baby

Meditations on the Beginning of Spring

One year ago, I didn’t know I was going to get pregnant that month. I had just turned 35 and was still recovering from my loss the previous autumn. My oldest friend had just welcomed her son, a son that was supposed to have been born a mere three months before my own. But it was spring, a time of new beginnings, and I was trying to embrace that.

I had started acupuncture a few weeks earlier, and my acupuncturist had suggested I meditate on the green and growing things of springtime. He suggested that I focus on the fertile time of year that it was. And I was following my Circle + Bloom meditation program as well. I was meditating a lot. I meditated a lot in the months following my loss.

I didn’t know that I was standing on the cusp of a new period in my life. That a couple weeks later, I would see those two pink lines, and all the excitement and fears they brought up. This year, one year later, I’m sitting in a quiet house, watching my nearly-three-month-old son nap. We went to my friend’s son’s first birthday party this weekend.

I can feel the air warming and the world moving into springtime again, just as I did last year. This year, I won’t be blooming quite so obviously with the spring, but I’m still growing, becoming a mother, slowly but surely. And I get to watch my own little sprout grow as we nurture him.

Despite the years I’ve had in my life, I’m always amazed at the difference a year can make. As we emerge from winter, it’s nice to touch base with the constants in life — the spring, the sun, the flowering trees, the migrating birds — as I consider all that has changed. And I can sit here and appreciate every moment of my journey, joyful and sad, and appreciate that spring has come again.

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baby, childbirth

My C-Section Recovery Essentials

So even though I had an unplanned c-section after almost 36 hours after the beginning of my induction, including 14 hours of pitocin, I probably had an easier time of recovery than a lot of unplanned c-sections because I never tried to push, so I had pretty much no perineal damage. That said, recovering from a c-section is never easy, and I thought I’d share a little bit about my recovery, and the things I found absolutely essential while recovering.

Of course everyone is different and every recovery is different. It’s my hope to help other women facing c-section see that it’s not the end of the world, and while recovery may be rough, it’s not impossible. If a c-section is what your body and baby need, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. And remember that you just went through surgery; it’s okay to need help. This was particularly difficult for me because I was so active before and throughout my pregnancy. To just be able to lay on the couch all day and not do anything more strenuous than nurse my baby was a big shift, both physically and mentally.

One thing that helped immensely was some perspective from my husband. About a week after we went home from the hospital, I woke up in the middle of the night with terrible abdominal cramping. Worried that something was wrong, I went in to the doctor to get checked out. She said that I’d strained a muscle. Strained a muscle? I thought. How, exactly did I do that when I’d been doing nothing but lying in bed? Well, from the location of the strain, I realized I’d probably strained it twisting over to the side to pick up Elliot from his bassinet to feed him. Which was disheartening to say the least. Until Dan reminded me that most people who have abdominal surgery are told not to lift anything, rather than “nothing heavier than the baby,” so it made sense that even lifting the baby could cause problems.

Which brings me to my list of essentials:

1. A Supportive Partner

My number one c-section recovery essential is a supportive partner. In my case, I was lucky that my husband was not only able to take off work for a month, but willing to stay away from his job for that long. I would say, at the very least, you should plan on someone being around to help you all the time for the first two weeks, until you know how your body is going to heal. I spent all my time laying in bed or on the couch, so I needed Dan to do pretty much everything else. I fed Elliot, but Dan fed the two adults. He did all the laundry. He kept me hydrated. He rocked, burped, and changed Elliot. Heck, when Elliot was still on formula supplements, Dan fed him most of his formula supplements. He made sure that all I had to think about was breastfeeding and recovering.

2. A Good Robe

One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t buy this robe (which I’m wearing in the picture above) sooner. It’s not cheap, but it’s fantastic. It’s soft, thick, comfortable, and the belt is attached so you can’t lose it in the wash. I came home from the hospital with a belly the size it was at five months pregnant, and an incredibly sensitive lower abdomen. Wearing real clothes was out of the question for a while, and breastfeeding meant I needed frequent easy access in the front. This robe over a nursing bra, and some thick socks was my uniform for at least a week.

3. Maxi Dresses

The first few weeks of my recovery, I couldn’t stand wearing anything with a waistband. Wearing underwear was bad enough, but even leggings or a jersey skirt was out for everyday wear. While my robe was perfect for at home, I had to leave the house occasionally for doctors appointments. When that happened, I turned to my maternity maxi dresses. I have this dress in three colors and it’s basically all I wore out of the house, or when people visited, for weeks. It’s soft and comfortable, looks like real clothes even though it feels like a nightgown, and it’s cut ideally for easy breastfeeding access.

