Fair warning, this post may gross you out. The fact that you have read past the title says one of three things. You can relate, you want to learn, or you like being grossed out.
Every birth and postpartum experience is different. It’s important to me to share my story so more people can understand what the postpartum period looks like. Days 1-10 only represent a small fraction of the postpartum period. Postpartum simply defined “of or noting the period of time following childbirth; after delivery.” The actual mental, emotional, and physical recovery process associated with postpartum can take months or years. Some parts of myself quite frankly, have never “gone back to normal” after having kids.
For those of you who have never experienced postpartum but intend to someday, this post is not to scare you or anyone for that matter. It is a simple recollection of my real experience. Satin, lace, and feelings of euphoria are not all that the aftermath of birth entails. When we consider those who give birth, who give life in our society and their needs, we need to consider the whole picture. This is just one small snapshot.
I woke up in a cold sweat with a lukewarm heat pack on my lower back and a leaking ice pack on my abdomen. I couldn’t sit up on my own so I reached for the remote control for my hospital bed and slowly inched up to a seated position. I reached down to feel my empty tummy to find bandages over my distended stomach. To the naked eye I still looked pregnant, maybe 6 months or so, but I knew it was just fluid and a stretched womb where my babies grew and used to live only 12 hours ago.
With every shift I felt a warm sensation which before I gave birth I would have assumed was urine from the babies jumping on my bladder. As the babies were out and I was hooked up to a catheter, I knew this was blood.
Healing blood as my insides worked to repair and renew the area where my babies’ placenta recently attached to my uterus. I was in pain and I was jarred. My birth did not go as expected and my babies were in another building. My breasts were in pain, they needed to be with my babies, but instead I starred at the breast pump that was ready for me. I needed to hook myself up to this machine and force my body to feed it so I could one day replace that machine with my newborns. Little did I know this was the beginning of a 6 month, 6 times a day relationship with this machine.
I pumped and it hurt. Blood came out of my nipples as the machine begged and pulled colostrum from my body. The “liquid gold” that would be delivered by a nurses syringe to help my babies’ immune system. I was thirsty, parched, and immediately sucked the last bit from my hospital canteen and begged for a refill as quickly as possible. My mind was clouded and confused and my bowels were constipated from my recent abdominal surgery and narcotic pain killers that followed. My liver and kidneys were still in failure due to my rare issue known as acute fatty liver of pregnancy but I was healing now that the babies were out. My arm looked like a pin cushion as a result of the multiple blood tests I had undergone in the past 24 hours.
I felt a sense of loss and overwhelming guilt. We were all ok, but what if…? We were all so lucky but it was’t “supposed” to go down like that. My body, the vessel that carried my babies and my soul, was broken. My mind and my spirit were defeated and didn’t know how to tell my body that it had done a great job, that it would heal, that this is what it was built for! None of that seemed true. I was still holding on, trying to keep my “feet on the ground” and attempting to feel gratitude, relief and joy without feeling certain of any of it. This was a part of childbirth I was not prepared for.
My blood labs were looking good enough for me to be discharged as a patient. In a way I was grateful for my liver issue, because until day 5 I was afraid to go home. Other mom’s who have C-sections go home within 3 days postpartum and I knew my body was not ready to take care of itself. I wasn’t feeling strong enough to spend my nights in the chair in the NICU, so with the encouragement of my Dr. I decided to go home, leaving my babies behind.
I couldn’t walk unassisted for long distances and I couldn’t, stand, laugh, or sneeze without my stomach in a binder. My nurse taught me how to bind my abdomen on my own so that I could move around without feeling like my insides would fall out. I was still bleeding so I made sure to grab extra hospital size pads and mesh underwear. I also left with some mesh binders so I could keep an icepack between my stapled incision and the tight abdomen binder while my swelling continued to go down. I was still constipated and in pain so I was gifted stool softener and pain medication for the journey home. With all of my packaging I left the hospital in tears.
Part of my being was still in that hospital. I yearned to be whole again, but I was still in pieces.
I cried for the rest of the day as I hobbled around the house, received gentle hugs from my boys and pumped, pumped, pumped in my empty bedroom. My dogs ran around me in a panic. Brutus gently laid on my lap and licked my hand repeatedly. Dogs have an incredible way of knowing. They knew the babies were no longer in my belly but know where to be found, they knew I was in pain, and they knew I needed help.
The stimulation of a warm shower was almost too much to bare. I sobbed as the healing water ran down my body and I gently scrubbed the remaining iodine and adhesive from my skin. I knew that healing was taking place, but that I had a long way to go.
*Approximately 120,000 of US moms go back to work with in 5 days of giving birth due to lack of unpaid leave.
Moving around my house was much easier but sneezing, laughing, and coughing was still unbearable on my incision area where my abdomen was not fully healed. My Uterus continued to bleed and contract. It was on it’s way back to it’s original size now, but as these were my third and forth babies, recovery was taking longer.
My pumping sessions were more successful and I was producing plenty of milk for my twins, though pumping took up most of my day as the babies were eating every two hours and I had to keep the same schedule with my pump to keep production up. My abdominal binder still provided me with needed strength and stability to get to and from the NICU every day.
I could walk back and forth from the hospital cafeteria to the NICU without support, but it would cause more bleeding so I pushed a wheelchair for added support. My mother had been with me since the birth and my childhood friend Sara came to visit from NYC. My mother helped keep me focused and grounded while Sara brought levity and laughter to the daily NICU stays. These two figures had been with me as a child and were helping to once again heal my inner child who felt vulnerable and uncertain.
With every day I felt more and more like myself but I was nowhere near the part of myself who can manage a team, address conflict, or walk briskly down a hallway with confidence while engaging with co-workers. I was still traveling my road to recovery and my babies were not even home yet.
My body was unrecognizable in the mirror, but I had finally arrived to a place of gratitude. I could not wait to be home with my babies in my bathrobe to begin our new lives together. I was grateful for the time we still had ahead of us.
*Approximately 1 quarter of US moms go back to work within 10 days of giving birth- this statistic includes C-sections, other complications, and NICU cases.
One of the most surprising things that I have experienced in my work with moms and parental leave advocacy is the apathetic response from both women and men regarding the idea that mothers deserve time to recover after birth. I am an advocate for parental leave. I think it is essential for all parents to have time to recover and bond at home with baby after birth or adoption. My focus on the need for paid maternity leave is rooted in the fact that the unpaid maternity leave issue in the US is also a maternal health issue. My story is not unique. Bodies who give birth need time to recover. Parents who welcome a child into their lives, need time to bond and learn.
Unpaid family leave in the US is a crisis, unpaid maternity leave is an emergency.
*If you would like to tell your postpartum/maternity leave story on the Take Charge blog, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.