Birth and Postpartum: What They Don’t Tell You

This blog post goes hand in hand with my other one about Pregnancy. As a first time mom, there was a lot that I didn’t know about that happened to me. I like to be prepared so I will share my personal experiences with you and hopefully help you to know what’s up. Also, I had a natural birth so my experience as such may be different from other natural births or other births that include interventions.

1. Birth can be long, but not bad

My birth lasted about 30 hours, but for the first 12 hours it wasn’t even painful. It was like light period cramps that came and went every 10-12 minutes. It was really the last 6 hours that were the toughest. You may think, “six hours?!” but really it felt like it moved at a good rate. Only during transition did I feel like, “this needs to end!” which is very normal.

2. It’s possible to poop during labor

And not in the toilet. Maybe you’ve heard this before, but it’s quite common for women to poop during labor on the bed or wherever they are laboring, especially when you start pushing. At first, I was mortified at the idea of this, but if you feel the same take comfort in this: the midwives and nurses see this all the time (and worse). Nothing your body does will shock them. It’s best if you just let go of any of that embarrassing tension and embrace the fact that your body will do whatever it needs to in order to birth your baby. I was moving all over the place during labor and my midwife just kept moving the large absorbing pad underneath me. At one point I said, “I need to pee” and my midwife said, “You can just go here” and I totally did. At that point in labor your pride, which was formally so intact, has gone out the window.

3. Dignity is gone without a trace

By the end of pregnancy you are so ready to have the baby that you could care less what doctors, nurses, midwives do to you as long as you can just feel normal again. Birth just increases this. Shame? What is shame? If you still feel embarrassed about bodily functions, I promise you that by 7 cm you won’t. You want to look at my vagina? By all means. You need me to pee in front of you? Absolutely. I don’t care what you do or how I look I just want to get this over with!

4. Birth isn’t textbook

Despite everything you hear and read your birth can be completely different from anyone else’s. For example, I was always under the assumption that contractions started short and far apart and gradually got stronger, longer, and closer together. When I hit active labor my contractions were never regular. Even at the end! They did indeed get stronger, but timing was all over the place. I would have them about 5-6 minutes apart and then 2-3 in a row that were only 2 minutes apart. After Olivia’s head came out it was about 4 minutes before the next contraction to birth her body.

5. Contractions don’t stop after birth

Not all women experience this, but I definitely did. Once your baby comes out HOORAY! You’ve overcome the biggest physical challenge of your life. Now you are bonding with your baby and then you have another contraction. What?! Why?! For me, they were strong too. Then you birth the placenta. Then you keep having contractions. Then you breastfeed and you have them. It is a way for your uterus to shrink back to its original size. It’s a good thing, but it certainly doesn’t seem like it. I had them throughout the day I gave birth and they gradually became less and less painful.

6. You can pee!

At 40 weeks pregnant you have to pee every five minutes and the most discouraging thing is that you pee about a teaspoon of liquid. After birth, I showered and got to my room and then an hour or so later I needed to pee. A midwife helped me to the bathroom and then.. rivers! So much pee! Holy moly! It seemed like it wouldn’t ever stop! Which I desperately wanted because right after birth going pee stings like a mofo. Oh my gosh, it was stinging so bad and I was not at all expecting that. The good thing is that now you don’t have to pee for another several hours. What I started to do was that when I needed to pee, I just got in the shower, hiked up my robe, turned the water to a cool temperature, and held the shower head over my bladder area so the water would run down as I peed. This helped immensely. I highly recommend it.

