Postpartum.

As I write this, we’re sitting waiting for Hurricane Irma to hit. Writing about the hardest period in my life (the postpartum period) seems fitting to do while we wait for one of the worst natural disasters to hit. #eyeroll. This is a long post, and full of heavy stuff, but I think I’m only starting to feel okay because of other moms who’ve walked alongside me and shared their stories. So here’s mine. I so, so hope it helps another mama know she’s not alone.

I’m three weeks postpartum today, and I finally feel like the fog is starting to lift—if the fog was a toxic, deadly fume that came with total sleep deprivation and anxiety like none other.

I’ll start at the beginning and work my way towards today…

Emory was born at 9:43am on Sunday, August 20th after a borderline traumatic labor experience. But there was a magic to the hour or two following her birth; her daddy and I were smitten, she was beautiful and healthy, and I was unbelievably thankful to have the pain of labor behind me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end of things.

You always hear stories about how in love you fall with your baby as soon as you see them. And there were definitely feelings I’ve never experienced, and I would’ve definitely given my life for that sweet child immediately, but there was not this beautiful afterglow of labor where I spent time ooh-ing over every feature, falling in love with her and feeling this immeasurable bond. In fact, none of that happened. I had a pretty significant tear that required some extensive suturing, I was exhausted beyond all understanding, and  I was emotionally starting to process what had unfolded and how we didn’t get the home birth I had so wanted.

Within a few hours (I think?) we were moved upstairs to the mother & baby unit. We said goodbye to our sweet nurses, and said hello to a new set that were…well…less than that. I mean they were nice, but our L&D nurses really set the bar high.

Once we got “settled” into our new room, things started to really hit. My hormones were plummeting, and as someone who suffers from anxiety disorder to begin with, I was starting to get super emotional and scared over everything. Was Emmy breathing? Was she cold or uncomfortable? And mostly…was she eating?

We had latched her on within an hour of birth. And by “we”, I mean the baby nurse. I honestly don’t even remember it. But let’s just say, it did some damage. And when we tried again once we were in our new room, she refused to latch to my other breast, so we went back to the damaged side and, not surprisingly, did even more damage.

Emmy was going 6-ish hours between “feedings” and my anxiety was skyrocketing because I knew I wasn’t doing something right. The night nurse had me try a nipple shield, which actually just messed up the other breast instead of helping. I was still in a huge daze and would watch her sleep, picturing the clock ticking by each minute that she hadn’t eaten. Eventually, the lactation consultant came by and her words were, “Oh man, your nipples look terrible.” Thanks. So comforting.

Since Shands is a “baby-friendly” designated hospital (super pro-breastfeeding, pacifiers are a no-no, and formula is definitely not the standard), we knew breastfeeding would be pushed hard and fast. So to hear that we needed to start supplementing her was kind of shocking. Since I had so much trauma to my breasts already, there was no way we could keep trying to get her to latch. So that started a cycle where I’d pump to stimulate milk production, hand express what little colostrum I could get out, feed that to Emmy via a syringe, and then finger-feed her formula (using a syringe to feed her through a feeding tube against my finger, so she’d still have to suck for food). It was exhausting and emotional and painful.

Once the pediatric team came for her 24-hour evaluation, they weren’t happy with how little she was feeding. There were talks of us having to stay another night until we could figure it out. The pediatrician mentioned a lip/tongue tie, but she didn’t think Emmy had that issue.

But the lactation consultant did.

And so began the battle of whether or not we needed to “fix” a tie that did or did not exist. Eventually, an OT who was also a lactation consultant came in and cast the deciding vote–that she did not have an issue and was just too tense to feed. We were to try and coax Emmy to relax her shoulders, but my tissue was still too traumatized to even attempt feeding her at the breast.

Eventually, we were told we could be discharged, as long as we saw our pediatrician and a lactation consultant the next day. I was exhausted, emotional, scared, and just had a general feeling of malaise. My parents and sister came to visit us in the hospital, and I just remember feeling so sad. For no real reason. I wanted to go home and I didn’t want to go home. I was so scared that Emmy wasn’t okay. When the nurse came in to do her heel stick, and Emmy wailed, I sat on the bed next to her holding her hand just weeping. I felt like I could throw up. I knew it was just a little prick, but I felt every cell in my body writhing in anxiety and fear.

