Childbirth classes were something I didn’t consider to be optional when I was pregnant. With my Type A personality and the fact that I am someone who would always rather know the ugly truth than a pleasant lie, you’d better believe I was in that class with pen in hand, taking notes. Plus I was pregnant with twins, so I was already at Terror Alert Level Orange.
My husband and I learned about many, many things over the few months we attended class, but it turned out that there are a whole bunch of things that happen before you even leave the hospital that I not only didn’t learn in class, but no one ever mentioned. I guess most people figure that once you’ve actually had the baby you’ve already seen hell, so there’s no reason to point out the many rest stops on the way back.
But because I care, I want to share some of the surprising experiences I had after I delivered that it would have been nice to have a heads up about:
1. When shit gets real, you might freak out.
Oh, I thought I was ready. By the time they wheeled me to the operating room, I’d had hours to think about this C-section. So I was not prepared for the massive panic attack that hit me once they sat me up to give me my epidural. I looked around the operating room and saw all of this equipment and all of these nurses scurrying around getting things organized, and it suddenly hit me that this train had left the station. I was not in control — these babies were coming out. Period. I must have gone white because my husband stopped to ask me if I was OK. I somehow managed to stop myself from asking everyone in the room if we could wait like half an hour or something so that I could think about this some more. But I really, really wanted to. Luckily I just said, “I’m fine,” and swallowed the fear.
2. C-Section — not necessarily the less painful option.
I didn’t give a lot of thought to the pain that would come with a C-section. After all, it’s not as if I were going to have an unmedicated vaginal delivery. No, I was going to be doped up before, during and after my childbirth experience. I was going to be fine, right?
Holy crap, the agony I was in after my C-section. AGONY. I barely made it through my first post-op shower — when the water hit my stomach, I about died. Want to know what else was difficult? Standing up straight, because it pulls on the stitches. I was a hunchbacked, Vicodin-popping mess for WEEKS after my surgery. It was bad times.
Now, this is not the case for most people — I have friends who were up walking around with very little pain the day after they had their C-sections. It could be that I am just a wimp of epic proportions. Or maybe all of the other women I know are heroes. It’s probably both.
3. Please excuse me, but something has left my body via my vagina.
I had no idea that after they took out the babies, grabbed that good ol’ placenta, and sewed you back up, so much STUFF was still going to need to exit your body. You’ll just be laying there enjoying your hospital pudding, when all of a sudden something will casually make its way out of you. Believe me, there is nothing like talking to your mother-in-law and feeling something slide out of your vagina. It’s extremely disconcerting.
And did I mention the bleeding? Holy cow, I bled for days, if not weeks, after I delivered. Which leads me to every woman’s favorite post-delivery undergarment:
4. The Foxy Lady Diaper Panties.
Ah, the famous mesh underpants. Are they not magnificent? Consider these to be another way of bonding with your newborn, as you both lie there in your own horrible mess.
5. The worst massage ever.
Hey, did you know that the nurses will come by every so often to give a massage? Yes, really! And did you know that they are going to massage your stomach, right where you recently had anywhere from 5 to 15 pounds of baby and also where someone recently cut you open and stapled you back together?
It hurts. It hurts like a sonofabitch. They do it so that your uterus will contract and you won’t bleed to death, which is a super good idea, but the word “massage” does not at all describe what it actually feels like. That’s like calling labor “tummy hugs.” Of course, the fact that it is called a “uterine massage” probably should have tipped me off that this was not going to be a comfortable experience. It’s not like they offer uterine massages at the spa.
“Hmmm…do I want a facial, a pedicure, or a uterine massage…?”
6. Then they pull out the fucking staples?!
Here’s a little thing I forgot about: once they staple you closed, at some point they have to pull the staples out. Huh! Totally didn’t think about that until the nurse came to do it to me. I had already been emotionally scarred by all of my “massages,” so I was petrified about having those staples pulled out with what looked like a small pair of pliers. The nurse tried to tell me that it wasn’t going to hurt, but I was not buying it. I held my husband’s hand and put my other hand over my eyes before she got started. And you know what? It actually didn’t hurt at all. Then the nurse said, “OK, now for the second row.” I bolted up and said, “WHAT?!” And she said, “Just kidding.” I told her she was the worst nurse ever, and we were BFFs from there on out.
7. Hey little baby, I — (snore)
I was put on a little drug called magnesium after delivery, because I developed pre-eclampsia at the end of my pregnancy. I didn’t know anything about magnesium because I assumed going in that I was just going to be on painkillers. Well, magnesium makes you sleepy. And by sleepy, I mean that I fell asleep with a spoonful of pudding halfway to my mouth.
Not even kidding.
