Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: postpartum hemorrhage

I Wore a FitBit for the First Year Postpartum: Here’s How Much Sleep I Lost

Over the past year, my blog post about my changing heart rate throughout pregnancy and the resulting increase in total calories burned per day has become the most heavily trafficked blog post on this site.

So I figured I’d tackle postpartum sleep loss next.

Because, guys, postpartum sleep deprivation is no joke. (Except when it is.)

So, here we go.

Last Days of Pregnancy, Labor, and Immediate Postpartum Period

I gave birth on February 2nd. You can see that in my last days of the pregnancy, I was sleeping around 6 or 7 hours at night (not pictured: the six or seven times that I had to get up each night to pee). I was also taking a nap in the afternoon since my daughter was in daycare and I was wasting my maternity leave by being way beyond my due date. (That wasn’t really part of the plan… But hey.)

Note: Dates are in descending order. That’s the only way FitBit will let me view the data.

Pregnancy Labor Immediate Postpartum Sleep

The last time that I had some solid sleep before giving birth was Wednesday, February 1st. That night, I finally went into labor around midnight (at 41 weeks, 4 days).

It looks like the next time that I slept was on the day that I gave birth.

Do not be fooled. I was completely incapacitated after giving birth and losing 1200 ccs of blood. The same is true of February 3rd. I was lying in a hospital bed, trying to recover, but not really sleeping.

The next time that I actually fell into a light sleep (definitely not REM or a deep sleep) was February 4th.

That’s a full 72 hours without sleep.

Believe it or not, this was an improvement from my first birth, when I went about 96 hours without falling into at least a light sleep. (Wednesday, August 14th, 6:00 a.m. to the night of Saturday, August 17th)

Yeah.

First Week Postpartum

Even with having the help of my husband and mother, on most days during that first week postpartum, I was getting about 5 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, but only in frustrating 1-hour increments.

Week 2 Sleep

Why?

There were plenty of times during the day when I could have let my mother do the feedings and caught up on sleep.

But honestly, during that first week, I just couldn’t fully power down. I can’t pinpoint one reason. Was it my fluctuating hormones? Was it racing thoughts? Was the stress of recovering and adjusting to life with a second child?

Sure. It was all of these things. It was probably also the additional stress of feeling like, Oh my God, why aren’t you sleeping! Everyone has everything taken care of! Use your time wisely!

Not the most restful thoughts you can have.

So I was exhausted. I hurt everywhere. The afterbirth cramps were intense. I was still bleeding a lot. Breastfeeding was (once again) complete hell and I was dealing with the emotions of stopping completely. The baby was eating every 2 hours and we were figuring out that, just like his sister, he was allergic to dairy. The house was in disorder. The other child was feeling left out. My husband was trying to keep the ship running.

And every night, from midnight to 6:00 a.m., it was just me and the baby. Although it was emotional and beautiful in its own right, it was also incredibly exhausting.

This is when intense sleep deprivation began to take hold. Not only was I unable to sleep because the baby was eating all the time, but my body began to realize that it had lost its placenta (no more all-is-right-and-good-in-the-world levels of progesterone for me anymore).

This week, by far, was the absolute worst for me. 

Some things you cannot do when you’re getting this little sleep:

  • Have a coherent conversation
  • Drive
  • Make decisions
  • Basically, anything beyond mother-infant survival is way too challenging

At the end of this week, my mom (who had mercifully been staying with us after the delivery) returned home. My husband and I looked at each other like, What now? How are we going to get some sleep and not lose our minds?

We made a compromise.

Second Week Postpartum

We decided that my husband would take the evening feedings that happened before midnight. I would get the feedings after midnight. I would try my damnedest to get some sleep before my first night feeding. In addition, on the weekends, my husband would take all of the night feedings so I could get some restorative sleep.

And because he was extra awesome, he allowed me to tag him in when I told him that I was seriously losing my mind. Because, quite honestly, sleeping like this is simply unsustainable for weeks on end.

Week 3 Sleep

Things you still should not do when you’re sleeping like this:

  • Drive
  • Make important decisions
  • Make plans (for anything)
  • Read (you won’t remember what you read)
  • Shop (you’ll forget what you bought)

Third Week Postpartum

By some miracle, our baby started to shift towards only two night feedings by this point, leaving me responsible for just one feeding since my husband took the other one. This is not a common occurrence, so if it happens for you, just express your undying gratitude to the Universe. Seriously.