4. Cold Packs

My doctor clued me in that the perineal cold packs that were in my postpartum recovery bag at the hospital are also great for soothing an angry incision. When I got home and ran through the extras that the nurse gave me to take home, I found these, for a reusable option. They stay in the freezer and I wrap one in a dishtowel to prevent frostbite. Cold on the incision is key.

5. Postpartum undies

One thing for which I was completely unprepared was how much I would hate my normal underwear when I got home. I used hospital disposable undies for a while, but eventually, I wanted to feel like a normal, underwear-washing person again. I got these from Kindred Bravely, which are fantastic, if a bit delicate (some stitching is already coming undone on a few pairs), and when I went to order more, I tried these, which probably wouldn’t have worked for the early recovery days, but are great now that most of my immediate soreness is done. Seriously, wearing the wrong underwear caused a lot of my worst pain days after the initial healing period.

Now that I’m past the initial healing period, I’m still not wearing most of my normal clothes. I stick to soft-waisted bottoms, like yoga pants, wide-waistband leggings, and jersey skirts. I can’t imagine when I’ll ever want to wear jeans again, and I’m pretty sure I’ll keep my maternity skirt in rotation when I go back to work. But just shy of six weeks from the surgery, I woke up one morning and realized that I didn’t hurt at all. And since somehow pregnancy has made me sickeningly optimistic, I will say that the bright side of the c-section was that Dan was able to bond immediately with Elliot and I think it makes it easier for him to soothe El when he’s fussy.

I spent a lot of time preparing for the possible things that could happen during delivery, but the one thing I never planned for was a c-section. If I had it to do over, I would know to make sure I had the above things on hand (if I didn’t already have them), as a relatively simple way to make sure I was prepared for everything. And, seriously, that robe is awesome and I still wear it to and from the shower every morning!

baby, Fourth trimester, Postpartum Diaries

Postpartum Diaries: Two Months

Elliot is two months old! He got his first major round of shots yesterday at his two-month appointment and he handled it pretty well (although the nurse who gave them was a total ninja and I could have sworn I only saw her give one shot!). He did cry a lot at first, but a little nursing helped and he was just a little fussy later in the day. I had planned for lots of fussiness, so we spent most of the afternoon snuggling. And he got that awesome Wonder Woman bandage (the other leg has Superman).

How I’m Feeling:

I’m doing okay with the whole taking-care-of-a-baby-during-the-day thing. Last week was nice because Dan only had to go to work two days (he had off Monday and Wednesday for a holiday and snow, and had already planned on taking off Thursday for a dentist appointment and some other things), but this week we’re mostly back to the routine. I actually had my first excursion out without Elliot since he was born. I went to the dentist on Wednesday while Dan stayed home with him. Apparently, he mostly just napped and then woke up to have a bottle right before I came home. I was a little worried, but the amount of work Dan has put into helping care for El when we’re both home left me totally confident he could handle it.

Now that breastfeeding is more established, we’ve started introducing bottles of pumped milk in preparation for when he officially starts daycare later this month. The spot we got in the daycare started a month before I go back to work, so we can ease into it, sending him one or two days a week to get used to it, but the one thing is that we want to be sure he’s comfortable with the bottle before then. So I’ve been pumping a little bit between feedings to build up some extra milk to give him for one feeding on days when Dan is home, and then I pump while he feeds El. So far so good, but who knows what will happen to my supply when I’m actually back at work and pumping for at least three feedings per day.

Therapy has been going well. My therapist has even checked in on me via email when she knows something stressful is coming up. And my OB gave me a very low-dose prescription for Zoloft, which I’ve been taking for two weeks now. It’s not clear that it’s helping, but at least the initial side effects only lasted a couple of days. I’ve been feeling a lot better lately, mentally, and it’s probably some combination of the treatment and just feeling seen and supported.

How Elliot’s Doing:

El continues to grow and develop and it’s adorable. He’s sleeping well at night, and we’re currently working on naps. We set up a Pack ‘n Play in the living room so he can nap in a separate area from his play area. He can do half-hour naps with no problem, but longer naps remain mostly elusive (although he napped for an hour after his shots yesterday). But I’ve heard that no matter how well they start sleeping early on, it all changes at four months anyway, so I’ve been pretty relaxed about letting him nap in the ring sling or on me.

He still tends to get fussy in the afternoons and wants to be held a lot, so the ring sling has been a lifesaver for me. I’m getting more confident with him in it by the day, and even made part of dinner the other night while wearing him. This week we haven’t gotten any walks in, but we try to take a couple walks per week at least most weeks, which he appreciates until he falls asleep.