I was also surprised at how much pain I was in physically. I remember hearing that once the baby is born, you go from “a ten to a zero on the pain scale.” As my cousin said, I’m calling bullshit on that. It was so hard to walk to the bathroom, and even sitting up hurt.

Finally, around 7pm, we were “discharged” and told we needed to wait for the transport team to wheel us out of there. Our nurse gave us an insane amount of information, from everything on SIDS to when to call 911 to “bonding” with your baby.

Then shift change happened, and we were forgotten about. We waited for over an hour for the transport team to come, and they never did. We kept asking, but we didn’t have a nurse assigned to us anymore since we had been “discharged”, and we just sat in our room waiting. I started sobbing. I was so tired, hadn’t slept, and was slowly being consumed by a fear and anxiety that was growing like weeds. I couldn’t stop crying. Matt finally took Emmy and walked down the hall (a MAJOR no-no) which caused the nurses to freak out immediately. Which, frankly, was exactly what he wanted, and told them they needed to find someone to get us out of there ASAP.

Within ten minutes, we were finally wheeled out. Matt went to go get the car, and I held Emmy, still sobbing, wondering why this wasn’t this magical “going home” moment I so often saw. It was past 9pm, and was dark and silent and hot out. While waiting for Matt with the car, the nurse who had wheeled me down proceeded to tell me about the last mom who had to wait 2 hours to get discharged and how it was even worse for her because her baby had just died.

I think I broke at that point. I stopped crying and just fell into myself. I was terrified putting her in the car seat, and cried all the way home because I didn’t know if she was breathing or not. When we got home, I got in the shower and had a complete panic attack. I felt like I was losing my mind. I vividly remember wanting to climb the walls, wishing Emmy would just go away so we could have our old life back. I didn’t want her anymore. I just wanted Matt and I to be able to crawl into bed and snuggle and watch TV, not deal with our crying baby who I didn’t even know how to feed.

I didn’t want to hold her. I didn’t want Matt to hold her either, because I wanted him to hold me. But she was hysterical (um, who wouldn’t be at less than 2 days old and in a totally new place and pretty freaking hungry). Thank God for my sweet husband, who turned a steamy shower on and sat on the bathroom counter for three hours with her because the steam and noise calmed her down.

I laid in bed feeling like the worst mother on the planet. I couldn’t calm my baby, I couldn’t feed her, I didn’t want to even hold her, and my poor husband –who was also sleep deprived–was now being forced to sit for hours on end on our bathroom counter. Just writing it makes me sick to my stomach.

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such a combination of fear and anxiety and sadness. I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t stop crying. I would just shake and feel like I was going to vomit. And it didn’t stop.

I remember wanting to take this picture during a meltdown, because I just KNEW that there would have to be another side to this season and that I’d want to reach back and hug this girl.

The next day I knew something was wrong. I knew I wasn’t doing okay, and that I needed help. I’d cry and cry and cry each day, because I just couldn’t do it. Unknowingly, we weren’t feeding Emmy enough because we didn’t know anything about formula feeding, and didn’t know that we needed to be quickly increasing her feeds. God had his hands on that girl since she somehow didn’t starve.

Our pediatrician saw us the day after we got home, and helped us understand that we needed to feed her more. And gave us the contact information for an amazing lactation consultant, who came to our home the next day, after giving me tips on how to quickly heal my damaged nipples.

When she arrived, she got Emmy to latch immediately. It was a miracle. We did a weighted feed: For perspective, we were feeding Emmy between 5-10mL of formula at each feed. From one feed at my breast, she ate 68mL. 68!!! Poor baby really was starving.