By this point, I had mostly recovered from the pain of childbirth and postpartum blood loss. I had more energy and was able to independently take care of household responsibilities like dishes, cooking, laundry, and vacuuming.

This dramatically improved my mood. I mean, obviously, right?

If you’re getting this much sleep, driving might be possible, but honestly, it’s really best to only drive if you’re getting at least six hours of sleep every night.

Week 4 Sleep

Fourth Week Postpartum

After about one month after birth, we started to find our rhythm with taking care of the house, the new baby, and the preschooler. We were still doing night feedings, but they were becoming more manageable.

I need to emphasize at this point that my increase in sleep by four weeks postpartum is a direct reflection of my husband’s willingness and ability to step into his role as an equal caretaker. Without his help, I would still be getting minimal sleep by this point.

So hats off to you, Doug. You kept me from losing my mind.

Week 5 Sleep

So when did the baby sleep through the night?

Okay, first, if you’re trying to make friends with other new parents, don’t ask this question.

But I’m game for it. So…

“Sleeping through the night” was a process for us. Our baby slept ten hours in a row for the first time when he was two months old.

BUT…

… it was just a one-night reprise from the continuing pattern of night feedings that stretched on well past four months. At five months, he started to want to put himself to sleep. No more rocking or holding him while he got drowsy. Odd, but I acquiesced.

By six months, his eating schedule got all screwy and he started to develop a middle of the night feeding again. And we had had enough of it. He was a huge baby. There was clearly no need for him to be eating in the middle of the night. He was healthy. He wasn’t teething. Coupled with the crushing reality that things were not going to resolve by themselves, we made the decision:

It was time to Cry It Out.

It took three nights, but it was the best decision we made. Hands down. He dropped the night feeding and learned to tank up in his first and last feedings of the day. No one was worse the wear.

What did your average sleep look like throughout the year?

Here is what my average number of hours of sleep looked like from February 2017 to December 2017 looked like in summary, with some annotations to help make sense of what you’re seeing.

Sleep in 2017

Sleep in 2017

Keep in mind a few things:

1.) I had lots of help.

2.) I had a pretty long maternity leave (at least compared to most women in the U.S.)

3.) I did not breastfeed.

4.) I committed myself to working out in the morning because it improved my mental and emotional state. This meant that I would get up at 4:30 a.m. on most mornings to exercise before the kids woke up and before I had to get ready for work. Yeah, it was hard, but it made me feel so much better. So I made adjustments to help commit to this goal, like going to bed way early (like 8 p.m.)

5.) There were plenty of bouts of illness, teething, and unexplained fussy nights that were peppered throughout the year.

6.) Our baby did not have acid reflux or prolonged colicky periods or other conditions that made him unable to sleep for long periods of time. With the exception of the dairy allergy, he has been very healthy.

***

Postpartum sleep deprivation is real and it’s tough.

No way around it.

If you’re reading this while you’re pregnant with your first child, don’t despair. There are some things that you can do to prepare yourself for the realities that await you soon.

1.) Establish clear expectations about care-taking responsibilities with your partner.

Talk openly. Talk honestly. Agree that no one really wants to lose this much sleep, but damn it, you’re in this thing together. Tag each other in when you’re down for the count.

2.) Do not be too proud to ask for help.

You cannot do this alone. You will need help. And lots of it. You are not Superwoman and there is no glory in trying to be. Few, if any, will know of your struggles to simply get through the day. Every woman who has been through this understands the pain and exhaustion that you are experiencing. They are, quite often, thrilled to help.

3.) When it gets tough, remember that you’re not doing it wrong.

You’re not doing it wrong. It’s just plain hard. No one has an easy time of this, and any woman who says it was not that bad is airbrushing reality.

4.) Ask those who are close to you to let you know when they think you’re not okay.

Losing sleep can bring you to the edge of psychosis. If you go days and days without sleep, you will start to lose your grip on reality. And from your perspective, you may not realize that you’re not fine anymore. If you cannot achieve restorative sleep even when you are provided the opportunity, it is probably time to seek help from your medical provider.

5.) Buy ear plugs and a sleep mask. You’ll need them for daytime sleeping.

Sleep_mask

6.) Coffee.

