Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: newborn

Days 8-13 Pictures: Recovery and Establishing Routines

But first… Baby pictures.

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Day 7: One week old

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Day 7: Umbilical stump, just about to fall off

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Day 8: Buckeye

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Day 7: That face… It’s just a giant eraser to the pain of childbirth.

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Day 9: Awaiting visitors

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Day 9: Milk drunk

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Day 12: Happy Valentine’s Day

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Day 12: Sibling Bonding

The Incredible Shrinking Uterus

Is it just me, or is the uterus a fascinating organ?

Right now, mine is in the process of shrinking from the size of a watermelon to the size of an orange.

Day 8

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Day 9

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Day 10

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Not sure why I look bigger on Day 10 than on Day 9…

Day 11

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Day 12

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Day 13

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Compared to Day 3

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If you’re wondering just how much work a woman’s body has to do to return to its pre-pregnancy condition, the Alpha Parent’s Postpartum Recovery Timeline is a good reference.

Notes on Recovery

Last Friday and Saturday night, Doug took the night feedings and I was able to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

Seven whole hours both nights.

Yeah.

Now, of course, my body continued to wake up every hour, but I forced myself to go back to sleep. And I succeeded.

With just those two nights of normal sleep, I noticed that my energy during the day doubled. But getting those hours of sleep post-birth is really, really difficult. And if you’re breastfeeding, it’s pretty impossible this early on in the postpartum period, unless you’re one of those blessed women whose milk supply comes in early and strong and you can pump ahead so someone else can do night feedings.

In any case, my recovery for this birth has been much quicker, I think, for a few reasons.

First, I stopped nursing pretty early on. For those of you who are new to this blog, I suffered a postpartum hemorrhage with this birth and have a history of breastfeeding problems and postpartum thyroiditis. All of which worked against my ability to breastfeed this time as well.

And secondly…

Recovery: Tearing vs. No Tearing

Yeah. I gave birth to a baby that was a whole pound heavier this time–without the second-degree tear that I had last time.

What was the difference?

A midwife who did perineal massage during my pushing phase.

Yeah.

Sure, I was still swollen after all was said and done. But there is a world of difference between the pain of being swollen and the pain of being stitched back together.

When you’re swollen, the 800 mg of Motrin mostly numbs the pain. And you can (mostly) sit comfortably. When you’ve got stitches, the last thing you want to do is sit upright. And when you’re trying to nurse, the last thing you want to take away is your ability to sit upright. With my daughter, sitting (no matter how much I propped myself this way or that) hurt like hell. Nevertheless, I nursed. And nursed and nursed. Mostly in the same, single position that was at least bearable. But over time, it was agonizing.

So I’ll take swollen over stitches any day.

So, thanks, midwife.

Recovering from Postpartum Hemorrhage

As I mentioned in previous posts, I was extremely weak from Day 4 to Day 8. The most I could handle was getting out of bed to eat and shower before lying back down again. My body was working overtime to replenish all the lost blood from delivery. I am so thankful for my mother, who watched Henry during the day so I could just eat and sleep. And my amazing friends, Ryan (a.k.a. Bear) and Cate, who brought us dinner two nights in a row. I gobbled up chile verde carnitas and roasted chicken like it was my business. God, that was good.

The good news is that this week is markedly different.

On Day 10, with the help of my mother, I was able to get myself and my two kids to church for our first Sunday back since the birth. Since Doug did the night feedings, I got seven hours of sleep the night before. Thus, I was even able to drive! Woot. And bonus, this baby slept in the Moby wrap for nearly the whole time (save feeding time). Miracle of miracles.

On Day 11, I was able to go for a 23-minute walk. By myself.

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You know what feels amazing? Walking without a 41-week-pregnant belly.

A-maz-ing.

On Day 12, I cooked my own eggs and made my own coffee.

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Small victories.

Other Changes That I’ve Noticed

  • I am jiggly. Nothing to be done about that.
  • I’ve lost about 15 pounds so far. 30 pounds to go.
  • When I stand on one leg, I no longer feel like I’m going to fall through my hips.
  • I have successfully trained myself to sleep in small chunks around the clock. I sleep about 3-4 hours at night, 1 hour between 1 and 3 p.m., and 1 hour between 7 and 9 p.m.
  • When I do lie down to sleep, I can actually reach a deep sleep every time now. Before, I would lie there and agonize that my mind wouldn’t spin down. I was on high alert to all the new sounds of my baby. But now that I’ve acquired this new language of sounds, my mind is letting go when I need to sleep and allowing me to sleep more soundly. Now, when I wake up from these bursts of sleep, I have a feeling of restoration. That is worth its weight in gold.
  •  I’ve decreased to two doses of 800 mg Motrin per day, instead of three doses.
  • My face has finally lost its super-puffiness. My thighs and legs, not so much yet.
  • My lower back doesn’t seize up in spasms if I sit the wrong way. This happened a lot during the first three days post-birth.
  • My night-time leg cramps are starting to go away.