I finally felt like I was doing something right. Emmy didn’t scream after eating, her color was less red and she was totally calm and drowsy after eating. I wish I could say our breastfeeding journey was magical from that point on, but it wasn’t. It’s still full of pain and exhaustion and not knowing if she’s eating enough, but I think I’m too traumatized from our early induction to formula to switch.

About a week and a half postpartum, when Matt was back at work, I was still in the throes of reeling anxiety and finally decided I needed help. We made an appointment for me to see a nurse practitioner at UF, and she quickly adjusted my anxiety meds and got me a referral with a psychologist. Within two days of the adjusted dosage, the tunnel vision started to lift and I felt like I wasn’t drowning. I even made it a few days without crying! Things started to look up.

You’re probably wondering if I suffered/am suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety. None of the practitioners I saw thought so, they just thought I was dealing with the normal (albeit terrifying) thoughts and emotions that come with the postpartum period, but that because I suffer from an anxiety disorder, those feelings were amplified and I wasn’t processing them well.

We’re three weeks out today and let me tell you, it’s still hard. Really hard. Nothing prepared me for this. I think I knew I’d be emotional. I knew breastfeeding would be hard. I knew I’d have a physical recovery. I knew I’d be sleep deprived. I knew things would be scary.

But what I didn’t anticipate was having every moment in time where I felt all of those things at once. It is simply engulfing when you’re sleep deprived, anxious, terrified, in pain and trying to keep your new baby alive. There’s no room to breathe.

People tell you “you’re doing such a great job!” and “you’re a wonderful mom!” and you just want to slap them because sure, that’s really sweet, but you don’t feel like either of those things. You feel like a terrible mom, and someone just telling you otherwise doesn’t exactly help.

So what am I doing that is working? One day at a time. Stay on my meds. Reach out for help when I need it. Let Matt take an early morning feed so I can sleep a little more. Get out of the house. Write about it. Pray. Let other mamas hold me up and listen to their stories. Know I’m not alone.

I keep praying that each day, each week, it gets a little better. A little easier. And I hear it will. But for now, I’m sitting trying to remember all of the “things that work” tactics as we sit with our sweet newborn, awaiting one of the worst hurricanes to hit Florida in the last 25 years. Nothing like a little natural disaster to keep the postpartum period interesting, eh?

If you’re a new mama, and feeling any of these things, please reach out. I want to hold your hand and walk with you. I’m still in the weeds, but we can be in the weeds together. We can do these hard things, I promise.

xo,

A

 

 

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Emory Catherine // A Birth Story

Sharing the birth story of our sweet baby girl, Emory Catherine. Named after her great grandfather, born on Sunday 8.20.17, 7lb. 11oz, 19″ long and so, so loved.

Saturday, August 19th

I woke up at 8:00am after what seemed like the first full night’s sleep in awhile, and felt like my water *might* have broken. When I got up and told Matt, it was pretty clear it had! We called our midwife and she came over to confirm, and told us to just chill out and wait for contractions to begin. Matt went to take a shower and I decided to clean the house (of course).

At 11am contractions started. They were regular from the beginning, at around 4 minutes long and 1 minute apart. We labored at home for basically the whole day. Contractions were intense, but totally manageable. I even decided to bake some homemade blueberry muffins in the afternoon! After a few hours they hadn’t gotten any closer or more intense or longer, so we hooked up the breast pump to get them going. That helped a little, getting them to around every 3.5 minutes and lasting around 1:10 minutes.

At 9pm, our midwife came back over and checked me. I was at 5cm, and still rocking through contractions that seemed pretty do-able. She decided to stay and she and Matt got everything ready for birth at home. My best friend Kara arrived around this time to be our photographer (which is where all of these beautiful photos come from).

Contractions were definitely painful at this point, but I was getting a good break in between and felt like I was still staying on top of them. Around 11pm I moved into the birth tub, we dimmed the lights and put on some music and waited for things to really get started.

 

Sunday, August 20th

Around midnight (AKA now the 20th) I was checked again, and was in transition at 8cm. It was like a light switched—all of a sudden contractions were 2 minutes apart, insanely painful, and I wasn’t getting a break in between. Essentially there was no moment from that point on that wasn’t without pain, it was just a matter of how much.