He’s also discovered his hands. The other day when he woke up from his nap, he wasn’t fussing, so I let him stay in the Pack ‘n Play for a little bit and when I looked in, he was just examining his hands. He’s also started “talking” a lot, making “boo” and “goo” and “gah” sounds. He also says “ow” a lot, which I like to think is the sound he thinks his mumma makes because I did say it a lot in the first month of my recovery.

Other than that, we’re just hanging out most days. We still play and “chat” and do tummy time a few times a day, plus he likes his Montessori mobiles. And I try to read him a story at least once a day. He enjoys being around people, especially his parents. Now that he’s gotten his first round of shots, and it seems like flu season is calming down, we might start venturing out of the house more.

As far as his doctor’s appointment, the doctor said he looks great and healthy and very alert. His weight gain has slowed down a bit, but she’s not concerned, especially since he’s still gaining, and getting longer. He’s probably just going to be tall and thin like his parents (especially his dad!). And we even managed to get him weighed without him peeing on everything and everyone this time!

childbirth, Dan

An Ode to the Other Half, Part Two: Birth Partner

In this series, I’m giving my partner, Dan, his due as a fantastic partner at all stages of our journey to parenthood. Today, I’m going to talk a little about how he prepared for and participated in the birth of our child. I can honestly say that Elliot’s birth would not have been the largely positive experience that it was without Dan’s help.

I’ve already told the story of Elliot’s birth and how I used my Hypnobabies techniques to keep calm and mostly comfortable during labor, especially before getting an epidural. I’ve also talked about how my first epidural started failing on one side because it was improperly placed and I had to have it redone while experiencing the height of pitocin contractions. But that’s the middle. Let’s start at the beginning.

First of all, though he was dubious about its effectiveness, Dan was always willing to participate in the Hypnobabies training. He took to the scripts and the cues right away, and I felt confident that he would be able to help, which made the anticipation of labor less scary. We checked into the hospital at 4pm the day of my induction and he stayed with me for the entirety of my hospital stay, which was almost 36 hours of labor, a c-section, and four additional days, sleeping on couches and staying up all night to soothe the baby so I could rest and recuperate as much as possible.

When we first got into the perinatal room, he helped figure out the TV options while I chatted with the nurse, and later on, he made sure that I could comfortably eat while mostly stuck in bed because of the monitors. Other than the time he spent sleeping the first night (I was pretty oblivious to my increasing contractions while on Cytotec, so I let him sleep as much as he could), he was engaged in the process and made sure to touch base with the nurses to know what was going on. He also was in charge of bringing my cold snacks to the nurses’ station to get them refrigerated, and then fetching gelatin and broth for me later on. I ate a lot of gelatin after we moved to labor and delivery.

But Dan truly started to shine when my contractions became more intense on pitocin. I had a private conversation with him that I was thinking I should get an epidural before I mentioned it to anyone else, and he supported me, while also encouraging me to wait until I talked to the doctor and the doula again, so that I didn’t regret getting it too early. When I did finally decide it was time for the epidural, he was right there with me, helping me relax through the contractions while I had to sit up for the anesthesiologist.

And when that epidural failed and I didn’t think I could keep going on, he was right there with me. I’m so glad our doula was able to snap the picture above of him comforting me through what would turn out to be the worst part of my labor experience. When I had to sit up for the second epidural placement, he was right there with me, helping me with relaxation cues to help me through the contractions while staying still for the epidural. I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to do it without him.

Eventually, we decided that it was time to move to the c-section, and I was so glad they allowed him in with me. I had to go in first, to get prepped, and then they showed him in. I was having really bad shakes from the spinal and it was making me anxious, which made me shake even worse. As soon as Dan came in and sat next to me, he started using Hypnobabies cues and some tricks the doula showed him to help me relax. Even though he claims it didn’t look like it made a difference, I felt much more relaxed and felt like I was shaking less.

Once Elliot came out (greeting the world with a fountain of urine!), Dan was the one to cut the cord and held him the rest of the time the doctors were finishing up. And once I was back in recovery, doing skin-to-skin time, Dan and my nurse made sure to watch us so that I didn’t have to worry about feeling drowsy from the effects of the anesthetic (and over 36 hours of labor and surgery with very little sleep!).

Throughout our hospital stay and the weeks after, he was the one who made my recovery possible. When I had trouble picking up Elliot because of my incision, he reminded me that most people who have abdominal surgery are told not to lift anything, rather than “nothing heavier than the baby,” so that as long as I had him to help, he would do the lifting. Every night when Elliot woke up to nurse, Dan was right there to pick him up out of the bassinet and hand him to me. Sometimes, Dan is better at soothing him to sleep than I am!

