From when we are young, we have an idea of how difficult childbirth is. Even before we really understand how it all works, there is an element of fear and awe around the event. It can be hard to discuss even with other birthing mothers because everyone has different experiences and expectations. Still, one thing we appreciate about having a community is being able to take some of the unknown out of everything. Childbirth can be painful, beautiful, transcendent, and even a little yucky. The experience is unlike any other on earth; that isn't to say it is for everyone.
In some cases, childbirth makes you feel so powerful; in others, it makes you feel helpless. But in all instances of birth, even the most painful or the most beautiful, you are still left with the realities and aftermath of a major physical event. Looking back at this author's experience with childbirth, I recall the day of the birth and the experience of labor as exciting and powerful, but the aftercare was the most surprising. Everything you read and prepare for is over, and now you have this sore body, a bit leaky and even a bit foreign to you. You wonder how you will take care of your little one while recovering from the previous day's events.
So let's approach birth from the other side. The day came and went. You gave birth. You have a beautiful wrinkly little one that smells like diaper cream and possibilities. Now you've done the hard bit right, and you are home, the nursery is ready, the diaper cake is on display, the soft lullaby playlist is playing, the baby is fed and clean and sleeping, and then you try to get out of the rocking chair, and you remember your physical form needs a little attention. Here are some of the not-so-magical aspects of the days ahead and some tips and tricks to get through it.
Let's get the most uncomfortable subjects out of the way quickly and move forward. Ready?
Take the stool softener! Trust me. Just do it.
Got it? Good.
Now the next tip requires some preparation or sending your dad/mom/birthing partner to the pharmacy while you are loading the baby into the car to head home. It would help if you had some supplies. If you are like me and you recruit your father, you will have to repeat the name of what you want him to assemble about five times while he looks stressed and a little confused. He will return shell-shocked and thrust a brown paper bag at you as if to say, 'We will never speak of this again,' But trust me, you won't regret it.
Make an undie sundae! (Thanks, Dad!)
After my first 26-hour labor, I felt very tender, and the nurse in my recovery room gave me a recipe she referred to as the undie sundae, which sounds bad and feels better. You take an overnight pad and get it wet, freeze it, and once it is frozen, lay two witch-hazel pads across it and top it with epi-foam. My firstborn somehow learned my birth plan and decided she would have none of the people telling her what to do. She was stuck, upside down, and crowning for nearly 3 hours after an entire day of labor, and when I tell you that the undie sundae was a relief like nothing I have ever experienced, I am not exaggerating.
Lots of postpartum care is all about the Cool down. Ice is seriously your best friend for all things labor recovery, and we aren't just talking below the belt. Nursing doesn't always come naturally; many moms initially turn to lactation consultants. These resources are wonderful, and although this should be something natural, it isn't always intuitive. No shame in asking for help or finding what works for you and your child. If you struggle with soreness, try frozen tea bags (pain is another story, if you feel pain, call the lactation consultant, it should NOT hurt). I used green tea bags. Make a cup of tea, freeze the bag, then wrap it in saran wrap or plastic bag (to prevent sticking), and wear it inside your bra.
With all that cooling and pain easing, as in all things in life, remember to hydrate. This one seems like a no-brainer, but it's not so simple postpartum. You are constantly trapped under a tiny sleeping or eating human, and going to get a glass of water is hard. I set up little stations around my house with Kleenex, books, snacks, wipes, lotion, and a big water bottle (most hospitals send you home with one of these), one by my bed, in the living room, and the nursery. That way, I didn't have to jump up when I got seated, and the baby got comfortable.
Oh, guys, the turkey sandwich from the hospital cafeteria. You foodies out there all cringed simultaneously but seriously, don't knock it until you have tried it after 26 hours of watery jello and cranberry juice. It doesn't have to be a turkey sandwich. For me, it was a turkey sandwich, but it represents the craving, the food or drink you just wanted all through pregnancy or even just suddenly after birth. INDULGE. Seriously permit yourself to dig into the foods your body is asking for because it is in major recovery and rebuilding mode. I wanted that turkey sandwich so bad I had one about thirty minutes after my baby was born and didn't even notice the meconium on my hands, and I don't look so grossed out... I told you… the body wants, the body gets.
Postpartum Incontinence is also something to be mindful of and to talk to your doctor about. One in three births results in postpartum incontinence. Crossing your legs to sneeze might make for a fun and funny TikTok trend, but it shouldn't be accepted as normal. Ask your nurse about taking home supplies to help with leaking postpartum, and if it becomes a serious concern, ask about physical therapy and support. Baby is meant to change your life for the better, not make it embarrassing to jump in public.
So there is a start, more to it than contractions and crowning. It really is a beautiful process, though. It doesn't sound magical, but we have mothers sitting right here, typing this blog, who would love to transport themselves right back to those moments, undie sundae and all.
We are so proud of you, anyone going through new parenthood and balancing self-care. Seriously you are incredible, and while it isn't all something you want to broadcast to the world, remembering that it's all part of the process is humanizing. Feel free to ask what's normal. Remember that births happen daily, and the resources are there for you.
I don't know about you, but I want a turkey sandwich now. XO