The Beginning of Routines

From the pregnant woman’s perspective, I have to tell you, there are not many advantages to going all the way to 41 1/2 weeks.

Except…

Your baby comes out more developed.

Which means they can take in more milk in one feeding once their stomachs fill out.

Which means they sleep for longer intervals earlier on.

By the time he was one week old, Henry was regularly eating 3 ounces in each feeding and sleeping for 3-4 hour stretches. With our daughter, it took us three or four weeks to get to this point. (Granted, we’re not dealing (yet) with issues of colic or reflux or other horrible conditions that keep babies awake all hours of the day. My hat is off to you parents who regularly deal with these kinds of pains.)

We have about one or two night feedings right now. And that is totally doable.

And finally, I got this fortune in my fortune cookie over the weekend. I read it when I was in that warm haze of sleep deprivation.

I had to laugh.

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These Holy Hours

1:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m.

These are holy hours

when the soft rooting of newborn hunger stirs the silence

And weary, warm exhaustion is brushed aside once more

In these holy hours

new life feeds and grows, minute by minute

Neurons connect and thicken

their paths beginning to deepen

Eyes open and drink

swallowing light and one familiar face

Eyes, free of shame and guilt and secrecy

Eyes that stare and stare

Eyes that wonder

These are holy hours

but hours for which no one wants to awaken

save the mother, whose body craves the contact

In these hours

ordinary actions become superhuman feats

witnessed by no one

In these hours, maternal instinct strengthens and sharpens

and all other desires recede

and it is mothers who detect and interpret

even the smallest of signals

In these hours, love is quietly knitted together

one diaper, one feeding, one burping at a time

In these holy hours

two human hearts rest closely together

synchronize and slow

synchronize and slow

the inside, now the outside

These are holy hours

when questions of creation come forth

and the shells of sacred mysteries begin to crack

under the magnitude of these most ordinary of moments

Their rays of light shining through

Revealing new truths in the Whole Story

Beginning of beginnings

These are quiet, still hours

when the rhythm of the present slows

suspended between the past and the future

when memories and hopes and prayers

swirl and mix

creating new galaxies of possibilities.

These are holy hours

When the Divine bends down to offer mother and child

a blessing that washes over them

and pulls them underneath into an ocean of warm sleep

once more.

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Terrifying Moments in Parenting: In Random Order

Labor

When you hit the beginning of the transition stage of labor and think, Oh. So this is what it’s like to be torn in half.

Three Years Old

When you walk into the garage and see your child in the driver’s seat of your car. And you have a manual drive car.

When your child slips out of the house at bedtime while you’re watching TV in another room. And wanders around outside of the house, looking for the other parent.

When your friend looks into your child’s playroom and asks, “Should she be allowed to have that?”

One Year Old

When your toddling child grabs the edge of the tablecloth to pull herself up, and all the dinner dishes nearly land on top of her.

When your child wakes up in the middle of the night, shrieking hysterically, vomiting, and struggling to breathe. Later at the hospital, they tell you, it’s okay, it’s just croup and you think, Are you f–ing kidding me? Just croup? I was praying to gods in universes beyond human comprehension!

Two Years Old

When your child stretches overhead, reaching for whatever is on the countertop. And it’s a knife.

When your child drops your hand and darts away from you in the parking lot of a grocery store on a busy Sunday afternoon.

When you see your child walking down the stairs, holding a long blanket that she is about to trip over and fall all, the, way, down.

When your child succeeds in falling all, the, way, down, the stairs.

6 Months Old

When your child makes a choking sound in those first weeks of trying solids and you wonder if you could really perform the CPR technique you learned when you were 34 weeks pregnant.

When you run to the other room to get something and when you return, you see that your buckled-in baby on the changing table has actually flipped to her stomach.

Newborn

When your child nearly falls out of your hands while you’re giving her slippery football-of-a-body a bath.

When you realize it has been four hours since your child last ate. And you haven’t heard a sound.

When you get out of your car at Target and realize, holy shit, the car seat didn’t latch into the base.

When you’ve tried everything, literally everything, and nothing makes her stop crying. And you think, Oh my God. I really cannot do this. I’m not cut out to be a parent and now I have a baby. What am I going to do now?

When you realize that they were all right: You really do love this child more than you love yourself.

And then your imagination glimpses upon the possibility of your child dying before you.

And the utter emptiness that she would leave behind.

And you wonder: How could someone who just moved into your life leave behind a hole so large?