I mean… obviously.

coffee-cup-1797283_960_720

Good luck on your postpartum journey, Friends.

It’s a crazy way to live and in the hard moments when your head is warm and fuzzy and everyone around you is so blissfully unaware of how LUCKY they are to have slept more than four hours last night… it feels like it will go on forever and you will forever be stuck in the vicious cycle of Never Enough Sleep.

But you won’t.

Press on.

Please let me know how it’s going for you in the comments below.

My New Book: A Birth Story Guaranteed To Make You Cry

After I gave birth this past February, I thought,

Well. How am I going to write about that?

Because what I felt in labor had been deeply spiritual. In my first labor, I sensed God’s presence, but not in a physical way. What I experienced was beyond my physical senses.

But this time… I had seen things.

I had actually physically felt things that I couldn’t explain.

I knew that a blog post would become buried in this website over time. That’s not the way that I wanted to share this experience with an audience. I wanted something more permanent. Something more discover-able and more available to as many people as possible.

***

So I published a short Kindle book, called Why Your Middle Name is Jacob: A Birth Story.

From August 3-7, I will be giving away free copies, so I encourage you to download your copy today and share with anyone whom you think would be interested in it.

Important: You don’t need a Kindle device to read the book.

As long as you have an Amazon account, you can read this book. Just go to Amazon’s website, log in, find the book, put it in your cart, and checkout (for free). Then choose “Your Account,” and then select “Your Content and Devices.” You will see the book there and you can read it in your web browser.

Included in this e-book are six additional essays that I wrote in the early postpartum period, curated and compiled for a larger audience.

  • The World is Good Because it is Bad: A Letter to My Unborn Child
  • Postpartum Hemorrhage
  • These Holy Hours
  • Week 6: A Great Time to Return to Work
  • Week 7: And Now My Watch Is Ended
  • Is There Room in Motherhood for Feminism?

Kindle Direct Publishing only allows me to give away free copies of a title every 90 days. Please take advantage of this free promotional period while you can. After August 7th, the book will be available for $2.99.

If you download a copy, please review it on Amazon.

As an independent author, I rely on you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on my work.

I greatly appreciate your support!

Thumbnail

Why are American Women Dying in Childbirth?

 

American women are more likely to die from complications in pregnancy and childbirth compared to women in any other developed country.

It’s true.

But why?

***

At 1:27 p.m. on February 2, 2017, I gave birth to an 8 lb. 10 oz. boy.

Because there was meconium in my amniotic fluid, a NICU team was paged to be present at the birth to make sure that the baby’s lungs were clear.

Those first minutes after birth were very blurry. There was just too much going on to fully appreciate everything that was happening. From my perspective as the birthing mother, I remember my son turning his head upward and looking me in the eyes (that really happened). I remember seeing that he was a boy. (A boy!?! Really!?! What?!?!)

I remember dropping my head back against the bed and crying in relief that it was over. I remember thinking, “Well, that’s the last time I’m doing that.”

I was euphoric and so, so grateful. We had made it. We had survived that. Both of us. That was what I was thinking.

I did not know that I was hemorrhaging. 

This is the thing about hemorrhaging: It happens so fast.

It happens while mothers are crying from happiness that their baby is alive and breathing. It happens while they’re trying to get a good look at their baby’s face. It happens silently as the room’s atmosphere turns from the intensity and suspense of the pushing phase into joy and excitement of the delivery phase.

No woman wants to believe that it’s going to happen to her. I had none of the risk factors associated with postpartum hemorrhage.

But it still happened to me.

While we were celebrating and crying and basking in the joy of the birth, my midwife was tracking my blood loss. I remember looking down and seeing her furrowed brow every time more blood poured out of me. But I didn’t think anything terrible was happening. I was flooded with joy and gratitude that labor was over.

But in the first ten minutes after birth, more and more nurses entered the room and the treatments started. My midwife told me each treatment that she was doing to stop the bleeding. By this time, I had lost about 1200 mL of blood, about 2.5 pints of blood. In other words, I had lost about 25% of the blood in my entire pregnant body.

Surviving postpartum hemorrhage requires a medical professional who quickly realizes what is happening and starts treatment immediately.

In my case, the midwife tried a shot of Pitocin. When that didn’t work, she gave me Cytotec. When that didn’t work, she gave me IV Pitocin. She kept massaging my uterus. She was on her last treatment before starting a blood transfusion: a shot of methergine.

