This Is What Your Body Is Really Like After Having A Baby
Greetings from the flip side! I am no longer pregnant! Oh the glory! Never has someone been so happy to squeeze a watermelon out of a straw hole. Tie these tubes, snip his parts, have your pets spayed or neutered… there will be no more pregnancies in this household.
I was four days late and had to beg my OB for an induction (we even brought the check book for good measure). Then our Hallie Sid was finally born, proving to my parents’ housekeeper that my face “got really ugly” for no good reason at all, and NOT “because I was having a boy” as she predicted. So… there’s that.
While the actual responsibilities of having a newborn came back to me fairly quickly once my daughter was born, the one aspect of childbirth that I had apparently done a fantastic job blocking out over the last five years was the god-awful physical recovery that no one ever dares to mention.
So with that cleared up…
Let’s talk about the shit show that is your body after labor.
You’ve had your baby. You’re pumped. You’re in love. You are the master of swaddling. You know the 27 most ideal positions for the perfect burp. You found the most amazing “organic, vegan, lactose-free, shipped straight from the waterfalls of Bali” baby soap. You are ready for this new member of your family because everyone has given you advice and you have read all of the literature. You are “prepared.” Magical.
You know what you’re not prepared for? The moment when your body finally realizes that you’ve just pushed a human out of your vagina. The epidural has worn off, the glow from your water birth is fading, and you are about to deal with physical symptoms that no one warned you about because they “didn’t want to scare you.” Well, my friends, I’m about to give it to you straight. Better to be scared and prepared than completely blind-sided.
WARNING: There is about to be a lot of graphic bodily function chat here… so proceed with caution if you would rather think that the miracle of childbirth is all butterflies and rainbows.
Picture this: Your body is the aftermath of a warzone. You have just battled for your life and the Red Cross is not coming for you. Your canteen has dried up and you’re starting to see a mirage in the hot desert. Okay, I don’t even know what that means. But what I’m trying to say is, the aftermath of birth is painful — from top to literal bottom.
Your breasts will inevitably grow during your pregnancy, and if you’re regularly an A-cup on a good day like yours truly, suddenly developing a D-cup is not necessarily such a bad thing. Enjoy them — take them for a test run… they are simply short term rentals.
Be prepared for your third day postpartum when your milk comes in. Engorgement Day. The day where the milk flows…. and never stops. On one hand, this is a good thing. Your milk is plentiful and you can rest assured that you can feed your baby — not all women are fortunate enough to experience this. You also have the distinct pleasure of being able to squirt your signature on the shower wall for your hubby to find (“Steph was here”), and you’re going to look like you’ve had the most fantastic boob job that money can buy. Those babies are going to be so perky that they will stand at attention on their own.
HOWEVER… it’s going to hurt. And not in a “tee-hee this is slightly uncomfortable” kind of way. It’s going to feel like someone stuffed your breast tissue with rocks.
To those of you breastfeeding, I will not offer advice here because I did not attempt to breastfeed at all this time around; two bouts of mastitis after my first pregnancy was enough to deter me. La Leche League Canada was particularly helpful for many mommies I’ve chatted with though, so have a looksee at their website.
For those of you exclusively bottle-feeding like me, my suggestion is to bind and ice those porn-like tatas big time. Throw on two sports bras and turn your nipples into popsicles for a few days. Try not to hand express if you can manage it, and keep your chest away from the warm water in the shower — these actions will only encourage more milk to come in. The pain will pass after about five or six days, but believe me when I say that hugging and side-sleeping will hurt like a mother at first. You’ll survive it though, Mama. You are a warrior who just created life. Make the pain your bitch.
Your vagina is a beast. She (yes, she) is regularly accosted by Aunt Flo, is poked and prodded with metal tongs during an annual pap, and she just brought a human being into this world. She deserves a medal. Unfortunately, she also now feels like someone ran her over with a lawn mower.
When we speak about child birth to other women, we chat about contractions, the amount of time we had to push, and whether or not we chose to have an epidural. Rarely do we discuss the fact that five minutes after you pushed out your new miracle, your doctor was embroidering a French Knot into your cooch while you and your husband were busy arguing over names. No one tells you about the potential tearing or the aftermath of the inevitable stitches. No one tells you that sometimes the ten centimeters of dilation is not enough, and that the skin between your vagina and bum is fair game. So be ready…it’s going to happen, and it’s not pretty.
