I scrolled through a news article the other day on Facebook where Dylan Dreyer (weather anchor for NBC) referring to her maternity leave as heaven. I will add that since then she did a check in on the Today Show where she talked about the lack of sleep and “real life” that has set in. Don’t get me wrong, the love I have for my babies is indescribable, but what I experienced after birthing them was far from what I would call heavenly. I felt compelled to share my experiences as I am sure there are many other mothers out there that had the opposite of a “heavenly” maternity leave.
Before I tell you about my experience I do want to say that there are many out there that would do anything in the world to have a “bad” experience. There are families that have lost their children, can’t have children, or have been in the NICU for weeks, months…. I would go through anything for my babies, as most mothers would. My goal for this post is to shed some light on the fact that the postpartum period is hard and we all have different experiences. I think the more we talk about those experiences the easier it is to relate to each other and get through this thing we call motherhood together.
The days following my daughter’s birth were simply unforgettable. I went through about 24 hours of induced labor with her to end up with a c section. It was pretty dang awful because by the time I went for the c section my epidural had basically worn off on one side and I was feeling the full effects of pitocin induced labor. I also realized as they started cutting I was feeling all of that too. I remember yelling and crying in the operating room as they worked to get her out. I could feel the intense, sharp, stabbing pain on my right side as I felt pressure on my left. I remember them pulling her out, holding her up, and seeing she was ok. As they were about to sedate me I could hear them say her weight was 9lb 7oz. I remember waking up from anesthesia and the first thing I asked was “how big was she?”. I just thought no wonder I couldn’t push her out! It was the most painful, exhausting, exhilarating, and terrifying experience of my life.
Following the traumatic delivery I was having a very difficult time breastfeeding, I could not get her to consistently latch. I started pumping and bottle feeding just to get her to eat, while still attempting to nurse. It hurt to hold her on my stomach as it pushed down on my incision. I couldn’t get myself into a comfortable enough position laying down to nurse her. It was all so defeating. She was also jaundice, which meant she was under the bili lights for most of the day. I was able to hold her but with this bulky, lighted blanket around her. Every day her bilirubin level kept going up. I knew she had to eat to get the level to go down but breastfeeding was going terrible. Every time it came time to nurse I would try and end up crying giving her a bottle. Every nurse that came into my hospital room tried to help but I just couldn’t get it. There was one nurse that could see how it was all affecting me and brought in a bottle of formula and fed her for me. I still remember this and it felt like a weight off my shoulders. It feel good to know she was eating and like I had permission to take a break from worrying about it. My anxiety was at its tipping point and all I was doing was crying. I felt like a failure. I was looking to anyone for advice. The problem with this was there was so much advice coming at me I didn’t know what to do. I can feel the anxiety rushing back to me while writing this. I felt like pumping and bottle feeding was taking such a toll on my mental health those first few days. I wasn’t even able to enjoy my daughter. I was so worried about failing her. I was also not sleeping from the high of it all. I was so anxious about everything all the time.
We ended up being discharged from the hospital but had to come back every morning for them to prick her heel to continue to check her bilirubin level. She even got readmitted because it got too high (they don’t rent out bili lights). I remember staying in the room with her in my arms in the bed and crying because I just didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t slept in about 4 days from the anxiety I was experiencing. By the time we got back home it was time for my husband to go back to work. I was home alone with this baby I barely knew, I had failed at breastfeeding, and I was healing from a major surgery. I couldn’t even look at my incision under my sagging stomach. It was hideous. I felt deflated and awful. I was sore and moved slowly. I could not take a shower by myself. I couldn’t sit up without wincing. I had to have my husband change the dressing to my lower stomach that was held in place by my new and unwelcome c-section “mom pouch”. As my husband would change my dressing and look at my incision I would lay on the bed in tears ashamed of how my body looked. Every time he would say things like, “its looking better hun. You’re doing good. You look great.” I couldn’t believe him. My mind was against me. It told me how can you have him doing this for you. He must think you look just awful. Is he ever going to be attracted to you again? This was the most difficult time of my life. I may sound dramatic but I was suffering mentally. While at the same time everyone around me was “in heaven” soaking up my new baby who I was supposed to be loving and enjoying. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t this how everyone described it?
About 2 weeks in I made the dreaded decision to let all my milk dry up and stick with formula. I was filled with guilt. It felt awful. I felt awful. I knew in my gut I couldn’t keep this up and part of me didn’t want to. I just wanted the stress of it to go away. I felt like a terrible mother. I felt like I was letting my baby down. Like I was depriving her of something. I knew my mind was a mess but once I stopped pumping I wouldn’t be able to start again if I changed my mind. But I finally did it. I stopped. And guess what? Everyone was ok. My daughter kept growing. My husband helped feed her. I got to sleep more than 2 hours at a time. I had a weight lifted off my shoulders. I felt relieved. I cut myself a much needed break that I know I desperately needed to be a healthy mom.
When you have a baby everyone is so happy for you. It is hard not to feel like something is wrong with you if you’re not bouncing up and down with joy every second. I got through the first few weeks, my daughter started sleeping longer periods at a time, my incision healed, my boobs stopped hurting so bad, the guilt of not breastfeeding drifted away, my mind became more clear. My daughter continued to grow, we saw her first first smile, learned how she likes to be held, and how to put her down to sleep. We figured out which were her favorite nursery rhymes, her favorite things to look at in the house. We snuggled and giggled together. I developed confidence in myself as a mother and pretty soon the baby in front of me wasn’t a stranger anymore who I couldn’t figure out how to feed or how stop from crying. She was my daughter. I knew what was best for her. She needed me and no one else. Surely the second time around would be easier, right?