11 things that happen after giving birth (that we really need to start talking about)March 1, 2016
When I was pregnant, many women who had already given birth would give me a squeeze of congratulations then pause – weighing up if they should tell me what I might go through. No one did. We went to antenatal classes that covered labour, breastfeeding (top tip: make your boob like a burger) and swaddling, but there was no mention of what would happen in the hours and days following birth. Nothing.
My only insight was an honest discussion with my most honest friend, who muttered something about blood clots the size of satsumas. And I’m glad, because I really would have freaked out if she hadn’t told me.
Over margaritas the other night a fellow mum and I over-shared about our first foray into motherhood, and realised that NO ONE REALLY TALKS ABOUT THE HORRORS. And that means very few women are prepared for those first few fateful days post-partum.
This isn’t intended to scare any mums-to-be, or put you off getting pregnant, but to simply reassure you that it’s all normal. Even if it’s unspeakably bad at the time.
Cross those legs… 90% of women experience tearing when giving birth naturally, and 60% of them need stitches. It might the result of pushing at the wrong time or the baby needing forceps/ventouse, but from minor tears to (whisper it) third or fourth degree tears, stitches are really common.
Your recovery will depend on the severity, and it could take up to six months and what feels like hours of Kegels to feel ‘normal’ again.
Things that help:
· Ice packs
· Doughnut-shaped cushions
· A sitz bath (a shallow bath up to your hips – your doctor might recommend adding salt or witch hazel)
· Letting your bits get some air
· Eating fibre-rich foods to keep things moving in the Andy McDowell department
· Changing pads regularly and wearing cotton undies
· Ibuprofen as needed (eg often)
2. Blood and other… bits
For the first few days you’ll be wearing a giant pad (much like one we used to toilet train our puppy) in your giant mesh knickers. It’s huge. For most new mums, some form of pad will be needed for the first month – by the end it’s like a period, but in the beginning it’s like a scene from CSI. You might leak through your clothes and onto chairs, you’ll have a wee then god knows what liquid will gush out as you stand up, there might be blood clots (some alarmingly large), and it might feel like your guts are in danger of falling out of your vagina. All the time.
3. Zero dignity
Whether you have a C section or push, in the days after birth – when your dignity well and truly nosedives – you don’t give a monkey who sees your bits. Consultants will come in to check your stitches, nurses will change stained sheets, virtual strangers will take you to the bathroom and help you wee, and pretty much everyone will squeeze your boobs to get that precious colostrum out. And you won’t care a bit.
4. Meeting the baby
Unless you’re really lucky, your labour will be hard. That’s why it’s called labour. After giving birth I was off my head on drugs and kept shouting ‘Is she ok? Is she ok? Is she ok?’ and when my daughter was put on my chest I was in shock, unable to process the fact my bump was now a baby, who looked more like a bush baby, all eyes and hairy shoulders. It’s very normal to not have an immediate connection with your newborn after the trauma of birth, or feel that rush of love that you hear about so often. It will happen – for some it’s after a few hours, others it’s months.
5. Totally unprepared
You now get to take the baby home. That’s right, you’re in charge of a tiny human. You, who is still unsure what a subprime mortgage is, even though you really enjoyed The Big Short, and has joyfully lived off G&Ts and Frosted Flakes for weeks on end. A child is now in your charge, and you’re expecting it to all ‘come naturally’ because you’re now a mother, and there’s something called maternal instinct that you’re not sure you have. Prepare to be a bit scared, and ask for lots of help.
6. Breastfeeding woes
Speaking of things coming naturally, breastfeeding doesn’t for the vast majority of women. From low supply to mastitis, tongue-ties to reflux, getting food into your child IS NOT EASY. You might spend six hours on the couch with the baby attached to your nipple (why did no one explain cluster feeding to me?), be up every hour to feed as they keep falling asleep on your boob, be in so much pain that you have to stamp your foot and scream silently until it subsides, have a pump permanently attached to your udders, wake up in a puddle of milk with your sheets soaked, or have rock hard tits that need medication to stop the feeling that they’re on fire. Possibly all of that.
If you’re struggling, get help. If you hate breastfeeding, it’s ok if you stop. People will judge either way, so you might as well be happy with your decision.
7. The ‘sex week’ check up
Six weeks after giving birth, you go back to your gynae for a truly weird appointment. Not only do you have an ultrasound when there’s no baby to see (oddly disconcerting), but they’ll be checking that your uterus has contracted and stitches healed so you can get the go-ahead to exercise and have sex. Note: if your husband doesn’t come to the appointment he doesn’t need to know that you got the all clear…
8. Sex after birth
Prepare to feel like you’re losing your virginity again, but with the added bonus of leaking boobs.
9. Insane sleep deprival
It’s a cliché that the parents of newborns experience fatigue on another level, but it’s clichéd for a reason; this kind of exhaustion could be used to torture spies into sharing state secrets. If breastfeeding, you might want to put your partner in the spare room/on the sofa so they can get a decent kip – not only does it win you wifey points, but if baby isn’t on a bottle then there’s naff-all they can do to help, and if they sleep through the 1am feed (and the 3.30am, and the 5am) you will sit there with your boob out silently hating them. Not good for the relationship. I played a LOT of CandyCrush – surprisingly difficult with one hand – in the depths of night, while my husband snoozed blissfully in the next room, but then he was on better form to take the baby for the odd hour the next day when I napped.
10. The hunger
“You’ll lose all the weight breastfeeding,” they said. “You’ll be running around so much the weight will fall off,” they said. I have never known hunger like I experienced when breastfeeding, and would get up at 6am to feed the baby and eat a jam sandwich, then go back to sleep until the next feed, after which I’d shower and eat three Weetabix. Sandwiches, pasta, toast, more sandwiches, biscuits… I’m sure breastfeeding burns calories, but not at the same rate as I could shovel them into my face. Sad times, because I was really counting on that.
11. The emotions, the overwhelming emotions
I cried when changing the baby, when feeding the baby, from joy, from desperation, from sheer exhaustion, when my husband looked at me ‘in a funny way’, at the news, at my body, at absolutely bloody everything. Again, this is normal, even when you feel like you’re losing your mind and no-one in the world understands. Just remember: this too shall pass, and one day you won’t cry in the car when someone beeps their horn at you unfairly.
Well done if you got to the end of this joyous post.
So if you know a pregnant woman, and she’s talking about getting her eyelashes done for the post labour photo, or what outfit she’s going to wear on the way home from the hospital, do her a favour and pass her a pack of heavy duty sanitary pads and the number for your lactation consultant.