That’s how close we were to a true emergency.

screenshot_20170207-165547

My heart rate during labor. You can see exactly when the hemorrhage begins and how my body responded.

 

Hemorrhage is one of the leading causes of death in childbirth.

Causes of Death in Childbirth

Still.

Let me be clear: postpartum hemorrhage isn’t caused by a lack of care. This would probably have happened to me if I had given birth anywhere else.

But women die from hemorrhage when doctors and nurses don’t quickly recognize the amount of blood loss and begin treatment. Some states, like California, have codified and implemented standardized procedures and training for nurses and doctors so that teams can quickly and efficiently follow protocol to prevent postpartum hemorrhages from killing mothers. Instead of “eye-balling” how much blood a mother loses during delivery, nurses were taught how to collect and measure postpartum blood loss to help them quickly identify hemorrhage.

“Hospitals that adopted the toolkit saw a 21 percent decrease in near deaths from maternal bleeding in the first year; hospitals that didn’t use the protocol had a 1.2 percent reduction.”

But not all states have such standardized protocol.

***

A joint investigation by NPR and ProPublica found that more women are dying of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth compared to any other developed country.

In every 100,000 births in the United States, 26 women die. In other developed countries, the numbers range between 5 and 9 births. And those numbers have climbed from 17 to 26 deaths from 2000-2015.

Seriously.

Seriously.

It seems unimaginable. Really? In the United States? But we have so much technology. We have some of the best hospitals in the world.

Maternal Mortality

What the hell is going on?!?

There were several major findings from this investigation.

  1. The U.S. is spending more money on research, equipment, and training for improving infant outcomes. Think of how much progress we have made in helping premature babies and treating newborns born with previously fatal deformities and diseases.
  2. Decreased education and training about caring for birthing mothers, for both doctors and nurses. This leads to a lack of knowledge that is passed on to the mother when she is discharged from the hospital.
  3. Lack of standardized best practices for caring for birthing mothers among the states. Unlike other developed countries, there is no nationwide effort for reducing the maternal death rate in the United States. Responsibility has been left to individual states to decide if and how they investigate maternal deaths.

America has not conquered maternal mortality. We like to think that because we have advanced technology and highly trained medical professionals that tragedies like a woman dying in childbirth just simply don’t happen anymore.

At least not nearly as much as it used to.

It’s a kind of hubris, really. To think that we have mastered childbirth. We have tamed it and told it who’s boss. In fact, we’re so good at childbirth that we should just focus most of our attention on the infants. They’re the ones that are the most vulnerable, right?

But the truth is…

“In recent decades, under the assumption that it had conquered maternal mortality, the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being.”

~Nina Martin & Renee Montagne, “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth”

***

If there was one major takeaway from this report that I want to share with everyone it’s this:

Women still die in childbirth. 

Giving birth in the United States does not guarantee that both mother and baby make it out alive.

I completely agree with the report’s observations that labor and birth put women in the most vulnerable position in their entire lives. They don’t know what’s going on. They’re immersed in the pain and process of labor. Birthing women depend on everyone around them, doctors and nurses alike, to notice the signs that an emergency is unfolding.

If you or someone you know will be giving birth in the United States in the near future, I strongly encourage you to read ProPublica’s full investigative report on this topic.

This is not a political issue. ProPublica is an independent organization that is not funded by political donations.

This is a human issue.

American women are not immune to maternal mortality.

For the women who die every year from pregnancy and childbirth from preventable or treatable conditions, let’s raise our awareness of this problem and insist that we study this at the national level, not just the state level.

We can do better than this.

The death of a new mother is not like any other sudden death. It blasts a hole in the universe.

~Nina Martin and Renee Montagne, “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth

Days 8-13 Pictures: Recovery and Establishing Routines

But first… Baby pictures.

img_20170210_075437

Day 7: One week old

img_3849

Day 7: Umbilical stump, just about to fall off

img_20170210_170744

Day 8: Buckeye

16716325_10102190025807916_6435756549801601017_o

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

img_20170211_135356

Day 9: Awaiting visitors

img_3854

Day 9: Milk drunk

img_3880

img_3885

Day 12: Happy Valentine’s Day

img_3879

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

img_3851

Day 9

img_3858

Day 10

img_3864

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

Day 11

img_3875

Day 12

img_3886

Day 13

img_3894

Compared to Day 3

img_3767

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.

img_3874

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.

img_3881

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.

img_20170211_190534

What Bleeding Taught Me About Trump’s America

Betsy DeVos. The refugee travel ban. The Syrian War. Trump/Bannon. Alternative facts. The war with the press.

