How I survived postpartum

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So everyone thinks that labour is the scary part. You prepare for it, train for it, read books and watch videos about it. But no, labour really is not the hard part. Everything that comes after is hard. And I mean really hard! I have realised this in the hospital whilst trying to breastfeed my baby. When the midwife gave him to me after he was born to encourage breastfeeding, he latched on pretty easily and I thought that was it. It’s easy! Oh how wrong was I! It is literally a battle every time you try to get your baby to latch at the beginning. I had to use both of my hands to position him correctly and make sure I wasn’t suffocating him with my boob at the same time. I found a position where he latched on but this meant that I was slouched over with my back and neck muscles killing me and I wasn’t comfortable at all. But I didn’t dare to move because if I did it would take a few minutes for him to latch on again. At the beginning newborns feed for about half an hour on each side. So my back was killing me in a matter of few hours. It wasn’t until the second day when one of the nurses showed me how to position the pillows around me and under the baby so I was comfortable and didn’t have to put any strain on my back. She told me I had to put my own comfort first before the baby which seemed like a very bold statement to me at the time but she was right! If I wasn’t ok I wouldn’t be able to look after my baby. Of course there were other nurses before her looking after me and telling me how to do it properly but she was the only one who actually showed me and was really hands on. In the first few days all I did was breastfeed all the time. You feed the baby constantly. He was always on me. If he wasn’t feeding he was falling asleep whilst feeding or just sleeping in my arms. These were the most beautiful moments when I was feeding him and looking at him just so full of love, all the hormones and emotions flooding in. Then he would loose the latch and I would spend the next few minutes trying to get him to latch again. It was a constant battle. I didn’t know that the colostrum milk you get the first few days is kind of clear and doesn’t actually look like milk so I kept freaking out that there was nothing coming out for him and he would go hungry. The fact that he wanted to feed all the time also made me think that there was nothing coming out and I remember I kept asking the nurses if he is getting anything (to which they always responded by squeezing my nipple and getting the colostrum out). It sounds a bit crazy to me now because of course he was getting enough but I really didn’t know whether I was doing a good job or not plus all the hormones which get released after the birth made me go crazy! And question everything! I’m such a laid back person but I was literally a bag of nerves the first few days. Every noise he made I went into a full panic mode thinking is this normal? Is he breathing? Is he hungry? He hasn’t peed/pooped – is he ok? Is he getting enough milk? It was mental! I stayed in a private room so there were no other mums around I could ask questions or who could pass their experience on me. I called the nurses in so many times I think they were relieved when I finally left. They say, that it every hospital you will have a nurse which is not as nice as the others. I can’t really say that but there was this nurse I wasn’t keen on and literally felt like she was judging me every time she came in. She was surprised to see that I had my baby with me in bed even when I wasn’t feeding him and was very strict about feeding times. She would always come in and tell me it is the mother’s responsibility to feed the baby every 3 hours and made me feel like I was the most incompetent mother in the world trying to starve my baby. If she would have told me that now I wouldn’t care as I know my baby and I feel more confident in looking after him now but back then I didn’t really have a clue and my hormones were all over the place.

I could hear other babies on the ward cry a lot and Max didn’t really cry that much, only when he wanted to eat and he was pretty chilled the rest of the time but that didn’t mean that I got any sleep. The most sleep I got were 15-20 minutes intervals because I constantly kept waking up with every little sound Max made. I had him in my bed next to me during the night most of the time because I wanted him to feel safe and I remember sleeping or dosing off but constantly opening my eyes to check if he was ok and listening out for the noises he was making. By day 2 I was so tired I don’t even know how I was functioning. I mean the sleep deprivation was so real! I couldn’t even look at my phone for longer than 2 minutes without falling asleep. I thought I knew what being tired was, given my job and the amount of night flights I did and the jet lag and different time zones, but this was just another level. If I finally managed to dose off, a nurse, doctor, or a cleaner would come in and wake me up anyway. The nurses told me that if I want to, they can take the baby for a couple of hours and I could get some sleep but I never did. I felt like they would judge me if I did. I mean it sounds crazy now but at that moment I was feeling all kinds of highs and lows and I wasn’t thinking rationally. Even when they took him to have a bath once a day I missed him! It was usually during the night and not more than half an hour and I was so happy that I would get a bit of uninterrupted sleep but of course I didn’t because I kept thinking that it is taking too long and wondering whether he is ok and if he misses me and when is he going to come back. I mean plain crazy really.

