting in bed to help out.
One funny part of this initial experience was that because the epidural hadn’t worn off in the first few hours that I was in the recovery room, I didn’t feel the need to pee. (During delivery, I had a catheter hooked up, but it was obviously taken out when I was ready to go to the recovery room.) The nurse explained that I simply needed to to set a timer and force myself to get out of bed and use the restroom, but I hadn’t slept in days, and I kept falling asleep or forgetting. As a result, I had a few accidents, haha. The worst one occurred when the nurse was helping me out of bed and I peed all over her on the way to the bathroom. We laughed it off, but poor thing. Nurses are the best.
As for that soreness factor, I experienced pain and some minor contractions as the epidural’s effects began to fade, but it wasn’t anything that a few ibuprofen couldn’t handle. The nurses gave it to me every few hours, and it was awesome. That said, I was in no position to get out of my bed in the beginning. Mitch did SO much for Emma and me during these days (including changing ALL diapers), and I’m relatively certain I would have died without him. ;) The thing that helped the most, though, was eventually building up the courage to get out of bed and–halfway through the second day–walk the hallways. (Truth: Mitch forced me to do it. Thank you, Mitch!)
Finally, an important part of the recovery room experience was learning how to take care of my “wounds.” I think I mentioned this in the delivery story, but I had some significant tearing. Sounds HORRIFYING, I know. But remember that I had the epidural and felt literally nothing during it, and didn’t feel anything when I was being stitched up, either. So it wasn’t awful, but it also wasn’t fun afterwards. Stitches made it easier to get an infection, and they made everything even more sensitive. So how did I make sure that things “down there” stayed clean? A squirt bottle filled with water. Every single time I changed my pad and/or used the bathroom. Kind of weird, but the nurses said it was 100-percent necessary, and it worked.
The first week:
I’m going to go ahead and just say it: I screwed up badly during the first week. Part of my mistake was due to lack of knowledge. Probably should have read about what it would be like and how I should have behaved. Another part was that my doctors and nurses never really explained what I should and shouldn’t do once I arrived home. (My one tip: If they don’t offer up the info, ASK for advice before you leave the hospital!) Still another part was that I was hormonal and crazy, haha, and wanted more than anything to go back to the person I was before I was pregnant, and do the things I hadn’t been able to do for so long.
So here’s what I did:
I didn’t take it easy. While, yes, I did sit on the couch for extended periods of time, I also did a ton of walking around Lincoln Park. I went out to ice cream and out to lunch with Mitch, my parents, and Baby Emma. Heck, I ran errands.
In hindsight, I should have been at home WAY more often, considering the extent of my battle wounds. Because I was so active, I prolonged my recovery, and because I often forgot to take the ibuprofen, I was in more pain than I should have been. I wish so badly that I’d realized the significance of what I’d just been through and taken it much, much easier for the first month or two!
A few other things to note:
Engorgement: It can happen when your milk comes in, and it happened to me a couple of times. It was painful; it felt like my chest was going to explode. Emma was a good eater from day one, but she was tiny and couldn’t keep up, so we ended up having to use a breast pump one night in order relieve the pain. While it was a somewhat intense experience, it was also pretty funny. You should have seen Mitch and me trying to figure out how to work the thing! But I never ended up with an infection, so thank goodness for the pump!
Breastfeeding: While we’re on the subject, I was very lucky on the breastfeeding front. Emma latched on the first try, and I never experienced painful side effects. But that’s all it was: luck. And that luck was appreciated, since I had some other rough childbirth side effects to deal with!
Using the bathroom: Eventually, you need to use the bathroom. Like, you know: number two. Oh my goodness. I CANNOT believe I’m writing about this right now, haha, but it’s a reality, and a scary one, especially since I had stitches. I’d been told that the nurses don’t let you leave the hospital until you “go,” but for me, that wasn’t the case. They gave me Colace and wished me luck. But I’ll tell you this: I thought it was going to be the most painful thing in the world, and while it certainly wasn’t fun, I was fine and I didn’t rip out any stitches. Also, I felt a LOT better afterwards.
Yikes. We’ve hit a new low on Kelly in the City. ;)
The first month:
As the weeks passed, I started feeling discouraged and moody. Childbirth was, without a doubt, the most life-changing experience I’d ever had, and I was loving every minute of having Little Emma. Yet I was dying to feel like myself again. When I think about it, though, who wouldn’t get pissed off during a month-long period… am I right? It was hard. I was tired of the pads, tired of the contractions (which occur while the uterus is shrinking back to its normal size) and tired of the squirt bottle. I was tired of hurting when I walked, I was tired of being emotional, and I was discouraged about my appearance.
Yes, that makes me sound vain. But my body had morphed and changed and been through war over the course of the course of almost a year, and I just wanted to painlessly wear my old clothing and be that aunt who walked out of the hospital in her skinny jeans. Buttoning those jeans? HAH. Even after a month, there was absolutely no way I was a candidate for that. There was so much excess skin, and when I poked my soft stomach, I could tell that there was a lot of stuff still in there. (More apologies.) My chest was even larger than it had been during pregnancy since I was now breastfeeding, and I leaked everywhere. (Which is why nursing bras and nursing pads are so essential.) I won’t lie: a few tears were shed to Mitch, who must have told me that I was beautiful 50 times per day. I was–and am–a lucky girl.