We tried moving to the bed, and then back to the tub, but it was all terrible. I started getting the shakes, and somewhere around 1am started vomiting. I knew that I was expending energy I didn’t have, but there was definitely no stopping it.

At 3am I hit my breaking point. I asked to be checked again, and was still at 8cm. I’d been in transition for three hours at that point, and was totally shocked to hear I hadn’t progressed. I was still throwing up and shaking violently. All of a sudden I instinctually knew it was time to go to the hospital. My midwives and Matt tried to stall me, since I’m sure that everyone thought I had to be so close to delivering her. They suggested I try 5 minutes in a hot shower, and see how I felt after that. So I got in the shower with Matt and it was like knives—I was screaming, and at some point looked at Matt and said CALL 911 RIGHT. NOW. (For the record, I only wanted paramedics to come because I thought they carried narcotics on the ambulance and it’d be the fastest route to relief—but they don’t so it didn’t matter.)

At 3:30am I finally made it clear that we were going to the hospital. I’d been in labor for 17 hours at that point, with 3.5 hours in transition. There was a very real chance that we’d get to the hospital and there wouldn’t be anything they could do to relieve the pain, since I was so far progressed. And my midwives were concerned with me delivering in the car (my thoughts? great! get this freaking baby out! I don’t care where!). But I knew we had to go. So we packed up and headed there, with everyone (including myself) thinking that surely I’d deliver her in the car. (Side note: Matt and Kara were frantically grabbing a diaper and a onesie to bring with us, and Kara laughs now thinking how I stopped to tell them exactly where the packed emergency hospital bag and diaper bag were. #typeA)

We made it to Shands Hospital and got to L&D around 4am. Our midwives had called ahead and I think everyone at the nurses’s station thought for sure I’d be delivering any minute. I was admitted into a room ASAP and was told they’d paged the anesthesiologist for an epidural. When there was talk about having to do a CBC blood test first to test my platelet levels, and then wait for the results, I asked what narcotics they had—but none were available since I was so progressed and Emory wouldn’t have enough time to get them out of her system.

Our nurse Olivia was a saint. She was exactly what I needed. She kept talking to me, and kept me focused. The anesthesiologist arrived and thankfully decided that I could have an epidural. I was checked first to make sure she wasn’t crowning (again, everyone thought I’d be delivering any second) but I was STILL AT 8CM. I think it was then that I had this overwhelming feeling that I had made the absolute right decision to transfer to the hospital.

Everyone left except Matt, our nurse Olivia, and the anesthesiologist. It took her about 30 minutes to place the epidural, which was basically torture since you have to hold completely still while they’re doing it (it’s incredible how still you can hold in the midst of excruciating pain, but I think the fear of paralysis was the driving factor). I was still contracting every 2-3 minutes at this point. Once it was in, I had a hot spot on my right side, so we had to up the dose. Thankfully, the epidural was on a pump system, so I could determine how much or how little I wanted—this was important because I wanted as little of a dose as I could manage. We had to increase the dose to get my right side covered, and around 5am, after 18 hours of labor, including five hours of transition, I finally got relief.

That’s a look of delirium.

Matt got a quick nap and I settled into a state of alert delirium. I had the epidural in for about an hour or so and was checked again. 10cm! Finally. At around 7:30am they decided they wanted me to start pushing, which is weird when you have no urge to push. We just had a shift change, and our new nurse Katie was literally an angel. She had attempted a home birth herself and had to transfer, and then had a successful home birth after that. I think she was also a midwife. God totally sent her to us because she knew what we were wanting out of this experience.

I started pushing with Matt holding one leg and our midwife holding the other, and Katie was sitting coaching me through it. There weren’t any doctors yet, so it was pretty calm. My pushes were strong and effective, and I thought we were pretty close at that point (um, wrong. not quite). We tried a few different positions, like on my side and on hands and knees (which I was shocked I could even move into since I had an epidural in place, but again, I was keeping it at the lowest dose I could). I was most effective lying on my back, which, ironically, goes against most things I know about birth physiology.