It defies everything that you’ve learned about love.

It makes you wonder, what else is possible?

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Week 19: The End of Child # 1’s Naptime

stages of pregnancy

Now entering the “I got this/ Cheeseburgers” phase of pregnancy.

I’m great in the second trimester. I have decent energy. My emotions are (mostly) under control. And I’m not so hugely pregnant that I hate even the idea of moving.

I’m still exercising about five days a week, a combination of cardio/kickboxing, weights, and yoga. My target heart rate for cardio workouts is about 135-145 and that seems to be working well. The weights and yoga help keep my legs, hips, and back from killing me.

While I feel like I’ve got a handle on this pregnancy so far, I’m starting to realize that I’m entering a completely new phase of parenting with my three-year-old.

The phase that is completely void of naps.

The naps are… gone.

Or they need to go. At least if we want her to go to bed at 7:30 or 8:00 like she used to.

In the last week, we’ve put her to bed at 7:30 just as we’ve done for the past six months or so. Usually, she’s alseep by 8:00 or 8:15.

But lately, she’ll sit in her room, reading books, until 9:3o or 10:00. Sometimes 10:30.

Then, she’s  up at 6:30 again.

It hits me.

We’ve been so spoiled with 11-12 hours of her sleeping at night and 1-2 hours of her napping. People often didn’t believe us that this was her typical sleep routine. They asked us if we drugged her or ran her ragged to make her sleep that long.

But that’s just how she was.

Now, that phase is ending.

Now, we’re becoming the kind of parents that are strategizing ways of getting out of the house and using up her energy. We go to birthday parties. All of them. We go to the library. We take her grocery shopping and deal with the headache of letting her learn to navigate the tiny kid’s cart around the unsuspecting legs of strangers.

We’ve even dropped money on special outings, like a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo and tickets to ride Thomas the Tank Engine at Lebanon-Mason Railroad Station. In a torrential downpour, I balanced my purse, a diaper bag, and my three-year-old under an umbrella, while everything below my thighs got royally soaked. My husband had dropped us off with our only umbrella and went to park the car, so he fared much worse. He boarded the train, completely drenched.

But when your child smiles like this…

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Can you really be upset?

So we’ll do what we’ve always done: adjust. We’ll move into this next phase of parenting even as we prepare to re-enter phases that we’ve passed through years ago.

The will-we-ever-leave-this-house-again phase.

The oh-my-God-sleeping-four-hours-feels-amazing phase.

The maybe-she’ll-sleep-longer-if-we-give-her-one-more-bottle-before-bedtime phase.

The crap-she’s-figured-out-how-to-open-the-cabinets phase.

The holy-crap-my-child-wandered-into-the-next-room-without-me-noticing phase.

We’ll do it all again.

Maybe a little more relaxed this time.

Hopefully, a little wiser.

But always with the knowledge that there is always rest after the hard times.

Even if it is small.

The Picture I Don’t Like to Remember

Here it is.

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This was taken at 10 days postpartum.

And, yes, I am a hot mess.

What’s even worse is that I was actually really trying to make this a good picture. I put on a clean, non-covered-in-spit-up dress. I brushed my hair.

But here I am. My face drained of color. My eyes red and puffy. My body bloated and broken. My left arm still has the bruises from the IV during labor.

The only redeeming quality of this picture is that beautiful, tender baby on my chest.

At this point, I had been sleeping for about 1-2 hours per day for the previous 10 days. I was still trying to breastfeed, but failing miserably. When I wasn’t nursing, I was hooked up to a pump, scarfing down more food to help with milk production (sometimes both at the same time), changing diapers, cleaning bottles, or staring off into space while my thyroid went bonkers and kept me awake even when I had 30 minutes to sleep.

I didn’t pass by mirrors much, but when I did, I shocked myself.

Who the hell is that? I would think. What has happened to me?

This picture reminds me of how difficult it was to be a new mother to a newborn. I can see it written all over my face.

My face screams, I’ve never been so exhausted before. I need to invent a new word to describe this level of exhaustion.

But I was also thinking,

I love my child. I’m so happy this child is healthy. Still, it’s really hard to be thankful right now.

So I’m going to smile because this is what new mothers do.

I’ll avoid mirrors so I don’t have to think about how terrible I look right now. Instead of looking at myself, I’ll look at my baby.

Everyone says that this time passes so fast, but honestly, I don’t even know how I’m going to get all the way through to tomorrow. Because tomorrow is six feedings from now. Six.

But I kept these thoughts to myself. Because I thought expressing them would make me seem less motherly. And I already didn’t feel like a mother. I had only been one for a few days. Instead, I felt like an exhausted, aching, leaking, sleep-deprived hospital patient that just wanted to get some rest so she could finally focus on doing the hard work of being a mom.