Best tip I received from a friend: Wear your maternity jeans for as long as you need to. Why suffer? Maternity jeans–especially Paige maternity jeans–tend to be ridiculously soft and stretchy, and no one can tell that they’re maternity jeans. They ensured that I was comfortable throughout the day and they helped me in the confidence department.
I will say, however, that I started to feel a LOT better, at least on the physical front, toward the end of the first month. The bleeding was starting to lighten up, I was taking less and less ibuprofen, and walking was becoming less painful. While my stomach was still huge, I saw some improvement on a weekly basis. My doctor told me I could start working out around week six, so it was simply a waiting game until then! (Also, truth: never ended up working out because as it turns out, time isn’t really something you have a lot of when you’re a new mom!)
I did a lot of reading during my first month, and something I read was that stitches are supposed to dissolve during that time. Mine didn’t, though, and I freaked out and assumed something was wrong. I learned a very important lesson: Not everything I read on the internet applies to me. In fact, a LOT of what I read during that first month didn’t apply to me, and I was perfectly okay. (My stitches ended up dissolving around week six.)
And then there was the emotional side of all this. My hormones were all out of whack, and therefore, I was all out of whack at times, too. I’m lucky that I didn’t experience true postpartum depression, especially since I assumed I would because I’ve had bouts of depression in the past. But I was more emotional in the weeks and months that followed Emma’s birth, and probably still am to some degree. I got upset, overwhelmed and angry more easily, and I often felt like friends and family were mad at me when, in fact, they weren’t. There were so many factors that likely contributed to this: being a new mom, realizing that I couldn’t “do it all” on my own, sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, and fluctuating hormones–just to name a few. But it was tough, and talking to Mitch, my mom, and friends was incredibly helpful.
Oh, I also experienced fatigue. (REALLY, Kelly?! I wonder why…) But I learned that getting enough sleep was crucial during the first month, and sleep helped me on both the physical and emotional fronts. I relied heavily on my mom and on Mitch, and Mitch even ran most of this site during that time. Love you guys! Thank you!
Completely jumping around here, but something that significantly IMPROVED during that first month was my skin. During pregnancy, I experienced my fair share of breakouts. My skin was also very dull, and lacked any sort of healthy glow. Once I had Emma, though, my skin returned to normal for me, which was a nice surprise.
After the six-week marker:
Halfway into the second month, I was feeling a lot more like myself. I went to my six-week exam, and everything checked out. I felt like I’d graduated from something! The bleeding continued to lessen, and once I hit Month Two, it completely stopped, which was SO nice. (It seems that most women stop bleeding around six weeks, but I went longer.) And about halfway through Month Three, I was 100-percent without pain, too. I can’t tell you how lovely that was, and what an impact it made on my disposition!
I was able to fit into non-maternity jeans sometime during Month Three. I exclusively wore this cut from Rag & Bone because they’re stretchy yet don’t lose their shape throughout the day, they’re crazy soft, and they have a wider waist. Now that I’ve lost a good amount of the stomach, they’re STILL my favorite jeans! Couldn’t recommend them more. (Side note: It’s Month Five right now, and while most of my stomach is gone, I still have a bit of a belly and some extra skin. C’est la vie! Maybe I’ll hit the gym at some point this year–Mitch is probably cracking up as he reads this–but you know what? I love my new body because it’s what gave me Emma.)
With the weight loss came the stretch marks’ visibility, though. Throughout my pregnancy, I hadn’t noticed anything, but as things started to return to normal, I realized that the weird pink and purple discolorations around my belly button were, in fact, stretch marks. Fast forward to Month Five, where I am now, and they’re smaller and have lost their color. (They’re just white.) They are present, though. But whatever! I love one-piece swimsuits anyway, so I’m really not too concerned. And yes: I did use the creams throughout my pregnancy. My doctor said that sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do about ’em, and you have to be okay with that. And I am!
I also think that I improved emotionally. Yes, there were times when I felt overwhelmed, and I still get overwhelmed. But now it’s to a point where I’m pretty sure it’s all self-induced. ;) Or it’s just that normal “I’m an overwhelmed new mom” feeling. Needless to say, it’s nice to feel more balanced!
The last thing I’ll mention is that I stopped breastfeeding after the third month. The plan was to do it longer, but it was getting very challenging. First, I felt like a captive in my own home, and was really sad about it. I never had a single person give me a weird look or say anything mean when I breastfed in public, but I personally hated it. I felt uncomfortable doing it, and I often decided to stay home instead of going out because I didn’t want to be in that position.
Second, Emma was so much happier on formula. She didn’t seem to get enough calories when I breastfed her, and she also didn’t eat enough because she was so comforted by skin-to-skin that she almost immediately fell asleep each time I fed her. (No matter how much I tickled her!) I’m so, so happy I breastfed for the three+ months that I did, but I’m also happy that I recognized that both Emma and I needed a change. Once I started integrating formula, Emma began sleeping better, gaining more weight, and smiling and laughing more. We could also leave the house! And I realize that I’m opening the door to criticism as breastfeeding is SUCH a controversial topic these days, but this decision was the best decision for us.
A final note:
Every little bit of it. I’d do it a thousand times over, just to have Emma.
Anyway, I’m probably forgetting quite a bit, as I’m typing this with one hand and slowly pecking at the keys. But if there’s anything I missed, or anything you’d like to hear more about, please let me know! If you’re a mom, I’d also love to hear what your experience was like. Thank you so much for reading, and apologies for being so late on this as well as all the typos I likely made. ;)
And just a reminder if you think something’s off–whether physical or emotional–it’s important to call your doctor and discuss!