Back in September, after I posted Arlo’s birth story, I mentioned I might write something about my post-partum experience. Because I so did not realize how big of a deal it would be! First off, birth and motherhood (parenthood in general) continues to amaze me and point me back to the love of Jesus. It begins in pregnancy, this very clear covering and protection for our babies. I can’t look at pregnant women the same now that I’ve experienced it myself. I think, “You are such a badass. Just walkin around, carrying on as normal and growing a person!” haha but beyond that. Jesus’ body broke to love us. And a mother’s body breaks to love her baby. Through delivery and after that too.
The “after that too” was the part I was not prepared for. Other women would tell me the pains of labor and delivery, but the story ended at “but then you hold your baby and you forget all about it and all is well and your heart is full!” True… but um there’s so much more that goes on.
This is the part where I’ll just say “viewer discretion is advised.” No pictures, y’all but I’m about to get verbally graphic! (Kind of, not that big of a deal, don’t worry.) But…
Let’s start with the “ring of fire.”
Guys, that shit hurts! I remember the delivery nurse literally telling me, “Don’t stop pushing! I promise, you’re not going to split in half!” And in my brain I was like “Uhhhh I didn’t think I was going to split in half!” Clearly I hadn’t quite gotten to that part yet. When I did, I definitely thought, Oh no, yeah. Definitely going to split in half. I’ve also had it described as feeling like someone is holding a blow torch to your parts. That’s pretty spot on as well.
And then, just like they say… it was over. I talked in my birth story about how they let me pull Arlo out. That was pretty surreal. And then there really is a minute in there where time does stop. And you do forget all about it. And all is well and your heart is full. Then the minute passes and someone takes your baby to the corner so they can suction the fluids out of his nose and throat and then theres some lady smashing your suddenly empty and flabby stomach and another one assessing the damage down below and informing you that you have a 2nd degree tear and that now you have to hold still if you want her to do a good job so that it doesn’t look crazy and so that sex doesn’t hurt forever and ever. No pressure. At the same time you’re looking over at your crying mom and husband and asking questions and making sure baby is breathing well and that he’s on his way back to you.
They put Arlo back on my chest and one nurse held the placenta in the air and asked me if I’d like to keep it (Thanks, but no.) and another nurse was reminding me to hold still. I couldn’t hold still though so I actually required more nurses just to hold my legs down for stitches than I did for the actual birth part. At this point I was just holding Arlo to my chest, trying to focus on him and soak in those first few moments. I kept whispering “Almost, almost, almost.” Almost done, and then it would just be me and him.
Finally, the stitches were in and my angel nurse, Maria, helped me get re-situated and comfortable in the bed. She brought me a cart with waffles, fruit, and coffee… and just as suddenly, everyone cleared out and it was calm. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I’d been up for so long and that I had just delivered my very own human baby out of my very own body all on my very own. And then I was expected to just casually eat waffles as if I hadn’t just done the most incredible thing probably ever!*** (And casually eat my waffles I did!) Maria checked back in on us a few minutes later and told me that I wasn’t allowed to go the to bathroom by myself. That I needed to wait for her to come help me for the first time.
***Sounds like I’m real into myself here, but I don’t mean that I did anything exceptional in and of myself. I did have lots of help throughout the whole process. I’m so thankful! I just mean that childbirth really is an incredible and empowering experience, and I’m so grateful that I was able to experience it.
Now here’s a thing. A lot of people told me that during delivery, all modesty would go out the window and I wouldn’t care about any of that. Not true. I definitely did care, and thought about it through my whole delivery. Maria would periodically ask me if I wanted a mirror so I could see what was going on and I would reply, “No way! No one should have to see that!” But I meant it. I was super thankful to be able to cover up again once it was all behind me. However. Maria was the best delivery midwife I could have ever hoped for. If there’s some way I could request her next time around, I absolutely would. All that to say, she came back awhile later to help me pee, and I think at that point Chad was more pained for me than I was for myself. Maria helped me sit down and told me to try not to tense up. It might sting, but it’s important to clear everything away and get the fear of it over with. I actually didn’t have a problem going, and didn’t mind her being in the room. Chad was right outside the door holding Arlo, and he mouthed “I’m sorry” with a sad face to me when Maria showed me how to use the water bottle, patted me dry, and lined my adult diaper mesh pants with an ice pack and witch hazel. But it was ok. Maybe it was hormones, but I think I loved Maria. (hah!) She helped me through the most life-changing experience ever, and served me in all the beauty and grossness of it.
We stayed in the delivery room for three hours. After that we were moved to our overnight room. I mentioned in my birth story that the procession from room to room was like a happy parade. Arlo and I being pushed in a wheelchair followed by all our family members and being congratulated by everyone we encountered was so sweet. I was smiling from ear to ear. (When I wasn’t kissing my boy’s sweet cheekies!) I was able to walk immediately after delivery, another perk I was always told about unmedicated birth. However. No one told me that when I did walk, I would feel like all my insides were going to fall out of my butt. The pressure down below was unbelievable! I don’t think I stood up straight for a week. I required some help to get into my hospital bed, and every time I had to pee was an ordeal. First off, I didn’t want to put Arlo down for a second. I was and am completely obsessed with that boy. Although it wasn’t encouraged, he slept the first night in my arms while I just stared and smiled and laughed and cried and stared and cried and smiled. Another sleepless night for me. I was running on adrenaline.