It’s just so much that it nearly paralyzes you.

Then part of you thinks, Hey, it will be okay. Things will work out. They always do. Let’s just see what happens.

To that voice in your mind, I say this:

Fight.

Fight like hell.

Fight for your life.

Fight for the future of this country.

Don’t listen to that voice. Don’t be lulled into thinking that things will take care of themselves.

This country is bleeding. We are bleeding.

It’s true that if we’re healthy, the bleeding will stop on its own. But does it seem like we’re healthy? And if you feel like things are okay, are you blind to the signs that you see from everyone else?

Do you see the pain of others or do you blame them for their pain? Or worse, do you belittle their pain?

Do you realize that you are bleeding? Or will you allow yourself to bleed until you’re too weak to fight anymore?

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about blood loss in the past few days.

Just a week ago, I suffered from a postpartum hemorrhage.

I was afraid something like this would happen. I even wrote about it in my book, Becoming Mother. Dissatisfied with the difficulty of having an unmedicated labor in a traditional hospital setting, I decided to give birth in a natural birthing center attached to a hospital for my second birth.

Sometimes, people would ask me if I would ever be interested in a home birth.

Here’s what I wrote:

img_20170208_102352

Eerie.

To lose that much blood moves your mind into a place of limbo, caught somewhere between reality and dreams. Awareness and unawareness. The physical and the spiritual. You become light. Hazy. Detached. Almost as if you’re drifting off into sleep.

But it doesn’t feel quite right.

It feels like you’re leaving something behind.

Let me take you into those moments just after it happened to me.

At first, it’s uncontrollable shaking. I’m so, so cold. Nurses cover me with heated blankets upon heated blankets, but still I shake and shake. Then, the weakness. I can barely lift my head from the pillow. The nurses won’t let me walk to the bathroom, so it’s the bedpan for me. Once. Twice. Three times. Four times. With all my strength I push my hips up so the bedpan can slide underneath me.

When they finally let me stand, each of them takes an arm and helps me to my feet. They tell me to look up, not down. They ask me if I’m ready and I say yes.

“Actually, let’s wait on that,” one of them says. “Your lips are blue.”

Then, the fogginess. I can see my husband talking to the nurse, but I don’t immediately understand their words. My understanding is on a several-second delay. The nurse tells me to drink the entire contents of a giant plastic cup of water. I don’t know what to do with it until she puts it in my hands. Using both sight and touch, my thoughts finally click into place. I should drink this.

My husband asks me if I want to eat. I say yes and he hands me the menu. I hold it for a moment, my eyes seeing words that I know are food, but that I don’t understand. Turkey hot shot? What is that? Salmon… is a fish. Salad… Vegetables. Side items are… oh, like fries. Dressings… are for salad. 

The menu falls against my face and I doze off.

But when the food arrives, I eat like a mo-fo.

My husband feeds me bits of burgers, fries, carrot cake, cheesecake, salad, juice, more juice, water, soda, salmon, broccoli, pizza, waffles, sausage, fruit cups, and more. I eat it all and with each bite, a breath of life comes back to me. My mind opens and clears. Voices make more sense.

I feel myself coming back.

The next day is deceptively good. The happiness of new life and the excitement of going home overshadow how hard it is to walk and move from one place to another. I tell myself that I’m already doing better than after my first birth. Look at you move! I praise myself. I didn’t tear this time, so I can sit (mostly) comfortably.

I continue to eat and eat and eat. Chicken, kale smoothies, lamb, mushrooms, baked potatoes covered in butter and salt, granola bars, bananas, apples, thick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spoons of peanut butter straight from the jar.

It makes sense later on, this hunger. For fun, I check my Fitbit stats during labor. Look at this.

screenshot_20170207-165547

I know what you’re thinking. The peak must have been during the pushing phase.

You. Are. Wrong.

