Thursday, May 15, 2014

Labor, Delivery, and Postpartum: A Primer

There are countless books, blogs, websites, and other resources you can study to research how to care for and raise a baby, and yet there are still a few topics of interest glossed over in said resources (or perhaps intentionally avoided in order to not scare people out of having children) which I felt compelled to share based on my experiences. Of course, the end result is pretty damn cute so it's worth 'the trouble' of 12+ months of physical and emotional dedication to the cause. TJ crossed the one-month threshold this Saturday (we celebrated it by going out for a date night sans TJ, ha) so we're making the grade thus far, and every single day is a new learning experience for us so for those Type-A folks like me, lack of predictability lends its own brand of intrigue (read: anxiety). HOWEVER, I will say taking everything in stride and realizing, at the end of the day, you and your baby survived another day and you salvaged a few hours of sleep (maybe), you're coming out on top. That said, I wanted to write a "heads up" post (good news AND "bad") for those of you for whom these tips may be of interest. If you're not planning on having children, I recommend you stop reading here, this will be total TMI for you and this post is not for you. If you wish to have greater empathy for those of us bearing children, read on, but do so at your own risk :) I give you: the bad, the "neutral" (stuff you should know, neither good nor bad), and of course the good! 

The Bad News:
  1. Unless you are in advanced active labor, stuff your face before you check in to the hospital. You will not eat solid food again until your baby appears. HANGRY anyone? I believe the reasoning behind this is something to do with the risk of c-section and infection, yadda yadda, I don't really remember. I do remember being ever so thankful that Tyler and I ate a pretty big meal  at home (very quickly) before we went to the hospital after my water breaking. I was allowed popsicles, Jell-O, fruit juice, and Slurpies for the more than 24 hours I was in labor. If you eat small frequent meals, watch out. This really sucks. No amount of juice boxes will sufficiently substitute for real food. 
  2. Even if you request limited monitoring during your hospital stay, it will not be peaceful and quiet. While our overall birth experience at the hospital was pleasant, the one thing I would change is the frequency with which we were disturbed in the Mother/Baby unit for monitoring purposes. At one point, the OB rotating off his night shift barged in our room shortly after we had finally lulled TJ to sleep and loudly proclaimed "BOWERSOCK????" as if no, this was not the Bowersock room dumbass... only to ask us very personal questions which I would never in a million years answer for this guy I just met two seconds prior and then successfully awoke my newborn. Over the course of the two days in M-B unit, TJ and I were systematically checked for blood pressure, temperature, etc. Perhaps some people don't mind or feel it necessary, but I found this very intrusive and annoying. Home-birth options were much more appealing to me after this experience. 
  3. Complete strangers will try to put their grubby hands on your baby in public. I may invest in some kind of force field to surround TJ's car seat when we go places like the grocery store because I am SHOCKED by how invasive people can become when a baby is around. I understand, it's a baby, he's super cute and worth the gawking, but really? Where have your hands been? I go through travel bottles of hand sanitizer like it's water and mostly because other people feel completely comfortable attempting to place their bare hands on my child. If I shove a bottle in your face, don't take offense... but I've observed enough people NOT wash their hands in public restrooms that I trust no one. 
The "Neutral" News
  1. Save money to invest in a postpartum wardrobe! Maternity clothing is pretty straightforward and there are lots of places to purchase reasonably-priced stuff. If you're lucky, you don't even really need it until about halfway through pregnancy. At least you can purchase a belly band and that will buy you time in the pants you already own. Fast-forward to the postpartum body where all bets are off: you could still be in maternity clothing, but you're now in a new season of attire, so you will need NEW maternity clothing despite no longer being with child. In my case, I've lost weight very quickly BUT I'm nursing. What this means for you fellow previously small-chested girls is you may THINK you can get back in your old duds but remember: your boobs are now massive. You now have an appreciation for your well-endowed friends who have complained about finding clothes that fit properly because from the waist-down you may be back in the Size 6 but your nursing chest is easily a Size 10 or greater, oops! 
  2. If you don't fart/pee/etc around your spouse, be prepared to lose your modesty.  Our conversation went something like this: Me- "I don't think you want to watch the birth, it's pretty gross. I've seen the videos." Tyler- "I agree, I don't need to watch. I will just be in the room." We were totally on the same page with this stuff. This is not a complaint on my part, more a FYI for those of you like me who truly had no idea how delivery works, but at least where I delivered the husband is basically the second nurse in helping guide your active labor efforts. By guide your efforts, I mean hold or brace one of your legs as you grunt and groan like you're having the worst bowel movement of your life every other minute and a front-row seat to all your "glory" in the process. Of course we have since reverted back to our modest ways at home, but for my fellow preggo friends... beware! Ha. 
  3. Maternity leave policies (in this country) are generally pretty shitty. Make sure you do your homework in advance. That's all I will say about that. Familiarize yourself with your company's policy. If you don't like what you find, you can make a change, or if you are on the hunt for a job, perhaps this will help you narrow your choices. Or if you're flexible, check out Canada or virtually any other developed country where maternity (and paternity) policies are much more family-friendly. 
  4. The decision to use childcare/go back to work or not is one of the most difficult decisions you will make in your entire life.** (see #6 below)
The Good News