His quiet resilience and willingness to help with everything that was possible for him to do made it possible for me to rest and recover from my surgery, while his emotional support has helped me through some of the mentally toughest moments I’ve had. I feel lucky to have such good support and know Elliot feels lucky to have such a good dad.

[photo by Jenny Corbett]

breastfeeding, Recipes

Recipe: Peanut Butter Lactation Cookies

So I’m seven weeks postpartum today and I thought I’d share a little recipe I’ve developed over the past weeks. See, when I first had Elliot, it took four days for my milk to come in (it came in the first day we were back at home from the hospital). While we were in the hospital, El was losing weight and we had to supplement with formula. So I was a little worried about milk supply.

Plus lactation treats just seem like one of those things pregnant ladies and new mothers are supposed to research, right? Well, I no longer worry about supply, but I’ve found that a healthy-ish, hearty cookie is the perfect snack to bring upstairs with me when we go to bed so that I have something shelf-stable, tasty, filling, and easy to eat with one hand when the inevitable hunger strikes in the middle of the night while I’m feeding him.

So I developed this recipe. It’s very, very loosely based on this recipe (kind of like culinary jazz). I added peanut butter because it’s higher in protein (and delicious), and a used brown rice flour instead of wheat flour because brown rice is one of those supposedly-milk-increasing foods. Oh, and I use nutritional yeast instead of brewer’s yeast because I accidentally bought the wrong thing, but supposedly brewer’s yeast is better for milk supply, because it has chromium, I guess? I take a multivitamin with chromium in it, so I’m not too fussed about the difference.

Peanut Butter Lactation Cookies

Ingredients:

1 stick of butter, melted and cooled

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup sucanat (unrefined cane sugar)

1 egg

2 Tbsp nutritional (or brewer’s) yeast

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup rolled oats

3/4 cup brown rice flour

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Mix together the melted butter, peanut butter, salt, and sucanat in a bowl. Add the egg and beat well. Add in the vanilla, yeast, oats, flour, flax seed, baking powder, and baking soda, and mix until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips. Roll into walnut-sized balls (I use a heaped tablespoon of dough) and store in the fridge or freezer until needed.

To cook from frozen: Preheat oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put frozen dough balls on the cookie sheet 2″ apart. Bake for ten minutes, then flatten to about 1/2″ thick with a spatula and bake five minutes more. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before removing to a cooling rack, cooling completely, and packing in an airtight container.

baby, Fourth trimester, Postpartum Diaries

Postpartum Diaries: Six Weeks

Officially, six weeks marks the end of the “postpartum recovery period,” according to my doctor and short-term disability (actually I get a little longer because I had a c-section). And, honestly, I can kind of see why. It’s been a good two weeks and Elliot is continuing to develop and hit new milestones. But really, I prefer the idea of “the fourth trimester” that extends up to 12-14 weeks postpartum. And since I’m taking 16 weeks of maternity leave, I have plenty more time to spend recovering and getting to know El before returning to work.

How I’m Feeling:

Actually, pretty good. This past Tuesday, I woke up and for the first time since the birth, I felt no pain in my body. Of course, that’s not a constant thing, but I’m starting to have longer and longer stretches of feeling good. When I got over my first trimester nausea while pregnant, I described it as feeling like I had bad days while mostly feeling good as opposed to good days while mostly feeling bad. I think I’m getting to that point.

Last weekend, I went for a walk for the first time since the birth. I discovered that I can put El in the ring sling and walk for a mile or two with no problem. It was particularly helpful because I found a therapist within walking distance who had an appointment available. You see, with my history of anxiety and depression, I knew I was at risk of postpartum depression. And when El’s pediatrician suggested I discuss it with my own doctors after scoring my EPDS assessment, I decided to make an appointment.

The therapist was lovely and had no problem with me bringing El to the appointment and wearing him while we chatted. Plus, I got to see my acupuncturist because they work out of the same center! And since the therapist started out as a yoga teacher (she went back to school to get a degree because her yoga students kept seeking her out for help she wasn’t qualified to give and she wanted to be able to help), she also had some suggestions for yoga classes I could try.

But being active again has helped my mindset more than anything. Being able to get out of the house and not worry about being in pain later is wonderful. Now that I’ve officially been cleared by my doctor (I had my six-week postpartum checkup a couple days ago) for returning to normal activity, maybe I’ll try to get back into my yoga routine, albeit gently. I’m definitely not going to be going back to barre class anytime soon, but at least I can see that going back to barre is in my future, which was honestly a bit tough the last few weeks, as sore as I was.