That period of peak heart rate happened when I started to hemorrhage. As blood poured out of me, my heart pumped more and more blood to keep delivering oxygen to the tissues and cells that were under attack.

It began after I delivered the placenta. My midwife noticed the bleeding wasn’t slowing. She massaged my uterus. A nurse gave me a shot of Pitocin in my right thigh. Another nurse was prodding my left arm, trying to get an IV started as my tiny veins rolled and rolled. I apologized to her as she stuck me and dug and dug and dug for the vein. Stick after stick.

When the Pitocin didn’t work, the midwife gave me Cytotec.

But I kept bleeding.

The nurse finally got my IV threaded. Pitocin and fluids entered my veins.

But warm blood kept flowing out of me.

If you’re cringing in pain, don’t. All that bleeding was completely painless. My body sent me no signals that I should fear it.

What my body did feel were all the people trying to save me. The nurses, poking and prodding me with needles and IVs. The midwife grinding and massaging my uterus to help it contract. It was those who were working to keep me here that I protested against. My body didn’t understand that those pains were signals of my salvation.

I asked my midwife how much I had lost so far.

“500 ccs is what we usually want to see… You’re probably at 1,000 right now.”

And I kept bleeding.

More uterine massage. I groaned. I moaned. I looked for my baby, but I couldn’t see him. I heard my husband talking and figured that he was the one holding the baby.

I must assure you that I wasn’t afraid when any of this was happening.

You forget.

I just had a baby.

I had climbed the highest mountain I had ever attempted in my life and I had pulled both of us up by fingernails of sheer will and grit. This birth was nothing like my first, which had been a thirty-six hour humbling of body and soul that felt more like spiritual possession.

No, this birth was a struggle. From beginning to end. This birth was a seemingly impossible task that required me to engage and confront over and over again. (Don’t worry: I will write more about this later.)

So as I lay there on the bed, painlessly bleeding life out of me, I was not afraid.

What I was feeling was relief. Peace. Profound gratitude. Love. All covered with the surprise that I had just given birth to a boy.

Then, finally, the drug that works: methergine.

***

The seriousness of what had happened to me did not fully set in until the next day. My husband told me that he could tell from the expressions on the nurses’ faces that the situation was getting tense. That we were probably only minutes from a true emergency.

But hey, I had come through and I was fine. Right?

All’s well that ends well. Time to move on and forget about the whole thing.

After all, I had another hurdle to overcome: establishing breastfeeding.

But just like the last time, inverted nipples and poor milk production have their way with me. Every few hours, I try something new. In the beginning, I use a nipple shield while my husband drops formula from a syringe onto the shield to encourage our baby to not get frustrated and continue to feed. Sometimes, my husband feeds him with a bottle while I pump. Sometimes, I just pump between feedings. Then, I try to get him to latch without the shield.

I don’t realize it at first, but I’ve started to lag behind in my eating and resting.

It’s not something I do on purpose. It happens naturally as my mind focuses on what we can try next to continue breastfeeding.

Then comes the Dreadful Day Four Postpartum. The day when my body starts to register the absence of my placenta, which just days ago was flooding my body with estrogen and progesterone. But now, like a baby rooting for nourishment, my body cries out for that hormonal lifeline that is no longer there and will never return.

This is when the shit hits the fan for me.

At first, I’m doing okay. Marveling that I’m not the sobbing, crying mess that I was with my daughter. After my first birth, I would be tearful and weepy all day long. But it’s different this time. I tear up every now and then, but I’m mostly composed and collected. Is it because of some different hormonal cocktail that I’m experiencing because I had a boy instead of a girl?

But at the end of the Day Four Postpartum, I’ve decided to stop breastfeeding. I climb the stairs to where my baby boy is sleeping in the bouncer, and I have to stop to catch my breath. My Fitbit reads 116, 115, 117, 114, a fat-burning heartrate. I hold onto the walls and allow my breathing to slow.

Then I see his face and it’s over.

The crying starts. The choking sobs build and I don’t make an effort to push them down. I close the door and let it out. All of it. I let all of the thoughts surface. All of the memories of when I stopped breastfeeding my daughter come forth, as clear as the day they happened three years ago. I let them come and talk to me. I let every doubt and fear and reassurance express its voice.

I don’t deny myself the right to feel any of it.

These are my emotions and I’ve learned that I need to let them out.