Anyway. Every trip to the bathroom took like… 15/20 minutes I’m sure. It took me a good minute just to scoot to the end of the bed to get up in the first place. And pushing myself off of the bed just felt like a risk! The pressure! And ladies, eventually you just gotta go #2. You just do because you’re still just a human, dang it! Just keeping it real. The hospital administered laxatives, though, and that was important and necessary. Nurses continued to come in from time to time to smash my jiggle-tummy and then look down my pants to make sure I wasn’t bleeding too much. And different nurses came in to make sure that Arlo was feeding well and with the correct latch. He was feeding well and often, but with a slightly aggressive latch, so lucky me, I had a blister on each side within 12 hours. I was excited and so so thankful that Arlo nursed without any issues, but breastfeeding is no joke! I remember tensing up every time he would latch and then thinking about how this tiny person literally wrecked every inch of my body over the last 9+ months and still I loved him more every second! That’s some supernatural design right there!
We left the hospital as soon as we could. We were offered to stay a second night, not because it was medically necessary, but because some mamma’s prefer additional monitoring (which is totally fine and understandable). But I was done with the hourly visits, the poking and prodding. Arlo and I had both received a clear bill of health, and I was ready to go home.
My mom met Chad, Arlo, and me at the house. She got to work on soup and pumpkin bread with chocolate chips for dinner. We set up the pack n play in the living room and laid swaddled Arlo down to sleep. It was time for mamma to shower. My mom and Chad basically had to force me. I just could not imagine that Arlo would be okay when I was alllllllll the way upstairs. Chad carried our bags up and helped me set aside a clean set of clothes. He started the water for me, told me not to worry, then left. Here’s me in all my glory. I wanted to remember this exact moment.
I was still bleeding quite a bit. I just stood there wobbly, tired, aching. I’d just done the hardest workout of my life and every muscle in me was throbbing. I hadn’t slept in over 48 hours. I had barely eaten. It was all I could do to just stay standing. After awhile Chad came back up to check on me. He led me to our bed and pulled down the covers for me, assuring me that Arlo was fine and being watched over. Now this is seriously one of my favorite memories of the two of us in that season. Just a couple of kids. New parents. He kissed my head and when I started to cry, tears welled up in his eyes too and he said, “I know. I know. You did it! It’s over. You can rest.” And he covered me up and left to take a shower himself.
And here’s a picture of him in all his glory. I wanted to remember this exact moment too. He’s tired and unshaven, but I seriously fell in love with him a little bit more in that moment.
That night my grandpa passed away. We got a Facetime call from my grandma and my aunts, who were with him at the time. We got to say goodbye to his earthly body then. He was the sweetest, most wonderful man, and Arlo was his first great-grandbaby. My mom and I like to think that “Boppa” stuck around to spend a day on this side of Heaven with Arlo before taking his place there.
Right before we received the phone call about Boppa, a couple of friends had come over to see Arlo. (One of which brought me nipple guards—in a couple different sizes just in case—to ensure the continuation of my breastfeeding journey—thanks, Jenna!) I had gotten a lot of advice to exclusively breastfeed before introducing any other “nipple”, be it bottle or pacifier or shield, to avoid nipple confusion. Well it was either that or we were done, pal, because I was raw!
When it was time to try to go to sleep we set up Arlo’s bassinet beside our bed. I didn’t sleep. I was afraid the cat would jump in with him so I stayed awake watching her. If Arlo made a peep, I checked on him. If he didn’t make a peep, I checked on him. Also, up until this point I had never considered our bed to be soft, but I struggled to get up and down from it when I needed to. Arlo ended up in bed with us, which I swore I would never do. But it helped me to have his chest rise and fall about an inch away from my face, and I didn’t sleep anyway, so nothing and no one would have been able to hurt him. After that night we moved downstairs and camped out on the couch for the whole week. The couch pulled out into a queen sized bed and it was firmer, therefore easier for me to get up and down. We went on walks daily, but slowly. Going to the bathroom continued to be a chore.
I cried daily. Out of wild, immeasurable love, and out of exaggerated, but vivid fears. I envisioned the worst of the worst, and fought to take my thoughts captive. My anxiety peaked as the sun started to set. The unpredictability and the loneliness of nighttime got under my skin, and it only magnified when Daylight Savings ended and it got darker earlier. Arlo has always been a good sleeper, but whether Baby Blues or PPA, I struggled the most at night. I tried to give Chad uninterrupted rest because I preferred him happy, well-rested, and helpful during the day to the company at night. My favorite time of the day was when the sun started to rise. I knew coffee was on its way and that Chad would be awake soon ***
***To be clear. Chad was always willing to be up with me at night, even though there wasn’t much he could practically do to help. I chose to take on nights by myself.
The first couple of weeks were a blur. No matter how much effort went into being intentionally present, there is still a fuzzy filter over my memory of those early days. The sleep deprivation, the anxiety, the LOVE, the insanely delicious milky baby smell. (I know it sounds weird, but if you know, you know.) There was a lot of Netflix, a lot of singing, a lot of rocking and dancing. There was a lot of crying and laughing. There was a LOT of picture taking. There was a lot of prayer and phone calls/visits with my mommy because how do I know what the heck to do?! During the day, try as I might, I just could not sleep when the baby slept. It irritated the crap out of Chad because he knew how beat I was. I’d often lay down next to Arlo while he slept though, and just watch him and snuggle and soak in every moment like ‘they’ say to do.
There’s no way to really wrap up a post-partum conversation. There are different opinions over how long the “post-partum” phase actually lasts. Some say it’s the first 6 weeks, others say the first 6 months. But when the technical postpartum season ends, you just kind of continue on with navigating the changes of your routines, hormones, lifestyle, etc. And that’s where I’m at. I still have anxiety more often than I’d like. Occasionally I feel like I finally got the hang of motherhood, and then something changes and I feel out of control again. At least now I can actually go all the way downstairs after I put Arlo down for bed and enjoy some solo time or time with Chad without obsessing over the monitor.
Although… it’s always nearby.