Which is exactly the point–that was the hard work of being a mom.

Doing everything despite all the physical pain and exhaustion.

I share this picture with other new mothers because, girlfriend, I have been there. I have been anchored to a nursing child or a breast pump for hours on end, watching the world pass me by, my jealousy mounting at everyone else who was lucky enough to sleep three solid hours at a time.

If you feel like no one else in the world could possibly understand how tired you are at this very moment, know that someone else does. Just look at that picture.

This one’s for you.

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As I write this, I’m reminded of the Fourth Trimester Bodies Project, a photography project that is “dedicated to embracing the beauty inherent in the changes brought by motherhood, childbirth, and breastfeeding.” A colleague shared this website with me after I gave birth to my daughter and it made me feel so… understood. Welcomed. Like someone was saying, “Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it changes you forever. But isn’t it beautiful?”

It is beautiful. I’m not denying the love and beauty that wrapped around me in those moments in the darkness when it was just me and my daughter, rocking away as I hummed.

But, God, it’s also hard. So hard.

And sometimes you look like hell.

And sometimes you feel like hell.

And that’s the truth.

We don’t care for them because we love them

In The Philosophical Baby, philosopher and psychologist Alison Gopnik says this: “It’s not so much that we care for children because we love them, as that we love them because we care for them.”

I first felt the truth of this statement when my daughter was around two months old. It was a golden October afternoon. My daughter was fussing. For her, it was a clear sign that she needed to nap. Badly. I cradled her. I shushed her. I rocked her. I hummed to her—all in an effort to help her understand that she was tired. I even told her, “Shhh… You’re tired.”

Within a few minutes, her eyes fluttered and then closed.

I watched her peaceful face for a few moments. God, I love this child, I thought.

But a shadow fell on that moment—because I knew that it hadn’t always been that way.

The cliché is that a mother’s love is born the moment a child is laid into her arms. For me, there was certainly a euphoria that delivery was over and that I was holding a child—especially after two days of labor. But should I call that “love?”

Because if I call it “love,” there’s definitely a problem. Because that “love” ended.

After a few days, that wondrous rush had faded away and I was left with the incessant task of nursing an infant. Sleep deprivation, a hormone crash, and outright insomnia darkened that nova of euphoria. What I felt in those first days of new life—whatever we call it—was gone.

And so in those early, difficult days of new motherhood, I had to lean on something else in the absence of euphoria. I needed something to pull me through the darkness, the ardor, the ceaseless hours. So I focused on the task of care—both caring for myself and caring for my daughter. I nursed until I couldn’t nurse anymore. I cared for my swollen parts, my torn parts, my painful parts. I tried to sleep. I ate well. Every moment of those weeks was spent in the task of care.

And after all of that caring, I can say that the motivation to care for my daughter didn’t truly begin with love. Love wasn’t really what I felt at midnight, 2:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m., and 6:00 a.m. when my newborn needed to eat. Beneath my heavy eyelids weighed down with exhaustion, what I felt was a sense of duty to help this tiny person who needed me so much. It was obligation. This person belonged to me. This person was a part of me. So I had to care for her. Even though I was exhausted. Even though I was in pain. Even though I didn’t know when I would sleep or shower next.

Even though.

Even though.

Even though.

I cared for her because she needed me.

Love didn’t have a brilliant beginning. It didn’t own a designated minute hand on the clock like birth did. Love grew like my child had during pregnancy: slowly and quietly. Like my daughter, love wasn’t born fully developed or realized. It would grow. It would change. It would strengthen.

In those first weeks, I grew to be the expert in my newborn’s gestures—her facial features, her grunts, her habits—I started to realize that something had shifted. All that caring had become the most important part of my life. I began to say things like, She likes it when you hold her this like or She’s not hungry. That’s her tired cry. When someone would return my crying baby back to my arms, she calmed.

I realized that not only was I meeting her needs before my own, but I was enjoying it. I had grown to love taking care of her. Soon, the tasks of caring became easier. It freed energy for me to see, to notice, to appreciate. God, this baby is amazing, I thought. How could she already look like her father? How could she already have some of his facial expressions? I wondered what she would be like five years from then or what her voice would sound like. What would she like to do on a Saturday afternoon?

I could imagine how love would continue to expand beyond the boundaries of the uniqueness of your child and branch out into a deep appreciation for the beauty of life’s simple complexities.

But it all started with a simple aphorism, a statement that has been weakened by overuse, yet it remains the truest way of explaining how a mother’s love for a newborn grows. “Love is putting someone else’s needs above your own.”

And so I believe that Gopnik was right.

You don’t care for your baby because you love them.

You love them because you care for them.

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