One voice says:

You shouldn’t give up yet. We have so much breastfeeding stuff! Pillows and the pump, nursing pads and bottles, lanolin lotion and nipple shields. Your milk is coming in this time. Give it a chance!

Another voice says:

You did all you could. It’s okay. You know he’s going to be fine. You know it. And fuck anyone who even subtly holds this over your head. They don’t understand. 

But the loudest voice of all says:

Sharon, seriously. You cannot do this again. Your body cannot go through that hell again. This is the last baby you will give birth to and hold and care for. Don’t you dare rob yourself of the joy of enjoying your child. 

That final voice is right. I know it.

But, God, it still hurts.

I call for Doug and he holds me while I cry. But now the afterbirth pains have skyrocketed because of the weeping and I’m moaning in pain. Doug leaves for a moment and I’m in the bathroom, feeling a tiny stream of blood falling from me. And when I stand, a golf ball sized clot falls into my hand.

That blob of jet black jelly now stains my skin blood red.

I shudder.

I call for Doug.

***

But it gets better.

The next day, I’m relieved that the weaning has begun.

But then the tiredness has returned. At the baby’s first doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician comments that I look really pale.

In the car on the way home, I review my hospital bloodwork that was drawn on the day after the birth by accessing my on-line records. My hemoglobin and hemocrit are way down. I read a brochure about life after a postpartum hemorrhage and I understand that I need to take this more seriously.

I need iron. I need to eat and eat and eat. And rest and rest and rest.

So I do. Eating and resting is what I do.

After I make breakfast, I’m completely spent. So I eat and sleep. Then I rise and I shower. I sleep again. I get up and eat lunch. I rest on the couch and talk with my mother. I sleep some more. I eat a huge snack and I sleep again. I let my friends bring food and I eat and eat more. I sleep.

I do not do the dishes.

I do not do laundry or even pick up my clothes.

I don’t take out the garbage or get the mail.

I forget about any plans to go on a walk anytime soon.

Instead, I conserve and gather my strength.

Every time I eat, I feel life coming back into me. I feel my body swallowing life whole and absorbing it.

I feel reconnected. I feel my mind hook into awareness and reality.

I start to crawl back to the living.

***

This is what I want you to understand about blood loss: it doesn’t just get better on its own.

You have to know that you are not okay. But to know that you’re not okay, you have to rely on more than just your instinct to respond to pain.

Bleeding is painless. It’s the wound that hurts. It’s the attempts to stop the bleeding that hurt. And once the bleeding is over, you can still be slaughtered by it if you don’t equip yourself with enough armor for the battle. If you spend too much of your energy preoccupied with things that don’t ultimately matter, you have halfway lost that battle. And once you realize that you are too weak to fight, it will be too late.

Right now, I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.

Right now, I’m fighting to bring myself back to independence. Part of it is because I didn’t appreciate my own condition. Part of it is because I neglected to understand my own limitations. That instead of pouring energy into nursing, I should have been strictly eating and resting.

Right now, I fight for myself and for my son and we are slowly winning. I look down at his face.

img_3776

And I think, we are going to be okay.

But not because things naturally become okay.

Far from it.

We will be okay because I’m recognizing and engaging this weakness and tiredness. I’m conquering it with food, food, more food, and rest.

I am not sitting back and assuming that my body will naturally take care of itself.

This is a struggle.

The same is true of our country. If we sit back and assume that our county will be okay because God blesses the USA and screw everyone else in the world, we are in for destruction.

Things don’t naturally become okay. We need to work for it.

But when I read the news, do you know what I see?

Hope.

That’s right. Hope.

I see so many of you fighting. Protesting. Calling our senators and representatives. Even my husband now has Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown on his speed dial and is planning a group meeting to sit down to talk with our U.S. House representative.

Many of you are responding to the pain of watching your rights and freedoms threatened. The right for every child to access good public education. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. The right for every American to have health care.

These battles are good and just.

But we need to vigilantly search for the ways that we are painlessly bleeding.

Where is our attention and what are we missing?

Men, do you fight for women’s equal pay?

White Americans, do you speak out against racial profiling?

Cis-gender Americans, do you squash the laughter when someone points at a transgender person?

U.S. citizens, do you fight to create a welcoming environment for those who are fleeing war and systematic killings on par with the Holocaust?