That’s how I spent the first few precious days of my babies’ lives — trying to stay awake long enough to complete a sip of water.
8. My boobs don’t put out.
Both of my kids went to the NICU, so I started pumping in my room. I figured I wasn’t going to get very much out at first, but by day three, when the cleaning woman came into the room, looked at my empty pump, then put her fingers close together and said in a concerned voice, “So little!” I had a sense that this breastfeeding gig might be a little harder than it looked.
Breastfeeding and I never did get to third base. I continued to have trouble after I went home, so I went to the lactation nurse at my doctor’s office for some help. She took one look and said, “Well, it’s going to be a little more difficult for you because you have flat nipples.”
I’m sorry? What’s that now? I had never heard of flat nipples before. I had no idea that there were names for different kinds of nipples. I also had no idea that mine were not the norm. I almost said, “Well, I’ve never had any complaints before.” But again, it’s about hiding that nonsense. So I just said, “So, what do I do?” She said, “Well, you can do it but it’s going to take a lot of time and energy.” This was the wrong thing to say to someone with three-week-old twins who hadn’t had more than two hours of sleep in a row since they were born. I said, “OK. Then I’m out. What brand of formula do you recommend?”
9. I need to WHAT before I can go home?
Fart. You need to fart before you can leave the hospital.
They are super serious about this, too. This was not easy for someone like me, who gets extremely stressed out when she feels as though she is inconveniencing someone else. So to have my family, my husband, and the nursing staff waiting for me to pass gas so I could go home was not an ideal situation for me.
It’s a weird place to be because usually when people ask you if you farted, you say NO. But in the hospital, if you keep saying no, then you never get to leave and they HATE that. I waited for the first thing that felt like a minor anal exhalation and jumped on it. I’m going home to not sleep some more, y’all!
10. Oh, goodbye, shame. I don’t think we shall ever meet again.
This, I think, was the most important thing that happened to me after delivery that I did not know about ahead of time.
Before I had kids, I had this quality called “shame.” That’s when you care who sees your inner labia. That went away during a very special moment I shared with my nurse’s aide, Lourdes.
Lourdes took me to the bathroom for the first time after delivery. She helped me onto the toilet, and then — while a variety of things were evacuated from my body — squatted in front of me and used a Perineal Irrigation Bottle (“taint cleansers”) to rinse my vulva and vagina clean. Yes, I did number one with a woman less than a foot from my vagina, squirting all of the post-baby stuff off of me.
This was a moment of profound change for me. It was the first of many moments to come when something happened to me after I had kids that would have made me scream before I had them, but now just made me say, “What? Oh, yeah. That’s my nipple. Now can I please pay for my coffee.” Like the time one baby vomited down my back at 8 a.m. and I didn’t change my shirt till Mike got home at 5:30. Oh, I’m sorry, is the Queen of England coming over? Well, then, I hope she enjoys the scent of regurgitated formula because I am not standing up unless the house is on fire, and even then I am pretty sure I can scoot out the door on my butt carrying both babies.
Almost every mother I know lost her shame at the hospital, and it’s a darn good thing because you can’t afford to have much of it when you’re a mom. You’ve got way more important things to worry about than whatever that thing is that’s stuck in your hair. Is it a Whopper? Perhaps your baby’s umbilical cord stump? Could be. But knowing right now isn’t going to make it any better, so let’s go to the park.
PS: “Post-Partum Poops,” or, as I called it, “No.”
Technically, this doesn’t happen till after you leave the hospital, but it is quite the landmark moment that I did not fully appreciate before I gave birth: the post-partum poop.
It. Is. The. Worst.
My friends and I talked about those post-partum poops recently (please refer to #10 about shame), and to a woman we were all terrified and/or in tears when trying to go number two. I remember one particular episode of my own when the kids were about a week old and my family was in town, visiting. We were hanging out in the living room when I stood up and said, “Excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom.”
And then I didn’t return for 45 minutes.
When I came back, one of my sisters said, “Are you OK? What was going on in there?” I said, “Oh, just negotiating with god.”
It is a terrifying experience, trying to poop after you give birth. I don’t care how many stool softeners they give you; it feels absolutely certain that there is going to be some kind of explosion or tear and you are going to die on the toilet like Elvis. So then you start thinking, well, what if I never poop again? It would mean a lot of enemas, but that would be a small price to pay compared to the anguish I am currently experiencing.
But you’ll poop again…eventually. And life will go on, and you and your shameless self will walk around proudly, having survived the hideous ugly that is childbirth. And when other women worry about things like bleaching their anus before delivery or making sure to pack a “cute” hospital gown, you will walk over and give them all of your contact information because they are going to need a hug when they get home from the hospital.