No one really writes postpartum stories, but I decided to write mine.
Because birth isn’t the end—in fact, it’s a very big beginning.
To say my postpartum recovery was a bit of a rough ride is putting it lightly. It is such a relief to have made it through most of those challenges now and the struggle has forged me into a stronger, more resilient person than I ever thought I could be.
When breastfeeding doesn’t go well, it feels like your whole world is collapsing, and mine did. For starters, my baby had tongue-tie (think sandpaper repeatedly rubbing on your nipples) and I had low milk flow. As a result, my baby was either very angry—crying and batting at my breast, or completely bored and falling asleep during every feed attempt.
There is nothing harder than trying to rouse a baby that does not want to wake up, or calm a baby that is screaming because she’s beyond hungry. Not to mention trying to breastfeed sitting upright on what was surely the largest and most swollen episiotomy known to womanhood.
We tried everything to make breastfeeding a success—pumping, herbs, diet, tube feeding and finally medication. When you factor in a fussy baby and a huge drop in hormones on top of breastfeeding difficulties you have a recipe for a total meltdown. Eventually every feed looked something like this:
1. Attempt to latch baby onto the breast.
2. Continue trying to latch an increasingly angry or sleepy baby.
3. Try to wake up or calm down baby.
4. Attempt to attach a feeding tube onto the breast and get it to stay there while your baby flails her arms around and continues to resist.
5. Repeat steps 1-3 numerous times using the tube.
6. Have a breakdown.
7. Finger feed baby with the tube.
8. After almost an hour, bottle feed the baby.
10. Repeat steps 1-9 every 2 hours or less.
When in the midst of all of this breastfeeding craziness I awoke at 2am to go to the washroom (my boobs swollen like balloons ready to pop) only to find out that I had zero bladder control. I was just inches away from the toilet bowl when I found myself standing in a puddle of pee. Who knew that could happen? Not me.
Someone at the time pointed out that most women don’t experience as many postpartum difficulties as I’ve had. And it wasn’t due to a lack of support—I had an incredible team of birth and postpartum doulas, a lactation consultant, midwives, an OBGYN, my hubby, family and close friends.
But when I finally realized I had to let go of breastfeeding there was nothing anyone could say to lift me out of the loss, sadness and shame I felt of not being able to feed my baby. Even though I knew I had tried everything. And what made it harder was being asked by anyone and everyone if I breastfed my baby. Even by complete strangers. I couldn’t bear to say “no” without giving my long and complicated story, so I answered “yes”. It was deep shame.
What Helped Me
When things were at their worst, my anxiety was through the roof and I couldn’t sleep. The advice “sleep when the baby sleeps” is not always possible! There was a time when my baby would only sleep by being rocked or bounced in my arms in an upright position—she needed constant motion. Any attempt at putting her down would result in her waking up and/or crying.
At the height of her fussiness, she would cry from 9am until noon and from 4pm until 9pm every day. Then she would wake up every hour or less through the night (for 8 weeks!). Even when someone else took over so I could have a nap, the slightest noise from my baby would put me into high alert. It was like my nervous system was stuck in “flight” mode. I spent frustrating hours of “nap time” lying in bed, fully awake and staring at the ceiling.
Thankfully, I had a recording of a guided meditation called Yoga Nidra (more here and here). The voice of the instructor on the recording was like a lifeline—I hung on every word until my mind stopped buzzing and I would drift in and out, often staying asleep long after the meditation had ended.
I know it kept me sane.
Practicing yoga really helped.
When I was able to start moving again I began with a very basic and mostly restorative practice, along with mindful breathing incorporating long, slow exhalations to calm my nervous system. Not being able to practice yoga postures in the early weeks post-birth made me realize how much I need physical activity to help discharge stress and tension. It was a relief when I could finally get on my mat.
Having the support, compassion and patience of my family, friends and birth professionals was huge. So much healing came from just having a listening, non-judgemental ear so that I could vent, cry and process my experience.
A few other things that got me through include taking Rescue Remedy before bed and high quality fish oil capsules daily, getting outside for long walks with my baby in the stroller, and connecting with other mamas.
It was slow going but gradually I began to feel a little less frazzled and a bit more grounded. And the constant presence of a giant knot of tension that felt like a closed fist in my stomach began to release.
But not before my postpartum experience concluded with a bang—after 11 weeks of bleeding and a 15 hour-long visit to the ER due to a piece of retained placenta.
It was like the grand finale to a grip-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of show. And then it was over. I started to recover, the endless appointments stopped, and feeding my baby felt like love instead of trauma. And I could finally exhale and settle into motherhood.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Richard May/Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Richard May/Flickr