Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Breastfeeding is the best gift I've ever given myself

Breastfeeding is the best gift I've ever given myself.

As a young adult, when I thought about having children I always knew one thing for certain: I wasn't going to breastfeed.  "Breast is best" arguments aside, I just never imagined myself feeding a child with my body. Just thinking about it gave me serious anxiety. I couldn't stand the thought of having a human attached to me, begging for nourishment. It was too much responsibility. I also squirmed at what my post BF boobs looked like in my mind's eye. I just wasn't that kind of girl, I told myself. My boobs would simply not be laid on the altar for sacrifice. My friends encouraged me to keep an open mind and the make whatever decision seemed right when the time came. No need to put the cart before the horse. Fine.

When my daughter came on Independence Day this year, I took one look at her and knew there wasn't anything I wouldn't do for her. She was the piece of me that I didn't even know was missing. I resolved myself to do right by her, even if it meant sacrificing everything I had. I knew that the best decision for her was for me to breastfeed her. Sorry, formerly full, perky(ish) breasts, it was nice knowing you.

Here we are 14 weeks later, and I see breastfeeding as more than an decision about how I feed my daughter. Honestly, she'd be perfectly fine if she were formula fed. She'd still be healthy and happy. She'd still be growing as she should and eating just as often. But, I'm not sure I'd be fine. As it turns out, breastfeeding means more to me than I could have ever imagined. 

I love the fact that she looks to me for her most basic need. I love that she wants to nurse just for comfort sometimes. Seeing her baby face in the middle of the night snuggled up next to me makes my heart sing. When she puts her tiny hands on my chest as she drifts off to sleep, I could cry. I've never loved anything more than I love her. Any moment that I get to pull her close, I gladly take. Sometimes when my husband gives her a bottle I've pumped, I go in the other room because I can't stand to see someone else feed her. That's my job, that's our thing. As crazy as it sounds, I have to fight feelings of jealousy and the urge to defend my turf. 

She will never remember how safe she felt in my arms. She won't know that I woke every 2 hours to feed her in her first few weeks of life. She will never realize how many times I kissed her cheeks at 3:00am or how many nights I stared at her in awe. This tiny human will turn into a not so tiny human and she may never understand how much of myself I've poured into her. But I will. I'll remember. And one day, not too long from now, she won't need me at 3:00am, she'll find comfort in something else or someone else, as she should. When that day comes, I'll be so glad I gave myself this gift. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Postpartum Truths

For those of you who don't know, which is probably all of you given how long it has been since I've blogged, I recently had a baby. My sweet girl was born on July 4, 2016. In these 14 short weeks, I've learned a thing or two I'd like to share. Not because I think I'm an expert; I'm not even close. But because I wish someone had said these things to me. So here it is, take it or leave it.

1. All the hospital packing lists you find on Pinterest are useless. You absolutely do not need that much crap at the hospital. Trust me, you won't want to keep up with all that stuff when you have a teeny baby to care for and your hormones are raging. Plus, the hospital staff will give you most of what you need, so do yourself a favor and pack light. For yourself, you really only need a couple of pair of pajamas (I only wore one pair; I stayed in the hospital gown the first day and night after delivery), a robe, toiletries, a going home outfit, and a phone charger. I also brought my iPad, but I didn't really use it.

2. You will love your postpartum nurse more than words can describe. I had my baby around 3pm, but didn't make it into my postpartum room until after 7pm. That's when I met Leslie. I'm pretty sure she's an angel on earth. She helped me so much that first night. Sometimes when I think about how wonderful she was to me I tear up. In reality, she probably wasn't any better than any other nurse taking care of new moms and babies, but she was mine and I loved her. I wasn't prepared for how attached I'd be to her.

3. Peeing after giving birth isn't as bad as everyone says, but pooping is. I had a normal vaginal birth with a 1st degree tear (skin only, no muscle tear) that required 2 stitches. I put off using the restroom after delivery for longer than necessary because I was so afraid it would burn like hell, just like all the bloggers said it would. It didn't. I never had any urinary discomfort. However, the first poop after birth was maybe the worst part of the whole labor and delivery experience. Do yourself a favor and take every stool softener offered to you by your nurse, then ask for more. Also take them when you get home for at least a week.