A friend of mine who had delivered her children through c-section both times, once asked me what vaginal stitches feel like. The only description I could come up with in the moment was: “Thin layers of skin, sewn tightly back together with thread, trying to rip free and tear you all over again when you sneeze, pee, move or breathe.” I think that’s as accurate as I can possibly try to be. It hurts and no one warns you in advance.
And the best part about it, is that while you are tearing, the doctors acknowledge that it’s going to hurt — so you’re offered an epidural whose job it is to turn off your pain receptors. Half an hour later, however, your nurse will smile at you and hand you a regular strength Tylenol and Advil to manage your symptoms. I actually laughed at the nurse after my first birth; I thought she was playing a joke on me while I waiting for her to hook me up to morphine, oxy, or a vat of red wine. Nope. She was serious. “Remember to take your Tylonel every four hours so the pain doesn’t return.” She may as well have offered me a pack of Skittles.
So how can you help yourself get through this unanticipated situation?
- Take a page out of Vanilla Ice’s song and “Ice Ice” that baby. Grab a rubber glove from the hospital room, fill it with ice and shove that thing down your pants. It sounds extremely strange, but in that moment, that “handcicle” will be your best friend. Steal a few extra gloves to take home too — they will come in handy (Sorry, it was right there!).
- Use the squeeze bottle that the hospital gives you at least once an hour if you can. There is nothing more painful than stiff stitches pulling at you. Spraying them with warm water once an hour will provide you with some unexpected relief every time.
- Have your partner/mother/friend/nanny help you as much as you can in the beginning. Climbing on and off the bed or couch can be extremely painful during the first week — the less you move during that time, the less your stitches will pull at you, and the more your skin can heal. So if you are changing or feeding baby, try to have someone bring the baby to you.
- Listen to your nurse and take that damn Advil and Tylonel every four hours. It may not be much, but it is something. And trust me when I say that you will notice when it wears off.
No one ever associates pregnancy and birth with bums. Vaginas? Of course. Breasts? Sure. But bums?? Surprise! Let’s start with the hemorrhoids. If you’re “#blessed” like I was, you got them during pregnancy and became very intimate with your backside throughout those nine months. If not, you can almost guarantee that they’re coming as a result of pushing your baby out. Your bum will decide to be your vagina’s jealous younger sibling; it develops FOMO and needs to push something out too. And that something is swollen veins. Gross, painful and embarrassing. You’ve hit the jackpot. But what does this mean? Well, it means that sitting and pooping are going to be your two worst-feared pastimes. Combine this with your stitches and you’re going to wonder what you just got yourself into.
So pay attention, sisters, because I’m about to disclose the most helpful piece of information you will ever receive about childbirth — something that I wished someone had told me during my first pregnancy: Begin taking stool softeners several days BEFORE your due date. Simple, right? Simple but crucial. But no one tells you! The pushing is going to cause hemorrhoids, the epidural is going to constipate you, and there is nothing scarier after giving birth than straining to push something out of your body for a second time.
I did not know this the first time around and, as a result, I sat in the bathroom during that first after-birth bowel movement and sobbed while my sister stood outside of the door. It was horrible and scarring (for both of us). It was so horrible that the only aspect of childbirth I was dreading this time around was the first post-poop. Sounds ridiculous, but those of you who have experienced this first hand will know that the struggle is real. Trust me, prep for the poop or you’ll be telling war stories of your own one day.
So there it is, my friends: the entire gruesome truth of what you can expect your poor, abused organs to go through as a result of childbirth. You’ll have ice packs and heating pads in every orifice, you’ll bleed, you’ll leak and you’ll sweat. You’ll probably even smell.
But if I might offer one last piece of advice before I go, it’s this: Be kind to your body during this time. You just spent the last nine months of your life growing a person, only to subsequently push that person into the world. YOU did that all by yourself. You are a champion. Resist the urge to do it all immediately. Rest as much as you can and accept help when it’s offered. Cut your body some slack. She’s the only one you have, and she done good.
Until next time… happy healing!
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