  1. Skin-to-skin contact with your newly-delivered baby (and here afterward) is magical. Not much else to say other than I highly recommend you include this in your birth plan if you write one (PS- if you want to see a copy of mine, I can send it to you...). I'm not sure if this helped our breastfeeding success thus far, research suggests it may, but regardless of its outcomes with breastfeeding it's a very ethereal moment. If you miss out on the immediate skin-to-skin contact at birth, it's still just as cool afterward. I highly recommend you try it. 
  2. Breastfeeding CAN be a positive experience for you and your baby. I mean no disrespect to my friends who have lovingly warned me of the challenges associated with breastfeeding. Perhaps more people DO have more difficulty with breastfeeding than success, but as someone who has experienced successful nursing thus far, I feel compelled to share my love of it. I was pretty scared/concerned/anxious before going into labor as to how it would go. You're warned how your nipples can crack and bleed, how your boobs will swell, the risk of mastitis, etc. The baby may not latch. Your milk may take weeks to come in. There are SO MANY things that can go wrong, it's hard to not assume the worst going in to breastfeeding. I don't know if it was just the aura of actually having my baby with me, skin-to-skin, or ignoring everything in the outside world EXCEPT my baby, but we experienced virtually none of these things. Naturally you will be sore for a while because your breasts are (probably???) not accustomed to such "wear and tear", but at least for me compared to back labor, breastfeeding pain was a drop in that bucket. A few dabs of Lanolin will do you in my opinion. Stay calm and confident, contact a lactation consultant just in case, and relax... and again this was my experience only. Many are not so lucky, and I realize TJ and I were/are lucky, just know that not all breastfeeding stories are scary. It's good to be prepared for the worst, but don't assume it will happen to you. 
  3. "Your village" of friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc. will bend over backwards to support you. Let them... Tyler and I have commented many times how lucky we are to know such great people and especially to live close to them. Since we have no immediate family in town, we must rely on friends and neighbors to help and boy have they done so. My friend Erin helped start a "meal train" website for me which opens slots in the weeks/months around your delivery for folks to bring you meals; my neighbor Marci has been watching TJ some afternoons so I can go for quick runs; my coworkers have been checking in on me, bringing me food and coffee, and picking up my slack so I can truly focus on all things TJ. I could go on and on and on... I know Mom's are notorious for taking care of everyone but themselves, but in the case of caring for your newborn, your world is so much more enjoyable when you let people help you!!! 
  4. You don't have to love babies to love YOUR baby. While I had many a babysitting gig, I can count on one hand how many of those gigs included children who weren't old enough to verbally communicate their wants/needs. To be honest, I don't remember the last time I spent more than five minutes around a child younger than two. Don't get me wrong, I like kids! I like babies! But you know, there are people who would veer off the interstate to hold someone else's baby or spend time around small children. I am not one of those people, and I was worried this would make me a bad parent. Turns out, when it's YOUR baby, the equation changes completely. When you are responsible for producing a human from scratch, something magical happens to people like me who avoid holding babies for fear of breaking them in half or doing something wrong. When it's YOUR baby, you learn your baby quickly. He learns about you. You are so in-tune with each other that there's no other way to say it: you JUST KNOW what to do and why. I never understood this until now, and it's so true. 
  5. You will know what's best for your baby. Seriously. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. This overlaps with #4 above, but be prepared for the continued unsolicited advice! While I had a hard time tolerating the advice with my pregnancy, I find it easier to shrug off the baby advice because there is physical evidence proving one baby is not the same as another. Many of Tyler's elderly patients, for example, have told me how "brave" I am for bringing my month-old baby to the clinic while I workout because when they had children, their infants weren't to leave the house until they were a year old. So, it's relatively easy to stop and realize the world we live in is dramatically different from the world our grandparents lived in when they were our age, so advice like this may have been valid 50 years ago. Not valid now. No bee in my bonnet over such advice. I just smile and change the subject :)
  6. You can be career-oriented and still be a good parent.**  I've discussed the "selfish" stuff in a previous post, so this is an extension from that commentary. I love my jobs, and I can't imagine my life without them or some element of them for keeping me sane and feel needed/important. I've been in school for so long I can't imagine NOT using my degrees. So, staying at home with the baby did not appeal to me even while I was pregnant... for a little while. Once I started researching daycare facilities and in-home care, I became overwhelmed with anxiety and guilt for wanting to work while paying someone else to watch my child. It didn't help that many of the folks I encountered in these facilities did not impress me and I didn't feel these people were qualified to provide such vital early development care. To be honest, I am still not 100% OK with sending TJ somewhere while I work, but I think it's important women support each other in these difficult choices (especially if you are sharing in similar decisions/experiences) because the guilt we feel either way is shared. I've come to the conclusion that no matter what you decide, the choice is tough. I hope my decision to continue working will make me a better parent in the end by improving my sense of purpose and self as well as modeling for my son how to balance life both inside the home and outside it. 
However, when I watch my son change and grow every day, when I observe those little wheels turning and knowing he is becoming a unique person, it's hard not to just be around him every minute of every day. When I think things like this, I stop and think WHO AM I?!?! I was never that woman. I've always been the career-oriented and never wanted to stay at home. But now, now that I have my own child and see how amazing he is, it's so hard to be away from him. Again, I just have to remind myself being a part of other things is as important for me as it is for him, and hopefully there will be mutual benefit as a result. 

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