4. The anticipation of labor is worse than actual labor. We took labor classes and all those videos they showed us pictured women screaming bloody murder during labor. It was terrifying. I said to my husband that a c-section looked more humane than what was happening to those women in the videos. I'm happy to report that wasn't my experience. My doctor was going on vacation, and I was 2 days past my due date so I was induced. I checked into the hospital at 5:00am. I had just been to the doctor a couple of days before and was dilated to 3.5.  By 6:30am, I was in my room and had a pitocin drip. I had very mild contractions, but they were easy to talk through. My doctor came at 9:30am and broke my water. That was gross, but not painful. I had an epidural around 10:30am or 10:45am. I slept from 11:00am until 2:30pm when the nurse came in to check me. I had made it to 10cm. The doctor came back a few minutes later and confirmed it was time to push. I pushed for about 15 minutes and then it was over. There were no screams, cries, etc. I realize this is not everyone's experience, but for me the anticipation anxiety was totally unnecessary. For the record, I think it's totally fine to birth a child without an epidural if that's what is best for you. I knew I wanted an epidural, but every woman has to make that decision for herself.

5. Even if you hated it, you might miss being pregnant. I hated being pregnant. I felt awful the whole time. I was so happy to be having a baby, but pregnancy did not feel like the magical miracle experience I was expecting. However, I kind of miss it a little. Taking care of a baby living inside you is a heck of a lot easier than taking care of one on the outside. Plus, people are nicer and more considerate of pregnant ladies than they are of ladies with babies.

6. You might be annoyed by the animals you once treasured. I adored my dogs before I had a baby. They were the lights of my life. When I brought my baby home, all of the sudden nothing got on my nerves more than these 4-legged creatures. It's slowly getting better, but for the first week or so I thought I was going to kill them. Seriously. I wasn't prepared for that. If I had to do it over again, I might send them to my mom's house for a couple of weeks until I got more comfortable with having a newborn.

7. Nipples get sore so much faster than you can imagine. I expected sore and tender nipples, but I didn't think they would come so fast. I thought it might take a week or so before it got bad. Nope. It happened in a couple of days. We're talking cracked, bleeding nipples, and I had a good nurser. I called lactation and they gave me a recipe for a homemade nipple cream. It got better in a few days. Even now, 14 weeks later they still get a little tender from time to time, but it keeps getting better and better. Though tough at first, breastfeeding is one of the best experiences of my life. I didn't think I'd be into it, but I am. More to come in another post. 

8. The dermaplast spray is a joke. It didn't do anything for me except make my vagina itch. I will definitely skip it if I ever have another baby. Lots of women swear by it, but it wasn't for me. 

9. Your relationship may take a downward turn. It's true that you'll love seeing your husband/partner hold and care for your new baby. It's precious to see, but it's so much more complicated than that. You will give absolutely everything you have to your new baby. You'll give so much that you won't have anything left to give anyone or anything else, including your husband and your marriage. You might even wonder if you'll ever go back to the couple you used to be. I'm still in the thick of this one, but every once in awhile I get glimpses of the us that used to be. Every once in a awhile I see the couple and not the new, exhausted parents. It makes me hopeful. I hear it can take a couple of years to really feel "normal" again; TBD on this one.

10. When you have a window, take it. When she was a newborn, my baby wanted to be held all.the.time. If she wasn't sleeping, she was in my arms. If she wasn't in my arms, she was crying. On top of that, newborns don't really follow a schedule so there is little predictability. That being said, when you have a window, take it because you never know when that window will slam shut. Have an appointment at 10am? Is it 7am and is baby asleep? Then get yourself ready 3 hours early because that baby could wake up at any time and need 100% of you for the next 3 hours. You never know.

11. Never underestimate the need for mom friends. I didn't know how important mom friends were until I had my own baby to care for. I had/still have tons of questions about what is normal, how other moms deal with issues, etc. It helped me so much those first few weeks just have a circle of people who I knew understood. Maternity leave can be lonely, it helps to have support from women who get it. 

12. Mom guilt is real and it happens so fast. I experienced mom guilt within the first week of being home from the hospital. It caught me off guard. I was looking at my sleeping baby and was overcome with it. I felt guilty that she was sleeping because she had been most of the day (as newborns do) and shouldn't I be doing more to interact with her. I felt guilty that she needed to eat every 1.5 hours at first because what was wrong with my milk that it didn't last longer. I felt guilty when I left her for the first time when she was 5 weeks old so I could go get my teeth cleaned. Now that I'm back at work, I feel guilty when I put her in her swing or on her play mat for 10 minutes in the evening so I can wash her bottles because I've been away from her all day. The list of things I feel guilty about is endless. I know in my head she's fine and that I'm doing OK, but the guilt is real.