For some unknown reason, I had this belief that I’d push for like 30 minutes and she’d be here. But she got stuck behind my pubic bone, and it took a while for her to navigate her way past that. I was so discouraged to hear after an hour of pushing she was still stuck! But, you push like you eat an elephant: one push at a time.

After 2.5 hours of pushing, the OB team came in and prepped for delivery. Since we were at a teaching hospital, this meant everyone and their mom. At this point my epidural had pretty much worn off, so I was feeling it all again. I’d push and then cry, push and then cry. I remember looking at different people in between pushes and asking them to “please help me!” I couldn’t understand why the heck she wasn’t out yet. But then at 9:43am, after 23 hours of labor, sweet baby Emory arrived with a head full of hair and a good cry! The doctors told me to reach down and grab my baby, and it was totally surreal. I think that moment is burned in my memory forever.

Some additional thoughts on the experience: 

I have absolutely zero regrets about transferring to the hospital. Do I wish we got the home birth we wanted and prepared for? Of course. But we had to do what was right, and that was getting mom some pain relief to finish the race.

Will we try again in the future for a home birth? (That’s IF we have more kids, which right now sounds down right nauseating!) Maybe. The pain I experienced was borderline traumatic, mainly since it lasted so long, so that’ll always be in the back of my mind. But I’m also not against trying again and seeing what happens. Ask me again in a few years :)

And a final note: My husband is an absolute rock. I cry thinking about it. I can’t imagine what he went through seeing me in excruciating pain and not being able to help. And I’ll never forget looking over as soon as she was delivered and seeing him weeping. He was my champion during labor and delivery, and there are seriously no words for how amazing he’s been postpartum (which is a whole different story). Sometimes I don’t think we’d survive without him! People talk about how much more you’ll love your husband when you have a baby, but nothing can prepare you for it. I think my heart might burst if I keep talking about it.

xo,
A

The Second Trimester

Read about my first trimester here and why we’re choosing a home birth here!

Most people talk about how quickly pregnancy flies by. “Oh, I can’t believe we’re heading into the third trimester!” But for me, the most impatient person in the world, this is crawling by. I know I should be savoring this, but I am so ready to meet our little girl!

Feeling // Thankfully, the second trimester has been physically uneventful. My morning sickness bit the dust around 13 weeks. I did start getting migraines every few days, but seeing a chiropractor knocked those out in a few weeks. I did have more energy (although not the “surge” of energy they talk about!), and have loved seeing my belly grow! However, I also started having some killer SI joint pain (low back) around 16 weeks, and it’s still going strong. Sometimes it’s immobilizing, and makes it hard to be as active as I would have wished. And pubic bone pain has made a terrible bedfellow (who knew pubic bone pain was a thing?!).

I finally felt sweet babe kicking right at 20 weeks. It feels like a heart palpitation in your belly, or like big, underwater bubbles. Now that she’s bigger and stronger, they’re definitely more defined punches and kicks! Matt was able to feel her around 24 weeks, and he loves it—although sometimes I think Little Bird thinks she’s playing hide and seek with her daddy and will immediately stop kicking once his hand is on my belly!

Emotionally, the second trimester was pretty rough. For reasons that I probably won’t be sharing, we had a time where we thought we weren’t going to be able to deliver at home, and would be forced into seeing an OB and delivering at a hospital. To most that’s nbd, but to us it was devastating news. We still have some road bumps to cover before we’ll know 100% that we’re able to deliver at home, but we’re at about 90% now, which is reassuring. Obviously we’re being prayerful about this, and I’d love prayers for a continued ability to give this whole thing up to the Lord. We could still have a home birth, but something happen where we have to transfer to a hospital during labor, and I need to be emotionally prepared for that. Letting go of the control part of birth has been really, really hard for me, but I’m thankful that we worship a God who I love and trust and who will use all things for His glory.