7. Oh, hello there

Speaking of pee, you can finally see your vagina again! It can be quite sore so ask for an ice pack. I had an ice pack that I kept between my legs for the first few days following birth and it was so relieving that I didn’t have any pain. The nurse asked if I wanted some tablets for the pain and I thought, “I just went through BIRTH without anything for the pain, why would I take something now?!” Your vagina may look damaged, but it will get better. Some women don’t even look, but I did. I was desperately curious. Bizarre? Whatever. Maybe not for all women, but for me something about being able to see my downstairs again made me so happy. Sometimes, it’s the little things. It’s like hope that your body is going to be normal again. You still have a pooch though. I looked like a soft, slightly deflated balloon. It was a little horrifying. How could my tummy be so loose and squishy? This will go away, right? Yes, possibly after several months, but hey! You just spent almost a year growing a person in there. It’s going to take a little time.

8. The period of all periods

After birth you bleed quite a bit. I remember the midwife giving me those mesh panties (which are awesome!) and then grabbing a huge pad. Then another huge pad. She put them together and gave them to me to wear. I went through that pretty quickly. The bleeding goes down quite a bit after a few days, but it’s also a lot of liquid from carrying the baby that gets flushed out. This is like having a 2-3 week period. However, the good news is that after this you can go months and months without having a period. Olivia was 9 months old when I had my first period after birth. Some women are a year postpartum and still don’t have a period, and some it’s only 5-6 months. Breastfeeding will affect this. Mine started when Olivia was consistently going 8 hours without breastfeeding.

9. Breastfeeding

Many women talk about the struggle of breastfeeding. The latch, enough production, engorgement, etc. but no one ever talks about how painful it can be. The second and third day was the most painful for my nipples. Dear lord. It felt like razors every time Olivia nursed. I had to brace myself. After day 3 it started to get better. From the very first day I was using Mulit-Mam Lanolin cream after every time she nursed. But the real deal was their compresses. Cooling gel compresses that you stick right on your nipples. Such relief! I highly recommend you get both. I did get seriously engorged too. I mean, talk about boobs! I know now what it’s like to get ridiculously huge implants. They were just everywhere and in the way of everything. Instead of wearing nursing pads all day to soak up the insane amount of leakage, I wore only a nursing tank top and then stuffed a cloth in my shirt on whichever side was leaking. I only wore the pads at night. When my boobs were hard as rocks, I massaged that out. If I needed to, I got in a warm shower and expressed some milk for relief. I barely had to touch them and milk started to come out. Just a little made it feel better. My production regulated in about 5 days and I didn’t need to express anymore. I did all these things to avoid getting mastitis or infection.

10. It’s hard to rest

I did too much too soon and it really hindered my healing. Part of this is because you’re supposed to rest like a sick person, but you don’t feel sick. You feel elated. Overjoyed. Maybe exhausted from labor and birth, but after sleeping a lot for 2 days it’s hard to stay in bed. I recommend staying in bed as much as possible for two weeks. Even if you feel great otherwise, your body has been through a traumatic event and you need to heal. Don’t go to the table to have your meals, have them in bed. Get help if you need it, but REST! The ol’ saying is true, sleep when baby sleeps.

11. Emotions still run high

During pregnancy emotions are hard to handle. I always thought that was just during pregnancy. Oh no. I cried more after birth than while I was pregnant. Happy tears, sad tears, confused tears, angry tears, but mostly happy tears. It’s like women develop a new reflex when they have a baby: the cry reflex. Anything you hear or see that is remotely sad or touching or sweet or endearing in anyway will activate your cry reflex. You feel ridiculous crying over shared videos and toilet paper commercials, but it’s just the way it is. Life is so much more beautiful now in many ways and harder in some. After Olivia was born I thought about how so many things in life that I had previously thought were so important were now totally meaningless, irrelevant. She was what life was really all about. People is what life is really all about. I thought of the song La Vie En Rose; I was looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Everything was beautiful. So beautiful. For days I told Olivia, “I’m so glad you’re finally here.” In those moments, all the difficulties, sadness, pain, hormones, fades into the background and you fall in love with your baby. It’s the most wonderful experience, as a woman, to carry life, to give life to someone, is beyond words, beyond description. It is beautiful radiance beyond imagination.