How Elliot’s Doing:

He’s growing and developing and having a great time. He’s definitely starting to spend more time awake for reasons other than needing to be fed or changed. We can actually play together, kind of. I bought some toys, including a set of Montessori-designed mobiles to help engage him during his awake time, and I also brought down a mirror from our bathroom. Plus, he has a great library of picture books from our friends and family (especially Dan’s mother). The favorites right now are the Black and White series by Tana Hoban, which have silhouettes of objects, either black on white or white on black, to be more visible to a baby’s sight while he’s still primarily seeing contrasts. But as he develops, we have lots of other books to share with him.

I’ve also started reading to him from books. I’ve read a couple Beatrix Potter stories to him, as well as some of my favorite fairy tales from the storybooks I bought for Kindle. While they don’t have as many pictures and he doesn’t necessarily understand the words, he seems to enjoy listening to me read them. He definitely has started responding to our voices. During the day when Dan is at work, I can calm him down by holding him and singing to him more easily than just rocking him.

But probably the most exciting new development is that El has definitely started smiling. He smiles in response to us smiling at him and when he sees certain things. He gave a huge smile at a black-and-white cow toy that a family member gave us for him, so we’ve decided that’s his favorite toy. And he definitely smiles for his mumma and daddy. No matter how frazzled or tired or sore I might be, his smiles warm my heart. Dan says that he feels like he can’t even remember what it was like to not have him around most of the time, and I kind of agree.

baby, Fourth trimester, Postpartum Diaries

Postpartum Diaries: One Month

Elliot is one month old today! And what a month it’s been.

How I’m Doing:

Well, I was feeling really discouraged because every time I started feeling a little better, I’d be a little more active, and then suffer a setback and feel like I could barely move. But around last Thursday or Friday I realized that I actually felt much better. I’ve actually started wearing clothing with a waistband again! I’d been in nightgowns, robes, and maxi dresses for most of the month, so wearing a skirt was a big step. And today, I wore leggings to our pediatrician appointment, which is the closest to pants I’ve gotten in a month.

But I’m still managing to overdo it. I think it comes from being a pretty active person during my pregnancy. It’s hard to grasp that I was five times more able at 40 weeks pregnant than I am now, without the belly or all the extra weight. I’ve been experimenting more with babywearing because my arms get tired carrying him and Elliot likes to be walked around. I’ve come to the realization that the stretchy wrap is going to have to wait until I’m a little more healed because I’m having back pain after a couple days in a row of wearing it for a bit. But the ring sling seems to work better, probably because it keeps the baby weight distributed higher and doesn’t go around my middle at all.

This week marks the last week that Dan will be staying home, so I need to take some time now to try to become more independent with Elliot. I’ve started doing a little more at night, although I still need to make sure I’m standing and being careful when lifting El in and out of his bassinet, rather than being able to just grab him while sitting in bed. But we generally do a diaper change when we feed him at night anyway, so once I take over more of the overnight work, I’ll have to get up anyway.

I still haven’t ventured out of the house except for doctors’ appointments, although we have some appointments to tour daycare centers later this week, which should be interesting. I’m hoping I can keep El in the ring sling to minimize his exposure to germs (although I doubt it’s much more risky than the waiting room at the pediatrician). And eventually, I will get out to take a walk in the neighborhood, even if it’s just around the block.

How Elliot’s Doing:

Still growing. At his checkup this morning, he’s still firmly tracking the 45th percentile for weight, despite the fact that he’s been feeding for less and less time. I guess he’s just very efficient at nursing. He also got a shot, which he did not like, but he got over. He did spend the first bit of the car ride home looking grumpy in his car seat, but he fell asleep and wasn’t any worse for the wear.

He’s also started focusing on objects and faces. He looks at us from further away, and will even pay attention to books and toys. And he’s started smiling at people and things. I picked up a stuffed cow toy to show him during tummy time (because it’s black and white and high contrast) and he broke out in a huge grim when he saw it. He’s also started smiling at us when we smile or talk to him. It’s really exciting because it feels like he’s becoming more engaged with the world.

We’ve started getting him toys and showing him some of the (many) books we’ve received as gifts. I got a baby gym frame to hang things from and some Montessori mobiles. The gym hasn’t arrived yet, but I experimented with holding up the Munari mobile for him today and he was entranced for five minutes.

Obviously, we’re still in the eat-poop-sleep-repeat phase of newbornhood, but it’s really cool to see the occasional glimpses of the baby that is to come. Oh and he officially weighs more than the cat.

Current Stats: 9 lbs. 11 oz., 21 3/4″ long