Appointments // Weekly chiropractor appointments (with a Webster technique certified chiro), biweekly acupuncture appointments, and appointments with our midwives every four weeks. We did the gestational diabetes test (passed!), and the 28-week labs and everything came back great. I will have an injection of Rhogam at 28 weeks since my blood type is O-, meaning I am Rh-negative (Google it).

Bodywork // In addition to the Webster technique and regular adjustments by my chiropractor, I’m trying to do the following things as often as possible (goal: daily; actual: weekly) to help my pelvis stay balanced and my ligaments and cervix stay open and not twisted with the goal of helping baby girl get head down and in the anterior position:
+ Walking
+ Psoas Release (Activity #5 on Spinning Babies)
+ Pelvic tilts (AKA cat/cow with the focus on the cat)
+ Child’s pose
+ Deep squats (heels on the floor)
+ Sitting less on the couch and more sitting on the ball or in a “tailor sit” on the ground

Craving // Chocolate! Sugar! Fruit! And Starbucks’ Matcha Green Tea Lattes.

Hating // Slowly getting back into (decaf) coffee. Still don’t love eggs.

Other thoughts on the second trimester // This might be unpopular, but it’s something that has been on my mind. When we have shared our home birth hiccup, and that we’re worried about being forced to deliver at a hospital, soooooo many people have said “well the only thing that matters is a healthy baby!” And man, that’s just not the right thing to say (even though I know they mean well).

Sure, a healthy baby is of utmost importance. That’s a duh, you know? No one gets pregnant and is like, “I don’t really care if the baby is healthy!” So it’s a given. But that’s not the only thing that is important, and it’s this kind of language that tends to invalidate suffering and complicate mourning. I, as a mother and a woman and a human being, have every right to have desires and wishes and needs that surround my birth experience. I have certain things that may even be traumatizing to me if they do/don’t happen. So when those wants/needs aren’t met, it can lead to suffering on my part, which then requires mourning if I want to be able to move on in a healthy way. But when everyone tells you that the only thing that matters is a healthy baby, you start to think that there’s something wrong with you, and that you should just “get over” the loss of these hopes and dreams that you had taken away from you.

Obviously I don’t think you should risk the health of your baby for these wants/needs. That’s part of the sacrifice a mother makes. But that’s not the situation I’m talking about here. I really just wish people could learn to sit with another’s pain and say, “Man, that really just sucks. I’m hurting for you and I wish I could change it.” Having those types of conversation helps a person to grieve appropriately and validates their pain. So let’s learn how to sit with that and want a healthy baby.

Why We’re Choosing Home Birth

Note: All birth is beautiful. Period. End of story. I cry at any birth story I read, regardless of where it happened, how it happened, and whether or not I’d choose it for myself. Sharing about home birth isn’t to say that it’s better than any other type of birth; it’s simply the choice we’ve made. The information below might sound defensive, or mightier-than-thou, but it’s simply sharing information from our perspective because there’s so much misinformation out there about your options. These are just the things that are important to us. Education is my biggest thing, and I want women to feel empowered to know what their options are and then to choose–even if that’s different than what I choose. I love what Nancy Bardacke, CNM says in her book Mindful Birthing: “From a mindfulness perspective, every birth is ‘natural.’ It’s natural for a baby to grow inside its mother’s body, it’s natural for a baby to be born, and it’s natural for people to want to help with the process. That being said, if her intention is to birth with minimal to no medical interventions, she will definitely be learning skills for that–as well as skills for being in a hospital environment where people might want to help a little too much.”

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I want to start this by saying that home birth isn’t for everyone, for a multitude of reasons (both physical and emotional). However, for low-risk pregnancies, midwife-attended home births have been shown to be as safe, if not safer, than hospital births.

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Home birth is still such a novel, out of the box idea for most Americans, and many people have terribly inaccurate perceptions of what a home birth is like. In 2012, only 1.36% of US births occurred outside a hospital, yet the US has one of the highest infant mortality rates of all developed nations. According to the Midwives’ Alliance of North America, in the five nations with the world’s lowest infant mortality and lowest rates of technological intervention, midwives attend seventy percent of all births without a physician in the birth room. Continue reading