Every single muscle in my body was aching. I felt like I ran a marathon and went through a battle at the same time. I constantly had to remind myself to relax my muscles because I was still tensing them like I did during delivery. Especially my neck muscles. I mean even my tongue hurt. I didn’t even know that was possible. I felt like somebody snapped me in half and I had absolutely no abdominal or lower back muscles keeping me upright. When I walked I felt (and probably looked) like a 90 year old woman. I was so weak and shaky and sore. When I had to pick Max up from his crib or put him down I had to bend over a little bit to steady myself and find strength, it was crazy! The best part of my days in the hospital was when my husband was there with us for a few hours every day and I got to relax a bit whilst he was enjoying his time with Max. I remember how much love I felt looking at him holding our baby and I loved our little bubble we have created. I stayed in the hospital for 3 days and I was so ready to go home that last day just to have the comfort of my own home and the privacy. When my husband left in the evening of day 2 to go home I hit a low point. I don’t know why exactly but I’m pretty sure I can blame the hormones for this too. I felt so down and doubted everything about my ability to be a mother. Maybe it was the fact that I knew I was going home the next day and all of a sudden I felt so unprepared and not ready to look after a baby! I had no idea what I would do with him if he was in pain, if he was crying too much, if he wasn’t pooping, if he wasn’t latching on. I just kept thinking how could they let me go home with him and be totally responsible for this fragile human being? I had a little cry to myself a few times that evening and felt bad for the nurses who kept walking in and must have thought I was mad. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe everyone goes through this. The last day in the hospital felt like the longest day ever. I was up at 6 am and I knew I was going home that day after lunch and it was dragging on so much and I felt so restless! My milk came that morning too and I was super happy as that was one less thing to worry about. I only had 99 things left to worry about then. My husband came to pick us up and Max had to get a vaccination before he was discharged and I couldn’t bring myself to come with him to watch it. I had to send my husband with him instead. I was so emotional that I wanted to cry when a paediatrician came to discharge Max and I had to take his clothes off for the examination because I felt bad for him for being cold! I totally understood all the women going through postnatal depression then. It was so easy just to get completely overwhelmed by all these feelings. Max must have been stressed out by all this stress I was going through too because he was very needy that day and wanted to be on me constantly. When we got home I immediately relaxed and he did too. He was just peacefully sleeping whilst me and my husband were staring at him, constantly commenting that we have the most beautiful and perfect baby in the world. Pretty sure all parents do this.

At home I was slowly getting the hack of breastfeeding. After endlessly googling all the information there was about how to get them to latch on properly and watching all the videos on youtube, I stopped interfering and let Max just latch on by himself. Not sure if it was because he knew what to do by this point or because I should have done this from the beginning but it worked. One of the tips mums were sharing online was to squeeze your boob like a hamburger and shove it in baby’s mouth. Didn’t work for Max though, he clearly wasn’t a fun of hamburgers. My nipples were destroyed from the cluster feeding the day we left the hospital and I was in pain every time he latched on and had to let out a silent scream and breathe through the pain. Luckily the pain went after a couple of days and he was feeding like a champ. The amount of things I kept googling was unreal though. There was a different thing to google every day – how to get the baby to burp (which as it turns out isn’t as straightforward as it seems!), how to give him a bath, how to look after the umbilical cord, the list was endless. The first few days at home were a haze of nappy changing, feeding, sleeping, sleepy feedings and an overwhelming feeling of love. I had a constant headache from the tiredness and I kept falling asleep during nearly every feed. Those little cat naps were very efficient and I was surprised how fresh you can feel after a 10 seconds nap. When I did sleep I would wake up and panic thinking I fell asleep with the baby in my arms. All my dreams were about Max and I kept seeing his face and the little expressions he used to make every time I closed my eyes.  I know I keep going on about the tiredness but it really was the most challenging thing. They tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps but if you did that you would never be able to have a shower, eat or do laundry which pretty much is your daily task because the amount of laundry is immense. All you do is keep changing his clothes 6 times a day as it either has a pee, poo or sick on it. Or all of the above. You would think that in the 21st century they would make nappies which don’t leak but no they don’t. The fact that I got so little sleep at the beginning and I didn’t die made me think that humans clearly don’t need as much sleep as I thought and even if you are tired from the night feedings you still get up in the morning and get on with your day. I never used to like mornings and I used to love my sleep but now when I get woken up by my little boy (because I’m never the first one to wake up) and he looks at me and starts stretching and smiling it is the cutest thing ever and I would wake up to see that anytime! I remember asking my husband that first week at home if I am ever going to feel like a human again and he said you will. Not for a while but you will. And I did. Slowly my body and my mind were adjusting to the new role and after the first couple of weeks I started to feel better physically and mentally too. By the end of the 6th week I felt like my old self again. My body did, that is. My mind will never feel the same again because now I have a little person to worry about for the rest of my life.

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