Christians, do you seek to understand your Muslim brothers and sisters? Or do you paint them all with the same broad brush of suspicion?

Which wounds do we not feel or see yet?

When you can’t see your own wounds, you need to be willing to hear when others tell you that you need help.

Because we need you. We cannot afford to blind ourselves from the truth of what is happening.

Because we are fighting for this future.

img_3796

We are fighting for this planet because, in the end, this is what we truly leave behind for our children and grandchildren.

We are fighting against insatiable greed for power and the deceit that feeds it.

We are fighting because we see ourselves in those who are fleeing war and displacement and fear.

We are fighting because we understand that it’s not such a crazy reality to imagine that we could be the ones who are fleeing next.

We are fighting for the future.

For life.

For love.

This world still smells like everything I hate

But I’m learning to love, ’til that’s just not the case

And all my friends, they feel the same way too

We look inside the mirror, and all we see is you.

The water’s still rushing and the blood is still gushing

From the wound you left inside.

….

My eyes have seen the glory of your love

And I won’t turn back this time.

No I won’t turn back this time.

The First Week: In Pictures

As can be expected, my ability to write is greatly diminished right now. And that’s totally fine with me. Self-care first. Instead of putting effort into writing, I’d like to just show you around my world in the last five days.

The Last Day of Pregnancy: February 1, 2017, 41 weeks and 3 days

img_20170201_173926

Birth: February 2, 2017, 1:27 p.m.

henry_glass_february_2_2

Minutes old. Skin to skin.

img_3756

Life-saver. I suffered a postpartum hemorrhage, but my midwife and nurses were able to control the bleeding within the first hour of delivery. Thank God for modern medicine. 

img_3764

Putting on my Warrior hat to breastfeed after the birth.

img_3757

 

Day 1

img_3759

Getting ready to leave Family Beginnings, a natural birthing center attached to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. They. Are. Marvelous.

img_3761

Temporary living quarters while Doug finishes the baby’s room. 

img_3762

img_3765

Self-care ain’t pretty sometimes.

Day 2

img_3767

Day 2 profile

img_3768

My viewpoint, post “nap.” So hard to sleep soundly.

img_3769

Day 3

img_3770

Day 3 Profile: Breasts actually feeling milk come in this time. Feeling a bit hopeful in this moment.

img_20170205_131419

Can you see it? Just barely? That is what 20 minutes of pumping yields. It won’t even drain into the vials. Baby has a good latch, but I have to use a shield to get a good latch. But he gets frustrated when hardly anything comes out. Can’t really blame him. Poor guy.

img_3771

How small, he starts.

img_3772

Yawn.

img_3774

img_3775

Stork bite on right thigh.

img_3776

Looks just like his sister in the first week. I will show a side-by-side comparison someday.

Day 4

img_3777

Day 4: Weaning. As my breasts fill and ache, latching is more difficult and the pump won’t relieve it. I try having him latch without the shield. Awful. So awful. Baby is doing well with formula, and I’m tired of working to overcome these barriers. So I am utterly done with breastfeeding forever. And you know what? That’s okay with me. We’re not having any more kids after this one, so it’s time to stop stressing and just enjoy having a baby.

img_3778

Day 4 Profile

img_3780

Nipple shield with last bits of milk still on it. 

Day 5

img_3781

First doctor’s appointment. Henry receives an excellent bill of health. “You look pale,” says the pediatrician. “You should take iron to help with the breastfeeding.” I tell her that I started the weaning process yesterday and he’s exclusively on formula. “Well, he’s doing great. Can I get you some free cans of formula?” Thank God for choices and supportive pediatricians. I leave without the same feelings of guilt that I had with my first child. 

What’s not in these pictures?

All the people who are supporting me.

My husband, who has spent the last month painting and installing lights and shelving in not one, not two, but three bedrooms.

My mother, who has been watching the baby during the day while I have been sleeping and recovering from the blood loss. (I’ve got the night shift.)

My friends, who brought over bagels and scones and muffins on Day 2 and sat with me. Small reassurances that even though crazy things like birth and recovery happen, life goes on. And it’s all beautiful and holy.

My church, who lifted me with their prayers.

The postpartum period can be incredibly isolating and lonely, but all this help has made it just a little easier.

16427290_1859779354297519_1932147826037401289_n

So much beauty in the world.

%d bloggers like this: